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

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

U.S. Monument to the Victims of the Tuscania and the Otranto Sinkings

This American First World War Monument is located on a 429 feet (131 meters) high cliff near the southern most point of  the Oa Peninsula on the Isle of Islay.  It was dedicated  in 1920 by the American Red Cross, and was designed by architect Robert Walker. The monument commemorates the loss of two troop ships in 1918, the Tuscania and the Otranto and the location overlooks the very spot where the Tuscania sank. The monument is built in the shape of a lighthouse and is visible from many areas on Islay.  

The Tuscania, a passenger liner, was on its way from New Jersey to the coast of France with 2,000 American soldiers and a crew of more than 300. At Halifax, Nova Scotia, they joined a convoy and entered the British waters between Islay and Northern Ireland on the 5th of February. The convoy was followed by a UB-77 German submarine which torpedoed the Tuscania. The direct hit on the Tuscania resulted in heavy damage, and she sank after a few hours, seven miles off the Islay coast near the Oa peninsula. An estimated 230 lives were lost in this tragedy.

Eight months later, on 6 October 1918, another tragedy occurred only a few miles from the place where the Tuscania sank. The HMS Otranto was carrying troops from New York to Glasgow when it collided with the steamship HMS Kashmir during a heavy storm. This tragedy took place not far from Machir Bay on Islay's west coast. Over 400 lives were lost, both British crew members and U.S. servicemen. 

The monument has two plaques. A large one on the east side of the monument, which looks like an entrance door, contains the following text:

Sacred to the immortal memory of those American Soldiers and Sailors who gave their lives for their country in the wrecks of the transports Tuscania (February 5th 1918) and Otranto (October 6th 1918). The monument was erected by the American Red Cross near the spot where so many of the victims of the disasters sleep in everlasting peace.

On Fame's Eternal camping ground
Their silent tents are spread
While Glory keeps with solemn round
The bivouac of the dead

This smaller plaque on the seaside in front of the monument reads:

A Tribute from Woodrow Wilson, President of the United States of America. To the memory of his fellow citizens who gave their lives for their country in nearby waters, 1918.

Source: Islay Tourism Website

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Our 1918 Centennial Recommended Reading List

Recommended Centennial Books

The Great War in 1918

Germany's Last Gamble: The Five Ludendorff Offensives

The German Offensives of 1918:
The Last Desperate Gamble

 by Ian Passingham

American Expeditionary 
Force's Battles in WWI

American Armies & Battlefields in Europe
from the ABMC

Turmoil in Russia: 
Revolution, Civil War, Intervention

Russia in Flames, War, Revolution: Civil War 1914–1921
by Laura Engelstein

The British Army's Final 
100-Day Campaign

Hundred Days: The Campaign That Ended World War I
by Nick Lloyd

Monday, November 27, 2017

Remembering a Veteran: Lt. Edouard Izac, USN, MOH

Naval Academy graduate and naval officer Edouard Izac’s remarkable odyssey began on 31 May 1918 when a German submarine torpedoed his ship, the USS President Lincoln, as it sailed near the coast of France. Most of the crew managed to escape, but Izac was captured and taken aboard the U-boat for the journey back to Germany. Unbeknownst to his captors, Izac was the son of German-speaking immigrants, and he used his knowledge of the language to collect vital information on German submarine operations.

Determined to get this intelligence to the Allies, Izac later made several failed escape attempts, including once diving out the window of a moving train. He finally pulled off a successful jailbreak in October 1918, when he scaled the barbed wire fence of his prison camp, stopping along the way to draw fire from the guards to allow other prisoners to flee. Izac spent the next several days sneaking through hostile territory and living off the land before swimming the Rhine River into the safety of neutral Switzerland. Though his information ultimately proved of little use so late in the war, he was awarded the Medal of Honor in 1920. Izak became a journalist in San Diego after the war and went on to serve several term as the district's congressman. At the time of his death in 1990, he was the last surviving Medal of Honor recipient from World War I.

Medal of Honor Citation: 

When the USS President Lincoln was attacked and sunk by the German submarine U-90, on 21 May 1918, Lt. Izac was captured and held as a prisoner on board the U-90 until the return of the submarine to Germany, when he was confined in the prison camp. During his stay on the U-90 he obtained information of the movements of German submarines, which was so important that he determined to escape, with a view to making this information available to the U.S. and Allied naval authorities. In attempting to carry out this plan, he jumped through the window of a rapidly moving train at the imminent risk of death, not only from the nature of the act itself but from the fire of the armed German soldiers who were guarding him. Having been recaptured and re-confined, Lt. Izac made a second and successful attempt to escape, breaking his way through barbed-wire fences and deliberately drawing the fire of the armed guards in the hope of permitting others to escape during the confusion. He made his way through the mountains of southwestern Germany, having only raw vegetables for food, and at the end, swam the River Rhine during the night in the immediate vicinity of German sentries.

Sources:  History Magazine Website; Home of Heroes

Sunday, November 26, 2017

Doughboy Basics: What Are the True Casualty Statistics for the AEF

For at least the last 10 years, in my publications and public talks about the American Expeditionary Forces in that Great War, I've made the point that the statics of American killed in the war  in official sources are understated, subject to misinterpretation, and used by some historians to downplay the contribution of U.S. forces to the final outcome..  When I say "official sources" there are three Federal agencies that  publish these numbers:  the Department of Veterans Affairs, the Congressional Research Service,  and the Defense Casualty Analysis System of the Department of Defense.  They all agree on the numbers for the First World War, and they array the numbers in a  fashion similar to the format as they use for all of the nation's wars, although sometimes with different notations. Below is the VA's version of the numbers with reference points for my ensuing discussion in brackets [ ].

World War I (1917-1918) [4]

  • Total U.S. Service Members (Worldwide): 4,734,991 [2]
  • Battle Deaths: 53,402   [3]
  • Other Deaths in Service (Non-Theater)  [1]: 63,114  [3]
  • Non-mortal Woundings: 204,002 

 [1]  "Non-Theater" is simply an error. Nearly 30,000 of this number were in the combat zones. About 82,000 to 83,000 of the Americans deployed overseas died in or en route to the European  or Russian Theaters in WWI.  My estimate is derived from the American Battle Monument Commission's records of how many individuals are buried or remembered as missing in their European cemeteries (35,429) vs. the number that families chose to have returned home for burial (46,000 to 47,000).  This latter figure is my own rough estimate, since there is no authoritative list of all the Americans, who died in the war.  (But help is on the way to pin down all these numbers more precisely and to develop a master ROLL OF HONOR listing all the American fallen in the war. More on this below.)

[2]  This grand total of those in uniform does not make clear how many of these men were deployed to the war's fighting zones. This contributes to some misinterpretations about where the wartime deaths occurred. For instance, a major confusion over American deaths in the war revolves around the Spanish Influenza Pandemic. A significant source of WWI casualties was the military training establishment stateside, where over 2 million men were still training for deployment overseas when the  Armistice occurred.  These camps would be the largest source of the 46,000 American military killed by the Spanish Influenza during the war.  And a question which follows is the extent of the flu casualties at home vs. on the battlefields.  It's only by anecdotal evidence and accounts that one can infer that the larger share of these deaths were stateside rather than overseas.

[3] These categories suggest that  the first number includes all the people that were killed fighting and that the "Other Deaths" were all due to non-combat issues, such as illness, accident, or suicide. This breakdown works for the men in the camps back home, since there was no combat involved, but it does not allow for cases such as these for the troops who saw combat.:

a.  A wounded man is successfully treated for his wounds, but develops an infection in the hospital and dies afterward. (battle or other?)

b. A soldier is gassed (71,345 Doughboys were gassed) and later develops flu (which attacked respiratory systems) and dies.  (battle or other?)

c.  After the front moves on, an engineer clearing the battlefield is killed "accidentally" by a previously unexploded shell.  (battle or other?)

[4]  These significance of these 1917-1918 dates are expanded upon in one of the accompanying notes:  "Includes air service. Battle deaths and wounds not mortal include casualties suffered by American forces in northern Russia to August 25, 1919, and in Siberia to April 1, 1920. Other deaths cover the period from April 1, 1917, to December 31, 1918."   In plain words, these compilations ceased counting any deaths (except for the men in Russia) after 31 December 1918.  This, of course,  excludes counting anyone who died of their wounds or war connected illness afterward.

Temporary Cemetery for U.S. 147th Infantry

These figures–by my understanding–leaves out  anyone who died of wounds after the cut-off date. Recall, the hero of Little Round Top, Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain, died of his war wounds in 1914, 49 years after the end of the Civil War.  Surely there were a significant (maybe huge) number of soldiers who died of wounds after leaving the service for both the Civil War and Great War. Maybe tracking down comprehensive data about such cases is simply impossible.  However, the accounting problem for the First World War has an error compounding factor. It has a sub-category of war wounded that exists for NO OTHER American wars — Gas Casualties. See [3]a above.  Fully 1/3 of the "Non-Mortal Woundings Category (71,345 of 204,002) suffered from gassing and survived past the 31 December 1918 statistical cut-off date.  Interestingly, only 1,462 deaths from gassing during the war were reported by the AEF's Surgeon General.

I am convinced after reading or being informed of dozens of cases of WWI veterans, who were gassed and later died premature deaths due to respiratory illness, that this is an ignored category of major losses that is unrecognized and, therefore, not included in casualty summaries.  The most famous such case is baseball great Christy Mathewson, who was gassed in a drill during the war and contracted tuberculosis and died after his return home.  I know such evidence is anecdotal and there are lots of potential statistical fallacies I can fall into, but I believe these numbers to be significant.

So, what is then answer to the question raised at the opening, "What Are the True Casualty Statistics for the AEF?"

My answer is that they cannot be finally determined exactly, but what has been presented as the final word on the matter needs a lot qualification.

1.  Forget about the Battle Deaths vs Other Deaths division. The distinction is foggy at best, and for the Great War, is further complicated by the singular use of gas as a weapon and by the Spanish Influenza.

2.  For historical clarity the more important distinction is Overseas vs. At Home.  The lives of the men who died stateside were just a precious as those who died on the Western Front.   It is important, however, to accurately report the degree of sacrifice of the AEF and the intensity of the fighting and adversity they faced.  I recall a documentary "talking head" saying something very close to: "Well the Americans didn't make much of a dent militarily in the war, they only lost 53,000 men, versus the millions of the other combatants."  (Forgive my imperfect memory, but I think I represent his point accurately.)  My response to him would be: "Well  professor, actually they lost over 80,000 men, mostly in the last six months of the  war when it was at its most desperate. And, by the way, they lost another 30,000+ back home who were getting ready to go Over There to fight but weren't needed.

3.  The postwar deaths from war-related causes, are by now probably undiscoverable, but should not be ignored. Possibly this is a structural issue in the way that America reports deaths in all its war. But, my instincts—for whatever they're worth tell me this could be an especially significant figure for the Doughboys.

To redo the table above in my style:

World War I (1917-1918) 

Total U.S. Service Members (Worldwide): 4,734,991
Deaths in War Theaters: 82,000-83,000 est. *
Deaths in Continental U.S.: 33,000-36,000 est.*
Non-mortal Woundings 204,002 


* Deaths due to service-connected wounds, illness, injury 
after 31 December 1918  not included in most cases 

Note:  The photo at the top of the page is of your editor at the grave of Nurse Helen Fairchild at the U.S. Somme Cemetery, Bony, France.

Postscript:  Help Is On the Way

San Antonio based author and World War One historian Scott R. Schoner is completing a 20-year project that will honor the men and women of the American Expeditionary Forces (A.E.F.) who made the ultimate sacrifice for our country. This listing of the  80,000+/- overseas war dead will span 3 volumes, and will be the first comprehensive record of its kind ever published. Previously prepared typewritten lists by the U.S. Army following the war were never published, and these lists also omit the sacrifices of the nearly 3,000 U.S. Marines who died in service in the 4th Marine Brigade, fighting alongside their Army compatriots. Schoner’s work will finally publish the names, units and dates of death of all known fatalities of the A.E.F.

With the centennial upon us, Scott is trying to get this work into print, and has launched a Kickstarter campaign to get some funding help.  Below is a link.  Please consider making a contribution to make this invaluable work available to research facilities and the American Public.

Saturday, November 25, 2017

Recommended: A Proper Slaughter by Tim Cook

By: Tim Cook, Canadian War Museum 
From: Canadian Military History, Vol. 8, Issue 2

...This article will offer a case study to understand better the Canadian policy of raiding; piece together the fragmented narrative of the raid itself, which has previously been examined without a proper understanding of the integral component of poison gas; and attempt to analyze why the raid was such a failure. Unrealistic expectations, a break-down in command, an absence of doctrine, and most important, the inability of staff officers to understand and adequately employ poison gas, culminated in the most self-destructive Canadian raid of the war. The interplay of technology and soldiers is a tenuous subject, but it is the key to understanding the failure of the Gas Raid of 1 March 1917.

After losing 24,000 casualties in the grisly fighting on the Somme, the Canadian Corps under the command of Sir Julian Byng turned in the winter of 1916–17 to rebuilding its shattered battalions and integrating new troops into the formations. Despite their losses, and during this period of recuperation, the Canadians continued to harass the German lines by trench raids. Long had the Canadians been regarded by the British as elite soldiers and their refinement of trench raiding in the last month of 1915 had led Sir Douglas Haig, commander-in-chief of the British Expeditionary Force, to congratulate the colonials for their skill and elan. 

The Canadians transformed trench raiding to a deadly art, which wore away at the enemy's morale and strength as he was kept taut and nervous whenever opposite the "wild colonials." The raids were conducted in the dead of night and centered on the principle of destroy and retreat. They were not meant for holding ground in the enemy trench, simply to wreak havoc. The chaos of night fighting, false attacks and barrages up and down the enemy front line, disrupted communications, and the inherent confusion of ascertaining where the exact attack was being launched, left the defenders momentarily vulnerable. Yet trench raiding was not without its costs, and the intricate plans could degenerate into mad, vicious battles with high casualties to both sides. Casualties notwithstanding, the success of the Canadians in winning control of no-man's-land, as well as recognition in the language of the trenches as "fire-eaters," further pressed their commanders to organize larger more innovative assaults. 

After a series of daring raids, the 4th Division planned a larger and riskier operation than anything carried out by its more experienced corps companions. It was to be launched against the heights of Vimy Ridge, a position which dominated Canadian lines and included the unmarked graves of thousands of Frenchmen from two previous failed but more formal assaults. As a result of the particularly strong position held by the Germans on top of the ridge, the planners decided that poison gas would be employed to suffocate the dug-in garrison. Components of four battalions would raid the enemy lines. This policy of raiding was not born in a vacuum, however, and there was a gradual evolution culminating in the massive chemical raid.

...After several months of trench raids gathering in scope and size, the 4th Division planned to launch the largest Canadian raid of the war to date. It was labeled "a reconnaissance in force," and the operation was to consist of 1,700 men from the 54th, 72nd, 73rd, and 75th Battalions.  Their objective was the highest point on Vimy Ridge, Hill 145 (where the Vimy Memorial now stands), a fortified series of interlocking machine gun nests, wire belts, and deep dugouts. The danger and complexities of attacking uphill where the Germans would have the advantages of their fixed defences as well as the heights, when combined with the difficulty of accurately laying down counterbattery fire on the enemy guns, resulted in the plan being conceived as a surprise attack. Because of the strong defensive position, it was necessary that poison gas smother the enemy before he realized what was occurring.

Stretcher Bearers Returning Wounded from the Raid

The concept was flawed from the start, and the division's staff officers planning the raid had little understanding of how chemical agents worked in battlefield realities. Ever since the British disaster at Loos in 1915, canister released gas clouds were seen as a fickle weapon, to be used only by specialists who were seen more as chemists than soldiers. There was simply very little understanding of this weapon by senior commanders, who hoped that any release of gas would emulate the first gassing at 2nd Ypres when two whole divisions were routed. Although gas was still a fearful weapon, better anti-gas discipline and respirators ensured that no such rout would occur again. 

Equally detrimental, the staff officers and commanders had neglected training their soldiers in any doctrine—or set of common, accepted instructions or guidelines—about how to work with this weapon. Yet, because of the formidable position of the Germans on Vimy, gas was needed for the very reason that other more conventional weapons could not guarantee success. Gas was not the weapon of choice, but of desperation. Ill-placed faith created delusions which outweighed all logical assumptions.

Moreover, the heights of Vimy were ill suited for a gas cloud release. Being heavier than air, poison gas sinks into low-lying trenches, dugouts, and shell holes. Gas was an useful weapon for ferreting the enemy out into the open, but it had to reach his lines first. For gas to move uphill would require a very strong breeze, and without it the gas would pollute the craters and depressions that pocketed the Vimy battlefield—the exact positions that the attackers would have to pass over to reach their destination. Without a forceful breeze the operation would be fiasco.

The 85th Battalion took part in carrying hundreds of gas canisters into the trenches in preparation for the gas attack; its regimental history notes that "fifteen tons of gas was to be sent over to strike terror into the black heart of the enemy. The first wave was to be of deadly poisonous gas that would kill every living thing in its path: while the second would corrode all metal substances and destroy guns of every description. When complete all our men would have to do would be to walk into the enemy trenches, throw out their dead bodies and take possession."

Such assumptions must have sounded fanciful to some of the veterans, but as this was the official line, and it accorded with the constant rumours that percolated at the front with regard to new, lethal gases being introduced, it is little wonder that the "poor bloody infantry" placed so much faith in their gas clearing the enemy trenches...

Read the full article here:

Friday, November 24, 2017

The Unique Caudron R.XI Escort Fighter

Daylight bombing required the collaboration of the bombing aircraft with fighters for protection against German interceptors. In November 1916, specifications were drawn for a three-seat long-range escort fighter to accompany formations of medium bombers.  The aircraft was well armed with twin 7.7mm Lewis guns in the nose and rear fuselage, and there was an additional machine gun below the nose position to enable that gunner to fire downward. Later aircraft were equipped with dual controls so that if the pilot was wounded the R.XI could be flown by the observer. Three hundred and seventy R.XIs were built by Caudron and its subcontractors by the Armistice, with 54 making it into service. They were most effective when used in combination with more maneuverable SPAD fighters providing top cover and the R.XIs providing close-in escort.


Production Model Caudron R.XI, Three-Seat, Long-Range Fighter

  • Engine: Two 215-hp Hispano-Suiza
  • Span: 17.92 m
  • Length: 11.22 m
  • Empty Weight: 1442 kg
  • Loaded Weight: 2165 kg
  • Ceiling: 5,950 m
  • Range: 600 km
  • Endurance: 3 hours
  • Armament: Five 7.7 Lewis guns
  • Maximum Speed:
  •    183 km/h at 2000 m
       164 km/h at 5000 m
  • Rate of Climb:
  •    To 2000m — 8 min, 10 sec  
       To 5000m — 39 minutes

Thursday, November 23, 2017

100 Years Ago: America's First Thanksgiving in the Great War

Over There:

The troops who had arrived made the best celebration they could. If it wasn't great food, apparently it was plentiful.  Here's the Thanksgiving Day meal for Company F of the 16th Engineers, Somewhere in France:

At the recently installed American Base Hospital #5 in   Boulogne, a full day's events were planned that got a little out of control.

The Mess Hall at Base Hospital #5 Set Up for Thanksgiving Dinner
Here on of the unit's histories records what happened that memorable day:

The first Thanksgiving in France was properly celebrated by all members of the unit. Turkey dinner with all the fixings was served in E hut. Food Controller "Pop" Steffens told everyone that "all youse need is a knife, fork and spoon, tres bon." After-dinner speeches were made by Sergeant Donovan, Butch Hall and others. When the festivities of the dinner hour were concluded an old-fashioned "horrible parade" was arranged for the entertainment of the patients. Later in the day the D.D.M.S. attempted to stop the parade in the downtown streets, because it attracted too much attention. The astonished medical director failed to account for such antics and inquired of Colonel Patterson over the telephone what sort of a holiday the men were celebrating.

Over Here:

As presidents do, Woodrow Wilson issued a proclamation to the nation:

Thanksgiving Day, 1917

By the President of the United States of America
A Proclamation

It has long been the honored custom of our people to turn in the fruitful autumn of the year in praise and thanksgiving to Almighty God for His many blessings and mercies to us as a nation. That custom we can follow now even in the midst of the tragedy of a world shaken by war and immeasurable disaster, in the midst of sorrow and great peril, because even amidst the darkness that has gathered about us we can see the great blessings God has bestowed upon us, blessings that are better than mere peace of mind and prosperity of enterprise.

We have been given the opportunity to serve mankind as we once served ourselves in the great day of our Declaration of Independence, by taking up arms against a tyranny that threatened to master and debase men everywhere and joining with other free peoples in demanding for all the nations of the world what we then demanded and obtained for ourselves. In this day of the revelation of our duty not only to defend our own rights as nation but to defend also the rights of free men throughout the world, there has been vouchsafed us in full and inspiring measure the resolution and spirit of united action. We have been brought to one mind and purpose. A new vigor of common counsel and common action has been revealed in us. We should especially thank God that in such circumstances, in the midst of the greatest enterprise the spirits of men have ever entered upon, we have, if we but observe a reasonable and practicable economy, abundance with which to supply the needs of those associated with us as well as our own. A new light shines about us. The great duties of a new day awaken a new and greater national spirit in us. We shall never again be divided or wonder what stuff we are made of.

And while we render thanks for these things let us pray Almighty God that in all humbleness of spirit we may look always to Him for guidance; that we may be kept constant in the spirit and purpose of service; that by His grace our minds may be directed and our hands strengthened; and that in His good time liberty and security and peace and the comradeship of a common justice may be vouchsafed all the nations of the earth.

Wherefore, I, Woodrow Wilson, President of the United States of America, do hereby designate Thursday, the twenty-ninth day of November next as a day of thanksgiving and prayer, and invite the people throughout the land to cease upon that day from their ordinary occupations and in their several homes and places of worship to render thanks to God, the great ruler of nations.

In Witness Whereof, I have hereunto set my hand and caused the seal of the United States to be affixed.

Done in the District of Columbia this 7th day of November in the year of our Lord one thousand nine hundred and seventeen and of the independence of the United States of America the one hundred and forty-second.


Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Eyewitness: A German Soldier Marches into Belgium, August 1914

From:  A German Deserter's War Experience
By B. W. Huebsch

A German Unit Marches from Its Barracks Upon Mobilization

At the end of July our garrison at Koblenz was feverishly agitated. Part of our men were seized by an indescribable enthusiasm, others became subject to a feeling of great depression. The declaration of war was in the air. I belonged to those who were depressed. For I was doing my second year of military service and was to leave the barracks in six weeks' time. Instead of the long wished-for return home, war was facing me.

Also during my military service I had remained the anti-militarist I had been before. I could not imagine what interest I could have in the mass murder, and I also pointed out to my comrades that under all circumstances war was the greatest misfortune that could happen to humanity.

Our sapper battalion, No. 30, had been in feverish activity five days before the mobilization; work was being pushed on day and night so that we were fully prepared for war already on the 23rd of July, and on the 30th of July there was no person in our barracks who doubted that war would break out.  Moreover, there was the suspicious amiability of the officers and sergeants, which excluded any doubt that any one might still have had. Officers who had never before replied to the salute of a private soldier now did so with the utmost attention. Cigars and beer were distributed in those days by the officers with great, uncommon liberality, so that it was not surprising that many soldiers were scarcely ever sober and did not realize the seriousness of the situation. But there were also others. There were soldiers who also in those times of good-humor and the grinning comradeship of officer and soldier could not forget that in military service they had often been degraded to the level of brutes, and who now thought with bitter feelings that an opportunity might perhaps be offered in order to settle accounts.

The order of mobilization became known on the 1st of August, and the following day was decided upon as the real day of mobilization. But without awaiting the arrival of the reserves we left our garrison town on August 1st. Who was to be our "enemy" we did not know; Russia was for the present the only country against which war had been declared.

We marched through the streets of the town to the station between crowds of people numbering many thousands. Flowers were thrown at us from every window; everybody wanted to shake hands with the
departing soldiers. All the people, even soldiers, were weeping. Many marched arm in arm with their wife or sweetheart. The music played songs of leave-taking. People cried and sang at the same time. Entire strangers, men and women, embraced and kissed each other; men embraced men and kissed each other. It was a real witches' Sabbath of emotion; like a wild torrent, that emotion carried away the whole assembled humanity. Nobody, not even the strongest and most determined spirit, could resist that ebullition of feeling. But all that was surpassed by the taking leave at the station, which we reached after a short march. Here final adieus had to be said, here the separation had to take place. I shall never forget that leave-taking, however old I may grow to be. Desperately many women clung to their men, some had to be removed by force. Just as if they had suddenly had a vision of the fate of their beloved ones, as if they were beholding the silent graves in foreign lands in which those poor nameless ones were to be buried, they sought to cling fast to their possession, to retain what already no longer belonged to them.

German Soldiers Departing for the Front on a More Comfortable Train
Than Described Below

Finally that, too, was over. We had entered a train that had been kept ready, and had made ourselves comfortable in our cattle-trucks. Darkness had come, and we had no light in our comfortable sixth- class carriages.  The train moved slowly down the Rhine, it went along without any great shaking, and some of us were seized by a worn-out feeling after those days of great excitement. Most of the soldiers lay with their heads on their knapsacks and slept. Others again tried to pierce the darkness as if attempting to look into the future; still others drew stealthily a photo out of their breastpocket, and only a very small number of us spent the time by debating our point of destination. Where are we going to? Well, where? Nobody knew it. At last, after long, infinitely long hours the train came to a stop. After a night of quiet, slow riding we were at--Aix-la-Chapelle! At Aix-la-Chapelle! What were we doing at Aix-la-Chapelle? We did not know, and the officers only shrugged their shoulders when we asked them.

After a short interval the journey proceeded, and on the evening of the 2nd of August we reached a farm in the neighborhood of the German and Belgian frontier, near Herbesthal. Here our company was quartered in a barn. Nobody knew what our business was at the Belgian frontier. In the afternoon of the 3rd of August reservists arrived, and our company was brought to its war strength. We had still no idea concerning the purpose of our being sent to the Belgian frontier, and that evening we lay down on our bed of straw with a forced tranquillity of mind. Something was sure to happen soon, to deliver us from that oppressive uncertainty. How few of us thought that for many it would be the last night to spend on German soil!

A subdued signal of alarm fetched us out of our "beds" at 3 o'clock in the morning. The company assembled, and the captain explained to us the war situation. He informed us that we had to keep ready to march, that he himself was not yet informed about the direction.  Scarcely half an hour later fifty large traction motors arrived and stopped in the road before our quarters. But the drivers of these
wagons, too, knew no particulars and had to wait for orders. The debate about our nearest goal was resumed. The orderlies, who had snapped up many remarks of the officers, ventured the opinion that we would march into Belgium the very same day; others contradicted them. None of us could know anything for certain. But the order to march did not arrive, and in the evening all of us could lie down again on our straw. But it was a short rest. At 1 o'clock in the morning an alarm aroused us again, and the captain honored us with an address. He told us we were at war with Belgium, that we should acquit ourselves as brave soldiers, earn iron crosses, and do honor to our German name. Then he continued somewhat as follows: "We are making war only against the armed forces, that is the Belgium army. The lives and property of civilians are under the protection of international treaties, international law, but you soldiers must not forget that it is your duty to defend your lives as long as possible for the protection of your Fatherland, and to sell them as dearly as possible. We want to prevent useless shedding of blood as far as the civilians are concerned, but I want to remind you that a too great considerateness borders on cowardice, and cowardice in face of the enemy is punished very severely."

After that "humane" speech by our captain we were "laden" into the automobiles, and crossed the Belgian frontier on the morning of August 5th. In order to give special solemnity to that "historical" moment we had to give three cheers.

Resting on the March in Belgium

At no other moments the fruits of military education have presented themselves more clearly before my mind. The soldier is told, "The Belgian is your enemy," and he has to believe it. The soldier, the workman in uniform, had not known till then who was his enemy. If they had told us, "The Hollander is your enemy," we would have believed that, too; we would have been compelled to believe it, and would have shot him by order. We, the "German citizens in uniform," must not have an opinion of our own, must have no thoughts of our own, for they give us our enemy and our friend according to requirements, according to the requirements of' their own interests. The Frenchman, the Belgian, the Italian, is your enemy. Never mind, shoot as we order, and do not bother your head about it. You have
duties to perform, perform them, and for the rest, cut it out!

Those were the thoughts that tormented my brain when crossing the Belgian frontier. And to console myself, and so as to justify before my own conscience the murderous trade that had been thrust upon me, I tried to persuade myself that though I had no Fatherland to defend, I had to defend a home and protect it from devastation. But it was a weak consolation, and did not even outlast the first few days.

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

A Whispered Name
Reviewed by David F. Beer

A Whispered Name

by William Brodrick
Little, Brown, 2008

If you like mystery novels based on the First World War you'll find A Whispered Name both challenging and enjoyable. Willam Brodrick has written a handful of novels in the "Father Anselm Thriller" Series, and this one won the Crime Writers' Association's Golden Dagger Award in 2009. Also, the author was an Augustinian friar before leaving the order to become a lawyer and author, so it's not surprising that the settings for A Whispered Name are largely the modern monastery of an order of Gilbertines, the killing fields of the war around the time of Passchendaele, plus a remote island off the coast of Ireland.

When a woman and an old man come to see Brother Anselm while he's tending the monastery's beehives, they have questions about a deceased and greatly revered monk, Brother Herbert. Their questions set in motion a "hive" of suspicion, doubt, responsibility, guilt, and secrecy. These themes surround Brother Herbert, who had lived at the monastery for a great many years after having founded it with the help of another brother. Unknown to almost everybody, Herbert had been an officer in the Northumbrian Light Infantry during the war and had taken part in a desertion trial. The slow, gradual unraveling of events in Herbert's life at that time is painfully but meticulously carried out by Brother Anselm, who had nothing but love and respect for Herbert—who had himself greatly influenced Anselm's own vocation.

The plot and timeline for this novel is complex, as is the situation that gradually emerges. Flashbacks are plentiful and there are several names that need to be sorted out and remembered. (I made a list of the prominent ones inside the book's cover). Brother Anselm's quest for the truth leads him to various places such as the Public Records Office and old schools to research the past and to try, with the help of his Prior, to unravel a convoluted mystery involving confused identities, guilt, and much else. Aspects of memory, conscience, sacrifice, and redemption are never far from the central plot and provide a sort of spiritual cloud in which the main characters move. Anselm's dogged search into the past reflects in a strange way the response he received when, many, many years earlier as a layman, he had asked Brother Herbert what they did in a monastery: "We tend a fire that won't go out."

The author, William Brodrick, is an accomplished writer. You only have to read the opening paragraph of the novel to realize this. Also, Brodrick brings to his novels a background that is varied and widespread, from England, Ireland, Canada, and Australia. He spent six years as a friar in Dublin before leaving at the request of Cardinal Hume to set up a charity for homeless people. He then studied law, became a barrister (lawyer), and now lives in France with his wife and three children. He has written seven mysteries in the Father Anselm series. My aim now is to find time to read the rest of them.

David F. Beer

Monday, November 20, 2017

Ten Facts About the Forts of the First World War:

Forts played key roles in many of the most important battles of the Great War. 

1. At Liège, Belgian forts initially set the Schlieffen Plan behind schedule but also showed their vulnerability to modern siege artillery.

The Ring of Forts Guarding Liège in 1914

2. At Antwerp, Belgian forts bought time for King Albert to evacuate his army down the coast and join the other Allies.

3. Fort Troyon on the Meuse River prevented the Crown Prince's army from crossing and compromising General Joffre's position at the critical moment of the Battle of the Marne. 

4. Turkish forts at the Dardanelles were the initial obstacle to the naval assault.

Mecidiye Tabyalari, the Strongest and Most Modern Fort Guarding the Dardanelles in 1915

5. The first shots fired on the Italian Front were by the Italian fortress line in the Altopiani.

6. Przemyśl's network of forts proved to be the key to the Galician campaign of 1915.

Fort Geschichte at the Przemyśl Fortress Zone, Galicia

7. The role of the Verdun forts in the battle of 1916 is well known. 

8. In  July 1918, Fort Pompelle played a vital role in the defense of Reims. 

9. The design of forts were closely guarded secrets before and during the war. 

10. The success of forts for defensive purposes during the First World War, especially at Verdun, helped inspire the Maginot Line.

Sunday, November 19, 2017

Doughboy Basics: Who Were Some of the Most Memorable Doughboys?

They were all memorable, weren't they?  That's why I decided in 1998 to  build my first website around the (then) somewhat forgotten story of the American Expeditionary Forces. Here is the section in which we honor the individuals who served the nation in those days. The Second Army of our Doughboy Center has accounts and photos of the AEF's battlefield heroes, veterans who made a big impact on the nation afterward, and hundreds of typical Americans from every corner of the country, every  walk of life,  and every service and volunteer group, who shared in the adventure "Over There." After nearly 20 years, we are in the process of giving the award-winning and venerable Doughboy Center a face lift, but the information is still solid and accessible. I hope you will choose to visit these pages, frequently.

Saturday, November 18, 2017

The Unique Military Funeral of Harry Patch, the Last Tommy of World War I

(Thanks to Kathy Compagno for bringing this to our attention.)

Harry Patch at Age 109
Patch,  Henry John  [Harry]  (1898–2009), soldier and plumber, and longest surviving British veteran of the First World War, was born on 17 June 1898 at Fonthill Cottage, Combe Down, Somerset, the youngest of three sons (there were no daughters) of William John Patch (1863–1945), master stonemason, and his wife, Elizabeth Ann, neé Morris (1875–1951). He left school at 14 to start a plumbing apprenticeship with Jacob Long & Sons, one of the area's leading builders, and had no inclination whatever to volunteer for service when war was declared two years later. Instead he continued his apprenticeship and studied for the examination of the London Guild of Registered Plumbers, which he passed toward the end of 1915. The following year conscription was introduced and he was called up in October. "I didn't want to go and fight anyone, but it was a case of having to," he recalled. "I wasn't at all patriotic. I went and did what was asked of me and no more."  (Patch and van Emden, 59)

In June 1917 Patch embarked for France, where he was drafted to the 7th battalion of the Duke of York's Light Infantry as a Lewis gunner. Lewis gun teams consisted of five men: Patch was no. 2, whose responsibility was to carry spare parts, including a heavy additional barrel, so that if the gun became damaged it could be quickly repaired in situ. Towards the end of July, the regiment moved into the front line to take part in the third battle of Ypres, otherwise known as Passchendaele, with the immediate objective of ousting German troops from the village of Langemarck. Patch and his team went into action in the early hours of 16 August near Pilckem Ridge. During the advance, he came across a young British soldier "ripped open from shoulder to waist," who begged to be put out of his misery. It was an image that would haunt Patch for the rest of his life.  (Patch and van Emden, 94) The team had made a highly irregular pact not to kill anyone unless their own lives were in danger, so when they saw a German soldier running towards them with a fixed bayonet while they were providing covering fire for advancing troops, Patch used his service pistol merely to put the man safely out of action.

The Casket at Wells Cathedral
Note the Escorting Soldiers from Belgium, France, and Germany

On the night of 22 September, while the team was making its way across open ground to the reserve line, a stray shell burst directly above them and Patch received a shrapnel wound in the groin. It was only while he was recuperating in a military hospital in Liverpool that he learned that three of the gun-team had been killed by the shell, a loss which affected him deeply. By August 1918 he was deemed fit to resume training and was on the Isle of Wight when the Armistice was declared.

Exiting the Cathedral

On 18 July 2009 Harry Patch became the last officially recognized World War I British veteran, a distinction he held for just one week. He died at Fletcher House on 25 July. Having declined a state funeral, he had nevertheless agreed to a large public one at Wells Cathedral, which was held on 6 August and broadcast live on television. It was designed to reflect his belief that all those who fought in wars were victims, irrespective of the uniform they wore. His coffin was borne into the cathedral by six currently serving men from his old regiment, flanked by two infantrymen from Belgium, two from France, and two from Germany—all of them, at his request, unarmed and as young as he had been at Passchendaele. Even ceremonial weapons were banned from the service, at which representatives of the Belgian, German, and French governments gave the readings. Patch's body was then taken to Monkton Combe church, where his family and ancestors lay, for a private burial.

From: Text from and photos from Wikipedia and The Guardian

Friday, November 17, 2017

The Legendary Pursuit of the Goeben and Breslau

by Paul Chrastina
(From our Trenches on the Web site)

SMS Goeben

In the summer of 1914 the Imperial German Navy had only two warships stationed in the Mediterranean Sea. The battle cruiser Goeben and the light cruiser Breslau were under the command of Admiral Wilhelm Souchon, "a droop-jawed, determined little man," who was said to look "more like a parson than an admiral." As mounting international tensions pushed the nations of Europe toward war, Admiral Souchon found himself in a dangerous position. His two cruisers were outnumbered by the 27 ships of Great Britain's Mediterranean Fleet, a potential enemy.

Admiral Souchon's heavy battle cruiser, the Goeben. was one of the fastest and most powerful warships of its day. Manned by over 1,000 crewmen, the ship measured 640 feet in length, and carried 34 guns of various sizes. The  Goeben's largest guns could accurately fire explosive shells at targets up to 15 miles away. Despite the Goeben's formidable size and weaponry, the two-year-old ship was plagued by defective coal-fired boilers that leaked water, causing a loss of power.

Hoping to repair the  Goeben before a war began, Admiral Souchon took the ship to the Adriatic port of Pola, which was controlled by Germany's Austrian allies. Souchon's other ship, the Breslau, was in good repair but was a smaller and less powerful vessel, with a crew of 370. While the  Goeben was being repaired in Pola, in July of 1914, the Breslau lay anchored off the southern coast of Italy.

On 1 August 1914, Admiral Souchon received a wireless telegraph message informing him that Germany had declared war on Russia and would soon declare war on France.

For several months, Admiral Souchon had carried secret instructions which he was to execute in case of war with France. First, the Goeben and the Breslau were to attack French military centers in the colony of Algeria. Next, Souchon's two ships were to flee from the Mediterranean, to join the main body of the German fleet in the North Atlantic Ocean. With the repairs to the Goeben's boilers still unfinished, Souchon departed from Pola on 1 August and steamed south to join the Breslau. The two ships then passed through the Straits of Messina. which separate Italy from Sicily.

On 3 August 1914, while heading west off the coast of Sicily, Admiral Souchon received the expected news that Germany had declared war on France. He also received an unexpected change in his orders. After attacking the Algerian coast, he was no longer to sail west to the Atlantic Ocean. Instead, he was now ordered to turn around and sail east to Turkey. His new mission was to persuade the neutral Turkish government to enter the war on the side of Germany.

Route of the Pursuit: Pola to Constantinople

Following his new orders, Souchon bombarded the French colonial ports of Philippeville and Bona, Algeria, on the morning of 4 August. To confuse the French, during the bombardment he deceptively flew Russian flags, in violation of international treaties. The German ships then prepared to sail to Constantinople, Turkey, which lay 1.000 miles to the east. Lacking enough fuel for such a long passage, Admiral Souchon headed back toward Italy, where he had arranged to purchase additional coal.

Souchon's new course was taking him toward Great Britain's Mediterranean fleet, which lay anchored south of Sicily. As far as Souchon knew, Britain was still neutral, but, in fact, Great Britain was preparing to declare war on Germany. The commander of the British fleet, Vice-Admiral Sir Archibald Berkeley Milne, had received orders from London instructing him to locate and track the German ships. Under international law, Milne was allowed to pursue, but not to attack, the German ships until hostilities were officially declared.

Admiral Milne was an upper-class "social" officer, a friend of British Queen Alexandra, who fondly referred to him as "Arky-Barky." Milne had no wartime experience, and his previous title had been flag officer, Royal Yachts. One of his classic remarks was "they don't pay me to think, they pay me to be an admiral." Milne was also proud of the fact that he "never disobeyed an order and never used his discretion." Admiral Milne sent his two strongest battle cruisers, the Indomitable and the Indefatigable, to search for the Goeben and the Breslau. As the British ships approached Algeria, they unexpectedly encountered the Goeben and the Breslau coming straight toward them.

Mutually surprised, the two sets of heavily armed ships passed one another at high speed. Neither side offered the customary peacetime salutes. Instead, each ship's crew stood ready at their guns to return fire if they were attacked. After passing the Germans, the Indomitable and the Indefatigable circled around and began to follow the Goeben and the Breslau back toward Italy. At two o'clock in the afternoon, Souchon ordered his engine room to put on full speed, in an effort to shake off the trailing British ships. The German ships began to pull away from the British, but the intense heat took its toll on the German engine stokers, many of whom began to pass out while shoveling coal into the huge furnaces below decks. As the Goeben reached full speed, a defective valve ruptured, releasing into the engine room a cloud of super-heated steam that killed four men.

Despite the trouble with the Goeben's engines, the Germans outran the British ships. By nightfall on 4 August, along the north coast of Sicily, the Goeben and the Breslau pulled out of sight of their pursuers. Ignoring international law, Souchon entered neutral Italian waters and anchored his ships at the port of Messina, where merchant German coal ships were waiting for him. Nervous Italian authorities gave the German captain 24 hours to refuel and leave.

Admiral Milne meanwhile obeyed the letter of international law, and did not pursue the German ships into neutral Italian waters. Instead, he deployed the Indomitable and the Indefatigable west of Messina, where the Germans were refueling. Thinking that Souchon was either going to make a break for the Atlantic or else return to the port of Pola in the Adriatic, Milne failed to block the Germans' route toward Turkey.

SMS Breslau

At Messina, Souchon' s crew impatiently tore the decks off the merchant coal ships, transferring 1,500 tons of fuel to the Goeben and the Breslau. This was enough coal to reach the Aegean Sea, where Souchon had arranged to meet another merchant collier. While the Goeben and the Breslau took on coal, their officers grimly made out their wills and wrote letters to their families in Germany, believing that they were likely to be captured or sunk by the pursuing British fleet within hours. Souchon received a telegram from Berlin informing him that, unfortunately, the Turkish government had not yet agreed to allow his ships to enter the harbor at Constantinople.

With Italian officials urging him to leave immediately and the British fleet waiting for him in the open waters of the Mediterranean, Souchon boldly decided to head for Constantinople anyway. He later said that he felt sure that he could "force the Turks, even against their will. to spread the war to the Black Sea against their ancient enemy, Russia." The Goeben and the Breslau prepared to sail south out of Messina harbor at midnight, 5 August. Britain officially went to war with Germany at the same time.

As the Goeben and the Breslau left the harbor, their crews fully expected to find the powerful British navy waiting to pounce on them. Admiral Milne, however, had posted only one ship, a light cruiser named Gloucester, at the exit from the harbor. The Gloucester sighted the fleeing German ships by the light of a full moon and reported to Milne that they were unexpectedly heading east. For the rest of the night, the single British ship cautiously trailed the Goeben and the Breslau. Maintaining full speed, Souchon did not want to waste any time or fuel by firing on the Gloucester but instead tried unsuccessfully to jam the British ship's radio-telegraph transmissions to Admiral Milne.

The next morning, the Gloucester closed in and opened fire on the Breslau and was in turn fired upon by the Goeben. None of the ships was hit during the exchange. Careful not to stress the Goeben's engines, Souchon broke off the encounter and continued eastward, hoping to shake off the Gloucester and meet with his next coal ship in the Aegean Sea.

Near the western coast of Greece, the pursuit of the Goeben and the Breslau was taken up by four more British ships, led by Milne's second-in-command, Admiral E. C. Troubridge. Troubridge's ships were smaller and faster than the Goeben, but their guns were also smaller and could not match the range of the Goeben's ordnance. As Troubridge's light cruisers closed in on the fleeing German ships, a British gunnery officer quickly calculated the difference between the range of the British and German guns. The officer persuaded Troubridge that the Goeben would be able to "pick them off" at leisure before they could ever get close enough to attack. Troubridge kept his distance from the Goeben and the Breslau.

Confident that he now had the German ships trapped in the eastern Mediterranean, Admiral Milne ordered the Gloucester and Troubridge's cruisers to give up the chase. Never suspecting that Souchon might be headed for Turkey, Milne sent some ships to the southeast to guard the Suez Canal from possible German attack. At 5:00 p.m. on 10 August, the Goeben and the Breslau reached the entrance to the port of Constantinople. Admiral  Souchon's orders instructed him to force his way into the port if necessary. "Enter," the orders read. "Demand surrender of forts. Capture pilot."

In Constantinople, both German and British diplomats were meeting behind closed doors with members of the Turkish government. When the German diplomats were informed of the arrival of the Goeben and the Breslau, they persuaded the Turks to allow the ships to enter the harbor. Admiral Souchon, expecting Turkish resistance, was surprised when a small boat came out and volunteered to guide his ships through the minefields that protected the harbor.

Once Souchon's ships were safely in the harbor, the German diplomats reminded the Turks that Great Britain had recently broken a contract to supply two new battleships to the Turkish government. The British Admiralty, nervous about the threat of a European war, had decided to keep the new warships for its own use instead of transferring them to Turkey. The Germans now offered to provide the Turks with the ships they needed by selling them the Goeben and the Breslau.

After several hours of negotiation, the Turks agreed to purchase the German battle cruisers from Germany. Retaining their German crews, the ships were renamed the Yavuz Sultan Selim and the Midili. Wilhelm Souchon was made commander-in-chief of the Turkish navy. Souchon made overdue repairs to the Goeben's boilers, then took the ships into the Black Sea, where he bombarded the Russian cities of Odessa, Sebastopol, and Novorossiysk without the knowledge or consent of the Turkish government.

On 30 October 1914. Turkey officially joined the war on the German side, substantially won over by the acquisition of the powerful, though somewhat autonomous, German warships.

HMS Gloucester

The escape of the Goeben and the Breslau effectively ended the careers of British admirals Milne and Troubridge. Milne served out the rest of the war without commission on half-pay, while Troubridge was assigned to land-based duties below his rank for the remainder of the war. Only the captain of the Gloucester received commendation, for having at least exchanged gunfire with the fleeing Goeben and Breslau.

The Great War at Sea 1914-1918, by Richard Hough, Oxford U. Press, 1983.
"Goeben and Breslau: The Ones that Got Away," by Richard Wright; The Marshall Cavendish Illustrated Encyclopedia of World War One, 1984.