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

Wednesday, July 31, 2019

Tuesday, July 30, 2019

Treat 'Em Rough! The Birth of American Armor, 1917–20

By Dale E. Wilson
Casemate Publishers, Rev. Edition 2018
Bruce G. Sloan, Reviewer

American Operated French FT-17 Tanks, Meuse-Argonne Offensive

When this book was first published in 1990, its author, Capt. Dale E. Wilson, was a career armor officer serving as an assistant professor in the department of history at the United States Military Academy. Previously he had served in Vietnam as an infantryman. He succinctly describes the subject matter of his book in his preface:

US Tank Corps Banner
Note British Mk-5 Tank
What follows is the story of the American Tank Corps in World War I—from its creation to its dismemberment after passage of the National Defense Act of 1920. Particular attention is devoted to the development of equipment, organization and tactics, and a training program, all of which had to be accomplished from scratch in order to prepare the tanks and the men who would use them for combat. The meat of the story, however, is contained in the detailed accounts of the 1st/304th Tank Brigade's support of the American First Army in the St. Mihiel and Meuse-Argonne campaigns, and the 301st Heavy Tank Battalion's combat experiences with the British Fourth Army beginning in late September 1918.

The author's research includes, among other sources, the personal papers of General George Smith Patton, Jr., archives of the Army's Military History Institute, and Tank Corps files at the National Archives.

The book is divided into the two main parts mentioned above, Part I being the birth of the Corps, training, the tanks, and the production thereof. Part II is a detailed explanation of the campaigns mentioned, with easily readable maps. An epilogue details the forced drawdown after the Armistice and the lessons learned. Appendix A has specifications of the various French, British, and American tanks. Appendix B is a list of Tank Corps personnel cited for valor.

The American Expeditionary Forces (AEF) Tank Corps did not exist until after June 1917, when Gen. John J. Pershing appointed several committees to study British and French tank tactics and operations. A mere 15 months later the Corps was in combat, with 752 officers and 11,277 enlisted men in its ranks, and two months after that, the war was over. However, all the tanks used in combat were either French or British: no American-built tanks arrived before the Armistice.

In addition to many others, we meet some familiar officers such as Lt. Col. Dwight D. Eisenhower, who reluctantly set up and commanded the stateside camps and training (never getting to France) and Lt. Col. George S. Patton, Jr., who was lucky enough to command the 1st/304th Tank Brigade in combat.

American Operated British Mark V Tanks, Somme Sector

Even though frustrated by entrenched Army reluctance, political and industrial roadblocks, and logistic nightmares, the Tank Corps got the men and most of the materiél to France. In action, the Tank Corps heavily contributed to the defeat of the enemy. "Treat 'Em Rough" was the Tank Corps motto and the title of their magazine published at Camp Colt. I found the book to be well written, organized, and very informative. A definite recommendation is in order.

Bruce G. Sloan

Monday, July 29, 2019

Tipperary Lives On

By James Patton

Traces of WWI are still with us, besides Middle-Eastern politics, battlefield artifacts, or even the ubiquitous Doughboy statues in the courthouse square. One of these is the song titled "It’s a Long Way to Tipperary" (later "It’s a Long, Long Way to Tipperary"), most often called simply "Tipperary," which was written in a Manchester pub by music hall performer Jack Judge (with help from the publican’s son Harry Williams) on 30 January 1912 and debuted by Judge the following night.

Written well before the start of the war, it had nothing whatsoever to do with the war, nor is it either patriotic or about anything military, but notwithstanding it became the "theme song" of the British Expeditionary Force in WWI. Why? Although the melody is bright, lilting, and easy to march to, and, as typical of the music hall genre, it has a rollicking sing-a-long chorus, instead it seems to have been a case of being in the right place at the right time.

Cap Badge of the Connaught Rangers
"Tipperary" wasn’t a well-known song in 1914, but popular lore says that the 2nd Battalion of The Connaught Rangers was marching to it after their landing at  Boulogne on 13 August. The song quickly spread to other bands, and, in today’s terminology, it went viral.

With popularity came serious money, and Judge and Williams were eventually sued for plagiarism by the writer of a 1908 ditty promoting Washington state apples. At the trial in 1920 expert witness Victor Herbert’s opinion that the two works were musically dissimilar carried the day and the suit was unsuccessful. Here’s a YouTube link to the legendary Irish tenor John McCormick’s recording, one of many in the day

Wartime Connections

A later connection to the war was the loss of the destroyer HMS Tipperary on 1 June 1916, which although seriously outgunned, heroically went one-on-one with the German battle cruiser SMS Westfalen at Jutland. Only 13 of Tipperary’s crew survived.

Jack Judge’s son, John, Private 35506, 8th Royal Welsh Fusiliers, was killed in Mesopotamia on 15 February 1917, age 20. He is commemorated on the Basra Memorial to the Missing.

In 1920 about 90 members of the 1st battalion of the Connaught Rangers, stationed at Jalandhar, India, staged a peaceful protest against martial law in Ireland, which was brutally repressed.

This is regarded as the most recent incident of mutiny in the British Army. In 1922 the Rangers were disbanded, along with all of the British regiments that recruited in territory ceded to the Irish Republic.

Across the Ocean

Like some other popular songs of the war era (e.g. "Keep the Home Fires Burning"), "Tipperary" speaks of longing for home and loved ones, rather than thrashing the evil Hun. It was a hit on the home front, too, a mainstay of music hall acts for the entire war.

"Tipperary" found its way across the Atlantic and into our popular culture. Sports fans might be quite familiar with this tune, though they may not know where it came from.  The University of Missouri's Fight Song, "Every True Son of Missouri,"  is such an example. Nowadays "Tipperary" is a regimental quick march of Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry, a unit formed in 1914 which is still active in the Canadian Forces.

Sunday, July 28, 2019

Just 105 Years Ago: Austria-Hungary Declares War on Serbia

Arguably, this was the day the Great War really started.  At 105 years distant it's one of those dates that might soon be forgotten and, never again taught in our schools.  So maybe for the last time, here's what went on on 28 July 1914.

On 28 1914, Archduke Franz Ferdinand, the Hapsburg presumptive heir to the throne of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, and his wife Sophie, Duchess of Hohenberg, were assassinated in the city of Sarajevo by Gavrilo Princip, a member of a Serbian backed secret para-military organization.  This event followed several years of tension between the governments of Austria-Hungary and Serbia after the former’s annexation of Bosnia-Herzegovina in 1908.

As a result of the shootings the government of Austria-Hungary communicated a list of demands to the government of Serbia.  The Serbian government agreed to comply wholly with most of the ultimatum, but after obtaining guarantees from the Russian government that it would receive support against Austria-Hungary, it rejected the last demand that would have resulted in a major infringement of its sovereignty. The government in Vienna broke diplomatic relations and announced a mobilization of the army against Serbia.  On 28 July 1914, after a report of an unverified incident involving Hapsburg and Serbian troops, the government of Austria-Hungary declared war on Serbia.

This image is taken from a 28 July 1914 extra edition of the Wiener Zeitung, the official newspaper of the Austrian government, announcing that a state of war exists with Serbia. It is printed in both German and French.  A similar announcement was published on 6 August 1914, the day that war was declared on Russia.  The Wiener Zeitung is one of the oldest official newspapers published.

Princip was tried by Haspburg authorities for his role in the assassinations.  He was convicted of the crimes, but due to his age at the time of their commission he escaped the death penalty and was instead sentenced to 20 years imprisonment. He died in prison in 1918 of complications from tuberculosis.

Source: Jim Martin, Library of Congress Blog

Saturday, July 27, 2019

Gandhi Visits England in I914

SGT. Major Gandhi
At the outbreak of the Great War, Mohandas Gandhi, who was visiting Britain, helped raise an Indian Ambulance Corps and would have served in it but for his health, which broke late in 1914. He had helped organize a similar unit in the Boer War, and had actively served as a sergeant major with the volunteers.

The argument  he made to defend the 1914 proposal  for a similar formation in the Great War shows  a long-term  political strategy meshed with  Gandhi's undoubted humanitarian impulse.  The suggestion that the Empire’s crisis was India’s chance did not impress him. As he put it: "I knew the difference of status between an Indian and an Englishman," he wrote later, "but I did not believe that we had been quite reduced to slavery. I felt then that it was more the fault of individual officials than of the British system, and that we could convert them by love. If we would improve our status through the help and cooperation of the British, it was our duty to win their help by standing by them in their hour of need."

Gandhi in Britain, 1914

The Indian volunteers received medical training over the next two months and were assigned in October to the  Royal Victoria Military Hospital outside Southampton.  Not much is available on their service subsequently. In late 1914 Gandhi sailed to India because of his pleurisy.  Later in the war he would help recruit Indians as actual combatants rather  than stretcher bearers.


Friday, July 26, 2019

Pershing and Lafayette on the Road to Versailles

On either side of the Avenue de Versailles, the final stretch of road from Paris to the Palace of Versailles stand two enormous pedestals with classic equestrian statues. Mounted on their steeds are two American heroes, General John J. Pershing and the Marquis de Lafayette.

Here the full story of the dual monuments is told in excerpts from an interview with WWI Centennial Commissioner Monique Seefried

In February 1937, a committee is created in France to erect a memorial symbolizing the participation of the Americans in France during the Great War and the participation of the French in the American Revolution. Among the members of the council of administration of the committee are the president of the Republic Albert Lebrun, Premier (president du conseil des ministres) Leon Blum and Marechal Pétain. 

Lafayette As Realized

The architect Carlu (who designed the Trocadero) is chosen for the base, the sculptor Joachim Costa for the equestrian statue of Pershing and Paul Wayland Bartlett (who designed Michelangelo in the Library of Congress and on the façade of the New York Public Library) for the statue of Lafayette. He also designed the Lafayette now on the Cours la Reine in Paris. The project has to be realized with great urgency in order to have General Pershing present in France in October attend the inauguration. This takes place on 6 October 1937. 

How the Site Looked for 80 Years

Situated at the Butte de Picardie, on the entrance of the Avenue de Versailles, flanking both sides of the road, the pedestals are 15 meters high and list respectively all the major battles fought by the Americans in France in 1918 and those fought by the French during the American Revolution. The pedestals are erected in 36 days and plasters of the two statues are placed atop the columns. By 1941, the plaster statues are removed, as they are getting damaged, exposed to the elements. The bronze are not cast due to the war. 

An American Reenactor &
General Pershing
In 1951, President Herriot tries to raise funds for the two bronze statues, but the project, continuing for a ten-year period, doesn’t come to fruition. By 2002, a local association raised the funds to restore the pedestals which had gotten damaged. They are inscribed in the National Register of Historical Monuments. A second inauguration takes place in 2011 for the two restored pedestals and a campaign is launched to have the bronze statues erected. It was led by the Pershing Lafayette Association in Versailles, the Cincinnati, the DAR, and the SAR. This is finally done and the beautiful statues in patinated resin were inaugurated on 6 October 2017, 80 years after the first inauguration. 
[Commissioner Seefried and U.S. Chargé d’ Affaires Brent Hardt represented the American people at the event.]

The tribunes were under the statue of Lafayette, facing the statue of General Pershing. French and American color guards attended, as well as military bands and several choirs of school children, including the young ladies of the Legion of Honor (boarding school for daughters of Legion of Honor recipients). Speeches were made by French politicians and the U.S. chargé d’affaires retold the story of the statues, as well as retracing the historical bonds between France and the United States.

Thursday, July 25, 2019

Recommended: "Mata Hari Uncovered"—A Feminist Interpretation of the Great War's Most Famous Spy

By Julie Wheelwright
Originally Presented at AEON

Mata Hari, the Dutch exotic dancer and convicted spy, once told a journalist why she left Holland for Paris in 1902: "I thought all women who ran away from their husbands went to Paris." In another version of this transformative moment, she arrived at the Gare du Nord, with half a franc in her pocket and went straight to the Grand Hotel on fashionable rue Scribe.

Neither recollection of these events was true, strictly speaking; yet in interviews, Margaretha Geertruida Zelle MacLeod would glide seamlessly from the harsh and mundane reality of her abusive marriage straight to performing at the best venues across Europe. While Mata Hari’s story has always attracted media attention for the light it sheds on the intelligence services during the First World War, its enduring appeal lies in its significance for feminist historians. 

Gretha (as she was known before her fame) could have easily followed the trajectory of the fallen angel, so beloved of Victorian writers, slipping from bourgeois respectability into prostitution and an ignominious early death. But as an expert at self-fashioning, she transformed herself into an "Oriental" exotic—taking the stage name Mata Hari (eye of the day, the dawn in Malay), whose fluid moves and revealing costumes were considered by contemporary critics to be the height of modernist expression. Mata Hari defied expectations, and yet the angel did fall from that brief moment of grace when she trespassed into the male sphere of espionage, unaware that this was more than just another performance.

The story of Mata Hari, the double-agent executed by the French military on espionage charges in a suburb of Paris on a damp October morning in 1917, belongs to the history of the intelligence services, but it is also a story of female defiance. The metamorphosis of the hat-maker’s daughter from Leeuwarden in the Dutch province of Friesland into a "star of dance," then "the greatest spy of the century," reveals much about the social roles (and limitations) placed upon even bourgeois women in the fin de siècle. Women such as Gretha needed to be tactical to gain financial independence from their husbands and fashion their own identities, to hide shameful or abusive pasts. In Mata Hari’s case, her self-invention as a stage performer coincided with the crosscurrents of modernist art, the burgeoning of haute couture and the opening up of female spaces within the theatre. Mata Hari was at this febrile epicenter.

Not only were her performances on stage in demand, but she also enjoyed favorable critical comparisons with the modernist dancers Isadora Duncan and Maud Allan and was courted by haute couture designers as well. In 1908 she was photographed "in a sensational clinging robe of antique blue chiffon-velvet trimmed with chinchilla" at the Grand Prix d’Automne at the Longchamp races. The same year, the designer Paul Poiret accompanied three of his mannequins in identical Hellenistic gowns to the races, where their dresses, side-split to the knee to reveal colored stockings, caused outraged comment in the press. Like Poiret, Mata Hari engaged in a cross-media campaign, promoting her skills by appearing at fashionable venues that included the Bois de Boulogne, where she would lease a house in 1911.

[The recent] centenary of Mata Hari’s death comes at a moment when the Dutch are beginning to reclaim their compatriot after long being ashamed of her reputation as a tawdry peddler of sex and espionage. A major new exhibition of her life, "Mata Hari: The Myth and the Maiden," will open at the Fries Museum in her hometown of Leeuwarden this October, while the Dutch National Ballet last year debuted a production based on her life and choreographed by Ted Brandsen. Both encourage a more sympathetic view of Mata Hari as a woman who rose above her difficult circumstances to enjoy international celebrity before she was scapegoated by the French at the end of the war, her life cruelly taken as a symbolic vanquishment of female enemies of the state.

The psychological and historical forces that brought Gretha to the execution grounds of Vincennes have their roots in the sleepy northern Dutch provincial capital of Leeuwarden. Born in 1876 to Adam and Antje Zelle, Gretha briefly enjoyed an indulged childhood. But before she turned 15 her father went bankrupt, her parents divorced, and her mother died. Gretha lived with relatives before enrolling in a teacher-training college in Leiden, where the 51-year-old headmaster could well have abused her and she left under a cloud of sexual scandal. In 1895, with marriage her only prospect of respectability, she answered a lonely hearts ad in an Amsterdam newspaper, and four months later she married Colonel Rudolph MacLeod, known as "Johnny,"She was 18, he 39—a battle-weary, hard-drinking officer in the East Indies Army, regarded as the black sheep of his aristocratic family.

After their son Norman was born in 1897, the MacLeods set sail for Java, where their daughter Non was born the following year. In the five years that Gretha lived in these islands, she evolved the persona that would become Mata Hari. She appeared in soos (European amateur dramatic societies), dressing up in fantastic costumes and enacting Orientalist tableaux, and observed traditional Javanese court dancers whose precise and fluid movements she would later imitate. Such moments of splendor, however, were rare, as their marriage was marked by Johnny’s proclivity for whoring, drunkenness, and debt. Then, in 1899, Norman died of an undiagnosed illness. Later, Gretha confessed her fears that Johnny had infected the boy with syphilis. The mercury treatment he received could have caused his death.

The couple separated soon after returning to the Netherlands in 1902. 

Continue reading the full article here:

Wednesday, July 24, 2019

Don't Miss the July St. Mihiel Trip-Wire

This month we present 12 articles in our monthly newsletter, plus all our usual features:

  • The Rise, Fall, & Rebirth of the U-boat
  • Conan Doyle on the Coming Submarine Threat
  • French Army Mutiny: The Numbers
  • Winston Churchill Reflects on the War 11 November 1918

  • It Started with Napoleon (The Origins of the Great War)
  • America's Siberian Intervention: Part 4 of 4
  • Looking Back: A Retrospective of the War, Part VII
  • The Machine Gun Shaped the Great War

  • The Final Issue of Stars and Stripes
  • 100 Years Ago: The Inter-Allied Games in Paris
  • Lone Pine at Gallipoli Today
  • WWI Film Classic:  In Love and War

Tuesday, July 23, 2019

Edward Owen Rutter and The Song of Tiadatha

By David F. Beer

Owen Rutter
If the English historian, novelist, and travel writer Edward Owen Rutter is remembered at all today it's probably in connection with his delightful long poem The Song of Tiadatha, which recounts the adventures of a fictional young subaltern during WWI both on the Western and Macedonian Fronts. The journey parallels the war experiences of Rutter himself who served as an officer in the Wiltshire Regiment in the B.S.F (British Salonika Force).

The Song of Tiadatha ("Tired Arthur") has been described as "one of the masterpieces of Great War verse." At some 140 pages it can also be considered one of the few epics, along with David Jones's In Parenthesis, to come out of the war. Particularly interesting is that Rutter chose an unusual verse form (technically known as trochaic tetrameter) to tell his story of Tired Arthur. This is the same poetic meter Longfellow used in his memorable telling of American Indian legends in his Song of Hiawatha. Rutter's poem is not, however—as is often claimed—a parody of Longfellow's work.

The first section of the poem, titled "The Joining of Tiadatha," introduces us to Tiadatha as a rather self-indulgent and privileged young man, (a "filbert" or "nut" as yet un-cracked) but naively willing to do his bit:

Should you question, should you ask me
Whence this song of Tiadatha?
Who on earth was Tiadatha?
I should answer, I should tell you
He was what we call a filbert,
Youth of two and twenty summers.
You could see him any morning
In July of 1914,
Strolling slowly down St James's
From his comfy flat in Duke Street.
. . . . . . . . . . .
Then came war, and Tiadatha
Read his papers every morning,
Read the posters on the hoardings,
Read "Your King and Country want you."
"I must go," said Tiadatha…

And off he goes, gazetted to a temporary commission in the 14th Royal Dudshires courtesy of "a great-aunt, Who knew someone in the Service." We follow him through training, then to France, and on to the Salonika Front where in spite of himself he gradually becomes a soldier, even a hero, finding himself in various adventures and actions. Tiadatha's initial training is a bit hard on him, however:

Had you asked my Tiadatha
If he loved those days of training,
Loved the sloping arms by numbers,
Loved the musketry and marching,
And the press-ups and the shouting,
He would just have smiled and told you
That, until he joined the Army,
He had not the least conception
Life could be so damned unpleasant.
But it made him much less nut-like,
Made him straighter-backed and broader,
Clear of eye, with muscles on him
Like a strong man in a circus.

With many an entertaining simile such as the last line above, we follow Tiadatha in his adventures on his long journey to Salonika (which we must pronounce as Sal-on-i-ka in the poem) and to the routine he has to endure there:

All day long obliging people
Found them jobs to keep them going,
Guards, fatigues and working parties,
Roads to make and hills to dig on.
All the livelong day the Dudshires
Spent in digging up the Balkans.

British Soldiers Digging a Trench in Macedonia

Yet he's also able to occasionally sample some of the more dubious treats readily available to a British soldier in the Middle East—with the author's assurance that of course our hero would do no such things once back in England. Then we see him reach the Doiran Front and build his dugout, and we soon share his brave panic as he helps out at the Great Thessaloniki Fire of 1917. He serves admirably at the front also, leading raids and attacks with some success but of course with the usual outcome:

Had you been there when the dawn broke,
Had you looked from out the trenches,
You'd have seen that Serbian hillside,
Seen the aftermath of battle.
Seen the scattered picks and shovels,
Seen the scraps of stray equipment,
Here and there a lonely rifle,
Or a Lewis gun all twisted.
Seen the little heaps of khaki
Lying huddled on the hillside,
Huddled by the Bulgar trenches
Very still and very silent,
Nothing stirring, nothing moving,
Save a very gallant doctor
And his band of stretcher bearers
Working fearless in the open,
Giving water to the dying,
Bringing in those broken soldiers.
You'd have seen the sunlight streaming,
And perhaps you would have wondered
How the sun could still be shining,
How the birds could still be singing,
While so many British soldiers
Lay so still upon the hillside.

Wounded in this battle, Tiadatha spends some time in hospital, and before long is on his circuitous way back to England on leave. Rutter concludes his epic with a farewell to his hero and a hopeful recognition of possibly the sole thing the war has achieved:

So I leave him and salute him
Back in his beloved London,
Knowing that the war has one thing
(If no others) to its credit –
It has made a nut a soldier,
Made a silk purse from a sow's ear,
Made a man of Tiadatha
And made men of hundreds like him.
And the world has cause to thank us
For that band of so-called filberts,
For those products of St. James's,
Light of heart and much enduring,
Straight and debonair and dauntless,
Grousing at their small discomforts,
Smiling in the face of danger.
Who have faced their great adventure,
Crossed through No Man's Land to meet it,
Lightly as they'd cross St. James's.
Eyes and heart still full of laughter,
Till the world had cause to wonder,
Till the world had cause to thank us
For the likes of Tiadatha.

British Camp on the Salonika Front

I read The Song of Tiadatha for the first time a few years ago. It took about two hours and rarely has time passed so quickly. Moreover, I was sorry when the tale ended. I wanted more! I wanted to see Tiadatha back in the war after his leave and see how things turned out for him. Apparently I wasn't the only one to feel this way because after the war Owen Rutter continued his saga with The Travels of Tiadatha, published in 1922. In this second longish poem Tiadatha returns from the war and goes through the depression and let-down so many found after the Armistice. To remedy this, our hero takes a journey to Borneo, echoing some of Owen Rutter's own globe-trotting.

Owen Rutter had served in the British North Borneo Civil Service from 1910 to 1915 before returning to England to join the army. After the war he traveled around the globe, making extended stops in Borneo, Hong Kong, Taiwan (then known as Formosa), Japan, Canada, and the United States, among other places. His wife went with him and took many of the photographs for his travel books. He also wrote a novel. He became a fellow of the Royal Geographical Society and of the Royal Anthropological Institute. During World War II Major Rutter used his talents by writing booklets for the Ministry of Information on the British war effort. He died at the age of 56.

Some of Rutter's books are still available, including his Tiadatha epics. Should you prefer to listen rather than read, you can find these poems recited live in a delightful northern English accent through a medium that would have amazed both Tired Arthur and his creator:

Monday, July 22, 2019

Remembering a Veteran: Gorman De Freest Larner, Lafayette Flying Corps & 103rd U.S. Aero Squadron

By Steve Miller

Capt. Larner
Gorman De Freest Larner was born on 5 July 1897 in Washington, DC. After the US entry into WW I, he applied as an officer in the US Signal Corps. Rejected because of his age, he sailed for France and joined the Service Aeronautique. Following flight training he served with Escadrille SPAD 86 from 3 December 7 to 1 April 1918 with the rank of caporal. On 24 April 1918 he was commissioned first lieutenant, U.S. Air Service, but continued to fly with Spa 86 until 15 June 1918. He was awarded France's Croix de Guerre with Two Palms for the destruction of two German aircraft.

On 16 June 1918 Larner transferred to the 103rd Aero Squadron, U.S. Air Service, and was a flight commander until the Armistice. He downed five additional enemy aircraft and was awarded the U.S. Distinguished Service Cross, with a Bronze Oak Leaf. Promoted to captain on 8 November 1918, he served as an intelligence officer on the staff of Colonel House at the Paris Peace Commission.

Gorman De Freest Larner, his wife, and one of his two daughters are
buried about 6 miles (10 km) north of Easton, MD.

In WW II he joined the U.S. Army Air Corps as a colonel, initially as an air attache in London before being reassigned to the Pentagon. Post-WWII he became general manager of the National Aeronautical Association and chairman of Robinson Aviation of Teterboro, NJ. He died in Easton, MD, on 20 May 1984.

Acknowledgement: Dennis Gordon, The Lafayette Flying Corps, Schiffer Military History


Sunday, July 21, 2019

What Happened at Nantillois?

Looking North from the Road into Nantillois

Nantillois (pronounced Nuh'/tea/wa) is a tiny village north of Verdun and west of the Meuse River at the bottom of a valley. Its name shows up only once in all the annals of history, a three-week period in late September and early October 1918. For that brief period, it was at the center of some of the worst fighting American forces have ever experienced.

In the opening of the Meuse-Argonne Offensive, the inexperienced 79th Division was directed to advance rapidly to the corps objective which, in the zone of action of the 79th Division, was a line running slightly northeast and southwest through the village of Nantillois. It was to seize in succession the villages of Malancourt, Montfaucon, and Nantillois and assist the 37th Division by turning the enemy position in Bois de Montfaucon. The 37th Division was to assist the 79th Division in taking Montfaucon. After considerable confusion and to the great disappointment of General Pershing, the first-day assault on Montfaucon did not succeed. The bastion did not fall until  the 27th.   

The Green Star Indicated Nantillois

Later that day at 1530 hours, plans were made to continue the attack to Nantillois. But as night fell, the 79th Division was only able to secure a line just north of Montfaucon. By this time, the soldiers of the 79th were tired and hungry. No supplies had reached the front lines since the offensive had begun and the soldiers had received little rest. 

At 0700 hours, 28 September, the relief of the 313th and 314th Regiments was completed, and the 315th and 316th Regiments began their attack on Nantillois. The initial assault was supported by artillery, but by 0730 hours the artillery support had become ineffective. German heavy artillery fire, in turn, became very intense, and Nantillois was not captured until 1050 hours. Both regiments reported heavy casualties due to the artillery fire as reflected in a message from Major Atwood, Commander, Third Battalion, 316th Regiment:

"Being fired at point blank by field pieces. For God's sake get artillery or we'll be annihilated."

A Humble Memorial to the Regiment That Secured Nantillois

Both regiments eventually succeeded in pushing their positions north of Nantillois but were unable to move farther because of the intense German artillery and an additional infantry regiment to reinforce the two already in the sector. At 1640 hours, Col. Knowles, 315th regimental commander, sent a message to division stating that the men of the 315th couldn't advance any farther without food.  The supply trains were still held up below Montfaucon and the food could not be delivered. Heavy rain fell on the night of 28 September adding to the misery of the already hungry and tired troops. Late in the evening some food did reach the forward battalions, but not nearly enough. 

The 79th Division was ordered to continue the attack at 0700 hours, 29 September, after an artillery preparation from 0600 to 0700 hours. The artillery preparation was inadequate, though, and when the 315th and 316th Regiments attacked, they were overwhelmed by  machine gun and artillery fire.  At the time of the attack, Col. Oury, commander of the 314th Regiment, sent a message to MG Kuhn stating that the lines of the 315th and 316th Regiments were getting thin due to details of soldiers looking for food and others getting lost for various other reasons. This was the first indication that the seriousness of the supply problem was effecting the division's ability to carry out its mission. Division in turn replied that it was doing all it could to get the supplies forward. At this point in the battle, the 79th Division was facing some to the fiercest fighting of the entire operation. The 79th Division began to receive heavy fire from an area in front of the 4th Division's sector to their right and could not advance until this area had been taken.

A Grand Memorial Honors the Pennsylvanians Who Fought with
the 80th Division North of the Village

It was during this time that Col Knowles (315th Rgt) sent a message to MG Kuhn that the troops were exhausted and had no more driving power.  At 1245 hours, MG Kuhn sent a message to both regiments to reorganize and hold their positions in front of Nantillois at all costs.  However, before this message reached the 157th Brigade, BG Nicholson ordered an attack by the 316th Regiment supported by the 313th. This attack proved costly in lives and seriously affected the morale of the soldiers.  

Still, the division held its position under increasingly heavy artillery attacks. At 1930 hours, 29 September, MG Kuhn sent a message to the V Corps Commander explaining the plight of the 79th Division. At 0430 hours, 30 September, the 79th Division received word that it was to be relieved, the 3rd and 80th Divisions were to move into the sector. In view of this order, the 79th Division decided not to attack on the morning of 30 September. By 1800 hours, 30 September, the majority of the 79th Division had been relieved and bivouacked in the vicinity of Montfaucon. 

Nantillois at the End of the Battle, Utterly Leveled

The next objective of the First Army was the penetration of the Hindenburg Line  just to the north and the capture of the village of Cunel, just three miles from Nantillois but on the other side of the main German defenses.  The 3rd Division was given responsibility for the west side of the Nantillois-Cunel Road and the 80th Division for the east side. It would take these and other divisions brought into the sector two full weeks to capture Cunel.  Nantillois, being a crossroad, would be both a major transport hub and supply base during this time, therefore a constant target for the enemy's artillery. The village was completely leveled by the time the fighting moved north. Today, with the two memorials shown here, rebuilt and quiet, Nantillois is an important stopping point for battlefield visitors.

Source: The Battle for Montfaucon, Combat Studies Institute, Fort Leavenworth

Saturday, July 20, 2019

Friday, July 19, 2019

Glenn Curtiss and the First World War

Glenn Curtiss

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

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

Curtiss JN-4 "Jenny" with 90 HP OX-5 Engine

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, July 18, 2019

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

The Original Use of the Image

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

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

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

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

The Recruiting Poster

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

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

Source: The British Museum Website

Wednesday, July 17, 2019

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

Dealing with Casualties the Day After

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

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

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

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

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

Click on Map to Enlarge

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Job of Stretcher Bearer in Flanders

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

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

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

Exhausted New Zealand Engineers After the Attack

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

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

Tuesday, July 16, 2019

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

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

Capt. Ward Schrantz

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Peter L. Belmonte