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

Tuesday, July 31, 2018

California at War
Reviewed by Courtland Jindra

California at War: The State and the People During World War I

by Diane M. T. North
University Press of Kansas 2018

California Draftees of the 91st Division Training at Camp Lewis, Washington

When I first heard about this book being released, I was very excited. It's somewhat easy to find books, or websites, devoted to the efforts of Eastern and many Midwestern states in the Great War. For the most part, once the story gets west of the Mississippi, less is available to read. Considering I am heavily involved in the commemoration of the war in California, I'd been wanting to find a book like this since 2014! I put it on my birthday gift idea list and eagerly waited until the book ended up in my possession.

Dr. North no doubt did her research. Though the book runs nearly 500 pages, nearly 40 percent of the text is notes, indexes, and the like. California at War, much like the American Experience PBS series from last year, heavily tilts toward social history. A lengthy introduction sets the scene, and then the volume is broken down into three main sections: the war overseas, the home front, and the security state.

The chapters on the war overseas are filled with information (some of which was new to me), and yet they feel somewhat cursory. Both the men and the women who made it to Europe are profiled. I rather had the feeling that Dr. North would have skipped this section entirely if she could have. This is unfortunate since it was the part of the book I had the most interest in. However, I have no question that it was the topic that was of least appeal to the author.

The book then moves to the home front, filled to the brim with information on the war economy, wages for workers, the influenza pandemic, the military bases that sprung up here, the agricultural boom, and topics of that sort. The author pointed out the efforts to round up slackers and made it seem like it was a huge crisis. However, when she related the numbers of those who tried getting out of serving, it was a very low percentage. All in all, the section on the home front was a bit dry but still interested me. If you are curious about patriotic civilian organizations, inflation, scientific experiments in the name of the war effort, the numbers of tons of supplies, or the vast logistical effort that the Golden State contributed, these chapters are for you.

Finally we come to the stuff that Dr. North obviously was most interested in. She delves into and dissects various organizations such as the American Protective League, the Council of Defense, and other organizations that spied on and intimidated people in order to try and quash dissent. The levels of the surveillance network were quite amazing considering the time period and it is somewhat eye-opening what some older folks can do if they are bored, have a cause, and a lot of time on their hands!

I know she meant these chapters to be scary and horrific for the reader—and in many ways they were. However, I could not share her all-consuming outrage. Dr. North's political bent seeps in all through the book—and I guess I can't fault that. However, there's only so many times I could read her blaming "white men" for such things. (E.g. pages 222, 232, 243.)

Dr. North is a big social justice believer, and something about her righteous tone got under my skin. I knew what I was in for early on when she described Emma Goldman simply as an "anti-war and birth control advocate." This is about as innocent a description as I could possibly imagine for the anarchist philosopher. North largely blames moneyed interests for getting us into the war to begin with (both in the introductory and epilogue chapters), which is a point of view I've always felt makes Wilson look like a pawn of big banks and business, which he most definitely wasn't.

"San Francisco's Own", the 363rd Infantry, 91st Division, Welcomed Home at City Hall

Just about every book on the war has a point of view on things—whether the war should have been fought or not, whether the generals were donkeys, etc. So once more, I am not saying she can't let her voice come through into her work. It's just that I guess I was hoping for more "war" in a book called California at War. Instead, like some of the critics of the American Experience TV series from last year, what I got was a book that said we weren't justified in going to war, truncated the ACTUAL war (and its memory), downplayed the legitimate concerns of German sabotage, pointed out how out of control the crusade against un-Americanism was, and generally made white men look like fanatics.

And saying all that, I'm glad I read it, and I'll probably use it as a resource.

Courtland Jindra

Monday, July 30, 2018

Built Under Fire: The Havrincourt Bridge

The Proud Builders on Their Bridge Over Canal du Nord

The Canal du Nord in the Somme Sector was a big obstacle for the Allies to cross when they resumed the offensive in 1918. Begun in 1913, this canal was still under construction at the outbreak of the war. The canal formed a kind of huge trench without water. In September 1918 it defined a front between the British and the German Armies. A British offensive was under preparation by the end of September 1918. If the attack was to succeed, a bridge would have to be built to carry supply vehicles and also to allow for the passage of reinforcements. Earlier in the war the New Zealand Tunnelling Company had shown remarkable engineering ingenuity and developed a sideline specialty in bridge building. They were selected to build the bridge. Its completion done well within the range of German artillery, is considered one of the greatest engineering feats of the war. 

The construction site was not easy. The site was at the point where the Hermies-Havrincourt road crossed the Canal du Nord. The canal passed through a cutting 100 ft deep with a distance of 180 ft between the tops of the smooth brick walled sides. The New Zealand Tunnellers would join two bridges together to form only one large construction. From an engineering point of view the task verged on the impossible. 

On the morning on 27 September 1918, the First and Third British Armies attacked the German front line located near the Canal du Nord. The offensive was the starting signal for the New Zealand Tunnellers bridge-building to begin. In order to optimize the performance, the whole force was divided into two shifts. The first worked from dawn to midday and the second took over from then till dark. At 6 a.m. the New Zealand Tunnellers began work on the skeleton of the bridge. The plan envisaged the erection of the bridge on the west side while on the east side two wooden towers were constructed to pull and to carry the bridge over the canal. 

Under Construction
The bridge structure was placed on slides which would guide the bridge over the canal. In four days, the structure was ready for the great manoeuvre. A counterweight of 20 tons built with rail tailings was placed at the end of the bridge. Winches were installed on the two towers, which could lift a total weight of 70 tons. 

By 5 p.m. on 1 October the launching operation began. Two days later, the structure was slowly slipping away from the other side of the canal. But the weight of the bridge tilted the frame slightly so that it was now 12 foot below the level of the bank. The two wooden towers had only served to pull the bridge over the canal, not to lift it. 

The supreme part of the manoeuvre started. Any failure at this time would have spelt disaster. Both winches operated and slowly lifted the iron structure. Inch by inch, the frame was closer to the level of the bank. Around 6pm, the bridge was lifted several inches above the ground level of the bank. The bridge was slowly pulled for the last time and linked both sides of the Canal. It was an amazing engineering feat for men who had never erected a bridge under such conditions. 

On the site today are a pair of one way bridges one of which bears close resemblance to the Tunneller's bridge of 1918.

Source: The New Zealand Tunnellers Website at:

Recommended: Introducing War Artist Samuel Johnson Woolf

From Army History, Spring 2015

A Night March

By Sarah Forgey

The Army Art Collection recently acquired a number of pieces of important eyewitness artwork from World War I. An artist-correspondent, Samuel Johnson Woolf worked for Collier’s Weekly and spent four months embedded with the American Expeditionary Forces (AEF) in France, sketching in the trenches along the front and behind the lines. Upon his return to New York, Woolf immediately began a series of paintings based on his experiences, which were exhibited at the Milch Galleries in New York City and the Memorial Art Gallery in Rochester, gaining him acclaim as a war artist. . . 

First Aid Station at Seicheprey

Rather than focusing on the impersonal technological advances that changed the face of warfare forever, Woolf often concentrated on the human element. His paintings do not highlight the mechanized and anonymous carnage, fixating instead on the personal stories that he witnessed. Woolf’s sobering authenticity transported his American audience right to the heart of the conflict, as if they too were part of the harrowing events portrayed. . . 

Intelligence Officer Interrogating German Prisoners

Explaining his first few days in the trenches, Woolf said, “You may ‘go in’ thinking you will set to work at once, but so full of strange emotions does your life become that painting is out of the question.” He assisted with the wounded, drove an ambulance, pitched in with cooking when the cook was gassed, and even attempted to rescue some paintings from a local church before it was shelled. . .

Woolf’s 23 paintings are an important addition to the Army Art Collection, which contains very few eyewitness pieces from World War I. While there were officially eight War Department artists documenting the AEF, their work is under the care of the Smithsonian Institution. 

Sarah Forgey is the curator of the U.S. Army Art Collection.

To read her full article and see more of Woolf's paintings, visit:

Sunday, July 29, 2018

11 November 1918 at Compiègne: The German Representatives Declaration

I've overlooked this section in my past readings of the Armistice document.  It's very revealing of the German representatives' fears about what was unfolding back home.

German Delegates Sign the Armistice


The German Government will naturally endeavor with all its power to take care that the duties imposed upon it shall be carried out. The undersigned plenipotentiaries recognize that in certain points regard has been paid to their suggestions. They can therefore regard the comments made on November 9, on the conditions of the armistice with Germany and the answer handed to them on November 10, as an essential condition of the whole agreement.

They must, however, allow no doubt to exist on the point that in particular the short time allowed for evacuation, as well as the surrender of indispensable means of transport, threatens to bring about a state of things which, without its being the fault of the German Government and the German people, may render impossible the further fulfillment of the conditions.

The undersigned plenipotentiaries further regard it as their duty with reference to their repeated oral and written declaration once more to point out with all possible emphasis that the carrying out of this agreement must throw the German people into anarchy and famine. According to the declarations which preceded the armistice, conditions were to be expected which, while completely insuring the military situation of our opponents, would have ended the sufferings of women and children who took no part in the war. 

The German people, which has held its own for 50 months against a world of enemies, will, in spite of any force that may be brought to bear upon it, preserve its freedom and unity.

A people of 70,000,000 suffers but does not die. 


Saturday, July 28, 2018

A Roads Classic: Little-Known AEF Monuments in Europe

Readers may be familiar with the American Battle Monuments grand monuments at Chateau-Thierry, Montfaucon, and Mont Sec near St. Mihiel, but the AEF fought in every area of the Western Front and operated numerous bases far behind the lines. Also, other groups contributed their own memorials to commemorate the  service by U.S. forces. Here is a group of six that are a bit forgotten.

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The ABMC's World War I Naval Monument at Brest, France, stands on the ramparts of the city overlooking the harbor that was a major base of operations for American naval vessels during the war. The original monument built on this site to commemorate the achievements of the U.S. Navy during World War I was destroyed by the Germans on 4 July 1941, prior to the United States entry into World War II. The present structure is a replica of the original and was completed in 1958. The monument is a rectangular rose-colored granite shaft rising 145 feet above the lower terrace and 100 feet above the Cours d'Ajot. It sits upon a German bunker complex at the approximate site of the original monument. All four sides of the monument are decorated with sculptures of naval interest. The surrounding area has been developed as a park.

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The American Cathedral Avenue George V in the 8th Arrondissement of Paris is the site of a little-known memorial to the American Expeditionary Forces.  Its cloister is lined with a system of panels each dedicated to a unit or branch of the American military and volunteer organizations that supported them. The panels identify the unit by name and insignia and lists their number of casualties. The memorial cloister was dedicated on 30 May 1923 by Marshal Ferdinand Foch and the American ambassador, Myron T. Herrick, in the presence of President Raymond Poincaré.

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The State of Tennessee contributed this monument honoring the achievements of its sons in capturing the St. Quentin Canal, thus breaking the Hindenburg Line in September 1918. It is located at the village of Riqueval and the opening of the canal tunnel. It mentions two brigades of the U.S. 30th Division, a formation that was composed mainly of National Guardsmen from Tennessee and the Carolinas.

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The ABMC's Bellicourt American Monument is nine miles north of St. Quentin (Aisne), France on the highway to Cambrai and one mile north of the village of Bellicourt. It is 97 miles north of Paris and three miles from the Somme American Cemetery. Erected above a canal tunnel built by Napoleon I, the monument commemorates the achievements and sacrifices of the 90,000 American troops who served in battle with the British armies in France during 1917 and 1918.

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This new Doughboy statue located at the village of Cantigny is a recent contribution sponsored by the First Division Foundation. Cantigny was captured by the First Division on 28 May 1918 in the first American offensive operation of the war. Your editor, just to the right of the statue, is shown here with his 2011 battlefield tour group.

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The ABMC's World War I Kemmel American Monument is six miles south of Ieper (Ypres), Belgium, near Vierstraat, on the Kemmelberg (Mont Kemmel) Road overlooking the bitterly contested Ypres battlefield. This small monument on a low platform consists of a rectangular white stone block in front of which is carved a soldier's helmet upon a wreath. It commemorates the services and sacrifices of the American troops who, in the late summer of 1918, fought nearby in units attached to the British Army. Some are buried in Flanders Field American Cemetery at Waregem, Belgium, ten miles to the west.

Sources: The ABMC and American Cathedral websites

Friday, July 27, 2018

Gully Ravine at Helles: Missed Opportunity and High-Water Mark

Entrance to Gully Ravine, 1915 and 2009
On Omaha Beach in Normandy there are five cuts or draws that were the keys to U.S. forces exiting the beach on D-Day in 1944. The Gallipoli peninsula has similar features, called "gullies" that run from the Cape Helles and Anzac sector beaches to the higher ground inland. Some gullies at Gallipoli are deep enough to allow troops to advance unseen by enemy forces above them on either side. In both areas these are concentrated on the Aegean side of the peninsula, away from the straits. At Helles, the deepest of these — 30 meters at some points — and the most complex with smaller cuts radiating off its main branch is known, somewhat redundantly, as Gully Ravine. 

Advancing North, Gully Ravine Is Progressively Deeper

Its entrance is off a beach located between Y and X beaches (see map below) that was designated as Y2 when it was considered as a landing site. It runs nearly 5 km directly within half a kilometer of Krithia, the initial objective of the Helles landings.

Gully Ravine was significant twice over during the campaign. On the day of the landing it represented the greatest missed opportunity for a quick knockout blow against the modest, but effective, Turkish forces defending the landing zone. Two thousand troops from three battalions sent to supplement the 29th Division landed unopposed at Y Beach the morning of 25 April. The rugged terrain and a confused command structure kept them from organizing and advancing. One of the battalion commanders, however, discovered Gully Ravine and to his surprise found he was able to view the main objective, Krithia, from Gully's terminus. But a belated decision was made locally to dig in around the beachhead, and shortly afterwards Turkish troops arrived on the scene and attacked immediately. The British forces incurred very heavy casualties, and within 24 hours the beach required evacuation. The opportunity had passed. 

The Allies would never advance as close to their first-day objectives again. Once both sides discovered the strategic value of Gully Ravine it became the site of constant attacks and counterattacks throughout the Helles campaign. It even gave its name to one of the final actions in the sector. 

Gully Ravine in Yellow, Farthest Advance of the Entire Campaign in Red

In late June, in what came to be known as the Battle of Gully Ravine, the 29th Division, supplemented by Indian troops and a brigade of the newly arrived 52nd Division, mounted a limited attack toward Krithia. An advance of 1 km was made despite ferocious counterattacks by Turkish troops. It was the high-water mark of the otherwise failed Helles campaign. After the battle, the high command gave up on any advance from Cape Helles. The first-day objectives of Krithia and Achi Baba were simply unattainable. The main invasion site of the original invasion would simply serve as a diversion until the end of the year, when its evacuation began.

Thursday, July 26, 2018

The Failed U-boat War: One Good Reason

Germany's  U-boat "think tank" miscalculated the Allies' ability to keep up their food production despite major losses of ships and the grain they were carrying at sea. Here historian Holger Herwig of the University of Calgary gets to the nub of the error.

Most critically of all, Holtzendorff and his experts showed a glaring inability to synthesize accurately the bulk of statistical materials on British wheat, grain, and agricultural conditions. For Britain, they assumed that there was no alternative to wheat, thus overlooking other cereal grains almost entirely. Additionally, they failed to recognize that the British planted only 43 acres of wheat per 1,000 population (compared to 308 acres in Germany and 468 acres in France). Overall, the British had been so secure in the belief that the Royal Navy could at all times guarantee food imports that there were fewer acres devoted to cultivated crops in 1915 than there had been before 1913.

Obviously, cultivation could be increased greatly. Most dramatically, the Food Production Department under a Cultivation of Lands Order in 1917 gave county officials the power to force farmers to put about 1 million acres of grasslands under the plow; a similar increase was implemented in 1918; and another was planned for 1919. While this reduced meat stocks by as much as 24 percent, it enhanced net food output by 2.3 million tons. Urban "garden allotments" increased that figure by another 1 million tons. In 1918, which brought the most inclement harvest season in years, wheat production was up over peacetime levels by 1 million tons, oats by 1.4 million, and potatoes by 2.6 million. Recent investigations suggest that Britain turned almost 4 million acres of common and grasslands into grain and vegetable fields over the last two years of the war.

Another cardinal miscalculation by Admiralty Staff planners was in the area of United States grain production. By assuming 1916 wheat output of 640 million bushels to be the norm, they failed to appreciate that 1916 was an off-year due to crop failure already occasioned in part by wheat rust. Normal annual production in 1913, 1914, and 1915 had been 900 million bushels. Thus, while the 1917 wheat crop remained almost the same as that of 1916, the 1918 output again rose to normal levels (921 million bushels). The rye harvest steadily increased from 47.4 million bushels in 1916 to 62.9 million in 1917, and to 91 million in 1918. American wheat and rye exports in 1917-8 stood at almost 1 million tons over prewar levels. Moreover, the "total war" advocates in Berlin conveniently overlooked that the carryover from the 1915 wheat crop on 1 July 1916 stood at 179 million bushels, and that as late as 1 July 1917, it still measured 55.9 million.

From:  Total Rhetoric, Limited War: Germany's U-Boat Campaign 1917–1918; Journal of Military and Strategic Studies; Vol 1, Number 1, 1998

Wednesday, July 25, 2018

The Genesis of New Military Intelligence Methods in World War I

The Basic Problem: "What Is Going On Over There?"

By Terrence J. Finnegan

Military intelligence at the front evolved remarkably during the Great War. Prior to the modern era, intelligence relied on espionage to exploit human frailties for relevant information. Spies and attachés personified traditional intelligence collection, but the rapidly evolving World War I battlefield of 1914 transcended this. Furthermore, the field commander's traditional favorite force arm for intelligence, mobile cavalry, was rendered impotent with the transition to trench warfare. With each passing autumn day in 1914, demand for relevant and timely information increased as enemy forces converged to a territorial stalemate and commenced a strategy of positional war. Come the winter of 1914–15, this static war demanded a constant stream of information, especially, to aid the targeting of field artillery, the most important weapon in the contemporary arsenal. This increased demand for timely and accurate data led to the creation of new sources of intelligence derived from the technologies of the day.

Thanks to the expansion of military intelligence—based on the exploitation of science-—enemy intentions could be gleaned and his forces targeted, and the war evolved into the harvest of death that is remembered to this day. 

One major response to this need for data was met by the air arm. By the end of the first year, the war clearly demonstrated that information acquired from from airplanes was credible and contributed effectively to the conduct of battle. Those who were skeptics about intelligence from aerial reconnaissance at the beginning of the conflict soon became firm disciples for the remainder of the war. 

At the front the military culture was preoccupied with trying to make sense of what constituted success in a stationary environment. They soon learned that whatever advantage there was to be attained required timely access to accurate information. Within the first year French intelligence visionary Capitaine J. De Lennoy De Bissy portrayed information's contribution in simple terms. Data was needed "to follow the destructive work of our Artillery and to register the victorious advance of our Infantry."

To learn more about Terrance Finnegan's books and articles on military history, visit his website at:

Tuesday, July 24, 2018

The Hello Girls
Reviewed by Margaret Spratt

The Hello Girls: America's First Women Soldiers

by Elizabeth Cobbs
Harvard University Press, 2017

On the Job at Second Army HQ, Toul

Two hundred and twenty-three women skilled at telephone operating served in France as part of the Signal Corps whose sole purpose was to provide communications for the AEF. The development of new technology transformed this task from semaphore flags to telephone wires and with it created a new role for women in wartime. General Pershing recruited them personally, and Stars and Stripes nicknamed these women soldiers "Hello Girls."

This seems simple enough. There was a need for telephone operators who could speak both English and French. At the time, operators were female. So, along with shipping the equipment across the Atlantic, there was a need to send the operators. But by doing this, Pershing, ignoring the law that stated only men could serve in the army, broke a barrier for American women and created the female soldier. True, nurses also served, but as the author observes "theirs was an altruistic occupation designed to alleviate the ravages of war, not to advance military objectives." The Hello Girls were "soldiers, not angels." (p. 3)

Oleda Christides Helped Lead the 
Postwar Fight for  Veterans Status
This beautifully written volume details the recruitment, training and organization of the operators, the Atlantic passage, and the experiences of women who were assigned all over war-torn France. It relies heavily on the personal diaries of the women who realized that theirs was a unique experience that was making history. (Army regulations prohibited the writing of diaries, but thankfully for historians, many soldiers and others ignored this edict.) Grace Banker, who at the age of 25 led the first unit of Hello Girls to France, documented her experiences faithfully and in great detail. A graduate of Barnard College in New York, she had landed a job at AT&T after graduation where she became an instructor training other operators. An early applicant to the Signal Corps, she was sworn in on 15 January 1918 and sailed for France two months later. While watching the Statue of Liberty fade into the distance of New York Harbor she realized that much responsibility rested on her young shoulders, but as she wrote "I've crossed the Rubicon now. There can be no turning back." (p. 115) She, along with the other recruits, faced the perilous crossing of the North Atlantic with its multitude of German U-boats, the uncertainty of assignment once arriving in France, and the capriciousness of petty military bureaucrats. But for Miss Banker her major concern was how close she could get to the front.

The Hello Girls were an extraordinary group. Many were college graduates, including one young woman who held a master's degree in mathematics from Columbia. Telephone operating was one of the better white-collar occupations for women at the time. Those who went to France passed rigorous mental and physical tests, as well as a French fluency exam. Their loyalty to the United States and the cause of war was of upmost concern to recruiters. They questioned the families, neighbors, former teachers, and others about the character of the applicants and those with "foreign-sounding" names received extra attention. Officials soon discovered that women were motivated to sign up for the same reasons as male recruits. Some confessed their desire for adventure and many were outraged by the German atrocities that had been at the center of so much Allied propaganda. A number of applicants had direct family ties to France and Belgium and wanted to avenge the wrongs perpetrated by the enemy. Although telephone companies had avoided hiring women with accents, the army reasoned that knowledge of French was the most important requisite for service. They believed that "technical skills could be learned on the job; language acquisition took years." Of the women that were sent to France, about 78 percent spoke fluent French, but only 42 percent had prior experience as operators.

Grace Banker's unit arrived in France just as the Germans were launching their spring offensive with stunning success. They advanced toward the Marne River and set up "Big Bertha," [ed. note. this is a common misconception; the gun was actually the Paris Gun] the 47-ton mobile cannon, within firing distance of Paris. The first night the American operators spent in Paris they were awakened by the air raid sirens and hotel employees shouting for them to rush to the basement. The newly arrived Americans were calm and composed. Henrietta Roelofs, the head of the YWCA workers in Paris, reported that "these girls were going to make good" (p. 147). The next day they received their assignments: about a third stayed in Paris; another group went to Tours; and the third were attached to General Pershing's headquarters in Chaumont. They assumed their positions at the switchboards the next day.

The presence of women so close to the battlefront was a new and often controversial development in a war that broke traditions and embraced new technology over and over. Many regular army as well as new recruits were shocked at their involvement in this ultimate male bastion, but others welcomed the efficiency and professionalism of the operators. Grace Banker wrote in her diary that one man had a lump in his throat when he heard her say "Number, please" for the first time.

This history comes to life because of the vivid accounts of its participants. These women knew that they were not only in the middle of the experience of a lifetime but that their very presence "over there" was breaking barriers and creating new gender roles and relationships. Every aspect of their presence, from appearance to behavior, was examined by their superiors and the men they encountered. But as the author points out, their service in France was praised by some and belittled by others. Perhaps most disheartening was the Army's refusal to recognize the women as veterans with all that entails once the war ended.

Many female operators stayed in Europe after Armistice and served in occupied Germany. The last left for America in 1920. Eighteen Signal Corps officers received the Distinguished Service Medal. Grace Banker was one of them, but her status as a veteran was not recognized by the War Department upon her return home. The American Legion would not allow women to be members, so they started their own organization, the Women's Overseas Service League. When League members applied for a charter such as the American Legion received, they were turned down by the U.S. Senate. The journey to be recognized by the U.S. government as veterans had just begun. For decades, former Hello Girls lobbied the War Department and their local representatives and senators. Bill after bill was introduced in committee in Congress, only to be tossed out. Finally, in 1977, Congress passed, and President Jimmy Carter signed, a bill recognizing the veteran status of the female operators of World War I. Thirty-one women survived to see the day. Grace Banker was not one of them.

The Hello Girls of Chaumont, General HQ, AEF

As a women's historian, I am so impressed with the scholarship and efficacy of this volume. It ties together major developments of early 20th-century women's history—the culmination of the seventy year battle for women's suffrage with changing personal and professional roles for women. We see the societal impact of war on the private lives of young women, and we understand how their actions flummoxed a bureaucracy that failed to recognize change. Above all, this study illuminates the power of individual determination. It is no wonder that the Women's Overseas Service League named their newsletter "Carry On!"

Hanging above my desk, once owned by my grandfather who was a young man in 1918, is a YWCA poster of a Hello Girl at her post in front of a switchboard. (Her image graces the book's dust jacket.) Underneath the portrait is the plea "Back Our Girls Over There." This marvelous book tells us why their actions were so significant then and why their history is so important now.

Margaret Spratt

Monday, July 23, 2018

Losing the War: The Beginning of the End for Germany

German Infantry Marching to War in 1914
Their Ranks Would Be Depleted by 1918

By Jeffrey P. Ricker, CFA

Germany’s last desperate push to win the Great War stalled at the Marne 100 years ago, 17 July 1918.  Five giant offensives, attacking with more guns and men than had ever been used before failed to break the Allied defense and force a peace.  What went wrong?

Quite simply:  Germany ran out of men.  

In the spring of 1918, German commanders Erich Ludendorff and Paul von Hindenburg plotted a decisive breakthrough.  Their many years of experience went into designing a new “package” of trench-busting techniques.  With few tanks and dwindling air support, attacks had to be done with overwhelming numbers of guns and men.  This was Germany’s last chance to win the war.  Fifty German divisions, a million men, were transferred to the Western Front after Russia quit.  For the first time since 1914 the German army outnumbered its opponents on the Western Front.  It was now or never because the U.S. Army would begin arriving in large numbers in the summer of 1918 and the opportunity would be lost.

The spring offensives initially stunned the British and French armies, and the world, as three-and-a-half years of deadlocked trench warfare suddenly changed into a war of movement over open ground.  Desperate fighting stopped each offensive short of their objective.  Instead, Germany gained thousands of square miles of hard to defend, strategically worthless ground, which had been devastated by years of conflict.  German progress came at a heavy price. Though forced to retreat again and again, the British and French Armies fought fierce rearguard actions as they withdrew; the Germans encountered major difficulties bringing up artillery and ammunition over wrecked battlefields to keep the offensives going.

Casualties on both sides were enormous, about 700,000 German and 900,000 Allied.  German offensives sometimes cost tens of thousands of men per day. The Allies, especially with the American influx, could replace lost men.  Germany could not. With the strategic initiative shifting to the Allies, the beginning of the end of the Great War began. 

The chart below quantifies the carnage.

Chart Source: U.S. War Department General Staff report “The War with Germany” 1919

Sunday, July 22, 2018

Why Is An American General's Statue in Budapest?

General Bandholtz
The statue in the center of the park on Szabadság tér, facing the Embassy, is that of Harry Hill Bandholtz (1864–1925), Bg. General, U.S. Army, who was Provost Marshal to General Pershing at the end of World War I. A West Pointer, Bandholtz had seen much service in the Philippines and originally deployed to France as a brigade commander for the 29th Division.

On 11 August5 1919, General Bandholtz arrived in Budapest as one of four generals (English, French, Italian, American) to become the Inter-Allied Control Commission for Hungary, primarily to supervise the disengagement of Romanian troops from Hungary.

He became famous when, on the night of 5 October 1919, as president of the Day of the Commission, mainly through bluff, armed only with a riding crop, he prevented a group of Romanian soldiers from removing Transylvanian treasures from the National Museum.

The statue was erected in 1936, and stood throughout World War II with the inscription, in English,

“I simply carried out the instructions of my Government, as I understood them, as an officer and a gentleman of the United States Army.”

In the late 1940s the statue was removed “for repair.” It lay in a statue boneyard until the 1980s, at which time it was placed in the garden of the U.S. ambassador’s residence, at the request of then-ambassador Salgo. It was re-placed in Szabadság tér at its original location in July 1989, just a few days before the visit of President Bush.

The new inscription on the back reads:

“General Harry Hill Bandholtz, head of the American Military Mission, who on October 5, 1919 blocked the removal of the treasures of the National Museum to Romania.”

Source:  U.S. Embassy, Budapest, Hungary

Saturday, July 21, 2018

Gas Warfare: Prelude to the Second Battle of Ypres

Fritz Faber: Gas Warfare's Most
Notable Advocate and Innovator
Although it is popularly believed that the German Army was the first to use gas in the Great War, the French fired a tear gas agent (ethyl bromoacetate) against the Germans in the first month of the war. The German Army, however, had done more serious prewar research and would soon begin using their chemical weapons. Eventually they would be the war's first combatant to use gas on a scale large enough to potentially influence the outcome of a battle.

As early as October 1914, at Neuve Chapelle, the Germans used a sneeze-inducing irritant against the French. Better known is their effort on the Eastern Front at Bolimov on 31 January 1915 when they fired shells containing tear gas against the Russians. The experiment failed as the chemical, which was in liquid form in the shells, failed to vaporize in the freezing weather. Further attempts were made on the Western Front with improved tear gas, but German chemical warfare was receiving a tremendous boost due to the contributions of one of the world's most distinguished chemists and would soon take a dramatically different course.

In December 1914, the director of the Kaiser Wilhelm Institute for Physical Chemistry and future recipient of the Nobel Prize, Fritz Haber, pointed out to the army that chlorine gas, a powerful respiratory irritant, would be a much more effective weapon. He was subsequently appointed chief of the chemical section of the war ministry and soon took over leadership of the chlorine project. Haber would eventually emerge as Germany's chief authority on chemical warfare matters. Due to his impressive credentials, he was able to recruit a scientific "all-star" team to support Germany's gas warfare that included other future Nobel Prize laureates James Franck, Gustav Hertz, and Otto Hahn.

Artist's Rendering of the First Gas Attack on the Western Front

In a January conference, agreement was reached that the first trial for chlorine gas would be in Flanders on the southeastern side of the Ypres Salient. The deployment was subsequently shifted to the northern boundary of the salient between Steenstraete and Poelcappelle. The gas attack, with Haber present in the field, was scheduled for 15 April but was delayed a week because of a complete lack of wind. The debut of the poisonous chlorine gas would come on 22 April 1915 in the action known today as the Second Battle of Ypres. It would initially target French Territorial and Algerian troops with Canadian troops on their right (eastern) flank. Further use of the gas followed during the fighting around Ypres. 

Friday, July 20, 2018

Who Was Dragutin Dimitrijević?

Dragutin Dimitrijević, byname Apis (“Holy Bull”), (born 17 August 1876, Belgrade, Serbia—died 27 June 1917, Thessaloníki, Greece), Serbian army officer and conspirator, leader of the Serbian secret society Crna Ruka (“Black Hand”).

1915 Photo

A young army officer and already a member of the Serbian general staff, Dimitrijević in 1901 initiated an officers’ conspiracy to assassinate the unpopular king Alexander Obrenović. The plan was finally carried out in June 1903. Soon thereafter the conspirators succeeded in bringing the army under their control. As a professor of tactics at the military academy, Dimitrijević exerted considerable influence over his students, and he fostered Serbian nationalistic activity abroad. More significantly, he was also a founding member (1911) and inspirational leader of the nationalistic secret society Ujedinjenje ili Smrt (“Union or Death”), better known as the Black Hand, which sought to create a Greater Serbia through the use of violence. Dimitrijević is considered to have played an important role in plotting the assassination of the Austrian archduke Franz Ferdinand at Sarajevo .

In 1913 Dimitrijević had been appointed chief of general staff intelligence in the Serbian army, and in 1916 he won promotion to colonel. Soon afterward, however, the Black Hand society was marked for elimination by the Serbian premier Nikola Pašić, and in May 1917 Dimitrijević was sentenced to death with six other officers and was executed. He was exonerated of all charges at a staged retrial at Belgrade in 1953.

Source:  Britannica Biography

Thursday, July 19, 2018

Brothels at War

By Tony Langley

Here are two photos taken during the Great War showing brothels for soldiers. Both were taken on the Eastern Front, though of course such activity and establishments were to found in every theater of war.

This is a photo of a mobile brothel as used by the Austrian Army.
The sign designates it as "Mobile Pleasure House Number 20—For Officers Only."

Such photos are, however, not easy to find. Obviously, virtually none were published in the mainstream media—except for one example here in which the photo editor must have been extremely naive or having a private joke. Most photos of brothels, sex workers, and the like were published in the postwar period in various pacifist, anti-militarist books edited by the German activist Ernst Friedrich (1894–1967). Krieg dem Kriege  (Make War Against War) was essentially a collection of horrific photos that intended to show the horrors of war to the general public. The images were generally provided by veterans sympathetic to the anti-war cause and were often private souvenir photos taken during the war years. Some were also purloined from military or hospital archives. They showed mass graves, trenches filled with the dead, decomposing bodies on battlefields, horrific wounds, executions and hangings, and also a number of photos of brothels that were set up to cater to the needs of German and Austrian soldiers. By including these photos in a militant anti-war publication, Friedrich meant to show the demoralizing and socially debilitating effect of all aspects of warfare to the general public. 

This photo appeared, by mistake no doubt, in a German family news magazine called Die Woche (The Week). The caption announces the building as a "teahouse" in the Galician city of Lida, whose friendly attendants warmly welcome our soldiers. Upon a second look, there seem to be quite a number of young waitresses for such a rundown-looking establishment. Besides, on the Eastern Front, coffee or tea houses were virtually synonymous with brothels. The photo editor was either quite naive to let this photo appear in a family magazine or else having a private joke. In any case, it is one of the very few photos of a brothel ever to appear in print in the regular media during the war.

There were also several French interwar publications advertised as showing for the first time "Secret Images from the War". Often the imagery was taken from Friedrich's publications, which, as anti-war material, were freely and widely distributed in countless formats and sizes. Oddly enough, though, as if in keeping with the wartime tendency of vilifying the German enemy, no photos of French or other Allied nation brothels or bawdy houses were used. This even though, as everyone knew, prostitution in France (and Belgium) was completely legal and regulated by laws and ordinances.

Wednesday, July 18, 2018

100 Years Ago: Foch Launches the First Great Allied Offensive of 1918

The Offensive Phase of the Second Battle of the Marne

1st Division on the Eve of the Attack

In the first days of July 1918 it became apparent that the Germans would be unable to launch more than one other great attack, and toward the 10th of the month it was believed certain that if the enemy attacked, the blow would fall in Champagne. Foch was sure he had deployed sufficient forces to arrest the attack and did so in both Champagne and along the Marne River.

Thanks to the arrival of American troops, the Allied reserves were now sufficiently numerous to justify a counterattack, and if, as every high command was confident, the Champagne front could hold with the troops already allotted to it, the Allied command retained complete freedom in the selection of the front upon which the counterattack should fall. The selection by the Germans of Champagne and the eastern face of the Marne salient, as the fronts on which they were to make their last effort was fortunate for the Allies, for this decision of the enemy allowed an Allied counterattack which, while affording immediate relief to the enemy's thrust, would also obtain other advantages for the Allied cause.

Paris is still France, and the approach of the German lines along the Marne toward Paris had caused apprehension throughout France; it was essential that the threat on Paris be relieved at the earliest possible moment. Aside from reasons of morale, purely material reasons also demanded the reduction of the Marne salient as the first task of the Allies when the offensive should pass to their hands. Paris contained a multitude of essential war industries, and so long as the Germans maintained their lines these industries were seriously hampered by the constant long range bombardments and air raids. The great east and west railroad through Chateau-Thierry must also be regained by the Allies as a first necessity in the troop movements required in any general offensive.

But while with each day there came increased certainty that the Allied counterattack could be properly launched to the north of Chateau-Thierry, and while the French armies on that front began to plan accordingly, the Allied resources were not sufficiently great to permit a final decision until after the actual launching of the hostile attack. It thus happened that only on the 16th could many of the actual preparations be commenced.

The general plan for the Allied counterattack of 18 July involved attacking the entire west face of the Marne salient. This main attack was first to pivot on Chateau-Thierry; later the Allies in the region of Chateau-Thierry were to take up the attack. The Allies were also to attack that part of the German salient south of the Marne and to the southwest of Reims. The plan then really involved attacking the entire Marne salient, the principal blow falling at first on the west face, with the critical point, at which eventual success or failure would be determined, southwest of Soissons. The three divisions selected to break the most sensitive part of the German line were the 2nd American, the 1st Moroccan (French) and the 1st American. If these three divisions could seize and hold the heights south of Soissons, the German position in the salient proper would become untenable and its ultimate reduction assured.

At 4:35 a.m. on 18 July, after some of the American infantry had double-timed into line and when some of their guns had barely gotten into position, the 1st and 2nd American Divisions and the 1st Moroccan Division jumped off. Notwithstanding their desperate resistance, the Germans were driven back and the results upon which ultimate success depended were secured.

The 2nd Division advanced eight kilometers in the first 26 hours, took about 3,000 prisoners, two batteries of 150mm guns, 66 light guns, and 15,000 rounds of 77mm ammunition, besides much other property. This division suffered some 4,000 casualties, having made exhausting marches to reach the battlefield and recently been withdrawn from its desperate fighting at Chateau-Thierry, the division was relieved after the second day.

The 1st Division suffered 7,000 casualties, of whom it is believed not one was a prisoner. Sixty per cent of its infantry officers were killed or wounded, in the 16th and 18th Infantry all field officers, except the colonels, were casualties. Notwithstanding its losses, the 1st Division, by constant attacks throughout four days and nights, had broken through the entrenchment's in the German pivot to a depth of 11 kilometers, had captured 68 field guns and quantities of other material, in addition to 3,500 prisoners taken from the seven separate German divisions which had been thrown against the 1st United States Division in the enemy's desperate effort to hold ground which was essential to his retaining the Marne salient.

But while the work of the 1st and 2nd Divisions attracted most attention because of the special importance of their attack, they were not the only American divisions to participate in the 18 July offensive. (A little south of the 2nd Division, units 4th Division had been separated and were in line with French divisions. They joined in the attack and continued to advance until 22 July. The 4th Division was subsequently re-assembled as a division and would relieve the 42nd Division in the salient on 2 August.) The 26th Division was just northwest of Chateau-Thierry and together with the 167th French Division formed the 1st American Corps, which was the first American corps to exercise tactical command. This corps acted as a pivot in the beginning and later had to advance under peculiarly difficult conditions. For the 26th Division, maneuver was much complicated in order that the front of the division might conform to the general plan; not only was it necessary for the division to pivot during attack, but also at one time, the right half of the division had to attack simultaneously in two directions.

Notwithstanding the difficult nature of its task, and the fact that it lost 5,300 officers and soldiers, the 26th remained in the attack until 25 July; some of the elements having been continuously fighting for eight days and nights. The division had advanced more than 17 kilometers against determined enemy resistance, had taken the villages of Torcy, Belleau, Givry, Epieds, and Trugny, and had captured large quantities of enemy material. On 25–26 July, the 26th Division was relieved by the 42nd Division, which, after having taken some part in the successful resistance to the German attack of 15 July in Champagne, had been brought round to the Chateau-Thierry region.

Just east of Chateau-Thierry and south of the Marne, the 3rd Division had broken up all efforts made against it on 15 July. Now, on 20 July, the 3rd Division received orders to join the counterattack. By skillful work of the command and staff the division had gotten well across the Marne by the 22nd and without having encountered serious resistance. From the 22nd to 25th the division was engaged in bitter fighting in wooded slopes leading up to the village of le Charmel, which was taken on the evening of 25 July. Constantly fighting its way forward, the division took Roncheres and finally on 30 July was relieved by the 32nd Division (which had just been transported into the sector from Belfort)after having suffered a total loss, in the defense of the Marne and in crushing the German resistance, of about 7,900.

The 28th Division also had elements with French and American divisions during the attack and won great credit. As has been mentioned, on 25 July the 42nd Division relieved the 26th Division. On the next day, the 42nd Division attacked, and by the 28th it had crossed the Ourcq and taken Sergy. Here the enemy offered desperate resistance, launching counterattack after counterattack, the village of Sergy changing hands four times. But the 42nd definitely occupied Sergy on the morning of 29 July and continued to press forward until 2 August when the enemy withdrew.

[In late] July three American divisions, the 3rd, 28th, and 42nd were in line there, side by side with [another], the 4th, in close support [and the 26th and 32nd preparing to deploy]...By August the Germans had taken up a position behind the Vesle and Aisne Rivers, where they held fast...On 5 August the entire front of the French Sixth Army was held by two American Corps...

Men of the 32nd "Red Arrow" Division Resting

The 4th Division now relieved the 42nd, and on 6 August the front stabilized on the line of the Vesle (4th and 32nd Divisions being in line). The 42nd had lost some 5,500 officers and men. Eight American divisions (the 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 26th, 32nd, and 42nd) had been indispensable in the reduction of the Marne salient. The American units had lost over 30,000, but the results were commensurate—not only was the Marne salient greatly reduced, but the initiative had been gained by the Allies and was never to be lost.

From the beginning of the fighting, however, General Pershing had never varied from his determination to bring the American forces together. The German offensive, however, had interrupted the execution of this plan, forcing the Allies to utilize all possible efforts to the end that the war might not be lost. Now, however, the initiative had passed into the Allied hands and there appeared to be no good reason for longer delay. On the contrary, the Chateau-Thierry operations had involved such difficulties in the way of supply and the evacuation of sick and wounded (in all of which we were largely dependent upon the action of French staffs) that it was apparent to Pershing that his troops must be assembled. A few divisions might be properly cared for when dispersed under foreign command, but his forces with the Allies had increased to the point where it became imperative to begin assembling them. Preparations began for the American-led St. Mihiel Offensive and the AEF divisions started shifting from the Marne to the Verdun sector. More action, however, was to follow in the Marne region through early September. To be continued...

Source: The Doughboy Center

Tuesday, July 17, 2018

The Somme. Including Also The Coward
Reviewed by David F. Beer

The Somme. Including Also The Coward

by A.D.Gristwood
The University of South Carolina Press, 2006

The Somme: Before and After the Battle

Before the world grew mad, the Somme was a placid stream of Picardy, flowing gently through a broad and winding valley northwards to the English Channel. It watered a country of simple rural beauty: for long miles the stream fed lush water-meadows, where willows and alders and rushes slumbered in the sun, and cornlands and fat orchards supported a race of canny peasants. . .

And then came 1914 and the pestilence. (p. 15)

These two short novels are the only published works of A.D. Gristwood, who was an accountant, a very reluctant soldier, an effective but unfortunate writer, and a troubled and shell-shocked person who took his own life at age 39. His stories are interesting in that they consist of a relentless focus on the dreadful realities that an unusually sensitive person was tortured by in the First World War.

Gristwood's book would have been much better known if his publisher, Jonathan Cape, hadn't put it out of print in 1928, just before public demand for anti-war books suddenly bloomed. This is one of several misfortunes Gristwood suffered. He was born to a middle-class family, did well at school and was an unhappy clerk for fifteen years in an insurance company. In 1915 he enlisted in the London Rifles. This was the last thing he was suited for, and it seems he gave in to social pressure rather than to any vague patriotic urge.

He was soon wounded in the leg, eventually evacuated back to England, then sent back to France in time to be involved in the Somme conflict. The Somme is to a great extent autobiographical. The central character, Tom Everitt, shares similar experiences to Gristwood, and is abnormally sensitive, introspective and utterly disenchanted:

Orders came down the trench that the men were to make a "good meal," and the instruction seemed to them a masterpiece of cynicism. It was absurd to devour food when a few hours might relieve a man from the necessity of any further exertions in that direction. "Like fattening ducks,' said someone. (p. 48).

"Abomination of Desolation"
The Somme,  After the Battle (IWM Collection)

Much of the action in the story involves the wounded Everitt's long and tortuous journey-by crawling, stretcher, ambulance, and finally a very slow train-back to a base hospital. But first we share his observations as he lies among the wounded on the battlefield:

Thousands of men were lying crumpled in those fields, helpless, agonized, hopeless, frozen with terror, tortured with wounds…The bullets fell impartially on earth and flesh, and the maddening clamour of the machine-guns showed no sign of slackening. Moans, prayers, curses, entreaties, inarticulate cries, the stench of mud and blood and fumes and smoke, the thunder of guns, the shriek of shells and the rattle of rifle-fire, a chill rain soaking unchecked into that medley of woe-a modern battlefield! And fools talk of the glory of war, and the joy of battle! (p. 58).

Finally, after a long and agonizing journey, described in considerable detail, Everitt arrives at the base hospital, where things are far from ideal and where the sounds of battle are still heard. This is where the novel ends-but not with relief for Everitt, because "…not far away the fires of hate burned red as ever, and the long agony quickened with the days" (p. 115).

We learn no more about Everitt, but Gristwood himself was sent back to France once he recovered from his wounds. It seems he was wounded again, and after returning home took up his old job but was much more interested in writing. Thus a shorter novel, The Coward, was published with The Somme. It centers on a soldier who, like Gristwood, found the war unbearable. Unlike Gristwood, the anonymous soldier does something about it: he shoots himself in the hand and surprisingly gets away with it. He is sent back to "Blighty," but from then on lives a life of biting remorse and shame.

In spite of the support of H.G. Wells, who wrote a preface to the book, Gristwood had no further success as a writer. This fact, plus war wounds which made him ever more anxious and depressed—in effect, shell-shocked—finally got the better of him. He ended his life by an overdose of pills in 1933.

Hugh Cecil, author of the excellent 1996 study The Flower of Battle, wrote a detailed introduction to the University of South Carolina Press edition of The Somme Including Also the Coward. He gives us this insight into the author's work:

Gristwood's main point in both stories is that the central characters see the true nature of the war more clearly than their fellow soldiers. Who, therefore, can condemn them? Certainly not those who have never experienced the fighting (ix).

The book is an interesting and moving read even though we find none of the moments of hope, comradeship, love, or valor that we find at least occasionally in many other war novels. I found it hard to put down—in spite of its almost relentless bitterness and realism.

David F. Beer