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

Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Skagerrak: The Battle of Jutland
Reviewed by Bryan Alexander

Skagerrak: The Battle of Jutland Through German Eyes

by Gary Staff
Pen and Sword, 2016

Germany's High Seas Fleet at Its Kiel Anchorage

I've read a great deal about the land war, politics, espionage, and technology of the First World War, but not about the naval war. So it was high time I got up to speed, and where better place to start than the war's greatest naval event, the Battle of Jutland fought 31 May–1 June 1916.

Gary Staff's Skagerrak: The Battle of Jutland Through German Eyes is a challenging place to start. Information rich, engaged with the battle's historiographical controversies, it is a fine book for those already studying the battle. It's not the best first book.

Staff follows Jutland in meticulous chronological order, at times literally minute by minute. The opening two chapters cover the months leading up to Jutland, starting with a German change of command, which led to some daring raids on British units and ports. Then Skagerrak kicks off the main event and remains there until the last chapter, which addresses interpretations of the battle.

Along the way we follow the initial German probe, which wanted to lure out a segment of the (bigger) British navy, in order to quickly destroy it with superior gunnery and local force concentration, but ended up triggering a response from the larger force. What followed was a famously complex struggle, with both sides grappling with dim intelligence. German admiral Scheer charged forward boldly, hurling torpedo boats into the British lines, then commanding titanic salvos from his battlecruisers and battleships. British admiral Jellicoe was more cautious, agonizingly nervous over German mines and torpedoes, holding back when he could (at least according to Staff), but still using his greater numbers to assault enemy ships. Over an afternoon and evening the fleets pounded at each other when they could find each other, the British suffering more losses in tonnage and sailors. Confused engagements spattered overnight, then both sides gradually disengaged in the following morning.

Afterward the Germans claimed victory, with some justice, as Staff argues, and I agree. The British initially considered Jutland/Skaggerak a defeat, then spun it into something more positive, and have been arguing about it ever since. Staff's final chapter points out that while some historians think the German fleet hid in port for the rest of the war, they actually sallied forth repeatedly, amphibiously conquering Russian Baltic islands in 1917, then shipping troops into Finland in 1918 to successfully support the anti-Soviet side in that country's bitter post-independence civil war.

Staff consistently praises German leadership:

Admiral Scheer
Vizeadmiral Scheer...had maintained independent initiative and had held the numerically superior [British] Grand Fleet at bay.(130)

And to the battle's immediate outcome:

[The German] High Sea Fleet had inflicted twice as much damage and casualties as it had received. The British suffered 14 ships sunk for a total loss of 112,920 tons, and 6094 casualties, whilst the Germans lost 11 ships sunk for a total of 60,314 tons and 2552 casualties. Unambiguous statistics.(240)

Skagerrak: The Battle of Jutland Through German Eyes does what it sets out to do, emphasizing the German perspective. We do get dollops of British viewpoints, but only to explain quickly what the enemy is up to. And this perspective is fascinating. Staff carefully explains the command decisions, from Scheer down to torpedo boat captains. Best of all are plentiful accounts of the battle written by sailors, either after the war or from their battle diaries. These stories are richly informative, sometimes very well written, and often exciting or disturbing. I was fond of Kaiser getting ready for battle (74), a great scene of being under fire (139), a tense battle in the dark (183–4), one account of the Wiesbaden's fighting death (119–121), the explosion of Black Prince (201), a scary scene about being trapped below decks (78–80). And the metal fan in me cannot help but love one captain's description of an attack as "THE DEATH RIDE OF THE BATTLE CRUISERS" (yes, all caps in the text) (145).

Throughout the book Staff dives into the deepest details. At times I felt I was reading a database, or ledgers from naval staff. For example, page 110 is nothing but a list of hits on the British vessel Warspite, hit after hit without relief, like a spreadsheet. Or:

At 1716hrs Moltke was [hit] by a 15 inch shell from Barham on the citadel armour below the V casemate 15cm cannon, which penetrated the upper coal bunker, where it detonated. The explosion put the V casemate 15cm cannon out of action and killed the 12 serving crew...At 1723hrs a 15 inch shell struck near the water line beneath the forward funnel and detonated on the side armour. Although the armour was not penetrated a place was displaced and the hull skin below the waterline was torn so that some wing passage and protective bunker compartments were flooded. A few minutes later at 1726hrs there was an underwater hit aft, which passed transversely across the ship before detonating and causing further flooding right aft. Finally at 1727hrs a 15 inch shell... (63)

Not being a regular student of naval war, these passages were thick to wade through. Moreover, Staff does not frame or organize events at a larger level. That is, he spends so much time on these minutiae that he offers little in the way of showing the reader what they mean, especially for the battle as a whole.

British Battlecruiser Invincible Explodes During the Battle

Indeed, Skagerrak presumes a certain level of knowledge on the reader's part. Many terms appear without explanation: straddling, casement, "boot," and other German vocabulary. It's not clear why Horn's Reef is an important ground to reach. There is no introduction setting the battle's scene or context in the broader war. No history of the British-German naval race appears, nor a sketch of naval tactics and technology at the time.

When Staff does take up the British side, he is very critical. He condemns naval strategy as being too centralized and doctrine-based, not allowing commanders much flexibility (24), and echoes another author's slam at Beatty for missing a key part of the battle (89–91). Staff especially criticizes Jellicoe for cowardice, inaccurate assessments of the enemy, and lame spinning attempts after the battle (128, 156, 172, 207). He also offers an interesting theory about why British ships tended to explode (202–3).

While obviously cheering on the Germans, Staff does offer some criticisms. He points out several times that the British cryptographic edge boosted their intelligence and gave them a lead on Berlin's plans (24). He dings one commander for shying away from fighting (101). He quietly admits that the Germans put themselves in an awful place at dusk on the 31st, west of the British, and therefore silhouetted against the sunset while their opponents were invisible (162).

When I read most history I expect good maps, and will criticize bad mapping bitterly. Skagerrak is actually quite good on the cartographic front. Every chapter has several schematics of fleet movements, precisely identifying which ship is where, headed in what direction, and at what time. These illustrations are also perfectly placed in the text, right where they are needed. The fonts can be too tiny, however, and I actually used a magnifying glass to make out some text. Elsewhere on the non-textual front the book offers a nice selection of photographs. I wish they were larger but understand press costs.

On an editorial note, there are some mistakes, usually wrong words that certainly passed spell check. For example, "A grove was produced in the roof to a depth of 15mm"—should have been "groove", I think (118).

Overall, if you're a student of the subject, this is a good four stars. As an introduction for the general reader, three

Bryan Alexander

Monday, January 30, 2017

100 Years Ago Tomorrow: Germany Notifies U.S. of Unrestricted U-boat Warfare

I command that unlimited U-boat warfare begin on February 1 with all possible vigor. You will please take all necessary measures immediately but in such a way that our intention does not become apparent to the enemy and to neutrals in advance. Basic operational plans are to be laid before me.
Wilhelm II, 9 January 1917 

The decision to initiate unrestricted U-boat warfare, implemented by Germany on 1 February 1917, was one of the most fateful of the 20th century. In hindsight, it was clearly a grave error by Kaiser Wilhelm II and his advisers. The decision followed a long and acrimonious debate involving all sectors of German society. There was great disagreement down to the final hour, especially regarding breaking existing international law and potentially provoking the United States into joining the war on the side of the Allies. 

It was an end to the war through military victory and a German-directed peace (Siegfrieden). The key to their ambitions lay with U-boats loosed to pursue unrestricted submarine warfare. Better to play all or nothing in a single decisive action. The U-boat would win the war. 

RMS Carpathia Goes to the Bottom, 17 July 1918

The decision was kept secret and America was not notified until the last day of January, the eve of the start of the new strategy. The government-to-government note read in part: 

Since the attempts to come to an understanding with the Entente Powers have been answered by the latter with the announcement of an intensified continuation of the war, the Imperial Government—in order to serve the welfare of mankind in a higher sense and not to wrong its own people—is now compelled to continue the fight for existence, again forced upon it, with the full employment of all the weapons which are at its disposal. 

Sincerely trusting that the people and the Government of the United States will understand the motives for this decision and its necessity, the Imperial Government hopes that the United States may view the new situation from the lofty heights of impartiality, and assist, on their part, to prevent further misery and unavoidable sacrifice of human life. Enclosing two memoranda regarding the details of the contemplated military measures at sea, I remain, etc.
Delivered to Secretary of State Lansing
31 January 1917 

Source: Over the Top: Magazine of the World War I Centennial, November 2016 

Sunday, January 29, 2017

Arnold Whitridge: Scholar and Veteran of Two Armies and Two Wars

By Keith Muchowski

Arnold Whitridge at Yale, 1936
Captain Arnold Whitridge of the British Royal Field Artillery arrived in New York City from London 100 years ago this month. Whitridge was returning to tend to the affairs of his father Frederick W. Whitridge, who had died two weeks earlier. Frederick Whitridge was president of the Third Avenue Elevated Line and a good friend of Theodore Roosevelt. He left an estate estimated at $10 million, over $188 million in current dollars. His son, young Arnold, had graduated from Yale in 1913 and was doing graduate work at Oxford when the war broke out in August 1914. Early the next year he joined the British Army. He was wounded at the Somme in 1916 and was in London when he learned of his father’s passing on 30 December. While his name may not ring many bells, Arnold Whitridge was a decorated soldier of the Great War who went on to become one of the leading scholars of the 20th century. He was also the grandson and namesake of British poet Matthew Arnold. He died on 29 January 1989, 28 years ago today.

Whitridge served in both the British and American Armies during the war. In 1916 as a young second lieutenant he was awarded the British Military Cross, which authorities had created in December 1914 to recognize the contributions of junior officers holding the rank of captain or lower. Whitridge was not the only American serving with the British to be thus recognized; before the war’s end Captain Kermit Roosevelt, Theodore Roosevelt’s son, was similarly honored during the war for his contributions as a British Army officer in Mesopotamia. Whitridge soon made first lieutenant and was promoted to captain just prior to his father’s death. Arriving in New York on 14 January 1917 Captain Whitridge told reporters he would be leaving the British Army to focus on family affairs.

Royal Field Artillery Column in Mesopotamia

Arnold Whitridge, an American, was born in New Rochelle, New York, on 29 June 1891 to Lucy Arnold and Frederick W. Whitridge. The family lived in a large house on East 11th Street in Manhattan. They traveled to Europe frequently in the decades prior to the war and, true to his mother’s British roots, maintained a summer residence in England. Whitridge may have thought he was leaving military service behind in that winter of 1917, but when the United States entered the conflict that spring he was back in a captain’s uniform. He reported for duty at Governors Island in New York Harbor as an officer in the nascent A.E.F. come May, left for France on 25 June, and arrived in Paris on 5 July, one day after Pershing’s appearance at Lafayette’s grave at Picpus Cemetery. Captain Whitridge married Janetta Alexander, a New Yorker volunteering with the Y.M.C.A., at the American Church in Paris on 25 April 1918. Eleanor Butler Alexander Roosevelt, wife of Theodore Roosevelt, Jr., an officer in the First Infantry Division, threw the young couple a reception later that day. Captain Whitridge participated in most of the major American campaigns of the Great War, including at Aisne Marne, St. Mihiel, and the Meuse-Argonne. He was promoted to major two weeks prior to the Armistice and stayed on with the American Peace Commission through the signing of the Versailles Treaty. He arrived back in the United States in September 1919.

U.S Army Service Record Card

Whitridge returned to school in the 1920s and received a PhD from Columbia University in 1925. He taught English and history at Columbia, and then Yale, and served as master of Yale’s Calhoun College from 1932 to 1942. He rejoined the U.S. Army after Pearl Harbor, serving in North Africa and elsewhere as a colonel in the Intelligence Office of the Ninth Air Force. Mrs. Whitridge too returned to duty, volunteering with the American Red Cross. When the war ended Arnold again resumed the academic life. He had a long, prolific career, and his body of work included books on the European revolutions of 1848, the American Civil War, the local history of Salisbury, Connecticut, biographies of the French nobleman and general Rochambeau, Romantic poet Alfred de Vigny, and his own great-grandfather, Arnold of Rugby. In addition there were reams of literary criticism to go along with magazine and newspaper articles on issues of the day. He edited a collection of grandfather Matthew Arnold’s unpublished letters as well.

The Whitridges raised a family and split their time between New York City and Connecticut. They were quite active in their communities. Arnold was voted a trustee of the Metropolitan Museum of Art and served in that capacity for decades; Janetta held numerous service leadership positions as president of the Alliance Française, council member for the New York Botanical Garden, and trustee of the New York Public Library, among other endeavors. Janetta died in March 1973, and Arnold passed away in Salisbury, Connecticut, 16 years later, aged 97.

Our contributor, Keith Muchowski, produces an outstanding blog that looks at American history from a New Yorker's viewpoint. Visit Keith's Blog, The Strawfoot, for more interesting insights on the history of the First World War.

Saturday, January 28, 2017

A Roads Classic: A Forgotten Battlefield—Le Linge

The Fighting at Le Linge 

The struggle for Le Linge, a hilltop located 14 miles west of Colmar in the Vosges Mountains, was one of the bloodiest battles of the First World War, but is mostly forgotten today. Between 20 July and 15 October 1915, the Germans organized their defense here in order to prevent French troops advancing on Colmar. In 1915 this area was part of the Alsace, which Germany considered its own. The fighting was extremely violent, with 17,000 killed, counting both the French and German losses. Gas and flamethrowers were used here. Subsequently, as both sides came to realize that a major breakthrough in the Vosges was unfeasible, the hill was the site of some of the closest, most intense trench fighting of the Great War.

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The area shown here between the 1914 border and the line of 1915–1918 was the only German territory occupied by the French Army before the Armistice.

Le Linge Today

The battlefield is situated at the top of a rocky hillock, dotted with a few trees and lined with trenches dug out of the sandstone. The bunkers and barbed wire which crisscrossed the area have been retained. A very moving memorial site, the battlefield contains numerous black-and-white crosses marking the final resting place of French and German troops. A museum includes numerous items found on the site: weapons, personal belongings, munitions, and other relics. Models of the battlefield, video clips, and photos further add to the experience

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The view from the southern entrance to the site; below – a guide shows the trench network.

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Four views of the various trench lines

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Two distinguishing aspect of the Le Linge site: the extensive use of concrete by both sides and the well-preserved barbed wire barricades throughout.

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My 2012 tour group at the northernmost outpost at Le Linge; right – a Chasseur Alpins ski-trooper on display in the excellent museum at the site.

Friday, January 27, 2017

Remembering a Veteran: Charles Hazeltine Hammann, U.S. Navy

Charles H. Hammann was born in Baltimore, Maryland, on 16 March 1892. He was appointed an ensign in the Naval Reserve Flying Corps during World War I. On 21 August 1918, while piloting a Navy seaplane near Pola, he landed on the Adriatic Sea to rescue Ensign George H. Ludlow, whose aircraft had been shot down by Austro-Hungarian forces. Though Hammann's plane was not designed for two persons, and despite the risk of enemy attack, he successfully completed the rescue and returned to the base at Porto Corsini, Italy. He was awarded the Medal of Honor for this exploit.

Hammann lost his life while serving on active duty at Langley Field, Virginia, on 14 June 1919. USS Hammann (DD-412) and USS Hammann (DE-131) were named in his honor. 

[From USN Website]

Thursday, January 26, 2017

Captain Franz von Rintelen, Ace German Spy

Captain Franz Dagobert Johannes von Rintelen (19 August 1878–30 May 1949) was a German naval intelligence officer in the United States during World War I. In April 1915, Captain von Rintelen arrived in New York carrying a Swiss passport and orders to run a sabotage campaign under illegal cover. Rintelen spoke fluent English and knew Manhattan's banking and social milieus. He was as unschooled in covert action as his embassy counterparts but was more innovative and seemingly inexhaustible. Within weeks of his arrival, he had enlisted sailors and officers from the 80-odd German ships languishing in New York harbor, turning a workshop on one of the ships into a bomb factory. He convinced a German-born chemist across the river in New Jersey to fill cigar-shaped firebombs and claims to have used Irish dockworkers to plant the devices on Allied ships in American ports. The shipping news soon noted a rash of mysterious accidents at sea—ships carrying munitions from America were damaged and their cargoes ruined by fires.

Captain Franz von Rintelen

In May 1915 a U-boat off the coast of Ireland sank the British liner Lusitania with appalling loss of life, including 128 Americans. The sinking turned public opinion against Germany and angered President Wilson, who ordered the Secret Service—previously confined to protecting presidents and hunting counterfeiters—to watch German diplomats. Although the Secret Service officers did not spot Rintelen, they filched the briefcase of the German commercial attaché on a New York streetcar in July 1915 and found in his papers several leads to the sabotage campaign. Officials in Washington began to see what was afoot.

Not long after the sinking of Lusitania, Captain Rintelen was ordered to Berlin for consultations and boarded a Dutch steamer for the long trip. He never made it. Tipped by a decoded German message, the British stopped his ship in the English Channel and detained him. His Swiss passport only delayed the inevitable, and soon Rintelen admitted to his captors that he was an enemy officer, and he was taken prisoner.

However, the network Rintelen had established remained highly active and successful in the efforts to sabotage American material support for the Allies.

The Results of the Black Tom Explosion

The conflagration at Black Tom pier was their most spectacular success, but there were others. In January 1917, a mysterious fire at a shell-packing plant in Kingsland, New Jersey, just across the river from Manhattan, rocked the city and sent thousands fleeing from un-fused shells flung high in the air by the blasts. Three months later, another unexplained fire destroyed the Hercules Powder Company plant in Eddystone, Pennsylvania, killing over a hundred workers, most of them women and children. A book published in 1937 estimated that, between early 1915 and spring 1917, 43 American factories suffered explosions or fires of mysterious origin, in addition to the bombs set on some four dozen ships carrying war supplies to the Allies.

After America entered the war, the British bundled Rintelen off to New York to stand trial. One of the charges that stuck was that of conspiracy to create an illegal restraint of trade by inducing dockworkers to strike against firms loading ships with munitions. He thus became surely the most important—and probably the only—spy to be jailed for violating the Sherman Antitrust Act. Released in 1920, Rintelen eventually moved to England, told his story in a lurid memoir titled The Dark Invader: Wartime Reminiscences of a German Naval Intelligence Officer (London: Lovat, Dickson, 1933), and died in London in 1949.

Sources: Website of the Central Intelligence Agency; Wikicommons

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

French Leave Policy and the Army Mutinies

According the Emmanuelle Cronier, a Marie Curie Fellow at the University of Birmingham, French Army leave policy had a lot to do with the mutinies that followed the failed Nivelle Offensive in April 1917.

A Poilu, Not Very Happy to Be Stuck in a Trench

Back in 1914, when the war was supposed to be over by Christmas, only the wounded  were allowed to spend a few days at home as part of their recuperation. But when the war clearly became a long one, governments had to implement leave policies both for the well-being and sanity of the troops and for morale on the home front.  So, in 1915 the various armies gradually began allowing their soldiers to take a few days leave in the rear, and, if possible, to return home. Transport was a continual problem and major battles like Verdun, where it was often a matter of "all hands on deck," to borrow a naval expression, made taking leave difficult.  

From the start, the Poilus  felt the allocation of leave authorizations was arbitrary and never intended to meet the promised targets.  Political pressure, though, was brought to bear on the Army, and by the end of 1916 French soldiers eventually had the most favorable system of all the combatants — in theory. It promised  a leave of three to ten days, two or three times a year However, the French command did not immediately embrace the new policy since it was hoping to win the war soon with General Nivelle's new strategy to be implemented  in the coming battle on the Chemin des Dames.

On Leave in Paris

As is well known, the attack failed dismally and the troops rebelled. Many of the mutineers later cited the lack of leave opportunities in addition to fatigue and a general lack of confidence in the military leadership as reasons for their disobedience. Pétain is credited with improving the leave system as part of his effort to rebuild the army. Truth be told, he simply enforced the policies that had been put in place just before the Nivelle Offensive.  Also, Pétain believed the mutineers had used the limited leave time they had earlier—especially in Paris—to brew up their rebellion. Consequently, he also established surreptitious monitoring units in trains, at railway stations, and in the capital, to identify any new plotters.

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Treacherous Passage: Germany's Secret Plot
Reviewed by Charles H. Bogart

Treacherous Passage: 
Germany's Secret Plot against the United States in Mexico During World War I

by Bill Mills
University of Nebraska Press, 2016

The author has written an excellent book casting light on one segment of the troubling relationship the United States has often had with Mexico. As the year 1917 dawned, most Americans would have overwhelmingly predicted that if the United States went to war that year it would be with Mexico, not Germany. Within the pages of this book Bill Mills fleshes out the story of United States, German, and Mexican relations in 1917—first brought to the attention of the general population in Barbara W. Tuchman's 1958 book The Zimmermann Telegram.

The heart of Bill Mill's book concerns itself with intrigue undertaken by various German nationalists trapped in Mexico to outfit two ships for employment as warships to support attacks on American coastal shipping. The story of the endeavor of these German nationalists to purchase and outfit these two ships is a story of how a series of unconnected random acts can have unexpected outcomes. The prime example of this was how the Mexican warship Morelos went from the pride of the Mexican Navy to sunken warship to a candidate as a German raider. Even more brazen was the plan to convert the motorized schooner Alexander Agassiz into a commerce raider to prey upon the American fishing fleet operating off Southern California.

Suspected German Agents Captured Aboard Alexander Agassiz by U.S. Navy 

Central to the story is how various German nationalist and opportunist Mexicans formed a business alliance to circumnavigate United States wartime probations on the selling and shipping of certain goods to German-controlled companies in Mexico. Part of this alliance later broke off to become an active anti-American force proposing to indirectly and directly attack the United States. As part of this activity a 1,000-man German Army Reservists camp was established at El Claro in Sonora. The plan called for these men to be trained as officers and NCOs and then used as a leadership cadre directing a 45,000-strong Mexican rank and file army that would seize Texas. The invading German/Mexican army would be reinforced within Texas by disgruntled African Americans, locals of Mexican descent, and anti-capitalist agitators. If in hindsight the proposed outcome of this invasion plan seems naive, foolhardy, and divorced from reality, one still never knows how such a failed attack would have impacted American war aims.

A sub-story the author presents in Treacherous Passage concerns the proposed arrival in late 1917 of five German submarines off the west coast of California. These boats were to sail from Germany through the Straits of Magellan to a rendezvous with supply ships purchased by Germans in Mexico. Unfortunately, the author provides no information from German naval archives listing what U-boats were to make the voyage or if there were any boats with this range of operation.

Mixed in with the above story is the tale of American counter-espionage activities against Germany both in Mexico and the United States. As one reads the story of the German anti-American activities in Mexico one is amazed at how amateurishly the Germans conducted their operations. The whole story presented within this book to my mind reads more like an act of deliberate German misinformation to feed to U.S. agents for the purpose of tying down U.S. naval and military forces along the Mexican border and the coast of California, than the operations of a true espionage outfit.

The author provides a fascinating look at German/Mexican/American relationships during the period 1914–1917. I would be interested in hearing from others if they believe that proposed 1917 German operations against the United States from Mexico were real or were part of an elaborate deception plan to tie down the U.S. Army on the Mexican border.

Note: This review is being presented concurrently in The Journal of Military Past published by the Council on American Military Past. 

Charles H. Bogart

Monday, January 23, 2017

Tea and Biscuits with John Terraine

John Terraine
When I started my deep study of the First World War, John Terraine (1921–2003) was its most prominent living historian. He was also a founder of the Western Front Association (WFA) and its honorary president. The project I had in mind at that time was to produce a documentary video on the American involvement in the 1918 campaign, and Terraine had authored a very influential book on the last year of the war. I had countless questions about his commentary that I would enjoy asking of him if I had the opportunity.

In 1989 I found myself in London to explore the archives of the Imperial War Museum en route to the Western Front for my first visit. Thanks to Great War Society member Irv Roth, I was equipped with an introduction to the then president of the WFA, David Cohen. David and his wife hosted me for cocktails and could not have been nicer to me. In the course of the evening I mentioned that I would enjoy speaking to John Terraine about his 1918 study, and David promised to see if he could arrange a visit with the great man. 

John's Favorite
Within a day, I think, David called back and said John would be willing to set aside an hour, no more, to chat with me. There was a little tone of caution in David's voice and I asked if I was being an imposition.  David said no, it was just that John was a bit tired of people who wanted to debate Douglas Haig with him, (Americans were presumed to be in the anti-Haig camp). I responded no, that Haig was not a focus for me. But I also asked if there was anything I could do to reassure John of my goodwill. David mentioned that Terraine really enjoyed a certain kind of biscuit (cookie for you Yanks out there) sold only at Harrods department store. They came in a tall tin similar to the 21st-century version shown here.

The morning of the interview I rode the Tube to Harrods, bought a tin of the biscuits, then took a London taxi to John's flat in Kensington. When he answered the door his eyes went right to the tin of biscuits. I knew I was in. Those cookies were the best investment I ever made in my World War I education. John Terraine spent the entire afternoon—which was punctuated by several tea and biscuit breaks—educating me on the events of 1914–1918, and I got almost all of it on tape.  Which I proceeded to lose for 20 years.

When I moved to my current home in 2010, I was overjoyed to rediscover the tape, and one of our editors, Diane, made a transcript.  I published it in our magazine OVER THE TOP in full in January 2011.  It was one of the most appreciated and commented on issues we have every produced.  (If you would like  to download the issue with the full 7,500 word interview for $4.50, just email me here: and I'll send you information on how to do so.)

Here are three of the highlights from that day when I was able to share biscuits and tea with one of the most notable historians of the First World War.

1.  MH: There's a recent influential book out by James Joll titled The Origins of the First World War. He takes what a Californian, like myself, would call an "artichoke approach," peeling off layer upon layer [of causative factors]. I think if he were here, he would rank highly the arms race, the colonial competition, and a lot of the internal politics of each of the participants  as major contributing causes of the war [but add that these were, in good part, responses] to the modernization of society.

John's Work on the 1918
Campaign That Was of
Interest to Me
JT: Oh, absolutely, yes. As far as I see it, the First World War, and the Second World War, are part of the warfare of the period of the first industrial revolution. I think of three major wars during that period: the American Civil War being the third. They have very clear affinities. The character of each of those wars is determined—in my view absolutely—by the state of technology and by the influence of the Industrial Revolution.

2. MH: Do you feel there is a differentiation morally or in the laws of great nations as to the logic of the British naval blockade versus the submarine warfare of the Germans?

JT: Well, I made it perfectly clear in my book on the submarine war that, as I saw it, we were engaged in blockade in a manner not seen before, based on the Royal Navy, not at all like the kind of blockade that we conducted against the French in Napoleonic Wars, which involved sitting outside their ports, frequently in full view, and daring them to come out. It wasn't like that at all. It was a long-distance affair. They were about four or five miles away from the German ports, but it was effective nevertheless. We were the first off the mark because we instituted it from the word go, and it was a little while before the Germans retorted by declaring that their submarines would blockade the British Isles. So both sides were conducting a long-recognized, long-accepted naval warfare when they instituted the blockades. I don't really make any distinction between them.

One of John's Lesser-Known Works on War & Technology That I Strongly Recommend

3. MH: [By] July of 1918, there's over a million American men on the Western Front. By September 1918 there's almost two million men. And if we had been in the war another year, there would've been four million men. . . If the war had gone through 1919, it seems to me that the Americans would've had by far the largest contingent over there.

JT: I think that's true, yes. And it's one of the great ironies of history, and history is not short of ironies, that round about the period of June to September of 1918, when the tide was just about to turn and then did turn, and the Germans were palpably being defeated in the field, at precisely that time the British government was exploring ways of getting the BEF, or the bulk of it, out of France altogether and letting the Americans carry the Western Front. But the Armistice in November 1918 rather spoiled that plan. [News of this policy change by the Lloyd George government caught me truly by surprise.]

MH: Was that in the way of a serious plan or a contingency plan?

JT: It was a serious intention. "Plan" is going to far, because they couldn't formulate a plan, but it was an intention. . .The idea was to cart the British Army off to the Middle East, or somewhere like that, which in my opinion was a lunatic project. Utterly unpractical. And I would've thought, totally unproductive. But that was the idea—anything to get the army away from the terrible killing ground on the Western Front. And to enable the government to avoid doing its duty—that's the way I would express it.

MH: John, was Haig a supporter of that concept?

JT: Oh, no, absolutely not.

Sunday, January 22, 2017

Three Naval Heroes of the War

All three officers shown here were awarded their nation's highest honor for notable service in the Great War.

Lt. Commander George Nicholson Bradford (1887–1918) had demonstrated his heroic nature in 1909 when he led the rescue of three men from a fishing trawler that had been rammed by his ship HMS Chelmer. During the April 1918 raid at Zeebrugge. Bradford's converted ferryboat* HMS Iris, carrying a Royal Marine assault force, was unable to secure itself to the dock.  Bradford was killed trying to set the grappling hooks while exposing himself to enemy fire. With the posthumous award of the Victoria Cross, he joined his late brother Roland Boys Bradford to become the only brothers to be awarded the honor in World War I.
(*corrected from original posting.)

In 1903, when he was 17, the future Kapitänleutnant Lothar von Arnauld de la Perière (1886–1941) joined the German Navy. Before the war he served as torpedo officer aboard the cruiser Emden. Then he became aide-de-camp to Grand Admiral von Tirpitz and was serving on the Admiralty staff when the war started. First, von Arnauld tried for a zeppelin command. But with no zeppelin commands available he eventually found himself taking command of U-35. From January 1916 to March 1918 he racked up a formidable record, sinking 194 ships totaling over 453,000 tons. Under his command, U-35 fired only four torpedoes, one of which missed the target. Von Arnauld's weapon of choice was his 88mm deck gun. He was awarded the Pour le Mérite and asked for and got an autographed photograph from the Kaiser. Recalled to service in the Second World War as an admiral, he was killed in a plane crash at Paris in 1941. 

Capitano Luigi Rizzo (1887–1951) started the war as a naval reservist and eventually became a double recipient of Italy's Medaglie d'Oro al Valor Militare, as well as three awards of the next tier, silver medal.  He commanded the high-speed motorized torpedo boats that sank the Austrian battleships Wien at Trieste in December 1917 and the Szent István in June 1918.  The Italian king awarded him the title "Count of Grado." His WWII service included the assignment of destroying Italian ships before the German navy could seize them when Italy left the Axis powers.  His success did not sit well with the Germans and he was taken prisoner by the Gestapo for the remainder of the war. He survived and was repatriated to Italy after the war. Rizzo died in 1951, holding the rank of admiral.

Saturday, January 21, 2017

The Bréguet 14, Finest French Bomber of the Great War

A Bréguet 14 at an American Depot in 1918

The Bréguet 14 was the aircraft that the French aircrews had been waiting for since 1916—a day-bomber that could hold its own against the German fighters. Aviation historian René Martel described the single-engine biplane as powerful, stable but sensitive on the controls, fast-climbing, well-armed, and capable of flying in large formations. It was first used operationally in autumn 1917. Under its wings it carried 32 17.6-pound bombs released by the Michelin automatic bomb rack. 

A Restored Bréguet 14 Flying in 2014

It was also powerful, propelled by a Renault engine and later by a Lorraine-Dietrich of 300 horsepower. At the end of the war, it was even equipped with 370-hp American Liberty engines. The use, at the same time, of the Rateau turbocompressor enabled it to reach new levels of altitude. It was also light, thanks to the bold use of "duraluminum," which was used by the German air service in its zeppelins and Junkers airplanes.

Friday, January 20, 2017

What World War I Medal Has General Pershing on It?

Answer:  The U.S. Army Occupation of Germany Medal

The Army of Occupation of Germany Medal is a service medal of the United States military which was created by the act of the United States Congress on 21 November 1941. The medal recognizes those members of the United States military who served in the European occupation force following the close of World War I and was awarded to any service member who performed occupation garrison duty in either Germany, or the former Austria-Hungary, between the dates of 12 November 1918 and 11 July 1923. At times the occupation force was as large as 250,000 men.

The medal was primarily created due to the rising tension with Germany, between 1939 and 1941, and also as a means to honor the World War I service of General of the Armies John J. Pershing. 

The medal was designed by Mr. T. A. Rovelstad, Heraldic Division, Office of the Quartermaster General, in June 1942, and was approved by the Secretary of War on 8 July 1942.

It is bronze and 1.25 inches in diameter. On the obverse is a profile of General John J. Pershing, circled by four stars indicating his insignia of grade as Commanding General of the Field Forces. In the lower left is the inscription “GENERAL JOHN J. PERSHING” and on the right is a laurel wreath superimposed by a sword with the dates “1918” and “1923” enclosed by the wreath. 

The reverse shows the American eagle perched with outspread wings standing on the Castle Ehrenbreitstein, encircled by the words “U.S. ARMY OF OCCUPATION OF GERMANY” and three stars at the bottom of the medal.

Sources: U.S. Army Heraldry & Wikipedia

Thursday, January 19, 2017

The First Tank-vs.-Tank Battle

At Cachy, South of Villers-Bretonneux: The First Tank Battle Was Fought Here

In April of 1918 the Germans launched an assault against the British lines at Amiens as a follow-up to their massive Michael Offensive initiated on 21 March 1918. This led to the first tank-vs.-tank battle in history. Three British Mark IVs faced off against three German A7V tanks. Two of the three Mark IVs were "females" outfitted with only machine guns, leaving only one (equipped with 6-pounders) to engage with the German tanks, each equipped with a single front-mounted cannon and machine guns on its side. After a lengthy exchange the Mark IV disabled the lead German A7V, which was then abandoned. The remaining German tanks withdrew, and, while attempting to pursue them, the Mark IV was taken out by artillery. 

German AV7 Tank

British Mark IV Tank 


Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Remembering a Veteran: James Norman Hall. Infantryman, Aviator, Prisoner of War, and Author

James Norman Hall (1887–1951) was born in Colfax, Iowa, and educated in his home state. At the outbreak of World War I, Hall joined the British Army, serving in the 9th Battalion Royal Fusiliers, taking part in the Battle of Loos. Hall published his war memoirs in 1916 under the titles Kitchener's Mob and High Adventure. Hall reenlisted in 1916 as a member of the Lafayette Escadrille, underwent air training, and was assigned to Squadron 124 on 16 June 1917. Ten days later he was seriously injured in a crash.

When America joined the war, Hall transferred to the American Air Service serving with the 94th, then the 103rd Aero Squadron. In May 1918 Hall was shot down behind German lines and then spent the last six months of the war in a prison camp. Late in the war he met Charles Nordhoff, another American pilot who had served in the war with French units. The two men won a commission to write a history of the Lafayette Flying Corps inclusive of the Lafayette Escadrille.

James Norman Hall During the War*
When Hall and Nordhoff subsequently received an advance from Harpers to write travel articles, they moved to Tahiti. In 1921 appeared their travel book Faery Lands of the South Seas. Hall continued writing travel books and with Nordhoff published novels. In 1925 Hall married Sarah Winchester; his friend had married a Polynesian woman a few years before.

In 1929 appeared Nordhoff's and Hall's jointly written book about flying, Falcons of France. After Hall's suggestion the team started to write Mutiny on the Bounty (1932), the story about charismatic Fletcher Christian and Captain William Bligh. Two additional volumes of the series were published in 1934, and the following year saw their work filmed in one of Hollywood's greatest epics, starring Clark Gable and Charles Laughton. Hall died in Tahiti. His posthumously published memoir, My Island Home, appeared in 1952.
* This photo replaces our originally incorrect image, which showed Lafayette Escadrille founding member Bert Hall. (We got our Halls confused.)  Thanks to reader Karen Tallentire for catching this.

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

The Naval War in the Mediterranean
reviewed by James M. Gallen

The Naval War in the Mediterranean, 1914–1918

by Paul Halpern
Oxon and New York, 2016

Battle of the Otranto Straits, 14/15 May 1917

The Great War was truly a first world war, the theaters of which extended far beyond mud and trenches, gas, and no man's land. The Naval War in The Mediterranean 1914–1918 presents the war in a different venue that, while literally a backwater, comes alive as author Paul Halpern describes its actions and personalities and places it in the context of the larger conflict.

The Great War in the Mediterranean was a three-dimensional swirl of air, land, surface and underwater combat. As in other theaters, national alliances shifted while officers competed for commands, savored credit for victories and dodged blame for defeats. The three principal conflicts depicted in the book are the Dardanelles Campaign, Adriatic threats by Austria-Hungary and Italy, and interdiction of commercial shipping.

Gallipoli, also known as the Dardanelles Campaign, captured my interest more than any other section. The attacks were intended to force the Turks out of the war, open supply routes to Russia, and ensure the protection of the Suez Canal. Whereas other histories focus on the land battles, this gives proper attention to the naval assaults that the British initially hoped would lead them to victory. When Greek distrust of Bulgaria and Russian designs on Constantinople derailed plans to have the Greek Army seize the Dardanelles, naval bombardment of Turkish fortifications was the next tactic chosen. Overestimates of the effects of flat trajectory naval gunfire against land targets and underestimates of Turkish resistance forced the Allies to turn to the beach landings.

The initial bombardment of the Turkish guarding the entrance to the Dardanelles commenced on 19 February 1915, and by 1 March the British were prepared to destroy the intermediate defenses and clear the minefields. As ships moved into the more restricted Straits and mines forced them off shore, the Turkish artillery became dominant. Russian decisions to confine their attacks to regions close to their own bases of supply scuttled hopes for assistance from their Black Sea Fleet. When sea power proved no more successful than the Greek Army or the Russian Fleet, the British Empire and French (motivated largely to maintain French influence in the Levant) sent troops into the bloody and ultimately unsuccessful assault on the beaches. The navy that failed to force the Dardanelles landed and, at the end, evacuated the troops, the latter being the most successful aspect of the whole campaign and providing a model for the heroic evacuation from Dunkirk during another war. Between those bookends the Western navies supplied the troops ashore while their submarines interdicted Turkish supplies to the Gallipoli Peninsula.

This work shines the spotlight on aspects neglected in other studies of the war, some of which fit into place once they are revealed. The Adriatic provided a highway across which Austro-Hungarian and Italian forces threatened to traverse to attack each other's homeland. The weakness of those two combatants was shown as they relied on their allies to supply and defend them. While Italy entreated Britain and France to divert vessels to Italian waters, Austria-Hungary was aided by the overland transport of submarines from Germany, some of which then sailed with German crews and under either German or Austrian-Hungarian flags. The Austro-Hungarian "Fleet in Being" kept larger Entente forces unavailable for other work as submarines sunk their enemies' maritime assets.

The Officers of U-35 Operating in the Mediterranean
Capt. Lothar von Arnauld de la Perière (2nd from right) Was the 

Most Successful U-boat Commander of All Time

Entente, particularly British, merchant shipping paid a heavy toll in the Mediterranean in conjunction with the submarine war on the Atlantic. The concept of naval escort that grew into convoys was tested and experimented with in the Mediterranean. Just as boots on the ground supported spheres of influence so too did the allocation of patrol areas and apportionment of the naval work load. The global nature of the war is shown by the introduction of Japanese and American vessels into the Mediterranean. It was here that the first launch of a torpedo from an airplane occurred. Near the end, the Russian collapse and surrender set off a scramble between Russia, Ukraine, and Germany for the Russian Black Sea Fleet and the response of Britain and France to a threat that never really materialized.

As its 630 pages would suggest, The Naval War in the Mediterranean is an extremely detailed book, expending much ink on the names of officers, few of which are as recognizable as that of Capt. von Trapp of "Sound of Music" fame, and ships and the details of engagements. I did learn new concepts about the strategies involved, the flow of the combat, and its effect on the larger war. A condensation of 50 percent or more would leave enough to satisfy a casual reader like myself. This is the definitive and thorough narrative for the expert in the field and would be of great interest to them.

James M. Gallen

Monday, January 16, 2017

The Fateful Alliance: France and Russia, 1894

When I first started studying the Great War, George Kennan's book on the French-Russian alliance was considered "cutting edge" amongst students of the war's origins. It didn't get a lot of attention in 2014, when so much was written about the causes of the war, but it is still essential reading.  Here is a summary of his argument and the document negotiated in 1892 and finalized two years later. The alliance was renewed and strengthened in 1899 and 1912.

The Lead Negotiators:
French General Raoul de Boisdeffre and Russian General Nikolai Obruchev

The first chancellor of Imperial Germany, Otto von Bismarck, forged the “Triple Alliance” with Austria-Hungary and Italy in 1882, and he also maintained cordial relations and a nonaggression pact with tsarist Russia. Bismarck was dismissed in 1890 by the young Kaiser Wilhelm II, however, and his successors refused to renew the nonaggression pact with Russia on the grounds that it was logically inconsistent with Germany’s commitments to Austria-Hungary. The Russian foreign ministry sought to preserve friendly relations with Germany, but the Russian military insisted that a new alliance with France was essential for Russian national security. The tsar’s top military aide, General Nikolai Obruchev, took it upon himself to open direct talks between the French and Russian general staffs after a chance encounter with his French colleague, General Raoul de Boisdeffre, while vacationing on the Riviera. Despite reservations among the professional diplomats of both Russia and France, the generals persuaded Tsar Nicholas II and the French cabinet to endorse their secret military convention, which was signed by the chiefs of the army general staffs in August 1892 and ratified in January 1894 through an exchange of notes between the Russian and French foreign ministers. That agreement is reproduced below.


(signed by Generals Obruchev and Boisdeffre and ratified in January 1894)

If France is attacked by Germany or by Italy supported by Germany, Russia will employ all its available forces to attack Germany. If Russia is attacked by Germany or by Austria supported by Germany, France will employ all its available forces to combat Germany.

In case the forces of the Triple Alliance or of one of its members begin to mobilize, France and Russia will immediately and simultaneously mobilize all of their forces and deploy them as close to their borders as possible, as soon as the enemy mobilization is announced, without any need for prior discussions.

The forces available for deployment against Germany will amount to 1,300,000 men on the part of France, and 700–800,000 men on the part of Russia. These forces are dedicated to combating Germany simultaneously from the East and West in the most effective manner possible.

The military general staffs of the two countries will deliberate together to prepare and execute the measures outlined above. They will communicate to each other in times of peace all the intelligence regarding the armaments of the Triple Alliance that may come to their attention. The ways and means for coordinating their actions in times of war will be studied and planned in advance.

France and Russia will not conclude a separate peace.

This convention will have the same duration as the Triple Alliance.

Every clause enumerated above will be kept strictly secret.

SOURCES: George Kennan, The Fateful Alliance: France, Russia, and the Coming of the First World War and

Sunday, January 15, 2017

Why Is the Last Post at the Menin Gate So Memorable?

Answer:  It is both moving and bloody exciting. This photo from the Flanders tourism board captures the second part of that perfectly. Click on the image to enlarge and save it.

Saturday, January 14, 2017

The Man Who Gave Italy a War: Antonio Salandra

Antonio Salandra
Roiling Italian politics brought conservative, traditionalist Antonio Salandra to the top of the heap in March 1914. He was a nationalist who favored a foreign policy that suited Italian interests, and was in no way an enthusiast for the Triple Alliance with Germany and Austria-Hungary. His appointment, which was considered a stopgap measure at the time, would prove to be highly influential on the course of the war. 

When the rest of Europe rushed toward the battlefields, Prime Minister Salandra announced that Italy would not be entering the war, claiming that the terms of the 1882 Triple Alliance Treaty did not apply because neither Austria-Hungary or Germany were attacked. As a practical matter, there was substantial opposition to the war in Italy and any territory that Italy hoped to gain was in Austrian hands rather than those of the Entente powers. The Germans and Austrians were furious, of course, feeling betrayed. But worse was to come for the Central Powers. 

Salandra and his Minister of Foreign Affairs, Sidney Sonnino (initially a supporter of honoring the Triple Alliance), continued discussion with their purported allies, while also initiating secret negotiations with London and Paris to see how Italy could profit from the war by joining their side. The Allies won the bidding war, and Salandra patched together a broad, but somewhat thin, coalition from across the Socialist-Nationalist spectrum to support entering the war on the side of the Entente. Italy joined the war against its former Allies in the spring of 1915. 

Italian Prisoner of War Column, Asiago Plateau

Salandra, however, did not get the war he intended. The Army high command seized control of the war effort and suffered enormous casualties by mounting huge offensives across the Isonzo River with very little to show for it. Little more than a year after Italy had entered the war, Salandra's government lost support and fell, the first such dismissal for any World War I belligerent. The war that Salandra had engineered would be a disaster for Italy, but the fighting on the Italian Front would be a steady drain on the resources of the Central Powers, especially Austria-Hungary, and would contribute immeasurably to the eventual Allied victory.

Sources: Giolitti, Giovanni. in Great Britain, Collected Diplomatic Correspondence