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

Sunday, December 31, 2017

Ring in the New Year with a French 75 Cocktail

Caution: Over 21 Only

Just as the Great War has its own music and poetry, it has its own cocktail.  The drink was created in 1915 at the New York Bar in Paris—later Harry's New York Bar—by barman Harry MacElhone. The combination was said to have such a kick that it felt like being shelled with the powerful French 75mm field gun.  The early recipe was tinkered with considerably and it seems to have evolvecd into its "classic" version in the 1920s.  There seems to be something of an urban legend that the  French 75 was invented by or for the French-American Ace Raoul Lufbery, but there  doesn't appear to be any supporting evidence for this. Anyway, a happy 2018 to all.

Ingredients in the French 75

  • 1⁄2 oz lemon juice
  • 1⁄2 oz simple syrup
  • 1 oz gin
  • 3 oz champagne or prosecco 

1  lemon twist

Glass: champagne flute (originally a Tom Collins glass)

Making the French 75

  • Add all the ingredients except the champagne or prosecco to a shaker and fill with ice.
  • Shake well and strain into the glass.
  • Top with the champagne and garnish with a lemon twist.


Saturday, December 30, 2017

A Roads Classic: Who Was the First Ace?

Pégoud Receiving the Croix de Guerre

A Jaunty-Looking Pégoud
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.

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 is at Montparnasse Cemetery, Paris.

Click Image to Enlarge
Immortalized in Comics

Sources:  Tony Langley Collection, Wikipedia, and

Friday, December 29, 2017

British Shell Failure at Jutland

After Jutland, Still Afloat

The German battlecruiser SMS Seydlitz (above) survived 24 large shell hits from Royal Naval dreadnoughts during the Battle of Jutland. How was this possible? 

The answer is that British naval armor-piercing shells proved to be utterly inadequate to the challenge. They were brittle and frequently simply disintegrated on contact without penetration. When the explosive content did activate, it proved to be too weak to ensure an effective impact explosion. The Germans shells, in contrast, had delayed action fuses that considerably improved their efficacy. (Source: WFA Website)

Thursday, December 28, 2017

"Mostest with the Leastest" in the Great War

Maude: Forgotten Victor of Mesopotamia

One measure of distinguished generalship is the ability to find victory despite limited resources. As Bedford Forrest might have put it, "Doing the mostest with the leastest." An example from the First World War is British Lieutenant General Sir Frederick Stanley Maude, successor to defeated and subsequently disgraced General Charles Townshend in the Mesopotamian theater. Maude was appointed by Imperial General Staff Chief William Robertson, who thought he could be depended upon to hold the line and not request reinforcements from the Western Front. 

Maude, however, worked with what he had, carefully rebuilding his limited forces, outmaneuvering more than outfighting his German-commanded Turkish opponents—eventually regaining the strategic initiative. He recaptured Kut in February 1917 and took Baghdad less than a month later. His successes continued, but he was fatally struck down by cholera the same year in November. A year later, his successor, General William Marshall, accepted the Turkish surrender at Mosul. 

Wednesday, December 27, 2017

A Roads Classic: Princess Mary's Christmas Gift

Our Little Token

Contributed by: Kimball Worcester, Assistant Editor

The first winter of the Great War saw two events that sustain one's hope in the potential for good even in times of dire conflict. One event was the spontaneous Christmas truce on the Western Front, primarily between British and German forces. The other was the spontaneous generosity of a 17-year-old girl, Princess Mary, only daughter of King George V and Queen Mary. Her intention was to provide a Christmas gift for every person serving in the King's uniform, both abroad and on the home front. Her wish was fulfilled to an astounding degree and created one of the most touching mementos of the war. Princess Mary's Christmas Gift Fund was announced on 15 October 1914. The Princess had wanted to underwrite it herself from her allowance, but it was decided by the inaugural committee, headed by the Duke of Devonshire, that a public subscription was the better source for funding. The response was enormously positive and generous. Ultimately £200,000 was raised by a nation eager to respond to the Princess's plea:

"I want you now to help me to send a Christmas present from the whole of the nation to every sailor afloat and every soldier at the front. I am sure that we should all be happier to feel that we had helped to send our little token of love and sympathy on Christmas morning, something that would be useful and of permanent value, and the making of which may be the means of providing employment in trades adversely affected by the war...Please will you help me?" 

The gift itself was a brass box, a tin with a hinged lid that measures 5" x 3 3/8" x 1 1/8". The lid bears a left-profile portrait of the Princess, with her initial "M" on either side of the portrait. The seven Allies of the time are represented: embossed at the corners are Belgium, Japan, Montenegro, and Servia, and at the sides are France and Russia. "Imperium Britannicum" holds place of honor above Princess Mary's portrait, and "Christmas 1914" balances the center beneath her portrait. Within the box were several gifts that were distributed thus:

  • Smokers received tobacco, a packet of cigarettes, a tinder, and a pipe; a photo of Princess Mary and a Christmas card from her.

  • Non-smokers received a bullet pencil in a .303 cartridge, the photo and Christmas card, a khaki writing case, and a packet of acid tablets.

  • Nurses received chocolates in their box, along with the photo and card.

  • The various Indian servicemen received gifts in accordance with their dietary and/or religious observances, often sweets and spices instead of tobacco.

By Christmas of 1914, approximately 355,000 boxes had been distributed. Given the extensive fronts across the globe, it took well into 1916 to distribute all the boxes to those entitled to them; during that time war widows were included in the recipients. Ultimately, 2.5 million boxes were made, filled, and given out. Many were carefully sent home from the front as keepsakes.

Princess Mary continued her connection with the armed services throughout her life (1897–1965), becoming colonel-in-chief of the Royal Scots (1918) and of the Royal Signal Corps (1935) in addition to several Commonwealth corps and regiments. The legacy of the Princess Mary box is a genuine testament to her spirit of public service.

Tuesday, December 26, 2017

Was There Such a Thing in the World's Great War as the Lost Battalion?
Reviewed by Peter L. Belmonte

Was There Such a Thing in the World's Great War as the Lost Battalion? Memoir of Sgt Major Walter Baldwin, 308th Infantry.

Privately Published, Thomas J. Baldwin, 2016

The story of the Lost Battalion is well known to many students of World War I. There are several books that focus on the heroic stand of Major Charles Whittlesey's command in a dank ravine in the Argonne Forest almost a century ago. Firsthand recollections of the event, however, are rare. Walter J. Baldwin, who was a corporal in charge of the runners in Whittlesey's battalion headquarters, wrote his memoir in the 1930s. Now Baldwin's son, Thomas J. Baldwin, has transcribed his father's typescript and published it in this book. The book is arranged with Thomas's transcription placed opposite a facsimile of his father's original typescript, page-by-page. Thomas's chapter summary and his father's typewritten roster of men in the Lost Battalion precede the narrative. A few photographs, including one of Sgt. Baldwin in uniform and another depicting his medals, are appended after the narrative.

Walter Baldwin's memoir is a chronological presentation of his time in the army, from induction to discharge. He was drafted in the fall of 1918 and assigned to the 308th Infantry Regiment, 77th Division, and his memoir covers his time in training, shipment overseas, and combat in July and August 1918. The thrust of the memoir, however, is Baldwin's recollection of combat in the Argonne Forest. Baldwin entered the Argonne on the first day of the offensive, 26 September. By 2 October, Whittlesey's command (actually parts of two battalions and men from some other miscellaneous units) had become separated from the rest of the regiment and surrounded in a ravine, called "the pocket." In the ensuing five days, the men in the pocket endured a terrible ordeal.

Baldwin recalled the horror of sudden death, in this case by improperly ranged American artillery:

We were moving slowly to our new rendezvous, with Ben Gaedeke, our Sergeant Major, not ten feet in front of me, when there came a blinding flash and terrific roar, as a shell burst just beyond me, then everything went black, while earth and rocks that had been tossed high in the air began to fall. I had not seen Ben hit and I never saw him afterward, nor could a vestige of his clothing be located. He was just blotted off the earth, by his own countrymen's shell. [p. 101]

Sgt. Major Walter Baldwin

Because of his position, Baldwin was close to Whittlesey throughout the ordeal. This allowed Baldwin to authoritatively refute one myth concerning the Lost Battalion and Major Whittlesey. At one point, several of Whittlesey's men left their position, without permission, in order to retrieve supplies dropped to the men by U.S. aircraft. One man, Private Lowell R. Hollingshead, was captured and coerced into carrying a surrender ultimatum back to Whittlesey. About this, Baldwin wrote (capitals in the original):

I WAS WITHIN FIVE FEET OF MAJOR WHITLESSLEY [sic] WHEN HE RECEIVED THE NOTE FROM HOLLINGSHEAD, and positively declare, he never made use of the world famed expression, by telling the German commander to "GO TO HELL," which is simply a myth, for as there was absolutely no recognition given to the Boche communication, therefore there was no necessity to answer it. [p. 109]

Hollingshead, however, bore the wrath of Whittlesey: "Turning to the unfortunate Hollingshead, the Major berated him unmercifully, in a loud angry voice, for having left his post without permission, ordering him at once to report to his company commander. This incident had spread like wildfire through the ranks." [p.109] No doubt Whittlesey's handling of the situation reinforced the necessity to obey orders in their precarious position.

After relief from the pocket and another brief stint in the lines, Baldwin became ill and spent most of the rest of the war in the hospital. He was promoted to battalion sergeant major and returned to the U.S. for discharge in the spring of 1919.

Although he did not have much formal schooling, Baldwin wrote well, if floridly; his memoir is easy reading and enjoyable. Most of Baldwin's recollections of his time in the "pocket" are fairly general; one would have hoped for more descriptions of daily routine and of particular incidents. But Baldwin, of course, wrote precisely what he wanted to, and for that we should be grateful. And kudos to Thomas Baldwin for publishing his father's memoir; we hope more such "family memoirs" will come out of the woodwork and into print.

Marker and Memorial at the Lost Battalion Site
Rob Laplander (Mentioned Below) Was Primarily Responsible for the Memorial

(For an in-depth analysis of the Lost Battalion, see Robert Laplander's two excellent books on the subject: Finding the Lost Battalion: Beyond the Rumors, Myths and Legends of America's Famous WW1 Epic [724pp.,], and The Lost Battalion: Return to the Charlevaux [160pp. American Expeditionary Foundation])

Peter L. Belmonte

Monday, December 25, 2017

Two Doughboys Report a White Christmas

By Paul Albright

There was a White Christmas in parts of France and Germany 99 years ago as two Doughboys from the same family turned their thoughts to family and friends located far-off in the farmlands of North Dakota. 

It was Christmas Day, 1918—some six weeks after the Armistice was signed—that Private Palmer Hanson of Company G., 138th Infantry, wrote to his brother, Adoph Hanson, in Mayville, North Dakota: “Will take time and drop you a few lines today as it is Christmas day and not(h)ing else to do, as we are not drilling today.” Private Hanson noted that rain on Christmas Eve had turned to snow by Christmas Day, but the snow was melting almost as soon as it hit the ground.

One day later, Private Carl Molden addressed a letter to his cousin, (Miss) Caroline Hanson of Mayville, in which he noted the troops “had a White Xmas here…about 2 inches of snow in the morning. But very cold.” He was off duty from his kitchen assignment the afternoon after Christmas.

Both 1918 Christmas letters were mailed as free soldiers' mail to Mayville, North Dakota, by the two Doughboy relatives, one of whom was in France and the other in occupied Germany

Private Hanson was writing from Dagonville, located in the Meuse department of northeastern France. Private Molden, who was with the AEF’s 54th Pioneer Infantry, was stationed across the border at Sehlem in Germany’s Rheinland-Palantinate region. Private Molden was a cousin of Caroline Hanson and was either a cousin or a nephew of Private Hanson. Their letters were preserved in a family archive eventually housed at the State Historical Society of North Dakota in Bismarck.

Palmer Hanson was a guest in a French household as he wrote his Christmas Day letter home. “I and a couple other boys are at a French house writing now. They are very nice people, and it is nice and warm in here.”

Christmas was livelier where Private Molden was at. There was chicken for Christmas dinner followed by “lots of doings, dancers and Xmas fooling.” But he missed North Dakota: “Would liked I had been home myself for Xmas. Hope I will be back before spring. If I do I will come and visit you. Would like to see Palmer again to(o).”

Both soldiers received Christmas goodies. Private Hanson said he and an army buddy had acquired “two big bowls of milk each. The first time I drank milk for a long time, except can(ned) milk. But I am used to it now.” 

“Yesterday we got chocolate candy and some other stuff, and today for dinner we got nuts, grapes and one-half pound of candy each. Spose (Suppose) you are going to have Xmas tree this year, too,” he commented in the letter addressed to his brother Adoph.

Private Molden used stationery provided by the Knights of Columbus for the letter to his cousin from Sehlem, Germany, written the day after Christmas 1918.

Private Molden’s Christmas presents “so far” consisted of “a package of cookies, bar of candy and a package of tobacco.”

The envelopes of both letters carried censor signatures and censor cancellations and were mailed postage-free as “Soldiers' Mail.” Private Hanson’s letter was postmarked in December (exact day indecipherable), but Private Hanson’s letter was not postmarked until a week later—New Year’s Day 1919. 

Source: The Palmer Hanson World War I letters collection (#21336) at the State Historical Society of North Dakota.

Sunday, December 24, 2017

103 Years Ago: The Christmas Truce Opens

Captain Jake Armes of the 1st Battalion, North Staffordshire Regiment wrote to his wife and described this incredible occurrence. Armes did return home to his family after the war; he died in 1948. 


I have just been through one of the most extraordinary scenes imaginable. To-night is Xmas Eve and I came up into the trenches this evening for my tour of duty in them. Firing was going on all the time and the enemy's machine guns were at it hard, firing at us. Then about seven the firing stopped.

I was in my dug-out reading a paper and the mail was being dished out. It was reported that the Germans had lighted their trenches up all along our front. We had been calling to one another for some time Xmas wishes and other things. I went out and they shouted "no shooting" and then somehow the scene became a peaceful one. All our men got out of their trenches and sat on the parapet, the Germans did the same, and they talked to one another in English and broken English. I got on top of the trench and talked German and asked them to sing a German Volkslied, which they did, then our men sang quite well and each side clapped and cheered the other.

I asked a German who sang a solo to sing one of Schumann's songs, so he sang The Two Grenadiers splendidly. Our men were a good audience and really enjoyed his singing.

Then Pope and I walked across and held a conversation with the German officer in command.

Artist's Depiction of Christmas Eve, 1914

One of his men introduced us properly, he asked my name and then presented me to his officer. I gave the latter permission to bury some German dead who are lying in between us, and we agreed to have no shooting until 12 midnight to-morrow. We talked together, 10 or more Germans gathered round. I was almost in their lines within a yard or so. We saluted each other, he thanked me for permission to bury his dead, and we fixed up how many men were to do it, and that otherwise both sides must remain in their trenches.

Then we wished one another goodnight and a good night's rest, and a happy Xmas and parted with a salute. I got back to the trench. The Germans sang Die Wacht Am Rhein it sounded well. Then our men sang quite well Christians Awake, it sounded so well, and with a goodnight we all got back into our trenches. It was a curious scene, a lovely moonlit night, the German trenches with small lights on them, and the men on both sides gathered in groups on the parapets.

At times we heard the guns in the distance and an occasional rifle shot. I can hear them now, but about us is absolute quiet. I allowed one or two men to go out and meet a German or two half way. They exchanged cigars, a smoke and talked. The officer I spoke to hopes we shall do the same on New Year's Day, I said "yes, if I am here". I felt I must sit down and write the story of this Xmas Eve before I went to lie down. Of course no precautions are relaxed, but I think they mean to play the game. All the same, I think I shall be awake all night so as to be on the safe side. It is weird to think that to-morrow night we shall be at it hard again. If one gets through this show it will be an Xmas time to live in one's memory. The German who sang had a really fine voice.

Am just off for a walk around the trenches to see all is well. Goodnight.

Xmas Day.

We had an absolutely quiet night in front of us though just to our right and left there was sniping going on. In my trenches and in those of the enemy opposite to us were only nice big fires blazing and occasional songs and conversation. This morning at the Reveille the Germans sent out parties to bury their dead. Our men went out to help, and then we all on both sides met in the middle, and in groups began to talk and exchange gifts of tobacco, etc. All this morning we have been fraternizing, singing songs. I have been within a yard in fact to their trenches, have spoken to and exchanged greetings with a Colonel, Staff Officers and several Company Officers. All were very nice and we fixed up that the men should not go near their opponents trenches, but remain about midway between the lines. The whole thing is extraordinary. The men were all so natural and friendly. Several photos were taken, a group of German officers, a German officer and myself, and a group of British and German soldiers. 

The Germans are Saxons, a good looking lot, only wishing for peace in a manly way, and they seem in no way at their last gasp. I was astonished at the easy way in which our men and theirs got on with each other.

No-Man's-Land, Flanders, Christmas Day 1914

We have just knocked off for dinner, and have arranged to meet again afterwards until dusk when we go in again and have [illegible] until 9pm, when War begins again. I wonder who will start the shooting! They say "Fire in the air and we will", and such things, but of course it will start and tomorrow we shall be at it hard killing one another. It is an extraordinary state of affairs which allows of a "Peace Day". I have never seen men so pleased to have a day off as both sides.

Their opera singer is going to give us a song or two tonight and perhaps I may give them one. Try and imagine two lines of trenches in peace, only 50 yards apart, the men of either side have never seen each other except perhaps a head now and again, and have never been outside in front of their trenches. Then suddenly one day men stream out and nest in friendly talk in the middle. One fellow, a married man, wanted so much a photo of Betty and Nancy in bed, which I had, and I gave him it as I had two: It seems he showed it all round, as several Germans told me afterwards about it. He gave me a photo of himself and family taken the other day which he had just got.

Well must finish now so as to get this off to-day. Have just finished dinner. Pork chop. Plum pudding. Mince pies. Ginger, and bottle of Wine and a cigar, and have drunk to all at home and especially to you my darling one. Must go outside now to supervise the meetings of the men and the Germans.

Will try and write more in a day or two. Keep this letter carefully and send copies to all. I think they will be interested. It did feel funny walking over alone towards the enemy's trenches to meet someone half-way, and then to arrange a Xmas peace. It will be a thing to remember all one's life.

Kiss the babies and give them my love. Write me a long letter and tell me all the news. I hope the photos come out all-right. Probably you will see them in some paper.

Yours, Jake

Source:  Letters of Note Website, 19 October 2015

Saturday, December 23, 2017

The French Intellectuals and the Great War of 1914–1918

The Cases of Ernest Psichari and Charles Péguy,
French Soldier-Intellectuals on the Eve of the Great War

By Dr. Paul W. Gery

Prior to the cataclysmic outbreak of the violence of World War I in 1914, few observers predicted a long, drawn-out, violent conflict that would result in the enormous numbers of casualties.  In the case of the French intellectuals prior to the war, very few predicted the violence of the Great War. In fact, the prospect of a war to cleanse society of stagnation and renew the roots of civilization was actually a fervent desire among many French intellectuals, to include such writers such as Maurice Barrès, Ernest Psichari, and Charles Péguy.  Prewar French society praised the roles of the Church and the Army in their efforts to foster a new sense of French nationalism and patriotic fervor. Two French authors who were converted to the nationalist message of past military and religious glory of France were the French writer Ernest Psichari and the poet Charles Péguy.

Ernest Psichari
Psichari was a grandson of the well-known French historian, Ernest Renan, who made critical studies of sacred texts that shook his faith in religious doctrine.  Renan then focused his studies on historical relativism and oriented himself toward skepticism. Psichari, born in 1883, initially shared the intellectual attitudes of his grandfather, but in 1903 Psichari faced a personal crisis and he joined the army in 1905.  Later, in 1913, he converted to Catholicism and henceforth Psichari became an ardent supporter of the Army and the Church.  Viewing society as being sick in its various manifestations, he soon became a career soldier in the French Army.

 For Psichari, the ascetic life of a soldier and war became a source of physical, moral and spiritual regeneration, and he expressed these sentiments in several of his written works, to include l’Appel des armes (The Call to Arms, 1911) and Terres de soleil et de sommeil (Lands of Sun and Sleep, 1908).  The latter work recounted his military experiences in North Africa.  The life and works of Psichari represent a generation of idealistic nationalists in France during the years leading up to the outbreak of war in 1914.  Moreover, for Psichari, death in combat for a noble cause constituted for him the glorious summit of the soldier.

Charles Péguy
Another example of the intellectual and religious transformation that affected French intellectuals in the years preceding the Great War was the French poet Charles Péguy. In a similar manner as in the case of Psichari, Péguy admired military life, condemned the excesses of contemporary materialism in society and believed that war was both necessary and inevitable.  Péguy was born in 1873 in Orléans and lost his father when Péguy was less than one year old. Raised by his mother and grandmother, Péguy took an interest in socialism and the plight of the French  poor. At the time of the Dreyfus Affair, Péguy actively worked to prove the innocence of the Alsatian officer of Jewish descent who was unjustly accused of transmitting French military secrets to the Germans.  Péguy’s poetic themes focused soon on Jeanne d’Arc, the heroine of religious faith and the French motherland. He rediscovered his religious faith that inspired him to admire the sentiments of heroism and mysticism that were evident in the works of the 17th-century playwright Pierre Corneille.

Both Psichari and Péguy anticipated a war with Germany, and they believed that such a war between France and Germany was inevitable. The two French writers shared the love of heroism, sacrifice for the nation and religious faith embodied in the Catholic religion. The ardent enthusiasm of the two writers was diffused not only among French intellectuals, but throughout the European intellectual community as well.  This attitude manifested itself in feelings of the need to prove one’s courage in battle, as if the age of chivalry still existed at the turn of the 20th century.  For example, the British poet Rupert Brooke expressed the sentiment of many heroic-minded youth in his famous sonnet titled "Peace", written in 1914:

Now, God be thanked who has matched us with His hour,
And caught our youth, and wakened us from sleeping.

Psichari's Grave at Rossignol

Yet, the European youth did not understand that the epoch of individual glory and the chivalrous warrior no longer existed prior to the onset of war in 1914.  Psichari and Péguy had anticipated a mighty crusade against the barbarism of imperial Germany and her allies.  Very rapidly, the war evolved into a protracted and violent war of mass, one in which man was but a number in the most destructive war of the modern era. Perhaps it is fitting that both Psichari and Péguy were killed early in the conflict. Psichari was a second lieutenant serving with the 2nd Colonial Artillery Regiment when he was killed in action in Rossignol, Belgium, in August 1914, just weeks after the start of the war. I have not visited the site, but apparently there is some kind of memorial for him at Rossignol.  

Péguy's Burial Site at Villeroy

Péguy, a reserve lieutenant, killed by a bullet to the forehead after rejoining his reserve unit at the beginning of the battle of the Marne at Villeroy. It was as if the two French authors had prophesied their deaths on the battlefield. Moreover, their deaths seemed to confirm their sentiments that the noblest calling is to die for one’s country, a sentiment that had already captured the souls and thinking of a generation of European youth on the eve of the most destructive and violent war that Europe had yet to experience. 

Friday, December 22, 2017

100 Years Ago: Russia Opens Separate Peace Negotiations with Germany

On 22 December 1917, delegations sent by the Central Powers meet face to face with the representatives of the October Revolution. Trotsky later writes, “The circumstances of history willed that the delegates of the most revolutionary regime ever known to humanity should sit at the same diplomatic table with the representatives of the most reactionary caste among all the ruling classes.”

Central Powers' Delegates at Brest-Litovsk (1917–1918): German General Max Hoffmann, Austro-Hungarian Foreign Minister Czernin, Ottoman Talaat Pasha and
German Foreign Minister Kühlman

Leader of the Bolshevik Delegation,
Adolf Abramovich Joffe
The day after the Bolshevik seizure of power on 7 November 1917, the Soviet government promulgated its “Decree on Peace”, urging all combatants to conclude a “just, democratic peace”. The Allies decided on 22 November not to respond. But the Central Powers had been awaiting exactly such an invitation; Germany had funded Vladimir Ilich Lenin’s  return to Russia hoping he would end the war on the Eastern Front. On 15 December Germany, Austria-Hungary, the Ottoman Empire and Bulgaria concluded an armistice with Russia. The negotiations took place at the German High Command Headquarters East in the fortress of Brest-Litovsk. While the Germans used the role of hosts to woo the Russians with oysters and roast  goose, the People’s Commissar for Foreign Affairs, Leon Trotsky (1879–1940), wanted the talks transferred to Stockholm, where the Germans had less power and the world could watch.

Brest-Litovsk brought two utterly different cultures face to face: the traditional diplomacy of the  Central Powers confronting the revolutionaries’ flair for political agitation. Although the Central Powers continued to use French among themselves, it was agreed that the treaty languages should be German, Hungarian, Bulgarian, Turkish, and Russian. Eager to abolish traditional diplomacy, the Bolsheviks sent among the 28 delegates to Brest-Litovsk on 22 December 1917: a sailor, a soldier, a peasant, a worker, and a female terrorist who boasted of having assassinated a governor general.

The Central Powers’ representatives, in contrast, were of aristocratic origin and remained comme il faut in all dealings with their “guests”. The delegation leaders drew the Bolsheviks under Adolf Abramovich Joffe into six days of polite exchanges, only to reach an impasse—each side, invoking the “right of national self-determination”, insisted that on conclusion of a peace the other must withdraw its troops from Russia’s occupied western regions.  The discussions were adjourned to be reconvened after the New Year.  The Russian delegation, now led by Trotsky, returned to Brest-Litovsk on 7 January 1918.
To be continued...

Source: International Encyclopedia of the First World War

Thursday, December 21, 2017

Trench Raiding and the First Three Americans Killed in Combat

Editor's Note:  The incident described below was personally described  to me in 1988 in Palo Alto, CA, by the officer who first identified the first three men of the AEF killed in combat. In 1988 he was known as Major General Ralph C. Smith, U.S. Army, of Makin  Island ("Makin, Taken") and Saipan (where he clashed with Marine General Holland Smith) fame.  At the time of this trench-raiding incident, he was Lt. Ralph Smith, 16th Infantry, First Division.  This account provides the best background of these events I've run into since I spoke with General Smith.  I found it at the American Battle Monuments Commission website, which has a lot of interesting material that sometimes requires a little digging to find, but is uniformly well written and informative.

On the night of 3 November 1917 at 2:30 a.m. German artillery began a harassing barrage of Allied forces about a mile southeast of Arracourt, France. Unbeknownst to the Allies, the Germans did this to set up a trench raid, a common tactic in World War I to obtain intelligence and intimidate the enemy through bold action.

Infantry battalions of the American 1st Division had been assigned a short period in the trenches among French troops. The “Est” (East) Trench of the “Artois” strongpoint held 20 men. A hundred yards in front of them, behind the barbed wire, were 15 more men spread out in three guard posts. With these positions facing northeast, another platoon to their left faced north in “Boyau Nord” Trench.  The lines to their rear were French units of similar size.

While the barrage occurred a specialized German assault company with combat engineers approached the French wire in front of Artois. After 20 minutes the barrage shifted south slightly, giving these engineers the chance to blow paths in the wire. Experienced German trench raiders came through the wire near the juncture of Est and Boyau Nord Trenches, infiltrating the Allied line. Combining the element of surprise with the sheer shock of having enemy forces in the trench, these raids were surprisingly successful on many occasions.

One group rushed Boyau Nord, killing a sentry and driving off some Americans. The Est trench raiders captured around a dozen Americans and drove off others, while two Americans were killed. As the raiders headed back to the wire, they encountered the men in the guard posts, where a short firefight ensued. The German barrage had damaged phone lines making it impossible for the Artois strongpoint to call for pre-arranged fire in front of its wire. While a signal rocket was fired, Allied artillery arrived only after the Germans had retreated with their captives. This daring raid lasted less than five minutes.

Cpl. James B. Gresham, Pvt. Thomas F. Enright, and Pvt. Merle D. Hay died in the raid. They had all volunteered for service, with Gresham and Enright having served in the Army under Gen. John J. Pershing prior to the United States joining World War I. The commander of the French 18th Division attended their funeral the following day and spoke of the three Americans as, “Having traveled so far to defend justice and liberty.” Gresham, Enright, and Hay became posthumous heroes in the United States, representing American patriotism and beliefs.

Five other Americans were wounded in the raid, and several French soldiers were also killed. The Americans of the 1st Division, who were captured in the raid, served as a curiosity to the Germans. Photographed with German troops, these dejected Americans appeared  on period German postcards.

The Three Men Were Later Exploited for Fund Raising Purposes

Despite being incredibly dangerous, both the Allies and the Germans conducted trench raids on a regular basis . And the 1st Division became very effective at this tactic. Maj. Theodore Roosevelt, Jr., planned a raid at Cantigny on 26 June 1918 at 3:15 a.m. American soldiers of the 26th Infantry came through the wire and swept through German trenches, exiting with 33 prisoners and command post documents. But winning the war would take more than trench raids in the dark.


Wednesday, December 20, 2017

America's Decision to Send an Expeditionary Force to Europe

"America to the Front"
A Contemporary Cartoon from Punch

By Michael McCarthy

Even  after Congress had approved the War Resolution, President Wilson himself did not yet seem committed to fielding an expeditionary force. His declaration of war speech had made no mention of  the possibility, largely because he assumed that the mere threat of American intervention would convince Germany to sue for peace. The request for an immediate and direct American role in the war and, therefore, would have to come from the Allies.

Practical considerations hampered any plans to field an American Expeditionary Force. The most optimistic of estimates suggested that a year would pass before any substantial American army could reach the Continent. On top of the delay associated with raising, training and fielding a force, many Allied commanders had voiced disparaging opinions of the quality of American soldiers. To solve both issues of the quality and the speed of American military involvement, the Allies sought amalgamation. American soldiers could enlist into the U.S. Army and then, either individually or in small units, be integrated into existing Entente lines and chains of command. These soldiers could receive the experienced training of the British or French in Europe and could therefore play a role in the fighting more quickly than if they were trained at home.

From the Allied perspective, amalgamation seemed an almost perfect solution; from the American perspective, both militarily and politically, it was out of the question. Military commanders were unlikely to give up the very armies they commanded, and the public would hardly swallow a plan which seemed to use their sons, brothers, fathers, and husbands as mere fodder for the English and French war machines. An alternative would be to encourage the United States to send a small expeditionary force immediately to Europe. By doing so, the Allies could more quickly get the Americans involved in the war and perhaps even wear down some of the opposition to amalgamation.

Arthur Balfour in America

Two missions arrived in the U.S. in late April—a British delegation, led by Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs Arthur J. Balfour and Lt. General Tom Bridges, and a French contingent, led by former premier René Viviani and Marshal Joseph Joffre. General Bridges lost no time in stepping on toes at the U.S. War Department. Within a week of his arrival in Washington he requested that a regular division be sent immediately across the Atlantic. He attempted to soften this proposal by suggesting that these soldiers could eventually be "drafted back into the U.S. Army and would be a good leavening of seasoned men," but his suggestion met with a cool reception from the Chief of Staff.

The French seemed at first no more successful than the British in their discussions with the American military planners. On 27 April Joffre met with Baker, Scott, and Assistant Chief of Staff General Tasker H. Bliss. The Frenchman repeated his appeal for "men, men, men" and requested that an American division be sent to Europe at once. His suggestion would not receive an endorsement.

The General Staff opposed such a course of action with a strong and unified voice. Bliss saw the immediate dispatch of an untrained force as merely the beginning of a mass butchering of green American recruits. The War College Division equally opposed such a plan. In its memorandum to Scott on 29 March, the War College Division argued that a small force could exert no influence on the front and could only bring harm to an American effort to create an independent army. Even when Baker ordered them to draft plans for a possible expeditionary force on 10 May, the military planners restated their misgivings about this idea.

The military planners, then, had made their position clear: the immediate dispatch of an expeditionary force to Europe would not, in their opinion, be in the best interest of the American war effort. Just such an expeditionary force, however, departed in June 1917 under the command of General John J. Pershing. The British and French missions seem to have persuaded Wilson, and during the president's four o'clock private meeting with the French field marshal on 2 May he had "allowed General Joffre to take it for granted that such a force would be sent just as soon as we could send it." In his 65-minute audience with Wilson the French commander successfully elicited what the American military planners had opposed so passionately ever since war had appeared likely.

Wilson most likely acted on his own with a diplomatic goal in mind when he promised Joffre an immediate expeditionary force: the desire to play a part in the peace settlement. Only if America influenced the outcome of the war, and only if the U.S. had an army on the battlefield under its own flag to demonstrate this influence, could Wilson mold the shape of the peace. While such harmony between policy and objectives is admirable, the president was to make this resolution with no direct consultation with his military planners. In reality, of course, had the United States delayed it would have found itself with almost no military presence on the Continent at the close of the war, and judging from Wilson's inability to convert the Allied leaders to his way of thinking even in light of the degree of American participation, it is likely that the president would have had little or no diplomatic influence whatsoever at the postwar negotiations. Therefore, Wilson's decision was sound in the final analysis. It is still impossible to ignore, however, that the President's choice was made with no direct consultation with his military.

Source:  OVER THE TOP, May 2007

Tuesday, December 19, 2017

Russia in Flames: War, Revolution, Civil War, 1914–1921
Reviewed by Michael P. Kihntopf

Russia in Flames: War, Revolution, 
Civil War, 1914–1921

by Laura Engelstein
Oxford University Press, 2017

An Illustration from Russia in Flames
Boris Kustodiev, "Moscow I: Attack," Zhupel [Bugbear], no. 2 (1905)

One hundred years have passed since mobs took to the Petrograd streets shouting for bread and wound up toppling the 300-year-old Romanov dynasty. During those 100 years historians have viewed the origins, proceedings, and outcomes of the Revolution from every angle conceivable to humankind and the esoterica sphere. Few of those many treatises ever viewed the Revolution, the Bolshevik coup d'état, and the Civil War as a story, a historical drama with events and personalities, rather than ideologies, pushing and shoving people in almost harlequin directions. Dr. Laura Engelstein has given us such a story and tempers it with the opinion that the Revolution was a transitional phase in Russia.

Dr. Engelstein is a renowned historian who specializes in late imperial Russian history. Her books include The Keys to Happiness, Sex and Happiness for Modernity in Fin de Siècle Russia; Castration and the Heavenly Kingdom, A Russian Folktale; Moscow 1905; and Slavophile Empire, Imperial Russia's Illiberal Path. Until recently she occupied the history chair at Yale. This work is a breath of fresh air in the history of the Russian Revolutionary.

At first, the size of Russia in Flames was intimidating—632 pages of text followed by 145 pages of end notes and a bibliographic essay of ten pages. However, the book is easily read and avoids the starchiness of an academic work fond of hearing its own words. At times, the reading was suitable for a fireside chat with good friends. It is not dry with ideological terms and concepts, although many times the proceedings spin out of control trying to balance internal Bolshevik twists, which were far from united. Yet the book remains alive with stories of cause and effect, tempered with personal observations and enhanced by new information garnered from recently opened Russian archives.

The chapters about the Civil War were most interesting. The questions of why counterrevolutionary movements failed are easily answered (lack of unity, the pogroms, and a chauvinistic failure to listen to the people they were supposedly saving) as are the circumstances as to why they nearly succeeded (Stalin's meddling in strategic goals in the Ukraine and on the Vistula). In those pages, Engelstein does not limit herself just to the south Russia White movement of General Anton Denikin or the Siberian onslaught of Admiral Aleksandr Kolchak. For once, characters like Grigorii Semenov with his Far Eastern armies, Nestor Makhno and his anarchists, and Nikolai Iudenich's Northwest Army receive their due.

Russia in Flames is a must-read if you are interested in events taking place during and after World War One. For those intimidated by the heft of another Russian history tome, it is a source of endless information about often-overlooked events that shaped the Soviet Union in the context of the Great War.

Michael P. Kihntopf

Monday, December 18, 2017

George M. Cohan at War

George M. Cohan
Song Writer, Entertainer, Producer
George Michael Cohan (1878–1942) began his career as a child, performing with his parents and sister in a vaudeville act known as "The Four Cohans." Beginning with Little Johnny Jones in 1904, he wrote, composed, produced, and appeared in more than three dozen Broadway musicals. Cohan published more than 300 songs during his lifetime, including American standards "Give My Regards to Broadway," "Yankee Doodle Dandy," and "You're a Grand Old Flag." He displayed remarkable theatrical longevity, appearing in films until the 1930s, and continuing to perform as a headline artist until 1940.

Known in the decade before World War I as "the man who owned Broadway," Cohan is considered the father of American musical comedy. His life and music were depicted in the Academy Award-winning film Yankee Doodle Dandy (1942) and the 1968 musical George M! A statue of Cohan in Times Square in New York City commemorates his contributions to American musical theater. 

Shortly after America entered the Great War, while riding on a train, Cohan was inspired to write a patriotic song. He modeled it on a bugle call, inspiring Americans to cross the seas for service in a foreign land. "Over There" was an instant success, selling over two million copies by the end of the war. Perhaps the most popular version of "Over There" was sung by Nora Bayes, but Enrico Caruso and Billy Murray also sang beautiful renditions. 

The dynamic Cohan and his partners presented over a dozen shows and plays on Broadway during 1917 and '18, without a heavy patriotic emphasis in most. At the time of the Armistice he produced a show with the troops from nearby Camp Merritt titled Good Luck, Sam! that ran for about a month. Nevertheless, he is forever connected to the American experience in the Great War. On 29 June 1936, President Franklin Roosevelt presented him the Congressional Gold Medal for the boost "Over There" and Cohan's other musical efforts gave to the nation's morale. 

Sources: Wikipedia, Musical101

Sunday, December 17, 2017

From Entente Cordiale to Triple Entente

While diplomat/historian George Kennan dramatically labeled the French-Russian arrangements "The Fateful Alliance", it would be the British-Russian convention that set in place some subtle structural elements, the importance of which was not universally understood at the time. First, although relations among the three powers would always be prickly and sometimes icy, the Ententes provided a "talking circle" through which they discussed, evaluated, and responded to the prewar diplomatic confrontations with the Triple Alliance over crises from Bosnia to Morocco to the naval competition. Second, the three dual-understandings completed the dim outline of a new power arrangement, unthinkable in the 19th century when France and Russia were either enemies or competitors of the British Empire. Recall that Germany's Schlieffen Plan of 1905 was based on opposing a Russian-French coalition. Adding Great Britain and her empire's population, vast financial resources, and industrial potential to the list of enemy assets made that plan riskier to the point of in-feasibility. But this potentiality of a Triple Entente opposing the Central Powers did not become evident until very late in the July Crisis of 1914. The framework of the Triple Entente, however, was constructed in 1907 due primarily to a new Liberal British government.

British Foreign Minister
Sir Edward Grey
A detente with Russia was of the highest priority for the Liberal government of Henry Campbell-Bannerman that took office in [Great Britain in] December 1905. On 13 December Foreign Minister Edward Grey assured Benckendorff, the Russian ambassador, that he was in favor of an agreement with Russia. Sir Arthur Nicolson arrived in St. Petersburg as the new British ambassador on 28 May, having "talked entente in and out, up and down" with Grey, Chancellor of the Exchequer Herbert Asquith, and Lord John Morley, secretary of state for India, before leaving London. Formal negotiations were launched on 7 June.

The speed with which Grey inaugurated negotiations with the Russians, at a time when Russia was still in a turmoil of revolution and the Russo-Japanese War a recent memory, bears witness to his own convictions in this direction as well as his desire to maintain continuity of foreign policy with his predecessors. The ground had been prepared by the Conservatives and tentative discussions had taken place in 1903, but although the Liberals were committed to uphold the Anglo-French entente, they were not committed to continue negotiations to extend it. However Grey had spoken in favor of an agreement with Russia as early as 1902, and in his City speech in October 1905 he declared that the "estrangement between us and Russia has. . . its roots not in the present but solely in the past."

The Foreign Minister saw an agreement with Russia partly as an extension of the French entente. "We could not pursue at one and the same time a policy of agreement with France and a policy of counter-alliances against agreement with Russia was the natural complement of the agreement with France." The entente with France, however, was recent and by no means cordial between the fall of Delcassé and the Algeciras Conference. Enough was known in London of the meeting between the tsar and the kaiser at Bjorko for English diplomatists to be apprehensive of a possible Russo-German alliance and worried about the loyalty of France.

Grey had pledged himself to improve relations with Germany as well as with Russia, but there seemed little possibility of this early in 1906 and Grey saw a need to check the growth of German power by both preserving and extending the French entente. When sanctioning the military conversations with France he argued that if Britain remained neutral in a future Franco-German war "the French will never forgive us...Russia would not think it worth while to make a friendly arrangement with us about Asia...we should be left without a friend and without the power of making a friend and Germany would take some exploiting the whole situation to her advantage." Hardinge added that "an agreement or alliance between France, Germany and Russia in the near future" would be a "certain" consequence. Thus re-establishing Russia as a factor in European politics on the side of France and England was crucial to Grey's aim of maintaining a balance of power in Europe. "An entente between Russia, France and ourselves would be absolutely secure. If it is necessary to check Germany it could then be done." Fear of Germany—German sea power, German encroachment in the Middle East; a possible Russo-German rapprochement—was evident throughout the negotiations.

Russian Foreign Minister Aleksandr Izvolskii

Grey's attitude marked a change in emphasis from the Conservative policy of seeing Russia basically as a potential or actual menace to the Empire and especially India, to one of regarding her as a potential ally in Europe. "If Russia accepts, cordially and wholeheartedly, our intention to preserve the peaceable possession of our existing Asiatic possessions," declared Grey before taking office, "then I am quite sure that in this country no government will make it its business to thwart or obstruct Russia's policy in Europe. On the contrary it is urgently desirable that Russia's influence should be reestablished in the Councils of Europe."

The urgency came not only from the international situation but also from the realities which were revealed to the Liberals of Britain's military and naval position. These affected both her potential role of holder of the balance of power in Europe against Germany and more immediately her ability to defend her Empire against possible Russian aggression. It was brought home to the government that Britain was no longer able to meet all her commitments. By January 1907 the General Staff and the Admiralty had agreed that it was no longer possible to hold the Straits alone against Russia. Grey urged the necessity of keeping this information strictly secret. The Anglo-Japanese alliance had been welcomed by the navy as a means of reducing the Far Eastern fleet, and the Russo-Japanese War had reduced the Russian fleet, but the growth of the German Navy was putting such strain on naval resources as to increase reluctance to risk a military conflict with Russia in Asia. This was bound to have political repercussions.

The Anglo-Russian Convention was signed on 31 August 1907 in St. Petersburg. The convention solidified the boundaries that identified respective control in Persia, Afghanistan, and Tibet. It delineated spheres of influence in Persia, stipulated that neither country would interfere in Tibet's internal affairs, and recognized Britain's influence over Afghanistan. The framework of the future Triple Entente had been erected.

Source:  Beryl Williams in the November 2007 issue of OVER THE TOP.

Saturday, December 16, 2017

Tony Fokker's Three Masterpieces

Anton Herman Gerard Fokker (1890–1939) is the most renowned aircraft designer of the Great War.  Had designed his first airplane at age 20, and by 1912 he opened a small aircraft factory near Berlin. At the outbreak of war, he offered his designs to both sides, but the Allies all declined him.  Germany didn't. Fokker took German citizenship and became their leading designer and manufacturer.

His company was controlled by the German military in the war, but he remained in charge. His engineers designed the first interrupter gear, allowing machine guns to fire straight ahead through the propeller. His works turned out three of the most remarkable airplanes of the war: the E.1 "Eindecker," the Dr.1 Triplane, and the D.VII, recognized as the outstanding fighter plane of the Great War.

E.1 "Eindecker"

Dr.1 Triplane


Sources:  Who's Who of WWI, Photos from USAF National Museum, Phil Makanna, and Tony Langley