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

Monday, October 31, 2016

Announcing Our Comprehensive American Expeditionary Force — Pershing's Doughboys Battlefield Tour

More than any other trip I have planned for Valor Tours, we are working to include all the sites of personal interest for the participants in our 2018 Pershing's Doughboys Tour. Our journey together, of course, will include a comprehensive study of all the major American battlefields on the Western Front. You will see step-by-step how the battles unfolded, where the toughest fighting was, where legends like the Lost Battalion and the Devil Dogs at Belleau Wood were born, and all the magnificent monuments and memorials to our nation's sacrifices that are beautifully maintained to this day.

On top of that, however, this trip is a chance for families to remember and honor their heritage. If your loved one went over the top, we will take you to that very spot and let you walk in their footsteps. If you have someone buried overseas we will help you with a wreath laying or personal commemoration.

My 2010 Group at the Corporal Alvin York Memorial Trail, Argonne Forest

The key to fitting all these special stops into our itinerary is to give me all the information you have on your relative as early as you can. I've been researching the AEF for a quarter century and I've helped dozens of travelers like yourself find the place that are meaningful to the. Please take a look at our general program below. As I learn the specific interests of our group, it will be adjusted a bit, but I've allowed enough flexibility and time to visit just about any place an American fought in France and Flanders.

My 2015 Group at Croix Rouge Farm Rainbow Division Memorial

A few details:

When: 7–17 August 2018
Start/Finish: Paris
Price: $3750.00 per person, twin share. Single supplement $600.00.
(Land costs only, 2016 estimate; 10% discount for early payment, 5% for early deposit)
Download Flyer at

I hope you will be able to join us. Contact me for a consultation about your relative's service at:

Sunday, October 30, 2016

Remembering a Veteran: Lt. Sir Edward Beddington-Behrens, MC with Bar

An aristocrat, who was both brilliant and a brave officer, Sir Edward Beddington-Behrens (1897–1968) served in both World Wars. In 1915, he was commissioned into the Royal Field Artillery, subsequently receiving the Military Cross in 1917, with bar added in 1918. 

His twin brother, 2nd Lt. Walter Louis Behrens, Royal Field Artillery, was killed in action in 1917. After the war, Sir Edward studied at Christ Church, Oxford, and took a PhD in economics at the University of London, before becoming one of the British representatives at the League of Nations. In 1932 he published "A Practical Monetary Policy" for the Ottawa Conference. He became an early advocate for European unification.  In his spare time he was a notable patron of the arts.

When World War II broke out, Beddington-Behrens was called up from the Territorial Army, serving in Belgium prior to Dunkirk and later as a staff officer at Coleshill House, where British resistance fighters were prepared in case the nation was invaded.

In the Great War — like so many of his generation — he saw his first service in the Battle of the Somme. Late in his life the debate started up as to whether the Somme was a disaster or part of the necessary learning curve by which the BEF weakened the Germany Army. Beddington-Behrens would have none of it. He wrote this letter to the Times in response to some article that had caught his attention. 

Source:s  BBC and the British Resistance Archive

Saturday, October 29, 2016

Thanks to the Russian Revolution for Chicken Kiev

Just try to imagine an America without that wonderful delicacy shown above, Chicken Kiev. Alas, such a deprived nation once existed. The matter was corrected by White Russian émigré Col. Wladimir W. Yaschenko (1890–1978), formerly of the tsar's cavalry and owner of the Yar Restaurant in Chicago in the 1930s. The Yar was very popular among the show business folk like the Barrymore clan, who helped spread word through the vaudeville circuit about the "simply fabulous" stuffed chicken the colonel served. 

On the Yar's 1948 menu below, the dish is listed as Breast of Chicken a la Kiev, and it costs diners the same price as lobster.

Friday, October 28, 2016

Wartime Advertisments from the Collection of Tony Langley

For the last decade I have been most fortunate to have Tony Langley of Antwerp, Belgium, as a contributing editor to all of my publications. Today we are sharing some of images featuring products to send to British Tommies at the Front.

Click on Image to Enlarge

Thursday, October 27, 2016

A Key Position at Anzac: Battleship Hill

1919 View of Battleship Hill from Baby 700 (Note Skeletal Remains in Foreground)

The Anzacs' objective from Day One of their landing on 25 April 1915 — and for the entire campaign— was to capture Sari Bair, the highest ridge above the landing beaches, especially its central peak, named Chunuk Bair. The southernmost hill of Sari Bair, actually a flat double-peaked formation, became the key defensive point that day for the Turkish troops commanded by Mustafa Kemal. It blocked the direct approach to Chunuk Bair from the south and southwest. The taller hilltop was known locally as Düztepe (Flat Hill). The Allies initially used the terminology Big 700 for this more northern, taller summit and Baby 700 for the lower. The name Big 700, however, only lasted a few days, as a more suitable name for the hill ensued after it became the target for British naval artillery, earning the name Battleship Hill. 

Anzac Sector, Partial Map Showing Locations Discussed in the Article

Battleship Hill was briefly occupied (but not held) by advance units of the Anzacs on 25 April but was successfully defended by Kemal's newly arrived units and held by the Turks for the rest of the campaign. It was a near thing for the Anzacs, though. That morning Lt. Eric Tulloch of the 11th and Captain Joseph Lalor of the 12th Australian Battalion, had landed with their men on North Beach, just north of Anzac Cove. Being fired at immediately from the high ground above, they quickly started their ascent up to the series of ridges before them. Eventually they reached a narrow saddle, later named the Nek, that connected to the slopes of Baby 700. With Lalor and his men in reserve, Tulloch, his platoon, and a second platoon that had made a timely arrival carried on trying to gain control of Battleship Hill, where a rendezvous had been planned, pursuant to a further advance to Chunuk Bair.

They made steady progress, until they reached a position on the inland slope of Battleship Hill. There, Tulloch was faced with a growing problem — at every hill crest they had crossed so far, Turkish opposition had increased, and now he was facing a deep dip in front of his small force with a line of Turks on the slope behind it. Their fire was so intense that his men could only lie down in the shrub that covered the entire area. It was now past 9 o'clock in the morning. Tulloch could see the first slope of Chunuk Bair, only one kilometer distant, but any attempt to advance upon it seemed impossible. When new Turkish troops appeared on the scene and threatened to outflank him, his only option was to retreat to Baby 700, where in the meantime another fight had developed. Baby 700 was also lost eventually. Tulloch's advance to Battleship Hill was the high-water mark for the Anzacs on 25 April.

Turkish troops were dug in on Battleship Hill, having seen firsthand its value in defending the strategic high ground. The fighting in this sector soon took on the character of the Western Front with trenches, sniping, and deadly artillery fire. The aerial photo below shows the extensive trenches at Baby 700 and Battleship Hill.

Trenches at Battleship Hill and Baby 700 —  Left, Turkish Trench Today;
Right, RNAS Aerial Photo, October 1915

Battleship Hill and Baby 700 would remain in Turkish hands until the withdrawal from the Anzac sector in December 1915. A plan to recapture them was part of the Suvla Bay operation in August. Chunuk Bair was to be gained first with an attack from another section, and then defenders on Battleship Hill and Baby 700 rolled up from the rear. The Allied occupation of Chunuk Bair was only minimal, however, as the Allied troops they were once again driven off by infantry commanded by that man of destiny, Mustafa Kemal. Battleship Hill remained a Turkish bastion for the rest of the land campaign. 

Adapted From the Australian War Memorial and websites

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Wacht im Osten: German Encounters with the East Opens at the National Museum World War One Museum

The folks in Kansas City are making sure the Eastern Front is not forgotten during the Centennial commemorations.

Unknown German soldier on sentry duty in a trench. (The name for the exhibition stems from “Wacht im Osten” written on this soldier’s helmet).

When the German Army advanced into the western territory of the Russian Empire in the spring and summer of 1915, soldiers encountered a physical and cultural environment quite different from what they previously encountered. Those experiences are told through the eyes of German soldiers in Wacht im Osten: German Encounters with the East in World War I, open between 25 October 2016 and 12 March 2017. 

The exhibition’s narrative unfolds mainly through the stories of two German soldiers: Georg Oertel and Friedrich Volkmann. Oertel served as a medic in a field hospital in Poland and once helped deliver a farmer’s baby during the Christmas holiday. Volkmann was a father with two small children who served in the infantry in Poland and was killed there. They are experiences of two soldiers, far from home in a foreign land, caught up in war.

German soldiers excavating a Japanese 28cm siege howitzer near Grodno, a munitions or spare parts crate sitting to the side.

“This special exhibition is unique in that we share the stories and experiences of common soldiers tasked with overseeing the occupation of foreign lands,” says Museum Archivist Jonathan Casey. “Through their own personal photographs and diary entries, we’re able to gain an understanding of everyday life for soldiers in those circumstances.”

An example of this is the Belarusian village of Iwje, which is depicted using commercial photo postcards illustrating its diverse mix of religious cultures, including Christian, Jewish, and Muslim.

Personnel of the Landwehr Field Hospital No. 30 posed around a gramophone with a sign that translates as “Karl Lindstrom’s Field Music.”

If you have already visited the National Museum, you know what a treasure it is, and I'm sure you are planning to go there again.  If you are interested in WWI and have not been to the museum, all I can say is that you are missing one of America's cultural treasures. Remember, too, that their annual symposium is scheduled for 4–5 November. This year's topic is 1916: TOTAL WAR (Details). 

Thanks to Mike Vieti for the photos and background.

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

The First Blitz: Bombing London in the First World War
reviewed by Peter L. Belmonte

The First Blitz: Bombing London in the First World War

by Ian Castle
Osprey Publishing, 2015

With this book, historians of the Great War have an accessible, eminently readable volume covering German airship and bomber raids on London during the war. Author Ian Castle is an expert on the "London Blitz" and has several books to his credit. This current effort combines some of his previous work into a single, updated volume.

First Blitz is divided into two parts. The first deals with German airship raids on London, while the second deals with German airplane (bomber) raids on London. Castle recaps the development of airships in the early 20th century, and their use by the German Navy and Army. Later, he discusses the development of the German Gotha and Giant bombers used against England in 1917 and 1918.

In order to counter the German airship threat, the British arranged a series of searchlight and anti-aircraft batteries throughout the country. Likewise, the Royal Flying Corps (Army) and the Royal Naval Air Service, at different times, held responsibility for the aerial response to the raids. The British struggled to find the correct combination of incendiary bullets and aerial bombs to counter the airships; in the end, British aircraft used a combination of incendiary, explosive, and tracer bullets in turn, thereby puncturing airship fuel cells and igniting the escaping hydrogen-oxygen mixture. Most of the British airplanes in use could not easily out-climb the airships, so aerial bombs, which had to be dropped on top of the airships from above, were not practical.

Each of the nine airship raids on London is covered in some detail. Castle identifies the German commander of each airship, and he describes each airship's approach and "bomb run." There were, of course, raids on other parts of England, but these are only covered in an incidental way.

The first London airship raid was flown on 31 May/1 June 1915, and the last occurred on 19/20 October 1917. Although there were more than nine raids scheduled, adverse weather and mechanical problems caused many missions to be scrapped or altered in flight. The Germans used several different types of airships; although each wrought some death and destruction, by 1917 both the German Navy and Army decided that the raids on London were not fruitful enough. The final airship raid over England took place in August 1918.

The first bomber raid on London was by a solo aircraft on 28 November 1916, and the next, also a solo effort, was on the night of 6/7 May 1917. But the concerted effort to bomb London by fixed-wing aircraft didn't start until June 1917. These bomber raids surprised the British because they took place in broad daylight, in contrast to the nighttime airship raids experienced up to that point. England didn't even have a suitable civilian air defense warning system at the time. The British needed to borrow men and equipment from the front in France in order to bolster homeland defense. This did not go over well with the generals prosecuting the war in France, and most loans were of a short duration. The last and largest bombing raid over London took place on the night of 19/20 May 1918.

Bomb Damage in London, 1914-1918

This fine book is basically a play-by-play account of airship and bomber raids over London; the author covers both British and German activity and adaptations, in addition to major personalities on both sides. The photographs, maps, and illustrations in and of themselves make this book worthwhile. The maps in particular are fascinating; they show, in large scale, the ground tracks of the airships and bombers over the target area and impact points of individual bombs. Gleaned from military, police, and fire reports, the maps are important visual aids when studying these raids. Castle also tallies the numbers of people killed and wounded, plus the monetary value of the property destruction of each raid. Specially commissioned artwork rounds out the fine visual appeal of the book. There are no footnotes or endnotes, and the "select bibliography" is all too brief. I highly recommend First Blitz to anyone interested in aerial warfare, British military history, or the history of the home front during the war.

Peter L. Belmonte

Monday, October 24, 2016

100 Years Ago: Rollback at Verdun Begins

After their attacks against Froideterre-Fleury-Ft. Souville line had ground to a halt, the new German leadership called off further offensive operations at Verdun.  The French now desired to eliminate the German threat to Verdun completely, Monsieur Poincare, President of the French Republic, on 13 September 1916, awarded the Legion of Honor to the City of Verdun. With this award began the new phase of dislodging the German threat and pushing them back. 

General Mangin
General Charles Mangin, called in June to take command of Group "D" which manned the front between the Meuse River and Fleury, planned the counterattack.  On 17 September, he sent General Robert Nivelle a report which outlined his plan to retake the "Hot Zone" of the right bank including the key Forts of Douaumont and Vaux.  

The plan outlined advances on a series of limited objectives. Using as a base to launch attacks the village of Fleury, which had been secured by the French in August, French and colonial troops would first seize the site of the destroyed Thiaumount Ouvrage, followed by an advance on Fort Douaumont, then Fort Vaux, and concluding with a push north on the Meuse Heights.

The plan was approved on 21 September.  A mock battlefield was established at Stainville, near Bar-le-Duc to train the assault teams. Exactly one month after the approval of the plan, French artillery began the counter-attack with a three day continuous shelling. On the 24th of October, the first waves of the 38th, 133rd and 74th Divisions moved forward under a creeping barrage following a precise time table and with artillery lending maximum protection. The colonial troops of the 133rd division were give Fort Douaumont as their main objective. One account of Douaumont's recapture states:

On 24 October, a dense fog overhung the entire plateau. Nevertheless, General Mangin decided to attack. At 1140 hours, marching by compass, without hurrying, in good order, and with assurance, his troops proceeded over muddy terrain. Observation points were useless. Only several planes, flying very low, followed the progress of the battle and kept the French commanders informed.

By October the Entire Verdun Battlefield Was Bare of Vegetation

The 38th Division sharpshooters captured Thiaumont Ouvrage in the first assault. While the 38th was consolidating its positions, Zouave infantrymen went through them, and attacked the village of Douaumont. The Zouave Regiment then received orders to take Fort Douaumont. There was some confusion caused by heavy fog to get to their new positions in the line of departure. Major Nicolay, in command of the battalion assigned to charge the fort and drive out the Germans, wrote in his report:

With the French planes cruising just over the fort, the battalion approached the moats in single file, rifles slung, their leaders in the front. They climbed the steep slopes of the rampart from where they saw the gaping ends of the casement of the fort behind the incredibly torn-up court. The heads of the columns stood and gazed at the great chaos which the fort, symbol of determination and power, had become. The commander of the battalion (Nicolay himself) after checking on the movements in the moat, rejoined those in the lead, and while rendering homage to this consecrated and unforgettable sight gave the order to take the machine guns which began firing from the bottom of the casemates. The third resistance was overcome, and everyone reached his objective (the operation having been fully rehearsed before the attack). Each turret was taken, one after the other.

Nicolay's men now controlled the superstructure of the fort. By morning of the 25th the entire fort was in French hands. The army and the nation celebrated.

Fort Douaumont Recaptured

General Mangin now needed to take Fort Vaux, key to the defense of his eastern flank. He made plans to assault it with an additional division on 3 November. When the French moved on the fort as planned, they found that the Germans had evacuated it the day before. The "Hot Zone," the center of action in both the opening and end game of Verdun had been secured, but Mangin was not finished. He next planned an attack along a ten-mile front on 5 December, thus hoping to regain at once the entire French section lost in the first days of the battle.

In preparation for this attack, he ordered the construction of 30, kilometers of road, including one of logs for artillery, ten kilometers of narrow gauge railway, numerous delivery and return trenches  and ammunition  and supply depots. The engineers accomplished all of this construction, much under heavy shell fire.

With four divisions in place, four more in reserve, and two lines of artillery, against five German divisions in the line and four in reserve on a six-mile front between Vacherauville and Bezonvaux, General Mangin's artillery opened fire with 750 guns in preparation of a new attack on 29 November. Bad weather intervened, forcing him to halt the firing. On 9 December, the weather having improved, the artillery resumed its preparatory fire. At 10:,00 hours on 15 December, a "Black Day" according to Crown Prince Wilhelm, the French attacked Louvemont capturing a large number of prisoners and their artillery. The readjusted front was now two miles north of Fort Douaumont, not quite to the opening line of February but close enough for the French to claim they had regained all the territory lost in the battle.

The Re-planted Area of the Final Fighting Today — Forts Douaumont and Vaux Barely Visible on the Horizon (Steve Miller Photo)

By 18 December the longest battle of the First World War was over.  The French in 1917 would make minor advances on both sides of the Meuse, but the next major offensives in the area would be initiated by General Pershing's AEF in September 1918.

Source: This is adapted from an article prepared by the students of American Verdun High School, which closed in 1968 after General de Gaulle ordered American forces out of France.

Sunday, October 23, 2016

First and Last Ships To Be Sunk

The first ship to be sunk in the Great War was the German auxiliary minelayer SS Königin Luise, which was scuttled after damage by Royal Navy fire on 5 August 1914. It had been attempting to lay mines off of the Thames Estuary. During the action the destroyer HMS Lance also fired what is believed to be the first British shot of the war. Launched in 1913, it  operated as a steam ferry between Hamburg and the Netherlands, until it was commandeered as a mine sweeper

SS Königin Luise During Its Service as a Ferry

The last ship sunk was the pre-dreadnought British battleship HMS Britannia. She was en route to Gibraltar when she was torpedoed off Cape Trafalgar on 9 November 1918 by U-50. The obsolete capital ship had been assigned as a convoy escort. Fifty men of the crew perished in the sinking.

HMS Britannia, Launched 1904

Saturday, October 22, 2016

Why Does Craonne Have Its Own Song?

Good-bye to life, good-bye to love, Good-bye to all the women, It's all over now, we've had it for good With this awful war. It's in Craonne up on the plateau That we're leaving our skins, 'Cause we've all been sentenced to die. We're the ones that they're sacrificing.
Song of Craonne, 1917

Craonne, May 1917

The ancient village of Craonne was located on the slope just below the Chemin des Dames. By 1914 it had already gained mention in history books as the site of a victory by Napoleon during his 1814 campaign. In September of 1914, in the aftermath of the Battle of the Marne, the village was the scene of fighting between the retreating German Army and the pursuing French. There were a number of the 600 villagers killed in the action after taking refuge in Craonne's cellars.

Site of Village Church

Subsequently, the village was evacuated and the Germans used it as an outpost after recapturing the site in early 1915. In the artillery prelude to  the 1917 Nivelle Offensive, French artillery effectively leveled the village. It then became the site of ferocious fighting in the opening of the battle on 16 April 1917. The attacking French 2nd Division lost half its strength that morning. There were similar disasters during the failed Nivelle operation, but – possibly because of its Napoleonic association – the name "Craonne" registered and was remembered by the embittered Poilus, who soon after began organized disobedience to their officers. The lyrics of a protest song sung by grumbling soldiers in the trenches that had been around since the winter of 1914/15, was adjusted to feature Craonne. It was subsequently adopted by the mutineers as their anthem and later universally by pacifists worldwide. It is powerfully moving even in the 21st century. 

Memorial to the Fallen of Craonne

After the war, a new village by the same name was built a half-mile to the south. The original village of Craonne was first classified a prohibited area, then handed over to the French Forestry Service, which turned it into an arboretum featuring dozens of different trees. A war memorial was also placed on the site near the former village church of St. Martin. Today Craonne retains the haunted feeling of such other tragic spots on the Western Front as Mort Homme and Hill 60.

Contemporary photos by our resident documentarian, Steve Miller.

Friday, October 21, 2016

First Yanks in the Air, Part II — The Air Service

The U.S. Air Service Arrives

Being a Gimper

The 94th soon began to develop a persona, a culture straight from the Lafayette Escadrille. Thanks to the influence and example of Lufbery, Hall,Peterson, and Marr, the 94th Aero Squadron absorbed the heritage of the Escadrille. The Lafayette veterans, especially Lufbery and Hall, taught the 94th the Escadrille’s tactics and traditions, and the 94th developed a distinctive personality reflected even in the language it spoke. A dependable comrade was a “Gimper,” after a mythical bird that would stick no matter what happened. The Gimper was the highest standard for a pursuit pilot.

Everyone, according to Rickenbacker, wanted to be a Gimper :

If you were up in the air and ran into a dozen enemies and you were getting the worst of it, and the fellow with you stuck with you and gave it to them until they fled, then you’d know he was a Gimper. If he didn’t have motor trouble, and his gun didn’t jam [and] he didn’t accept any one of dozen excuses for zooming off home and leaving you to do the same if you could get away, he’d be a Gimper all right.

Developing a Doctrine of Air Warfare

In the process of developing its pursuit force, the Air Service had borrowed heavily from the Allies, but had made its own original contribution as well.  Eddie Rickenbacker, too, recognized significant differences between the French and British approach to war and, writing after the conflict, agreed that the American
approach was an amalgamation of the two. According to the ace:

Each had worked out a method of scientific murder that did the job. . .The French were inclined to be cautious as a settled military policy of getting the best results with the least expenditure of valuable lives and costly planes. The British were foolhardy as a matter of principle and morale, because they found they got the best results with their people in that way. Compared with the French . . . our men seemed reckless. Compared with the British they seemed cautious. . . We were working out ours with the experience of both to help us, and the methods of both to choose from. The result was, generally, a sort of compromise.

Source: LIKE A THUNDERBOLT: The Lafayette Escadrille and the Advent of American Pursuit in World War I by Roger G. Miller from the USAF Museum

Thursday, October 20, 2016

First Yanks in the Air, Part I — The Escadrille

The Lafayette Escadrille

First Victory

On the morning of 18 May 1916, a German LVG appeared in the sky over Thann in the Vosges region, near the ancient French city of Nancy. The LVG was a well-armed, two-seat observation airplane, and the Vosges was a quiet sector of the Western Front, in stark contrast to the merciless slaughter taking place to the north at Verdun. Normally the two airmen could expect to do their reconnaissance with little interruption, but on this day they had left luck behind. A speck appeared in the sky to the west and rapidly grew into an enemy pursuit aircraft, an avion de chasse, an agile, single-seat Nieuport. The Germans, busy at their trade, failed to see the enemy draw near. A veteran hunter or more cautious pilot might have seized the opportunity to surprise the LVG and launch an attack out of the sun or from behind a cloud, but this one approached directly, without guile. Suddenly aware of the danger, the observer seized his machine gun and began firing while the pilot turned the airplane toward the safety of the German lines. The chasse pilot closed to pointblank range and, just as a collision appeared imminent, fired a quick burst, then swerved away. The encounter was over that quickly. Both the observer and pilot collapsed; the LVG rolled and plunged to earth. The Nieuport banked away leaving a plume of smoke to mark the scene of combat.

French troops witnessed the brief fight and by the time the Nieuport reached its field at Luxeuil-les-Bains had confirmed the kill. It was an auspicious event. Everything about the victorious aircraft said “France” except the pilot’s name. Kiffen Yates Rockwell was an American citizen assigned to Escadrille N.124, known unofficially as l’Escadrille Americaine, and his victory was the unit’s first. It was quick and impressive by contemporary standards of air combat. Rockwell had engaged at incredibly close range, almost sticking his gun into the enemy cockpit, but his daring attack allowed the LVG’s observer to put a hole in the Nieuport’s top wing main spar. Rockwell, in turn, killed the two men with only four bullets, a marvelous feat of marksmanship. Cheering comrades lifted him from the cockpit and began a wild celebration. A tradition began with N.124’s first victory. Rockwell’s brother Paul, serving elsewhere in the French Army, provided a bottle of 80-year-old bourbon. Kiffen Rockwell took the first drink, but the Escadrille set aside the rest. From then on, credit for downing an enemy aircraft earned the victorious pilot a shot from “The Bottle of Death.”

Escadrille Americaine to Lafayette Escadrille

An additional change took place. The adventures of l’Escadrille Americaine had generated considerable publicity in the U.S., where the public was enthralled by the idea of American airmen fighting on the Western Front in this romantic new medium. Count Johann von Bernstorff, the German ambassador, however, formally protested that the American squadron violated the Hague Convention and complained that it had bombed American citizens in Germany. Secretary of State Robert Lansing brought the problem to the French ambassador, Jules Jusserand. William Thaw, home on leave, addressed the situation, telling reporters that only the press called the unit l’Escadrille Americaine; its official name was N.124, while the French minister of war unilaterally announced that henceforth the unit would be called l’Escadrille des Volontaires, a pronouncement that pleased no one.

Eventually, someone suggested l’Escadrille Lafayette in honor of the Marquis de Lafayette, a French aristocrat who had fought for American independence during the Revolutionary War. Dr. Gros always claimed credit, but the name was logical and had been around for a bit. Monsieur de Sillac had referenced Lafayette in a letter in mid-1915, and in a July 1916 article in Collier’s magazine, former president Theodore Roosevelt called the airmen “Lafayettes of the Air.” The name proved popular, and, to German frustration, the unit’s fame and prestige continued to grow under its new official title. 

Source: LIKE A THUNDERBOLT: The Lafayette Escadrille and the Advent of American Pursuit in World War I by Roger G. Miller from the USAF Museum

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Lieutenant Raymond Asquith: The Asquiths Go to War and One Gives His All

By James Patton

Lt. Raymond Asquith
Raymond Asquith was born in Hampstead on 6 6 November 1878, the firstborn child and eldest son of Herbert Henry (familiarly known as “H.H.”) Asquith and his wife, the former Helen Melland (1855–1891). H.H., son of a Yorkshire tradesman and orphaned at seven, won a scholarship at Balliol College, Oxford, where he was president of the Oxford Union. In 1876 he became a Lincoln’s Inn barrister and struggled for ten years until he was elected a Member of Parliament (MP). He served as Home Secretary from 1892 to 1895 and when the Liberals returned in 1905 he was made chancellor of the exchequer before becoming prime minister on 5 April 1908, serving until 5 December 1916. 

Raymond was twelve years old when his mother died and fifteen when his father married Margot Tennant, a family friend. Raymond didn’t get on well with Margot, feeling that she wasn’t motherly to his younger siblings. He grew distant from his father, partly due to Margot and partly due to a keen sense of competition. He seemed to be determined to outdo his father in everything.

He was educated at Winchester and, like his father, at Balliol College, Oxford, where he was the president of the Oxford Union Debating Society and received a first in 1902. As a graduate he was elected a fellow of the prestigious All Souls College, Oxford, passing what has been called the hardest examination in the world. Although he dabbled in poetry at Oxford, he was called to the bar at Lincoln’s Inn in 1904. Much more successful at the law than his father, he was junior counsel in the North Atlantic Fisheries Arbitration and also in the investigation of the sinking of the Titanic

In 1907 Raymond married Katherine Horner (1885–1976). This was a socially acceptable match, as her family was landed and wealthy. They would have three children, Helen (1908–2000), Perdita (1910–1996), who became Lady Hylton, and Julian (1916–2011), who in 1928 succeeded to the peerage granted to his grandfather in 1925 as Earl of Oxford and Asquith. Katherine never remarried.

Meanwhile, a political career was envisioned for Raymond, and in 1914 he was tapped to be the next Liberal candidate for the constituency of Derby.  

The war intervened, and soon after the onset the Asquith boys volunteered to do their bit (except Anthony, who was 14). Raymond and Cyril (1890–1954) were commissioned in the 16th (County of London) Battalion (Queen’s Westminster Rifles). Raymond later transferred to the 3rd Battalion, Grenadier Guards, on 14 August 1915.

Cyril stayed with the Westminsters and ended the war as a captain. Arthur (1883–1939) was commissioned in the navy and soon assigned to the Royal Naval Division. This may not have been what he intended, but he made the most of it; he was awarded three Distinguished Service Orders, was wounded four times, and ended the war as a one-legged brigadier serving in the Ministry of Munitions. Herbert (1881–1947) a minor poet, was commissioned in the Royal Artillery. 

Wounded Men at Ginchy, September 1916

On 15 September 1916, during the Battle of Flers-Courcelette, Raymond’s outfit, the 3rd Grenadier Guards, led the attack on Lesbeoufs that was launched from Ginchy. Quoting from the War Diaries:

The bombardment overnight on the German positions opposite was continuous. At 6.20am, zero hour, the creeping barrage came down and the two Guards brigades moved forward…  

Raymond Asquith was leading the first half of 4 Company, 3rd Grenadier Guards, which went over the top at zero hour from a spot not 500 yards outside the hole in the ground that was once Ginchy. Taken by the 16th (Irish) Division on 9 September, German counter-attacks had retaken the north-east corner until the night of 13/14 September when 2nd Grenadier Guards had pushed them out... 

The Guards Division were faced by the Serpentine Trench ahead of them and The Triangle on their right, both protected by thick bands of barbed wire and machine guns from the Quadrilateral that swept the ground in front of them… 

Lieutenant Asquith, leading 13 and 14 platoons of No.4 Company was shot and fatally wounded in the chest in the first wave, soon after leaving the trench. The story goes that he urged to be propped up, smoking cigarettes, so that he could encourage his men as they continued into the fight; he died later that day.

This attack was led by three tanks. Only one was of any help.  From the History of the Guards:

Asquith's Grave, Guillemont Road Cemetery
The remaining tanks wandered about in various directions and are reported to have done a certain amount of useful fighting on their own account either in the area of the Guards Division or in that of the 6th Division, but they certainly failed on this occasion to carry out their main task and were of no help to the infantry in the subduing of machine-gun fire. 

~ Report of Major-General G. P. Fielding, 19 September 1916

Also in killed in this action were a serving MP, G.V. Bearing, and the son of another MP, David Henderson.   

Raymond is buried in CWGC Guillemont Road Cemetery [Plot I. Row B, Grave 3], where his headstone is inscribed "Small time but in that small most greatly lived this star of England," a concluding line from Shakespeare's Henry V. He is memorialized at Amiens Cathedral and also in St. Andrews Church in Mells, Somerset, his wife’s family parish. The latter was designed by Sir Edwin Lutyens, a family friend, and is the smallest memorial ever designed by Lutyens, who also designed the Thiepval Memorial, the India Gate, and the Whitehall Cenotaph, among many others.

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Verdun: the Left Bank
reviewed by the Editor

Verdun: the Left Bank

by Christina Holstein
Pen & Sword, 2016

Memorial at Malancourt on the Approach to Cote 304

Almost all histories of the 1916 Battle of Verdun emphasize the fighting on the right (or east) bank of the River Meuse. It was the locale of the struggle's opening and end game and also some of the best remembered names: the Forts Douaumont and Vaux and Fleury village. There was, however, a middle period when the main action shifted to the other side of the river, when the German Fifth Army of the Crown Prince tried to break through and take Verdun from the west. This area is known as the Left Bank and it featured some of the most horrendous fighting of the Great War. Verdun expert and friend of this reviewer, Christina Holstein, has filled a big gap for us. In Verdun: the Left Bank she provides us with a combined battlefield guide and history that helps us understand this important sector. It is the fourth in her series on Verdun, and I found it the most helpful for me because it covers territory few other authors cover in any depth. Fortunately, it became available just before I led my spring tour to Verdun, and  I made some last-minute adjustments to the tour itinerary after reading this work. For instance, we spent much more time around the village of Malancourt. This interesting little place was the gateway for the German Army to Cote 304 (to the right of the memorial shown above) and for the U.S. Army's assault on Montfaucon (behind the memorial) in 1918. By the way, both the French defenders of 1916 and the American 79th Division are recognized on the memorial.

The three months of intense fighting on the left bank is covered chronologically in a way that is easy to follow. Key positions like the villages of Malancourt, Cumières, and German-occupied Forges and the strategic hills such as Mort Homme, Cote 304, and the important rear artillery position of Bois-Bourrus Ridge are clearly positioned for the reader with lots of details about the action there. To describe the fighting Christina draws heavily on primary French and German sources. (Her skills as a multi-lingual translator really enhance the battle accounts.) This work is also highly illustrated with over 150 photos and helpful maps.

I mentioned above that this work proved very helpful in planning my recent Verdun trip. Here's a general section I found eye-opening even after visiting the Verdun battlefield a dozen times earlier:

In fact, Verdun was not just defended by walls; it also had formidable natural defenses. The city is surrounded by flat topped limestone hi ills that rise to 390 meters above sea level and offer grandstand views in all directions. Streams have cut the hillsides into deep ravines which provide concealment for both troops and observers, while the valley bottoms, marshy and overgrown in both summer and winter, hinder easy movement and force communication lines to concentrate in the few gateways that remain naturally dry. The winding valley of the River Meuse is dominated by interlocking spurs, which block passage along the valley from any direction and control the river crossings, while frequent floods, which event today fill the valley from side to side, form another natural obstacle to movement of armies. [16]

If you are interested in learning about the Battle of Verdun in-depth, after reading one of the survey histories of the battle like Alistair Horne's classic, The Price of Glory, you can do no better than reading Christina Holstein's studies of Verdun. In addition to Verdun: the Left Bank, she has written similar volumes on Fort Douaumont, Fort Vaux, and a guide, Walking Verdun.

Mike Hanlon

Monday, October 17, 2016

Recommended: The War Poetry of John Allan Wyeth

Last month, in a posting about war poems that have stuck with me over the years, I included a sonnet titled "Harbonnières to Bayonvillers: Picnic" by the forgotten John Allan Wyeth of the 33rd Division AEF. It is included in a collection of Wyeth's work,  This Man’s Army: A War in Fifty-Odd Sonnets. A longtime friend and correspondent, Bradley (B.J.) Omanson, who contributed the annotations for This Man's Army, contacted me afterward to alert me to his blog on Wyeth. Naturally, I took a look and discovered that B.J. is doing some amazing things at his site.

He posts articles that make the case that Wyeth was the best American poet of WWI, that show how respected he was among literary insiders like F. Scott Fitzgerald and Edmund Wilson, and that "document," visually and with telling details, the accuracy of the descriptions  presented in the 52 sonnets. 

Shown here are  parts of B.J.'s commentary on the tenth sonnet in the cycle, "Oisemont: Place de la Maire." 

Visit the War Poetry of John Allan Wyeth at:

Sunday, October 16, 2016

Those Old Michelin Battlefield Guides, #2 The St. Mihiel Salient

When I first started Roads to the Great War, I recommended the original Michelin Battlefield Guides as a great source of  battlefield images. Immediately after the war, these guides – produced by the Michelin Tire Company – were state-of-the-art helpers for tourists. Today, however, they would just get you lost. The roads, visual landmarks, and signage today are quite different from those of the 1920s. Nevertheless,  their historical summaries photos are still superb and quite unique. I promised to share some of their images with our readers but forgot (temporarily for three years) about it. Here are a dozen images for you from the St. Mihiel Salient, which, even today, has such an amazing collection of interesting sites to see that it is in effect an outdoor museum of the Great War.

I've selected some images I've never seen in other works with their original captions. They can be found in the guide titled The Americans in the Great War, Vol II: The Battle of Saint Mihiel.