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

Saturday, July 20, 2019

Friday, July 19, 2019

Glenn Curtiss and the First World War


Glenn Curtiss

During WWI, the Curtiss Aeroplane & Motor Company, formed in 1916, became the world's largest producer of aircraft. Glenn Curtiss' organizations produced 10,000 aircraft during the war and more than 100 in a single week.

Like his main competitors the Wright brothers, Glenn Curtiss had been  involved in bicycling before he became interested in aviation, first racing bicycles and, later, motorcycles. Curtiss developed a successful motorcycle business in Hammondsport, NY, for which he designed and built relatively light and efficient engines. In 1904 famed balloonist Thomas Scott Baldwin asked Curtiss to build him a dirigible engine. The success of this engine brought more orders and greater awareness of his talent.

Curtiss JN-4 "Jenny" with Liberty Engine

In 1907 Alexander Graham Bell, inventor of the telephone, organized the Aerial Experiment Association and asked Curtiss to join as the director of experiments. In May 1908 Curtiss took his first airplane flight in the White Wing, an aircraft designed by Casey Baldwin. (Lt. Thomas Selfridge also flew it, thereby becoming the first military person to fly an airplane.)

A month later Curtiss flew an airplane of his own design, the June Bug. Curtiss built on the success of his first airplane by demonstrating it (and follow-on designs) before large crowds, earning large cash prizes and winning several awards—including the Scientific American Trophy three years in a row, the Gold Medal of the Aero Club, the Gordon Bennett Trophy, the Langley Medal, and the Collier Trophy.

Curtiss was also a significant pioneer of naval aviation, effectively inventing the flying boat and designing successful ship-borne military planes that established the operational concept of the aircraft carrier. Much of this work was carried out at North Island, Coronado, CA, well before the entry of the U.S. into the war.

Curtiss Began Delivering the N-9 Floatplane to the Navy
Just as America Entered the War

Curtiss sold his first military airplane, the Model D Type IV, to the Signal Corps in April 1911, and continued to build more powerful engines and new airplanes for the military. Of particular note was Curtiss' development of the flying boat, the JN-4 trainer (the most widely used U.S. aircraft of World War I), and the OX-5 engine used in the JN-4 and other aircraft. 

Shortly after the end of WWI, Curtiss left the aviation business, dying from appendicitis complications  in 1930 at the age of 52. Ironically, although he and the Wrights fought a bitter patent struggle between 1909 and 1917, the companies they founded merged in 1929 to become the Curtiss-Wright Airplane Company.

Sources: USAF National Museum, U.S. Naval Aviation Museum; Hero of the Air: Glenn Curtiss and the Birth of Naval Aviation. William F. Trimble. Naval Institute Press, 2010.

Thursday, July 18, 2019

Your Country Needs (Wants) You: The Evolution and Impact of Kitchener's Image


The Original Use of the Image

On 5 August 1914, the day after Britain declared war on Germany, Field Marshal Lord Kitchener (1850–1916), already a national war hero, became secretary of state for war. He foresaw a long and costly campaign, needing a much bigger army than the current British Expeditionary Force, and appealed for volunteers for a much-expanded BEF.

Nearly half a million men joined up between 4 August and 12 September, including 33,204 on 3 September alone. A key factor in stimulating enlistment was locally raised "pals battalions," which promised men enlisting from the same community or workplace that they would fight together. Many other men, however, enlisted for adventure or to escape from an arduous, dangerous, or humdrum job.

It was initially intended only as a front cover design for the magazine London Opinion on 5 September 1914, created by professional illustrator Alfred Leete, supposedly in a single day. The cover bore the message "Your Country Needs You."

The slogan was then slightly tweaked to simply "Wants You" and the image was privately produced as a poster shortly afterward. But there is little photographic evidence of it on display in public places and only a handful of original copies survive today.

The Recruiting Poster


However, it did not appear in poster form until the end of September 1914, after signing-up peaked. Its supposedly vital influence on recruitment is largely a myth.

Though 2,500,000 men joined the British Army voluntarily between August 1914 and December 1915, even this was not enough to supply the front line, and conscription had to be introduced in January 1916.

Source: The British Museum Website

Wednesday, July 17, 2019

It Couldn't Have Been More Badly Conceived: Passchendaele, 12 October 1917


Dealing with Casualties the Day After

In all the case studies of horrendous cock-ups by the generals of World War I, this is one of the worst. Interestingly, in official histories of the war, it is designated the First Battle of Passchendaele. Possibly this is how the entire Flanders offensive of 1917 has been labeled "Passchendaele".

In late August 1917 General Herbert Plumer was given command of an offensive to capture high ground east of the Belgian town of Ypres using his Second Army (positioned south of the red broken line on the map). Under the command of the Army’s II ANZAC Corps was the New Zealand Division.

The New Zealand Division took part in the Battle of Broodseinde on 4 October 1917, tasked with seizing the part of the Broodseinde Ridge called Gravenstafel Spur. On that day the New Zealand soldiers overwhelmed German forward positions, captured 1,100 prisoners and helped to extend the front line eastward, as indicated by the thick purple broken line. This was achieved at a cost of 1,700 casualties, including 350 deaths.

The British high command mistakenly concluded that the relative ease with which the Broodseinde Ridge had been won meant enemy resistance was faltering. It resolved to make a farther push for Passchendaele Ridge on 12 October.  The 3rd Australian Division was positioned to the right of the New Zealand Division on 10 October in anticipation of the attack.  However, by this time heavy rain had turned the terrain of Flanders into a muddy bog, rendering artillery support ineffective.

New Zealand soldiers advanced up the ridge only to find the enemy’s concrete pillboxes and lines of barbed wire still largely intact. Eight hundred forty three New Zealanders lost their lives in the Battle of Passchendaele, and another 2,700 were wounded. This futile attack was the New Zealand Division’s greatest disaster. The 3rd Australian Division suffered almost as badly, totaling 3,200 casualties.

Click on Map to Enlarge


The Purple Line Indicates the Jump-Off Point on 12 October 1917

Why did the operation turn into a nearly perfect cock-up? New Zealand historian of Massey University, provides a summary—

The warning signs were clear to anyone who cared to notice them. Convinced that the Germans were near breaking point, Haig ordered a new attack on 9 October, known as the Battle of Poelcapelle. Poorly planned, lacking adequate artillery support, and ignoring weather and terrain conditions, the attack was a disaster for the 11 divisions involved. In the Anzac sector two British divisions, the 49th and the 66th of II Anzac Corps and the 2nd Australian Division of I Anzac Corps took part. While their planned advance was a short one, between 600 and 900 yards, not a single objective was taken and the casualties were horrendous. The 49th Division alone suffered more than 2,500 casualties in this attack. Yet still Haig persisted in continuing the offensive, writing in his diary that the results of this attack "were very successful." Then he informed his headquarters:

I am of the opinion that the operations of the 49th and 66th Divisions, carried out today under great difficulties of assembly, will afford the II Anzac Corps a sufficiently good jumping off line for operations on October 12th, on which date I hope that the II Anzac Corps will capture Passchendaele. The New Zealand Division and the 3rd Australian Division were now condemned to make an attack that should never have gone ahead. Never in its history have New Zealand troops been ordered to carry out an attack in such unfavorable circumstances. Nothing at all was right for it. Here is a brief list:

• The terrain was like glutinous porridge and it was raining heavily. This made a mockery of any attempt at tactical finesse like fire and maneuver and outflanking
enemy strong points.

• The objectives were very deep, over 3,000 yards. It included those set for 9 October. 

• Only two days were allocated to plan and coordinate the attack.

• Artillery support was totally inadequate, as the CRA (Napier Johnston) informed General Russell before the attack commenced. Few guns had been moved forward; those that had been did not have stable gun platforms and were short of shells.

• The troops were exhausted just reaching the start line and their morale was low. This was especially so for the 3rd Rifle Brigade, which had just completed a month detached as laborers from the division, one of the disadvantages of maintaining a four-brigade division. Since 4 September, the 3rd Rifle Brigade had been in the Ypres salient burying telephone cables and constructing roads. This work had to be done at night, often while wearing gas masks. The brigade's history candidly admits that in October its soldiers "were almost worn out and [were] certainly unready for immediate combative action."

The Job of Stretcher Bearer in Flanders


• The New Zealand stretcher bearers started the attack exhausted too, having to clear the battlefield of over 200 wounded men left out since the debacle of 9 October.

• The German obstacles ahead of them were formidable. These included the many pillboxes and two belts of barbed wire each about 30 yards thick, all of which was clearly visible from the New Zealand start line. What was not observed, though, were the many hidden machine gun nests and sniper teams moved into position for this attack.

• The German defenders knew the attack was coming. Not only could they see the preparations being made, but a British deserter and three other soldiers captured in raids on the night of 11 October also informed their captors of the exact time of the attack.

Exhausted New Zealand Engineers After the Attack

The attack was doomed before it even started. This is not the hindsight of a historian, either. Those New Zealand soldiers in the line on the morning of 12 October knew that the task ahead of them was formidable and that their prospects of survival were slim.  Afterward, the men who were there and their nation would remember it as "New Zealand's Blackest Day."

Sources: New Zealand History; Over the Top Magazine, July 2017

Tuesday, July 16, 2019

A Machine Gunner in France: The Memoirs of Ward Schrantz, 35th Division, 1917–1919


Edited by Jeffrey L. Patrick
University of North Texas Press, 2019
Peter L. Belmonte, Reviewer


Capt. Ward Schrantz

Ward Schrantz served in the Missouri National Guard and the Regular Army before World War I. During the war, Schrantz became the commander of Company A, 128th Machine Gun Battalion, 35th Division. After the war, Schrantz, a newspaperman and unit historian, wrote about his military experiences, and this book is the portion of his memoirs covering World War I. Editor Jeffry L. Patrick is the head librarian at the Wilson's Creek Battlefield in Missouri. He has previously edited and published the first part of Schrantz's memoirs, covering his military service from 1912 to 1917, including his time on the U.S.-Mexico border.

Patrick provides an introductory section for each chapter, wherein he sets the historical stage and provides other background. His footnotes are thorough and helpful, and he gives supplementary information on most of the people Schrantz mentions in the text. Like Schrantz in the narrative, Patrick supplies additional quotes from soldiers taken from letters and newspapers. The result is a highly readable and instructive memoir of a machine gun officer in World War I. Indeed, A Machine Gunner in France could almost double as a unit history of the 128th Machine Gun Battalion.

In the opening chapters, Schrantz discusses his company's mobilization and training in 1917. In common with most of the U.S. Army in 1917, the men struggled with inadequate material and equipment. After training, the men shipped out to France and, following some additional training, manned the lines in the Vosges Mountains. Schrantz goes into detail about his time in the Vosges "quiet sector." Although this section is long and almost tedious, serious students of the war will enjoy reading about how a machine gun company operated in a quiet sector in 1918. For example, they will learn how a relief was conducted and what officers' roles were. Throughout the book we're also treated to such tidbits as a description and diagram of how machine gun trucks were loaded for transport and a description of various marching formations when moving up to the line. And we learn of the technique of suspending wet gunnysacks in front of the guns; this served to hide muzzle flashes from German observers in the hills.

Unidentified Machine Gunners Firing in the Opening of
the Meuse-Argonne Offensive

Anyone familiar with the performance of the 35th Division during the Meuse-Argonne Offensive will appreciate Schrantz's extended and candid coverage of his unit's participation in the battle. The 35th was justly criticized for its performance and the rapid deterioration of its command, control, and liaison shortly after the battle began. Schrantz's recollections bear this out. Although Schrantz and his machine guns performed well, the confusion and disorganization of the division are evident in his memoirs. At one point early in the action, Schrantz came upon Lieutenant Wilber Maring, commander of the 137th Infantry Regiment's Machine Gun Company. According to Schrantz:

[Maring] had a map in his hand. He showed me where his guns were in position and firing. He showed me the enemy position on the ground and on the map, all in a few brief moments and under considerable small arms fire. … So far as I recall he is the only man I saw during the hurly-burley phases of the Meuse-Argon who knew exactly where he was, exactly where the enemy was and exactly what was going on on his immediate front (p. 310).

Schrantz's coverage of the phase of the battle in which his unit was involved runs to about 130 pages and is very interesting. In these pages we're given a rare glimpse into the duties and activities of a machine gun officer in combat in World War I. Schrantz thoroughly covers his movements and decisions during the five days of heavy combat.

The 35th Division was relieved by the 1st Division on 1 October and they then moved to the east side of the Meuse River to man defensive positions. Schrantz recounts his unit's activities in this relatively quiet sector of the Meuse-Argonne area. Given some time to think about his division's ordeal, Schrantz smarted under the thought of their losses. His feelings about his unit's comparative inaction in their "new" sector is revealed in a very human statement—"I wanted to see dead Germans piled up in front of my guns as I had seen our own dead of the 138th Infantry windrowed along that road at Cheppy" (p. 439). His use of the word windrowed, usually meaning the raking up of hay into rows before being baled for drying, is particularly apt.

The remaining chapters of A Machine Gunner in France cover the 128th's postwar activities, Schrantz's promotion to major, his subsequent appointment to command another machine gun unit in the 35th Division, and then his return to the United States.

A few maps and many photographs are sprinkled throughout the book. Patrick's bibliography reflects his research in primary materials, government publications, and contemporary newspapers. Schrantz was a very competent officer who cared for his men as well as for the overall mission. That he was also a gifted writer is a lucky break for us. This book is a fine contribution to the historiography of the American Expeditionary Forces and is highly recommended.

Peter L. Belmonte

Monday, July 15, 2019

Churchill vs. Bean


Charles Bean in Egypt Prior to Departure
for the Beaches


Official Australian War Historian Charles Bean’s assessment of Gallipoli’s outcome for Australians was not well appreciated by Winston Churchill.

Quoting Churchill’s response in full:  “The writer of the Australian Official History has thought it right to epitomize the story in the following concluding sentence—

‘So through a Churchill’s excess of imagination, a layman’s ignorance of artillery, and the fatal power of a young enthusiasm to convince older and slower brains, the tragedy of Gallipoli was born’.

It is my hope that the Australian people, towards whom I have always felt a solemn responsibility, will not rest content with so crude, so inaccurate, so incomplete and so prejudiced a judgement, but will study the facts for themselves.”

Bean wrote 21 diaries covering his time at Anzac, which began on the day of the first landing, 25 April 1915.  This was his entry for the day he finally departed:

18 December 1915: So I have left old Anzac. In a way I was really fond of the place. I have certainly had some quite enjoyable times there in my old dugout - yarning to friends; or going round lines. I can't pretend that I ever liked the shells or attacks – but one came to put up with them much as one does with a toothache.

Sources: “Australia’s Foreign Wars: Origins, Costs, Future?!”; Australian War Memorial Archives

Sunday, July 14, 2019

100 Years Ago: Victory Parade in Paris (A Roads Classic)

The peace treaty had been signed on 28 June 1919 by the statesmen, but the military needed its own ceremonial ending for the conflict.  Bastille Day, the great holiday of republican France was chosen for the occasion.  Here is a selection of photos and a contemporary news account of the grand day.

The Fourteenth of July at Paris
Staff Correspondence by Elbert Francis Baldwin
Paris, 14 July 1919


8 a.m. Avenue du Bois. The sun is now full upon the Triumphal Arch, close by. The chains which guard the entrance to the Arch have been removed. The ceremony will be begun by a delegation of a thousand men from those who have been maimed in the war. They will advance through the Arch to the cenotaph erected last week to the memory of the dead in the war and will salute that altar before taking seats reserved for them. (The first thought of France always goes to her dead.) Very many of the mutiles have one leg, one arm, one eye gone. Many are on crutches. Nearly all wear medals — the Croix de Guerre or the Legion of Honor or the Medaille Militaire. Some cannot walk; some, with both legs gone, can never walk. These are wheeled on long, low chairs by the more able-bodied wounded or by nurses. Some of the mutiles are totally blind and are led by their comrades. But their faces are transfigured. Tears streaming down his face, one of the blind exclaimed : "I feel it all. I see!"

8:30 a.m. Avenue de la Grande Armee. From my perch here, to which I hastened half an hour ago, lean watch the procession pass along this, its first street, and can also see it pass under the Arc de Triomphe near by. With the broad Avenue des Champs Elysees, the equally broad Avenue de la Grande Armee forms a west-to-east line through the Arch. The ample sidewalks are densely crowded; it is hard to wedge your way through. Those persons who have not been able to elevate themselves over the heads of others on chairs, stages, or stepladders have dis covered that, after all, they are favored; they are now gazing up into the tilted tinted glass signs over the shops, which perfectly reflect what is going on in the middle of the street.

Click on Image to Expand

       From Top: American Troops Passing Through the Arc;  Marshals Joffre and Foch Lead the Parade; British Troops; View from Top of Arc
A cannon booms, its echo taken up by the cheering thousands on the sidewalks and balconies and roofs and wherever they can find a place. The procession is starting from the Porte Maillot, which leads from the suburb of Neuilly into the city proper. In less time than one would fancy a squadron of the Republican Guard, in gala attire, comes in sight, a serried rank of red, black, white, and glittering brass.

Then a space of twenty yards or so, and a mighty shout rises from the people. For there, riding side by side, are Joffre and Foch. The two Marshals appear like two slowly moving statues, representing the genius and glory of France. They seem to unite all a warrior's qualities — the cold head, the warm heart; originality and initiative, energy and efficiency ; finally, the readiness to sacrifice, whether themselves, their men, or their territory. Of course the two Marshals stand specially for the Marne; one for the first battle there, nearly five years ago, and the other for the second battle, a year ago. The relief of the crowd on seeing Joffre actually in the parade finds quick expression. By an incredible and painful oversight or intention (which recalls the treatment of General Wood at home), the name of the hero who had saved Paris in 1914 had not appeared in the official announcements. "L'lntransigcant " and other papers made such a protest that the blunder was atoned for as far as could be. As he passes "Papa Joffre" looks portlier and more paternal than ever. But those of us who are his special admirers fancy that we detect a sadness in his face — as of one who had met a new disillusionment Foch's attitude towards his senior is admirable — he always keeps his horse just the least bit in the rear of Joffre's mount. Each Marshal wears the uniform in which he has become best known: Joffre in black dolman and red trousers and Foch wholly in gray.

As Commander-in-Chief of the Allied Forces, Foch leads detachments from those forces. First comes Foch's Staff, a large body of well-mounted officers. Then (as seems appropriate to us Americans!) come our own detachments in their alert, special West Point step — a hundred and thirty instead of the usual hundred and twenty steps to the minute Our men are in ideally exact block for mation. . .Our soldiers are headed by martial, stern-looking General Pershing. His cap visor and his chin seem on about the same angle. The composite battalion of infantry, made up of the best men from all the divisions, is followed by a naval detach ment, which is getting even greater ap plause from the crowd. Yet, despite the bands' "Over There," all our men look a bit solemn, and a voice near me rings out: "Sonriez un pen."

The "smile a little" has its effect upon the heavier-moving, less military-looking Belgians who follow more smil ingly, General Guillain at their head. . . Following the Belgians come the British. Field-Marshal Sir Douglas Haig, Commander-in-Chief, leads them. . .Next to the satisfaction of finding Marshal Joffre in the parade is the people's pleasure in seeing Marshal Haig there, for they had not been informed that he would be.

As have been all Parisians throughout the war, so the people about me are much im pressed by the British officers' smart appearance. . .The onlookers are now frankly admiring the supple, muscular quality of the men trudging by, the bare-kneed Scotch and the bluejackets being the most warmly received.

Click on Image to Expand


From Top: General Pershing and Marshal Foch; Greek Contingent; Australian and New Zealand Troops; U.S. Navy Band; Marshal Joffre and Others Decorating Standard Bearers
Now come the Italians, briskly moving to the strains of their national anthem. I expected to hear a sharp comment or two concerning the crisis at Fiume the other day between some French and some Italians, but there are no such comments about me — only hearty applause, which the Alpini well deserve. Besides, the French can hardly forget the blood from the south spilled for them in the Champagne, where the Italian regiments lost half their effectives.

Now follow the Japanese. . .and here is another surprise — the Greeks, no longer in the short white skirt, but in tight white trousers. Of all the nations, the Poles, now passing, are getting the most strenuous applause so far, save that for Americans. They are not many in number, but as their white eagle heaves in sight the past history, present plight, and future dreams of Poland seem to find vent in respon sive shouts of sympathy.

Now follow the bronzed and swarthy Portuguese; well set-up Romanians; nerv ous-looking, resolute Serbs; strange-looking agile Siamese ; and, finally, the men who seem to come closest to the Poles in Parisian esteem, the Czechoslovaks, in dark-blue caps and many wearing the red fourragere won in the French army.

But where is Russia? — not Bolshevist Russia of the past year, but the Ally who sacrificed two million men that this Peace Day might come? Where are the representatives now in Paris of those martyrs?

Now there is appropriately a pause of some moments before the second half of the procession appears. It is led by the Commander-in-Chief of the French Army, the hero of Verdun, Marshal Petain. He looks younger, he is more athletic and buoyant, slenderer, and more graceful than his portraits show. He sits his white horse with juvenile ease. He smiles frankly. Behind him rides one who ought to be the fourth Marshal of France — Castelnau, who saved Nancy and the east front. Every one notes the black brassard ou his arm; everyone is saying, "He lost all his sons in the war."

A similar movement of sympathy there is as one-armed Gouraud rides by. He is the symbol of duty and sacrifice. Of the other generals, Mangin, the square-jawed, gets the lion's share of applause. All know the story of the final phase of the war and of Mangin's tenacity iu grappling with the Boche, in downing him, and in holding him down.

But what shall we say of the poilu himself? — our poilu too, as he seems, for not only did he fight from the first day to the last day of the war, he fought for all of us. There are many of him, representing the twenty-one corps of the army proper, a company from each regiment which had earned the fourragere of the highest rank. They pass by to the music of the " Chant du Depart," the " Marche Lorraine," the "Sambre-et-Meuse." They pass by bearing flags full of holes. Then come the armies of the Orient and of Africa followed by men from the navy, the cavalry, the airmen.

The procession has taken two hours to pass. But other men also follow — the heroes who have given their lives for La Patrie. They indeed do not merely follow. They are everywhere. One feels their presence in all the ranks of marching men.


Source: The Outlook, 6 August 1919

Friday, July 12, 2019

A Medical Memorial at Fleury-sur-Aire



By Christina Holstein

To the east, west, and south of the city of Verdun are traces of the former wartime hospitals and medical units that served the French Army during the First World War and, in particular, during the ten months of the Battle of Verdun 1916. As many of these units were housed in tents and wooden huts the only traces visible today are earth embankments, remnants of old railway lines and extensive cemeteries.

The Hospital Grounds Viewed from the Temporary Cemetery

Such a place is the site of the former hospital at the small village of Fleury-sur-Aire, which treated some 116,000 wounded between May 1916 and February 1919. Lying some 25 kilometers southwest of Verdun city and served by an extensive road and rail network, this hospital was one of the most important in the Verdun region. As such it attracted eminent personalities in the medical world—experienced surgeons, medical professors, and highly qualified nurses, among them Madame Jacquemaire-Clemenceau, the daughter of the president of the French Republic. 

Today near the site of the former hospital, about one-half mile west of Fleury-sur-Aire, is a three-person sculpture, a 1999 installation depicting a meeting between a doctor, a nurse, and a seriously injured patient. The nurse is Mme Jacquemaire-Clemenceau and the patient is John Verplanck Newlin, age 19, an American volunteer ambulance driver from Princeton University, whom she cared for. 

John Newlin at Princeton
Newlin was the son of Mr and Mrs R. M. Newlin of Whitford, PA.  By portraying the French nurse and the American volunteer together, the sculptor, Francois Davin, sought to render homage to Franco-American friendship both during the First World War and at the present time. The body of John Verplanck Newlin now lies in the American military cemetery at Romagne-sous-Montfaucon. On 3 August 1917 John Verplanck Newlin was seriously wounded in the performance of his duties and died two days later. He had been twice decorated for bravery. In 1945 an ambulance of the American Field Service was named in honor of John Verplanck Newlin. AFS records show that WD# 1324611 AFS# 174 "John V. Newlin" served with the 14th Light Field Artillery, the 168th Light Field Artillery, the 52nd New Zealand MDS, the 3rd Light Field Artillery, and also on detachment with the King's Dragoon Guards. During this period the John Newlin ambulance carried 186 patients and traveled 6,056 miles.

American Staff and Patients at the Hospital

On 25 January 1918 the hospital at Fleury-sur-Aire was transferred to the American Army and re-designated Evacuation Hospital #114. It saw heavy service during the St. Mihiel and Meuse-Argonne Offensives and was utterly swamped when the Spanish influenza peaked in the midst of the AEF's heaviest fighting.

Thursday, July 11, 2019

Beersheba, Jerusalem, and the Haversack Ruse


General Allenby at the Jaffa Gate, Jerusalem, 11 December 1917

Given Prime Minister Lloyd George’s insistence that Jerusalem be taken by Christmas [1917], Egypt Expeditionary Force (EEF) Commander, General Edmund Allenby had less than six months to overcome two failed efforts by his predecessor to breach the Gaza-Beersheba line and open the way to Jerusalem. The third major British offensive against these fortifications could not be totally hidden, but could its specific objectives be disguised? Could the German-led Turkish forces defending the line be made to believe an attack was intended at one place and not the other, true, target?

The answer was that it was worth trying, and thus entered into the annals of military history one of the greatest exemplars of a deception operation ever conducted. Known as the “Haversack Ruse.” The operation involved—just before the October 1917 offensive was to begin—the intentional loss in enemy territory by a British staff officer of an apparent dispatch case containing the British attack plan. 

Through this ruse, Allenby hoped to fool the commanders facing him regarding both the timing and direction of the attack, with the goal of convincing the enemy that the British would conduct a third direct assault on Gaza while the actual focal point of the attack would be Beersheba, miles to the east.

At the operational level of warfare, Allenby also wanted the Turks to worry that a more northerly attack, emanating from Cyprus against Syria, was imminent. Once again, his intelligence staff devised a complex deception strategy. The EEF mustered enough movement of men, horses, and materials on the island to make a looming operation seem plausible. There was increased signal traffic, and he even simulated troop movements by putting Egyptian workers on troop ships. The main goal was to pin down enemy troops along the Syrian coast, thus preventing them from reinforcing the Gaza to Beersheba frontline. Although the Germans and Turks were not fooled by all elements of the plans, their decision not to militarily reinforce Beersheba indicates the deception may have tilted the odds in this linchpin battle in favor of the British.

Intelligence officer Richard Meinertzhagen laid claim to both the idea and its execution—a claim that has been credibly disputed. As Meinertzhagen has told the story, pretending to be on a courier mission, he intentionally rode close to the front lines near Gaza and been taken under fire by an enemy cavalry patrol. He slumped forward in his saddle, feigning injury, and let the haversack (previously coated in blood) drop to the ground, reckoning it would be recovered by the cavalrymen. Among common items that any soldier might possess, the haversack contained official papers and rough notes on a cipher which would enable the enemy to decode any encrypted messages Britain might send later. Once the haversack was successfully “lost,” British headquarters immediately began broadcasting encrypted messages in that code that ordered urgent efforts to recover it. The sack and its contents soon were in the possession of the German commander of the Turkish force. The papers indicated that the British would yet again directly attack Gaza while moving a force to Beersheba to act as a feint. The papers also also indicated that a French force would attempt a simultaneous amphibious landing well north of Gaza on the Syrian coast.

British Intelligence Agent Richard Meinertzhagen

Most historians accept that the Turks and Germans both fell for the deception, thus enabling the Australian and New Zealand (ANZAC) light horse brigade to capture the strategic water wells at Beersheba and begin to roll up the Gaza-Beersheba line from the east and move on to Jerusalem in December. Brian Garfield put forth a compelling argument in his book, The Meinertzhagen Mystery, that although the deception took place, almost every claim Meinertzhagen made for himself was false. According to Garfield, Meinertzhagen was neither the author of the plan nor the British rider who dropped the haversack. Moreover, the enemy clearly dismissed several elements of a larger Allied deception plan. Perhaps some elements of this plan helped the British at Beersheba, but the biggest deception may have been Meinertzhagen’s elaborate postwar scheme to use the incident to enhance his reputation.

Source: "The Role of Military Intelligence in the Battle for Beersheba in October 1917," by James Noone, CIA Studies in Intelligence Vol. 62, No. 1

Wednesday, July 10, 2019

Small City, Big Contribution: Ironton, Ohio, and the Great War



Ironton, OH, Today
By Joe Unger

Ironton, OH, an Appalachian City of 12,000 in 1910, is nestled on the Ohio River in an iron-rich region. In 1917, the Ohio National Guard had a detachment, Company “I”, 7th Ohio National Guard, hailing from the city.  Mustering into Federal Service on 15 July 1917, the strength of the company was 60 men, commanded by Capt. M.W. Russell. The training was strenuous in the hikes through the Appalachian Mountain foothills surrounding Ironton. It is stated that, 

“Arrangements were made to use the Lawrence Street Public School Building as a barracks, and immediately intensive training was begun to fit the boys for the strenuous overseas service. Long hikes were taken over many hills surrounding Ironton, and through the benefit of these and the close order work, the company soon began to take on a very military aspect under the able officers mentioned above. While two-thirds of the boys were raw recruits, before many days had passed, they bore the ear-marks of old time veterans. The work on most of the boys was entirely different from any they had ever engaged in, but nevertheless, they plunged right into it, never thinking of their blistered feet and aching muscles, but thinking only of the joyful day when they would take a crack at the heinous Hun. It was only for this reason that they withstood the unaccustomed training so splendidly” (Role of Honor of Lawrence County, OH, Miller, 1919).
Company A, 148th Infantry, 37th (Ohio) Division

In September 1917, 16 boys from Company I were sent to Camp Perry, OH, to begin the process of transfer to the famous Rainbow Division. The balance of the company entrained for Camp Sheridan in Montgomery, AL, arriving there on the 16th of October 1917. These men were transferred to Company A, 148th Infantry, 37th Division. In May 1918 the 37th was sent to Camp Lee, VA, and received equipment for overseas service. Company A participated in all of the combats of the 148th Infantry, including the front lines of Baccarat and the Pannes, the Meuse-Argonnes offensives, and the Ypres-Lys offensives. It was in this latter campaign that the 148th had its crowning achievement, it was the first Allied unit to cross the Scheldt River in Belgium on 2 November 1918. This dangerous crossing, under murderous machine gun and artillery fire, inspired the regimental motto: “We’ll do it!”. 

Capt. Lambert
Bg. General Dean
After the war, the men of Company I returned home to Ironton, and marched in the Decoration Day Parade in 1919. It was their victory parade. Other WWI soldiers and airmen, all Irontonians, marched through the streets of the city: Brigadier General James T. Dean, Brigadier General George Richards, Brigadier General James Ancil Shipton, many Lieutenant Colonels, and its most famous son of the Great War: Captain William C. Lambert of the Royal Flying Corps, the second-highest scoring American ace with 22 ½ victories (see Bill Lambert, WWI Flying Ace by Sam Wilson). 

Ironton Red Cross Board Members at Downtown Headquarters

The City of Ironton also had a Knights of Columbus Council that provided Kay Cees to the war effort. A local Home of the Benevolent Protective Order of the Elks sent volunteers to Company I, and an Ironton Chapter of the Red Cross which provided 47,345 surgical dressings, 7000 knitted and hospital garments, 2,292 sweaters, and 3,299 pairs of socks to our soldiers. Not to be outdone, Ironton also had a chapter of the Women’s Council of National Defense, “organized for the purpose of assisting in various ways in the successful prosecution of the War.” The council’s two most notable achievements were 1) leading the efforts of the Liberty Loan drive, and 2) providing thousands of books to various cantonment camps. Members of the Ironton YMCA were also present for duty, as noted by the service record of Miss Katherine Russell Fowler.

Ironton foundries provided iron and steel to the Ford Motor Company, manufacturing Model T trucks, via the Detroit, Toledo & Ironton Railroad (Henry Ford’s Railroad).  A very interesting note concerns the DT&I RR and the United States Railroad Administration. The USRA took control of the DT&I RR on 1 January 1918. This agency provided the DT&I with 15 brand-new (Russian) 2-10-0 locomotives. They were part of a massive order destined for the Imperial Russian Railway. Diverted by the USRA, each of the locomotives had to have their driver tires re-gauged from the Russian 60 in., to the narrower U.S. gauge. The engines were regarded as stout, by their crews, but the throttles worked just the opposite of the American standard. To close the throttle, the engineer pulled out, to open it, the engineer pushed forward. Several mishaps were reported due to the confusion with the throttle motion. At least one locomotive ended up in a turntable pit as a result of this. At the conclusion of WWI, the railroad was returned to private ownership (see The Detroit, Toledo & Ironton R.R., by Scott Trostel). 

Football Jersey of the Ironton Tanks
(Pro Football Hall of Fame)

After the Armistice, the men of Company I, and several other Ironton veterans, banded together and formed a professional football team. These men, veterans of combat in France and Belgium, likened their team to the great land-ships that crossed the battlefields. Thus was born one of the first NFL teams, the Ironton Tanks (the stadium still stands and is listed on the National Register). These veteran soldiers proceeded to defeat early NFL powerhouses. The Chicago Bears, the New York Giants, and the Kansas City Cowboys all fell to the Tanks. The Ironton Tanks (a name befitting men who had been on the battlefield and on the gridiron) would finally perish because of the Great Depression and would later become the Detroit Lions (see Home and Away: The Rise and Fall of Professional Football Along the Banks of the Ohio, by Carl Becker).

Most of the above history is on view at the Lawrence County Museum in Ironton, OH.











Tuesday, July 9, 2019

Happy Days! A Humorous Narrative in Drawings of the Progress of American Arms 1917–1919


At the St. Mihiel Salient


By Captain Alban B. Butler
Osprey Publishing, 1st Ed. 2011
Mike Hanlon, Reviewer

A Typical Day on the Way to France

With his pen and sketch pad, talented amateur cartoonist Alban Butler documented in droll fashion the experience of the First Division of the AEF. His outfit was the first to ship over there, the first to take casualties, and the first to fight and offensive operation at Cantigny. The division later helped close the St. Mihiel Salient and laid claim to being the first to reach the outskirts of Sedan at war's end. The veterans of the division were justifiably proud of their record and were deeply fond of Butler's cartoons.

Christmas 1917


Captain Butler had been chairman of the Yale Record before the war and served as aide-de-camp to Major General Charles Pelot Summerall in France. In 1928 the Society of the First Division published this collection, and now Osprey Books and the First Division Museum at Cantigny have collaborated to reissue Happy Days. The new volume includes a highly informative foreword by distinguished AEF historian E.M. (Mac) Coffman.

Mike Hanlon

Monday, July 8, 2019

Doughboy Postcards from Russia

These aren't really postcards, but photos I've gathered over the years from America's still perplexing excursions into Russia. The men of both the Northern Russian and Siberian expeditions found themselves fighting well after the Armistice, much to the dismay of their families back home.  Anyway, as you will see, it's  a completely different-looking war than what went on over on the Western Front.

Click on Image to Enlarge


Vladivostok Was the Main Port for AEF Siberia


Crossing the Dvina River at Archangel



Eating at a Mobile Kitchen While on the March



Troops of Company M, 27th Infantry



Vodka Party  in the Barracks



A Major Mission of AEF Siberia Was to Guard the Railroads



The 339th Infantry Arrives in Archangel






Headquarters North Russian AEF



A Tiny American Outpost, Northern Russia



Pvt. Joseph Chinzi of the 339th Infantry Weds His Russian Bride
at Archangel.



American Purchasing Officers at a Russian Market



The Yanks Adopted Traditional Russian Transport Methods



Sources:  U.S. Army, National Archives, Library of Congress, the Wyoming Veterans Memorial, the Bently Historical Society, and Wiki Commons

Sunday, July 7, 2019

Norman Stone, R.I.P.

World War I historian Norman Stone died in June at age 78. He was one of the distinguished historians I was able to meet since I've been chronicling the events of 1914–1918. I've tried to read as many of Norman's obituaries as I could track down. Here are some of the best excerpts I've found that, I hope collectively capture the spirit of man with whom I once spent an evening drinking and chatting with in Istanbul.



Norman Stone, who has died aged 78, was a historian and writer whose colorful personality, outspokenness and political views created sharply polarized opinions of his lifestyle and work output. A one-time speech-writer for Margaret Thatcher, his views on the Armenian genocide and other matters aroused considerable hostility.

Stone was born in Glasgow in 1941, the son of Mary, a teacher, and Norman, a lawyer who was killed the following year while flying a Spitfire on a training exercise. He attended the fee-paying Glasgow Academy on a scholarship. On going up to Gonville and Caius College, Cambridge in 1959 he had intended to study languages but soon switched to history, the subject in which he graduated with a first.
Marcus Williamson, The Independent, 30 June 2019

Norman Stone, who has died aged 78, was a great historian and the most gifted teacher of his generation. He was also a mischievous wit, with an acerbic tongue that could deflate the pompous and the pretentious in a sentence or two, delivered in mellifluous Glaswegian. . . He never lost his sensual love of history and music, especially the final scene of "Don Giovanni," which had a mystical significance for him. Like the Don, Norman was a sinner who did not hold out much hope of redemption, but he believed above all in humanity.
Daniel Johnson, The Article, 19 June 2019

At a time when malice and rudeness were highly prized by some right-wing Cambridge dons, Stone outdid them all in the abuse he hurled at anyone he disapproved of, including feminists (“rancid”), Oxford dons (“a dreadful collection of deadbeats, dead wood and has-beens”), students (“smelly and inattentive”), David Cameron and John Major (“transitional nobodies”), Edward Heath (“a flabby-faced coward”) and many more.

. . . In 1975 he published the book that made his reputation: The Eastern Front 1914–1917, which won him the Wolfson history prize and numerous laudatory reviews. This was a scintillating narrative based on a wide range of sources in several languages, including both Russian and German, admirably succinct and clearly argued. It did a great deal to redress the imbalance of the British historiography of the war, which had up to this point focused almost exclusively on the western front.

It argued powerfully that administrative chaos and poor military and political leadership were more important in causing the Russian defeat than economic weakness. However, its approach was self-confessedly old-fashioned, with its concentration on grand strategy, political and military leaders, to the neglect of the experience and morale of the ordinary soldier, factors that feature strongly in more recent accounts.
Richard J. Evans, The Guardian, 25 June 2019

I was fascinated by his mastery of the Eastern Front during the First World War, on which he had written the definitive book. Norman had unique access to the original documents, because he had learned three of the local languages whilst imprisoned in the Soviet Bloc for attempting to smuggle the girlfriend of a friend of his over the Iron Curtain in the boot of his car.

Our meetings became a real pleasure, as he teased me about my political views, taught me what history was all about, and also how to survive extraordinarily long drinking sessions without falling down the stairs on the way back to my College rooms.

. . . We have met – off and on – many times over the ensuing 40 years.  Wise, irreverent, waspish, funny and always fizzing like a freshly opened bottle of champagne (usually served in a half-pint tankard), there has never been anybody like Norman. The universe is a lesser place now that he has gone.
Andrew Mitchell, The Article, 26 June 2019

If you would like to read about my encounter with this most interesting historian, read:


Saturday, July 6, 2019

Italy's Museo Storico Italiano della Guerra


Castello di Rovereto

In Italy's Trentino, looming over the city of Rovereto, is a castle on a rocky crag at its western edge. Today it is the home of Italy's Museo Storico Italiano della Guerra (Museum of War History), inaugurated in 1921 to house artifacts from several wars but mainly featuring World War I.  Outside here are a number of large artillery pieces and plaques along the walls at the base of the castle and marvelous views are to be had from atop the castle ramparts: from here can be seen the town's red tile roofs, its church steeples, old world streets and city walls. The River Adige sparkles below.

A Bersagliere ( A Mobile Light Infantryman)

The museum itself includes small arms and ammunition; uniforms of several units from a variety of countries; posters and displays related not only to Italy but to the Czechs, Austro-Hungarians, and other countries as well; and much other material. A proclamation from Austrian emperor Franz Joseph to his Italian subjects is appropriately signed "Francesco Giuseppe." The daily life of the soldiers can be glimpsed from the articles they manufactured giving a strong sense of what army life was like during the war.

The Larger Artillery Pieces Are on Display in a Museum Annex

Also to be seen in the museum are such things as gas masks, flamethrowers, alpine uniforms and snowshoes, body armor, trench clubs with spikes, knives with brass knuckles handles, bugles and signaling devices, maps and topographic models, medals and decorations, photographs and old newspapers. Among the latter is a photograph showing Austrian soldiers carrying a white flag of surrender on 29 October 1918.

Friday, July 5, 2019

T.E. Lawrence Tortured


One of the most memorable episodes in the film Lawrence of Arabia depicts the hero being taken prisoner by Turkish soldiers for the sexual use of their officer, played by José Ferrer. He resists, and is administered a dreadful beating. The sequence is a preliminary to a scene where Lawrence tells his irregulars to kill all the Turkish prisoners taken after a raid. As well as Director David Lean presents this story, he doesn't quite do justice to Lawrence's brilliant literary treatment of his experience.  Over several pages of Seven Pillars of Wisdom Lawrence describes in exquisite detail of what it's like to having the  ^&*%$(#  beaten out of you. This is not for the faint hearted.

Preparation for the Beating

They kicked me to the head of the stairs, and stretched me over a guard-bench, pommelling me. Two knelt on my ankles, bearing down on the back of my knees, while two more twisted my wrists till they cracked, and then crushed them and my neck against the wood. The corporal had run downstairs; and now came back with a whip of the Circassian sort, a thong of supple black hide, rounded, and tapering from the thickness of a thumb at the grip (which was wrapped in silver) down to a hard point finer than a pencil.

He saw me shivering, partly I think, with cold, and made it whistle over my ear, taunting me that before his tenth cut I would howl for mercy, and at the twentieth beg for the caresses of the Bey; and then he began to lash me madly across and across with all his might, while I locked my teeth to endure this thing which lapped itself like flaming wire about my body.

To keep my mind in control I numbered the blows, but after twenty lost count, and could feel only the shapeless weight of pain, not tearing claws, for which I had prepared, but a gradual cracking apart of my whole being by some too-great force whose waves rolled up my spine till they were pent within my brain, to clash terribly together. Somewhere in the place a cheap clock ticked loudly, and it distressed me that their beating was not in its time. I writhed and twisted, but was held so tightly that my struggles were useless. 

After the corporal ceased, the men took up, very deliberately, giving me so many, and then an interval, during which they would squabble for the next turn, ease themselves, and play unspeakably with me. This was repeated often, for what may have been no more than ten minutes. Always for the first of every new series, my head would be pulled round, to see how a hard white ridge, like a railway, darkening slowly into crimson, leaped over my skin at the instant of each stroke, with a bead of blood where two ridges crossed. As the punishment proceeded the whip fell more and more upon existing weals, biting blacker or more wet, till my flesh quivered with accumulated pain, and with terror of the next blow coming. They soon conquered my determination not to cry, but while my will ruled my lips I used only Arabic, and before the end a merciful sickness choked my utterance.

At last when I was completely broken they seemed satisfied. Somehow I found myself off the bench, lying on my back on the dirty floor, where I snuggled down, dazed, panting for breath, but vaguely comfortable. I had strung myself to learn all pain until I died, and no longer actor, but spectator, thought not to care how my body jerked and squealed. Yet I knew or imagined what passed about me.

I remembered the corporal kicking with his nailed boot to get me up; and this was true, for next day my right side was dark and lacerated, and a damaged rib made each breath stab me sharply. I remembered smiling idly at him, for a delicious warmth, probably sexual, was swelling through me: and then that he flung up his arm and hacked with the full length of his whip into my groin. This doubled me half-over, screaming, or, rather, trying impotently to scream, only shuddering through my open mouth. One giggled with amusement. A voice cried, 'Shame, you've killed him'. Another slash followed. A roaring, and my eyes went black: while within me the core of Me seemed to heave slowly up through the rending nerves, expelled from its body by this last indescribable pang.

By the bruises perhaps they beat me further: but I next knew that I was being dragged about by two men, each disputing over a leg as though to split me apart: while a third man rode me astride. It was momently better than more flogging. Then Nahi called. They splashed water in my face, wiped off some of the filth, and lifted me between them, retching and sobbing for mercy, to where he lay: but he now rejected me in haste, as a thing too torn and bloody for his bed, blaming their excess of zeal which had spoilt me: whereas no doubt they had laid into me much as usual, and the fault rested mainly upon my indoor skin, which gave way more than an Arab's.

So the crestfallen corporal, as the youngest and best-looking of the guard, had to stay behind, while the others carried me down the narrow stair into the street. The coolness of the night on my burning flesh, and the unmoved shining of the stars after the horror of the past hour, made me cry again. The soldiers, now free to speak, warned me that men must suffer their officers' wishes or pay for it, as I had just done, with greater suffering.

They took me over an open space, deserted and dark, and behind the Government house to a lean-to wooden room, in which were many dusty quilts. An Armenian dresser appeared, to wash and bandage me in sleepy haste. Then all went away, the last soldier delaying by my side a moment to whisper in his Druse accent that the door into the next room was not locked.