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

Thursday, January 31, 2019

Germany Begins Re-arming

Intent on preventing the German aggression they held to have caused World War I, the Allies in 1919 imposed stringent restrictions on Germany’s military capabilities as part of the Versailles Treaty. Most were general in nature, including those limiting conscription and the manufacture of rifles and artillery. But the Allies were particularly concerned about German aviation, as evidenced by the prohibition of any possession of Fokker D.VIIs. These biplane fighters were the only category of equipment specifically mentioned in the Versailles restrictions, a testament to Allied fear of German airpower.

Fokker D.VIIs in front of a hangar at the secret
Reichswehr flight center in Lipetsk, USSR, 1925

The new postwar government in Berlin was initially assisted in its airpower deception by private interests. Anthony Fokker, the Dutch manufacturer of several successful German WWI aircraft, including the D.VII, was among the first to aggressively circumvent Versailles restrictions. He and his company hid aircraft in barns and buildings throughout the German countryside, covertly put air frames on trains under tarps and rigging that hid the outlines of the aircraft, and created diversions as the trains crossed  German-Dutch border into Holland, all to save 120 D.VIIs, 400 engines, and an estimated $8 million of material. They also left a handful of airframes in Germany for Allied arms inspectors to find, to avoid the suspicion that anything had been removed. Fokker’s motivation may have been largely personal in ensuring he could continue his business, but after his departure for the United States in 1923, the German government continued to benefit in air R&D from both planes and design information that should have been destroyed under Versailles.

Those inspectors were from the Inter-Allied Control Commission (IACC), a group of military officers headquartered in Berlin, whom the Allies had designated to ensure German compliance with the treaty restrictions. The inspectors were not idle, conducting more than 800 inspections over a six-week period alone between September and October 1924. Their efforts and frustrations would be familiar to any who followed arms control inspections in Iraq almost 70 years later. IACC inspectors spent a significant amount of time inspecting facilities that had been warned in advance of their arrival as well as chasing down meaningless rumors, such as that baby carriages were being manufactured that could be reassembled into machine guns.

The Army Peace Commission, a liaison group within the German Defense Ministry, was responsible for much of the work of undermining the IACC’s efforts. German officials and the commission’s commander, Gen. August von Cramon, had been shocked that the Allies had permitted the formation of such a liaison group, assuming the IACC would just travel and inspect whatever it wished and without warning. The Germans used the peace commission to obstruct and thwart the IACC’s efforts at every opportunity.  Arguably, however, the real story the Allies were interested in was not in Germany at all, but in an unexpected place the IACC could not reach, the newly established USSR.

German Officers Visiting a Soviet Chemical Warfare
Plant in 1926

In 1922, Germany and the Soviet Union concluded secret military agreements. One agreement established an aircraft testing and training center in Lipetsk, Russia, where German pilots and plane designs would be developed away from the prying eyes of the IACC. The deceptive measures necessary to protect this effort were complex. German officers sent to train there were “discharged” for the duration of their training. A customs office was established at Lipetsk to clear parts and schedule shipments away from normal points of entry in Germany that might be under observation, and aircraft were flown to Lipetsk disguised as “mail planes.”

These efforts complemented bureaucratic actions within the Defense Ministry in Berlin that were not detected by the IACC. The aviation staff was designated the “Army Command Inspectorate of Weapons Schools” and immediately absorbed 120 former army and navy pilots into the newly established state-owned airline, Lufthansa, or into several “advertising squadrons.” It did so through false job descriptions and secret training pipelines.

After initial training at a newly established (1922) Commercial Flying School, the new pilots were brought to Lipetsk for specialized military training. The entire enterprise was financed through the state budget. Each year the chancellor’s office and Defense Ministry would submit budget requests with inflated estimates for items such as parts and labor. When legislators approved this budget, the excess funds were then diverted to secret programs such as air training and the Lipetsk facility.This effort, simple in description, must have involved significant work and coordination among the various offices and individuals responsible for budget formulation in the Weimar Republic.

Not all efforts to develop the German air force were so clandestine, and in fact some were taken with the concurrence of the Allies themselves. The Commercial Flying School was established publicly and eventually did feed into Lufthansa. German arguments that they should not be denied the benefits of aircraft for mail delivery, advertising, and sports led to a relaxation on restrictions of limited-performance aircraft. Perhaps even more significant, the Paris Air Agreement of 1926 granted Germany the ability to build high-performance aircraft to compete in air shows and set speed records. These aircraft designs would be the foundation for aircraft tested at Lipetsk and other facilities throughout the 1920s and 1930s.

This period of German rearmament came to a close on 31 January 1927, when the Allies officially withdrew the IACC. Any observation of German military development would now rest solely with military attachés, generally controlled and monitored in their travels around the country. The commission’s final report stated that Germany had never had any intention of disarming and had done everything in its power to circumvent the work of the commission. But with no smoking gun proving German deceit, the report apparently fell on deaf ears in London and Paris.

Though the commission was no longer a barrier to rearmament, the German government continued to take steps to ensure its covert buildup would remain undetected. In 1932, the Defense Ministry classified its officer lists for the first time. Two secrets would have been revealed had the Allies been able to review these lists. The first was that the total number of officers in the army and navy exceeded the number permitted under the Versailles restrictions. The second was that through the secret training programs in Lipetsk, fed by the commercial training pipeline, the Germans had managed to train a sufficient number of pilots to man their rapidly expanding air force.

The Heinkel He 111, one of the technologically advanced aircraft
that were designed and produced illegally in the 1930s

That air force would be built in factories and based at airfields almost completely unknown to the Allies. British and French officials had a good understanding of the location of German air facilities built during the war, and what little construction occurred immediately following was likely caught by the IACC as it toured the country. But following the disestablishment of the commission, the Germans were able to rapidly construct airfields and other facilities in parts of the country less frequently traveled and hence unlikely to be toured by military attachés. A budget of 10 million reichsmarks earmarked for the aviation office through what was known as the “blue” budget financed the construction. These funds were diverted from the Defense Ministry’s public budget in secret and administered by a special branch of the Reich Audit Office that dealt with these covert programs.

The rise of the Nazi Party brought about more aggressive deception to match this increase in activity. Two events are notable. The first is an announcement in 1933 that foreign bombers had flown over Berlin and dropped leaflets. Though no evidence was provided, the German Foreign Ministry insinuated that the bombers were Soviet. In fact, this incident was completely manufactured—no flyover had occurred. But Hitler used it to claim that aggressive and technologically superior adversaries surrounded Germany and that the country was completely, and unreasonably, defenseless against them.

The second event, far less dramatic, was the quiet formation of the Central Bureau for German Rearmament in 1934. This group was formed to coordinate what were by then numerous complex efforts throughout the Defense Ministry to increase Germany’s military capabilities in violation of Versailles restrictions.

Source: "Long-Term Deception: The Rearmament of the German Air Force, 1919–39," Brian J. Gordona, Studies in Intelligence, Vol. 62, No. 1

Wednesday, January 30, 2019

If You're Going to San Francisco. . .Be Sure to Visit Their War Memorial

Click on Images to Enlarge

When I was growing up, my hometown, San Francisco, was known (at least to the locals) as the "City that knows how." That reputation grew out of its triumphant effort of rebuilding after the 1906 earthquake and fire that leveled much of the metropolis.  That formulation started to fade away about 1967 and is not much heard today. I'm happy to report, however, that San Francisco's World War One Armistice Centennial Commemoration Committee have shown that they "know how" to commemorate their nation and their city's service in the Great War.  They have done a magnificent job and—as they sang during the Summer of Love—If you're going to San Francisco, be sure to visit The American Experience, 1918–2018.

The Venue:  The exhibition is being held in the Beaux-Arts Veterans Building of the much larger San Francisco War Memorial, the core of which opened in 1932.  Not shown here are the equally impressive opera house, where the U.N. Charter and the final peace treaty with Japan were signed after the Second World War, a central garden created with soil from the American battlefields of the First World War, and a symphony hall, added in 1980.

Lobby Entrance: Visitors are welcomed with eight informational banners that cover the general story of the war, the American experience in detail, and San Francisco's experience during the war.

One of the eight large panels. Another panel focuses on the building of the War Memorial, which was a  great civic challenge and dramatic achievement for the city.

My friend Dana Lombardy was the exhibit's historian.  Earlier this month Dana gave me a private tour of the presentation, explaining how all its elements were pulled together and introducing me to some of the team who made it all happen. Here Dana is standing by a French 75 and the drum for the 363rd Infantry of the 91st Division of the AEF. The unit—composed mostly of draftees from San Francisco—fought in the Meuse-Argonne Offensive and Flanders. They were given a tumultuous welcome home in April 1919.

The Veteran's Gallery:  Off of the lobby is the main exhibit space.  Displayed here are weaponry, informational kiosks, uniforms, and cases covering themes like trench and air warfare. Two video players show footage from the war and the U.S. Marine Corps's reenactment of the assault on Belleau Wood.

Paul Cox is the Chairman of the American Legion War Memorial Commission

A display honoring the Gold Star Mothers of San Francisco, including a photo of their pilgrimage to their sons graves in the 1930s.

Janice Tong, Special Assistant to the Chair of the War Memorial Commission, standing in front of a panel remembering local soldiers who served in the war.  Enlarged is the section honoring her grandfather, Frank You Tong, who was a WWI Doughboy.

Following the same design scheme as the lobby banners are 12 smaller banners covering a variety topics about the war.

The closing date of the exhibit is up in the air for now, but it is hoped that it will run through the end of June.  The gallery exhibit will focus primarily on Black History Month during February.

Tuesday, January 29, 2019

Pipe Clay and Drill: John J. Pershing, The Classic American Soldier
Reviewed by James M. Gallen

By Richard Goldhurst

Publisher: Reader's Digest Press, 1977

West Point First Captain
John J. Pershing
In this volume, author Richard Goldhurst has crafted a whole life biography that presents Pershing's professional development for and through the service for which he is most remembered. Now over forty years old, this tome presents its subject without the searchlights of 21st-century standards. As such it is, perhaps, a truer report and certainly one to be included in a balanced study of this classic American soldier.

The Great War was the crowded hour of many lives but its leaders were not born in Sam Browne belts on the Western Front. Many came from small towns or farms, trained by the Army and in the field and were ready when the call came. Pipe Clay and Drill is the story of the famous classic American soldier, John J. Pershing.

Pershing was typical of many army officers of his era. Born (in 1860) and raised in Laclede, Missouri, his early life was shaped by memories of the Civil War, his education provided at West Point and his first combat foes were Indians across the West. Like many who ended up as generals, he was attracted to the Point by the promise of a free education. Tours as military instructor at the University of Nebraska, an assistant instructor in tactics at West Point and a temptation to leave the Army for the law prepared him for combat command. When war was declared against Spain in 1898 Pershing used his contacts to evade a freeze on officers with West Point appointments to be returned to the Tenth Cavalry (Buffalo Soldiers), whom he led in combat alongside Theodore Roosevelt and his Rough Riders in Cuba. After success there he was reassigned to the Philippines, where he held a series of military and governing positions through which he enhanced his standing both within the Army and with the American public.

By 1916 Pershing was prepared for his rendezvous with destiny, and  Europe was in the throes of murderous warfare and competing forces had driven Mexico into a boiling caldron. Pershing was dispatched to El Paso to organize the defense of America's southern border. While there his life was shattered by a fire in the family home at the Presidio in San Francisco that killed his wife and three daughters, with only his son, Warren, surviving.

The event that set the course of Pershing's future career occurred on 9 March 1916 as 500 troops of Pancho Villa raided Columbus, New Mexico. Tapped to lead the Punitive Expedition, Pershing gained a reputation as one who, though Villa remained elusive, could command a large (10,000) army into territory that was hostile, both physically and politically. His experience with new technology, including aircraft, and challenges of supply equipped him for leadership of the largest American Expeditionary Force to that time. The task of selecting his force familiarized him with the capabilities and limitations of the Army.

Withdrawal from Mexico found Pershing eager for his next challenge. Taking reporters into his confidence the day after his return to the United States, he told them "We have broken diplomatic relations with Germany. That means we will send an expedition abroad. I'd like to command it. Each of you must know some way in which you can help me. Now tell me how I can help you so that you can help me."

That assignment was not inevitable. Though outranked by generals deemed too old and Leonard Wood who was too political, the stars fell on Pershing. His task was a daunting one. Provided with an army swollen with millions of volunteers and draftees Pershing was determined to withhold them from the front until they were sufficiently trained to be an army worthy of their country. His persistence, and orders from President Wilson that the American forces would fight only as an independent army, created intense clashes with Allied officers and politicians who demanded infantry to fill the holes in the ranks of their own decimated legions.

Some of Pershing's greatest fights were with Allied brass, not German hordes. Table-pounding confrontations amid threats of defeat and disgrace were redeemed by occasional release of trained Doughboys to stem the tide of Hun victories when the Allied lines seemed about to break. French prime minister Clemenceau repeatedly tried to get Pershing sent home to be replaced by a more compliant commander. However, in the final offensive the AEF won America's place at the Peace Conference.

Pershing Inspecting the Guard Detail at AEF GHQ, Chaumont
Escorted by Major George S. Patton

The magnitude of the Great War ensured that it would spawn the leaders and institutions of the future. Pershing was instrumental in advancing the careers of Fox Connor, George Marshall, and George Patton, just to name a few. Perhaps Pershing's most significant contribution was the establishment of the General Purchasing Board under the command of Lt. Col. Charles Dawes, his friend from Nebraska days and future vice-president and Nobel Peace Prize winner. The board brought management skills to turn the procurement process into a government-producer enterprise, arguably the origins of the military-industrial complex about which we would hear so much later.

At the end of the war, Pershing was as outspoken as he had been during it. His opposition to the Armistice suggests a prescience lacking in his colleagues:

We should take full advantage of the situation and continue the offensive until we compel Germany's unconditional surrender…The surrender of the German Armies would have been an advantage to the allies in the enforcement of peace terms and would have been a greater deterrent against possible future aggression.

The victorious general returned to serve as chief of staff of the Army and enjoy a distinguished retirement, although the ultimate prize awarded to other conquerors was not to be his. He made some efforts to win the Republican nomination for president in 1920 but had little support and, when the party turned to a dark horse, it was Warren Harding, not John J. Pershing.

James M. Gallen

Monday, January 28, 2019

A Centennial Success by the American War Memorials Overseas, Inc

From the organization's October 2018, Newsletter

Newly Commissioned Lt. Henry Howard Houston II

We last reported on this site in April 2016 as we launched a fundraising effort for its renovation. Henry Howard Houston II was a son of the famous Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, Houston family. 

Serving as an Ambulance Drive in 1917

A 1916 graduate of the University of Pennsylvania, he served with the 53rd Field Artillery Brigade on the Mexican border in 1916, as a volunteer ambulance driver in the American Field Service in Verdun in 1917, as an officer in the French Army Transportation Corps, then back in the US for training as an aerial forward observer, before rejoining the his old Pennsylvania unit as a Lieutenant prior to being killed in action in France in 1918 in the 2nd Battle of the Marne. He is buried in the Suresnes American Cemetery outside of Paris. 

The Memorial Before
His devastated father spent three years in France to properly memorialize his son. He donated large amounts of clothing and necessities to the villagers of Arcis-le-Ponsart, 14 miles west of Reims, that had cared for his son in his final hours. He built two large reservoirs and the water distribution system that the town still uses today. He had three bells cast for the church (today known as Henry, Howard, and Houston).

Finally, he built a beautiful and moving monument to him in the remote area of France where he was killed. Although the monument’s care had been forgotten about by the family, the villagers had not forgotten. American War Memorials Overseas was able to locate family members who generously donated funds for a renovation. Local citizens donated their time and energy to help clean up the site and manage the three contractors involved in the renovation. The mayor graciously hosted a ceremony and a reception on the very day that LT Houston was killed 100 years before, a few meters away. His memory lives on.

The Newly Restored Memorial at Arcis-le-Ponsart

Congratulations to Lillian Pflukes, founder of the American War Memorials Overseas, Inc. and her members, a group of private citizens supporting America's heritage. WELL DONE! Visit their website and sign-up to receive their monthly newsletter HERE.  

Sunday, January 27, 2019

Otto Dix: The War

"The War" (German: "Der Krieg"), sometimes known as the Dresden War Triptych, is a large oil painting by Otto Dix on four wooden panels, a triptych with predella. The format of the work and its composition are based on religious triptychs of the Renaissance. It was begun in 1929 and completed in 1932, and has been held by the Galerie Neue Meister in Dresden since 1968. It is one of several antiwar works by Dix in the 1920s, inspired by his experience of trench warfare in the First World War.

Click on Image to Enlarge

The triptych has three main panels, with a fourth as a supporting panel or predella below the main central panel. The large central panel is a 204 cm (80 in) square; the flanking panels to either side the same height but half the width, 102 cm (40 in) each; and the predella below the central panel has the same width but is only 60 cm (24 in) high.

From left to right, the left wing depicts a column of German soldiers marching away from the viewer through the fog of war towards the battle in the central scene. The central panel shows a devastated urban landscape scattered with war paraphernalia and body parts, reworking the themes in his 1923 work "The Trench," and divided like the 16th century Isenheim Altarpiece of Mathias Grünewald with a living side to the lower left and a dead side to the upper right. A skeletal figure floats above the scene, pointing to the right, with a solder in gas mask below, and scabrous legs upended to the right, recalling the legs of Christ in Grünewald's crucifixion scene. The right wing shows several figures withdrawing from the fight. A dominant greyish figure, helping a wounded comrade, is a self-portrait of Dix himself, in a composition similar to a descent from the cross or a pietà. In the predella, several soldiers are lying next to each other, possibly sleeping under an awning, or perhaps the dead in a tomb. This fourth panel is based on "The Body of the Dead Christ in the Tomb" by Hans Holbein the Younger.

Source: Wikipedia

Saturday, January 26, 2019

Map Series #1: The Battle Fronts of Europe

This begins a new occasional series on Roads to the Great War

Click on Image to Enlarge

This map from the Library of Congress collection was created by British cartographer Edward Stanford during the war.  It gives Americans the scale of the war being fought at that time.  Also, it must have been eye-opening to Europeans.  It has been my experience traveling to Europe,  the U.K., and Ireland that many folks there, especially those who have never traveled to America don't quite grasp how large it is. I would guess that effect might have been greater in 1917 than now.

Friday, January 25, 2019

Recommended: Alfred Thayer Mahan and the Coming of the First World War

By: Francis P. Sempa
Originally Presented at The Russell Kirk Center for Cultural Renewal, 30 June 2014

...A united Germany was the most important geopolitical development of the second half of the 19th century in Europe. The Kingdom of Prussia, under the guiding genius of Otto von Bismarck, waged three short and successful wars between 1864 and 1871 to establish the German Empire in the center of the continent. As Germany’s Chancellor, Bismarck spent the next twenty years using his considerable diplomatic skills to maintain the general peace of Europe. But diplomacy, no matter how skilled, could not overcome geopolitical realities. The soon-to-be prime minister Benjamin Disraeli in 1871 remarked that the creation of the German Empire was “a greater political event than the French Revolution of the last century...You have a new world...The balance of power has been entirely destroyed.”

One of the few American observers to appreciate the significance of a united, strong, and growing German power in Europe and the threat it posed to the global balance of power in the early twentieth century was Alfred Thayer Mahan. Born in 1840 at the United States Military Academy at West Point where his father was an instructor, Mahan graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy and served in the Union Navy during the American Civil War. Mahan subsequently taught at the Naval War College in Newport, Rhode Island, and later served as the college’s president. In 1890, after reading Theodore Mommsen’s multi-volume History of Rome which noted the importance of control of the Mediterranean Sea to Roman predominance, Mahan wrote The Influence of Sea Power upon History 1660–1783, a book that earned him international fame as a naval strategist and historian. Three years later, Mahan wrote a two-volume sequel entitled The Influence of Sea Power upon the French Revolution and Empire. In that book, Mahan recounted in Thucydidean fashion how the growth of French power in Europe under the Jacobins and later Napoleon caused fear among lesser powers and resulted in the formation of coalitions, supported by British sea power, to prevent French hegemony on the continent. Reflecting on the importance of sea power and the British Navy to containing French ambitions, Mahan wrote that it was “those far distant, storm-beaten ships...that stood between [France] and the dominion of the world.”

Mahan also wrote numerous articles on contemporary international events for such influential publications as the Atlantic Monthly, Harper’s Monthly, the North American Review, Century Magazine, McClure’s Magazine, the British journal National Review, Scribner’s Magazine, and Collier’s Weekly, as well as several books that analyzed the geopolitics of the pre-World War I world, including The Problem of Asia and The Interest of America in International Conditions.

In an article entitled “The Persian Gulf and International Relations,” written twelve years before the outbreak of the First World War, Mahan warned that “the German empire is restlessly intent ...upon self-assertive aggression with a view to territorial aggrandizement in more than one part of the world.” He perceived that Germany was gaining on Great Britain in economic and commercial matters and speculated that their relative power positions in Europe “may be seriously modified.” It was essential to the European balance of power, he explained, that Germany be in “immediate contact with powerful rivals” on the continent.

In a July 1906 letter to President Theodore Roosevelt (with whom he frequently corresponded), Mahan noted that Germany’s “ambitions threaten us as well as Great Britain.” Mahan’s focus on Germany as a potential threat to the European and world balance of power resulted from an analysis of several factors, including: Russian weakness as manifested in the Russo-Japanese War of 1904-05; Germany’s central geographic position in Europe and her alliance with Austria-Hungary; Germany’s relative growing population, efficient organization, and industrial power vis-à-vis France; and German assertiveness on the world stage evidenced by her navy’s bombardment of Venezuelan forts in 1903, the Moroccan crisis of 1905, the German-British naval arms race, and Kaiser Wilhelm II’s saber-rattling speeches.

Mahan’s sense of foreboding about a possible great power war in Europe triggered by German ambitions was most evident in his 1910 book The Interest of America in International Conditions. He began the book by reviewing previous challenges to the European balance of power by Spain under Phillip II and Charles V, and by France under Louis XIV and Napoleon...

Read the entire essay here:

Thursday, January 24, 2019

Hitting the Beach at Anzac

Heading for Gallipoli

As we neared the peninsula of Gallipoli, the Captain of the Destroyers gave the order for silence and for the men to stop smoking. And thus in the darkness and in silence we were carried towards the land which was to either make or mar the name of Australia. On either side we could dimly see other destroyers bearing the rest of the Third Brigade. I am quite sure that very few of us realized that at last we were actually bound for our first baptism of fire, for it seemed as though we were just out on one of our night manoeuvres, but very soon we realized that it was neither a surprise party nor a moonlight picnic.

Towed to Shore

I turned around to get the second tow ready, when a man just in front of me dropped, hit in the head. This was the first casualty and very soon there were several others hit. There was some difficulty in getting the second tow ready but eventually when a naval cutter came alongside we got in and started for the beach; three men were hit before the boat struck the shore. When she hit the beach, I gave the word to get out and out the men got at once, in water up to their necks in some cases, men actually had to swim several strokes before they got their footing. It was almost impossible to walk with full marching order, absolutely drenched to the skin and I fell twice before I got to the dry beach where I scrambled up under cover of a sand ridge. I ordered the men to dump their packs off, load their rifles, and waited a few seconds for the men to get their breath.
[Captain I S Margetts, Diary, 25 April 1915, AWM 1 DRL/0478]

Heading Inland

Odd parties of the 11th and 12th Battalions were scrambling up these gravelly and almost perpendicular crags by any foothold which offered...One of this party, Corporal E W D Laing… clambering breathless up the height, came upon an officer almost exhausted half way up. It was the old Colonel—Clarke of the 12th Battalion. He was carrying his heavy pack, and could scarcely go further. Laing advised him to throw the pack away, but Clarke was unwilling to lose it, and Laing thereupon carried it himself. The two climbed on together, and Margetts…reaching the top, found to his astonishment the Colonel already there.
[C E W Bean, The Story of Anzac, Sydney, 1924, Vol I, p.272]

Hanging in the Gallipoli gallery of the Australian War Memorial is one of the best-known Australian war paintings—George Lambert’s Anzac, the landing 1915. Depicted in the centre of the painting are Australian soldiers, crawling and scrambling their way up a steep, scrubby cliff. Some have been killed, some lie wounded, while others press on towards the heights where the growing daylight shows up distant, shadowy figures of the enemy above. Lambert has caught on canvas the struggle of Western Australians of the 11th Battalion, Australian Imperial Force (AIF), as they made their way up towards Plugge’s Plateau from where they had been put ashore on North Beach. In the painting, the Sphinx is beginning to catch the first light of day as the men climb in the shadow of the western side of ‘Plugge’s’. This is the dawn rush of the first wave of Australians as described to Lambert by Lieutenant Hedley Howe who, as Lance-Corporal Howe, had taken part in the landing. 

Source: Department of Veterans’ Affairs, Canberra 

Wednesday, January 23, 2019

The Best World War One "Freebie" — Ever!

The American Battle Monuments Commission (ABMC) was created in 1923 to manage the country's overseas World War I cemeteries and memorials, part of the agency's work included the writing and publishing of American Armies and Battlefields in Europe: A History, Guide and Reference Book. 

The Meuse-Argonne Campaign:
One of Dozens of Helpful Maps in the Guide

A massive undertaking at the time, this now, nearly 600-page book was first published in 1927 to commemorate America's involvement in World War I. Originally titled A Guide to the American Battle Fields in Europe, the book served as a guide for Americans traveling overseas to visit World War I battle sites, cemeteries and memorials.

By 1938, the book was expanded with additional research to serve as a history of the American Expeditionary Forces' accomplishments. Among the contributing authors was Maj. Dwight D. Eisenhower, who was assigned to ABMC by the Army in the 1920s. [He was the in-house expert on the St. Mihiel Offense, the exact area his armies would be fighting in during the fall of 1944.]

The Ruins of Avocourt:
One of Hundreds of Battlefield Photos in the Guide

If you have interest in following the Centennial of America's experience in the Great War, this is utterly essential for you. Thanks to the Virginia Tech Office of Digital Imagery and the ABMC this fantastic book is available for free downloading here in whole or by sections.

Tuesday, January 22, 2019

Wasteland: The Great War and the Origins of Modern Horror

By W. Scott Poole
Publisher: Counterpoint, 2018
David F. Beer, Reviewer

A Classic Photograph from the Great War

I learned a lot from Wasteland and enjoyed reading it. It's easy to read since it's so well written and is filled with information on the writers, artists and filmmakers of the decades following the end of World War One. Given such a profusion of details though, it's a great shame the book lacks an index. I found myself wanting to go back to something several times and had to leaf through a lot of pages to find it. Nevertheless, if you are interested in possible ways the Great War may have given birth to the horror genre in the arts, you will find this book absorbing.

The author claims the war destroyed most of the human values and outlooks that existed before 1914 and shocked and horrified the world so much that it has never really recovered:

In every horror movie we see, every horror story we read, every horror-based video game we play, the phantoms of the Great War skittle and scratch just beyond the door of our consciousness. Numberless dead and wounded bodies appear on our screens, documents of barbarism coauthored by the Great War generation and all the forces that have fed off them in the decades since (3-4).

Although this idea might strike us as somewhat overstated, there's no question that Poole has assembled a great deal of supporting evidence. The destruction and horror that took place during this war (compared to previous wars) forced an indelible impression not only on those who fought but also on the public, and these effects were long-lasting. Literature, art, and film reflected and perhaps even prolonged the trauma.

The Cripples, Otto Dix, 1920

Our primal fear of death and of the dead was undoubtedly rekindled by the war's human harvest: millions dead, many mutilated, many unburied and left to decay in the mud. Untold thousands of soldiers, wounded, shell-shocked, and horrified, returned as mostly silent mementos of what had happened. The dead and the un-dead were never far away. And according to Poole, those artists, writers, and directors who had been in the fray themselves and now had nightmares, "never stopped having the same nightmare, over and again, a nightmare they told the world" (13). The silent films Nosferatu and J'accuse are but two of the earliest manifestations of this horror, the latter specifically invoking a zombie-like return of the dead.

The book includes a Foreword, "Corpses in the Wasteland," and an Afterword, "The Age of Horror." In between are five chapters with apt headings: "Symphony of Horror," "Waxworks," "Nightmare Bodies," "Fascism and Horror," and "Universal Monsters." Useful end notes are provided also. Each chapter discusses numerous examples of literature, art, and film from the 1920s to the 1940s, which the author employs to support and illustrate his thesis. Although the last two chapters tend to look more toward fascism and its attendant horror, most of the book focuses on creative work of the 1920s and 1930s in Germany, Britain, and the United States.

Film was perhaps the strongest influence on people's memory and fears after 1918. We meet numerous directors in this book and often get interesting information about their lives and quirks as well as their work. F.W. Murnau, Albin Grau, Abel Gance, Bertolt Brecht, Max Brooks, and Fritz Lang are but a few of the earlier producers of influential films. Of the latter, the author states:

Fritz Lang, home from the war but most certainly bringing the war home with him, had long been fascinated by the macabre, the nature of evil, and the relationship of both to the social order. His work, like that of Murnau, Gance, and Leni, shows us more than how the Great War inspired a generation to embrace a death obsession. We see how such a fascination, in some sense the beginning of the horror tradition itself, both critiqued and called into being societies in the thrall of dread (101).

The same view is applied to the work (and sometimes lives) of many writers and artists. The poet T.S. Eliot, authors such as Franz Kafka, Ernst Jünger, Louis-Ferdinand Céline, and Arthur Machen, and the works of Freud and others, are all discussed and summoned to support the author's central idea. The notable American writer of horror fiction, H. P. Lovecraft, (only famous after his death) is frequently cited. Works of painters Otto Dix, Max Ernst, and Dali are considered, as are the schools of Dadaism and surrealism. The final chapter takes us right up to the present, to when

. . . the gorefest of the slasher films began in the 1970s and has never really stopped. Blood spurts in red fumes from empty-eyed victims who, in some cases, become collections of body part. . . The horror has remained with us because the conditions that made for the Great War and its aftermath are still in place (254).

Wasteland's author, W. Scott Poole, is a college professor who teaches courses and writes books about horror and popular culture. Although some of his connections might seem a bit strained to some of us, he obviously knows what he's talking about and he makes a good case. In some ways I can agree with him that the age of horror began during World War One and still flows onward. I recommend this book as a fascinating and original take on the Great War.

David F. Beer

Monday, January 21, 2019

The Death of SMS Pommern

SMS Pommern Before the War

SMS Pommern was one of five Deutschland-class pre-dreadnought battleships built for the Kaiserliche Marine between 1904 and 1906.

During the scattered night action at Jutland, the Grand Fleet's 12th Destroyer Flotilla found six enemy targets on the horizon at 0145, 1 June. One of the targets was Pommern

Historian Richard Hough described the ensuing action:  "[The] flotilla succeeded in discharging 17 torpedoes in all, and were rewarded by the sound of a rending explosion and the sight of a yellow flash that lit the sea and sky. Recovered from the temporary blinding, [Flotilla Commander Capt. Aselan] Stirling could see that the symmetry of the line had been broken by a gap.  A single torpedo had struck the pre-dreadnought battleship Pommern in a vital and vulnerable part, and the ship had instantly disintegrated without trace.  No sinking could be more decisive,or horrifying."  There were no survivors from over 800 crew members.

British Destroyer HMS Onslow on the Attack During
the Jutland Night Actions

SMS Pommern was the only battleship—either dreadnought or pre-dreadnought—sunk during the Battle of Jutland.

Sunday, January 20, 2019

Echoes of the Great War, Part 2

Ending on 21 January is the Library of Congress's amazing exhibition Echoes of the Great War—American Experiences of World War I.  Over these two days, we will be presenting examples from the program.  All of these were found on the Library of Congress website for the exhibition.  Below you will find a hyperlink to the website, which also presents videos, recordings, conferences, reading lists, and details on the exhibition items.

Opposition to the War Never Ceased

Humanitarian Aid to Belgium

Wounded Doughboys Prepared for Evacuation

Ground Captured by U.S. Forces

The Boys Heading Home

Woodrow Wilson's 1919 Nobel Peace Prize

Finding Jobs for the Disabled

See the Online Exhibition at:

Saturday, January 19, 2019

Echoes of the Great War, Part I

Ending on 21 January is the Library of Congress's amazing exhibition Echoes of the Great War—American Experiences of World War I.  Over the next two days, we will be presenting examples from the program.  All of these were found on the Library of Congress website for the exhibition. Below you will find a hyperlink to the website, which also presents videos, recordings, conferences, reading lists, and details on the exhibition items.

Preparedness Poster

Humanitarian Aid for the Central Powers

Call to Arms

In the Trenches in France

Industry Mobilized for War

The Women's Land Army on the March

See the Online Exhibition at:

Friday, January 18, 2019

Austria-Hungary's River Navy

By James Patton

Austro-Hungarian Monitor Bombarding Belgrade, 28 July 1914

There are only about a dozen ships left that served in WWI (shipwrecks excluded), ranging from the dreadnought USS Texas down to a small sub-chaser at Grytviken in the South Atlantic, and incredibly two of these ships were Austro-Hungarian. SMS (Seiner Majestät Schiff ="His Majesty's Ship") Leitha (Lajta in Hungarian) is now an attraction on the Budapest riverfront and SMS Bodrog (Sava in Yugoslav service) languishes by a riverbank, under protection of the Serbian government but with no restoration currently planned.

The campaigns of the Austro-Hungarian Donauflottille (“Danube Flotilla”) could literally be called a backwater of the Great War. The flotilla was the stuff of comic opera even in peacetime; responsible for enforcing the border with Serbia, patrolling the Danube down to the Iron Gates, up the Sava to the mouth of the Drina and sometime up the Drina (water level permitting) and occasionally up other tributaries of the Danube, mostly chasing smugglers. However, the flotilla gained a place in history when its ships fired the first shots of the war. 

The flotilla’s story began in 1867, when newly-independent Serbia became a rival of Austria-Hungary in the Balkans.  To ensure control of the rivers, the Austro-Hungarian Navy decided they needed monitors.

As was the custom with naval construction, each parliament would fund one, and SMS Maros and SMS Leitha were completed in 1871. This tit-for-tat arrangement continued with SMS Körös and SMS Szamos in 1892, SMS Temes and SMS Bodrog in 1904, SMS Enns in 1913, SMS Inn in 1914 and finally SMS Sava and SMS Bosna in 1915. All were named after rivers in the Dual Monarchy. 

These were scaled-down copies of John Ericsson’s 1861 design. Distinguishing features included all-iron construction, entirely mechanical power, little freeboard, shallow draft (USS Monitor had a 10’ 9” draft while the Austro-Hungarian monitors typically had a 3’ 11” draft—below-decks headroom was less than six feet), an armored steering position, and one or more armored rotatable gun turrets. The Austro-Hungarian monitors also carried one or two dismountable howitzers to deliver plunging fire. 

SMS Bodrog, Man-of-War

SMS Leitha was the first to fire a shot in anger, engaging Ottoman forces in Bosnia in 1878. At the outbreak of WWI Leitha and Maros were the oldest fighting ships in the Austro-Hungarian Navy and were about to be scrapped, but in July 1914 Leitha was still on the Sava on its final voyage. The first Hungarian war hero, János Huj, was serving on Leitha when he was killed on 12 Aug 1914. Leitha was badly damaged in October by a direct hit on the turret, which killed the gun crews, and was withdrawn to Budapest for repairs. Afterwards, she became the flagship of the flotilla, serving only in the second occupation of Belgrade in October 1915 and against Romania in October 1916 including supporting the Danube crossing by Mackensen’s Army at Svishtov. Thereafter she was held in reserve.

Typical of the later river monitors, SMS Bodrog was armed with two Škoda 120 mm L/35 guns (range 6.2 miles) in two turrets, one 120mm L/10 howitzer (range 3.9 miles) in a central pivot mount, and two 37mm guns. 

On 28 July 1914 Bodrog and two other monitors fired the first shots of the war against Serb fortifications by the Zemun–Belgrade railway bridge and on Topčider Hill. The Serbs were outgunned until they received a naval gun from Russia, but the monitors still regularly shelled Serb positions on the Sava and at Belgrade, even after French artillery support arrived in November 1914 and British gunners in January 1915. 

In 1915 the monitors were tasked with escorting munitions down river to go to Turkey via Bulgarian rail. The first convoy ran the Belgrade defenses unharmed, but was stopped by Russian mines and barriers in the Iron Gates. A second convoy again passed Belgrade and delivered their cargo, although one ship struck a mine near Vinča, and exploded.

In April 1915, a British boat that had been brought overland by rail from Salonika attacked the Flotilla base at Zemun, but neither of the torpedoes scored a hit. 

In September Bulgaria joined the war, and the Austro-Hungarians attacked Belgrade again. The flotilla supported crossings near the Belgrade Fortress and the island of Ada Ciganlija. Following the fall of Belgrade and the clearance of obstacles, the flotilla established a new main base at Orșova near the Hungarian–Romanian border. Munitions convoys could now move unhindered to the railhead at Lom. 

SMS Bodrog, Now a Working Ship

In November 1915 the Flotilla moved to Rustschuk, Bulgaria, where a base was established in the Belene Canal to protect the Danube border between Romania and Bulgaria in the event that Romania declared war. At this time the 37mm guns were replaced with one 66mm L/18 gun.

When Romania entered the war in August 1916 the monitors at Rustschuk were attacked by three improvised torpedo boats. The torpedoes missed the monitors but did hit a fuel barge. The next day monitors shelled Giurgiu, basically obliterating the port, and sank two Romanian patrol boats and a minelayer. Then the monitors shelled both Turnu Măgurele and Zimnicea. 

On 2 October, monitors destroyed a Romanian pontoon bridge being constructed across the Danube at Oryahovo, ensuring the defeat of the Romanian Flămânda Offensive. Later the monitors supported Mackensen’s crossing at Svishtov.  

In February 1917, monitors were sent down river to Brăila, and Bodrog became ice-bound at nearby Măcin. Later monitors went into the Black Sea as part of Flottenabteilung Wulff (commanded by Flottenkapitän Olav Wulff), arriving at Odessa on 12 April. Monitors operated in the Black Sea until September, then returned to Brăila and river duty. 

In October 1918 Bodrog was sent downriver to Reni to cover troop withdrawals. She moved slowly back to Lom and was the only monitor that failed to get back to Budapest. On 31 October, Bodrog ran aground in heavy fog near Vinča and was captured by the Serbs. 

After the war the ships of the flotilla in Budapest were divvied up as reparations. Neither Romania nor Yugoslavia wanted the three oldest ships, Maros, Leitha, and Szamos, so they stayed with Hungary. Körös, Enns, and Bosna were turned over to Yugoslavia and Temes, Inn, and Sava went to Romania. Yugoslavia had kept Bodrog as a war prize. Some were of the monitors were used in WWII and Bodrog (renamed Sava) served in the Yugoslav Navy until 1962.

A Restored SMS Lajta (formerly Leitha) Cruising the Danube at Budapest

Leitha was converted to an elevator platform for use in the gravel industry in 1921 and was in use until 1992. Much later, Bodrog was likewise converted to an elevator ship and so employed until 2005. Both ships were good for this purpose due to their displacement and low center of gravity.