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

Saturday, March 31, 2018

One Hundred Years Ago: First Cases of Influenza Reported

Rochester, NY, Public Health Poster

By Jeffrey Ricker 

If you think this year’s flu has been bad, 100 years ago, 1918, the flu was much worse. One fifth of the world’s population was infected, 15 percent of the infected died, 3 percent of the population. The estimated 50 million deaths was four times the deaths from the Great War. Within months it killed more people than any other illness in recorded history.

Scientists disagree where the 1918 flu originated. On 4 March 1918, came the first reported case that led to a breakout infected hundreds of soldiers at Ft. Riley, Kansas, and Camp Funston, a satellite post. Flu vectors pigs and poultry were farmed in the camp. Modern transportation systems made it easier for soldiers, sailors, and civilian travelers to spread the disease all over the world. These “three-day fever” infections peaked in June and were seldom fatal.

The virus mutated during the Summer of 1918. In August simultaneous breakouts occurred in Brest, France; Freetown, Sierra Leone; and Boston, Mass. This new mutation was extraordinarily deadly, particularly for young adults with strong immune systems that massively overreacted, causing rapid respiratory failure followed by pneumonia. In addition the virus was similar to the 1889 flu, so most people over 29 years old had some antibodies. The final climactic cataclysmic battles of the Great War were raging. By October, 25 percent of soldiers fighting on both sides were infected. Almost 47,000 of the 116,000 WWI U.S. military fatalities were from the flu.  Tragically, 30,000 U.S. soldiers died before they even got to France. 

Influenza Isolation War, Camp Bowie, TX

In the United States 675,000 died, most of them during ten weeks in the fall of 1918. This was more deaths than 40 years of AIDS. The flu brought life to a standstill, emptying city streets, closing churches, pool halls, saloons, and theaters. The virus swept the globe except for a few islands that enforced strict quarantines. Medical treatment did not go much beyond aspirin and bed rest.

The 1918 H1N1 virus mutated to a less virulent strain, fading out after a third wave in 1919. The virus lives on today. All cases of influenza A worldwide, except bird flu cases, are caused by descendants of the 1918 virus.

[Editor's Note: An article on the influenza pandemic we published in 2013 has a list of online articles on the illness and its impact on the military during the war.]

Friday, March 30, 2018

Hunger Is the Best Sauce: The British Diet in Wartime

National Kitchens Were Established in Great Britain to Feed War Workers and the Poor

From Cambridge University's Tower Project Blog
Published: Friday, 10 Feb 2012

Here in the Tower Project we are currently cataloguing books which were published during World War One. There are plenty of handbooks and manuals offering advice to those on the "Home Front," especially in the key areas of domestic economy and cookery. There had been some panic buying of food at the beginning of the war, when people began to hoard food, fearing it would run out, but fortunately things calmed down and rationing only had to be introduced towards the end of the war, in early 1918. Most of the books we have come across so far contain a combination of cheap recipes and advice on saving money in the home.

Whilst perusing a selection of these books I remembered that I have often read that the British diet was actually healthier during the two world wars when food was valued more as it was in short supply, forcing people to eat less and more wholesome food. There is evidence that this fact didn’t escape unnoticed even at the time of the First World War; Nellie R. de Lissa writes in her book War-Time Cookery, “All that I would teach you should hold good after war is over, for there is not a doubt that we are more often than not too kind to our inner man.” (p. 11). We can see here that people were encouraged to reassess their eating habits not just for economic but also health reasons. The price of sugar soared during the war and sweet treats were a rare treat rather than a daily occurrence, which they are for many people today! The authors of these books encouraged their readers to eat only what they needed for energy, rather than viewing food as a source of pleasure and enjoyment which was common before the war. Some authors even encourage people to forego one of the three daily mails altogether and reduce their consumption to two meals a day.

One of the main focuses in these books is the drive to prevent waste. The old proverb “waste not, want not” was in common use during the difficult war years. People were also encouraged to make their food last longer: “Each mouthful of soup (which should be turned many times in the mouth and not swallowed hastily as a drink)[…]thus less soup will be required by the consumer, its flavor will be savored and enjoyed to the full.” (War-Time Cookery, p. 10). In fact, many of the recipe books provide a copious number of recipes for soup, which became a very popular meal as it is warming and filling and less food is needed afterwards if you begin your meal with soup. The idea was to have a basic staple soup ready and then to add any available pulses or grains to it along with vegetables. Any leftovers, even bread, were added to soup in order to bulk it out and make it more nourishing.

Foods which were once available quite easily to the average home such as meat, fish, eggs, and cheese became much more expensive during the war. Foodstuffs like OXO became invaluable in the kitchen as they provided the flavor of meat without the cost, and it was common for shoppers to buy bones from the butcher for breaking up and boiling down for stock and gravy, rather than buying a whole joint of meat.

There was a big drive on growing your own fruit and veg, even if you only had a small garden. People were encouraged to buy seasonal fruit and vegetables for maximum freshness but also because produce is cheaper when it is more plentiful. Vegetable bottling and fruit preserving without sugar became extremely popular and we have many books on how to make your own at home. These could then be used to sweeten dishes which would ordinarily call for sugar.

Lots of the recipes included in these books are very stodgy so as to be as filling as possible. I couldn’t believe how many varieties of porridge existed! I listed recipes for Scot’s Porage Oats, hominy porridge, wheatmeal porridge, milk porridge, semolina porridge, maize porridge, and oatmeal porridge! Porridge was the warmest, most filling, a nutritious way to start the day, and could also be made for the most part with water, a little going a long way.

But it seems the greatest change for most people and the change that was hardest to make and work around was the shortage of meat. There seemed to be quite a furore over whether it was possible to survive without meat in one’s diet. “People are asking, 'Is it safe for me to give up all flesh-foods […] shall I not starve without it?'" ("Health without meat," p. vi). Similarly, there seemed to be a stigma attached to the word "vegetarian": “I hope that, just because people are anxious to eat less flesh-foods on account of the increased prices of meat, fish, etc., they will not be labelled 'vegetarian'!” ("Health without meat," p. v).

Finally,  a recipe that left me highly confused: "Cheese soufflé without cheese." Bizarrely the recipe actually calls for 4 oz. of good, strong dry cheese. The author then goes on to say “This soufflé should have the full flavour of cheese, without the actual cheese itself." ("Health without meat," p. 81). I can only conclude that the author may have been a little hungry by this point!

Thursday, March 29, 2018

Bulgaria's War

A Formation of Specially Trained Bulgarian Assault Troops

I discovered this excellent little summary and accompanying photos at the website of “Eco Dragoyna” a tourist service and development organization registered in Bulgaria. 

Bulgarian Officers Departing a Headquarters

Bulgaria entered WWI on 1 October 1915 on the side of the Central Powers against Great Britain, France, Russia, and Italy, as well as fighting against its enemies of the Balkan Wars: Greece, Serbia, and Romania. The goal was to restore the territories of Macedonia and Dobrudzha lost in 1913, following the Bucharest Peace Treaty.

An Imitation of a British Mark-Series Tank

In the autumn of 1915 the Bulgarian Army won a victory over the Serbians and defeated two French divisions advancing along the valley of the river Vardar. But it received an order from the German Supreme Command to stop its pursuit at the Greek border. The Thessalonian front resulted, dooming the army to three years of positional war for which it had no resources. There were 878,000 men on the front, about 15 percent of the population of the country, with 87,000 soldiers and officers killed on the battlefield. No banner, however, fell into the hands of the enemy.

Two Future Emperors on a State Visit to Sofia—
Karl I of Austria-Hungary and Boris III of Bulgaria

In the summer of 1918, Bulgaria was in deep crisis, its resources were completely exhausted. Between 15 and 18 September, the Macedonian Front was broken at Dobro Pole because of the supremacy of the Allied forces both in number and in technical equipment. The retreat of the army turned into mutiny. The insurgents took the headquarters in Kyustendil, and on 27 September 1918 in Radomir the agrarian leader Raiko Daskalov declared Bulgaria a republic. The insurgent soldiers headed for Sofia, but on 30 September they were crushed near the village of Vladaya. 

Postwar Bulgarian Prime Minister Alexander Stamboliyski (2nd from right) in 1920

On 20 September 1918, the government was forced to sign the Thessalonica Peace under very unfavorable conditions. On 3 October, King Ferdinand I abdicated in favor of his son, King Boris III. The peace treaty, signed on 27 November 1919 in the Paris suburb of Neuilly by the Bulgarian prime minister Alexander Stamboliyski, imposed severe requirements on Bulgaria. The country lost its access to the Aegean Sea and 11,278 sq km of its territory (Western Thrace, the Strumitsa region, Bosilegrad, Tsaribrod, and part of the area of Trun and Kula), and confirmed the clauses of the Bucharest Peace Treaty of 1913 that gave away Southern Dobrudzha to Romania. Heavy reparations of 2.25 billion gold franks, 70,825 head of cattle, and 250,000 tons of coal were imposed on Bulgaria. The army, the police, and the soldiers at the borders could not exceed 30,000 men, and specific kinds of weapons were prohibited. Using the treaty of Neuilly , Greece made Bulgaria sign the so-called convention for "voluntary deportation." In his book Bulgaria After the Neuilly Treaty (1930), the French scholar George Desbont wrote that—following its clauses—Serbia received 2,566 sq km and Greece received 8,000 sq km of Bulgarian territory.

Wednesday, March 28, 2018

The Commonwealth of Virginia's World War One Contribution

Virginians of the 318th Infantry, 80th Division, in France, August 1918

Virginians followed the course of the European war and the nation’s escalating tensions with Germany with interest. Even before U.S. involvement, numerous volunteers from the Commonwealth traveled overseas to fight in foreign military units or to serve as civilian medical personnel or ambulance drivers.

The state’s most prominent war-era figure was President Woodrow Wilson. Even though the Virginia native had moved from the Old Dominion in his childhood and later rose to national prominence as the president of Princeton University and Governor of New Jersey, he entered the dynasty of Virginia-born U.S. presidents on his election in 1912.

After Wilson and the U.S. Congress declared war in April 1917, Virginians responded quickly. In 1918, state draftees numbered 60,836 men, 39 percent of whom were African American. All total, including National Guard units and volunteers, the Commonwealth provided 73,062 soldiers (1.94 percent of the Army).

An excellent new study, Virginia and the Great War: Mobilization, Supply and Combat by Lynn Rainville, is now available and recommended.

Virginia’s military units were the 29th Division, 42nd Division, 80th Division, 510th and 511th Engineer Service Battalions, and Base Hospitals Nos. 41 and 45. At the same time, numerous Virginians also served in other U.S. military units.

29th Division: Trained at Camp McClellan, Anniston, AL, the 29th Division was composed of National Guard units from Delaware, Maryland, New Jersey, and Virginia. It adopted the nickname it still carries today, “Blue and Gray", reflecting the fact that it had units from both sides of the Civil War now standing together against a common foe.

42nd Division: One Virginia National Guard unit comprised of Coastal Artillery soldiers from Roanoke became the 117th Trains Headquarters and Military Police in the 42nd Infantry Division, which received the name “Rainbow Division” during its organization at Camp Mills, Long Island, New York, in 1917. Then chief of staff Colonel Douglas MacArthur noted that, as the division was made of National Guard units from 26 states, it “stretches like a Rainbow from one end of America to the other.”

80th Division: Four Virginia units comprised of draftees included the 318th Infantry, 317th Infantry, 34th Machine Gun Battalion, and 319th Ambulance Company. The 80th Division was first organized on 5 August 1917 in the National Army and headquartered at Camp Lee, VA.

510th and 511th Engineer Service Battalions: Two African American military units from Virginia were organized at Camp Lee, VA, and were made up of black soldiers (draftees) and white officers and non-commissioned officers.

The Newport News, Virginia, Victory Arch

Base Hospital No. 41: Sponsored by the University of Virginia, funded by the Elks War Relief Committee.

Base Hospital No. 45: Sponsored by the Medical College of Virginia, funded by Richmond Chapter, Red Cross.

Over 100,000 Virginians served in WWI, with over 3,700 dying from disease, combat, and training accidents.

Adapted and excerpted from the Virginia WWI Centennial website:

Tuesday, March 27, 2018

Thunder in the Argonne
Reviewed by Peter L. Belmonte

Thunder in the Argonne: 
A New History of America's Greatest Battle

by Douglas V. Mastriano
University Press of Kentucky, 2018

Soldiers of the 89th Division at Stenay Moments Before the Armistice

The Meuse-Argonne Offensive was the largest "battle" in American history. With its centennial upon us (September 2018), it is fitting that a book be published covering this offensive, part of the Allied push that ended the war. Douglas V. Mastriano has added to our understanding of the events of that offensive in this book. Colonel Mastriano is Director of Theater Intelligence, Department of Military Strategy, Planning and Operation, at the U.S. Army War College. Among his previous works is an award-winning book about Sergeant Alvin York, Alvin York: A New Biography of the Hero of the Argonne (Lexington, 2014). Mastriano covers each section of the battle line chronologically, and almost all of the American divisions are mentioned, some in more depth than others. The 35th and 79th Divisions are singled out because of their failure in the first part of the battle, although the 79th, a green unit that was given the hardest assignment on the first day, rebounded somewhat. Mastriano mentions the 33rd Division, on the American right flank, as an example of the proper execution of tactics early in the battle. In addition, and what sets this book apart from others on the topic, the author includes much on the German side of the battle.

The Author on a 2006 Visit to the Argonne
Mastriano expertly weaves into his narrative the stories of individuals who made a difference. Of course, there were thousands of instances of valor, witnessed and otherwise, and it's impossible to capture them all. But Mastriano has done a good job of selecting a representation of the grit and determination of the Americans who fought in the offensive. Some of the men and incidents in the book are well known. For example, most readers are familiar with Sergeant Alvin York, Lieutenant Sam Woodfill, and Major Charles Whittlesey and the "Lost Battalion." But the exploits of men like Major James E. Rieger and Captain Charles Harris are less well known. Mastriano emphasizes that these men, and others like them, persevered through strength of character. These men made an impact that "echoes across the generations inch into eternity" (p. 353).

The author is firmly of the opinion that the American Expeditionary Forces (AEF) triumphed despite General John J. Pershing, whom he portrays as distracted, petty, and tactically inept. This is debatable; Pershing was put into an almost impossible position. The pressures he faced should not be discounted; he had to balance calls for action with his desire to continue to adequately train his men prior to committing them to battle. Certainly his leadership style, with his penchant for relieving subordinate commanders who failed to perform adequately, fostered mistrust and stifled initiative.

But there is evidence that Pershing was not as tactically bankrupt as is usually portrayed. Despite his emphasis on "musketry," he advocated the use of combined arms even though training and execution often fell behind the ideal. His insistence on the superiority of the rifle surely needed to be tempered by the reality of modern war. In the end, as shown by Mastriano, the AEF learned in the field under fire. In any event, this review is not the appropriate venue for a debate about the state and evolution of American tactics during the war; suffice it to say that neither the Americans, the British, nor the French had a monopoly on tactical mistakes and occasional ineptitude, even as late as the summer of 1918. Likewise, many historians would do well to at least acknowledge the fact that the AEF faced a steep learning curve; they learned perhaps even quicker than their allies.

The author's method of referring to U.S. units is inconsistent and somewhat annoying. In a single paragraph we find: "35th Division," "35th," "U.S. 92nd Division," "U.S. 1st Infantry Division," and "1st Division." He consistently, and erroneously, refers to the 1st Division as the 1st Infantry Division, a name that became standard in later years when the creation of armored and cavalry divisions made the insertion of the modified "Infantry" necessary. But this can be considered a pet peeve, and it doesn't detract from the historical value of the work. He also refers to the 77th Division as a New York National Guard division when, in fact, it was a National Army division composed initially of draftees from the New York metropolitan area. Again, this is a minor concern that doesn't affect the overall work.

There are many photographs of the men who fought and numerous helpful maps of the battle. Mastriano used a wide variety of primary and secondary sources; his research in German archives has borne fruit in showing their side of the story. Mastriano's bibliography contains more than 450 resources, ample fodder for further reading. There are at least two other recent books covering the Meuse-Argonne Offensive: Edward Lengel's To Conquer Hell (New York, 2008) and Mitch Yockleson's Forty-Seven Days: How Pershing's Warriors Came of Age to Defeat the German Army (New York, 2016). Mastriano's work complements, rather than replaces them. This book is recommended to those who want to read a fine account of this offensive and to those who would like to learn about the German side of the fighting.

Peter L. Belmonte

Monday, March 26, 2018

The Tourch of Neuville-Saint-Vaast

You, the living who pass by this torch,
raised above the bloody battlefield,
survey this ground replete with graves
and think of our dead whose hearts were good.

The huge Torch of Peace rising out of the ground west of Neuville-Saint-Vaast in the Artois of France was designed to symbolize a fresh start for the 1,500 villagers who returned to live there  after the turmoil of war. Not one building was left standing in the village by the end of the Great War.

Seized by the Germans in October 1914, this heavily fortified position was retaken in 1915 by the French after two weeks of incessant fighting that cost the lives of more than 5,000 men and left the village in ruins. That day of liberation, 9 May, is forever inscribed on a plaque which girdles the famous torch-holding hand. In 1932, on the day of the memorial's inauguration in the grounds of the Neuville Home for Disabled Veterans, white stone from the rubble of the flattened village was placed around its base as a symbol of the destruction.

Roadside View of the Torch

In addition to the torch, the entrance to the Home was once marked by a monumental concrete arch, but this is now gone. The Home came into being when the various belligerents of the Great War set up national cemeteries in the area. They employed disabled war veterans to maintain and guard the cemeteries. However, at that time the region of Artois had no suitable accommodation for the veterans, some of whom were severely handicapped. Just like the phoenix on its coat of arms, Neuville-Saint-Vaast rose from the ashes of the Great War.

Sunday, March 25, 2018

The Haber Process in War and Peace

By James Patton

Many have heard of the brilliant German chemist Fritz Haber (1868–1934), infamously remembered as the Father of Chemical Warfare due to his work developing and deploying weaponized chlorine, phosgene and diphosgene, and considered by some to be a quintessential "mad scientist." However, gas was actually his second-most important contribution to WWI. For what was vicariously his most important contribution, Haber received the Nobel Prize for Chemistry in 1918.

Fritz Haber
In 1909 Haber first demonstrated the Haber Process (also called the Haber-Bosch Process) by which he successfully synthesized ammonia, which is a precursor to the synthesis of nitrates and nitrates, which form the basis for both fertilizers and explosives. With the major natural sources of these substances denied to the Central Powers by the Royal Navy’s blockade, without the synthetic ammonia they would have quickly run out of ammunition, making the Haber Process probably the single most important factor that prolonged and intensified the war, so that it could be a horrific disaster.  

Born to a Jewish family in Breslau, Prussia, Haber’s father ran his family’s chemical works, making dyes, paints, and drugs. Haber received his doctorate from the Frederick Wilhelm University in Berlin in 1891. After a brief stint in the family business, he agreed to convert to Lutheranism to get a position in the laboratory of Hans Bunte (1848–1925) at the Technical Institute of Karlsruhe (Baden), and in 1898 he received a royal appointment to the faculty there. During this time he married the brilliant Clara Immerwahr (1870–1915), one of the first women to hold a doctorate in chemistry.

While at Karlsruhe Haber became interested in the work of his French colleague Henri Louis Le Chatelier (1850–1936), who in 1894 postulated the principle that bears his name, which he stated as:

When any system at equilibrium is subjected to change in concentration, temperature, volume, or pressure, the system readjusts itself to counteract the effect of the applied change and a new equilibrium is established.

To physical chemists this meant that chemical reactions could be reversible. Haber was particularly interested in producing ammonia (NH₃) from gaseous nitrogen and hydrogen. Ammonia is found in nature, a waste byproduct of living organisms and previous research had successfully decomposed natural ammonia into elemental nitrogen and hydrogen. Pursuant to Le Chatelier’s Principle, Haber reasoned that the process could be reversed, and on an industrial scale. If he was right the result would be a significant find because natural ammonia was scarce. 

Haber’s desired chemical reaction is expressed thus: N₂ + 3H₂  → 2NH₃

Sounds simple, but the process proved to be complicated, involving a pressure vessel and a metal catalyst, originally osmium (Os), which is the densest element and not abundant. Later research by Carl Bosch (1874–1940) of BASF led to the satisfactory substitution of iron compounds, particularly magnetite (Fe3O4), which dramatically reduced the production cost. Years later, Bosch shared a Nobel for Chemistry in 1931. 

Haber on Right in the Laboratory

There are six steps to the process, which occur as the pressure and temperature are increased (adsorbed means accumulated on the surface of the catalyst, akin to freezing rain adhering to a car window):

1. N2 (g) → N2 (adsorbed)
2.  N2 (adsorbed) → 2 N (adsorbed)
3.  H2 (g) → H2 (adsorbed)
4.  H2 (adsorbed) → 2 H (adsorbed)
5.  N (adsorbed) + 3 H(adsorbed)→ NH3 (adsorbed)
6. NH3 (adsorbed) → NH3 (g)

The process requires pressure at 2,200 to 3,600 psi and a temperature of 750 to 930°F. In this environment, the mixture of 3 parts hydrogen gas to 1 part nitrogen gas is repeatedly passed over the catalyst. On each cycle about 15% conversion occurs until 97% conversion is attained. 

The Haber Process is not just a footnote in history. It remains vitally important to humanity, as ammonia-based fertilizers are used everywhere to increase and improve crop yields and start "Green Revolutions." Without these chemicals half of us would starve.

Saturday, March 24, 2018

Who Was Admiral Friedrich von Ingenohl?

Admiral von Ingenohl (1857–1933) was actually Germany's first commander of the High Seas fleet during the war. He tried to develop a scheme for using the Kaiser's "Luxury Fleet" to engage the Grand Fleet in a quick, decisive action. However, he was frustrated by the Kaiser's unwillingness to endanger his capital ships in a major action against the numerically superior British.   

His early efforts involved coastal raiding, laying mines, and depending on the U-boats. Naturally, he was accused of inaction. His star began to wane with the annihilation of von Spee's squadron in the Battle of the Falklands, and his lack of support of Hipper's force at Dogger Bank in January 1915 lost him the confidence of the battlecruiser captains. He was replaced by Admiral Hugo von Pohl in February 1915 and reassigned to the Baltic.  Later, though, he would receive much credit for the combat readiness the High Seas Fleet displayed during the Battle of Jutland.

A Battleship Squadron of the High Seas Fleet Under Way

Friday, March 23, 2018

The Great Explosion of Lille

Click on Image to Enlarge

On 11 January 1916, at 3:30 a.m., Lille was rocked by a violent explosion that could be heard as far away as Holland. A bright yellow flash lit up the sky—the 18 Ponts munitions depot had just exploded. The German Army had been using an old fortified outwork, comprising 18 arches (the source of its French name), to store large quantities of explosives and munitions. Undoubtedly accidental, the explosion left a crater 150 metres wide and 30 metres deep on one side of boulevard de Belfort. Twenty-one factories and 738 houses were brought down in the Moulins district of the city. One hundred and four civilians died, 30 Germans and nearly 400 people were wounded, including 116 severely.

This catastrophe, commemorated by the  monument on rue de Maubeuge shown above, was one of the saddest episodes of the "terrible years" of the German occupation which ran from October 1914 to October 1918. Throughout those 210 long weeks martial law ruled the city of Lille, cutting it off from the rest of the country. Families could obtain no news of their fathers and sons who were engaged in the fighting or held as prisoners of war. Life was very hard; the occupiers pillaged the factories and confiscated anything of use that they could find in people's houses, such as bicycles, horses, metal, and even mattresses and pillows.

Damage on a Nearby Street in Lille

In addition to the material privations, 10,000 citizens of Lille, mostly young women, were "deported" from the city in April 1916 and sent to work in the farms of Aisne and Ardennes. In a city where only 35,000 inhabitants out of 150,000 could provide for themselves, food soon became an acute problem. Toward the end of the occupation civilian rations were down to 300 grams of coarse wholemeal bread and 60 grams of bacon a fortnight. During the terrible years 22,911 deaths were registered for only 8,594 births. But the people of Lille did not give in to the hostage-taking, imprisonments, and deportations—many heroes gave their lives to further the cause of the resistance.

Source: Remembrance Trails — Northern France

Thursday, March 22, 2018

Why France Stayed the Course at Salonika

A Parisian in Salonika
France stuck steadfastly to a Balkan campaign while half her coalfields and the iron ore of Briey and Longwy had fallen into the clutches of Germany... France obviously had certain territorial designs in
the eastern Mediterranean—in the first instance this involved the possession of Syria and Cilicia and included, at least in the first half of the war, Palestine.

But the possession of Syria merely reflected a deeply held conviction that France's future was inextricably bound up with her standing in the Near East. It masked, therefore, a much broader aim, to carve out as wide a sphere of influence as possible in the whole area. Thus, while campaigns on the Western Front might help France win the war, those in the east would play as important a role in aiding her to win the peace. In a strategic sense, then, the Salonika expedition was a lever for French ambitions in a wide area. More immediately, however, it was used as the vehicle by which France would acquire direct economic and hence political influence in the area closely affected by the presence of her army.

All of these factors made it most unlikely that France and England would be able to cooperate fully in the Salonika venture, especially when there were few in England who even favored the continuation of the campaign. France's underlying strategic motivation inevitably cut across British interests in the Mediterranean balance of power, while her commercial and political aspirations in Greece and Macedonia ran counter to British policy, which in this part of the world at least, was more concerned with winning the war as soon as possible.

Professor D.J. Dutton, University of Liverpool
"The Balkan Campaign and French War Aims in the Great War"

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

100 Years Ago: The Commencement of Operation MICHAEL Marks the End of Trench Warfare

German Soldiers Infiltrating a British Position, Spring 1918 (AWM)

31 October 1914 was the day the war of movement on the Western Front stopped. Afterward, there would be no big breakthroughs until 1918, and 41 months of stagnant, but bloody, trench warfare would ensue. By mid-day on 31 October 1914 there were no more flanks, just one last gap in the entire line from the Swiss border to the English Channel where a breakthrough seemed possible. It was at a place five miles east of Ypres on the grounds of Gheluvelt Chateau, just north of the Menin Road. 

Shortly before noon, the line of the British 1st Division was broken at Gheluvelt. If at that moment German reinforcements available close at hand could thrust through the gap and spread out fanwise, they could have rolled up the defenders on either flank in their rear and simply broken the cohesion of the British in Flanders to pieces. The impulse of retreat began to seize the British troops. Already men and guns were streaming back toward Ypres. The Germans quickly assembled 13 battalions for a final follow-through attack. 

General Charles FitzClarence, commanding the British Army 1st Brigade, was nearby and saw the declining situation. At Polygon Wood north of Gheluvelt, he got hold of the 2nd Worcestershires, part of the reserve of the 2nd Division on the north, and ordered them to counterattack immediately. This movement had scarcely begun when a shell burst in Hooge Chateau, where the staff of both divisions had assembled for a conference, practically destroying them. 

Plugging the Last Gap at Gheluvelt
31 October 1918

But the Worcestershires—a tiny force of eight officers and 360 men—swept all before them nonetheless. They fell upon their adversaries, who were mostly Bavarians, and drove them back in confusion from the chateau grounds. The line was reestablished. The Western Front of the Great War was effectively completed. General FitzClarence, sadly, did not have much longer to live. He died on 11 November 1914 in fighting along the Menin Road, where many more would fall in the remaining four years of war. 

The years of trench warfare gave the general staffs time to study the problem of breaking the trench lines and conduct experiments—almost all of which failed—to accomplish this. By 1918, however, the combatants all had solutions they thought would do the trick, some combination of infiltration tactics, better artillery registration, shorter and more intense barrages of high explosive and gas, tanks, better coordination of infantry, engineers, artillery, and logistical support, etc. 

The first general to apply his new "package" of trench-busting techniques was German Quartermaster General Erich von Ludendorff. He planned to defeat the British Army north of Paris and then force the French to seek terms. His staff was instructed to develop a series of offensives targeting either the British directly or the French to fix them in place, reluctant to send reinforcement to their Allies. There were five major attacks that came to be called the "Ludendorff Offensives"—one each month from March to July–—and one for August that was canceled when the French and Americans launched the first Allied counteroffensive of the year. 

The Man of the Hour
Col. Bruchmüller
The first, and most memorable, German operation of 1918, Operation MICHAEL, was launched in the Somme sector on 21 March. We will be covering the Ludendorff Offensives in all the publications of in the ensuing months, but the initial success of MICHAEL stunned the world, not to say the British Army. 

In Ludendorff's package of solutions, the key was artillery. Col. Georg Bruchmüller, an obscure officer retired for nervous problems in 1913 but recalled to duty for the war, developed German artillery techniques to a fine art by the time of the Ludendorff Spring Offensives of 1918. The essence of the Bruchmüller artillery preparation was a carefully orchestrated, short but intense bombardment designed to isolate, demoralize, and disorganize enemy defenders. 

The effect was increased by surprise. At the start of the German offensive on 21 March 1918, Bruchmüller began his bombardment with ten minutes of gas shells to force the British to mask, followed by four hours and 25 minutes of mixed gas and high explosives. The preparatory fires shifted back and forth so that the British did not know when the artillery was actually lifting for the infantry advance. Meanwhile, automatic rifle teams moved as close as possible to the British positions during the bombardment. When the Germans did advance, they moved behind a rolling barrage, further enhanced by intense fog. The combination of surprise, brevity, intensity, and carefully selected targets was unique. The power of this initial assault and exploitation allowed a 40-mile penetration and the capture of 1,200 sq. miles of territory. However, the Allies weren't beaten—the British Army didn't break and the French provided sufficient reinforcements—and the German push lost its moment. Ludendorff's solution was to apply his solution to other areas of the Western Front and hope for better results 

Tuesday, March 20, 2018

The Last Battle...
Reviewed by David F. Beer

The Last Battle: Victory, Defeat, and the End of World War I

by Peter Hart
Oxford University Press, 2018

Canadian Wounded, Battle of Amiens, 8 August 1918

If you're familiar with any of Peter Hart's previous books you'll have an idea of what to expect in this one: solid historical information punctuated by relevant quotations from the soldiers who were there. The author is oral historian at the Imperial War Museum in London and has access to large archives of original testimonies from those who fought in the Great War. He has put these materials to impressive use in previous publications such as The Great War, The Somme, and Gallipoli. His latest book, The Last Battle: Victory, Defeat, and the End of World War I, now does a similar job by describing and enlivening the final battles of 1918.

Don't be misled by the book's singular title word "battle". There were several battles in the closing months of the war and Hart devotes ample space to them. Described at length are the Battle of the Meuse-Argonne, the Battle of Canal du Nord, the Fifth Battle of Ypres and the Battle of Courtrai. Later chapters cover the Battles of St Quentin Canal and Beaurevoir, plus the Battles of the Selle and Sambre. Another chapter focuses on the Americans on the Meuse. Two final chapters deal with the "Day of Days," 11 November 1918, and the aftermath of the war. The author does admit that his "emphasis as a British historian is on the British Army with an appreciative reflection on the massive contributions of victory made by the French, American and Belgian forces" (p. x). Descriptions of some of the fighting also reveal considerable admiration for the combat skills of the Canadians, Australians and New Zealanders.

Many of us are more familiar with the opening moves of the war and the tragedies of Gallipoli, the Somme, Verdun, and Passchendaele than we are with the endgame of the conflict. I'm one of these people and am thankful for this book—it enabled me to see more completely the total movement and costs of the war. For example, the Germans lost over 40,000 officers and 1,181,577 other ranks between the launching of their spring offensives on 21 March and 1 October 1918. (p. 243)

Advancing New Zealanders Passing Through Bapaume, 14 September 1918

These and other statistics are made all the more hard-hitting by the numerous interspersed quotations from soldiers involved in the conflict. These first-person accounts give us considerable empathy for the attitudes and feelings of those who fought in the last days, those who were there at the end—and especially for those who didn't quite make it. Up to the end (and even beyond) stray shells and other quirks of fortune obliterated the lives of many who were looking forward to peace, going home, and putting their civilian clothes back on. Much is made of other concerns looming behind the fighting in these last months. I found the analysis of President Wilson's Fourteen Points and the hope they inspired in the Germans (but not the Allies) to be interesting. The author sees them thus:

The Fourteen Points were a somewhat idealistic attempt to set a course for global harmony between nations. Given the often pernicious nature of America's relationship with Central American countries, there was more than a whiff of hypocrisy about this assumed position of moral superiority. (p. 247)

Politics and personalities involved in the cease-fire agreements were complex and often cantankerous. Trust was in short supply. Typical of British idiom and attitude was General Henry Rawlinson's memo, which opened with the observation that "The Bosche [sp.] is really squealing now, but I am not sure that he will not wiggle out of the hole we have got him into, unless we Allies, and especially the Americans and ourselves, keep a stiff upper lip". (p. 252) Relationships between leading figures, military and civilian, were touchy and even petty, and as Hart states, "All this political wrangling leaves an unpleasant taste in the mouth when one considers that men were being maimed and dying in huge numbers with every day that passed. By this time, most soldiers and civilians wanted as early an end to the war as possible." (p.263)

The book's final chapter, "Aftermath", is in some ways the most interesting and moving. Other studies have described the soldier's experience once the war ended, and in many ways it was the same whether the soldier was British, American, or French. The big question—What are we going to do now? (p. 355) The author brings this into perspective in several ways. Many did not leave the army as soon as they wanted to and were to become part of the occupation forces, where a variety of experiences, good and bad, awaited them. Others were assigned to help clean up the battlefields, a job that "was both gruesome and dangerous at times." (p. 378) As one British corporal wrote: We were then employed on a task which I thought was disgusting. I had to take working parties out to clear up all sorts of rubbish, dud bombs, dud shells, which were still killing men long after the war was over. The whole countryside was littered with lethal weapons which might go up at any time We lost one or two men through these shells…(p. 379)

Ironically, however, it didn't take long before the business of "battlefield tourism" began to flourish. Meanwhile, the British army began its colossal job of demobilizing over three million men, the process of which proved to involve far more administrative paperwork than enlistment had. And these new civilians, like so many of their French and American counterparts, were to find that their last battle was not fought in 1918. They now "had to fight to retain their self-respect in a society that did not seem to care one iota for their welfare. For some these would be the greatest battles of all." (p. 395)

Near the End: German Prisoners and American Wounded Being Evacuated

This is a rich and comprehensive book, one I can certainly recommend. If, like me, you have tended to study the earlier and middle parts of the Great War more than its tumultuous final moves, then Peter Hart's The Last Battle will give you a solid view of what happened as the war drew painfully to its end.

David F. Beer

Monday, March 19, 2018

100 Years Ago: Moscow Becomes Russia's Capital

In March 1918, as a matter of prudence and precaution, Lenin made the decision to move the seat of his government to Moscow.

November 1918: Lenin at Red Square, Moscow, on the First Anniversary of the Revolution

His new government, which came to power in a coup d'etat organized primarily by Leon Trotsky, was susceptible to the same sort of overthrow. Petrograd was a politically active city with lots of monarchists, anarchists, socialists, and angry liberals still roaming the street. Furthermore, its location was difficult to defend. Its location on the coast made it vulnerable to landing parties, and it was just 20 miles from Finland, where a civil war had broken out in January 1918. Germany sent troops there, and should the anti-Bolsheviks prevail there—which they eventually did—hostile troops would have only a short distance to travel to occupy the capital.

Military Rehearsal at Red Square (Reuters)

Today, there is speculation that St. Petersburg native Vladimir Putin dreams of moving Russia's capital back to his hometown. But in the 21st century, Moscow has become an even more concentrated center for Russia's economy, military, and resurgent religion.

Sunday, March 18, 2018

Ford's Model T at War

One of Henry Ford's Ambulances at the USAF National Museum

During World War I, the Allies used thousands of Model T cars and trucks because of their low cost and ease of repair. The ambulance version's light weight made it well suited for use on the muddy and shell-torn roads in forward combat areas. If stuck in a hole, a group of soldiers could lift one without much difficulty. By 1 November 1918, 4,362 Model T ambulances had been shipped overseas. 

The light wooden body was mounted on a standard Model T auto chassis. The 4-cylinder engine produced about 20 hp. There was no self-starter; the engine had to be cranked by hand. This vehicle was equipped with an early form of automatic transmission and could carry three litters or four seated patients and two more could sit with the driver. Canvas "pockets" covered the litter handles that stuck out beyond the tailgate. Many American field service and Red Cross volunteer drivers, including writers Ernest Hemingway and Bret Harte and cartoonist Walt Disney, drove Model T ambulances. 

Another Adaption from the Model T Was the Light Delivery Vehicle
Over 5,000 Were Delivered to the AEF
On Display at the National World War I Museum

"Hunka Tin," a poem written as a parody on Rudyard Kipling's "Gunga Din," appeared in the American Field Service Bulletin and was used in Ford dealers' advertising throughout the United States. The final stanza read: 

Yes, Tin, Tin, Tin.
You exasperating puzzle, Hunka Tin.
I've abused you and I've flayed you,
But by Henry Ford who made you,
You are better than a Packard, Hunka Tin. 

In addition to the specimens shown here, which is at the U.S. Air Force National Museum, you can also see an example at the  Walt Disney Family Museum at the Presidio of San Francisco. Disney drove a Model T ambulance in France just after the war ended.

Saturday, March 17, 2018

The Live and Let Live System

[Editors note 1. This is an article I ran across a few years ago. It's very informative, but seems to me that it assume that uniform anti-war, defeat-the-high-command, and solidarity with fellow proletariat of the enemy predominated in the front lines throughout the war.]

The General Staff issued orders and directives to its soldiers at a prodigious rate. Rather than revealing that soldiers were not performing their duties, this demonstrates the desire of the authorities to control the soldiers' behavior. It must be remembered that Britain’s army in the Great War was composed largely of the working classes from the most hierarchical and deferential industrial society in the world... 

Scottish Soldiers, Typical of the British Troops in the Early War

The General Staff and the political powers, who acted to continue the war and command the soldiers, felt the soldier must be considered as an agent. Following this, it can be seen that some soldiers rejected the war outright: M. Ward wrote in December 1915, that he did "not want to see any more fighting or hear any more shells coming over." This rejection has been described by Tony Ashworth in his analysis of how soldiers were able to control and radically alter their situation, reducing the danger within their surroundings. This was accomplished through the "live and let live" policy, described by Edmund Blunden as one of the "soundest elements in trench war." Live and let live was defined as a truce in which enemies stopped fighting by agreement for a period of time. R.J.T. Evans (LC) in a letter dated November 1915 illustrates this when he wrote that whilst in a trench German soldiers called out, "you no shoot, we no shoot." Relieving troops moving into the front line were able to take on the trench and possible truce, and acquaint themselves with the potential hazards in the area. This is illustrated by A.J. Abrahams’s memoir which described such a manoeuvre, when soldiers would enquire about the attitude in the area by asking, "any shit about?"

This exchange of ideas was also enabled by the architecture of the trenches. The transverse structure of the trenches, which was designed to prevent enfilading fire along the whole length of the trench, also acted to group men together along a line. Usually these positions were held by a small group of soldiers from the same section performing a tour of duty. This distribution allowed the soldiers, to some extent, to avoid surveillance by the commanding officer, which facilitated the live and let live principle, as well as encouraging the communication between men of attitudes, actions, and principles.

Some junior officers may have also connived in this policy of sociability and of keeping aggression to a minimum. Live and let live was therefore a refusal of the values and outlook dictated by the military hierarchy and it alleviated the violence and danger in the landscape, altering the "space of death" within it.

From: "Archaeology on the Battlefields: An Ethnography of the Western Front"
Published in Assemblage 11 (2011): 1-14 

French Troops Just Trying to Have a Meal During a Gas Alert

[Editor's note 2. For my two cents worth, I think it might have been more related to practical matters and involved tacit understandings rather than communications between the troops. For instance, if the other side was bombarding your ration parties as your dinner was being brought up and you were going hungry as a result, the opposition was damn well not going to get fed either.]

Friday, March 16, 2018

Remembering a Veteran: Private Louis Ziegra, Yankee Division, AEF

"One of the Bravest Men They Had Ever Seen"

Private Louis Ziegra After the War

By Terrence Finnegan
Excerpted From:  A Delicate Affair on the Western Front: America Learns How to Fight a Modern War in the Woëvre Trenches

Private Louis Ziegra of the 26th Division, 102nd Infantry, battled single-handedly an entire 30-man German patrol on 15 April 1918. Here's an account of the action—

At the regimental line dividing the 101st Infantry and 102nd Infantry, two men dressed in American uniforms speaking perfect English arrived at a 102nd Infantry’s company PC at Marvoisin  purporting to be on a liaison mission from the 101st Infantry requiring sketches of the adjoining sector and the latest password. The officer at the PC declined to accede to the request, but his suspicions were not sufficiently aroused to hold the men. The men departed, passed a company runner, and proceeded north in the direction of the German lines. Something was in the works for that sector.

Later that night, a 30-man Zug (platoon) from  7 Company, Reserve Infantry Regiment 258 (7/258), under command of Leutnant Frederich, conducted a patrol one kilometer into American lines near Xivray on the regimental sector line separating 102nd Infantry to the east and 101st Infantry to the west. Frederich’s Zug also included several Husaren [cavalrymen] that had just been sent to the front as infantry. 7/258 intercepted the Company H rations and mail wagon heading towards Marvoisin. After passing Xivray, the wagon was moving eastward, passing over a stone bridge across the Rupt de Mad. It was a still night with the wagon making the only noise. 

The Action Described Took Place Along the Blue Track

Three men were on the wagon, the driver, the acting company mess-sergeant (actually private) Louis “Louie” R. Ziegra, and a rifleman serving as the guide sitting inside the wagon. They were heading to the front lines to Company H. Private Harry Marvin was looking forward to seeing his best friend Louie as well as receiving rations and mail. As the wagon approached the bridge bullets flew killing both mules. Private Ziegra fired back, killing one of the Husaren with a shot to the head. Stosstruppen jumped on the wagon and grabbed the driver. The driver was hit over the head with a rifle and fell backward into the wagon. The guide in the back took a bullet to the wrist and fell to the floor. Both proceeded to play dead. Then the fight began. Private Ziegra was shot at close range with a Becker-Hollander small-calibre pistol. The bullet entered his chin, missed the jaw bone and exited near the right nostril. Despite the blood spurting from his head, Ziegra didn’t stop pummeling the German Stosstruppen that jumped him. Soon he was overpowered and taken away as a prisoner. Vizefeldwebel Ettighoffer remembered the American violently lashing out with his fists, flooring a German with each blow. Several assailants had bloody noses, a few broken teeth, and black eyes. With the struggle over, the Germans robbed the wagon of mail and rations, and proceeded back to their lines with Private Ziegra. 

Private Marvin: “They had to fight to carry him off and had there been four or five instead of 20 or 30 they never in this world would have taken him.” At the opportune moment both driver and guide sprang up and ran north into the Company H kitchen area where they described the fracas. A patrol quickly went out looking for Louie but found instead rubber waders, a sack of second-class mail, tins of corned beef, and an American and German helmet at a break point through the barbed wire. Iron crosses from the scuffle were awarded to nine Stosstruppen. Gefreiter Stollenwerk was promoted to Unteroffizier and the rest of the raiding party were given leave.

Ziegra's Fellow Soldiers of the 102nd Infantry
Five Days Later They Would Be Targeted in the Famous Raid on Seicheprey

Private Louie Ziegra became a legend among the Germans. He was a 25-year-old second-generation German-American whose father, Richard, bitterly opposed the German militarism of the time. Lieutenant Joseph P. Burke, an American officer captured that Saturday at Seicheprey, reported after returning from Germany in late 1918 that a German officer commented on Private Ziegra, stating that he was considered one of the bravest men they had ever seen. It was said that he had killed or knocked unconscious several of his captors while fighting with bare hands. It became necessary to knock him out with a rifle butt and carry him back to German lines. Not only did Ettighoffer write about the incident, but General der Artillerie von Gallwitz also mentioned Ziegra’s fighting spirit in his postwar memoirs: “An American of the 26th Division, captured at the southern front by Xivray had defended himself mightily and refused all testimony.”

Private Ziegra’s capture made the western village of Marvoisin off limits to all vehicles bringing rations supply. Two weeks later orders were generated stating that Marvoisin was to be abandoned during the evening hours. A stand-to position was established across the Rupt de Mad and along the “Q” trench. 

In his lifetime, Private Ziegra never received recognition for his valor that night. He was awarded a Purple Heart for his wounds in the action.