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

Sunday, September 30, 2018

The North Sea Mine Barrage of World War I

Before the United States entered World War I in April 1917, German U-boats sunk more than 880,000 tons of shipping—a wartime peak that reduced British grain stores to a six weeks’ supply. The success of these U-boats threatened the arrival of American forces in Europe and the Allied ability to maintain supply lines and the movement of troops. To combat this, American naval leaders encouraged convoy and escort systems at sea. While this proved a significant deterrent to enemy submarines, some British and American naval leaders felt this wasn’t enough.

Some leaders favored minefields at sea, known as mine barrages. Mines had been effective in the shallow water and narrow straits around Europe earlier in the war, destroying more U-boats than any other weapon in World War I. A major gap of 230 miles in the North Sea between Scotland and Norway remained, creating an avenue for U-boats to reach Atlantic sea-lanes. Despite significant technical challenges, the Allies began planning a mine barrage for this gap. Mines would have to be anchored three times deeper and over a greater distance than any previous naval minefield. While the Royal Navy estimated 400,000 mines were needed, the U.S. Navy determined the scale and technical difficulties could be overcome.

Sea mines of World War I were buoyant explosive spheres that floated below the surface at varying depths. These spheres had horn detonators, which ignited when directly hit by a vessel. Planners determined minefields would have to be 15 to 35 miles wide with multiple rows needed for effectiveness. To increase the area covered by any one mine the United States added an additional detonator, attached to a 100-foot cable and float.  The new “antenna” detonator let one mine cover a 100-foot column of water. When a vessel brushed the cable the rising explosion could damage or destroy it. The U.S. Navy estimated that only 100,000 antenna mines would be needed to close the gap. American industry and the U.S. Navy set about making the North Sea mine barrage a reality.

The U.S. government dispersed $40 million in contracts to different companies so no single component could give away the plan. Freighters shipped the parts to assembly plants in Inverness, Scotland. There American sailors assembled 1,000 mines a day. Each mine had safety devices that armed them as the mine layers moved away. Allied forces began laying these mines in the North Sea in June 1918.    

A surfaced U-boat in daylight took three hours to pass through six to ten lines of mines. However, Allied patrol aircraft over the North Sea often forced U-boats to submerge or travel at night. Submerged U-boats took at least twice as long to travel a similar distance. With more than 50,000 mines laid in a matter of months, the North Sea mine barrage sunk or damaged as many as 21 U-Boats and reduced the effectiveness of others. It deterred German warships from raiding Allied ships carrying iron ore from neutral Norway to England. The barrage proved an American naval, technical, and industrial success.

Sources:; The Yankee Mining Squadron; and the U.S. Naval Institute Blog

Saturday, September 29, 2018

First Fighter Plane: The Caproni Ca.20

The Caproni Ca.20 was an aircraft ahead of its time in design, purpose, and armament. In early 1914, before World War I, this speedy single-seat monoplane was created and equipped with a forward-facing machine gun mounted above the propeller arc. 

Considered the world's first fighter plane, the Ca.20's pilot could aim the overhead .303-caliber Lewis machine gun at enemy aircraft via false sight at eye level. 

The model 20 was a derivative of Caproni's Ca.18 reconnaissance airplane—the first Italian-made airplane to be used by the Italian military. The new "fighter plane" version incorporated a larger engine (a Le Rhône 110-horsepower rotary engine), shorter wingspan, and a streamlined metal cowling to reduce drag and increase speed. 

Test flights proved that the Ca.20 was an exceptional airplane—much faster than other military airplanes being made in France and Germany. Yet the Italian military wanted the Caproni Company to focus on heavy bombers and only this single Ca.20 was ever produced. 

The plane was stored by the Caproni family in Italy for over 85 years. It was eventually parked, strangely enough, in a monastery! The Ca.20 was carefully dismantled piece by piece by museum staff and then lowered through a second-story window. The rare aircraft was then shipped to the Museum of Flight and painstakingly reassembled and displayed as it appeared in Europe. 

From the Seattle Museum of Flight's website. Visit it HERE.

Friday, September 28, 2018

In the Doughboys' Own Words: Shipping Over

From In Their Own Words at the Doughboy Center

Nearly every fellow's parents and sweetheart were down to the train to see us off. Will, Del, and myself rode down with Art in his machine. The send off we received was a royal one and gave us a thrill we will long remember. Bill, Del, Ensley, and I were put into different cars but we managed to get to-gether despite specific orders not to leave our coaches. After four different officers had counted us to see that none were missing we finally pulled out for a destination unknown. As soon as we passed Delray and crossed the Pere Marquette tracks I knew that we were on the Toledo division and were going around Lake Erie. Donations of tobacco and gum that had been given us were passed around and we settled ourselves for a long journey passing the time in various ways; some playing cards, others shooting craps, and still others singing and playing string instruments which they had brought along.

Pvt. Hazen S. Helmrich, Base Hospital 17


Dear Aunt,

Well we are in NY. At last we arrived last night about nine o clock we are now on the Hudson river about 20 miles from NY on the New Jersey side. We are going to be here tell they get us every thing for over seas service. That will take about two or three days. We have to be examined again before we leave. 

Well Minnie I never had a better time in my life than I did on this trip. We were yelling at everything even like hills and trees. When we went through a city we were all hanging out the windows and yelling with all our might we were met at every station by people they were sure glad to see us they waved flags and thrower kisses at us at home the people are nothing like the people here they are more connected with the war. When we arrived at new Jersey City We were met by a lot of girls some of the boys went a little strong on there talk those who behaved there selves were treated fine. I kissed a hundred girls and some of them two or three times; there was one little girl who I would of liked to take along. She was a little basfull but when she came to me she said I was a pretty nice boy I had one of the boys hold my feet and hung out the window and she loved me something offel [awful].

. . . [T]ell all the boys at home to get into there fighting cloths and be ready to back us up and tell the girls that there is a very important duty for them that is to keep the boys in good humer [humor] and not be stuck up. . .[and] tell everybody that I am on my way and am going to keep going till I get to Berlin.

Pvt. Joseph Reisacker, 356th Infantry, 89th Division

Dear Folks,
...As to leaving, we hear rumors and rumors and then some more rumors, but I have it directly and on the very best of authority that tonight is the night... All I can say is when letters stop, I've left here.

Private Gerald Keith, 74th Artillery

Weds. 2nd - Got paid, and left Camp Devens at 2:30 P.M. and finished the day in New York...

Thurs.- 3rd Took ferry at Harlem & got off to go aboard transport -- Hamburg American liner "Amerika." Located in the third bunk from the deck... rotten bed tonight, but the first one in 28 hours.

Fri.- 4th Pulled out of dock at 2:30 P.M. and lost sight of lights at 9 P.M. Lt. Morris & Sgt. Lawrence worked hard to get us fed and did very well. No lights or smoking on deck.

Sgt. Edwin Bemis, 29th Engineers

Onboard Ship

On July 15th, we started our voyage, at 7 am, on the transport Northern Pacific. The first day was quite thrilling with the destroyers dashing around us and a dirigible balloon and seaplane above.

But the second day -- wow ! Sick isn't a strong enough word. There were [also] a bunch of negro engineers on board from the deep south, a new experience for me.

Our convoy left us and our boat and the sister ship, Great Northern, were hitting it along at a great rate. I was called upon to furnish two shifts or reliefs of twenty-four men each for watch guard. From then on to the end of the trip I was busy day and night, roosting reliefs and on the watch for submarines. At nite we slept on the deck and the guard was fortunate as the poor fellows who were sleeping below nearly suffocated. I got sick whenever I went below, but felt OK while I was on deck.

Sgt. Edwin Gerth, 51st Artillery

...At 1:15 PM the alarm bells sounded while we were attending a lecture. We hurried to our berth compartments as the guns boomed, and then on deck. The sub was a porpoise.

Pvt. Otis E. Briggs, 1st Division 
Unpublished manuscript, A COMMON SOLDIER 

Arrival Over There

About 2:30 in the morning we entered Havre, France. The cries and shouts of greeting of the boatmen and boatgirls woke us up. We gathered by the rail and gazed for the first time at the brilliantly lighted harbor and realized that we were in France. We could distinguish many shouts of Le Americaine out of the hubbub of French that was shouted at us. 

At ten in the morning while we were waiting on deck with our full equipment on, a trainload of 500 wounded came in on the wharf beside us. They were brought on board at once. About half of them were suffering from gas poisoning. Their skin was yellow and their eyes were protected from the sun by paper shades. Many had both legs amputated. A few were Germans who were put in the lowest ward below the water line. The harbor was jammed with warships, transports and hydro aeroplanes. 

We marched two miles to a British rest camp. We passed hundreds of German prisoners being marched to and fro from work. They were a dirty hard looking lot. They all examined us minutely and I would have given a lot to know what they thought.

Pvt. Hazen S. Helmrich
Base Hospital 17 

Red Cross Canteen, Somewhere in France

About dusk we got into Chalons sur Marne... We left men on the train while we got off and attempted to inquire at the station where the American headquarters were. The French looked very blank for a while and then suddenly had an inspiration. "Ah, oui," they said, "les dames Americaines", and to our great surprise took us into a large waiting room where the American Red Cross had been running a canteen for two years... They served [us] chocolate, soup and little crackers.

Lt. Birge M. Clark, Balloon Observation Corps.
Unpublished manuscript, WORLD WAR I MEMOIRS

Mother -
There are so many women [in France] wearing black and the other [women] show what a strain they have been thru. There are scarcely any young men seen except those who have returned minus some part of their anatomy or else in such a physical condition that they are almost helpless. All the men working are over fifty and then there are lots of boys...

Pvt. Allan Neil, USMC, 2nd Division

Thursday, September 27, 2018

Remembering a Veteran: Boy First Class Jack Cornwell, VC

John ‘Jack’ Travers Cornwell was born on the 8th of January 1900 in Clyde Cottage, Clyde Place, Leyton. He was the son of working-class parents, Eli and Lily Cornwell (formerly King). The family moved to No.10 Alverstone Road, Little Ilford, Manor Park, in 1910. Jack attended Walton Road School in Manor Park and was a keen Boy Scout in the Little Ilford Troop at St Mary’s mission. When Jack left school he became a delivery boy for Brooke Bond & Co. and then worked as a dray boy with the Whitbread’s Brewery Depot in Manor Park.

Jack Cornwell Before Jutland

At the outbreak of war, Jack’s father Eli, an ex-soldier, re-enlisted as a Private in the 57th Coy. Royal Defence Corps. It was The Royal Navy that appealed to Jack and at the age of 15 he took references from his Headmaster and his employer along to a local recruitment office and enlisted. He was sent to Keyham Naval Barracks in Plymouth for his basic training where he earned sixpence a week as a ‘Boy Second Class.’ He passed out as Boy First Class J. T. Cornwell J/42563 and when he left Keyham, (referred to in naval terms as H.M.S. Vivid) he was posted to H.M.S. Lancaster which was
moored at Chatham. Jack was later ordered to join the fleet at Rosyth in Scotland and on the 2nd of May 1916 he joined the newly commissioned light cruiser H.M.S. Chester.

The Battle of Jutland began on the 31st of May 1916, the first shots being fired at 14.28. H.M.S. Chester was stationed ahead of the fleet in The North Sea. Lookouts reported distant gunfire and her Captain ordered ‘Action Stations’ before setting off at full speed to investigate. Close ahead they encountered four German cruisers. Jack took orders via headphones from his Officer on the bridge. He was fully responsible for setting the gun’s sights and his speed and precision would determine whether they were to hit or miss their target. The German cruisers opened fire and Jack’s gun was one of the first to be hit before it could be brought into action and he suffered a serious wound to his chest. H.M.S. Chester simply could not match the firepower of the four enemy cruisers.

Damage Aboard HMS Chester After Jutland (IWM)

A report from the Commanding Officer of HMS Chester:

Boy (1st Class) John Travers Cornwell of the ‘Chester,’ was mortally wounded early in the action. He nevertheless remained standing alone at a most exposed post, quietly awaiting orders till the end of the action, with the gun’s crew dead and wounded all round him.

HMS Chester sustained severe punishment, being hit 17 times. She was ordered back to the port of Immingham on the Humber. Jack was taken to hospital in Grimsby and attended by Dr. C. S. Stephenson, but he could not be saved and died of his wounds on 2 June 1916. His body was brought back to East Ham in a naval coffin and his family buried him in a private ceremony at Manor Park Cemetery, in a communal grave numbered 323.

When the story of Jack’s heroism and somewhat humble burial was publicized, it was decided, due to strong public opinion, that Jack should have a burial fit for a hero. On 29 July 1916, Jack Cornwell’s body was exhumed and carried by gun carriage from East Ham Town Hall to Manor Park Cemetery where he was reburied with full naval honors. In the procession, along with members of the family were: Mr. R. Banks Martin the Mayor of East Ham, Sir John Bethell M.P., the Bishop of Barking, boys from Walton Road School, local cadets and scouts and boy sailors from HMS Chester. The Admiralty was represented by Dr. Macnamara, MP

On 15 September 1916, the official citation appeared in the London Gazette stating that John Travers Cornwell had been  posthumously awarded the Victoria Cross by King George V.

Mrs. Cornwell and her daughter Lily, with boys and cadets from Walton Road School
on "Jack Cornwell Day," Thursday 21 September 1916

On 25 October 1916 Jack’s father Eli died while on active service. The following month, on the 16th of November 1916, Jack’s mother received her son’s VC from the King at Buckingham Palace. By 1919, Jack’s mother Lily was living in reduced circumstances and working in a sailors’ hostel to supplement a very small pension awarded for her son. She was found dead at her home in Commercial Road, Stepney, on 31 October 1919 aged 48 and never saw the memorial erected on her son’s grave. She shares a grave with Jack and Eli at Manor Park Cemetery, although her name is recorded as Alice.

Source: London Borough of Newham Heritage Service

Wednesday, September 26, 2018

100 Years Ago: The Meuse-Argonne Offensive Opens

Quick Facts About the Meuse-Argonne Offensive:

Where: Northwest and north of Verdun

When: 26 September 191811 November 1918

Allied Units Participating: U.S. First Army, commanded by General John J. Pershing until 16 October, then by Lt. General Hunter Liggett. Three U.S. corps plus one French corps; 23 American divisions rotating were involved.

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

Memorable for:

  • Largest battle in American history by casualties and ground forces involved.
  • Learning ground for American military for the rest of the 20th century. Numerous future Army Chiefs of Staff and Marine Corps Commandants participated in the battle.
  • Gave America its largest European cemetery.
  • Source of many legends and traditions, including the Lost Battalion, Sgt. York, Balloon Buster Frank Luke.

  • Click on Image to Expand

    Left: Area of the Offensive 
    Right: Opening Attack

    Brief Operational Description:

    The area between the Meuse River and the Argonne Forest was chosen for the U.S. First Army’s greatest offensive of the war because it was the portion of the German front which the enemy could least afford to lose. The lateral communications between German forces east and west of the Meuse were in that area and they were heavily dependent upon two rail lines that converged in the vicinity of Sedan and lay within 35 miles of the battle line. The nature of the Meuse-Argonne terrain made it ideal for defense. To protect this vitally important area, the enemy had established almost continuous defensive positions for a depth of ten to twelve miles to the rear of the front lines. The movement of American troops and materiel into position the night of 25–26 September 1918 for the Meuse-Argonne attack was made entirely under the cover of darkness. On most of the front, French soldiers remained in the outpost positions until the very last moment in order to keep the enemy from learning of the large American concentration. Altogether, about 220,000 Allied soldiers were withdrawn from the area and 600,000 American soldiers brought into position without the knowledge of the enemy.

    Following a three-hour bombardment with 2,700 field pieces, the U.S. First Army jumped off at 0530 hours on 26 September. On the left, I Corps penetrated the Argonne Forest and advanced along the valley of the Aire River. In the center, V Corps advanced to the west of Montfaucon but was held up temporarily in front of the hill. On the right, III Corps drove forward to the east of Montfaucon and a mile beyond. About noon the following day, Montfaucon was captured as the advance continued. Although complete surprise had been achieved, the enemy soon was stubbornly contesting every foot of terrain. Profiting from the temporary holdup in front of Montfaucon, the Germans poured reinforcements into the area. By 30 September, the U.S. First Army had driven the enemy back as far as six miles in some places, but the advance was bogged down due to inexperienced units and commanders, poor logistics due to lack of transport, and non-existent roads and a lack of coordination between artillery and infantry.

    The First Army had to learn while continuing the attack. General Pershing brought in experienced divisions and more combat engineers, and eventually appointed his best senior general, Hunter Liggett, to command First Army. George Marshall was giving the job of operations officer and new corps commanders were brought in. A new approach was prepared and a renewed general offensive was prepared.

    Click on Image to Expand

    U.S. Troops in the Early Stages: Under Fire and Advancing in Villages; Advancing Down a Forest Road; Traffic Jam in Esnes

    End Game of the Meuse-Argonne Offensive

    The final chapter of the great offensive by the U.S. First Army began at daybreak on 1 November after a two-hour concentrated artillery preparation. It would be the most important and successful American operation of the Great War.

    The key roles in the assault were played by the III and V U.S. Corps, commanded by two future Army Chiefs-of-Staff, John Hines and Charles Summerall, respectively. They were supported by more artillery than ever assembled by the United States military. Tactics emphasized mobility and supply techniques were improved to support a rapid advance. The lessons of the earlier battles had been absorbed and corrections made. Its progress exceeded all expectations.

    Click on Image to Expand

    Last Phase of the Offensive as Executed
    Note: Units on Right Shifting Axis Eastward

    By early afternoon of 1 November, the formidable last Hindenburg Line position on Barricourt Heights had been captured, ensuring success of the whole operation. That night the enemy issued orders to withdraw west of the Meuse and the battle turned into a rout, sometimes with U.S. forces racing north faster than the retreating Germans. By 4 November, after an additional crossing of the Meuse by the U.S. First Army, the enemy was in full retreat on both sides of the river. Three days later, when the heights overlooking the city of Sedan were taken, the U.S. First Army gained domination over the German railroad communications there, ensuring early termination of the war.

    Attention was shifting to the next U.S. strategic objective, Metz to the northeast, as the entire First Army began shifting their axis of attack in that direction. Meanwhile, the Second U.S. Army was renewing action down on the temporarily quiet St. Mihiel Sector. The Armistice ensued, however, before further major offensives could be mounted.

    Firsthand Account—Thursday 26 September 1918:
    That evening, about dusk I saw an unforgettable sight...I am lying down in the field...In front of me to my left I see the Hill and the battered town and fortress of Montfaucon. An attack is in progress. Soldiers are advancing up the hill with rifles and fixed bayonets in hand. They are filtering through the ruins, slowly but steadily. Shells are falling and crashing among them. Smoke and flying debris dot the hill. It is a gripping scene, a dramatic war picture, and here I am actually seeing it.
    Sgt. Maximilian Boll, 79th Division

    Firsthand Account—Tuesday 15 October 1918:
    On October 15th, 1918, we were charging machine guns and men were being cut down like grass all around me. Then I was hit and fell, and couldn't get up. I laid there on the battlefield for three days and was assumed dead. Some man came by and said: Fields, what the hell are you doing laying there? The man picked me up, put me on his shoulder, and carried me three miles to the aid station.

    Gangrene had already set-up, and they amputated my leg just below the knee. I was passing in and out of consciousness during the whole time and never recognized the man that carried me to safety. How he recognized me I'll never know because I was unshaven and was a mess. I've always regretted never knowing the man that saved my life.
    Pvt. Clifton R. Fields, 32nd Division

    Firsthand Account—Monday 11 November 1918:
    While we were getting ready to take our wounded man to the rear, a runner appeared with the official news that an Armistice had been signed. Most everybody let out a few healthy yells, but I did not. For one reason, didn't feel much like yelling. I had some difficulty getting three more fellows to help me carry the stretcher.
    Pvt. Clarence Richmond, 5th Marines, 2nd Division

    Click on Image to Expand

    American Column Advancing During Last Phase; German Prisoners; 

    11 November Celebration

    Sources:  ABMC, Doughboy Center Website

    Tuesday, September 25, 2018

    The Road to Passchendaele
    Reviewed by David Beer

    The Road to Passchendaele:
    The Heroic Year in Soldiers' own Words and Photographs

    by Richard van Emden
    Pen and Sword, 2017

    As an author of books on WWI, Richard van Emden needs very little introduction. This, his latest book, maintains the high standards of his previous ones and proves to be not only lively and full of detail but also captivating. The author makes full use of his enviable personal archives of photographs taken sub rosa during the conflict, plus the letters and diaries of the men who were there. In this case van Emden focuses on four 1917 offensives: Arras, Messines, Third Ypres (Passchendaele), and Cambrai. By the time I finished this book I felt I had considerably more insight and empathy regarding the true feelings of the men and officers who fought in these battles.

    British Wounded at Passchendaele

    It was a pathetic sight to see the old horse, of whom I had grown very fond, bleeding profusely and suffering pain, and my conscience smote me for having spurred and sworn at the poor creature when he had stood petrified with fright a quarter of an hour before (p. 276).

    1917 was a terrible year for everyone, men and horses. At sea there was unrestricted German submarine warfare and Britain's blockade of Germany. The Western Front saw some of the nastiest warfare yet. Increasing numbers of Britons were being conscripted and sent to France, some unhappily.

    We were getting many conscripts from home, and I was intensely sorry for them. Many were middle-aged, with wives and families, and to be put straight into action, as many of them were, was beyond all question a far greater trial than we veterans had to begin with (p. 28).

    It was gradually dawning on both sides that this might become a war of attrition, and what the United States would do was still an open question. Moreover, the winter of 1917 was unusually severe in northern France and Flanders. This is the context in which The Road to Passchendaele presents the written thoughts and feelings of the participants. Conditions are effectively brought to light by some 170 rare sepia-toned photos, as well as by the text:

    3 August: Still raining. Great difficulty experienced with the guns owing to the trails and wheels sinking so deeply into the soft, wet ground. The whole battery had to heave on one gun every time it had to be pulled out to switch. Every conceivable means was adopted to try and prevent the trails sinking so deep, but none were very successful (p. 270).

    Eight chapters cover the battles, and apart from the author's relatively brief discussions of the background military situations, we're carried through events by the words of the men: officers of various ranks plus privates, sappers, gunners, linemen, drivers, stretcher bearers and NCOs-although overall more officers are cited, possibly because of their superior writing skills. Occasionally there is a cheerful note but more likely it is the opposite, as, for example, on Easter Monday, 9 April 1917 at 3:00 AM:

    A wretched awakening, pitch dark, cold, with a keen wind blowing. One can perhaps imagine the feelings of everybody that morning searching about in the darkness for equipment, chilled to the bone, half asleep, stumbling over other men's equipment and on top of all, the knowledge of a very fair prospect of 'pushing daisies up' before nightfall (p. 70).

    British Soldiers, Some Wearing German Helmets, Cambrai, November 1917

    At this advanced date of the war it's surprising that cavalry was still sometimes used. At Monchy the results of an ill-advised charge were clearly seen:

    As we turned the bend of the road to go up the hill, I stopped. The sight that greeted me was so horrible that I almost lost my head. Heaped on top of one another and blocking up the roadway for as one could see lay the mutilated bodies of our men and horses. These bodies, torn and gaping, had stiffened into fantastic attitudes. All the hollows of the road were filled with blood. This was the cavalry. (p. 93)

    Elsewhere we learn a lot about tanks and how they were so limited in their movements. The arduous and dangerous work of "ambulance men" (stretcher bearers) and telephone linemen during battle are described by more than one writer, as are many other situations experienced and processed by those in the trenches. Occasionally I was surprised by conflicting emotions. During an advance through a barrage, after seeing numerous German corpses—including one with the top half of his head blown off—a young private writes:

    Apart from that, the whole affair appeared rather good fun. You know how excited one becomes in the midst of great danger. I forgot absolutely that shells were meant to kill and not to provide elaborate lighting effects…I never enjoyed anything so much in my life-flames, smoke, lights, SOS's, drumming of guns, and swishing of bullets, appeared stage properties to set off a great scene…From the pictorial point of view nothing could be finer or more majestic. . . (p. 356-358)

    Another soldier, on the night before moving up to the trenches to go over the top, is more introspective:

    I tried to concentrate my thoughts on the distant future when war should be no more, and the accursed trenches were only a memory, but I could see no future. I could not look beyond the next two days. My life, and the lives of thousands of other men, were but the playthings of the moment. In a couple of days, perhaps less, the acres of Klein Zillebeke would be stained with forty-eight hours their fresh young bodies would have started to rot…It was a stark raving fact that 20 per cent of the men were not expected to be living in two days from now. (p. 323)

    It's been said before that the Great War had as many interpretations and reactions to it as there were people fighting in it. The Road to Passchendaele hints at this as it takes a broad cross-section of those who were there and gives us rich insights into their feelings, reactions, fears, and personal triumphs. I found these insights absorbing and enlightening and I strongly recommend this book to anyone interested in the very personal side of World War One in 1917.

    David Beer

    Monday, September 24, 2018

    Kaiser Bill's Brother Henry

    Henry, Prince of Prussia (1862–1929), the second son of Kaiser Frederick III and brother of Kaiser Wilhelm II, was a respected naval officer.  One-time commander of the High Seas Fleet, he headed German naval forces in the Baltic during the war as a Grand Admiral.   He also held the post of Inspector General of the Imperial Navy.  He stepped down in February 1918 after the Bolsheviks had taken Russia out of the war.

    His was a completely different personality than his brother, showing extraordinary tact in prewar visits to China and the United States. An outstanding seaman, Henry was a strong supporter of technology and innovation in the navy.  He was revered by his officers and sailors but had a conflict with Admiral Tirpitz that kept him from being influential at the highest levels of wartime policy-making.  After Kaiser Wilhelm's abdication, he continued to live in Germany and died there in 1929 of throat cancer, as had his father.  Two of his sons carried hemophilia, inherited from their mother, Princess Irene of Hesse, a granddaughter of Queen Victoria.

    Photo from the Pritzker Military Museum

    Sunday, September 23, 2018

    Orwell on the Nature of World War I Literature

    George Orwell (Top Right) with the British Home Guard in WWII

    In his 1940 literary essay "Inside the Whale" George Orwell contrasted the best  Great War's writings by its participants with those of contemporary author's who ignored the fighting and other authors who later wrote about the Spanish Civil War of which he was a veteran.

    During the past ten years literature has involved itself more and more deeply in politics, with the result that there is now less room in it for the ordinary man than at any time during the past two centuries. One can see the change in the prevailing literary attitude by comparing the books written about the Spanish civil war with those written about the war of 1914-18. The immediately striking thing about the Spanish war books, at any rate those written in English, is their shocking dullness and badness. But what is more significant is that almost all of them, right-wing or left-wing, are written from a political angle, by cocksure partisans telling you what to think, whereas the books about the Great War were written by common soldiers or junior officers who did not even pretend to understand what the whole thing was about. Books like All Quiet on the Western Front, Le Feu, A Farewell to Arms, Death of a Hero, Good-bye to All That, Memoirs of an Infantry Officer, and A Subaltern on the Somme were written not by propagandists but by victims. They are saying in effect, ‘What the hell is all this about? God knows. All we can do is to endure. . .

    If one looks at the books of personal reminiscence written about the war of 1914–18, one notices that nearly all that have remained readable after a lapse of time are written from a passive, negative angle. They are the records of something completely meaningless, a nightmare happening in a void. That was not actually the truth about the war, but it was the truth about the individual reaction. The soldier advancing into a machine-gun barrage or standing waist-deep in a flooded trench knew only that here was an appalling experience in which he was all but helpless. He was likelier to make a good book out of his helplessness and his ignorance than out of a pretended power to see the whole thing in perspective. 

    As for the books that were written during the war itself, the best of them were nearly all the work of people who simply turned their backs and tried not to notice that the war was happening. Mr E. M. Forster has described how in 1917 he read "Prufrock" and other of Eliot's early poems, and how it heartened him at such a time to get hold of poems that were ‘innocent of public-spiritedness’:

    "They sang of private disgust and diffidence, and of people who seemed genuine because they were unattractive or weak...Here was a protest, and a feeble one, and the more congenial for being so feeble...He who could turn aside to complain of ladies and drawing rooms preserved a tiny drop of our self-respect, he carried on the human heritage."

    That is very well said. Mr MacNeice, in the book I have referred to already, quotes this passage and somewhat smugly adds:

    "Ten years later less feeble protests were to be made by poets and the human heritage carried on rather differently...The contemplation of a world of fragments becomes boring and Eliot's successors are more interested in tidying it up."

    Similar remarks are scattered throughout Mr MacNeice's book. What he wishes us to believe is that Eliot's ‘successors’ (meaning Mr MacNeice and his friends) have in some way ‘protested’ more effectively than Eliot did by publishing "Prufrock" at the moment when the Allied armies were assaulting the Hindenburg Line. Just where these ‘protests’ are to be found I do not know. But in the contrast between Mr Forster's comment and Mr MacNeice's lies all the difference between a man who knows what the 1914–18 war was like and a man who barely remembers it. The truth is that in 1917 there was nothing that a thinking and a sensitive person could do, except to remain human, if possible. And a gesture of helplessness, even of frivolity, might be the best way of doing that. 

    If I had been a soldier fighting in the Great War, I would sooner have got hold of "Prufrock" than The First Hundred Thousand or Horatio Bottomley's Letters to the Boys in the Trenches. I should have felt, like Mr Forster, that by simply standing aloof and keeping touch with pre-war emotions, Eliot was carrying on the human heritage. What a relief it would have been at such a time, to read about the hesitations of a middle-aged highbrow with a bald spot! So different from bayonet-drill! After the bombs and the food-queues and the recruiting-posters, a human voice! What a relief!

    But, after all, the war of 1914–18 was only a heightened moment in an almost continuous crisis. At this date it hardly even needs a war to bring home to us the disintegration of our society and the increasing helplessness of all, decent people. 

    The full (longish) essay can be read HERE 

    Saturday, September 22, 2018

    In Their Own Words: America on the Brink of War

    From In Their Own Words of the Doughboy Center

    Christianburg, Virginia

    Clay and gravel roads, wooden sidewalks, kerosene lamps (later gas), and the simplest sanitary arrangements represented [American] civilization. It was not surprising... to see a sign painted in large letters on the side of a store where there were public baths, which read, "WHY MESS UP THE KITCHEN. BATHS FIFTEEN CENTS." The important facility in a village was the livery stable... The village was equipped with few conveniences... Each morning the grocery-man sent his wagon from house to house taking orders. In two or three hours the same wagon would return with the goods.

    Capt. Geo. Van Horn Moseley, Fifth Artillery Brigade
    Unpublished Memoir 

    The country was a lot different before the First World War...More farm boys, and more folks who hadn't learned English yet...Their families had just arrived here.

    Pvt. Al Furrer, Ammunition Train, 4th Division
    1989 Interview

    Greencreek, Idaho

    The affair of the Lusitania has gone through me again and again. I feel as if I could not just go ahead as I have since the war started, making plans for my own advancement, or my own family's welfare...Thousands of men have given their lives to the end that Germany is not already in a position to destroy every woman, baby, and law of God, which interferes with [their] affairs... if I could go to this war as a citizen of the world, I would pray to be allowed.

    Lt. Edwin Abbey, 4th Canadian Mounted Rifles,
    American KIA April 1917, Letter

    New York City

    When I was a little boy about ten years old, my father went to Europe to visit his aged mother in Germany...After that I used to dream of an ocean voyage to Europe and particularly Germany... Little did I then think that "My First Journey" to Europe would be with a gun in my hands on a mission to kill my German cousins...I can think of no better starting point than August 9th, the second Sunday in August 1914. The previous week the war had fully exploded in Europe. We are in church, a little North Philadelphia...the people who composed our little congregation, hard working, honest, God-fearing. The older generation had, almost all, been born in Europe, the younger generation in the United States. All were American citizens, every one of them... 

    Sergeant Maximilian Boll, 79th Division
    Unpublished Manuscript, First Journey

    Friday, September 21, 2018

    St. Mihiel Salient: After the Battle

    (Note:  The 103rd Field Artillery of the 26th Division had been made a major contribution to the recent victory.  A few days later, the division had been moved to the reserve and was position in territory that had been occupied by the German Army for four years.)

    From:  Shadowboxing the Apocalypse: The WWI Correspondence of Dr. Theo Hascall, 103rd F.A. 26th Yankee Division by Shawn Pease

    Behind the Hindenburg Line. 
    Sept. 15, 1918.

    My very dear Wife, 

    Well, Dear, after all the marching, wet, rainy camps here we are at last in the woods where Heinie Fritz Bosche has lived for the last four years. For 4 days I lived in a leaky old dug out with a YMCA man, a Mr. Patterson. The place had a fireplace in it in which we kept a roaring fire days and evenings and had some good games of whist. Well at one o’clock on the morning of the 12th all out guns opened up and there was plenty of noise for a few hours. Some reply from Fritzie but guess he was smothered for after noon we stopped firing and got news that our Infantry was still pushing them. Couldn’t move the next day the roads were shot up so badly and we had had so much rain – but yesterday noon we started out and it took us about 8 hours to go 12 kilometers! 

    A mighty slow and tiring trip but one part of it was intensely interesting as it was at the Hindenburg line. Here was a bad hill and bad road and it took our column a long time to make it. As my cart and ambulance are the tail end of a Battalion line of march, I walked ahead and had a chance to look over No Man’s Land and the strong cement dug outs, trenches and machine gun pill boxes showed that Mr. Bosche has sure put in a lot of work and had reason for believing his line to be impregnable. But it didn’t take our Artillery long to make hash of it! 
    This is the first big operation the Americans have put through alone and it surely has been a great success. 
    One of 155mm Artillery Pieces of the 103rd FA Regiment

    Just at present our Regiment is occupying a reserve position, the objectives of the Drive being attained. Now whether we will go up again and start a new drive or old the position, or go to some other sector or go back for the rest of our rest period and permissions – no one knows except those higher up and they are not telling us yet. Guess they want to see just how far Fritzie is going to retreat before they decide themselves! 
    Late supper tonight – it won’t be ready until 19 o’clock though we usually eat at 17. 
    We’ve had canned willy and bread with and without coffee for 5 successive meals and the cook was waiting to see if any new rations were coming. No such luck – so its corned willy again with the addition of potatoes. Believe he’s going to try to camouflage it by making fish cakes out of it! 
    The mail is no better. Hadn’t heard from the folks for weeks. Just now had a letter dated Aug 19 from Mother and one from Higgins of same date. There must be at least three or four due me still from you and a bunch from the folks – if not from anyone else. 
    How goes everything at home? Kiddies back at school, I suppose and Eastern Star and EOW in full swing again. Well I’m beginning to hope that I’ll be home by a year from now. Let’s hope so anyway. I’ve been very lucky so far – nary a scratch or gas or sickness, just doing my bit without any D. S. crosses or Croix de Guerres. The Artillery doesn’t have much chance for reckless exhibitions of bravery anyway. The ordinary routine takes enough courage at times, without any frills! Well, chow is ready; will finish later.

    Well that’s the best timed Bill  [corned beef] I’ve ever had – there was plenty of lard or grease and the cakes were well done. 

    It’s too dark to write more tonight and lights are not allowed, so I will finish tomorrow. Goodnight, Sweetheart, sweet dreams.

    Monday noon Sept. 16 –
    Days work done and I’ll try to finish this before dinner. 
    After two weeks of continuous rain the last three have been hot and sunshiny without a cloud in the sky. As per usual we are camping in some woods with our wagons camouflaged. Pat and I have a couple of rubber blankets stretched across some sticks for a roof and litters for beds and we are very comfortable. Pat – or Mr. Patterson – is a young Canadian from the University of Alberta. He has a deformed left arm which makes him unfit for military duty but he’s a hustler and very popular with the boys getting YMCA supplies whenever possible. Unfortunately on drives or other moves it’s hard work always to make connections. He hasn’t been with the Regiment or Battalion very long but the boys all hope he won’t be transferred as he had their interests at heart all the time. 

    A Destroyed German Command Post in the St. Mihiel Salient

     I went “scouting” yesterday through a lot of old German (not so very old at that) camps and trenches – but the Infantry, Machine Gunners and Engineers beat me to it and I could find no souvenirs except a Bosche Red Cross haversack. Pretty bulky and I doubt if I can sent it home, but it’s a pretty slick thing and I’d like to have it to show my friends later. 

    Signs of activity at kitchen – a rattling of mess kits can be heard. Wonder how they will disguise the canned Willy or monkey meat this time? 

    No disguise at all this time – just plain Willy warmed up – lordy hope we get some fresh rations – and mail soon. 

    Well I guess I’ve exhausted my fund of information and I’ll close – 

    Lots of love to you all, 

    Lt. Theodore C. Hascall M.C. 
           103d  FA

    Thursday, September 20, 2018

    Images from My Last Battlefield Tour

    In August 2018, I led my last First World War battlefield tour. I intended it to be a comprehensive tour of the American battlefields of the war with an emphasis on the sites of personal significance to the members, especially those who had relatives who served in the war. The size of the group had me concerned, but I got all the support I needed from my company, Valor Tours. It turned out to be a wonderful success. Thanks to everyone who participated.

    The full group at the Oise-Aisne American Cemetery
    Supt. Bert Caloud on the far right

    Bob K. at the wheel of one of the veteran trucks of the Voie Sacrée

    The group did a walking tour through Belleau Wood  
    from the memorial glade to the hunting lodge.

    Bruce Malone, Supt. of the Meuse-Argonne Cemetery.  We visited all the WWI Cemeteries in France and Belgium, and Bruce and all his colleagues at the ABMC sites gave us a wonderful welcome.

    Jim O. at the Lost Battalion Site

    Jose F., Tracy B., and Gary L. remembered the fallen of the Rainbow Division at the Croix Rouge Farm, 42nd Division memorial.  
    Gary's grandfather served in the division.

    Your editor with Virginia D. at the St. Juvin monument to the 16th Infantry, 1st Division.  Virginia's dad served with the division.

    On our first day, we stopped at Le Hamel, where the U.S. 33rd Division supported a notable Australian victory on 4 July 1918.

    Your editor with Mary Jane and Tim K. at the Meuse Heights.  Mary Jane's great uncle participated in a rescue mission at this location while serving with the 90th Division.

    Preserved trenches at Navarin Farm, Champagne
    Blanc Mont Ridge visible in the distance

    Robin Richmond discusses the crossing of the Meuse River the last night of the war by the 5th Marines of the 2nd Division at this site.  Robin's uncle participated in the action.

    North of Soissons is the Château de Blérancourt, 
    site of the Musée Franco-Américain

    On our final day of touring we visited General Pershing's former headquarters at Souilly.

    View of Verdun from our hotel at the former officers club