Now all roads lead to France and heavy is the tread
Of the living; but the dead returning lightly dance.
Edward Thomas, Roads

Wednesday, August 31, 2016

The First Ace: Second Lieutenant Adolphe Célestin Pégoud

Pégoud Receiving the Croix de Guerre

The term "ace" was first used in World War I when French newspapers described Adolphe Pégoud (1889–1915) as l'as (French for "ace") after he shot down five German aircraft. After serving in the French Army he pursued a career in aviation and received his private pilot's license in March 1913.

While he was a test pilot for Blériot, he was credited with being the first aviator to fly a loop, although it was discovered much later that a Russian pilot had preceded him by 13 days and, also to be the first pilot to jump with a parachute from his aircraft. Joining the French Air Service he was assigned to fly a Maurice Farman over the Argonne sector, where he achieved his five victories.

Click Image to Enlarge
Immortalized in Comics

After gaining a sixth victory, Pégoud was shot down and killed 31 August 1915 by one of his prewar students, Walter Kandulski. 

Pégoud's Tomb at Montparnasse Cemetery, Paris

Sources:  Tony Langley Collection, Wikipedia, Traces of War and The

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

And the World Went Dark: An Illustrated Interpretation of the Great War
reviewed by David F. Beer

And the World Went Dark: 
An Illustrated Interpretation of the Great War
by Steven N. Patricia

Casemate Publishers, 2016

As its title indicates, this is a visual presentation of the First World War. It's also an excellent introductory book in that it is short (88 pages), briefly touches on numerous aspects of the war, and is heavily illustrated with drawings by the author — the majority of them in sepia, thus giving an impression of old photographs of the early twentieth century. The artwork is impressive, as would be expected of author Steven Patricia, an artist and historian with some 30 years' experience as an illustrator for such clients as The Art Institute of Chicago, the National Park Service, and The National Geographic Society. The size of the book, about 11.5 x 8.25 inches, moreover, allows ample space on each page for both drawings and text and thus prevents the impression that this is only a graphic treatment of the war.

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With its combination of drawings, text, maps, and passages from poems, diaries, and other documents of participants, the book provides a general but effective account of the war. A few of the statements made by the author may be open to debate, but this is the risk of creating a short account of a complex and tumultuous event.

Starting by introducing the causes of the war, the author takes us through to the end of hostilities and the Armistice. Early in the book we find useful lists of each participant's date of entry into the conflict plus numbers mobilized by each nation and overall casualties suffered, including Montenegro, Romania, and Bulgaria. Drawings of a soldier from each country appear within the text. A section on the war in the air deals with the lives of airmen, fighters, heavy bombers, and balloons. Another on the war at sea covers ships, underwater warfare, mines, troop transports and hospital ships, plus cats and other naval mascots. Several pages evocatively show in text, drawings and quotes, the sinking of a British ship and the harrowing experience of both crew and a cargo of horses.

The war on land is equally well treated, with Eastern, Italian, African and Western fronts touched on in that order. A diagram of a trench reveals some detail, as do brief sections on barbed wire, a trench raid, artillery, grenades, snipers, veterinarians, gas, dogs, horses, and, of course, the dead and wounded. All are embellished with impressive sketches. The book ends with the complete text of Wilfred Owen's poem "The Parable of the Old Men and the Young."

Typical Page

Almost three pages of bibliography (together with a drawing) conclude this interesting book. What caught my attention here is that more than half the sources consulted consist of web references, e.g. Lynch, George. War Wire, Web and blog pages – unlike our presentations at – can be quite ephemeral, and in fact the three online references I looked up were not there. But then this book poses not as a scholarly text but as a general and artistic introduction to the Great War, and in this it most certainly succeeds.

David F. Beer

Monday, August 29, 2016

France's Role at the Somme and in the Great War

French Troops, Fay, Somme Sector

On my recent group tour of the Somme battlefield, I made a concerted effort to cover the French contribution to the battle.  This meant incorporating stops at sites on both sides of the River Somme, like the the Montagne de Frise and Curlu, which were captured on 1 July; journeying to the most southerly reaches of the battle; Lihons, Soyécourt, and Chaulnes; and following the French advance on the flank of the September 1916 British push, during which it was the French Sixth Army that made the farthest advance east in the entire campaign to Rancourt (location of a moving French memorial) and the village of Sailly Saillisel.

View of Somme from Montagne de Frise toward Curlu
Both Sites Captured 1 July 1916

For our group, most of whom had never read much about the French contributions to the Battle of the Somme, I believe it was eye-opening.  For me,  I felt a little guilty, I realized that had not done justice to the French contribution in my earlier tours.  I might be writing more about this in future postings, but I want to share a comment I remember from a review I read a few years ago.  It is a sort of caution to us in the English-speaking world how deeply the war involved and touched France.

The Great War shaped the subsequent history of France as surely as France shaped the Great War. Mourning marked every family; bitter political animosities that came to the surface in 1917 contributed ultimately to the decline of the Third Republic; and the totalization of war, that made civilians as well as soldiers the targets of military aggression, became a tragic hallmark of twentieth-century European life. Equally importantly, France and the Great War makes evident how French resolve in the face of unparalleled adversity shaped the history of the Great War. Given that, any analysis of the First World War that leaves France on the side-lines is fundamentally inadequate

Martha Hanna, University of Colorado, in her review of France and the Great War 1914-1918. by Leonard V. Smith, Stéphane Audoin-Rouzeau.

Sunday, August 28, 2016

Remembering a Veteran: Lt. Coleman F. DeWitt, U.S. Air Service, Italy

Co-Pilot Lt. James Bahl and Lt. Coleman DeWitt

During the Battle of Vittorio Veneto on 27 October 1918, Lt. Coleman DeWitt, 25, and his crew were attacked by five Austro-Hungarian Aviatik D.I pursuit planes while returning from a bombing mission. Instead of avoiding the battle by landing their lumbering aircraft, Coleman, first pilot on a Caproni Ca.3, chose to fight. According to observers of the episode:  "Two of the enemy planes were shot down, thanks to the accurate aim of the encircled aircraft which continued to fight, even when it broke out in flames until, trapped and overcome by the powerful group of enemy planes, it fell and the entire crew perished in the accomplishment of their daring action,'' the invitation reads.

Caproni Ca.3 Like That Flown by Lt. DeWitt

The Battle of Vittorio Veneto was the final action fought on the Italian front. The Italian victory led to the Austro-Hungarian surrender. DeWitt's body was sent to New Jersey three years later. A funeral was held on 3 July 1921, attended by Fiorello La Guardia, who had been Coleman's commander and later became New York's mayor. Coleman was posthumously awarded the  Medaglia d'Oro al Valor Militare (gold medal for bravery), Italy's highest award, assigned to just 23 airmen in the war. He is honored with his own room in the Vittorio Veneto war museum.

Sources: and

Saturday, August 27, 2016

Jinxed Passage: Italian Troop Transport

The U-boats made ocean transport most dangerous during the Great War, but no navy had worse luck in moving troops over the waves than Italy.

The Greatest Ocean Disaster of World War I
SS Principe Umberto Goes Under

In January 1916 an Italian merchant ship, the Brindisi, was crossing the Adriatic with war materials and food for Italian and Serbian forces in Albania. She was also carrying several hundred Italian and Montenegrin volunteers from America for service in that theater. The Brindisi hit a mine and sank with the loss of over 200 lives, many of them the luckless volunteers.  An eyewitness reported that scores of the Montenegrins, who had earlier vowed that they would prefer suicide to drowning should the ship be torpedoed, kept their pledge. The mine had been laid by the German UC-14 which was operating against Allied shipping in the Adriatic despite there being no state of war between Italy and Germany until August 1916.

SS Principe Umberto was an Italian passenger and refrigerated cargo ship built in 1908, and during World War I, the ship was employed as an armed merchant cruiser to transport men and materiél. On 8 June 1916, Principe Umberto and another transport, the Ravenna, were carrying the 55th Infantry Regiment  back from Albania to Italy, under the escort of the Italian scout cruiser Libia and four Regia Marina-class destroyers. The Austro-Hungarian U-boat U-5, under the command of Friedrich Schlosser, launched a torpedo attack that successfully hit Principe Umberto, which went down quickly with the loss 1,750-1,926 men (sources differ). This constituted the greatest maritime disaster of the war.

SS Minas

SS Minas – On 15 February 1917 the troop transport was carrying Italian, Serbian, and French troops from Taranto to Salonika, was torpedoed and sunk by U-39 off Cape Matapan. Eight hundred seventy men were lost.

SS Perseo — On 4 May 1917 the troop transport, sailing from Messina to Cephalonia, was torpedoed and sunk by the Austro-Hungarian submarine U-4, killing 227 men.

SS Verona

SS Verona: On 11 May 1918 the troop ship was off Capo Peloro in Sicily and heading for Libya, when UC-52 torpedoed and sank her. She went quickly, killing 880 of about 3,000 troops aboard.

Sources:  Various shipwreck sites

Friday, August 26, 2016

Countdown to America’s Entry into the Great War

By Burton Yale Pines

It was America’s declaration of war on Germany on 6 April 1917 that transformed the Great War into a true world war. For 31 months neutral America had been watching Europe’s great powers pulverizing each other. Now America was joining that battle. Here is a countdown of events and policies that brought America onto Europe’s battlefields:

4 August 1914 Just hours after the war’s outbreak, President Woodrow Wilson in a proclamation to the nation declares “a strict and impartial neutrality” for America. He forbade Americans to “take part, directly or indirectly” in the war. Two weeks later, in a message to the Senate, he added that the U.S. “must be neutral in fact as well as in name.” Neutrality was almost universally popular, backed by 878 of the nation’s 897 major newspapers. One of 1915’s most popular songs was “I Didn’t Raise My Boy to Be a Soldier.”

Early August 1914 Britain cuts the two trans-Atlantic telegraph cables linking America to Germany, thus giving London almost total control of all news reaching the U.S. from Europe. Tight British censorship kept from American readers reporting critical of the Allies or sympathetic to Germany. Meanwhile, through its War Propaganda Board, Britain launched what became an unprecedented massive propaganda campaign in the U.S. aimed at bringing America into the war by portraying Germans as barbaric Huns and aggressors.  

October 1914 onward America begins extending credit to Britain, France and Russia, allowing them to purchase American war materiél, food, and other goods. Though Germany too was eligible for credit, it received almost none, since Britain’s near-total warship blockade stopped American ships from reaching German ports (even though, as a neutral, the U.S. had legal and traditional rights to trade with all nations). The booming trade between America and the Allies ignited a huge demand for the output of America’s farms and factories and for the financing to pay for that output. As these sectors became increasingly dependent on sales and loans to the Allies, they became a huge and powerful interest group in Washington and across the nation pushing to help the Allies.   

7 May 1915 German U-boat U-20, firing a single torpedo, sinks the ocean liner RMS Lusitania, drowning 1,198 passengers, including 128 Americans. This was widely denounced in the U.S. as an outrage and a confirmation of the British assertion that Germany was a criminal nation that had to be defeated. The sinking reinforced in the public mind the view that the German submarine was a barbaric weapon, going far beyond warfare’s accepted rules by allowing an unseen foe to attack without warning.  

13 May 1915 Britain’s Bryce Commission, headed by James Bryce, Britain’s former very popular ambassador to the U.S., releases its report (in 30 languages) accusing German soldiers of committing obnoxious atrocities in Belgium and France. The report cited, among other incidents, the crucifixion of a Canadian soldier, decapitations of war prisoners, gang rape, sexual mutilation of Belgian and French women, and the bayoneting of Belgian infants. This report, writes historian Thomas Knock, “created a sensation [in the U.S.] Germany would never fully recover from the revulsion that swept the U.S.” (In the postwar years, historians fully discredited the Bryce Report, finding that it was almost entirely propaganda and was based on concocted evidence and fabrications.)

8 June 1915 William Jennings Bryan resigns as secretary of state, protesting that Wilson’s extremely tough response to Germany over the Lusitania sinking was unfairly one-sided because it ignored Britain’s similar violation of international law by its blockade keeping American and other neutral ships from Germany. Jennings had been the Wilson cabinet’s most fervent and committed champion of neutrality; he was replaced at the State Department by strongly pro-Allies Robert Lansing. Reflecting Lansing’s views is his September 1916 diary entry that America should “join the Allies as soon as possible and crush the German Autocrats.”  

President Wilson at a Preparedness Event

August 1915 The Preparedness Movement bursts into public awareness as the press extensively covers the 1,300 New York businessmen, professionals, and notables who descended on the town of Plattsburgh, New York, for five weeks of grueling military-like training to prepare themselves for possible military service. By spring 1916, scores of similar “camps” for middle-class men had popped up across the nation, while parades, rallies, and other events warned the public that America was woefully unprepared for war. Reinforcing this tale of military vulnerability were a host of best-selling books (such as America Fallen and Defenseless America) and blockbuster (silent) movies ("The Battle Cry of Peace"). Though taking no sides in Europe’s Great War, the Preparedness Movement got Americans thinking seriously that their nation ultimately may go to war. 

July 1916 London blacklists 87 American firms, violating their rights to commerce under international law. Congress and the press demanded that Wilson take action against Britain to defend America’s freedom of the seas and its right, as a neutral, to trade with anyone. But he did nothing, tacitly acquiescing to the British blockade. By contrast, demonstrating America’s increasing tilt away from neutrality, Wilson continued to insist that Germany abide strictly by international law.   

31 January 1917 Germany notifies the U.S. that, on the following day, its U-boat commanders have orders to attack all ships in the war zone around Britain and France as retaliation against the Royal Navy’s blockade of Germany. Three days later, Wilson breaks diplomatic relations with Germany. With their new battle orders, the U-boats began patrolling the high seas for Allied ships and in the war zone for all ships. Within days, an American merchantman was sunk; by mid-March three more were torpedoed. 

Tsar Nicholas II
March 1917 The collapse of Romanov rule in Russia makes it politically  easier for Wilson to support the Allies, removing from the Allied camp the repressive tsarist regime that was extremely strongly opposed by such key American constituencies as liberals, Progressives, Jews, Poles, and other East and Central European immigrant groups.  

2 April 1917 Woodrow Wilson asks a special session of Congress to send him, for his signature, a declaration of war against Germany. In his address, widely regarded by many historians as one of the great presidential orations, strangely missing was any litany of alleged wrongs committed by Germany against America to warrant America’s going to war. All he could point to, and did repeatedly, was a single German action: the violation of American neutrality by the U-boats. Instead of justifying war as a way to stop Germany from allegedly harming America (and to punish Germany for that), Wilson described his call for war as an opportunity to improve the world by, introducing a phrase that became one of the most famous in American history, making “the world safe for democracy.”

6 April 1917 The House of Representatives votes 373 to 50 for war against Germany, following a Senate vote two days earlier of 82 to 6. A messenger then sped this joint declaration down Pennsylvania Avenue to the White House, where Wilson, at 1:18 p.m., signed it. Immediately a Navy lieutenant ran out onto the White House lawn and by hand waves sent a prearranged message to another officer waiting across the street at a Navy Department window. At once, the signal was relayed to every U.S. Navy ship and shore installation: “W...A...R.” 

Our contributor, Burton Yale Pines, is the author of the award-winning:
America’s Greatest Blunder: The Fateful Decision to Enter World War One

Learn more about it at:

Thursday, August 25, 2016

Kurt Weill's Anti-War Musical: Johnny Johnson

In the 1930s after fleeing the Nazis, with lyricist Paul Green, Weill produced an anti-military satirical musical titled Johnny Johnson.   It was said to have been inspired by Jaroslav Hašek's novel The Good Soldier Švejk.  Weill's version centers around a American Doughboy who stops a war using laughing gas. Naturally, the militarists are unhappy about this and commit the tender-hearted Johnny to an insane asylum. After his release, he finds his sweetheart , Minnie Belle, married to the unxious town tycoon and becomes a toy maker. 

There were no "hits" from this musical, but some of the titles are still evocative:

The Laughing Generals

Song of the Wounded Frenchmen,

Mon Ami, My Friend, and

The Psychiatry Song

Johnny Johnson premiered 19 November 1936 at New York's Group Theater. Lee Strasberg directed with Russel Collins in the title role.  The cast included Luther Adler and Elia Kazan. Below is a photo of the latest staging I could discover.

2014 Presentation by the University of North Carolina's Kenan Theatre Company

The critics loved it.  In a New Yorker review Robert Benchley wrote: "Makes you laugh, cry and boil. The first anti-war play to use laughing gas in its attack on the stupidity of mankind, and to my mind the most effective of all satires in its class."

Listen to the songs at:

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Captain Nevill's Soccer Balls, Part 2

Regular readers of this blog might remember that my entry of 11 February discussed locating the precise site where  Capt. Billie Nevill's men of Company B of the 8th Battalion of the 2nd East Surrey Regiment kicked those four soccer balls of legend across no-man's-land on 1 July 1916. Visit HERE to see the map of the site I presented. In rough terms, the site is between Carnoy and Montauban, near the boundary of the 18th and 30th Divisions of the British Army on the first day of the Somme.

Captain Nevill in the Trenches, Pre-Somme

One of the Original Soccer Balls at the Surreys' Museum

I mentioned in the article that I intended to bring my Somme In-Depth tour group to the site.  I did so last week on 17 August with our own ball and asked the group to each make a commemorative soccer kick and join in a moment of remembrance for Capt. Nevill and his men. The farm field was being actively worked, but we got as close as we could — within view — to the site of the Surreys' trenches. Here are a few photos of our visit.

Kicking Toward Montauban, Captured on 1 July – A Rare Victory That Day

Just Beyond Those Trees the Most Successful Mine of 1 July Was Detonated

Team Photo at the Football Battalion Memorial, Longueval

They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old:
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning
We will remember them.

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

The Last of the Ebb: The Battle of the Aisne, 1918
reviewed by Terrence J. Finnegan

The Last of the Ebb: The Battle of the Aisne, 1918
by Sidney Rogerson

(The book includes an introduction by Malcolm Brown and a chapter titled "The German Side" by Generalmajor A.D. von Unruh, Chief of the General Staff, 4. Reserve Korps .)
MBI Publishing, 2007. First published in 1937

Author Captain Sidney Rogerson
Sidney Rogerson was a staff officer in the Worcester Regiment, 23rd Brigade of the British Army's 8th Division in 1918. Rogerson titled his book The Last of the Ebb to reflect the last receding of a British-held sector in the war, where the "ebb for one side implies the top of the tide for the other." His work mentions the confusion of working with the French, be it the inability to communicate due to language, application of strategy, and tactics for defense, as well as the lack of awareness of German intentions, partly due to inadequate French aerial reconnaissance of the German advance. His self-described job was a sort of "dogsbody" taking the place of anyone who went on leave to working whatever was not specifically covered by his fellow staff officers.

After suffering from an arduous campaign on the Somme front that spring, four British divisions, including 8th Division, were relocated to a "quiet sector" near Reims in the Champagne region. The sector was known by the Germans as "the sanatorium of the West." This was in accordance with Général Foch's roulement plan to rest tired divisions in order to build up the Allied general reserve. The four British divisions now were under command of Général Denis Duchêne, French 6 Armée. Unfortunately for the British, the German Crown Prince Wilhelm's Army Group committed 7 Armée to Operation Blücher, attacking across the Chemin des Dames, pushing to the Aisne river. The brilliant Oberstleutnant Bruchmüller prepared the German artillery for the 27 May 1918 attack. MG (ret.) David Zabecki described Bruchmüller's preparation for Operation Blücher as "another masterpiece of secrecy and operational security." Rogerson recalled, "Within a second a thousand guns roared out their iron hurricane . . .It was a descent into hell." Not only did the initial massive two hours and 40-minute barrage put the Allied defenders into a state of shock from high explosive, also vast quantities of Blaukreuz (diphenylchlorarsin) ["sneezing gas"] made the entire front a total hell. Generalmajor A.D. von Unruh recalled, "The enemy had no time to resist,"

Order Now
Rogerson writes of the confusion experienced by the British defenders that first day of the offensive to the French strategy of holding the sector. "Our gallant allies, however, knew best." Such as what was experienced by the U.S. 26th "Yankee" Division at Seicheprey in April 1918, the newly arrived British forces were put forward into the closest battle lines to No Man's Land, known as Position 1. The end result was a similar fate to the "sacrifice positions" of Seicheprey. By the end of 27 May German Stosstruppen had advanced 22 kilometers, the largest single-day advance of any attack in World War I.

On 28 May OHL objectives for Operation Blücher changed from a diversion to draw forces from Flanders and the Somme to a decisive battle on the Western Front. Supreme Allied commander Général Foch saw that Operation Blücher was not going to lead to any decisive operational results. He recognized it as a feint designed to draw off Allied reserves, however. Strategic reserves from Flanders or Somme sectors did not head south to Champagne.

Perhaps the most gripping description by Rogerson was of the heroic action on the third day of Operation Blücher by Brigadier-General W.G. St. G. Grogan, Worcester Regiment, 23rd Brigade, 8th Division. In order to steel the courage of his men while under heavy fire from artillery, Minenwerfer, and machine guns, Grogan was seen riding "in full view of the enemy, talking and joking with the men as he passed." His risk was deliberately to hold the line as best the 23rd Regiment could achieve with the major losses suffered. At one point, Grogan charged advancing Stosstruppen "cocking a snook" [thumbed his nose] at an infantryman about ready to fire his rifle. Grogan's horse took the bullet in the nose and Grogan dismounted and coolly bandaged the beast with his own handkerchief.

Grogan's counterattack so inspired the troops that the German advance party fled back down the hill. Two months later Brigadier-General Grogan received the Victoria Cross from King George V. Brigadier-General Grogan replied to Rogerson's congratulations, "as a personal remembrance of the very strenuous and I hope cheery times which we passed together on the Aisne and the Marne."

Brigadier Grogan
By the end of the third day the German advance showed no signs of ceasing, but they slowed down to feast on the spoils of war. At Fismes, Generalmajor A.D. von Unruh recalled, "There were enormous quantities of tinned food and preserves of all descriptions which our soldiers looked on as delicacies almost unheard-of...There were also plentiful supplies of alcohol and this was a more serious matter." General der Infanterie Ludendorff issued a reminder that Operation Blücher's main purpose was to "threaten Paris," which spurred Allied Reserves to depart from Flanders. The four British divisions in the sector had been reduced to composite battalions. That night the U.S. 2nd Division and 3rd Division left for Chateau-Thierry.

Post-battle assessment of Operation Blücher was impressive. They caught Général Duchêne's 6 armée totally by surprise and advanced 60 kilometers in four days, with 50,000 prisoners and 600 guns captured.

Rogerson's account is a quick read, full of British humor and insight on the prevailing misery of the time, and a good account of action at the front from this fast-paced advance of Operation Blücher. The similarity between the British experience in The Last of the Ebb and the story of the American 102nd Infantry, 26th Division, at Seicheprey one month prior is worth noting. The Allies obviously had problems quickly sharing tactics and techniques experienced on the line. The Last of the Ebb is a valuable addition to any collection of primary source accounts of battles on the Western Front in 1918.

The best complement to reading and understanding Operation BLÜCHER's offensive is found in these excellent sources:

  • Edmonds, Brigadier-General Sir James E. Military Operations, France and Belgium, 1918, May–July: The German Diversion Offensives and the First Allied Counter-Offensive. Reprint of 1939 edition, London and Nashville, TN: The Imperial War Museum and The Battery Press, Inc. 1994.
  • Zabecki, David T.  The German 1918 Offensives, A case study in the operational level of war. Abingdon, Oxon:  Routledge, 2006.

by Terrence J. Finnegan

Editor's Note:

Our reviewer, Terrence Finnegan, has written his own analysis of the character of operations in 1918 in A Delicate Affair: America Learns How to Fight a Modern War in the Woëvre Trenches.  An autographed first edition is now available for $22.00 plus postage.

Contact the author at:

Monday, August 22, 2016

America's Road to the Battlefields of Europe

The Story of America's Road to the Battlefields of Europe 


Over the Top: Magazine of the World War I Centennial

If you feel as I do that the American side of the Great War Centennial has been a bit neglected and wish to learn more about how the United States was both pulled and pushed itself into the hostilities, there is something that will help fill some information gaps.

As you might know, the staff of Roads to the Great War also produces a full-color, monthly subscription magazine titled Over the Top. From our first volume we have studying how the nation got involved in what started as a European war, that evolved into a world war. Seven of our 116 issues have been dedicated to looking at the run up to the Declaration of War of 6 April 1917. These are now available for purchase. You can download all six issues shown below for $30.00 or purchase single issues for $4.50.

Please take a look at the covers below.  If your are interested, ordering information follows.

Click on Images to Enlarge


  • The full set of seven issues is $30  issues and you can opt to have the PDF files mailed to you on a CD or sent to you as an email attachment.
  • Single issues can be purchased for $4.50 each and are only available via email. Please specify which issues you want when you order.
Payment Options:

  • Send funds via PayPal to account:, or
  • Send check or money order payable to "Military History Press" in U.S. dollars to:

106 San Pablo Town Center #260
San Pablo, CA 94806

Sunday, August 21, 2016

Recommended: Australia's World War I Victoria Cross Recipients

This is one of the cleverest and most efficient uses of technology for providing a dense collection of information I've seen recently. From The Australian website, the stories of all 64 of Australia's WWI VC recipients can be accessed just by clicking on the party's name. Shown here is Private Thomas Cooke, who was posthumously decorated for an action at Pozières during the Battle of the Somme, 24–25 July 1916.

Visit the site at:

Saturday, August 20, 2016

Key Sites in the Later Battle of the Somme

The battle of the Somme kept rolling on — at times apparently mindlessly — after the huge losses of 1 July 1916.  Here are some of the key sites during the middle and late stages of the 141-day battle.

Once again our contributing editor, Kimball Worcester, is going to help with the pronunciations. Her system is a non-academic approach to phonetic transcription aimed at giving reasonably accurate, clear, and simple direction for English speakers who want to have some insight into pronouncing these words and names. The bolded and blue syllable is the one to stress, as in bolded.

Bazentin [Bah-zon-ta] Wood was captured on 14 July in one of the best executed operations of the Somme campaign. In the subsequent fighting, Lt. Robert Graves, future author, was wounded near this site, the communal cemetery and CWGC extension, and reported killed.

Longueval [Long-val] was at the center of the battle of the woods fought for over three months.  Here is one of the most famous views of the Somme battlefield, High Wood, from the 12th Gloucester (Bristol's Own) Cross 

Guillemont [ Geel-mon] was an important point in the German defenses at the beginning of the Battle of the Somme in July 1916. It was taken and lost by British forces several times until it was finally secured on 3 September. One of the villages streets in named after German soldier/author Ernst Jünger, who later wrote of the fighting in the area. 

Gueudecourt [Ger-de-coor] marks the furthest point of advance from the 1 July starting line of all British units during the Battle of the Somme. The Royal Newfoundland Regiment played a decisive role in capturing the site and is honored with a Caribou Memorial similar to that at Beaumont Hamel.

Mouquet [Moo-keh] Farm: Australian, British, and Canadian forces suffered over 20,000 casualties in a two-month effort to capture this farm that was highly fortified (and in a slightly different location) on the edge of Thiepval Ridge.

, [Say-ee–Say-ee-sel]standing at the north end of a ridge, was the objective of French attacks in September and October 1916 and was captured on 18 October.  There is little to see today in the rebuilt village.

Now a single row of houses along the Ancre [On-cr] River, St. Pierre Divion [Sa Pyair Dee-vee-on] was a machine gun outpost that extracted a great toll from the Ulster Division on 1 July. Shown in the "then" photos are troops walking through the former village in the mud sometimes after its capture on 13 November.

Friday, August 19, 2016

America's First Flag to the Western Front, Part III

Part III: The Service and Death of Arthur "Clifford" Kimber,

Bearer of the First Flag

By Patrick Gregory

The First Flag Today
Orignally Borne to France by
Clfford Kimber
Although he left from Palo Alto and the San Francisco Bay Area as a Stanford volunteer, Arthur "Clifford" Kimber was not a native of California. The family had only moved west from New York eight years before when his father, a clergyman, died suddenly in the summer of 1909. It had been a terrible loss for a still young family: for his widow Clara, more than 20 years his junior, and for his three sons John, Clifford, and George. At 13, Clifford was the middle child. The Rev. Arthur Kimber had been a dynamic and inspiring figure, not just to a family who looked to him for his love and support but to a large body of parishioners in downtown New York. 

Thousands of men and women, many of them recent immigrants to the United States, flocked to his mission church in Manhattan's Lower East Side. He was the vicar of St. Augustine's, an Episcopal church in the city's Bowery, an area which acted as a magnet for the city's dispossessed or newly hopeful. St. Augustine's offered spiritual, and a good deal of practical, support on the way to a new life. The mission was an offshoot of Trinity Church on Broadway and Wall Street, the main Episcopal church of New York and by comparison to St. Augustine's possibly the wealthiest parish in the United States. Kimber senior had been appointed in 1872 to head up this new offshoot, something he devoted himself to over the following 35 years. But it was another aspect of Kimber's ministry, his social activism, which brought him into contact with New York's public authorities along the way, working with them to try to find practical as well as religious solutions to the city's problems. 

During the mid-1890s he worked through the city's Police Board, cooperating with Theodore Roosevelt, then Police Commissioner for the city in a campaign to curtail the city's drinking hours. That was before the young Arthur Clifford had even been born, yet pride in the memory of his father's work and his common cause with Roosevelt fired the young Kimber in his teenage years. 

By the time Kimber was growing up in California, Roosevelt had already reached and departed the political summit, yet the former president remained young Kimber's political hero. It was no accident, therefore, that he sought out Roosevelt before he set out for Europe in 1917, anxious to receive some words of wisdom from the great man. Later still, and in France the following year, Kimber was just as pleased to have trained as a pilot alongside Roosevelt's youngest son, Quentin — "QR" — whom he described in his letters home as "a pretty good sport [who] has lots of life [and] is absolutely democratic and very well liked". 

Lt. Arthur Kimber, U.S. Air Service
Formerly American Field Service
But whatever political allegiances passed down by his father, or indeed any more personal or moral qualities he instilled in his middle son, there was another more practical inheritance which young Clifford was gifted by the Rev. Kimber — an interest in gadgetry and machines. That gadgetry included the latest form of transport then being pioneered, aviation. In spite of his clerical training and background, Arthur Kimber was a man who also thought and taught with his hands — practical life skills to parishioners, as well as busying himself in his workshop at home with all manner of mechanical projects and inventions. Clifford was an avid student and helper in all his workshop activity. In time, in 1907/08, he and his elder brother spent a year at a school in Canterbury in England, and it was after their spell there that the Rev. Kimber took his two older boys for a holiday in continental Europe. There, on 8 August 1908 in France, the three were in the crowd at a horse-racing track at Hunaudières near Le Mans to witness Wilbur Wright making the first official public demonstration of his Wright Model A aircraft, the flying machine he and his brother Orville had designed. It was a flyaway, runaway success. It wowed the crowds and Clifford Kimber was hooked. 

After his father's death the following year he and his brothers — now relocated to California — found solace in aping the exploits of Wright, taking to the hills near the various homesteads where they lived, to build and fly gliders. They formed a little club and poured what money they earned locally into the materials needed to build the gliders, with the rather more daring Clifford acting as chief architect and pilot, even if all was not plain sailing. There were mishaps on the way, failed attempts which reduced the carefully assembled wooden constructs to firewood. His mother, Clara, in a memoir many years later, recalled her son taking off in one especially large glider and flying it from Cragmont in the Berkeley Hills, crashing further down the slopes. He emerged largely unscathed, if $10 the worse off, but at least one San Francisco newspaper jumped the gun to publish untimely — and erroneous — accounts of his death. 

Kimber with His Operational SPAD Fighter
It was that flying bug which inspired him years later to apply for a posting to the nascent U.S. Air Service in France. Within a matter of weeks of joining the ambulance corps he had written to Edmund Gros, a San Franciscan of French heritage who was the medical director of the American Field Service. Gros, a physician, managed to combine his medical duties for the American Ambulance with a different role — that of the de facto organizer of early American aviation efforts in France. It was he who had helped create the Lafayette Escadrille, the original unit of American pilots who flew with the French air service from 1916, and the "Lafayette Flying Corps," the later American foreign legionnaires who would fly with a variety of other French squadrons. Ambulance volunteer Kimber wanted to be part of Gros's plans and to play an active combat role in the war and thus wrote to him in Paris. After some negotiation and medicals Kimber was accepted in September 1917 for the American air arm proper, now beginning to be pieced together. 

Clifford Kimber spent the next year in aviation service, the first six months in training over the winter of 1917/18. It was an exacting schedule of first basic, and then advanced training schools, finally being tutored at a third camp in aerial gunnery techniques. Yet delays afterward — delays in transporting a vast force of men and materiel to Europe as well as the wrangling still going on as to the American Expeditionary Force's exact role and theater of operations — saw him frustratedly having to cool his heels for a time. He then acted as a "ferryman," delivering warplanes around France from distribution depots and airfields. 
But finally it was time for active service as Kimber went into combat with both the French Air Service — Escadrille Spa. 85 — and the U.S. Air Service's 22nd Aero Squadron, seeing action across the front in northeastern France in the summer and early autumn of 1918. Kimber fought with the 22nd during the Americans' St. Mihiel campaign, narrowly escaping with his life in an attack by enemy fighters. Acting as his patrol's rear guard, he was jumped by a group of Fokker aircraft and his plane riddled with gunfire. "Unreasonably shot to pieces" in the restrained words of the squadron's official historian, Arthur Raymond Brooks. 

Yet less than two weeks later Kimber's luck ran out. It was late in the morning of 26 September 1918, the opening morning of the Meuse-Argonne campaign, when the young lieutenant led a patrol to strafe roads to the north of the German Kriemhilde Stellung battle-lines. Descending from the clouds on an enemy gun battery in the village of Bantheville, his SPAD XIII fighter was hit by a shell from the ground. The plane exploded and Kimber fell to his death. The moment was witnessed by the fellow members of his patrol who saw the remnants of the aircraft plunge to the ground, yet his body was not recovered at the end of the war.

It took another three years for that to happen, before his body was finally identified in an unmarked grave in the village. A year after that in the summer of 1922, 1st Lieutenant Arthur Clifford Kimber was finally reinterred in an official plot, only a matter of miles from where he had fallen. His grave can today be found toward the back of the American military cemetery at Romagne-sous-Montfaucon, in one of the final rows of the last plot. An early volunteer for the war in France, he came to be one of the last buried there.

© Patrick Gregory 2016

Adapted from An American on the Western Front: The Letters of Arthur Clifford Kimber, Patrick Gregory & Elizabeth Nurser (The History Press, UK, June 2016)

Thursday, August 18, 2016

America's First Flag to the Western Front, Part II

Part II: Arrival on the Western Front

By Patrick Gregory

The First Stanford Unit had been serving on the front for nearly three months when the flag arrived in France. The Californian students were but the latest in a long line of young men — with Ivy League colleges heavily represented — to have heeded the call to serve as ambulance drivers from the opening weeks of the war in 1914. One of the first major encounters of the war, the first Battle of the Marne in September 1914, had acted as an early recruiting sergeant as young volunteers began to find their way to France, first in ones and twos and then in groups, determined to do their bit for an Allied cause with which many came to identify. 

A.C. Kimber, AFS Driver
A number of ambulance groupings had begun to emerge through the tail end of 1914 into 1915, the Harjes Formation — named after the senior partner of the Morgan-Harjes Bank in Paris, Herman Harjes — and the second, Richard Norton's Anglo-American corps. These developed separately and worked as distinct units for over a year, before eventually merging under the banner of the American Red Cross. But it was a third ambulance grouping which grew out of the American Military Hospital in Paris which would grow into the largest and best organized — the American Ambulance Field Service or later simply "American Field Service," and it was that which the Stanford students had come to join. 

The volunteers had arrived in the field in mid-March, forming the backbone of what was now officially classified as SSU 14 — Section Sanitaire Etats-Unis 14 — assigned, as was the practice, to an individual division of the French army. In the case of the Stanford unit it had been given the task of looking after the 55th French Infantry Division — battle-weary veterans of the Marne and First Battle of the Aisne, soldiers who had fought through campaigns in the Artois sector and around Verdun. The volunteers' job was to evacuate the division's wounded during fighting from frontline emergency postes de secours dressing stations, transporting them for treatment to the rear of the lines. 

Since April the French troops had been aware that their new ambulancier colleagues were officially at war as well, and so, to mark the United States' status as an "associate" of the Allies, the flag carried to France by their fellow Stanford student — the first official flag of the American government to be flown at the front — was now to be presented by their division. 

Accordingly, two regiments of the 55th assembled with the Stanford men on the morning of Monday 4 June. It was 9 o'clock, a clear sunny day, the setting a field outside the village of Tréveray in the Meuse department some 50 miles south of Verdun. "The field of review was on the top of a high hill overlooking the valley and village," recalled Kimber, "and with a wonderful view in all directions. As we approached we could see company after company of French soldiers maneuvering into position. They all wore the steel helmets and had bayonets in place. [A divisional commander] Colonel Collon, reviewed the troops, riding up and down the lines in front of them." 

First American Flag to the Battlefields Presented, 4 June 1917

Once assembled, three of the Stanford group, a color party, stepped forward. Behind them French flags and standards flew, tended by their own guards of honor. Ranked behind them a regimental band and the rest of the Stanford men, regiments of French troops either side of them. Across the field Clifford Kimber began a short address, one which included a statement he had had brought to read from the Secretary of War Newton Baker. After he was finished Kimber handed the flag over to the colonel to make the formal presentation. Collon now addressed the assembly, this time in French, before handing the flag over to the Stanford color party. With the ceremony complete, the regimental band struck up the "Star Spangled Banner", the American anthem quickly followed by a rousing chorus of the "Marseillaise". 

This 4 June wasn't the only ceremony involving the flag, however. Exactly a month later — mindful of the significance of the day in the American calendar and wanting to mark the work of Section 14 — four companies of French soldiers, veterans of recent fighting around Téton in the Champagne region's so-called "Battle of the Hills", assembled to award the unit with a number of Croix de Guerre. One medal was pinned to the flag and two others awarded to individuals in the unit: one to the French-American member of the unit, Pierre "Peter" Fischoff, who had worked in the ambulance service since 1915, the other to the section head, Allan Muhr. A ceremony followed by what even for peacetime would have been considered a lavish feast, a ten-course meal, accompanied by table wine and large quantities of the fizzy wine which gave the area its name. 

The section continued in its original guise until the latter part of September 1917. At that point the American Field Service and other volunteer units were taken over by American Expeditionary Force and its U.S. Army Ambulance Service. The old S.S.U. 14 now became the new Army Ambulance's "Section 632," yet by that time many of the original members of the First Stanford had left to go into other branches of service or theatres. Some had elected to join a second wave of Stanford volunteers on ambulance duty in the Balkans while others went into aviation and others branches of service. Two of those in aviation, Kimber himself with U.S. 22nd Aero Squadron, and Alan Nichols who had joined one of the French Foreign Legion squadrons of the Lafayette Flying Corps would lose their lives, killed in action in the summer and autumn of 1918. 

The First Flag Today with Streamers
But the flag did find its way safely back to America. Two of the original members of the Stanford section who had set off from California in February 1917 brought it back there in 1918. Walter Malm, who had served as the unit's sous-chef, and Harold Blote, who worked both in France and the Balkans, carried it back to the university where it was placed in Stanford's chapel. In time the flag bore not only the Croix de Guerre awarded in the summer of 1917 but also battle ribbons which showed the later service in war of the different Stanford units in France, action around the Aisne and Marne in 1917 and 1918 and the postwar occupation of the Alsace region up until March 1919. 

The First Flag still exists and remains at Stanford. It hung in the Stanford chapel until the early 1970s, but since that time has been stored safe — albeit not on public display —in the institution's Special Collections & University Archives. 

To be continued. . .

© Patrick Gregory 2016

Adapted from An American on the Western Front: The Letters of Arthur Clifford Kimber, Patrick Gregory & Elizabeth Nurser (The History Press, UK, June 2016)