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

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

A Rendezvous With Death: Alan Seeger In Poetry, At War
Reviewed by David F. Beer

A Rendezvous With Death: Alan Seeger In Poetry, At War

by Chris Dickon
New Street Communications, 2017

When poets are celebrated for one or two key poems, it's easy to forget that they may have produced a whole volume or two of work worth reading and may also have led intriguing and inspired lives. This is particularly true if the poet died young and under tragic circumstances. Among such WWI poets are Francis Ledgwidge, Joyce Kilmer, Charles Sorley, Hedd Wyn, Wilfred Owen, and sadly many others. However, for Americans the best known of these is likely to be Alan Seeger and his poem that gives this volume its title. Thus it's fitting that now, just over a hundred years after Seeger's death, a biography of the poet should appear that is fairly comprehensive, insightful, and evenhanded.

Chris Dickon's A Rendezvous with Death takes us from the poet's birth in 1888 through affluent childhood in an idyllic Staten Island punctuated by family sojourns in Mexico. Given Alan Seeger's background, he inevitably attended Harvard but then gravitated to the bohemian life of Greenwich Village before leaving in 1912 for Paris, where he lived happily on the West Bank. When war broke out he didn't hesitate to enlist in the French military, where he and some 30 or 40 other young American volunteers were assigned to the French Foreign Legion due to their foreign nationality. He adjusted well to life and combat in the Legion until his death in battle at Belloy-en-Santerre on 4 July 1916. From an early age until his death he wrote poetry and also became known for his contributions from the front to American journals and newspapers.

This book nicely fleshes out the brief details I've outlined above. From a happy childhood in a close family with attentive parents and a gifted brother and sister (his brother Charles was the father of the folk singer Pete Seeger), Alan was exposed to literature, music, and the scenic beauty of Mexico. Some of his earliest poems, which he later labeled "Juvenilia", were a response to the beauty and history of Mexico. As a youth he didn't enjoy the best of health, and his physical growth was slow. His brother once referred to him as "a scrawny runt" but later he was to grow tall and eventually tough enough for the Legion. In his teenage years he gradually became introverted and at Harvard he was seen as a reclusive scholar. In his bohemian years in New York and Paris he had few close friends, and later in the Legion and at the front he would take every opportunity to go apart to read or to write.

Much of Seeger's poetry shows the influence not just of his circumstances but also of his abiding interest in the medieval world of stately knights and chivalry. He saw war as "an inevitable condition of man" (79) and came to view the most honorable death as that of the knightly warrior in combat. He was happier in the war than he had ever been, and in a letter to his mother, after a long march to the Champagne, he wrote that he was feeling fine and

. . . in my element, for I have always thirsted for this kind of thing, to be present always where the pulsations are liveliest. Every minute here is worth weeks of ordinary experience. . . This will spoil one for any other kind of life. (102–103)

His frequent letters to his mother are often cited in the book since they reveal so much of Seeger's thought and feelings. As Chris Dickon carefully shows, these thoughts and feelings are the germs of Seeger's poetic life, a life that at the end had become immersed in a sort of cosmic spirituality and fascination for death. From this his greatest poem sprang.

Many of Seeger's other poems are cited in this book and are tellingly placed in the circumstances they were written in, including the ones urging the U.S. to enter the war. Other people are also considered in some detail if they played a part in the poet's life and development, such as his father with his business ventures in America and Mexico. Others we meet are a Unitarian minister, a teacher, a woman in Biarritz to whom Seeger wrote love sonnets, the American ambassador to France, and a few of Seeger's fellow Harvard students who also joined the Legion. The Marquis de Lafayette also plays a part in this book as the historical figure who loomed large in Seeger's thinking.

The book doesn't end with the poet's death. Three final chapters give detailed accounts of memorials, commemorations, and ceremonies in the century since 1916. In photos and text, the restoration of the Monument for the American Volunteers Fallen for France in Paris, once forgotten and vandalized, is described, as are dedications to Seeger in the village near where he fell.

American Volunteers Fallen for France Memorial in Paris
Top Figure Is Said to Represent Alan Seeger

His body was never found, but a marker includes his name in front of the ossuary where his bones are thought to be. If you'd like to look into the life and poems of Alan Seeger, going deeper than an appreciation of the one poem he is best known for, then I recommend this book. Also, the complete poems are available, as is another volume containing his letters and diary. In these, as the Scot William Archer states in his introduction to the first book of Seeger's poems, we can find

. . . a very rare spirit…the record of a short life, into which was crowded far more of keen experience and high aspiration—of the thrill of sense and the rapture of soul—than it is given to most men, even of high vitality, to extract from a life of twice the length.

David F. Beer

Monday, October 30, 2017

100 Years Ago: The Battle of Beersheba

The charge of the 4th Australian Light Horse at Beersheba that took place a century ago tomorrow, late in the afternoon of 31 October 1917, is remembered as the last great cavalry charge. The assault on Beersheba began at dawn with the infantry divisions of the British XX Corps attacking from the south and southwest. Despite artillery and air support, neither the infantry attacks from the south nor the Anzac Mounted Division’s attack from the east had succeeded in capturing Beersheba by mid-afternoon.

Light Horsemen Pause for a Meal in the Desert (AWM Diorama) 

With time running out for the Australians to capture Beersheba and its wells before dark, Lieutenant General Harry Chauvel, the Australian commander of the Desert Mounted Corps, ordered Brigadier General William Grant, commanding the 4th Light Horse Brigade, to make a mounted attack directly toward the town. Chauvel knew, from aerial photographs, that the Turkish trenches in front of the town were not protected by barbed wire. However, German bombing had forced the 4th Brigade into a scattered formation, and it was not until 4:50 p.m. that they were in position. The brigade assembled behind rising ground 6 kilometers southeast of Beersheba with the 4th Light Horse Regiment on the right, the 12th Light Horse Regiment on the left and the 11th Light Horse Regiment in reserve.

Note the Critical Position of Beersheba on the Right Flank
of Allenby's Advance

The Australian Light Horse was to be used purely as cavalry for the first time. Although riders were not equipped with cavalry sabres, the Turks who faced the long bayonets held by the Australians did not consider there was much difference between a charge by cavalry and a charge by mounted infantry. The Light Horse moved off at the trot and almost at once quickened to a gallop. As they came over the top of the ridge and looked down the long, gentle open slope to Beersheba, they were seen by the Turkish gunners, who opened fire with shrapnel. But the pace was too fast for the gunners. After three kilometers, Turkish machine guns opened fire from the flank, but they were detected and silenced by British artillery. The rifle fire from the Turkish trenches was wild and high as the Light Horse approached. The front trench and the main trench were jumped and some men dismounted and then attacked the Turks with rifle and bayonet from the rear. Some galloped ahead to seize the rear trenches, while other squadrons galloped straight into Beersheba.

Light Horse After the Capture of Beersheba 

Nearly all the wells of Beersheba were intact and further water was available from a storm that had filled the pools. The 4th and 12th Light Horse casualties were 31 killed and 36 wounded; they captured over 700 men. The capture of Beersheba meant that the Gaza-Beersheba line was turned. Gaza fell a week later, and on 9 December 1917, the British troops entered Jerusalem.

Sources: Text and Images from the Australian War Memorial Website

Sunday, October 29, 2017

Doughboy Basics: What Was the Most Important Operation of the AEF and Why?

As you can see from the header on this page, the attack mounted during the last phase of the Meuse-Argonne operation that resulted in a decisive victory is considered the most important and successful battle the AEF fought in the First World War . The attack was the culmination of a painful learning process, which I guess is a polite way of saying that a lot of boys died beforehand while their generals were learning how to fight a modern war. Its importance lay in the fact that the lessons absorbed before it and put into practice on November 1, 1918, became part of the mindset of the American military establishment to this day. Those lessons, primarily about the application of firepower, mobility and logistics, were transmitted through time, in good part because, an astonishing number of future Army chiefs of staff and Marine Corps commandants played roles in the success and they made sure the lessons were absorbed by the American military in the interwar period.

Overview of the Meuse-Argonne Offensive

The Meuse-Argonne Offensive was by some measures the largest battle ever fought by American, and—as once pointed out by Prof. Robert Farrell—America's bloodiest battle ever.

Meause-Argonne, All Phases

When: Sept 26 - Nov 11, 1918

Where: North and Northwest of Verdun, Overlapping the 1916 French Battlefield

  • Break the Metz-Sedan-Mezieres railroad that supported all the German forces to the west.
  • Support General Foch's plan for a shoulder-to-shoulder advance by British-French-U.S. Armies
  • Flank the German Forces Deployed in Woevre Plain where the next AEF offensive was to be fought
AEF Units Participating: U.S. First Army commanded by General John J. Pershing until October 16th then by Lt. General Hunter Liggett. Three U.S. corps plus one French corps rotating 23 American divisions were involved.

Opposing Forces: Detachments of various sizes from 40 German divisions of the Army Groups of the Crown Prince and General Max Carl von Gallwitz participated in the battle with the largest contribution by the Fifth Army of Group Gallwitz, commanded by General Georg von der Marwitz.

U.S. Casualties:
Overall (47 days)
  • Killed: 26,000; daily average = 533/day
  • Wounded and Gassed: 90,000; daily average = 1,914/day

Killed, Wounded and Gassed By Phase (Note ratio of casualties to distance advanced)
  • Sep. 26 - Oct. 15: 60,000 (17 km advance)
  • Oct. 16 - Oct. 31: 40,000 (4 km advance)
  • Nov. 1 - Nov. 11: 20,000 (32 km advance)

The Worst Days for the AEF
During Oct. 8 - 18, when the First Army was simultaneously attacking the highly defensible heights of the central Argonne sector and forcing its first crossing to the east of the Meuse at the foot of another formation of heights that were also well-defended. The AEF in this period was in a similar position to the Army of the Potomac at Fredericksburg in 1862, times 2, on a vaster scale.  The rate of killed and wounded during this period was 2 - 3 times greater than the average for the full battle, Sep. 26 - Nov. 11. The daily average in this period was 1,200 killed and 3,800 wounded and gassed during this stage.

How Was the Third Phase of the Offensive Different

from What Had Preceded It?

There were four deficiencies of the First Army in the earlier phases of the battle 
  • The infantry was expected to continue its initial attack beyond the range of supporting artillery.
  • Gas had not been used effectively
  • Plans for counter-battery fire and rolling barrages were inadequate or lacked sufficient artillery pieces
  • Often inexperienced units were given missions beyond their capabilities

General Liggett's Leadership 

At the top of the chain of command for the planning and execution of the attack sat Hunter Liggett, who, upon replacing Pershing, promptly discontinued all major offensive operations to allow the army, corps and divisions time to reorganize and develop a new plan of attack featuring the most experienced divisions of the AEF. For the upcoming attack, Liggett chose objectives that, although relatively deep, were all within range of the supporting artillery. Suspicious that previous attacks had suffered due to excessive restrictions on the use of heavy firepower in direct support of the infantry advance, the new army commander authorized two important innovations. He directed the "complete use of artillery" for the upcoming attack, freeing dozens of heavy guns and howitzers to support the infantry. He also ordered the army's bomber aircraft to no longer focus only on hitting enemy rear areas but rather to attack "hostile infantry and artillery in close cooperation" with the assaulting infantry.  Surprisingly, tanks would not play a major role in the coming battle.  There simply were not enough left of the allotment to the AEF after the St. Mihiel Offensive and earlier phases of the Meuse-Argonne.

The Opening Day

Meuse-Argonne, Final Phase Only

This opening success stemmed from the most comprehensive firepower employment plan that the AEF had ever seen. Everything was in place well in advance of the jump-off time of 5:30 a.m. During the artillery preparation, which began promptly at 3:30 a.m., all the guns opened up on their German targets, namely, batteries and those infantry positions that were able to deliver fire upon American infantry at their starting positions. Eighty gas projectors also fired lethal chemicals on known machine-gun nests, observation posts and organized shell holes. Ten minutes before H-Hour, the standing barrage was put down in front of the German forward positions, as was a thick smoke screen to hide the American infantry moving up to the barrage. At 5:30 a..m. the barrage rolled forward, and the attacking infantry battalions began their advance, assisted by tanks. The first day's attack was an unequivocal success; in the central V Corps sector the 2d Division had broken through the enemy's main line of resistance, advanced nine kilometers and had suffered light casualties.

The Final Phase Featured a Huge Increase in Artillery Batteries

Eleven Days Later

By Armistice Day, the First Army had completed all of its objectives.  The rail junction at Sedan was under Allied guns and General Pershing had turned the occupation of the city over to the Fourth French Army.  The U.S. First Army was in process of shifting its axis of attack from due north to the east, to secure the Meuse Heights in anticipation for the next offensive.  The 11th hour came as American units were still fighting on the east side of the Meuse River.  There has been much criticism of Pershing and his commanders for continuing to attack when they knew the Armistice was soon to occur, but they were not sure that the cease-fire was to be permanent and needed to secure the best position should fighting resume.

In Pursuit of Retreating German Forces after the Early Breakthrough


To gauge the impact of this operation on the future of the American Military, a list of officers involved in the battle includes four future Army Chiefs of Staff, John Hines, Charles Summerall, Douglas MacArthur, and George Marshall; several Marine Corps Commandants, including John Lejeune and Wendell Neville; and a long list of future generals of the Second World War and Korea.
The big lesson of the November 1st offensive was stated by Summerall, who was V Corps commander during the fighting:

If we are to be economical with our men, we must be prodigal with guns and ammunition.

Saturday, October 28, 2017

Recommended: The Artistic Legacy of the Great War

Woman with Mustard Pot, Picasso 1910
 (Shown at the NY Armory Show 1913)

by Norman Lebrecht, 
Published in Standpoint magazine, Jan/Feb 2013

Proverbs can be misleading. The old Russian saying "when the guns talk, the muses fall silent" is generally disproved by history. Wars tend to stimulate a creative response from artists, as well as a public appetite for cultural reassurance. Goethe, Jane Austen, and Beethoven flourished through Napoleon's campaigns, Verdi composed during the Risorgimento while Victor Hugo vividly recorded the 1871 siege of Paris. Sales of books and music rise in wartime. Theatres, where open, are packed.

The Great War is the great exception. Amid mass mobilisation, trench misery, and millions of fatalities, artists were unable to respond. Between 1914 and 1918, barely one lasting opera was born, the symphony stalled and literature dried up.

George Bernard Shaw, the foremost English-language dramatist, wrote only minor works for the stage between "Pygmalion" (1913) and "Heartbreak House" (1919). Thomas Mann, Germany's major novelist, published no fiction between Death in Venice (1912) and The Magic Mountain (1924). Richard Strauss, the preeminent German composer, yielded an overblown Alpine Symphony and little else.

Jean Sibelius managed one symphony, his fifth, but it was so flawed that he had to revise it twice after the war. Giacomo Puccini moped in Lucca. Henri Matisse withdrew to a safe style in the south of France. Edith Wharton became a social worker, Maurice Ravel an ambulance driver, Oskar Kokoschka a casualty, Rachmaninov an exile. The painter Max Ernst, conscripted to the German Army, wrote: "On August 1, 1914, Max Ernst died. He was resurrected on November 11, 1918 as a young man who wished to find the myth of his day."

Large Blue Horses, Marc, 1911

Cultural losses were severe. Spain's most successful composer, Enrique Granados, was drowned at sea in a U-boat attack while returning home from a Metropolitan Opera premiere. The German Expressionist Franz Marc, renowned for blue horses, was killed at Verdun. The inspirational French sculptor Henri Gaudier-Brzeska died at Neuville. Saki, the English short story writer, fell to a German sniper. The British war poets—Edward Thomas, Rupert Brooke, Isaac Rosenberg, and Wilfred Owen, who declared "my subject is war, and the pity of war"—earned a posthumous fame.

Poetry turned surprisingly popular, a tendency easily explained. A poem could be written in a trench on a single sheet of paper; a slim book of poetry slipped easily into the pocket of a combat jacket. War was kind to terse verse, cruel to the longer forms. There was no fiction of quality for almost a decade, until Ernest Hemingway, Robert Graves, and Erich Maria Remarque published frontline novels of gritty realism. 

In Russia, the Diaghilev Ballet was suspended and composers emigrated en masse. The poet Boris Pasternak returned home from Germany, expecting to die. His teacher, Alexander Scriabin, miserable in Moscow, died of a casual infection. Stravinsky went hungry in Switzerland. Prokofiev, perpetually self-absorbed, wailed "I am on neither side," when revolution broke out. 

In Britain, D.H. Lawrence spent the war being harassed for having a German wife. He finished Women in Love, but could not publish it until 1920. On the Sussex Downs, the Bloombsury circle philandered away, while Henry James awaited the postman thrice daily for news of fallen youths. No artist was immune to intimate loss. 

On the German side, Rainer Maria Rilke's enthusiasm for the "God of war" and Hugo von Hofmannstahl's unfettered "joy" gave way within a combat year to Arthur Schnitzler's "horror upon horror, injustice upon injustice, madness upon madness". To Vienna's leading playwright, war was a colossal "failure of imagination". 

Schnitzler's admirer Sigmund Freud veered likewise from being a "proud Austrian" (letter, July 26, 1914) to a sombre realization that "science is apparently dead, but humanity is really dead" (letter, 25 November 1914). In Paris, Claude Debussy struggled to make an opera out of the martyrdom of St Sebastian. "It is strange," he wrote in the last letter of his life, "that in 3,995 lines there should be such little substance. Just words, words . . . "

Everywhere, the Great War precipitated a cultural paralysis the like of which had not been known since medieval times. The causes of this precipitate ice age are elusive. Its consequences endure. A pattern of cultural response and expectation in wartime was set for the next world war and beyond—to Korea, Vietnam, and Iraq. 

The freeze was the more remarkable since it followed hard upon the breakthrough to Modernism. In the Parisian decade before the outbreak of war, Pablo Picasso had gone successively blue, pink, and Cubist; Debussy had perfected a form of musical Impressionism; Guillaume Apollinaire invented Surrealism.

In St Petersburg, Sergei Diaghilev turned classical ballet into progressive art, harnessing the finest talents in music and design. His company scandalized Paris in May 1913 with Stravinsky's percussive "Rite of Spring," announcing the birth of a rebarbative epoch in music, a shift of emphasis from melody to other elements. The search for solutions to a musical "crisis" furnished multiple solutions. Arnold Schoenberg legitimized atonality. Italian anarchists promoted a noisy Futurism. Béla Bartók and Zoltan Kodaly roamed remote parts of the Balkans with a recording machine, collecting organic fragments of folk heritage as fodder for new musical forms.

That all of this adventure and fertility should have been choked off in August 1914 is the clearest available indicator of just how traumatic the Great War was to the makers of the modern world. Some saw the war as a crushing defeat for the purpose of modern art. "If there had been more Cubism," wrote Apollinaire in 1915, "that is to say modern ideas, the war would not have taken place." Arnold Schoenberg, sent to the front at the age of 42, was assailed by a sergeant demanding to know if he was "that terrible Modernist composer". Schoenberg shrugged, and came clean. "Somebody had to be," he sighed, "and, since no one else wanted to, I took it upon myself." In stark contrast to Apollinaire's defeatism, Schoenberg believed that Modernism would emerge hardened and enhanced by the cataclysm.

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Friday, October 27, 2017

How the Allies Gained Access to Neutral Greece's Lemnos Island for Gallipoli and Salonika

Greece was officially neutral during the First World War, but was bitterly divided between factions supporting the opposing sides. King Constantine I sympathised with Germany and Austria, while Prime Minister Venizelos favoured the Allies. With the government divided, how were the Allies able to occupy the Greek island of Lemnos, which would prove a   critical asset in both the Gallipoli and later Salonka campaigns? 

Mudros harbour. Lemnos, 1915

The  deployment  of British, Australian and New Zealand troops to Greek territory  for the Dardanelles assault posed an acute diplomatic problem in early 1915. Greece was officially neutral but bitterly divided between two factions supporting the opposing sides. King Constantine I had German ancestry and was married to the Kaiser’s sister; his sympathies for Germany and Austro-Hungary were clear. On the other side, Prime Minister Eleutherios Venizelos favoured the Allies. Greece had not fulfilled its treaty obligations to come to Serbia's aid when the Austro-Hungarians declared war on Serbia in July 1914, and both Greek society and the military were split over the adoption of neutrality as the nation's official response to the war. Venizelos eventually established a rival government in northern Greece in October 1916, but the struggle was not resolved until June 1917, when Constantine was deposed in favour of his son Alexander and Greece officially joined the Allies.

View of Sarpi Camp on Lemnos, 1915

Greek neutrality, not withstanding, the Gallipoli invasion fleet assembled at Lemnos in April 1915. Despite the opposition of King Constantine to this development, Venizelos's faction blocked any attempt by the Greek government to actively oppose the Allied occupation of the island. Troops practised disembarkation and rowing the boats which would carry them to the beaches. A few men went ashore and explored the villages. Many would return during the Gallipoli campaign; in September 1915, most of the exhausted New Zealand contingent on the Gallipoli Peninsula was withdrawn to Lemnos for a rest, only returning to action in November 1915. Others were evacuated to the island during the fighting, either wounded or suffering from diseases such as dysentery.

General Panagiotis Danglis (left), Prime Minister Eleutherios Venizelos (centre)
and Admiral Pavlos Koundouriotis (right) arrive at Salonika on
9 October 1916, after establishing a provisional Greek nationalist government
in opposition to King Constantine I

In August 1916, military officers loyal to Venizelos launched an uprising in northern Greece against the royal government in Athens. The following month, Venizelos formed a "Triumvirate of National Defence" with General Danglis and Admiral Koundouriotis. Together they established a separate government—the Provisional Government of National Defence—which entered the war on the side of the Allies in November 1916.

Adapted from "The Salonika Campaign" on the New Zealand History website.

Thursday, October 26, 2017

A Roads Classic: The Imperial Japanese Navy and the Allies in the Great War

From Timothy D. Saxton

Japan rendered vital, worldwide naval support to Great Britain during the First World War, culminating in the service of Japan's first and only Mediterranean squadron. This long-forgotten Japanese flotilla fought alongside Allied warships throughout the most critical period of the struggle against German and Austro-Hungarian U-boats in 1917 and 1918. 

Admiral Sato Kozo (seated, center) Commanded a Flotilla of
14 Destroyers Based in Malta

Japanese cooperation is all the more surprising given that both British and American historians have characterized Japan's role in the First World War as that of a "jackal state," one that took a lion's share of the kill after only minimally assisting the cause.[2] The record tells a different story. Japan in fact stretched its naval resources to the limit during the First World War. Japanese naval assistance in the Mediterranean Sea in 1917 boosted the strength of Allied naval escorts during the darkest days of the war. Beyond the Mediterranean, an argument can be made that without Japanese assistance Great Britain would have lost control of the Pacific and Indian Oceans. That would have isolated the British Empire's two dominions in the Far East, Australia and New Zealand, from the campaigns in Europe and the Middle East. Other British colonies, from Aden and India to Singapore and Hong Kong, would have been exposed. Despite this help, Japan, at best a mistrusted and suspect ally of Great Britain in 1914, emerged from the conflict feared and despised by its "friends."

How did the Imperial Japanese Navy cooperate with the Royal Navy during the First World War? Although the Anglo-Japanese alliance of 1902 did not require it, Japan declared it would support Britain in the war against Germany and sent an ultimatum to Berlin demanding withdrawal of German warships from Japanese and Chinese waters. Japan helped establish control of the Pacific and Indian Oceans early in the war by seizing the German fortress and naval base of Tsingtao and Germany's colonies in the Pacific (the Carolines, Marshalls, and most of the Mariana Islands); Japanese naval forces also aided Great Britain in driving German warships from the Pacific. At the outbreak of the war, Vice Admiral Maximilian Graf von Spee commanded six cruisers of the German Far Eastern Squadron at Ponape in the Carolines; the Japanese declaration of war compelled him to lead most of his force east to South America and the battles of Coronel and the Falklands.

Destroyer Momo Served with the Mediterranean Deployment

The Japanese navy maintained Allied control of Far Eastern and Indian waters throughout the war, assuming responsibility for patrolling them when demands on British naval forces exceeded resources, and in 1917 freeing American naval forces for service in Europe. Japanese forces provided escorts for convoying troops and war materials to the European theater of operations from the British dominions in the Far East. Japan built warships for Allied nations and sold merchant shipping to the Allies during the war when their shipyards, already working at maximum effort, could not meet such needs. Finally, Japan rendered direct naval assistance in the Mediterranean Sea in 1917 and 1918 when the Allied navies faced the prospect of abandoning that sea in the face of the Central Powers' increasingly successful submarine operations.

Despite the cooperative manner in which the Japanese extended their wartime responsibilities, American resentment of dependence upon the Japanese throughout the war and of Japanese gains in Micronesia closely paralleled that seen in British quarters.[69] The Japanese returned this antagonism after 1917, when the view took root among naval officers that differences between the two powers were irreconcilable short of war. Japanese expansion into Siberia in 1918, seen by some Japanese as preempting American containment on all sides, was to add to the antipathy between the two nations. By 1917, even while acting as an ally, the Japanese Navy had officially designated the United States its "most likely enemy" in any future conflict.

The apparent hostility toward Japan after the war, despite its service, led an increasing number of Japanese military officers to believe in an American and British conspiracy against Japan, founded on racial animosity.

Destroyer Sakaki Rescued 1,800 British Soldiers When the Troopship Transylvania Was Sunk. Later She Had 68 Crewmen Killed When It Barely Survived a Torpedo from U-27 

The severing of the Anglo-Japanese alliance, in fact, steered Japan toward cooperation with Germany. The arrival of the seized German submarines began a new, long-term relationship between the Japanese and German navies. German influence and technology quickly supplanted those of the British. The two services began to exchange personnel. Numerous Japanese officers received training in Germany in the 1920s and 1930s, facilitating the Imperial Japanese Navy's ultimate break with its British mentors.

The British had their empire, and the Americans felt no shame in professing their "Manifest Destiny," but both attacked Japanese imperial ambitions as excessive. After 1918, neither nation proved willing to maintain the close naval cooperation with Japan that had benefited all parties during the First World War. So it was that despite the strong record of Japanese assistance to Great Britain during that conflict, the true legacy of that cooperation proved to be alienation. Thus began the breach between East and West that led to the Japanese attack upon British (and American) possessions in the Far East as part of a true two-ocean conflict, just 23 years after Japan, Great Britain, and the United States had been allies in the "war to end all 

Source:  Saxon, Timothy D., "Anglo-Japanese Naval Cooperation, 1914–1918"

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Wednesday, October 25, 2017

H.M. Tomlinson Describes a "World War", c.1914/15

Soldiers from New Zealand Seize German Samoa, 1914

Russians were hurling Kurds from the slopes of Mount Ararat. And at Basra, that port for which Sinbad had set sail, Sikhs had arrived from the Punjab, and Gurkhas from the Himalayas; and these men, moved by the new zeal which would free us from the tyranny of obsolete and ruinous dogmas, and led by young men from English public schools, marched to dislodge Ottomans who were entrenched in the Garden of Eden. The coconut groves of New Guinea were stormed by Australians. In those days, while steaming at sunset under the snows of the Andes, British ships were sunk by their foes; who, but little later, were sunk by British warships off the Falkland Islands. Merchant vessels and their cargoes foundered in the Bay of Bengal and off the Cape of Good Hope through the explosions of torpedoes. It might have been thought that Penang, that city of light and colour with its smell of spices, would have remained inviolate, if only because it was on the Strait of Malacca, yet a German cruiser appeared there one day, scattered its anchorage with smoking wreckage, and vanished again, leaving on the waters the bodies of a number of Japanese girls, which had floated out of a sunken Russian cruiser. . .It was already becoming clear for the first time to many onlookers that the earth was not two hemispheres as we had thought, but one simple and responsive ball, and that happenings on the shores of the Yellow Sea and elsewhere may cause disturbing noises even in Washington. [pp. 340–341]

From: All Our Yesterdays, H.M. Tomlinson; quoted in "The First World War as a Global War," Hew Strachan, First World War Studies, Vol 1. Number 1.

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

The American Army in France, 1917–1919
Reviewed by Courtland Jindra

The American Army in France, 1917–1919

by James Harbord
Little, Brown, and Company 1936

Maj. General Harbord in France
Lieutenant General James Harbord was one of the first officers to arrive in France and one of the last to leave. As such, there are few who could give a more exhaustive account of what it was like to be with the American Expeditionary Forces for the entirety of its existence. From the Baltic bound for Europe as Pershing's chief of staff to the final round of backslapping before the Americans sailed away back home, Harbord was practically everywhere and met nearly every famous Allied name.

After a brief intro, including a letter sent by Philippe Pétain, Harboard gives a quick summary of the lead up of the United States into the war. He then gets to the meat of the book as he describes how Pershing was selected, how Harbord was chosen as his chief of staff, the various initial encounters in Europe, and more. Much of this is fascinating, though readers of multiple accounts of the AEF will be familiar with a lot of it. The author really delves into the difficulties that they all had while trying to get up and running with little to no guidance on how to proceed. I gained even more admiration for Pershing and his staff on how they practically invented everything.

The best snippets of the book are ones where Harbord lets his guard down. He's very diplomatic, but one can sense his distaste for certain figures from the war. For example, even if I had not read his other book (where he also makes it apparent) I would quickly realize how much he did not care for David Lloyd George. Lloyd George throwing Haig under the bus after the field marshal was dead and unable to defend himself really rankled Harbord. More generally, in many ways this book seems to be a retort to other memoirs that were probably coming out around the same time by many of the key players. References are made to books by several others, oftentimes arguing against ideas they apparently presented.

It seemed the time in France that Harbord enjoyed most was commanding the Marine brigade and later the entirety of the Second Division. He wears on his sleeve affection for the Marines and soldiers under his command. Though he obviously admires Pershing greatly and would do anything for him, he doesn't try to hide how upset he was to be taken out of field command to get the Services of Supply running more smoothly.

Harbord has a penchant for going on tangents about places he went or other military campaigns that were fought on the world war battlefields that, while adding color, sometimes are a bit far afield. He did much the same in his initial 1925 book, Leaves from a War Diary, consisting of letters to his wife. This book almost doubled as a travelogue, as he seemed to believe she'd want to hear details about every chateau in every village he went through. I believe it's just something he liked to do. Although I like to think I am an intelligent reader, I found Harbord has a tendency to write in a fashion that at times obfuscates more than enlightens. However, never think for a second James G. Harbord was not extremely intelligent—because he certainly was!

I read Harbord's Leaves from a War Diary some time ago, so I was eager to read this book when first I saw it in the library. Obviously much of the same ground is covered, but while the earlier book was more personal, this one was more of an academic exercise. Nevertheless, one thing I must say about Harbord is that he is thorough. He lists everyone who was at every meeting, prints letters in full as to what instructions were given when and by whom, as well as enumerating practically every expenditure and refund the Services of Supply had while he was their commanding officer. The book is also meticulously footnoted with appendices for all military personnel on the Baltic, within the Organization of the AEF, the Attack Order of the Second Division while he was its commanding officer, the Order of Battle of First Army in the Meuse-Argonne, plus a full list of the Fourteen Points by President Wilson, and the General Orders he gave to the SOS after the Armistice.

Harbord (Right of Pershing) on the Arrival Day in France, 14 June 1917

Again, Harbord seems to want to justify everything—so it makes one wonder at times what charges had been leveled against the senior staff in the nearly 20 years after the war. He also expresses a sadness that even then, before World War II, the Doughboys were starting to be forgotten. He makes a comment about nearly as many Americans dying every year in automobile accidents as died in combat to seemingly justify it in his own mind. Moreover, he was afraid the American people were believing the British views that we didn't contribute much to the end of the war and also that folks like Charles Lindbergh were being put on pedestals in a way that few, if any, American soldiers ever were.

A warning: parts of the book are very dry. The chapters where he breaks down train logistics, purchases for the Army, and organization and reimbursements of the overstock of supplies can be a chore. However, other sections make it worthwhile. It'll never be accused of being a "page turner" but I would definitely say that if you want a view of the war from someone near the top, this is a good book to read.

Courtland Jindra

Monday, October 23, 2017

100 Years Ago: Italy Loses an Entire Army at Caporetto

The Battle of Caporetto began 100 years ago tomorrow at 2:00 a.m. on 24 October 1917 with an artillery bombardment. Italian trenches were destroyed by the Austro-German Army's brief, but very intense, artillery barrage, and the survivors of the artillery attack were quickly surrounded and overrun by the fast-moving enemy columns. The Austro-German infantry assault was greatly helped by the dense fog that provided them with cover until they were almost on top of the Italian trenches. Poison gas was used widely and proved especially lethal in the Plezzo basin, where possibly the most successful chemical warfare attack in history took place. The XIV Austro-German Army took only two days to capture all their immediate objectives around the Isonzo River. The subsequent exploitation, pushing the Italian forces back to the Piave River, lasted about a month. The key to the success of the Central Powers at Caporetto was a double breakthrough that shattered the entire Italian defensive deployment the first morning of the battle. 

Initial Attack & Advance by Central Powers at Caporetto

Tolmino: Southern Breakthrough Point

Because of the bridgehead at Tolmino (see map), German forces deployed there could attack on both sides of the Isonzo River. Further, a successful breakthrough at this point would place them behind the first and second Italian lines on the right (east) side of the river. This decisive attack was launched from the Tolmino bridgehead against the Italian XXVII Corps. Italian defenses were far stronger at Tolmino than at Plezzo, but still inadequate. Few of the XXVII Corps's artillery batteries managed to open fire before being overrun. Italian command and control were successfully targeted by Austro-German artillery and Italian Second Army's headquarters was left unable to effectively issue orders or receive news from the front. Throughout the battle, the Italian artillery performed miserably, either because the batteries were overrun or because they never received orders to open fire. The Italian infantry was left with little or no artillery support throughout the battle. Tens of thousands of Italian troops deployed on the mountains on the east side of the Isonzo were captured en masse, many never firing their weapons. 

Italian Soldiers with German Captors Near Caporetto, October 1917

Plezzo: The Northern Breakthrough Point

The assault through the Plezzo basin was preceded by a massive gas attack on the night of 23-24 October. Italian gas masks were ineffective against the mix of phosgene and diphenylchlorasine used by the Germans. The entire Italian 87th regiment deployed in defense of the Plezzo basin was killed in the attack. At dawn, the I Austro-Hungarian Corps attacked down the Isonzo valley from Plezzo, encountering only sporadic and poorly coordinated resistance until they reached the Saga Narrows.

Near Knock-Out

At Caporetto, the Italian Army suffered one of the most stunning defeats of the entire First World War. Italian casualties totaled 40,000 dead and wounded, over 280,000 prisoners and 3,150 artillery pieces captured. The Italian Army was reduced in size by one half, from 65 infantry divisions to 33 and the Italian province of Friuli was abandoned to the enemy along with much of the Veneto Province. The entire Italian Second Army was wiped off the board. Today, 100 years after the event, Italians still say "It was a Caporetto" to mean "It was a complete disaster."

Sunday, October 22, 2017

Doughboy Basics: How Many Battles Did the AEF Fight?

Below is a map I use for my battlefield tours to show the distribution of the main American operations in the war.  It has its genesis in the infamous WWI PBS documentary of the 1990s, The Great War and the Shaping of the 20th Century, in which two American historians, David Kennedy and Jay Winter, separately misinformed the viewers that "the United States had only fought one battle" in the war. For two decades I have waged a campaign to correct the damage they did.

What is shown on the map are what I think to be the ten most significant battles of the AEF.  I does not include ALL operations. These battles were waged by American formations of division size or greater and resulted in American victories. Not shown, for example, are the battles of the segregated regiments that fought separately with the French (mostly in the Champagne) and the aborted offensive out of the reduced St. Mihiel Salient that ended with the Armistice.  Sorry, but the only way to view the map is to enlarge it. Please feel free to print it out or save it to your hard drive if you wish.

Click on Image to Enlarge

Saturday, October 21, 2017

War Artist Anna Airy

Anna Airy (1882–1964) was an English oil painter, pastel artist, and etcher. She was recognized before the war as one of the finest British artists, winning a number of prizes and exhibited at leading museums.  When the war came, Airy was commissioned by the Munitions Committee of the Imperial War Museum in June 1918 to produce pictures representing typical scenes in munitions factories. The images below are all from the Imperial War Museum collection.

 South Metropolitan Gas Company, London

15-Inch Shells Being Assembled

Aircraft Factory Floor

18-Inch Shell Jackets Forged

Shell Casing Forge

Friday, October 20, 2017

Albert Einstein in the First World War

Since the posting on Albert Schweitzer a few days ago, I guess I've had Alberts on my mind.  So here's a little something about another well-known Albert who was around during the Great War.

Albert Einstein at His Flat in Berlin During the War

Albert Einstein was a pacifist of long standing and sincerity. In January 1896, with his father's approval, he renounced his citizenship in the German Kingdom of Württemberg to avoid military service. While his friend, Fritz Haber, was a signatory of the Fulda Manifesto [aka Manifesto of the Ninety-Three,  a 4 October 1914, proclamation endorsed by 93 prominent German scientists, scholars, and artists, declaring their unequivocal support of German military actions in the early period of World War I], Einstein (now a German citizen again) signed a counter-manifesto—one of only four signatories—that called for an end to the war and the creation of a united Europe.

War had not yet come to Berlin in April 1914 when Einstein arrived in Berlin to accept an appointment to the still-to-be-founded Kaiser Wilhelm Institute of Physics. [The institute never had its own building; it was located in Einstein's own flat.] In Berlin, he struggled with the separation from his wife, Mileva, and their two sons. Despite the war atmosphere, he would continue his work in general relativity and gravitational concepts.  On 25 November 1915, Albert Einstein held his seminal lecture before the Prussian Academy of Sciences in Berlin, which ended with the words: “Thus, the general theory of relativity as a logical edifice has finally been completed.”

A devout pacifist, Einstein would support antiwar movements through the war. He called Berlin a "lunatic asylum" and expressed a desire to move to Mars "to observe the inmates through a telescope". The strain of wartime conditions, family troubles, and overwork (he produced ten scientific papers and a book on relativity within a year) took their toll on the physicist. In the fall of 1917 he collapsed in agonizing pain and lost more than 50 pounds in two months.

Einstein continued to work, despite failing health, although he could not contact fellow "enemy" scientists. On Armistice Day, a group of revolutionary students seized the University and imprisoned the rector and several professors. Einstein, with his friend and fellow physicist Max Born intervened, eventually negotiating a settlement at the Reichstag. In 1919, one month before the signing of the Versailles Treaty, observations made of a solar eclipse by Sir Arthur Eddington confirmed Einstein's theory about the relationship of time and space and the nature of gravity. From that day on, he would be recognized as an international celebrity.He left the Kaiser Wilhelm Institute in 1922.

From: "Scientific Genius Encounters World Conflict" by Douglas K. Shaffer

Thursday, October 19, 2017

Tirpitz's Influence Began to Wane in 1912

Since he came to office in 1897, Tirpitz had consistently striven toward several goals. One was to build a fleet to deter a British attack on German trade and seaports. A strong fleet, he hoped, would induce the British to come to terms with Germany on world economic matters. Indispensable to such a strategy was the ironclad support of Emperor William II. Tirpitz's ability to get a longtime financial commitment from the Reichstag for a series of navy laws assured his monarch's favor. Before 1897, Reichstag recalcitrance had made that impossible.

Grand Admiral von Tirpitz at the Time of His 1916 Resignation

The German tax system permitted no nationwide direct taxes. The upper classes refused to submit themselves to democratic finance, unlike the more flexible British. Also, beginning in 1911, the sleeping giant, the German Army, slowly awakened. Since the 1890s the army, which saw deterrence of domestic disorder as one of its main functions, had deliberately limited its growth. Burgeoning population growth and urbanization meant more workers than loyal peasants in the ranks, and more bourgeois officers, since the traditional supply of aristocratic officers was shrinking in proportion. Militaristic pressure groups, more fearful of Germany's powerful neighbors than of insurrection, began to clamor for army expansion. By 1911 the navy was taking one third of the defense budget. Tirpitz saw the handwriting on the wall that the army would now be a formidable competitor for relatively scarcer tax revenue.

Although some historians believe that Tirpitz intended to undermine the Reichstag, more recent research suggests that he manufactured Reichstag consent more by courting the parliamentarians than by threatening them. Crucial was his consistent and successful wooing of the Catholic Center Party, which held the balance of power in the Reichstag for most of Tirpitz's 19 years in office. Complicating his relationship with the politicians were the hair-raising cost increases for shipbuilding, especially after he decided to follow the British dreadnought initiative. Passage of the 1912 amendment marked the last time Tirpitz was able to finesse the cost question past the Reichstag.

Inept German diplomacy, most recently during the Agadir Crisis in 1911, drove Britain and France closer together when the German intention had been to drive them apart. While Tirpitz had sometimes used past crises when it suited his purpose to advance the navy law, he had usually opposed high profile diplomatic initiatives because he wanted to “build and keep quiet". The principal exception was when he felt the navy law threatened such as the abortive Haldane Mission of early 1912. Pressure from Chancellor Theobald von Bethmann-Hollweg to ease Anglo-German tensions forced Tirpitz to limit the 1912 Navy Law amendment to a two-tempo from 1912 to 1917 with only an additional two ships more during that period. He despaired that the permanent three-tempo, due to resume in 1918, was dead forever.

Tirpitz's domination of other branches of the navy, though still strong, was for the first time under serious attack. Seagoing officers forced him to deviate from his previous single-minded concentration on capital ship construction to take more account of submarines and to give a substantially increased priority to preparedness.

Another long-term nightmare for Tirpitz was the looming menace of the new class of British dreadnoughts, the five Queen Elizabeths, the first two of which—HMS Queen Elizabeth and HMS Warspite—were laid down late in 1912. They were fast, oil-fired, and had eight 15-inch guns. For Germany to follow suit quickly with similar ships would be so expensive as to exceed even Tirpitz's legerdemain with the politicians. It is therefore not surprising that from 1912 on Tirpitz's expectations for the future became ever more pessimistic.

Kaiser Wilhelm II, Admiral von Tirpitz, and General von Moltke
Aboard the Battleship Friedrich der Grosse, 1912

By 1912 the naval arms race was abating. Tirpitz publicly stated that 1912 was his “last” amendment to the navy law. Naval arms talks between Britain and Germany ended. Since no one was planning any further great initiatives, tensions eased. British patriotism, its purse, and its tax system had beaten back the German challenge. In Germany attention turned to army expansion, accomplished by the great army bill of 1913. France and Russia soon responded, and the optimistic military war plans that led to the crisis of 1914 continued to evolve.

The events of 1912 particularly demonstrated how dysfunctional was the German system of government. There was no coordination in war planning between the navy (which wanted the army to invade Denmark and ignore Belgium) and the army (which wanted to invade Belgium and ignore Denmark). Needed was a wise emperor who might have been able to see the mortal danger of the Schlieffen Plan and the value of preserving the peace.

When war broke out, aware of Germany's inferior number of capital ships, Tirpitz became a vocal spokesman for unrestricted U-boat warfare. He felt the strategy could break the British stranglehold on Germany's sea lines of communication.  When the restrictions on the submarine war were not lifted due to diplomatic pressure from the United States, he fell out with the Kaiser and felt compelled to resign on 15 March 1916.

From:  "1912: Naval Issues" by Patrick J. Kelly

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Kilted Troops in Battle—The Kit of the Gordon Highlanders

Click on Image to Enlarge

Friends Are Good on the Day of Battle

Chris McDonald publishes the 4th Gordons Website (Link)

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

World War I Gas Warfare Tactics and Equipment
Reviewed by Clark Shilling

World War I Gas Warfare Tactics and Equipment

by Simon Jones. Illustrated by Richard Hook
Osprey Publishing, 2007

French Re-enactors Demonstrate Two Models of Gas Respirators

Today, we use the term "chemical weapons" or "weapons of mass destruction." During the Great War, the term to describe these weapons was much simpler—GAS! One of the unique things about the Great War was the widespread use of gas on the Western Front. We have iconic images of British soldiers with their "P" or "hypo" helmets manning a machine gun. Imagine wearing a heavy flannel bag over your head, treated with skin irritating chemicals, sweating in the heat, breathing out through a tube and hoping that the bag over your head neutralizes the toxic cloud of gas that surrounds you. Later, the British came up with the small box respirator and we have iconic images of Tommies, guns at the ready, wearing their small box respirators. And finally we have the image used for the cover of this book, the image of British or American soldiers in a line, some with eyes bandaged, with their left arm on the shoulder of the man in front of him, forming a line to be led to treatment for gas induced blindness at an aid station.

This book is part of the Osprey series on military history. It is a very, very brief book, at 63 pages. Of those pages, eight are full-page illustrations and four pages are explanations of these illustrations. Most other pages include a third to a half page of pictures, so it is a book you can read in a couple of hours. In addition, this is not a new book, having first been published in 1994.

At the Hague Convention of 1899, the major European powers agreed to abstain from using projectiles "the sole object of which is the diffusion of asphyxiating or deleterious gases." Before the war, Germany was the leading power in terms of scientific research, with German scientists winning over half the Nobel prizes for science awarded up to 1914. Nowhere was this German dominance in science more evident than in the German chemical industry.

On Maneuvers German Soldiers and Dogs Demonstrate Respirators

The author points out that both the French and Germans early in the war experimented (without result) with non-fatal gasses such as tear gas and gas to irritate and cause sneezing. It was German scientist Fritz Haber who came up with the idea to weaponize chlorine gas by delivering it as a cloud against an unprepared enemy. This was done in April 1915 and could have been a game changer had the Germans been better prepared to follow up on the havoc wreaked on the Allied line. The Allies, however, quickly identified the gas and came up with improvised counter-measures, soon embracing the use of toxic gases themselves. At first, gas was looked on as a potential war winner, but it soon proved to be less than that. It was difficult to deliver, it quickly dispersed, and it proved fairly easy to counteract. Nonetheless, gas evolved into a valuable tool to harass, suppress, and isolate enemy troops. The author methodically recounts the developments in gas warfare. First was the competition, usually led by Germany to develop new chemical weapons, from chlorine to phosgene to the ultimate Great War chemical weapon: mustard gas. Next evolved the competition to develop the most effective ways of delivering the toxic chemicals, from the original cloud method to artillery shells, to the British Livens projectors, which were banks of large mortars that threw hundreds of large containers of chemicals at the German positions. Third and final was the necessary competition to develop measures to protect soldiers from the new chemicals and delivery methods. These consisted of developments of protective gear and the training and discipline to deal with gas.

The dynamic was that since the Germans seemed to keep one step ahead of the Allies in developing new mixtures of gas, it was then for the Allies to learn how to develop counter-measures that would make the new gases as harmless as possible. The Germans also were more advanced in terms of delivery methods and protective equipment. Allied efforts were more improvised and less methodical.

The author plots all this chronologically, by year, all done in a very brief manner. The text is straightforward and well written, and the pictures do a good job of illustrating the equipment used in gas warfare. This is a good starting point for learning about the chemical warfare waged in World War I.

If you want to look at more detailed accounts of the use of WMDs in the Great War, I would recommend Seeking Victory on the Western Front: The British Army and Chemical Warfare in World War I, which is an in-depth discussion of British strategy and how chemical weapons were a part of that strategy. Chemical Soldiers: British Gas Warfare in World War I is an account of the activities of the Special Brigade, the unit created in the British Army that was responsible for launching chemical attacks. Finally, I would recommend No Place to Run, which is the story of the Canadian Army's experience with gas warfare on the Western Front.

Clark Shilling