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

Saturday, December 29, 2018

12 Views of No Man's Land: Some Fictional, Some Poetic, Some Firsthand


No Man's Land, Flanders, 1919 Photo

No man's land is a surprisingly old term, dating back to the 1300s.
The Grammarist

[No Man’s Land is] like the face of the moon, chaotic, crater-ridden, uninhabitable, awful, the abode of madness. . . It is pock-marked like a body of foulest disease and its odour is the breath of cancer.
Wilfred Owen

Men drowning in shell-holes already filled with decaying flesh, wounded men, beyond help from behind the wire, dying over a number of days, their cries audible, and often unbearable to those in the trenches; sappers buried alive beneath its surface.
Fran Brearton

No Man's Land is an eerie sight
At early dawn in the pale gray light. . .
But  No Man's Land is a goblin sight
When patrols crawl over at dead o'night
Grantland Rice

Out in No Man’s Land there was no sign of any German activity. The only remarkable thing was the unbroken silence. I was in a sort of twilight, for there was a moony glimmer in the low‑clouded sky; but the unknown territory in front was dark, and I stared out at it like a man looking from the side of a ship.
Siegfried Sassoon


"No Man's Land," by French Illustrator Lucien Jonas

An exhalation arose, drawn up by the moon, from an old battlefield after the passing of years. It came out of very old craters and gathered from trenches, smoked up from No Man’s Land, and the ruins of farms; it rose from the rottenness of dead brigades, and lay for half the night over two armies; but at midnight the moon drew it up all into one phantom and it rose and trailed away eastwards.
Lord Dunsany

No man’s land is of fixed length but of varying width. There are places where it is very narrow, so narrow that it is possible to throw across a hand grenade or a box of cigarettes, depending on the nearness of an officer whose business is war. Again it is wide, that friendly relations are impossible, and sniping becomes a pleasure as well as an art
Mary Roberts Rinehart

The dead who waited in No Man's Land didn't look like dead, as the men who came to them now had thought of death.  From a distance of a few yards, the bodies, lying in queer huddled attitudes, appeared to have something monstrously amiss with them. . . their skins had the bursting blackness of grapes.  It was impossible to recognize features or expression in that hideously puffed and contorted blackness.
Robin Hyde


[It's] pocked, diseased, ripe with rot" 
Bernard [?]

Creep and crawl, follow me, that's all
What do you hear? Nothing near
Don't fear, all is clear
That's the life of a stroll
When you take a patrol
Out in No Man's Land
Ain't it grand?
Out in No Man's Land
James Reese Europe



Friday, December 28, 2018

The Deep Roots of the Great War, Part 6: The Interests of Russia



How Its Neighbors Viewed Russia Before the War

Russia simply has hypnotic power. This was especially evident in its dynamic 19th-century history, when its population tripled. Russian military power, critical in defeating Napoleon, cowed the empire's neighbors and allowed the tsar to expand wherever he could get away with it. Even Europe's master statesman, Otto von Bismarck, accepted that Germany's well-being depended on peaceful relations with the Russian bear. Wilhelm II forgot this and started down the the
road to doom. 

Russia's centralized and militarized state has distinguished the country for centuries, although whether its militarization was offensive or defensive has been a matter of considerable historical debate. Nonetheless, starting from the beginning of the 16th century Russia eventually and uniquely came to control major portions of two continents. Historian George Vernadsky embraced the argument of geographical determinism—that the peculiar geography of Eurasia encouraged a dynamic national grouping (i.e. Russia) to extend its domination as far as possible for security reasons. Richard Pipes suggests, however, that the Russians, and later the Soviets, adopted an ideology—be it "Moscow as the Third Rome" or Marxism-Leninism—that promoted and encouraged the government to be inherently aggressive and expansionist.


From the beginning of the 16th-century through the middle of the 17th, Russia on  average annually added territory equivalent to the size of the Netherlands, and it continued expanding until World War I. No other state in world history has expanded so persistently.
Historian  Richard Pipes


The Kremlin in the 15th Century

Beginning with the Napoleonic Wars, Russia's imperial ambitions brought it into conflict with other nations and empires similarly ambitious or anxious about their declining fortunes. Throughout the 19th century, Russian rebuffs or defeats in Europe were repeatedly followed by greater attention and expansions to the east. For example, the defeat of Russia in the 1853–56 Crimean War at the hands of a coalition of France, Sardinia, the Great Britain, and the Ottoman Empire was followed by extensive Russian conquests in the east. In the Caucasus, Russia had been fighting for decades, but pacification was nearly complete when in 1859 legendary Chechen leader Shamil was captured. In a series of successful military expeditions from 1865 to 1876 in Central Asia, Russia conquered the khanates of Kokand, Bokhara, and Khiva. The far eastern boundary of Russia had remained unchanged from the Treaty of Nerchinsk with China in 1689, but in 1858 China gave up the left bank of the Amur River to Russia through the Treaty of Aigun, and in the 1860 Treaty of Beijing, China ceded the Ussuri River region.

In the 19th century—to borrow a phrase from Churchill—plague bacilli were evolving and mutating in Russia. Despite suppressing the first post-Napoleonic revolt against the old order, the Decembrist revolt of reformist military officers in 1825, Russia then continually disconcerted the rest of world by serving as an incubator for more extreme forms of radicalism, nihilism, anarchism, and Marxism, as well as for innovations in terrorism and assassination. Regardless of the oppressive measures taken by the tsars' agents, secretive groups of Russians relentlessly borrowed or invented, then tested, perfected, and propagated the revolutionary and nationalistic ideologies that would make the next century one of the most violent in history, all of this going on while innumerable Russian writers and musicians—like Tolstoy, Dostoyevsky, Tchaikovsky, and Rimsky-Korsakov—were enchanting the world with their creativity.

Bakunin, Father of Anarchism

Further the Russian traditions of messianism and expansionism took on racial overtones in the 19th century, adding another frightening aspect to the world's perceptions of autocratic Russia. As with some of the revolutionary theories, this racialized thinking developed abroad, having Czech and German roots. But Russia embraced it, applied it more diligently, and passed it on to the rest of the world and posterity, in particular, on to Germany's National Socialist Party.

In large empires, such as Austria-Hungary or tsarist Russia, this emerging form of nationalism initially led to a heightened self-awareness by minorities and conquered people. But in Russia, the now-alarmed establishment's response was to turn this around with an insistence on "one, indivisible Russia," believing that non-Russians could be turned into Russians. This policy, of course, would never appeal to the non-Russian population, but the overall approach had some other flaws. What about the non-Russian Slavic peoples, who had been absorbed into the empire? Furthermore, this Russia indivisible policy was too inwardly focused for an empire still interested in outward expansion. 

The solution found for these complications by influential Russians was to adapt something called "Pan-Slavism." It was never official state policy, but would periodically dominate state policy. Not just Russians but their fellow Slavs were united in their messianic mission. Other Slavs were also divinely "chosen” and thus superior to all other nationalities.

This anchored the empire politically with a Slavic core and supplied a rationale for international adventurism ranging from dabbling in the affairs of other countries with Slavic minorities (like the Balkans) to acquiring territory for Slavic population expansion from inferiors (like the Ottomans) to simple conquest of other Slavs (like the Poles).

Nicholas and Alexandra Before Things Went South

This new form of Russian nationalism was a clear threat to all its neighbors. Pan-Slavs claimed as early as 1870 that the best possible starting point for an  enlarged Pan-Slav empire would be the disintegration of the Hapsburg empire. Later in that decade, Pan-Slavists in the tsar's government maneuvered the country into a war with the Ottomans for the purpose of capturing Constantinople. Later, after Russia's expansionist aims in the East were defeated by the Japanese, the Pan-Slavists next steered the nation to focus on the Balkans. The Pan-Slav movement had set the table for World War I. It embroiled Russia in the Balkans where crisis piled on crisis and one was sure to become unmanageable and lead to war. The July Crisis after the Archduke's assassination also provided—albeit with considerable risk—the double opportunity of swallowing a chunk of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and capturing the Dardanelles and Constantinople from the Ottomans. Behind the tsar's decision to mobilize and go to war was the Russian version of neo-nationalism, Pan-Slavism.

Source: Over the Top, March 2014


Thursday, December 27, 2018

The Singapore Mutiny of 1915


By James Patton


On 15 February 1915, members of the 5th Light Infantry (Indian Army) mutinied in Singapore. The British called this incident the "Singapore Mutiny," but in Singapore it was called the "Sepoy Mutiny" or the "Indian Mutiny", notwithstanding that the 1857–8 uprising in India was also called the "Sepoy Rebellion" or the "Indian Mutiny."

This event was a part of the Indian independence movement that the British labelled the Ghadar Conspiracy. A key goal of the Ghadars was to incite discontent in the Indian Army. In January 1915 such a plan involving the 130th Baluchis was averted by a timely warning. Studies more than half a century later found that the Singapore Mutiny may have had strong support from factions based in India, keen on weakening British control in the region. The Ghadars in Singapore were allegedly led by a Gujerati Muslim coffee-shop owner named Kassim Mansoor,  a religious leader named Nur Alum Shah, and three Indian VCO’s, Subedar Dunde Khan, Jemadar Christi Khan, and Jemedar Ali Khan.

In October 1914 the all-Muslim 5th LI (comprised of Rajput Ranghars and Pathans) had been dispatched to Singapore to replace the 1st Bn King’s Own Yorkshire Light Infantry, which was rushed off to the BEF. The 5th LI was not combat ready; morale was low, communications poor, and leadership lacking. The commanding officer, Lt. Col. E. V. Martin, had been recently promoted from within the regiment, an unpopular choice even with the British officers. 

Orders came for the 5th LI to leave Singapore for Hong Kong on 16 February. So little was Martin trusted that rumors flew that the 5th LI was going to be sent to the Middle East to fight against Muslims, contrary to the Fatwa of Mehmet V. 

The 5th LI was guarding the 309 prisoners from the SMS Emden and other interned Germans, and one named Lauterbach, a reserve Oberleutnant who spoke Urdu, allegedly encouraged the troops to mutiny, promising German cooperation.

By plan the mutiny started around 3:30 P.M. on the 15th. The four Rajput companies of the 5th LI plus about 100 men from the Malay States Guides Mule Battery swarmed out, killing the two British duty officers. The mostly Pathans of the remaining four companies refused to participate and laid low. 

Lt. Col. Martin's House Still Stands

The mutineers divided into groups. One was sent to obtain more ordnance from the Tanglin Barracks magazines, another to kill Lt. Col. Martin and other officers at their residences and the last to release the Germans, held at Alexandra Barracks. There the sepoys killed ten British soldiers, three Sultanate troops, and one German. Three British soldiers and one German were wounded but survived, as did the eight RAMC personnel in the hospital, one of whom managed to escape under heavy fire to raise the alarm. The sepoys expected the Germans to join them, but they declined, even refusing to accept rifles. About 35 Germans did choose to leave the compound, contemplating escape. 

Meanwhile, more officers had been killed, although not Martin, who attempted to rally the Pathans but failed. The Tanglin Barracks occupied 210 acres and were too big for the mutineers to fortify, so the sepoys roamed the streets, targeting civilians randomly. But without strong leadership and without German assistance, the mutiny never had a chance of success. 

Since it was the middle of the Chinese New Year, the majority of the Chinese in the Singapore Volunteer Corps were unavailable, but a scratch force of  British garrison personnel, Royal Marines from HMS Cadmus and some Sultanate soldiers fought desperate little running skirmishes with the mutineers throughout the 15th and 16th.  On the 17th, 158 Japanese marines, plus French and Russian sailors, came ashore and promptly defeated the largest group of the sepoys in a sharp battle after which many surrendered and the rest dispersed into hiding. 

On the 20th the 1/4th King’s Shropshire Light Infantry arrived from Burma and cleared the pockets of resistance. By the night of 22 February all was secure.

Execution of the Mutineers

A Court of Inquiry was convened on 23 February, first held in secret but later publicly, which concluded on 15 May, resulting in 47 death sentences (including Kassim Mansoor), 184 prison sentences and several transportations. Public executions were conducted at Outram Prison, witnessed by an estimated 15,000. 

Casualty lists vary, but at least 40 loyal soldiers and as many as 18 civilians died. Mutineer casualties are not known.

Lt. Col. Martin was cashiered. The remnant of the 5th LI was sent to Africa, then to Aden and served credibly. Nevertheless, it was disbanded in 1922.

After the Singapore Mutiny the British were unwilling to garrison colonies exclusively with Indian units, which placed a further strain on their manpower. All Indians residing in Singapore were required to register, causing ill feelings among a mostly loyal community. In order to enhance Singapore's internal security, the British passed the "Reserve Force and Civil Guard Ordinance" in August 1915, requiring compulsory military service from all male subjects between 15 and 55 years of age who were not already serving  in the armed forces, volunteers, or police. 

The mutiny is commemorated in Singapore by two tablets at the entrance of the Victoria Memorial Hall and four plaques at the St Andrew's (Anglican) Cathedral.

Sources: Singapore Infopedia, Wikipedia

Wednesday, December 26, 2018

Recommended: CSPAN's Battle of St. Mihiel Program


American Troops Passing Through a Village in the St. Mihiel Salient

There has been so much produced in the last two years on America's involvement int the Great War that I've not been able to keep up with all of it.  A good example of this is CSPAN's 2017 program on the St. Mihiel Battle, which features my friend, and frequent contributor to our publications, Mitchell Yockelson as the featured commentator.  I just viewed it and I recommend it strongly.  

At the Montsec U.S. Memorial

If you are like my typical  traveler on my military tours, I assure you that the operation is bigger than you imagined  in the size of the battlefield, the forces involved, and its importance in the culmination of the war. The film has footage of the battle I've never seen before, and Mitchell does a fine job explaining things.

View the Video at:





Tuesday, December 25, 2018

A Wounded Doughboy's Christmas – A Roads Classic



In early December 1918, almost completely recovered from the wound he had received in the Argonne campaign, my father, Sgt Albert K. Haas, was able to return to his unit, the 309th Infantry of the 78th Division. From Vichy, where he had been hospitalized, Albert went  by train to Nevers and from there to divisional headquarters in Semur. Next he was directed to hike on to the nearby village of Genay, where he was eventually billeted in a room in the home of Madame Laurent and her mother.

At Christmas time Albert was supposed to go to a special leave area, but something went awry with the railroad arrangements, so he and his roommate, Ed, were sent back from Semur to Genay to await orders. Arriving back in the village on Christmas Eve, they discovered Madame had misunderstood the new billeting arrangements and had given their room to two other men. 

My dad later wrote, "After much discussion, we asked Madame's permission to sleep in the hayloft for the night. She did not think it good enough for us, but we finally convinced her it was. She insisted on climbing the ladder to the loft and taking a couple of white pillows with her for our bed. All our protest against misuse of pillows was in vain and we slept in the beds as arranged. It was rather a unique place to spend Christmas Eve."


Genay, Site of Albert's Christmas

On Christmas Morning, "Madame insisted they have breakfast in her home. It was the strangest breakfast I ever had, Beef soup, wine, bread and cheese." In the evening, an impromptu entertainment was given at the Y.M.C.A. hut and Ed and I took the old folks along. All civilians in the town had been invited to attend. They thought the perfectly rotten show was wonderful." That night he and Ed again slept in the hayloft.  Thus ended Christmas in Genay. The following morning he started for Semur again for transportation to the leave area in the Vosges Mountains, where he spent ten days.

From Margaret Haas

Monday, December 24, 2018

Christmas at the Front, 1915–1919



One story from World War I is so dramatic and moving that it's the only holiday episode that has stayed the public's consciousness.. That tale, of course, is of the famous Christmas Truce of 1914. But how were the subsequent Christmases celebrated? The 1914 Truce had one traumatic impact—it horrified the generals and their staffs on both sides, and they worked hard subsequently at discouraging such fraternizing. However, there were more incidents in later years [albeit smaller in scale]. The tradition of gift giving, on the other hand, was encouraged, even institutionalized, by the governments of the combatants. The soldiers themselves found their own ways to celebrate: decorating the trenches, having special meals, caroling, exchanging "joke" gifts with their mates, and so forth. 

Here are some Christmas reports from troops at the front.

On Christmas Day we were in the firing line and were served one slice of pudding and seven dates. But it was so cold and we were always wet.
Joe Clement, Royal Marines
Gallipoli, 1915

Now it's Christmas for the second time in this war...And here I am alone with my tree in a small trench. Some candles are fixed on the branches and an old steel helmet.
Ernst Bergner, German Army
Flanders, 1915 

Received from Red Cross and YMCA: 3 bars of chocolate, 4 packages of gum, 5 boxes of Mallomars. . .A "Tres Bon" dinner of: Veal, Sweet Potatoes, White Potatoes, Dressing, Salad, Apple Pie and Coffee.
Pvt. Clair Pfennig
U.S. 29th Engineers, 1918 



Christmas and New Year were celebrated by the companies with great festivities at which beer and grog flowed in rivers. There were exactly four men left in the 2nd Company who spent the previous Christmas with me in the line before Monchy...."
Ernst Jünger, German Army
Somme, 1916

We had our Christmas dinner in Albert in an old sewing machine factory. We had beer for our dinner - plenty of it - and a good tuck-in to go with it! Roast pork! Beautiful after bully beef!
C.H. Williams, British Army
Somme, 1916 

Christmas time on the island was happy. The boys hung up their socks, and I had to sneak round at 3 am and fill them with toys and sweets. Two men saw me and said Father Christmas had a white cap and gown on. There was great excitement in the morning.
Sister Evelyn Davies
3rd Australian General Hospital, Lemnos, 1915 


At the spontaneous request of the officers and men, I shall be saying midnight mass in the village church very beautifully decorated by the daughter and son from the château, with whose help, too, I have been able to teach the men some carols...what more do we need to forget for a few moments the war and the trenches...this Christmas gives me the opportunity for me to appear openly as a priest. 
                                                
                                                                          Stretcher Bearer & Jesuit Priest Pierre Teilhard de Chardin
                                                                                                                                                         French Army, 1915
[Under anti-clerical laws, French priests could not serve as chaplains but were obliged to serve in the military.] 

Sunday, December 23, 2018

The Valuable Lesson the German Navy Learned at Dogger Bank

The Battle of Dogger Bank was a naval engagement on 24 January 1915, near the Dogger Bank in the North Sea, during the First World War, between squadrons of the British Grand Fleet and the German High Seas Fleet.

SMS Seydlitz

Following the battle, the British claimed a victory, having sunk the obsolete armored cruiser Blücher, but their modern battle cruiser Lion had to be towed home, and the Germans had learned a lesson that would serve them well at Jutland—a lesson that, unlearned by the British, would cost the Royal Navy dearly. The destruction of the two after turrets of Seydlitz was caused not by a 13.5-inch British shell but by the explosion of ready ammunition and ammunition in transit. From now on, German ammunition would be protected until it was loaded into a gun. In his memoirs, Scheer wrote “However regrettable was the great loss of life on board the Seydlitz through the fire spreading to the munitions chamber of each turret, a valuable lesson had been learned for the future dealing with reserve ammunition, and it was applied in subsequent actions.” The British learned the same lesson at Jutland—at the cost of three battle cruisers.

Sources:  "1915: Battle Cruisers Clash,"  Mission: History, Naval Order of the United States 

Saturday, December 22, 2018

The Rise and Temporary Conquest of Trench Fever

From:  "The First World War: Disease the Only Victor,"  Lecture by Professor Francis Cox at the Museum of London, 10 March 2014


Shortly after the beginning of the war, a new syndrome appeared, soldiers reported with intermittent fever, headache and pain in the leg and bones lasting about five days; it was rarely fatal but recovery took about a month. The problem with this new disease, soon called trench fever, was not that it was fatal but that it was incapacitating which meant that the fighting force was, at least temporarily, reduced. 

Symptoms of Trench Fever (Lancet)

It took some time, and a lot of disagreement between medical bacteriologists and parasitologists including Sir David Bruce and Sir William Leishman, both serving army officers with distinguished records in the field of tropical diseases, and the military authorities before it was established that the condition was caused by a bacterium, Rickettsia quintana (now Bartonella quintana), and it was not until towards end of the war was it was realised that this disease was transmitted by lice. This realisation was of tremendous significance because, even if it could not be cured, it could be prevented with the use of insecticides such as naphthalene and creosote, and heat fumigation. 

This came far too late, however, and it is estimated that some 800,000—97 percent—of Allied troops were at some time infested with lice. [?Total seems low.] Infection with trench fever represented a massive loss of active manpower. Sir David Bruce later suggested that had this disease and its mode of transmission been recognised earlier, the war might have been considerably shorter. After the war, disinfection centres were set up at all the Channel ports and there was not a single case of trench fever among the civilian population of the British Isles and the disease was soon eliminated from the whole of Europe. 

On the positive side, this is widely regarded as one of the most successful medical campaigns in military history. Microbes do not give up easily, however, and the descendants of the bacterium that were seen for the first time in the trenches have cropped up recently among the poor and homeless in France, Russia, Japan, and, in the United States, in Seattle and San Francisco. It is now clear that this disease has the capacity to establish itself in conditions of crowding and malnutrition in refugee camps and areas of deprivation anywhere in the world and has the potential to become a very serious emerging disease.

Friday, December 21, 2018

The Importance of Aviation in Breaking the Trench Stalemate


By John Terraine


RFC BE2 Equipped with Camera

In general, 1915 was a miserable year for the BEF, with every kind of equipment in short supply. On the other hand, it was also a period of experiment and incubation of what, in some cases, turned out to be priceless new techniques. As one novelty breeds another, photo reconnaissance, having appeared, was much in demand—and so, on both sides of the line, was prevention of enemy photography, leading quite naturally to air combat, in turn calling for specialized aircraft . . . the necessity to seize and hold air supremacy was perceived [by] 1915.

1915...saw the first step taken toward the ultimate war-winner. In the artillery war...in the words of two Royal Artillery brigadiers, who have researched firepower with such authority...the "starting point" and pivot was the Royal Flying Corps pilot. 

The artillery war was, from the first, almost entirely conducted by "indirect fire," i.e. the gunners of all armies were normally shooting at invisible targets. This made possession of an accurate map essential—accurate, that is to say, to within 15 to 20 yards. No such thing existed in 1915, so the decision was taken to have one made by the newly formed Field Survey Companies of the Royal Engineers, working closely with the RFC. From this derived many hours of tedious but highly dangerous photographic flying for the RFC, but for the artillery the opportunity came to restore surprise and precision to battle—which it duly did at Cambrai in November 1917. And this technique, in the hands of [both] the Germans and Allies in 1918, supplied the key to unlocking the trench-bound front. 

Effective Artillery Broke the Trench Stalemate in 1918

[For the British Army] this could not have been done without the RFC, and in conjunction with the rest of its day-in, day-out cooperation with the Royal Artillery. This constituted in my opinion the most important contribution of the Royal Flying Corps to winning the war.

From John Terraine's 1994 lecture to the Royal Air Force Historical Society

Thursday, December 20, 2018

Imperial Germany and War, 1871-1918
Reviewed by Ron Drees


Imperial Germany and War, 1871–1918

by Daniel J. Hughes and Richard L. Dinardo.
University Press of Kansas, 2018

Contrary to the title, the history of the German Army in this book goes back to 1802 and the Napoleonic wars. Hughes and Dinardo describe how command structures changed over the next century leading up to the Great War. During that period, the Prussian/German Army transformed through constant re-thinking of how it should prepare to wage war, how war should be waged, and how many theaters of conflict in which to wage war. There were also concerns about how to staff, train, and equip its army and the reserves behind them. One constant was that officers should be of noble birth and preferably Protestant. Roman Catholics were tolerated but did not advance very far, and Jews were simply not acceptable. These requirements limited candidates and later were thought to have impaired the army.

Alfred Graf von Schlieffen
Napoleon's defeat of Germany's army spawned reforms under the direction of leaders such as Scharnhorst, Clausewitz, Moltke, Schlieffen, and then Moltke the younger. However, the entrenched power structure resisted change. The authors discussed each military chieftain in turn, but Schlieffen drew the most surprising statements.

Schlieffen served as chief of the Prussian General Staff from 1891 into 1906. In those 15 years, Schlieffen developed deployment plans on an annual basis, considering one and two front wars. While the authors describe the plans, they are not illustrated with maps. Only six maps are in the book, with no listings in the table of contents. Between the small size and print, they are difficult to understand. A few maps dedicated to Schlieffen's plans would have made his ideas understandable.

Schlieffen also held staff rides, where groups of officers traveled to the frontiers and engaged in large-scale map-based exercises. No war games were conducted. The authors, after considerable discussion, concluded that Schlieffen's memorandum of 1905 was only an "academic discussion of alternatives." Since Schlieffen never prepared a comprehensive war plan, historians cannot determine how Schlieffen or even Moltke would have conducted the war. There is no Schlieffen plan, especially one that would have enveloped Paris. Further, the German High Command did not provide the field armies with unified orders for conducting operations in 1914.

The previous statement is one of several areas where Germany was unprepared for a war it allegedly started. German law specified that the Kaiser was the Supreme War Lord, in command of the army and the navy. Wilhelm recognized his shortcomings and agreed to recuse himself from most major decision making. Yet he controlled appointments, making him significant. He was not consistent in his decisions, making the war effort inconsistent also. Overall command was not exercised or coordinated by one individual.

About halfway through Imperial Germany and War, the Great War began. The book switched from discussions of theory to analysis, commentary, and review of German strategy for the next four years.

Germany had hoped for a short war but like everyone else, had to adjust as, by November 1914, their hopes faded to the realization of a protracted war. Events would show that Germany was unprepared for a long war, did not adjust successfully, and eventually suffered social, military, and economic breakdowns throughout the nation. There was a lack of training among reserve troops and officers and the top commanders were also affected as none had experience in commanding so many troops, but this was true for every nation. Germany was not united in its war effort and this was displayed in a multitude of ways with an ineffective emperor and a lack of military and civil coordination.

Marching to War, 1914

The Prussian Siege Law of 1851 went into effect and the corps commanders of the army became civil administrators with authority over areas as varied as censorship, labor negotiations, and police functions. Americans should not be smug, as the Wilson administration usurped the Constitution and skewed the Bill of Rights to where no one could criticize the government without risking imprisonment and several people were imprisoned for speaking their minds. The German Military Administration did not play an effective role in food rationing, and starvation deaths ran into the hundreds of thousands.

Germany also failed to learn to use technology such as radio communications and to coordinate with Austria. However, the two nations agreed by early 1916 that victory was not possible. Germany's internal struggle between peace and victory put an armistice out of reach.

While the General Staff had spent much time thinking about how to attack, insufficient consideration was given as to what weapons and tools should be used to attack the Allies. Between Verdun and the Somme, the prewar German Army died. As the war wore on, it became evident that the Central power lacked almost everything including manpower, labor, submarines, aircraft, tanks, and officers. Even what the army was supposed to do did not happen adequately, including officer training and coordinating the infantry and artillery.

Out of desperation, Germany decided to begin unrestricted submarine warfare, hoping to sink enough ships to bring Britain to its knees before American troops reached Europe. Not enough ships were sunk, the strategy failed, and America's manpower entered the war with decisive results. This failure led to the decision to launch the 1918 offensive. The thinking was that the war had to be won in 1918 or it would be lost in 1919.

Germany spent most of the war fighting a defensive trench war. In preparation for the 1918 offensive, it had to retrain officers and men to fight a different, aggressive mobile war. While the training may have succeeded, the offensive failed, partially because the artillery could not advance fast enough to maintain pace with the infantry nor could the supply of munitions keep pace with the artillery. As throughout the war, losses could not be replaced, mobility was poor, and infantry units wore out. Even British logistic depots slowed down the German Army as hungry soldiers interrupted their assaults to eat.

The book's summary explains that Germany lost the war for several reasons: army commanders who operated independently; inability of the Kaiser to coordinate military action; a navy that did not support the army; loss of confidence by the rank and file toward the officer corps; and an army in control of economic and social policy without the competence to do so.

The most valuable part of Imperial Germany and War—and the reason for reading it—is to learn about the Great War from the German point of view. The importance of social class to the army, political infighting, the inability to mobilize the nation effectively, the isolation of the army from the German nation, and the overall lack of preparation for war contributed to this defeat. Yes, Hindenburg was right; Germany was stabbed in the back, by its army.

Ron Drees

Wednesday, December 19, 2018

Rave Reviews in for Peter Jackson's They Shall Not Grow Old

I spent all Tuesday morning responding to enthusiastic messages from my friends and editors who viewed Peter Jackson's new film They Shall Not Grow Old.  If you haven't heard it features colorized film footage of the British Tommies during the war, with a sound track—produced with the help of professional lip-readers, that allows viewers to listen in on the conversations of the troops.  Below are some Warner Brothers stills from the production.  It is only scheduled to show one more day around the States—27 December. Below the images you will find a link to a site where you can find theaters showing the movie.
















For locations and tickets:

https://www.fathomevents.com/events/they-shall-not-grow-old

Late News Arriving:  Reader Courtland Jindra informs us that the Hollywood trade magazines are announcing that there will be a limited theatrical review of the film in January in three cities: Los Angeles, New York, and Washington,DC. Also, there is consideration of a broader release to follow.

Tuesday, December 18, 2018

World War I Monuments in the Former Yugoslavia


Source: Ljubjana Symposium, 18-19 October 2018


Monument to the Fallen, 1921,
Žrnovo, Prvo selo on Korčula, Croatia



The Dying Lion, 1916, Lav Cemetery on
Koševo, Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina



Monument to the 20th Rifle Regiment,
Panovec near Nova Gorica, Slovenia



Austro-Hungarian military cemetery in Gorjansko, Slovenia



 Monument to the Fallen in World War I, 1939, Kamnik, Slovenia



Victory Lighthouse, 1927, Trieste, Italy



Top: Monument of Gratitude to France, 1930;
Bottom: Monument to an Unknown Hero on Avala, 1934–1938;
 both  in Belgrade, Serbia



Ossuary on the mountain Cer, 1927–1928, Tekeriš, Serbia



Monday, December 17, 2018

Who Was Capt. W.H. Burrell?



Australian Soldier Writing Home
from the Western Front

While I was researching an article  on Pozières Ridge, I kept running into photographs by a W.H. Burrell, MM, of the 4th Australian Railway Company. I could not find out much about Burrell, however. He joined up as an enlisted man and earned the Military Medal, then apparently earned a commission. He survived until at least 1919 when he donated his album to one of the State Museums in Australia. One thing for sure, he had a great photographic eye. The combat images here are from the Western Front. 

The 4th R.R. Company & 17th Infantry Battalion Depart Australia



Searching for Casualties Under Flag of Truce



A Lucky Digger Grabs Some Sleep



Memorial Cross for 17th Battalion, Erected 1917


Sunday, December 16, 2018

Recommended—Louis Barthas: Eyewitness to the French Army Mutinies, May–June 1917

Found at the Yale Press Blog
By Edward M. Strauss


Execution at Verdun of a French Mutineer


“On May 26 [1917] the first American combat troops arrived in France…

“The arrival of the first American troops coincided with a dramatic change on the French sector of the Western Front, where the growing number of desertions turned, on May 27, to mutiny.  At the Front itself, along the Chemin des Dames [ridge], as many as 30,000 soldiers had left their trenches and reserve billets and fallen to the rear.  Then, in four towns behind the lines, the troops ignored their officers’ orders, seized buildings, and refused to go to the Front…For a week there was chaos through the French war zone, as the mutineers refused to go back into the line.  The military authorities took swift action: under [French General Philippe] Pétain’s guiding hand, mass arrests and Courts Martial followed…More than four hundred soldiers were sentenced to death, fifty of them being shot, the rest being sent to penal servitude in the French colonies. For several million infantrymen, some of whom had been fighting for nearly three years, Pétain brought in immediate improvements, organizing longer periods of rest, more home leave, and better food…Within six weeks the mutinies were over…”—Martin Gilbert, The First World War, (1994), pp. 333–334.



“The general mood of those involved – and they comprised soldiers in fifty-four divisions, almost half the army – was one of reluctance, if not refusal, to take part in fresh attacks but also of patriotic willingness to hold the line against attacks by the enemy.  There were also specific demands: more leave, better food, better treatment for soldiers’ families, an end to ‘injustice’ and ‘butchery,’ and ‘peace’…[Pétain] set in train a series of measures designed to contain [the unrest] and return the army to moral well-being…”—John Keegan, The First World War (1998), pp. 330-331.



After the war, French infantryman Louis Barthas, ardent socialist and pacifist, provided a firsthand, on-the-scene account of these events:

At this time [spring 1917] the Russian Revolution broke out. Those Slavic soldiers, only yesterday enslaved and bent double under the weight of iron discipline, unknowingly marching off to massacres like resigned slaves, had thrown off their yokes, proclaimed their liberty, and imposed peace on their masters, their hangmen.

The whole world was stupefied, petrified by this revolution, this collapse of the immense empire of the czars.

These events had repercussions on the Western Front and throughout the French ranks.  A wind of revolt blew across almost all the regiments.

There were, besides, plenty of reasons for discontent: the painful failure of the Chemin des Dames offensive, which had no result but a general slaughter; the prospect of more long months of war ahead, with a highly dubious outcome; and finally the long wait for home leaves – it’s that which bothered the soldiers most, I believe.

I cannot pretend to tell the whole story of what happened almost everywhere just then.  I will stick to writing what I know, regarding our regiment and the repression which followed.

There was, at the end of the village [Daucourt, 6 km. south of Sainte- Menehould], a shopkeeper for whom the war brought only profit. He sold beer, and he had a cute little waitress to serve it to customers – powerful attractions which, every evening after supper, brought a whole crowd of poilus, a well-behaved clientele which plunked down in groups in the big courtyard adjacent to his shop.  One evening, some of the soldiers were singing, others were entertaining their fellows with songs and skits, when a corporal began singing words of revolt against the sad life in the trenches, words of farewell to the dear souls whom we might not see again, of anger against this infamous war, the rich shirkers who left the fighting to those who had nothing to fight for.

At the refrain, hundreds of voices rose in chorus, and at the end fervent applause broke out, mixed with cries of “Peace or revolution! Down with war!” as well as “Home leave!  Home leave!”

On another evening – patriots, cover your ears! – the “Internationale” [socialist anthem] was heard, bursting like a storm.

That time, our chiefs got stirred up.  It gave our old friend [Captain] Cros-Maryrevielle such an unbearable itch that he quickly sent a patrol of four men and the inevitable corporal to remind those vile whiners that, 8 o’clock having rung, the men had to hand over the street, the taverns, and the ladies to the officers, and report to the sergeants-of-the-day who were waiting to carry out roll call at the doorways of our empty billets.

The patrol prudently judged that it should beat a hasty retreat, and our captain-cop came out himself, escorted by the local police squad.

He tried to speak with moderation, but as soon as the first words left his mouth he was halted by formidable shouting.

Sputtering with rage but powerless, he turned on the unfortunate sergeants, who had unwisely reported that “no one was absent,” and forced them to call roll a second time.

A crowd of several hundred soldiers, scorning the roll calls, had massed in front of the police station, where Captain Cros had sought refuge.  To give him even more of a scare, one hothead fired a couple of pistol shots in the air.

At noon on May 30, there was even an assembly outside the village, to constitute, following the Russian example, a “soviet” composed of three men from each company, which would take control of the regiment.

To my great astonishment, they came to offer me the presidency of this soviet, that’s to say, to replace the colonel – nothing less than that!

That would be quite a sight – me, an obscure peasant who put down my pitchfork in August 1914, commanding the 269th Regiment. That went way beyond the bounds of probability.

Of course I refused. I had no desire to shake hands with a firing squad, just for the child’s play of pretending we were the Russians.

But I did decide to give an appearance of legality to these revolutionary demonstrations.  I wrote up a manifesto to give to our company commanders, protesting against the delay in furloughs.  It began like this: “On the eve of the [Chemin des Dames] offensive [in April], General [Robert] Nivelle had read to our troops an order of the day saying that the hour of sacrifice had rung….We offered our lives and made this sacrifice for the fatherland but, in exchange, we said that the hour of home leaves had also sounded, a while ago…,” etcetera.

The revolt was therefore placed squarely on the side of right and justice.  The manifesto was read out, in a sonorous voice, by a poilu who was perched astride the limb of a tree. Fervent applause underscored his last lines.

My vanity was hardly flattered.  If they learned that it was I who had drawn up this protest, moderate as it was, my fate was clear: a court-martial, for sure, and possibly twelve [French] bullets dispatched to send me off to another world, long before my appointed hour.

Meanwhile the officers had taken note of the call for an enormous assembly of soldiers, out by the Daucourt washhouses.  They tried to interrogate some poilus about the purpose of this meeting, but no one was willing to respond, or they answered evasively.

Our commandant tried to block the road by the police station, but the poilus got through by using other routes.

In the afternoon the order was given for immediate departure.  It included the formal promise that home leaves would begin again, starting the next day, at a rate of sixteen per one hundred men.  They needed nothing more to reestablish order. In spite of that, there were lively disturbances, especially in the encampment of the 4th Machine-Gun Company, a few moments before departure, and the men headed out only after singing the “Internationale” right in the faces of the stupefied but powerless officers.

At three o’clock, under a brilliant sun, we left Daucourt.   At five o’clock, the regiment marched through Sainte-Menehould, where tragic events had just played out.

Two regiments had just mutinied and seized their barracks, crying “Peace or Revolution!”

General “X,” who went to try to harangue the mutineers, was grabbed, slammed against a wall, and was just about to be shot, when a much-beloved commandant succeeded in saving the general and winning the promise that the insurgents be allowed to make their way to the camp at Châlons for a long rest.

Rifle shots were fired on a group of officers who were trying to approach the barracks. The bullets went wild and hit some innocent victims in the town, killing two, it is said. . . 

Read the full article at:


Saturday, December 15, 2018

15 December: 102 Years Ago — The Last Action of the Battle of Verdun



With both sides utterly exhausted, the Battle of Verdun, the longest struggle of the Great War, ended after 302 days on 18 December 1916. The last attack of the battle's most memorable aspect was the hard-fought recapture of the tiny, but symbolic, village of Bezonvaux. 

Final Attack: Launched 15 December 1916

Bezonvaux, with a population of 149 in February 1916, was located a mile northeast of Fort Douaumont. A redoubt bearing the same name as the village was located a quarter mile to its south. Caught between the main German attack from the north aiming at Douaumont and the French strategic withdrawal from the Woövre Plain to the east, the village and redoubt could not be held. They were finally abandoned by retreating French forces on 25 February 1916. Afterward, shelling gradually wiped out the village completely. 

The success of General Mangin's re-capture of Forts Douaumont and Vaux in October and early November left German forces still holding territory they had captured early in the battle. This led Mangin and his superior, General Nivelle, to contemplate repeating the attack on a front approximately ten kilometers long from Vacherauville near the Meuse River, east to Eix with the limited objective of capturing this area. The date chosen was 15 December 1916. On 10 December the French began a preliminary artillery barrage to soften up the German positions. At 10 a.m. on 15 December, French troops stormed the German lines. Four of the French Army's best divisions took part in the assault. Three regiments of the 37 Division d'infanterie (DI) left Fort Douaumont pushing east, advancing all day long through snow, mud, and barbed wire networks toward the Bezonvaux. Many of the soldiers ended up with frostbite. The attack on the village commenced at 2 a.m. on the 16th. Despite a French artillery error and heavy German shelling, the French completely rid Bezonvaux of its previous occupiers. However, they could not advance any farther. The Battle of Verdun was over. The front in this sector remained stable for the next two years, when American units would liberate the Meuse Heights just to the north at the very end of the war. 

Clockwise: Prewar Bezonvaux, Memorial Marker,
Stained-Glass Window, Chapel

Today, Bezonvaux is one of nine Villages Détruits (Destroyed) on the Verdun battlefield and one of the six that has never been rebuilt. These are ghost villages, communities that laid down their lives for France, moving memorials thanks to the chapels and commemorative monuments erected after the end of the war. Bezonvaux and her sisters are managed by a municipal council of three members appointed by the prefect of the Meuse department. Annual commemorative services are held at each of the villages. 

The site today still shows signs of the wartime damage. Commemorating the events of 1916 are the marker and the chapel shown above. The Bezonvaux memorial chapel's stained-glass window immortalizes 16 December 1916, showing troops wearing both the horizon blue uniforms of metropolitan France and the khaki worn by colonial forces. 

Sources: The French Ministry of Defense 

Friday, December 14, 2018

The Greatest Balloon Buster of the War




Willy Omer François Jean Coppens
Readers are probably familiar with the exploits of Lt. Frank Luke of the 27th U.S. Aero Squadron, who made a specialty of attacking highly defended enemy observation balloons, earning him the nickname of "Balloon Buster." The Arizonan shot down an amazing 14 balloons, plus four fighters, during just ten sorties in September 1918. However, his spectacular career was brief. Luke was shot down and killed on 29 September. 

The leading balloon buster of the war was actually a Belgian pilot, Willy Coppens, who, in little over a year, destroyed 37 observation balloons and possibly six more that were unconfirmed officially. His intense and dangerous war service ended in October 1918, when he was hit by flak while trying to down his second balloon of the day. His left leg was smashed and had to be amputated, but he lived until 1986. Some of our readers have told me about meeting Willy; he became one of the grand old men of World War I aviation. 

Thursday, December 13, 2018

The Deep Roots of the Great War, Part 5: The Kaiser's Culpability




Wilhelm II (1859–1941) was King of Prussia and Kaiser (Emperor) of Germany for 30 years until he was forced to abdicate in the last days of the Great War. A man of prodigious energy, able to out-work all his subordinates, and enthralled with an archaic view of the divine right of kings, he spent the first two years of his reign elbowing off the political stage his powerful chancellor, Otto von Bismarck.  A grandson of both Queen Victoria and the first Kaiser, upon ascending to power, he had apparently intuited a notion attributed to Count Waldersee, "If Frederick the Great had had such a chancellor [as Bismarck] he would not have been Frederick the Great."

In post-Bismarckian administration, Germany's chancellor was reduced to the status of chief of staff for his sovereign. Under Wilhelm's erratic direction, Russia and France were allowed to form an alliance, so the army had to plan a war against both of them. A navy was built to back Wilhelm's dream of a colonial empire, which was perceived as a challenge to Britain's Royal Navy, thereby both creating an economically burdensome ship-building race and forcing his admiralty to prepare for a war with a third nation. His foreign office, meanwhile, maneuvered for influence in Africa and the decaying Ottoman Empire, further alarming all the established colonial powers. Wilhelm's prewar neglect of domestic affairs also led to a victory by the Socialists in the Reichstag election of 1912, an event he would long rue.

Annika Mombauer of the Open University, presented her views on Wilhelm's character and his responsibility for bringing Europe and the world to war in 1914 in our January 2008 issue of OVER THE TOP:

Wilhelm II, who became Kaiser of Germany in 1888, had a profound impact on German and European history. He dismissed Bismarck in 1890, dismantled the alliance system which had helped to maintain peace and, most fatally of all, encouraged  an aggressive foreign policy which was to make the outbreak of a major European war more likely. He was mentally unstable, a probable consequence of his traumatic birth and his mother's reactions to the disability which resulted from it. He was unfit to rule, shown by his obsession with military matters and over-reliance on military advisers...In his lifetime, Wilhelm's contemporaries regarded him as an enigma. Commentators attributed to him immense powers and possibilities of decision-making and of ruling the country. However, they also commented on the Kaiser's insistence on being personally involved in decisions on every level, his embarrassing diplomatic faux pas, his irate marginal notes and ill-considered orders to his subordinates. In many ways, Wilhelm II was a terrible liability to the political rulers of the time.



What, then, was the Kaiser's role in all this? It was he, ultimately, who had to sanction a decision to go to war, he who finally signed the relevant mobilization orders, as he did in early August 1914. His tactless blunders on the international diplomatic stage did much to prepare the ground for hostilities among the major European powers of the day, as did his expressed desire to achieve a position of world power for Germany. It is an unfortunate coincidence that the most powerful position in Germany was to be filled by a megalomaniac monarch who was ultimately so ill-suited to occupying such an influential office. In the events leading to the outbreak of war, the role of the Kaiser must therefore be seen as a crucial factor. 


Supreme War Lord was a role Wilhelm certainly looked forward to playing, and he was never so popular during his reign as he was in the early days of the World War. But soon survival—not only of his own throne but also of the German Empire—was perceived to be at stake. Specialists were needed to manage "Total War", and as they displayed competence, they would siphon off Wilhelm's power.