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

Thursday, May 30, 2019

Remembering a Veteran: Leutnant Ludwig Wittgenstein, K. u. K.

By James Patton

“Whereof one cannot speak, thereof one must be silent.” 
― Ludwig Wittgenstein, Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus

Austrian philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein (1889–1952) was born in Vienna to one of middle Europe’s richest families, and he inherited a fortune from his father in 1913. Despite being eligible for a medical exception, at the outbreak of World War I Wittgenstein immediately left Cambridge University in England and reported for duty in the Austro-Hungarian Army. 

He served first on a ship and then in an artillery workshop several miles behind the front lines, where he was wounded in an accidental explosion and hospitalized in Krakow. 

Following his return to duty, in March 1916 he was posted to the Russian front, as part of the Austrian 7th Army, where he was involved in the Brusilov Offensive. 

Wittgenstein frequently directed artillery fire from a forward observation post, a very dangerous job as he was a special target of enemy fire. He was decorated on several occasions during his service.  In January 1917 he returned to the Russian front, where he earned several more medals, including the Silver Medal for Valor, First Class. In later action against the British, he was decorated with the Military Merit Medal, with Swords on the Ribbon for his exceptionally courageous behavior. 

In 1918, Wittgenstein was promoted to lieutenant and sent to the Italian front. For his actions during the Austrian offensive of June 1918, he was recommended for the Gold Medal for Valor, but it was subsequently downgraded to a second award of the Merit, with Swords. Captured by the Italians on 3 November, he spent nine months in a prison camp.  

Wittgenstein had survived the war, and in 1919 he renounced his inheritance, dividing it among his remaining siblings. Then he spent several years as a school teacher in Austria, all the while resuming his philosophical writing.

After Wittgenstein’s opus work Tractatus (which he had substantially completed when he was a prisoner of war) was published, his former tutor at Cambridge persuaded him to return there, and he stayed on until 1947. He then visited in Ireland and the U.S. until his final illness. His voluminous manuscripts were edited and published posthumously in 1953 under the title Philosophical Investigations, which has since been regarded as one of the most important philosophical works of the 20th century. 

Wittgenstein is credited with inventing the "truth-table," a method of determining in a mechanical way whether an argument is valid, and as well (although this claim is hotly contested) he may have been the first to use the "emoji," in his 1938 work The Brown Book, where he showed how simple face-like drawings could convey feelings and emotions. 

Wednesday, May 29, 2019

100 Years Ago: The Third Anglo-Afghan War Breaks Out

Fort Robat and the Kabul River, Afghanistan

By Edward Proctor, Duke University Libraries

The Third Anglo-Afghan War was one of Britain’s briefest, lasting just over three months during the summer of 1919, from 6 May to 8 August. It was surprisingly poorly reported, with fewer than a dozen articles appearing in the Times of London, several consisting of editorials and letters to the editor, and all of them buried in the back pages—even the announcement of the commencement of hostilities, “British Enter Afghanistan. Strategic Point Seized,” appeared as a small item consisting of just two brief paragraphs on page 12.  As a contemporary magazine put it, “So little has appeared in the newspapers about the Third Afghan War that probably most respectable citizens do not know there has been one.” 

Unlike the two previous Anglo-Afghan Wars (the first of which lasted the better part of three years, from 1839 to 1842, and the second for two years, from 1878 to 1880), this conflict began as the result of Afghan incursions into British-occupied territory across the border with India, rather than the other way round (as was historically more usual). According to the New Statesman for 16 August 1919:

The reasons that led the new Ameer [Amanullah Khan, the King] of Afghanistan to begin war on India are obscure, and the version of his motives given by the Indian Government make him out to be little better than a fool. One feels that there must be another and more reasonable side to the whole business.
The Times speculated that:

Some of the causes of the Afghan troubles are still obscure, but there is reason to suspect that Russian intrigue has had something to do with them. A friendly Russia which recognizes her duty to the rest of the world would have no motive to stir up trouble of this kind. But a Russia with its hand against everyone, like the present Bolshevist Government of Russia, can create endless mischief.

A British Tommy Stands Guard Over the Battleground of 11 May 1919

British interest in Afghanistan was long-standing, since it was viewed as a buffer between Russia and their Indian Empire. It was feared that Russia might attack India in order to gain access to a warm-water port. This rivalry, known as “The Great Game,” ran from most of the 19th century through the first half of the 20th century.

It was also theorized that the Amir felt that the time was ripe for fomenting unrest in India following the massacre by British forces of hundreds of unarmed civilians in the city of Amritsar the month before; but this explanation, like that of Bolshevik intrigue, is currently discredited. It is now believed that he was attempting to assert his country’s independence, both as an end in itself and due to domestic political considerations which compelled him to demonstrate his strength to opposition forces in Kabul. Previously, Britain controlled all aspects of Afghanistan’s foreign policy, and paid the Amir a subsidy of £120,000 [more than $4,000,000 in today’s currency] for the privilege. 

Over 10,000 British-Indian troops were mobilized. Casualties on both sides were heavy: 1,751 killed or wounded (including over 500 deaths from cholera) on the British side, and an estimated 1,000 deaths among the Afghans. British tactics included what was colloquially referred to as “butcher and bolt” operations, in which villages would be destroyed, their inhabitants killed, and troops would immediately return to their base, making no attempt to occupy any territory. Kabul and the Afghan fort at Dakka were successfully bombed using the relatively-new technology of biplanes, resulting in the following editorial comment in the Times: “[T]his is the first proof that we have had of the immense military value of the aeroplanes in small wars with semi-civilized peoples.” 

The war was ended by the Treaty of Rawalpindi, with both sides claiming a measure of victory—the Afghans successfully asserting their right to conduct their own foreign affairs (one of the first acts of which was to recognize the new Bolshevik government in Russia), and the British re-establishing the ante-bellum border and discontinuing their subsidy to the Amir.   

Kurram Valley Militia Post

Afghanistan and the North-West Frontier Province of India occupied a disproportionately large place in the psychology of British imperialism, largely because these areas were never successfully colonized or "pacified" by military force. Numerous stories of conflict in these regions, ranging from books and magazine articles, such as the more-or-less factual drawings and text in the Illustrated London News, to highly romanticized novels and heroic tales of daring-do in schoolboy magazines such as the Boy’s Own Paper were extremely popular, as were the works of Rudyard Kipling, unofficial poet laureate of the British Empire, who captured and shaped popular attitudes with his frequently jingoistic short stories, novels, and verse:

“The Young British Soldier”

When you’re wounded and left on Afghanistan’s plains,
And the women come out to cut up what remains,
Jest roll to your rifle and blow out your brains
An’ go to your Gawd like a soldier.

The first line of “The Ballad of East and West” is often quoted out of context:

OH, East is East, and West is West, and never the twain shall meet,
Till Earth and Sky stand presently at God’s great Judgment Seat;
But there is neither East nor West, Border, nor Breed, nor Birth,
When two strong men stand face to face, tho’ they come from the ends of the earth!

 “Arithmetic on the Frontier”

A scrimmage in a Border Station-
A canter down some dark defile
Two thousand pounds of education
Drops to a ten-rupee jezail [handmade long barrel rifle].
The Crammer's boast, the Squadron's pride,
Shot like a rabbit in a ride!

Sources: Website and Randolph Bezzant Holmes Photograph Collection, 1910–1919, Duke University Libraries

Tuesday, May 28, 2019

The War Poetry of John Allan Wyeth

This Man's Army: A War in Fifty-Odd Sonnets by John Allan Wyeth.  The University of South Carolina Press, 2008.  First published in 1928.

Before the Clangor of the Gun: The First World War Poetry of John Allan Wyeth by BJ Omanson. Monongahela Press, 2019.

Reviewed by David F. Beer

Wyeth's 33rd Division in the Line During the Argonne Offensive

We rarely come across a volume of World War One poetry that hasn’t seen the light of day for 80 years, but this is the case of John Wyeth’s This Man’s Army: A War in Fifty-Odd Sonnets. 

Order Here
These poems were unearthed by military historian BJ Omanson and reprinted in 2008 by Matthew Bruccoli, in his University of South Carolina Press Great War Series. BJ Omanson’s own book on Wyeth, Before the Clangor of the Gun, adds interesting information on Wyeth’s life and poetry. The two books are all you’ll need for an excellent background and appreciation of this little-known poet.

Wyeth’s work consists of 55 sonnets and we suspect his use of "odd" in his title has a double meaning: "more-or-less fifty" plus a hint that his sonnets are not "normal" ones. A traditional sonnet is 14 lines that follow a ten-beat meter (iambic pentameter) and has a consistent rhyme scheme. Numerous poets over the centuries have used the form and it’s still quite popular. A perfect example of a WWI sonnet (in my opinion) is Charles Sorley’s “When you see millions of the mouthless dead/Across your dreams in pale battalions go…”

Many poets have taken liberties with the traditional sonnet form. Wyeth frequently breaks his up to include conversation in English or French, as in number 42 where he relates his fruitless attempts to deliver some maps

A dusty sunset in a smoky sky,
And soldiers idling over the dry terrain.
“Stop here—they’re somewhere out by Harbonnières,
Give me the maps.”
          A rush of foaming flanks,
Australian caissons rattling, galloping by… (Sonnet 42)

These lines also reveal the poet’s tone and subject matter. His entire collection documents his personal experiences while serving in the AEF, from training to eventually joining the headquarters staff of the 33rd Division. He was never in combat but was at times quite close, and each poem describes a specific experience without any further analysis. We’re simply given very concrete vignettes:

Our sidecar jolted and rocked, twisting between
craters, lunging at every rack and wrench.
Through Bayonvillers—her dusty wreckage stank
of rotten flesh, a dead street overcast
with a half-sweet, fetid, cloying fog of stench. (Sonnet 41)

Another example of a "conversational" sonnet is number 30, where the confusion of divisional maneuvers is recounted:

“How’s the liaison, Major?”
         “Not so warm—
The General’s been ringin’ me up all day—‘G-2?
Hello!—Well Major, are you functioning?”
‘Yes sir, I’m functionig’—and here I set
All dolled up in my brand new uniform
And not one goddam message going through!” (Sonnet 30)

Order Here
An introduction to This Man’s Army by poet and scholar Dana Gioia, who served as chair of the National Endowment for the Arts between 2003 and 2009, gives interesting information on Wyeth’s life and poetry while annotations to the text by BJ Omanson helpfully describe the background situation of each poem. As mentioned above, Omanson’s own book on Wyeth adds additional insight into this long-neglected poet and his work. A citation from Before the Clangor of the Gun gets right to the point:

Wyeth is above all an astute witness—whether of natural phenomena, the peripheries of battle, or the idiosyncrasies of soldiers. His description of everything from the sound of gas shells hurtling overhead, to the reckless banter of enlisted men playing craps, to the drifting perfume of dead men in a ruined village, are as precise and revealing as any in the literature of war. They are his distinguishing feature and what chiefly sets him apart from every other major poet of 1914–1918 (p. 70).

Days before the end of the war Wyeth found himself in an evacuation hospital in Souilly, diagnosed with influenza. This didn’t kill him, however, and he went on to live a long but sparsely recorded life. We do know he lost interest in poetry and took up painting, spending a lot of time in Europe. His penultimate poem (54) gives us a glimpse of his hospital experience:

Fever, and crowds—and light that cuts your eyes—
Men waiting in a long slow-shuffling line 
with silent private faces, white and bleak.
Long rows of lumpy stretchers on the floor.
My helmet drops—a head jerks up and cries
wide-eyed and settles in a quivering whine.
The air is rank with touching human reek.
A troop of Germans clatters through the door.
They cross our line and something in me dies.
Sullen, detached, obtuse—men into swine—
and hurt unhappy things that walk apart.
Their rancid bodies trail a languid streak
so curious that hate breaks down before
the dull and cruel laughter in my heart. (number 54)

If you’re interested in the unique rhyme scheme Wyeth employs you can easily determine it from this sonnet. If you’re not interested in poetical technicalities, that’s OK too. We can all enjoy reading these poems and short books to gain insight into the mind and experiences of a WWI poet who has been happily rediscovered after lying in obscurity for so many years.

David F. Beer


Monday, May 27, 2019

The Inscriptions for America's National World War One Memorial

Memorial Day 2019

Detail from Main Sculpture by Howard Sabin

In the late summer of 2017 at the request of the United States World War One Centennial Commission, I asked our readers to propose appropriated inscriptions for the National WWI Memorial planned for Pershing Square in Washington, DC. Subsequently, I forwarded nearly one hundred suggestions to the commission's Vice-Chairman, Edwin Fountain.  This week Mr. Fountain shared the final selections with me and ask me to pass these on to you. While none of our proposals made the final list, he expressed great appreciation and thanks for our efforts.  In future postings, I'll  also be sharing some of our readers ideas, but for now—here are the quotes that will appear on the memorial when it is completed.

Informational Kiosk with AEF Campaigns & Victory Medal Inscribed

From General Pershing

In their devotion, their valor, and in the loyal fulfillment of their obligations, the officers and men of the American Expeditionary Forces have left a heritage of which those who follow may ever be proud.
  • From General Pershing's Memoir, My Experiences in the World War

From  Veteran Archibald MacLeish

Archibald MacLeish
We leave you our deaths: give them their meaning: give them an end to the war and a true peace: give them a victory that ends war and a peace afterwards: give them their meaning. We were young, they say. We have died. Remember us.

  • From the  poem "THE YOUNG DEAD SOLDIERS DO NOT SPEAK," written in 1941 for a memorial service for staff members of the Library of Congress who died in the war
  • MacLeish served as an ambulance driver and then artillery officer in WWI; fought in the Second Battle of the Marne
  • His brother Kenneth was a naval aviator. Shot down over Belgium in October 1918, buried at Flanders Field American Cemetery.
  • Librarian of Congress, 1939–44, then assistant secretary of state for public affairs.
  • Also served as director of the War Department's Office of Facts and Figures and assistant director of the Office of War Information.  Developed the Research and Analysis Branch of the OSS, which became the CIA.
  • Three-time recipient of the Pulitzer Prize (twice for poetry, once for drama)

How President Wilson's Words Will Be Inscribed

From President Woodrow Wilson

Never before have men crossed the seas to a foreign land to fight for a cause which they did not pretend was peculiarly their own, but knew was the cause of humanity and of mankind.  

  • Woodrow Wilson, Memorial Day address, 30 May 1919
  • Delivered at the American cemetery at Suresnes outside Paris, during the Versailles peace negotiations

From Author Willa Cather
Willa Cather

They were mortal, but they were unconquerable.

  • From Willa Cather, One of Ours (1922:453), which also won the Pulitzer Prize.
  • Protagonist Claude Wheeler is partly based on Cather’s  cousin, Grosvenor Cather, who was killed at Cantigny in May 1918 and received the Distinguished Service Cross.

Display of Willa Cather's Quote

From Nurse Alto May Andrews

Alto May Andrew's ID Card

If it has to be that this world must be embroiled in a tremendous “War to end Wars,” I am glad that I, too, may play a part in it.

  • Alta May Andrews (quoted in Andrew Carroll (ed.), "My Fellow Soldiers" (2017: 230))
  • From Illinois; shipped to France in April 1918, first as an American Red Cross nurse and then in the Army Nurse Corps
  • Worked the night shift at American Hospital No. 1 in Neuilly outside Paris, caring for 70 men at a time
  • Treated wounded soldiers from Belleau Wood and other battles
  • Met President Wilson in December 1918 when he visited her hospital
  • Served for two years; continued nursing WWI soldiers after she returned to the U.S. in April 1919—and re-enlisted during WWII at the age of 51

Sunday, May 26, 2019

Recommended: Did the End of the Great War Come Too Soon?

11 November 1918, London

Presented at New Statesman America 

By David  Reynolds


One hundred years ago, the war ended. But had it lasted into 1919 the future of the world might have been very different. . .

[D]uring Hitler’s war of 1939–45, President Franklin D. Roosevelt demanded Germany’s “unconditional surrender” and complete demilitarization and democratization. He wanted to rub German noses in the reality of Nazism’s utter defeat.

Since we in Britain take the Armistice for granted, it is worth noting that some senior Allied commanders in November 1918 seriously pondered a similarly hard policy. The German Army, though still on Allied soil, was now a shadow of what it had been and would probably not be able to resist. Foch sought armistice terms that required Germany to evacuate France, Belgium, and Alsace-Lorraine and allowed the Allies to occupy the west bank of the Rhine and bridgeheads east of the river—from which they would be in a position to march on into Germany.

Pershing was even more extreme. He wanted to continue the offensive and compel what he explicitly called Germany’s “unconditional surrender,” rather than accept a ceasefire now and “possibly lose the chance to secure world peace on terms that would insure its permanence.”

Some policymakers soon regretted not heeding Foch and Pershing. “Had we known how bad things were in Germany,” mused the British politician Eric Geddes on 12 November, the day after the Armistice was signed, “we might have got stiffer terms.” French prime minister Georges Clemenceau spoke in a similar vein the following year. Yet for the Allies to impose their will on Germany to such a degree would have required more fighting and more casualties.

Read the full article here:

Saturday, May 25, 2019

Remembering a Veteran: George Wright Puryear, 95th Aero Squadron

Lt. Puryear

World War I U.S. Army Air Service pilot was the first U.S. officer prisoner of war to escape from his German captors. He was the youngest of seven sons born to William Pressley and Fannie Mildred Wright Puryear in Hendersonville, Tennessee. He graduated from Vanderbilt University with a law degree in 1916 and moved to Memphis to work in his brother David's law practice.

During World War I, George joined the Aviation Section, U.S. Army Signal Corps (which would become the Army Air Service in 1918) and served in the 95th Aero Squadron. In July 1918, he was captured by German forces and sent to several different prisoner of war camps in Germany over the course of several months, before managing to escape from the camp at Villingen on 6 October 1918, swimming across the Rhine River to reach Switzerland. His heroic escape was chronicled in newspapers across the United States, and George traveled to various Air Service units to relay his experiences in the German prison camps.

Upon his return home, George was reassigned to the 9th Aero Squadron based at Rockwell Field, San Diego, California. From April to May 1919, he was a pilot with the No. 3 (Far West) Flight of the Victory Loan war bond campaign. When this campaign ended, George returned to the 9th Aero Squadron.

While on border patrol on 20 October 1919, the engine of his DH-4 cut out, causing it to crash. George died from his injuries within minutes of the crash. The airfield at El Centro/Calexico was named Puryear Field in his honor.

Source: Find a Grave

Friday, May 24, 2019

Who Was the Doughboys' Favorite Pin-Up?

Here's a question for you, dear readers. If Betty Grable was the favorite pinup of WWII's GIs, who held that honor for WWI's Doughboys? The answer could be one of the earliest sex symbols of the silent cinema, Theda "The Vamp" Bara.

Theda in The Stain, Her Film Debut 

She grew up in Cincinnati as Theodosia Burr Goodman and became an actress on the New York stage. Fox Studios discovered her and she went on to become their biggest star by the time of America's entry into the war, which was the same year her most famous film, Cleopatra, was released. Theda's brother volunteered for army service, and she responded graciously first to his buddies and then to other units that requested her sponsorship. As with other stars like Charlie Chaplin, Mary Pickford, and Douglas Fairbanks, Theda was also a wholehearted supporter of the war bonds programs and went on to set records for sales. 

Theda Honored on a Nieuport Fighter

But her most notable connection to WWI might be that she is believed to be the first female personality adopted for aircraft nose art. The image above, courtesy of, shows a U.S. training aircraft with Theda's name. Theda got married in 1921 and made her last film in 1926. There are no talkies featuring Theda, and, sadly, most of her silent films have been lost.

Thursday, May 23, 2019

The Grandeur of the Elks National Memorial

Built after the Great War to honor the 70,000 members of the association who had served in the struggle, the utterly magnificent Elks Memorial in Chicago is today little visited. It is reported that it receives about ten visitors a day. I once spent a day at nearby Lincoln Park and probably walked right past the building, oblivious to its importance and quality. I hope to make amends someday and get back to Chicago and visit the building. You'll see from the details and images below that the finest architects and artists in American contributed to its construction.  

1.  Elks National War Memorial,  Chicago, Illinois

Some details from the Elks website:

A monument in the truest sense, the Elks National Memorial was built in 1926 to honor Americans whose profound sacrifices for the nation can never be recognized by mere words. With its massive dome, heroic sculptures, and intricately detailed friezes, the memorial is a distinctively American interpretation of classical greatness.

Following World War I, there was a strong desire throughout the Elks organization to erect a fitting memorial to those brothers who had laid down their lives in the name of loyal patriotism and devotion to country which they had assumed at their fraternal altars. At the Grand Lodge session convened in Chicago in 1920, a special committee was created and assigned with the task of planning the design and construction of this new memorial. The commission invited seven of the country's most distinguished architects to participate in a competition that would determine the design of the new building.

After careful consideration, the commission unanimously decided on a design created by New York architect Egerton Swarthout. Swarthout's design was selected over the competition because it was the most beautifully distinctive, while still fulfilling its practical purpose as both a memorial to fallen Elks and a national headquarters for the organization. After an exhaustive search for the most qualified builder, the commission entrusted New York's Hegeman-Harris Company with the task of building a monument that would inspire Elks and captivate the public.

Some images from the memorial: (Click on them to enlarge.)

2.  View Inside the Entrance

3.  Partial View of the Balcony Murals

4. "The Armistice" by Eugene Francis Savage

5.  "Fidelity" (A Cardinal Virtue of the Elks), by James Earle Fraser

6. View from Ground Level of the Dome and Colonnade

7.  "Theirs Is the Kingdom of Heaven" (L) and 
"They Shall Be Called Children of God"(R )
 by Eugene Francis Savage

8.  Grand Reception Hall

Wednesday, May 22, 2019

Work Horse of the U.S. Air Service: The DH-4

The DH-4 was an ever-present element of the U.S. Army Air Service during and after World War I. When the United States entered WWI in April 1917, the Aviation Section of the Signal Corps had only  132 aircraft, all obsolete. Modeled from a combat-tested British De Havilland design, the DH-4 was the only U.S. built aircraft to see combat during World War I. With inadequate funding to buy new aircraft, the newly created U.S. Army Air Service continued to use the DH-4 in a number of roles during the lean years following the war. By the time it was finally retired from service in 1932, the DH-4 had been developed into over 60 variants.

The 1,000th DH-4 Sent to France

During World War I, the Air Service used the DH-4 primarily for daytime bombing, observation and artillery spotting. The first American-built DH-4 arrived in France in May 1918, and the 135th Aero Squadron flew the first DH-4 combat mission in early August. By war's end, 1,213 DH-4s had been delivered to France. 

Unfortunately, the early DH-4s had drawbacks, including the fuel system. The pressurized gas tank had a tendency to explode, and a rubber fuel line under the exhaust manifold caused some fires. These problems led to the title of "The Flaming Coffin," even though only eight of the 33 DH-4s lost in combat by the U.S burned as they fell. In addition, the location of the gas tank between the pilot and observer limited communication and could crush the pilot in an accident.

Perhaps the most notable mission flown in the DH-4 was the brave attempt by 1st Lt. Harold Goettler and 2nd Lt. Erwin Bleckley of the 50th Aero Squadron to find and assist the famed "Lost Battalion" on 6 October 1918. During a resupply mission to this surrounded unit, their DH-4 was shot down. Both men posthumously received the Medal of Honor.

Of the three U.S. companies that built the DH-4 during World War I, the largest producer was the Dayton-Wright Company of Dayton, Ohio. The Air Service ordered over 12,000 DH-4s, but a number of problems kept initial production figures low and construction quality poor. The many changes involved in converting the design to American production standards, along with the use of the American Liberty 12-cylinder engine rather than the Rolls Royce engine of the British model, contributed to early production delays.

As the months of 1918 passed, however, quantity and quality improved considerably. By the end of the war, Dayton-Wright delivered 3,106 DH-4s, while the Fisher Body Division of General Motors built 1,600 and the Standard Aircraft Corporation added another 140, bringing the total to 4,846. The remaining 7,500 DH-4s still on order were cancelled.

The DH-4 at the USAF Museum, Wright-Patterson AFB, Ohio

With few funds to buy new aircraft in the years following WWI, the Air Service used the DH-4 in a variety of roles, such as transport, air ambulance, photographic plane, trainer, target tug, forest fire patrol, and even as an air racer. In addition, the U.S. Post Office operated the DH-4 as a mail carrier.

The DH-4 also served as a flying test bed at McCook Field in the 1920s, testing turbo-superchargers, propellers, landing lights, engines, radiators, and armament. There were a number of notable DH-4 flights such as the astounding New York to Nome, Alaska, flight in 1920, the record-breaking transcontinental flight in 1922 by Jimmy Doolittle, and the first successful air-to-air refueling in 1923.

From 1919 to 1923 over 1,500 DH-4s were modified  to DH-4Bs by moving the pilot's seat back and the now unpressurized gas tank forward, correcting the most serious problems in the DH-4 design. A further improved version was the DH-4M whereby over 300 DH-4s received new steel tube fuselages.

Continued raids by Mexican bandits on American homesteads led to the creation of the United States Army Border Air Patrol in June 1919. Comprised of eight squadrons and a photographic unit at its peak, the Border Air Patrol operated out of a string of rough airfields along the U.S.-Mexico border. Despite the loss of aircraft and aircrews to the harsh conditions in the Southwest, the Border Air Patrol's operations helped put an end to bandit attacks by the summer of 1921.

This reproduction DH-4B is marked as a photographic aircraft used by the 12th Aero Squadron in the early 1920s to take pictures of the U.S.-Mexico border and potential emergency landing fields.

Crew: Two (pilot and observer/gunner)
Armament: Two .30-cal. Marlin machine guns in the nose and two .30-cal. Lewis machine guns in the rear; 322 lbs. of bombs
Engine: 400-hp Liberty 12
Maximum speed: 128 mph
Range: 400 miles
Ceiling: 19,600 ft.
Weight: 3,557 lbs. loaded

Tuesday, May 21, 2019

Berlin Noir: The Bernie Gunther Novels

By Phillip Kerr
G.P. Putnam's Sons, 2004-2019
Mike Hanlon, Reviewer

Alexanderplatz, Berlin, in the 1930s

If you like your private eyes smart, tough talking, witty, and supremely cynical, Bernie Gunther is the man for you. If you like reading historical fiction-mystery fusion novels, then you'll be right at home with the late Phillip Kerr's 14 Bernie Gunther novels. If you like your protagonist to be a World War One veteran, who has seen it all, met everyone, chased every skirt, been as wicked as he's been honorable, but finds the Great War and its aftermath still haunts his every step, you've found your man in Bernie. I discovered the Berlin sleuth about  a decade ago and I've read all his cases, just completing his last,  #14, last month.

In the early part of the series when we meet him, Bernie's been a homicide detective in the Kripo (Kriminalpolizei—Berlin's criminal police) at the Alexanderplatz for 11 years. The Nazis, however, don't like his politics when they come into power in '33, and Bernie's soon out the door. Naturally, he quickly  finds work on the private side of law enforcement. It turns out, unluckily for him, that Himmler and Goering soon need his well-known skills and drag him into their web of conspiracies. Thus is launched a career that sees Bernie (as the novels roll along) dragged into the S.S. by uber-manipulative Reinhard Heydrich, assigned to investigate war crimes like the Katyn Forest massacre, captured and imprisoned by the Red Army, fleeing to South America as a suspected war criminal, gaining the Perons and, later, Batista as clients, and eventually returning incognito as a hotel manager to the French Riviera in the 1950s where East German intelligence spots him and applies new pressure. Incidentally, unlike the great Maisie Dobbs, few of Bernie's cases are directly linked to World War One. It's memories are always present for him, however, in all the novels.

If I've whetted your interest—to start—I recommend reading the first three Bernie Gunther mysteries, collectively known as the Berlin Noir series (available in one volume). These pick up his career in the 1930s, but, like the Flashman series (another personal favorite), the subsequent books are not chronologically sequenced and these leave some big gaps in his resume. Unfortunately, his creator, Philip Kerr, died last year, so we will never learn details like how Bernie escaped the clutches of U.S authorities, who were hot on his trail at one point, or where the old Kripo commissar made his last stand. Author Kerr, however, gives enough fill-in data to keep his readers from getting disoriented. 

I've left out a lot here about Bernie's 14 volumes of adventures, but in any case, I think you will find all of Bernie's adventures historically informative, exciting, and highly entertaining.

Mike Hanlon

Monday, May 20, 2019

Rebuilding St. Quentin

Postwar Damage to Basilica and Surrounding Neighborhood

Saint Quentin represents a city which suffered considerable damage in World War One but survived, recognizably, as the shell of an important industrial center; occupied throughout the war, and located on the front line after the German withdrawal to the Hindenburg Line in 1917, it suffered severely. By the end of the war, over 70 percent of Saint-Quentin, occupied from August 1914 to September 1918 by the German Army, had been destroyed. The town was rebuilt during the 1920s. 

Devastation After German Forces Abandoned the City

The civilian population returned to a skeleton of their home town, lacking all its factory equipment, stocks, a considerable number of buildings and virtually all private property, with many of the buildings roofless or grossly damaged—as a living community it had ceased to exist and needed to reconstruct its activity, community existence, and productivity from zero. Some of the ruined buildings could be restored, while others must be pulled down to start again. This was a case of restoration, fitting new buildings into old streets or squares and inserting individual features, with the original street patterns and buildings clearly visible even if needing complete restoration. 

Residential Street with Some New Art Deco Structures and
Surviving Pre-WWI Buildings

After the First World War, architect Louis Guindez convinced the city fathers to adopt the Art Deco style of design wherever possible. Consequently, St. Quentin considers itself the world's first Art Deco city and the style is still widely visible in the city, once you start looking—horizontal lines, large windows, decorative mosaic work, reinforced concrete. The train station is a leading example of this approach.

Art Deco Train Station

An example of church with an interesting historical background—St. Quentin was once a center of Huguenot activity—and whose restoration followed the design guidelines is the Eglise protestante unie de France. Originally a monastery stood on the site, founded by Marie de Medici, with its buildings used as an emergency medical post in the 1870–71 war, then completely destroyed in the fighting in 1917–18, it was rebuilt as a Protestant church after 1918 with funds from American Protestant churches.

The Rebuilt Protestant Church

Source: Helen McPhail, "Picking up the Pieces: Rebuilding Northern France after the First World War," Journal of the Centre for First World War Studies, vol. 1(2004)

Sunday, May 19, 2019

April 1914: The Assassination Plot Is Hatched

The Conspirators in Court, Princip Circled

In April 1914 Gavrilo Princip was in Belgrade, where he associated with a number of Serbian students in town cafes and conceived a plan for the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand. He shared the plan with his acquaintance Nedeljko Čabrinović, also in Belgrade, who held similar views and agreed at once to participate in the attempt.

Attempts on the archduke's life were a frequent topic of conversation in the circles in which Princip and Čabrinović moved, as the archduke seen as a dangerous enemy of the Serbian people.

Princip and Čabrinović desired at first to procure the necessary bombs and weapons from Serbian Major Milan Pribićević or from the Narodna Odbrana, [the Black Hand] as they lacked the money to purchase the weapons. Since both Pribićević and Živojin Dačić, a leading member Of the Black Hand, were absent from Belgrade, they then tried to get the weapons from their acquaintance Milan Ciganović, a former Komitadji currently working for the state railways. 

Princip contacted Ciganović though a friend and discussed the assassination plan with him. Ciganović endorsed the plan and indicated he would consider providing weapons. Čabrinović also talked with Ciganović about the weapons.

At Easter, Princip took Trifko Grabež , also in Belgrade, into his confidence. In his later confession, Grabež admitted his willingness to take part in the attempt. In the following weeks Princip repeatedly discussed the plans with Ciganović, who meanwhile had reached an understanding with his close friend Serbian Major Vojislav Tankosić to provide the Browning pistols Princip used on 28 June to kill the archduke and his wife Sophie. 

Sources: Austrian Court District of Sarajevo Record

Friday, May 17, 2019

The View from Leipzig Salient, Thiepval Ridge, 1 July 1916

German Defenses at the Somme

Offizierstellvertreter Heinrich Conrad
9th Company, 8th Bavarian Infantry Regiment, 10th Bavarian Division

At the opening of the battle of the Somme the 9th Company was led by Leutnant der Reserve [Hubert] Meister. The company was occupied digging at night behind the front at different places. The thunder of cannon fire growled ahead continuously, and by day a countless number of enemy captive balloons hovered above the front, observing every movement in our lines.

1 July 

A state of highest alert exists, but everything is quiet. It is Saturday. Up at Thiepval the sound of steady, heavy shellfire can be heard. What's going on there? We don't know. Afternoon arrives lazily. We talk, smoke, sleep. Who knows what night will bring.

"Where is the company commander?" shouts an excited voice from down the trench.

"Who wants to know?" I ask.

"A messenger."

Leutnant Meister appears in the dugout entrance and is handed a dirt-smeared paper with the report: "Enemy has penetrated the Schwaben Redoubt." The regiment's 1st and 2nd battalions, along with the 11th and 12th companies, must counterattack; the 10th Company will occupy the 11th and 12th's vacated position, and we are to take over the 10th's sector. Hurrying to our new destination we find it in a sorry condition. The trenches are barely knee-deep, and there is no trace of dugouts. Some shell holes in the position's forward area are fortified and we seek cover in these from the enemy's increasingly heavy artillery fire. We find here the bodies of the regiment's, and the battalion's, first casualties of the battle. How many of our own company will join them?

We lay in the open barely 200 meters behind Mouquet Farm. Shortly before 6 p.m. another messenger arrives, bringing new instructions: "The 9th Company will advance immediately to the Wundtwerk."

"Everyone ready! Let's go!"

With Leutnant Meister and I in the lead, we pass the ruins of Mouquet and move through Josenhans Trench, badly battered from shell fire. We encounter a large
Württemberger going in the opposite direction, his hand bound with a bloody rag.

"What's going on up there?" we ask. 

"Those dogs, those damned accursed dogs!" comes the reply. He thrusts his injured fist in the air toward the rear, and continues on.

Just then a shell whizzes by a short distance over the trench, followed by a second. It explodes in the vicinity of the 1st Platoon. Screams! Albin Bauer, our drummer, is badly wounded. A piece of shrapnel has torn into his chest. Stretcher bearers quickly attend to him while the rest of us move forward again. The ground slopes upward. Seen from the shell-plowed summit the entire area is a gigantic, gray-brown field of craters. But there, beyond the devastation, a river gleams in the shadow of a green wood. Is this where peace lives?

German Soldiers at the Somme

We lay in the Wundtwerk, bathed in sweat. Water! Water! The last drops are gone. My batman, Karl Guth, takes both of our water bottles and his boiler, then disappears. After a while he reappears completely breathless, but with a cunning smile on his face. All the containers are filled with excellent coffee. The water boiler is passed from mouth to mouth until it is empty.  Guth explains that, along the way to our position, he noticed a field kitchen from which he "liberated" the welcome antidote for our thirst.

After dusk an officer visits and orders yet another move. ''At 4 o' clock tomorrow morning we counterattack." I nod to him. The men silently proceed in the blackness through the Konigstrasse to our newest destination, the Hindenburg. Such is the appellation for the corner junction of the Konigstrasse and the Hindenburg Stellung, named for the famous army commander to designate the first-line trench here. The front line originally ran from Thiepval south-southeast to the Ovillers-Authuille road, then curved sharply eastward  for some 800 meters until dropping south again toward Orvillers and La Boisselle. The point of this curved salient has been captured by the English. The 9th Company is meant to bolster the threatened Hindenburg position, whose barricaded corner section we reach at 11 p.m. We find all that remains of the 99th Reserve Infantry Regiment's 3rd Company under the command of two officers. The 180th Regiment should be on the left, but where? No one is sure.

The entire company front measures about 250 meters in length. A delicate situation exists for no one seems to know how far the enemy has penetrated on our left. In the piece of line lost to the English there is a stone quarry, which the enemy may now be filling with men and material. "This quarry must be taken!" So reads our order. After a consultation with the two officers from the 99th's 3rd Company, Leutnant Meister issues his own orders. The 2nd and 3rd Platoons will attack: on the right, Unteroffizier Weindel with three sections of the 3rd Platoon; on the left, the rest of the 3rd Platoon under Vizefeldwebel Walcher; I am to lead in the center with half of the 2nd Platoon. The 1st Platoon is our reserve and is to remain in dugouts of the Konigstrasse and Lemburg-Stellung. Hand-grenadiers are selected and all other preparations made. This finished, we then sit leaning or dozing against the trench wall to wait for zero hour. Wallcher, who earlier in the war at Soyecourt shared a dugout with me for nine months, is seated at my side and soon drops into a deep sleep, completely unconcerned with what the next hours might bring.

Source: Carnival of Hell by Richard Baumgartner