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

Tuesday, April 30, 2019

Canada and the Battle of Vimy Ridge

Brereton Greenhous and Stephen J. Harris
Canadian Dept. of Supply and Services, 1992
James Patton, Reviewer

Canadian Soldiers View Petit Vimy Village from Atop the
 Secured Vimy Ridge

When I selected this book for review I was expecting to read a new look at an old subject written from a bold perspective by a couple of Oxonian or Cantabrigian revisionists. Was I ever surprised! What I received was written by two staff historians at the Canadian Department of National Defence, Directorate of History and Heritage (DHH), to recognize the 75th anniversary of the battle. It also turned out that the perspective isn't modern, refreshing, or revisionist, but it's decidedly Canadian. The authors acknowledge that their primary source was the official Canadian Expeditionary Force, 1914–1919, written under the direction of Col. G.W.I. Nicholson and published by the government in 1962.

Of particular note, Brereton "Ben" Greenhous (1929–2005) was born in the UK, served in the British Army, the Royal Malayan Police and the Canadian Army before earning a BA and an MA from Canadian universities. Although not of high pedigree, he was a serious historian. During his long career at the DHH he produced 11 books, collaborated on over 20 more and wrote 26 articles for the Canadian Encyclopedia, among others. His last work (2002) was The Making of Billy Bishop, a massively revisionist portrait of the Canadian VC holder and WWII air marshal. When promoting this work, Greenhous delivered this sound bite—"Billy Bishop was a very brave man and a very bold liar."

At the beginning of the book the authors cite the following quote from The Image of Confederation by the noted Canadian historian, academic and journalist F.H. Underhill (1889–1971)—"A nation is a body of people who have done great things together in the past and who expect to do great things together in the future."

The first 83 pages of the book deal with the formation of the Canadian Expeditionary Force (CEF), which made an indelible imprint on Canadian nation-building, especially among the Anglophones, by the intermingling of men from all parts of the country. Despite the incessant meddling of the politician Sir Sam Hughes, the Minister of Militias (who was finally sacked by Prime Minister Sir Robert Borden in November 1916), the CEF quickly became an effective force, then grew from one division to four, finally grouped as the Canadian Corps.

There was the heroism and distinguished service in engagements in the Ypres Salient, on the Somme in the latter stages of that offensive and then the Corps' first exclusive operation, a victory at Vimy Ridge, a sector of the line where the German defense had withstood two massive French assaults in 1915. There would be much more to come before the Armistice.

Canadians Experiencing Hot Coffee and Mud

The Corps meticulously planned and prepared for the Vimy Ridge assault. The authors point out that the Canadians had certain advantages when serving together:

British divisions were continually being shuffled about within their various corps formations for reasons of immediate military convenience… so there was no standardization or continuity in their armies above the divisional level. The four Canadian divisions … would be held together for the remainder of the war: and other things being equal, a corps consisting of divisions trained by different criteria to different standards was not as likely to do as well in battle as one with divisions boasting a common interpretation of doctrine and similar standards of training. Moreover, because Canadians were kept together their divisional and corps staffs came to know each other's strengths and weaknesses very well, and that made for better, more effective and more effort-free performance all around.

A series of trench raids, some large in scale, were staged by both sides in the early months of 1917. One of these, a two-battalion operation on 1 March against Hill 145 cost the attackers nearly 700 casualties (including both battalion commanders) for a net of 37 prisoners. Afterwards the Germans offered a truce to recover the dead and wounded from the battlefield, in defiance of standing orders issued by both sides, and on the morning of 3 March 1917, soldiers from both sides mingled in the no-man's-land for two hours. Capt. D.S. Elliott (temporarily commanding 73rd Battalion CEF) found himself in conversation with a Bavarian major educated in London who told Elliott "how [strange] it would be to go back to our different lines and pot at one another again." Elliott also wrote, "The whole affair seemed so queer, standing upright out there in broad daylight, without a shot being fired, that it seemed to most of us like a dream."

Inspecting a German Bunker on Vimy Ridge

Vimy Ridge was one of the last old school offensives launched by the British, an assault on line "leaning on the barrage," but with one important difference. The General Orders stated as follows:

In the event of any division or brigade being held up, the units on the flanks will on no account check their advance, but will form defensive flanks in that direction and press forward themselves so as to envelop the strong point or centre of resistance which is preventing the advance. With this object in view reserves will be pushed in behind those portions of the line that are successful rather than those which are held up.

On Easter Monday, 1917, the execution of the plan was good, the soldiers tenacious; the Germans were surprised and outnumbered, their reserves were too far behind the front, and the Corps achieved a complete success, albeit at a high cost for a country the size of Canada. The whole Douai Plain lay below, but there were no reserves to exploit the gain. If only the French had done so well at the Chemin des Dames!

There are plenty of quotes from the journals and letters of soldiers, including in particular co-author Harris's grandfather, brick layer Pvt. Jack Harris, 4th Canadian Mounted Rifles (who weren't mounted). He served with the Canadian Corps from the Somme to the finish and died in 1972. Personal touches were added by these sources, including detail about casualties, terrain conditions, and the weather.

Canada and the Battle of Vimy Ridge is not as much about the battle or even the victory as it is about the emergence of Canada from the Imperial shadow to be a distinct nation, a people that had done great things, just as Underhill predicted. The book is a quick and worthwhile read, if only for the photographs and the aforementioned map. It's a 196-page coffee table book, with ten blank pages at the end, perhaps for writing notes? There are over 125 photographs, most of which I've never seen before, and an absolutely incredible centerfold-style map drawn by a government cartographer. There was only one printing, and the copy that I have was signed by both authors. Nevertheless, the work is still available (as a PDF) from the Canadian Government Publications Office HERE.

James Patton

Monday, April 29, 2019

What Was the Fokker Scourge?

Fokker's Eindecker E.III in Flight

Up to early 1915, aerial fights between aircraft usually involved rifles or pistols; occasionally, a machine gun was fired by the observer. The challenge of fixing a forward-facing machine gun able to fire without damaging the propeller on tractor-configured aircraft (i.e. engine and propeller in front) proved difficult.

All the major combatants attempted to solve this problem. Captain Lanoe Hawker of the Royal Flying Corps fixed a Lewis machine gun to the struts of his Bristol Scout so that it fired obliquely away from the propeller. With this strange arrangement he managed to destroy or capture several aircraft, including two in one day, earning himself the first Victoria Cross for aerial combat and the distinction of being the first British ace (a pilot responsible for destroying more than five aircraft). The British got round the problem for a time by developing fighters with the pusher configuration. Meanwhile, Frenchman Roland Garros developed a deflector system in which the bullets glanced off metal plates and away from the propeller. Garros and his machine were captured and examined by the Germans in April. Dutch designer Anthony Fokker as a result produced a much better (and safer) solution, developing interrupter gear which synchronized the fire of the machine gun with the engine, allowing the bullets to pass between the blades safely.

Depiction of an Early Dogfight at New Zealand's Omaka
Aviation Heritage Centre

A Fokker E.III Monoplane Attacking a British Airco DH.2 biplane over the Western Front

From mid-1915, Fokker’s innovation gave the German Imperial Air Service a decisive edge in aerial combat. The Fokker Eindecker series of aircraft were unremarkable in terms of performance but were nevertheless the first true fighter aircraft. German pilots could use the aeroplane itself as a weapon, aiming the whole aircraft at the target. Operating individually or in small groups in the hands of skilled pilots such as Max Immelmann and Oswald Boelcke, Eindeckers were very effective against poorly armed French and British aircraft such as the BE.2 and Voisins. Allied air losses rose sharply between late 1915 and mid-1916, a period known as the "Fokker Scourge."  The Royal Flying Corps lost 120 aircraft in the second half of 1915 alone. There was little the Allies could do to match these first German aces, and sometimes a single reconnaissance aircraft had to be protected by many others to ensure a successful mission.

The Fokker Scourge was the first in a series of technological developments through which one side gained a temporary edge over the other in the air.

Sources:  NZ History; Wikipedia

Sunday, April 28, 2019

The Liman von Sanders Affair

Liman von Sanders
The last great diplomatic crisis before the Great War took place in late 1913 and early 1914. It exacerbated German-Russian tensions and also stressed the emerging Triple Entente of Russia, Great Britain, and France. At the center of the brouhaha was a German general named Liman von Sanders, whose name was later attached to this "Affair."

After their dismal performance in the recent wars in the Balkans and Libya, the Young Turks controlling the Ottoman Empire went shopping for military expertise and decided that Germany offered the best model for their army. The appointment of von Sanders to lead a mission for upgrading the Turkish Army was announced in November 1913. His portfolio, however, went beyond advising and training. Part of his scope of duties was the command of a Turkish army corps in Constantinople. This triggered a ferocious response from the Russians, who a) had their eyes on the Straits for access to the Mediterranean, and were secretly considering military options for seizing them, and b) did not want the Germans to be gaining a military foothold and political influence in the "Sick Man of Europe." 

Russia decided to test its putative allies in Paris and London and asked them to join in energetic action against the German military mission. The British, though, found themselves somewhat embarrassed, since they had agreed to a similar role for the Turkish Navy. Additionally, both France and Britain did not want to risk war. Both governments stipulated diplomatic support only. 

Von Sanders Arrives in Constantinople, December 1913

By January—with the Russians gritting their teeth—a deal was brokered where General von Sanders's direct command of the army corps was taken away from him by kicking him upstairs to the office of Inspector General of the Turkish Army.

Immediately afterward, it seemed like the crisis had passed and that diplomatic methods had once again defused a potential war. Yet, the Kaiser and Tsar both believed they had once again been forced to back down. Also, France was compelled to spend much of early 1914 reassuring the Russians that they would be stalwart allies in any future confrontations, culminating with President Poincaré's fence-mending visit to Russia in the middle of the July Crisis. 

Sources: British Foreign Policy 1874-1914: The Role of India by Sneh Mahajan (Smuts 1918, Clavin 2013).

Saturday, April 27, 2019

Remembering a Veteran: John F. Elkington of the Royal Warwickshires and 1er Régiment étranger d'infanterie

Contributed by James Patton

The Royal Warwickshire Regiment dated from 1674. Originally formed for service in the Netherlands, the regiment was nicknamed the "Dutch Guards" by King William III. They gained Royal status in 1832. The badge bears the image of a "Hart, Ducally Gorged and Chained," a symbol of the House of Lancaster. The record of their service reads like the history of the British Army for nearly 300 years. They raised 30 battalions in the Great War, including three "Birmingham Pals." The regiment was amalgamated in 1968, and their heritage is now with the Fusiliers. 

Lt. Col. John F. Elkington

The 1st Battalion of the regiment arrived in France in August 1914 under the command of Lt. Col. John F. Elkington. It was an experienced Regular battalion, and Lt. Bernard Montgomery was the adjutant.  They went into action at Le Cateau, taking heavy casualties. At the rear of the fallback, the remnant of this battalion, along with that of the 2nd Royal Dublin Fusiliers, plus an assortment of unruly stragglers, found themselves in the Grande Place of St. Quentin. Rail transport had been promised there, but none was available. Having covered over 20 miles, the soldiers refused to walk any more. Further complicating the situation was the availability of alcohol. 

Elkington and the CO of the "Dubs," Lt. Col. Arthur Mainwaring (a noted cricket player of the 1890s), asked Mayor Arthur Gibert for help in organizing food, medical supplies, and transportation. But M. Gibert had heard the stories coming from Belgium and was terrified that the city would be destroyed by the Germans with great loss of life. He urged the British commanders to join him in surrendering. Having heard vague reports that German troops were encircling the city, and with their men in no condition either to fight or move on, the exhausted officers signed on to Gibert's surrender document. Elkington then left on a recce to find additional soldiers. Mainwaring incredibly ordered the men to stack their arms. 

However, before any Germans could be found to surrender to, a troop of the 4th Royal Irish Dragoon Guards came along. Their CO, Major GTM Bridges, recalled later: "The men in the square were so jaded it was pathetic to see them. If one only had a band, I thought! Why not? There was a toy shop handy, which provided my trumpeter and myself with a tin whistle and a drum, and we marched round the fountain, where the men were lying like the dead, playing the British Grenadiers and Tipperary and beating the drum like mad. They sat up and began to laugh and cheer." The Dragoons were eventually able to coax about 440 soldiers out of the city on a 24 hour slog to Noyon, another 20 miles, where trains were available. 

On 30 October Elkington and Mainwaring were "cashiered"—dismissed in disgrace. Mainwaring withdrew to private life in England, where he wrote a fussy memoir before his death in 1930; while Elkington, according to a friend, said "there is still the Foreign Legion," and he "set out to make good a name that he felt needed cleansing." 

And so the 1st Royal Warwicks soldiered on. Lt. Montgomery didn't spend the war in a POW camp, but was wounded on 13 October, and by Christmas the battalion was ineffective. 

On 28 September 1915, the 1er RM/2eme RE attacked at Navarin Farm. Among the men of Co. B-3 was Soldat 2nd Cl. Elkington, who had already distinguished himself at Hill 119. As leaders fell, he took charge, attacking until the guns finally caught up with him. He lay in the bottom of a trench for 13 hours until stretcher bearers arrived. He spent nearly a year in hospitals and endured eight surgical procedures. His citation for the action reads: 

The Medaille Militaire and the Croix de Guerre avec Palme are conferred upon No. 29274 Legionaire John Ford Elkington of the First Foreign Regiment. Although being Fifty years old, he has given proof during the campaign of remarkable courage and ardour, setting everyone the best possible example. He was gravely wounded on 28 September 1915 rushing forward to assault enemy trenches. He has lost the use of his right leg.

The Regimental Badges Worn by Elkington:
Warwickshires and French Foreign Legion

On 7 September 1916 at the request of Lt. Gen. Hunter-Weston, Elkington was restored to his regiment, rank, seniorities, and awards. In October he was received by the King, who pinned on him a brand-new DSO. Deemed unfit for service, Elkington retired to his family's house in Berkshire and became active in local affairs. It was reported that he never wore any of his medals. He died in 1944, and two years later a stained-glass window honoring him (and his younger son, lost in the Western Desert) was dedicated by none other than Field Marshal Viscount Montgomery of Alamein, who said on the occasion "he made good more than he lost." 

Friday, April 26, 2019

What Was Russia's War Plan in 1914?

Russian Troops in East Prussia, September 1914

Officially known as Mobilization Schedule XIX, the plan that the Russian Army implemented in August 1914 is commonly called Plan XIX. The original version was drawn up by the general staff in 1910 and it focused on Germany as the primary enemy, anticipating an invasion out of East Prussia against Russian Poland. The 1910 version, however, was opposed by a number of factions, including those who believed (correctly) that—in the case of war—Germany would focus on France first and by others who saw that with Austria-Hungary being the weaker of the prospective opponents, a Russian advance into Galicia had a greater potential payoff in terms of expanding the empire. 

The ensuing debate led to a modification in Plan XIX—approved by the tsar in June 1912—giving two mobilization options with a final choice to be made by day nine. Under Option A, the bulk of the forces would be directed against Austria in the southwest, with a much lesser defensive component facing East Prussia. Under Option G, the Army would take a defensive posture against Austria and shift more forces north to face a German onslaught, if that's the way things developed. Option A naturally made the French, who were also correctly assuming they would be the initial targets of the Germans, nervous. They pushed for a more active and earlier advance by the Russians against East Prussia.

In August 1914 Option A was implemented immediately, but with the Russian 1st and 2nd Armies also advancing on the offense against East Prussia and moving more quickly than anyone anticipated. France got the help she needed; the Russians; however, were headed for disaster with the loss of their entire 2nd Army at Tannenberg.

Thursday, April 25, 2019

The 1919 Inter-Allied Games

After the Armistice the victorious Allied armies had millions of troops with nothing to do. In the spirit of keeping the men busy and out of trouble and to help them start the transition to civilian life, sports programs sprung up in all the military camps. By January 1919, arrangements were made for a competition in Paris modeled on the Olympics, hosted by American commander General John J. Pershing. Eighteen nations competed in these Inter-Allied Games. For the U.S., sprinter Charlie Paddock and swimmer Norman Ross would be gold medalists at both Paris and Antwerp. Inter-Allied light heavyweight boxing champion Gene Tunney would later defeat Jack Dempsey for the world heavyweight championship. A year later, the athletes and the world were ready for the return of the Olympic spirit, but the war was not forgotten. By one estimate, almost ten percent of the competitors at Antwerp's 1920 Olympiad were veterans of these games. 

Opening Ceremonies

Remove 100 Meter Final

Of the 24 separate events listed in the program, the U.S. military athletes won first place for their country in 12 events and second in seven more. AEF entrants making clean sweeps of all three places in five events and in a sixth, having three of four men who succeeded in placing. Again in the service shooting events, the AEF was successful with both rifle and pistol, taking four first places. Other first places were gained by the U.S. in baseball, basketball, boxing, prize jumping with horses, swimming, tug-of-war, and catch-as-catch wrestling. America’s notable success in winning first and second places in so many varied events was due of course in no small degree to the preponderance of entries and to the consistent preliminary training, not only immediately prior to the Games but also in numerous athletic competitions fostered in the AEF by YMCA experts who were Army officers before the Inter-Allied Games were undertaken. The concluding ceremony of the Games took place on Sunday 6 July, when the medals were presented by General Pershing, the Allied flags lowered, and the French standard left to float alone over Stade Pershing.

Aviator Victor Boin Competed with the Belgian Water Polo Team

American Squad

Source:  OVER THE TOP Magazine, March 2008

Wednesday, April 24, 2019

The Haunted Soldiers and Sailors of Erich Heckel

Erich Heckel (b. 31 July 1883, Döbeln, Germany–d. 27 January 1970, Radolfzell, West Germany), German painter, print maker, and sculptor, was one of the founding members of Die Brücke (“The Bridge”), an influential group of German Expressionist artists. He is best known for his paintings and bold woodcuts of nudes and landscapes. The Brücke artists helped to revive the woodcut tradition in Germany; they prized the medium’s ability to convey rough, spontaneous marks and bold, flat color. Heckel was the artist most prolific in woodcut, often creating posters and invitations for Die Brücke exhibitions. 

When the Great War broke out, Heckel was classified as unfit for active service but volunteered to serve as a medical corpsman and was assigned to an ambulance unit stationed in Ostend, Belgium. He managed to continue to produce work throughout the war, most famously his images of wounded and depressed soldiers and sailors, five of which are shown here. His wartime prints, like his work on other subjects all share a somber mood that reflects the economic and political uncertainty of the times. Heckel puts this sense of foreboding in visual terms through Expressionist manipulations of space and stark contrasts of black and white. Abrupt cropping and the narrow, vertical format heighten the feelings of oppression and tension. Even when placed in a sweeping landscape, figures are compressed into a tight space.  His work after the Armistice was notably less severe. In 1937 the Nazis denounced his work, labeling it “degenerate.” After World War II, Heckel taught at the Academy of Art (1949–56) in Karlsruhe, West Germany, until his retirement.

Sources: Encyclopedia Britannica, Wikipedia, MOMA Website, German Expressionism Website

Tuesday, April 23, 2019

Paris 1919: Six Months That Changed the World

Margaret MacMillan
Random House, 2003
Clark Shilling, Reviewer

It is hard to believe that the four-year centennial of World War I passed so quickly and we are now at the 100th anniversary of the Paris Peace Conference. If you are interested in continuing your reading on the Great War and its legacy, I highly recommend Paris 1919: Six Months that Changed the World as an outstanding account of the effort to end the war and bring peace to a battered world.

Arabian Commission to the Peace Conference and its Advisors. In front, Emir Feisal, Over His Left Shoulder is T.E. Lawrence 

This book was first published in 2001 to wide acclaim. It won the Duff Cooper Prize as an outstanding work in history, biography or politics; the Samuel Johnson Prize for the best non-fiction writing in English; and the Hessell-Timman Prize for history. In addition, it was a New York Times best seller and a New York Times Editor's Choice. The book's original title was Peacemakers: The Paris Peace Conference of 1919 and Its Attempt to End War. It has also been published under the title Peacemakers: Six Months That Changed the World.

The author is Canadian and is actually a great-granddaughter of David Lloyd George. She received her PhD in history from Oxford University and she has held professorships in History at Ryerson University in Toronto as well as Oxford University. Currently she is a professor at the University of Toronto.

There are several reasons why I recommend this book. First of all, the author is an exceptional writer. Her prose is direct, concise yet colorful, and I found it a very easy and enjoyable book to read.

The second reason to recommend this book is the author's ability to construct vivid character sketches of the statesmen who labored over the issues of war and peace in 1919. In the first part of the book, four chapters are devoted to introducing us to the main cast: Wilson, Clemenceau and Lloyd George, along with their key advisers. The rest of the book is populated by characters such as the Arab Prince Fisal, T.E. Lawrence, Mustafa Kemal, Eleutherios Venizelos, Bella Kun, Gabriele D'Annunzio, Alfred Balfour, Chaim Weizmann, Tomas Masaryk, and Ignace Paderewski among others.

Another thing I especially liked about this book is its comprehensiveness. Accounts of the Paris Peace Conference written by American authors often focus primarily on Woodrow Wilson: his attempts to create a League of Nations, his struggle to avoid compromising his 14 Points, and finally, his failure to get the Versailles Treaty ratified by the US Senate. Other accounts tend to concentrate on aspects of the peace settlement involving Germany such as reparations and loss of territory. Both of these stories are covered more than adequately in this book, but there is so much more. As the author states, in 1919, "Paris was the capital of the world. The Peace Conference was the world's most important business… Paris was at once the world's government, its court of appeals and its parliament, the focus of its fears and hopes."

President Wilson (Seated Center) with the American Delegation

Besides making the treaties with the Central Powers, the work of the peacemakers included creating the League of Nations and redrawing not only the map of Europe, but also that of Africa, the Middle East, China, and the Pacific islands. The author devotes entire chapters for example to the creation of Yugoslavia, Czechoslovakia and Poland. She has a chapter on how the Allies attempted to deal with Bolshevik Russia. In addition to these larger countries, she relates what happened in such minute areas of Europe as Montenegro and Albania.

She doesn't just focus on European issues. She includes one of the best brief explanations I have seen of how Japan was awarded the former German concession on the Shantung Peninsula of China, an event which triggered renewed nationalism and anti-western feeling in China. The last third of the book is devoted to the Middle East, and covers the rise of Turkish nationalism, the imperial rivalries between Britain and France in that part of the world, and the creation of a Jewish homeland. Her account of the conflict between Greece and Turkey over Smyrna and the coast of Anatolia that ultimately resulted in the forced exchange of populations is very well done.

Although the title says it covers "six months that changed the world," the author often carries forward the stories told here, some until the outbreak of World War II, and others into the 1990s.

The author points out several key dynamics that drove the peacemakers. First, the collapse of the Central Powers was fairly sudden and unexpected. Before August 1918, few in the Allied camp expected the war to end before 1919. Unlike the Allies in World War II, the victors in World War I did not have a long time to prepare or coordinate their peace plans. Even though they were loyal allies for four years, as soon as the war ended, Britain and France resumed their imperial rivalries over territory in the Middle East. They both cooperated, however, to limit Italian imperial demands.

Scene in the Hall of Mirrors, 28 June 1919

Some events proved beyond the control of the peacemakers such as the Russian revolution and the actions that created Poland, Czechoslovakia, and Yugoslavia. The Big Three were supposed to participate in a preliminary session to establish goals and priorities and then turn the conference over to the experts and diplomats to negotiate the details. Once started, instead, they turned the preliminary session into the actual peace conference and ran the show themselves. There was a high level of amateurism and a reluctance to take the advice of knowledgeable advisers on the part of the Big Three. Wilson struggled over how to put into practice some of his principles, especially self-determination. Wilson comes across as a brittle, stubborn figure, Lloyd George as the compromiser. Clemenceau appears to be the only one who really knew what he wanted—security for France by weakening Germany.

Professor MacMillan is a bit of a revisionist. She is kinder to the peacemakers than many other historians. Conceding that mistakes were made, she does not see the shortcomings of the 1919 settlement as the direct cause of the Second World War. Instead she blames the actions or lack of actions by the politicians of the 1920s and '30s as the cause of World War II. Another departure from the norm, she does not see the reparations imposed on Germany as the crushing burden that German statesmen, English economists, and later historians have claimed.

The Great War of 1914–1918 was one of the defining moments of the 20th century. It marked the destruction of the old dynastic order that had long governed Europe. The Paris Peace settlements of 1919 tried to create a new world order out of the ruins of the old. While parts of the world order created in Paris in 1919 proved wanting in the 1930s and were swept away in the years leading up to 1939, other parts have survived down to today. To understand the course of subsequent 20th-century history, you need to have an understanding of the Paris Peace Conference of 1919. Paris 1919 is one of the best places to begin that understanding.

Clark Shilling

Monday, April 22, 2019

Anne Morgan: She Went to War for France

Anne Morgan (1873–1952)

Thanks to a program I attended recently presented by World War One Historical Association member Jolie Velasquez, I was able to gain a greater appreciation of one of the outstanding philanthropic figures of the First World War.  Anne Tracy Morgan was the daughter of the most powerful financier in America's history, J.P. Morgan. Born 25 July 1873, Anne Morgan grew up on her family's New York estate and was schooled both at home and in private schools. As an adult, Morgan used her family's wealth and connections in support of many social causes.

Chateau de Blérancourt
Top: Anne Morgan with Volunteers

Bottom: The Chateau Today with the Franco-American Friendship Museum Visible in Rear

During World War I and World War II, Morgan spent time in France overseeing relief efforts in frontline communities. She established the American Friends for Devastated France, which worked to provide health services, housing, and food to soldiers and refugees displaced by occupation and evacuation. During the Great War she was based in the Aisne region of  France at the Chateau de Blérancourt,  north of Soissons. Today the chateau is the location of a French-American Museum commemorating the work done there. 

Jolie presented one of the two outstanding documentaries on Anne Morgan. I thought readers of ROADS TO THE GREAT WAR should have the opportunity to view both, so here they are:

Anne Morgan: An American on the Front

 Anne Morgan's War 

Sunday, April 21, 2019

The Worst Year of the War? It Was 1917, By Far

Paths of Glory, CRW Nevinson, 1917

Nineteen-seventeen was the most important and historically influential year of the Great War. It's well understood that 1917 was a pile-up of disasters and miscalculations, from Germany's decision to implement unrestricted U-boat warfare in January to the Bolsheviks' triumph in the autumn, and with the ill-fated Nivelle, Kerensky, and Passchendaele offensives, plus the Italian collapse at Caporetto strung out in between. But how, you may ask, can it be argued that 1917 was worse than other years of the war, some of which had higher death tolls? Or, reducing the question to one statistic for a single belligerent, how was Passchendaele (244,000 casualties) worse than 1916's Battle of the Somme (416,000 casualties) for the British?

The answer to this has two dimensions: one physical, one metaphysical. That popular and highly quotable military philosopher, Sun Tzu, addressed the first of these: "There is no instance of a country having benefited from prolonged warfare." By the end of 1917 every one of the war's original participants had suffered horrendous casualties and had made debilitating expenditures of their nation's wealth. They were running out of men and money. Anxiety over this was building on everyone's home front as shortages were experienced in factories and at dinner tables. On the battlefields, all the generals were growing deeply concerned about the fighting spirit and discipline of the men, and how they would replace the massive losses.

But accumulated physical losses were the lesser factor in what happened in 1917. As another military authority, Napoleon Bonaparte, reminds us—in war, "Morale is to the physical as three to one." In 1917, the morale of heads-of-state, citizens, and soldiers bottomed out. Futility, mindlessness, and tragedy started to be the defining aspects and heritage of the First World War, even while the fighting carried on. This moral burden of the war is still with us. Something less tangible, in the area of mass psychology, lasting and open-ended, started coming into play during 1917, and it has stayed around, its influence shaping even our current century. Defeats like Caporetto and failed, costly endeavors like the Allies launched on the Chemin des Dames, and in Flanders and Galicia, were felt no longer as mere setbacks but as national humiliations discrediting the governing classes and—for the troops—defining the war as purposeless, futile betrayals.

Maybe the war's most damaging long-term impact was the exhaustion of morale suffered by Europe's well-educated, creative, affluent, and political elite. They became the main vectors for transmitting despair and pessimism to future generations, leaving the body of Europe vulnerable to something even worse, the corrosive aspects of Modernism, the hatred of authority, and the irrational impulse to discredit all institutions and traditions. Then and since, there have been few articulate defenders of order and continuity, and they are getting rarer. 

In 1917 the cumulative spiritual fatigue triggered mutinies, food riots, and revolutions, which led soon after to the Lost Generation; totalitarian governments; a second, larger war; a longer cold war; the atomic age; and a series of ill-conceived policies, leading right up to the present-day immigration catastrophe in Europe. This long decline surely has deeper, older roots than the Great War, but the events of 1917 certainly provided powerful downward accelerators.

Adapted from my introduction to the December 2017 issue of OVER THE TOP Magazine.  MH

Saturday, April 20, 2019

The Bullecourt Digger

On 11 April 1917 as part of the Battle of  Arras the British 5th Army stormed the village of Bullecourt, an important link in the German defence known as the Hindenburg Line. A second offensive was launched on 3 May, but neither of these two operations achieved their objective and the five Australian divisions which took part in the fighting suffered heavy losses, close to 10,000 dead. 

The Australian Memorial Park outside Bullecourt honors those Diggers who lost their lives in these two events of the Battle of Arras. The centerpiece of the park is this statue of an Australian Digger, which is less well known as the Digger statue on the Somme battlefield or the "Don't Forget Me, Cobber" at Fromelles.

Friday, April 19, 2019

How the War Impacted the Population of Scotland

A Cameronian Battalion Departing for the Front

By the end of the Great War, half of Scotland's male population aged between 18 and 45 years had joined up to go to the front to fight. The First World War took a devastating toll of Scots who put on uniform and served in the armed forces, and it subjected their families at home to enormous anxiety, suffering, and grief.  The war not only affected Scots on a personal level but also had an impact on the civilian population as a whole.

In 1914 the estimated population in Scotland was 4,747,000, compared to 5,328,000 in 1913. There had been a general decline before the war because of emigration. In 1914 there were 14,000 fewer people than were counted in the 1911 census.

An accepted total of the Scottish war dead has yet to be calculated. Estimates vary between 100,000 and 148,000. The higher figure is the total of the names inscribed on the rolls of honor of the Scottish National War Memorial, which includes Scots who had left Scotland before the war but returned to serve. 

In 1915, the year after the outbreak of war, deaths of civilians increased by about 8,000 to a total of 82,000. The next peak occurred in 1918, when some 78,000 deaths were registered, an increase of almost 9,000 over 1917. The deaths largely occurred from September onward as a result of the severe influenza epidemic known as the Spanish Flu, which was particularly virulent among young adults. Soldiers returning home unwittingly spread the virus. Doctors often cited pneumonia as the eventual cause of death on death certificates, but the influenza also weakened resistance to other infections, which could be given as the cause of death. Deaths caused by the war and the 1918 influenza epidemic drastically reduced the number of men in the 20–40 age group.

After 1914, with so many young men away on military service, there were generally fewer births. The year 1917 saw the fewest registered births since 1855, and fewer babies were born to unmarried mothers. Marriages also decreased, dropping by 6,000 between 1915 and 1917.

The Largest of Glasgow's Many WWI Memorials

The end of hostilities in 1918 changed the picture: marriages grew by about 17,000 between 1918 and the peak of almost 47,000 in 1920. The inevitable baby boom followed. The year 1920 was and remains a record year for births: almost 137,000 children were registered, about 30 percent more than the average of the previous five years. This baby boom was far more dramatic than the booms experienced at the end of the Second World War or even in the 1960s.

In 1919 the population of Scotland was estimated at 4,823,000, the highest since 1855. This figure continued to grow, peaking at almost 4,898,000 in 1922. Rising emigration during the 1920s , as well as falling marriage and birth rates, helped reduce the population total.

Source: The National Records of Scotland

Thursday, April 18, 2019

American Tank Operations in the Meuse-Argonne Offensive

No tank is to be surrendered or abandoned to the enemy.  If you are left alone in the midst of the enemy keep shooting.  If your gun is disabled use your pistols and squash the enemy with your tracks…If your motor is stalled and your gun broken still the infantry cannot hurt you.  You hang on [and] help will come.  In any case remember you are the first American tanks. You must establish the fact that AMERICAN TANKS DO NOT SURRENDER
Lt. Col. George S. Patton, Commander 1st U.S. Tank Brigade

American Tankers with Their Renault FT-17 Tanks (IWM)

George Patton and his tankers had a major success under their belts at the St. Mihiel Salient in early September 1918, despite an alarming number of vehicles lost due to mechanical breakdowns and the muddy terrain.  Two weeks later, they would be called upon to support General Pershing's First Army in the even larger Meuse-Argonne Offensive. Here is an account of their effort in the opening of the battle from the U.S. Army Museum—

Aimed at breaking through German lines by advancing through the Meuse-Argonne sector, the campaign began on the night of the 25–26 of September with a massive Allied artillery barrage.  At 0530 on 26 September, the 344th and 345th Tank Battalions rolled out in support of the 28th and 35th Divisions, I Corps.  The bulk of the two battalions supported the 35th Division to the east of the Aire River, while Company B of the 344th and Company A of the 345th supported the 28th Division to the west.  Fierce resistance was soon met on both sides of the river, but the men of the 1st Tank Brigade were resolute.  The 28th Division’s advance was stalled by heavy machine-gun fire outside the town of Varennes, leaving the tanks without infantry support.  Unfazed, Captain Dean M. Gilfillan of the 345th Tank Battalion doggedly continued his attack.  With his tank in flames after receiving two direct hits from artillery fire, and suffering a wound from an enemy machine gun, he managed to destroy two German machine guns and gun down a number of German soldiers before abandoning his vehicle moments before it exploded.  Despite being subsequently wounded by shrapnel, he remained at his post long enough to witness a second, successful assault on Varennes.

Patton's Tanks Training at Mass Maneuvering

To the east of the Aire River, the 35th Division was checked by German forces that were strongly entrenched on a hill south of Cheppy. Here, Patton had advanced on foot to survey the situation.  Finding his tanks unable to advance over German trenches and thus come to the aid of the infantry, he ordered all available personnel to clear a path through, handing out picks and shovels and going so far as to strike one of the soldiers who was slacking.  After this was accomplished and the tanks were able to advance, Patton led a haphazard amalgamation of leaderless soldiers in a charge on the German positions, but he was cut down by German fire and had to be evacuated.  Despite their commander no longer being in the fight, the tankers rolled onward, wiping out the offending machine-gun nests on and around the hill, and in concert with remnants of the 138th Infantry Regiment, secured Cheppy. Historian Carlo D’este stated that the assault on Cheppy “…may well have been the first-ever example of tank-infantry cooperation in an offensive situation.”

Plaque at Camp Roberts, CA, Named
for Cpl. Harold Roberts, First Tank Corps
Medal of Honor Recipient, KIA 4 Oct. 1918
So it went, day after day, the Tank Corps intrepidly pushed forward, often in advance of the Infantry. First Lieutenant Harvey L. Harris wrote that “It’s surprising what they ask us to do.  Doughboys to Generals have sent us against places a battleship couldn’t capture…” and Patton later wrote that the infantry had seemed to have “…forgotten the firepower which they themselves possessed and expected the tanks to completely obliterate all resistance before they would advance.”  This success, however, came at a price.  By 3 October, fifty-three percent of the officers and twenty-five percent of the enlisted men of the 1st Tank Brigade had become casualties.  The vehicle attrition rate was also high:  the 1st Tank Brigade started the offensive with 127 Renault tanks supplemented by fourteen more on the night of 27 September.  By 3 October, the brigade had only eighty-nine operational vehicles.  These numbers were about to drop again as the offensive was resumed on 4 October.  Heavy fighting once again resulted in a staggering loss of personnel and equipment; by the next morning, only thirty tanks operable tanks remained, and by 10 October, six of seven captains in the brigade were casualties.

U.S. Tank Advancing at Recicourt, Mid-October 1918

Although Tank Corps mechanics had been feverishly working night and day to keep the tanks in fighting condition, having forty-eight tanks operable on 11 October, mechanical failures do to extended use necessitated a withdrawal of most of the tanks for servicing.  While most of the 1st Tank Brigade was withdrawn from the front, a provisional force designated the 1st Provisional Tank Company, under the command of Captain Courtney Barnard, consisting of ten officers, 148 enlisted men, and twenty-four tanks, was created on 13 October.  It was supported by the 321st Repair and Salvage Company and Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 344th Tank Battalion.  This unit went on to perform admirably (aside from the usual mechanical issues and getting bogged down in the trenches, shells holes, and other obstacles) in actions on 14 October and 1 November.

Source: Selected from "The Dawn of American Armor: The U.S. Army Tank Corps in World War I,"  Eric Anderson, U.S. Army Historical Foundation

Wednesday, April 17, 2019

Snapshots of the War in 1915

Last Sunday, we published an article about the battles on the Western Front in 1915.  It reminded me of something I've benefited from by looking at thousands of photos from the war over  the last quarter-century. Usually, without first reading the caption of a photograph, I can guess with a pretty high degree of accuracy the year the photo was taken. That's because everything looked different over the time, the battlefields, the trenches, the uniforms and kits of the soldiers.  Here's a selection from 1915. The war's been on a year, but the battlefields haven't yet taken on the lunar landscape look, most of the troops haven't been issued helmets yet, and, while some of the images show the brutal side of war, things just don't look quite as grim as photos from the following year when Verdun and the Somme took center stage.

Click on the Image to Enlarge

French Artillerymen in the Vosges Mountain Sector

King George V at a Military Review at Stonehenge

German Trench at Notre Dame de Lorette

Austrian Soldiers Torch a Polish Village

Battleship HMS Majestic Sinking at Cape Helles, 27 May 1915

V Beach, Gallipoli, After the Troops Move Inland,
River Clyde in Foreground

Lord Kitchener in the Foreground Visiting the Western Front

Italian Troops Moving a Gun to Higher Ground

British Burials, Hullach, Loos Battlefield

A French Band Wearing Gas Masks While Performing

General Joffre, Accompanied by General Cadorna,
Tours the Alpine Battlefields

A Single German Cavalryman Guards a Column of Russian Prisoners

Sources:  Tony Langley Collection, The Illustrated Album deluxe