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

Friday, August 23, 2019

Letter from an Indian Army Lancer a the Somme

Daya Ram (Jat) to Kalu Ram (Ambala City, Punjab)
2nd Lancers [Urdu]
France,  6th September, 1916

Indian Cavalry on the Western Front (Regiment Not Identified)

I went into the trenches on 7th August and returned on 28th August. Some of our men were wounded. I am not permitted to give any fuller details. The battle is raging violently, and various new ways of fighting have been introduced. The ground is honeycombed, as a field with rat holes. No one can advance beyond the trenches. If he does so, he is blown away. Mines are ready charged with explosives. Shells and machine guns and bombs are mostly employed. No one considers rifles nowadays, and serviceable rifle ammunition is lying about as plentifully as pebbles. At the trenches, thousands of mounds of iron, representing exploded shells, lie on the ground. At some places corpses are found of men killed in 1914, with uniform and accouterments still on. Large flies, which have become poisonous through feasting on dead bodies, infest the trenches, and huge fat rats run about there. By the blessing of God the climate of this country is cold, and for that reason corpses do not decompose quickly. It rains frequently and that causes much inconvenience. At the present time we are suffering, as the horses are tethered outside and the rain has converted the ground into slush. Sometimes we have to march in the rain and then the cold is intense. However after two years’ experience, we have grown used to all these troubles and think lightly of them. I have lots to write about, but I have no leisure, nor have I permission to do so. Even this I have had to write very prudently, otherwise it would be withheld.

[the letter was passed by the censors]

Source: Indian Voices of the Great War, p.231

Thursday, August 22, 2019

Finding Articles on Your Favorite World War I Subject


Today I'm publishing article number 2,300 on Roads to the Great War.  I thought I should take this opportunity to address a troublesome issue that, I guess, is built into the blog format.  Frequently over the years, I get suggestions or requests for articles on matters I've previously posted multiple articles.  However, sometimes I'm surprised in the other direction—that  in the endlessly interesting annals of the First World War there are apparently a number (probably a lot) of events I just have never thought or heard about.  Yes, there are things I don't know, I don't know.

For today's exercise, I'd like us to attempt an experiment, hopefully  corrective in both directions.  Please go to our search engine (shown on graphic below) and type in your favorite WWI topic. I predict that in most cases you will get a list of pertinent articles.  If you get the dreaded "No Results", please leave a comment below with your search entry.  I will put on my researcher's hat, head for the library, and crank out an article for you and all our readers to fill that gap. If you are one of those truly wonderful people who have read all 2,299 previously postings, please take a day off.  You've well earned it.

Happy #2,300 Day

From Your Editor/Publisher Mike Hanlon

Wednesday, August 21, 2019

Don't Miss the August 2019 St. Mihiel Trip-Wire

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

  • Commentary: Not Forgetting 1914–1918
  • "The Return of the Mayflower" American Destroyers Arrive at Queenstown
  • Looking Back: A Retrospective of the War, Part VIII
  • One Hundred Years Ago: Denikin's Advance on Moscow Launched

  • Disabled Doughboys Face the Future
  • The Importance of Letterman Hospital
  • Rehabilitation vs. the Pension System
  • Making a Life After a Wartime Disability: The Inspiring Story of Doughboy Roy Evans Thompson

  • A Section from: Through the Wheat by Thomas Boyd 
  • A Red Cross Nurse's Vision
  • The Jutland Memorial: Thyorøn, Denmark
  • Film Classic:  The Blue Max


Tuesday, August 20, 2019

Our War: Ireland and the Great War

Edited by John Horne
Royal Irish Academy; 2nd edition, 2008
Edward Brynn, Reviewer

Irish Peace Tower,
Messines Battlefield
Even 15 years ago the Easter Rebellion of 1916 dominated discussion of Ireland's role in World War I. No longer. Historians in Northern Ireland and in the Republic are focusing on the 35,000 Irish soldiers who died fighting for King and Empire in a war at once seen as noble, hellish, midwife to Ireland's nationalists' aspirations, and counter to its vital interests. By commissioning the 2008 Thomas Davis Lectures, Radio Telefis Eireann commemorated the 90th anniversary of the Great War's conclusion with ten examples of superb historical scholarship. The Royal Irish Academy's inspired decision to supplement these lectures with color reproductions of documents, letters, recruitment posters, cartoons, etchings, and other fascinating memorabilia has produced a unique testimony to a chapter in Irish history long marginalized by pain and circumstance.

The editor, Trinity College Dublin's John Horne, sets wartime Ireland in the larger context of the Western Front he has studied so assiduously during the last two decades. Nine colleagues, some long eminent and some new to Irish history, offer poignant, balanced, exceedingly informative essays on many dimensions of Ireland's involvement: the role of women; recruitment; life in the trenches; incarceration; the world of mud, disease, grotesque wounds, and death; haunting postwar memories; inspired rhetoric; vexed and often inept politicians.

Royal Dublin Fusiliers Celebrating a Victory

The text is impressive, the illustrations truly priceless. The callous insensitivity of trench war spills its horrors on an island poorly prepared to handle men shipped home maimed and mentally broken. Dark, grainy photographs of Ireland's streets, indecently cheerful recruiting posters, angry letters evocatively written, poignant appeals for help from families desperately coping with maimed soldier-sons, all bring a new understanding to Ireland's role in the war. Many items come from private collections. Others have languished in archives too infrequently visited.

Our War: Ireland and the Great War is at once a coffee-table book and high scholarship. The footnotes, indexes, and bibliography are comprehensive. The museum-quality paper stock adds luster to the illustrations. The ten essays make no effort to soften the pain of Ireland's wartime experience; heroism is acknowledged but not celebrated; gestures of good will and evidence of ruthless calculation are handled with chilling candor. No book yet published so successfully compels us to come to terms with this most troubling chapter of Irish history.

Originally published in Relevance, Summer 2009

Monday, August 19, 2019

What Happened at Côte de Châtillon?

Barbed Wire Defenses of the Hindenburg Line,
Côte de Châtillon in the Distance

Highly fortified Côte de Châtillon was a formidable obstacle to the advance of Pershing's First Army in the middle of October 1918.  III Corps commander Lt. General Robert Bullard described the defenses in this sector:

The way out is forward, through the Kriemhilde Stellung, eastern section of the Hindenburg Line.... Not a line, a net, four kilometers deep. Wire, interlaced, knee-high, in grass. Wire, tangled devilishly in forests.... Pill boxes, in succession, one covering another. No 'fox hole' cover for gunners here, but concrete, masonry. Bits of trenches. More wire. A few light guns.... Defense in depth. Eventually, the main trenches. Many of them, in baffling irregularity, so that the attacker cannot know when he has mopped up.... Farther back, again defense in depth, a wide band of artillery emplacements

The centerpiece of this system, the Côte de Châtillon, was eventually captured by the 84th Brigade (mostly Alabama and Iowa troops) of the 42nd Rainbow Division. The brigade's commander was none other than Brigadier General Douglas MacArthur and his personal legend is deeply intertwined with the details and historical record of the fighting.  A contemporary news account summarized both the operation and MacArthur's decoration for his leadership.


John Edwin Nevin
International News Service:

Brig. Gen. Douglas MacArthur, former Washington press censor, has been cited again. He now has the right to wear, in addition to the French war cross given him while serving as chief of staff for the Rainbow division, the distinguished service cross of the United States army, decorated with a bronze oak leaf as an indication that he won the coveted decoration a second time. Incidentally, according to a personal letter reaching here today. "Gen. MacArthur has been wounded again, although he since fully recovered and is back leading the 84th brigade of the 42nd division into Germany toward the Rhine."

Heights Strongly Fortified.

MacArthur received his latest citation for gallantry in leading his brigade at the taking of the Cote de Chatillon and hills 288 and 232. The first account of this operation of the world-famed Rainbow division as received here, says:

The Côte de Châtillon is 820 feet high and it dominated that part of the Kriemhilde Stellung which ran in front of [the villages of St. Georges and]  Landres-St-Georges. The Americans on Wednesday, Oct. 15. attempted its capture. Traversing Its slopes yard by yard, they found that the Germans had constructed a machine gun fortress on the heights and every minute of 40 hours spent there the troops were exposed to a merciless rain of lead from all sides. A 77 gun, ensconced on the summit of the height, also poured down its deadly messages. Slowly the Americans, cradling on their stomachs, faced a massed fire of machine guns and rifles which was accompanied by shrapnel and hand grenades.

Faced Deadly Fire.

Thomas Neibaur, 167th Infantry
Received the Medal of Honor for
 the Action at Côte de Châtillon
It was deadly work, trees all wired together made an almost Impossible barrier and volunteers had to face the fire to cut lanes through this belt of wire. It was decided, however, to bring up Stokes mortars. Through the mud and rain the Americans dragged them up to their positions and turned them on the Germans, Several of the enemy surrendered but a majority fought on. Hour after hour went by and brought no cessation of the merciless struggle. Yard after yard the Americans gained, stopping not for the darkness of the night. At last the greater part of the slopes were gained. The wire had been penetrated. Out came the bayonet, and with a wild hurrah the Americans fell upon the enemy. But these Germans were brave men. Standing beside their guns they fought to the last, dying where they stood. Finally the hill was ours, the 77 gun a prize, and the German garrison, except for a few prisoners, wiped out completely. It was a glorious victory.

Douglas MacArthur's citation for the action gives him full credit for achieving the objective: 

Brigade Commander Gen. MacArthur personally led his men and by the skillful maneuvering of his brigade made possible the capture of hills 288, 222 and the Côte de Châtillon Oct. 14, 15 and 16, 1918. He displayed Indomitable resolution and great courage In rallying- broken lines and In reforming attacks, thereby making victory possible. On a field where courage was the rule, his courage was the dominant feature."

Many histories of the Meuse-Argonne Offensive include an anecdote that runs something like this.  Corps commander Charles Summerall in a meeting with MacArthur says, "Give me Chatillon or a list of 5,000 casualties," to which MacArthur was said to quickly respond, "All right general; we will take if or my name will head the list."  MacArthur's dedication to the mission shows up in other accounts. He was gassed in the front line just before the battle, writes one historian; he found the decisive weak spot in the German line in a personal reconnaissance, wrote another.  It's not an exaggeration to say that Côte de Châtillon gifted MacArthur with the reputation as the greatest combat commander of the AEF.

Côte de Châtillon Today

That is where things stood until 2008, when Professor Robert Farrell, author and editor of many admirable works on the First World War, decided to puncture MacArthur's  Côte de Châtillon legend in a brief work, The Question of MacArthur's Reputation: Côte de Châtillon.   Farrelll examined original documents and discovered that there is not much authentication of the details of MacArthur's actions during the battle, except that he spent much of the fighting time at the brigade command post, three miles to rear. He also reminds that his subject had a 50-year-long reputation for exaggeration and hyperbole.  Nonetheless,  Professor Farrell's singular position hasn't seemed to lead to a major shift in opinion about MacArthur's World War I service. More recent histories covering the Meuse-Argonne, by Mitchell Yockelson and Stephen Harris, describe MacArthur's actions at Côte de Châtillon in the conventional way.

The 42nd Division and French Officials Dedicating a Plaque
atop Côte de Châtillon

In any case, what should be most remembered about the action was its costliness.  The entire Rainbow Division suffered 3,000 casualties in five days of fighting in this sector. Well over half of these were on the slopes of  Côte de Châtillon.

Sources:  PBS American Experience, Rainbow Division Websites

Sunday, August 18, 2019

Rocket Scientist Robert Goddard Goes to War

The greatest homegrown rocketry expert America ever produced, Robert Goddard had already patented the multi-stage rocket by 1914. When his country entered the Great War his services were referred to the Army Signal Corps by the Smithsonian Institution. By November 1918 he had developed a battlefield artillery rocket and a smaller man-carried missile, which in a later war would be the inspiration for the bazooka. But the war ended before the weapons could be put to use. 

After the war, Goddard returned to his laboratory at Clark University in Massachusetts and developed the liquid-fueled rocket in 1926 and pursued high altitude flight, guidance systems, and the basics of space travel throughout his career. Today, NASA's Space Flight Center in Maryland bears his name. Goddard left us this most inspiring thought: "It is difficult to say what is impossible, for the dream of yesterday is the hope of today and the reality of tomorrow." 

Saturday, August 17, 2019

Weapon of War: The Compressed Air Trench Mortar

Infantry of both sides in the Great War learned to love the trench mortar. And foot soldiers still love to have hands-on, immediate control of what is in effect, short-range light artillery. The early mortars, however, had obvious signatures, smoke and flash characteristics, that made them easy for enemy spotters to locate. One solution was the compressed air trench mortar, which emitted neither smoke nor flash when operated. Here is a French 86mm piece being fired.

The piece shown above could fire an impressive ten rounds per minute over a maximum range of 275 meters.  Later in the war, compressed air trench guns were phased out in favor of the simpler and easier to transport Stokes-type mortars.

Friday, August 16, 2019

Sardines and War

The enormous demand for sardines that brought Monterey, California, to the heights of fishing productivity described by John Steinbeck in his novel Cannery Row was connected to the Great War. Monterey’s fishing industry was destined become one of the most productive in the world due to the upwelling of cold, nutrient-rich water from the bottom of the Pacific Ocean, funneled to the surface via the vast underwater Monterey Canyon.

Monterey's First Cannery

The first major factory on Cannery Row's main street, Ocean View Avenue, was the Pacific Fish Company, born on 14 February 1908. Over the next decade, fishing and canning technology improved and prepared Monterey for the huge spike in demand for canned sardines brought about by World War I due to  the loss of access to North Sea and Atlantic fisheries.  Monterey's canneries expanded rapidly—with the Row becoming a boom-town of corrugated canneries lining the rocky shore. Cannery Row’s wartime production grew from 75,000 cases in 1915 to 1.4 million in 1918. After the war, the canneries continued to profit by processing odorous fishmeal. The industry slowed during the Great Depression, but World War II saw another boom for the canning industry.

A Cannery at Peak Operation

But then, almost as soon as the Second World War ended, collapse came. Believed to have been brought about by shifting oceanographic conditions, 90 percent of the local catch vanished in a just few years.  This disappearance of sardines from Monterey Bay brought economic disaster to Cannery Row. 

A Bustling Cannery Row Today

The area fell into ruin, but Cannery Row had a second act coming.  Led by some creative restaurateurs and the visionaries who saw the potential for a world-class aquarium on the shores of Monterey Bay, the area is now one of leading tourist sites in the state of California. No canneries are operating, though.

Thursday, August 15, 2019

By January 1914 Everyone Was Preparing for War

The Cousins Would Maintain Civil Relations Through the July Crisis

The crisis created in late 1913 by the Turkish-German agreement on a military mission to Constantinople (known as the Liman von Sanders Affair) subsided in January 1914, when Liman gave up his command at Constantinople to become inspector-general of the Turkish Army. Subsequently—unlike the preceding period since April 1911 that featured almost nonstop diplomatic conflicts and wars—early 1914 on the surface seemed free of confrontation. Britain's naval chief Winston Churchill was signaling the dreadnought race had been settled in his nation's favor, and French President Poincaré was dining at the German Embassy. After the convivial banquet the German ambassador reported that France's desire for military revenge was a stage that had passed. Peace seemed to be in the air.

This was completely misleading. The French and Russians, for example, were working tirelessly to reassure one another of their stalwartness and commitment to their alliance. The recent affair had finally convinced the tsar and his ministers that Germany could not be trusted. They concluded war with Germany was imminent. Meanwhile, the French were worried that further aggressiveness by Germany, which they deemed likely, would undermine the fragile Triple Entente. Consequently, the French government felt a need to reassure the Russians of their resolve.

Franco-Russian Alliance
France began the year by approving a Russian request for an increase in the amount Russia could borrow for railway construction. This, of course, was motivated by a desire to strengthen Russia militarily, particularly in allowing accelerated mobilization for war against Germany. The French prime minister Gaston Doumergue, in need of a new ambassador to Russia, appointed the thoroughly anti-German Maurice Paléologue to the post. Upon Paléologue's departure abroad Doumergue gave him instruction: "War can break out from one day to the next. Our [Russian] allies must rush to our aid. The safety of France will depend on the energy and promptness with which which we shall know how to push them [the Russians] into the fight." Meanwhile, Tsar Nicholas was warning Paléologue's departing predecessor regarding relations with Germany, "We shall not let ourselves be trampled upon." 

Finally, through another channel and possibly unknown to the French at the time, Russia was pledging support for Serbia should Austro-Hungary invade it in the future. Unbeknownst to the people of Europe, the continent was creeping to war as understandings were reached that would guide or constrain the decision makers in the coming crisis following the Archduke's assassination.

Wednesday, August 14, 2019

New at the Doughboy Center: The Stories of 150-Plus Individual Soldiers, Sailors, Marines, and Volunteers of the AEF

This is our latest upgrade to my one-time award winning site on America's war effort. (Displayed is only a partial listing of the online sources I've been able to identify.  A link is provided below to visit the full page.)

To See the Entire Listing and Visit the Article

Click Here

Tuesday, August 13, 2019

Scapa 1919: The Archaeology of a Scuttled Fleet

By Innes McCartney
Osprey, 2019
David F. Beer, Reviewer

The German ships of 1919 have passed from weapons of war to economic resources to cultural artifacts. The centenary of the Grand Scuttle is an opportune time to compile a comprehensive new study based on original data of the Grand Scuttle and the salvage years, and highlighting how this seamlessly interfaces with surveys of the extant archaeology we see today. (p. 8)

As its title implies, Innes McCartney's volume is for the historian and the marine archaeologist. However, if you've ever read Dan Van Der Vat's excellent 1982 book The Grand Scuttle and wondered what happened after the German navy performed the greatest ship scuttle in history, then Scapa 1919 is the book for you. Appropriately, it appears one hundred years since the event took place.

Following a preface and introduction, this profusely illustrated book, printed on high-quality gloss paper and replete with excellent photographs and maps, is divided into four parts. Part One looks at the scuttle itself and its immediate aftermath up to the first commercial salvage operations from 1919 to 1924. Part Two describes the heavy industrial salvage work done from 1924 to 1939 by two large companies, Cox & Danks and then Metal Industries. Part Three takes a careful look—with many color plates—at the current condition of the surviving wrecks in Scapa Flow. The book concludes with a look at 'The cultural legacy of the Grand Scuttle,' plus four very useful appendices.

The island of Orkney, some ten miles north of mainland Scotland, consists of many isles, coves, and inlets. One of the most noted is Scapa Flow, easily identified on a good map. Because of its spacious and sheltered nature, it was an important Royal Navy base in both World Wars but was closed in 1956. Here on 21 June 1919, the interned German fleet of 74 ships, on the orders of its commander Rear-Admiral Ludwig von Reuter, scuttled itself rather than be handed over to the Royal Navy—a kind of nautical hara-kiri.

The history of these ships in the century since they sank is the focus of Innes McCartney's book, and it's an intriguing story. First the author gives us a graphic picture of political events leading up to the internment, life for the sailors on the interned German ships, the management of the fleet and its men by the Royal Navy, and the final plans and execution of the scuttling. Many interesting details come from these early chapters. The atmosphere on the German ships was volatile:

In fact, it bordered on impossible to maintain any semblance of discipline on board the German ships. The larger the ships, the more fractious the relationship seems to have been between officers and men. Since they were not at sea, the workers councils regarded themselves as being in joint command. Routine maintenance was not carried out and the fetid conditions gave rise to rats and cockroaches. The battleship Grosser Kurfurst was held to be the most disgusting, while the discipline on the battlecruiser Derfflinger (von Reuter's old command) and on Von der Tann was said to be 'hair-raising'. (p. 24)

Von Reuter was fearful of a general strike breaking out among his men, thus giving the British a good excuse to seize the fleet. Some 20,000 German sailors had brought their ships into Scapa, but within a year transports had repatriated all but about 5000, leaving only skeleton crews on board. All mail home was censored. No shore time was permitted, not even to stroll around nearby uninhabited islands. Although officially banned, fraternization among German and British crews flourished, since Scapa was also a busy Royal Navy base. A thriving black market developed between the two—especially at night.

Most of this book, however, focuses on the history of the German ships after they were sunk. It's a fascinating history, especially for readers who would like to know more about the technology of underwater archaeology and the hundred-year history of the hulks of Scapa. Seventy-four ships sank on that June 1919 day and all but eight of them have over the years been salvaged and broken up. Some never sank—the Royal Navy managed to beach them. There is some photographic record of the ships before and during the scuttle, plus a few witness and news reports. It's from this point that McCartney really begins his story.

Official salvage didn't begin until 1922, a time lapse that gave the good folks of Orkney time to take advantage of the situation. Even Royal Navy ratings had pilfered souvenirs as the ships sank or were beached, but more serious looting, or "the illicit removal of items" was to follow, as the Daily Record and Mail observed:

The target of this activity shifted from trinkets to the valuable non-ferrous metals the ships contained. To this day many island communities regard shipwrecks as a bonanza of wealth to be freely acquired, and it seems this happened in the immediate months after the scuttle…It was observed that some islanders made their fortunes at it… It seems that those hardy, storm stiffened sons of Ultima Thule have been stripping the Seydlitz with hammer hacksaw and spanner for months when the fishing was slack. (p. 67)

Some official small-scale salvage by local firms began in 1922, and the Royal Navy was to play a considerable part in lifting operations. In 1924 the firm of Cox & Danks was assigned the job. They were surprised to find that torpedo tubes had vanished and that every bit of brass and gun-metal had been stripped from the Hindenburg. Apparently divers and heavy lifting equipment had been available to the looters. Some of the spoils had been shipped to the smelters in herring barrels. (p.68)

Range Finder of SMS Kaiser on Ocean Floor at Scapa Flow
(Inset shows position on Ship Model)
From UHI Archaeology Institute Report

The story of Cox and Danks' pioneering salvage work is interesting and impressive yet ultimately unfortunate. The company used innovative ways to salvage 32 of the wrecks and send them to the ship-breakers, risked life and limb of their employees—four died on the job and others suffered burns, falls, or other injuries-and the company folded in 1931 with the drop in metal prices. The salvage business was bought by Metal Industries in 1933, just when metal prices were beginning to recover, and the company made good profit from the German wrecks. Work ended when World War II broke out in 1939, although an ongoing project, salvaging the battlecruiser SMS Derfflinger and scrapping her, was not completed until 1948. The story of these two companies, the characters involved and the wheeling, dealing, prices paid, salvage innovations, vessels and parts reclaimed, and other details are all covered in these well-illustrated chapters.

The second half of the book, Part Three, describes and pictures the surviving wrecks in Scapa Flow with much haunting underwater photography. Here the author shows the results of his 2017 ten-day underwater survey of the seven major ships and two torpedo boats, plus related debris, that still rest in the Flow. The project was carried out with the Sea War Museum Jutland in Denmark, which opened in 2015 and is dedicated to commemoration and study of the 1916 Battle of Jutland. Author Innes McCartney describes the technicalities and equipment used for the survey in his Preface and Introduction. He devotes a chapter to each ship in Part Three, chapters filled with graphs, diagrams, and photography revealing the current condition of the wrecks. They have corroded, shifted, deteriorated, and bits and pieces have broken off or wandered. A century under the ocean has eerily taken its toll.

It's a relief to read that these ghosts are now allowed to rest more or less in peace. Since 2002 their remains have been officially recognized as monuments under the Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Areas Act. This gives them the same protection as other famous sites on Orkney, such as the Ring of Brodgar and the Stenness Standing Stones. Also, as an internationally recognized recreational diving site, hundreds of divers now make their way to Scapa Flow each year.

I'd rarely ever thought of underwater archaeology—which was shortsighted considering how much stuff must lie at the bottom of the world's oceans—and this book really opened my eyes. Scapa 1919 is admittedly a quite technical book on one level, but there is much for the non-technical reader to appreciate. The volume splendidly achieves what the author in his concluding paragraph hopes it has, namely to

. . . show that in addition to the seven internationally important protected wrecks, much more of the Grand Scuttle and the salvage years can still be detected 100 years after the event than might be presumed. The wreck sites at Scapa Flow comprise a globally significant historical and cultural artefact, an underwater industrial landscape of unique character to be enjoyed, studied and revered for many decades to come. (p. 305)

I think we can all agree with this.

David F. Beer

Monday, August 12, 2019

How America Trained 11,000 Pilots in 19 Months

 Only about 1,000 of the 11,000 saw action before the Armistice.

By Major Douglas A. Galipeau, USAF

In the [100] years following World War I, America's pilot training program has remained, at a very fundamental level, unchanged. Intensive ground training followed by incremental flying training using both dual-control and solo flight methods remain the core of today's training programs much as they were in 1917. Although it is tempting to declare the Army Air Service's pilot training program in World War I another triumph for American ingenuity and know-how, nothing could be further from the truth. While the story of the making of America's first eagles is truly phenomenal, it is anything but uniquely American.

In April 1917, America faced the task of fighting a war that she was by no means prepared to fight. Not only was America faced with the daunting challenges of mobilizing an army ill-prepared to fight a major conflict, she also had to create an air force from virtual non-existence. There was no industrial base from which to build the aircraft for an air force and no training program to develop the aviators to the fly the aircraft once they were built. Lt Col Hiram Bingham, one of the early developers of the American aviation training program summarized the state of affairs in April, 1917:

We lacked men of experience; we lacked able executive officers with a sympathetic knowledge of aviation; we lacked airplanes fit to fly against the Huns; and we lacked the facilities for building them....In other words, America expected to win the war in the air and was utterly unprepared to do so.

While the Allies expected American industrial might to contribute significantly to aircraft production, the more immediate problem was the supply of trained aviators. With virtually no training program in existence and relatively little time to develop one, the decision was made early on to implement training programs which mirrored the tested and well-proven programs of the Allies. Canada, as our closest ally, provided the solution for our stateside training program. The Canadian system was based on the RFC training program and was adopted by the U.S. in total. This system used dual-control training intermingled with solo flights and provided the most rapid means of accomplishing preliminary and advanced training prior to sending American pilots to France for combat duties.

Issoudun Aerodrome: Key Training Facility of the U.S. Air Service

Training at the preliminary schools in U.S. began almost immediately, but it soon became apparent that the advanced schools would not be able to produce pilots frontline duty quickly enough. In an effort to speed up the process of producing combat-ready pilots, the decision was made to open an American school (Issoudun) in France. Establishing the school at Issoudun not only sped-up the process of producing pilots, it also improved the quality of training for those pilots. Instead of waiting for advanced training in the U.S., American pilots would receive training from combat veterans, in aircraft similar to those being flown at the front.

Within months of the decision to establish an American school at Issoudun, often referred to as the largest mud hole in France, the 3rd AIC was fully functional and training American pilots. Issoudun was made up of many individual airfields (as many as 15 by the end of the war) with different phases of instruction occurring at each field. Initially the preponderance of instructors and aircraft were French and naturally the training method used was the French Blériot system. This system was based on teaching self-reliance and followed a very structured program. With the exception of the training at Field 2, all flight training was accomplished by the students without an instructor. Even though the American pilots had already received preliminary training in the U.S., this type of training added greatly to the self-confidence of the individual pilots and produced the likes of Eddie Rickenbacker and Frank Luke, Jr.

While the American training system was still not producing aviators in the numbers promised upon her entry into World War I, by 11 November 1918 the American training program was producing combat-ready aviators in significant numbers. By all estimates, if the war had continued, America would have probably exceeded all expectations in producing aircraft, aircraft mortars, and, most important, pilots. At the signing of the Armistice, the Army Air Service had grown from an air force of only 65 rated officers to one with 80 aces (5 or more "kills") in a time span of only 17 months. The combat success of America's fledgling eagles is a direct result of the of the training programs adopted in the United States and at the pursuit school at Issoudun.

Source: Issoudun: The Making of America's First Eagles, Major Douglas A. Galipeau, USAF, March 1997, Air University

Also see Major Galipeau's Roads article: "The Ribot Cable" –

Sunday, August 11, 2019

How Going to War Reshaped President Wilson's Thinking

President Wilson at a Preparedness Parade

By Erez Manela
From: The Wilsonian Moment: Self Determination and the International Origins of Anti-colonial Nationalism, Oxford University Press, 2007

The lessons of these failed interventions [in Mexico and Haiti] were not entirely lost on Wilson. Moreover, as the world war itself gradually prompted him to adopt and articulate an expanded conception of America’s world role, it also influenced his stand on U.S. colonial policy. By 1916, as the administration launched its preparedness program and the president began to contemplate the possibility of joining the conflict, colonial policy became even more directly linked in his mind to the larger context and goals of the United States’ growing world role.

1914 Cartoon Depicting Wilson's Patronizing Posture Toward Latin American Governments

In its actions and policies in the Philippines, Wilson declared in February 1916, the United States had to prove its disinterested and benevolent attitude toward peoples of all races and in all regions of the globe. What America had to give the world was of universal value, transcending differences of geography, ancestry, or race. The American flag, he said, ‘‘stands for the rights of mankind, no matter where they be, no matter what their antecedents, no matter what the race involved; it stands for the absolute right to political liberty and free self-government, and wherever it stands for the contrary American traditions have begun to be forgotten.’’ Self-government, then, was a universal right, not a privilege limited to specific geographical regions or racial groups.

The war increasingly led Wilson to imagine American society as a model for the world, one whose internal conflicts and contradictions were being performed before a global audience. This new context prompted Wilson to begin to voice more forceful opposition than he had previously to domestic practices that were in clear breach of the exalted principles for which, he was trying to convince the world, the United States stood. If the United States was to be a light unto the world, the antithesis of the militarism and barbarity that Wilson attributed to the Central Powers, then the stakes involved in American race relations were higher than ever before. No longer were they crucial only for the future of American society but also for the future of the world. Thus, in July 1918, the president delivered a sharp if shamefully belated public denunciation of acts of lynching directed both at African-Americans and, as happened repeatedly during the war, at those deemed ‘‘German sympathizers.’’ The perpetrators of such acts, he charged, were emulating the ‘‘disgraceful example’’ of Germany and harming the war effort by sullying the image of the United States abroad:

We proudly claim to be the champions of democracy [but] every American who takes part in the actions of a mob [is] its betrayer, and does more to discredit her by that single disloyalty to her standards of law and of right than the words of her statesmen or the sacrifices of her heroic boys in the trenches can do to make suffering people believe her to be their savior. How shall we commend democracy to the acceptance of other peoples, if we disgrace our own by proving that it is, after all, no protection to the weak?

Wilson Would Eventually Reverse His Position Against Suffrage

On the long-standing issue of female suffrage, too, Wilson’s wartime conception of America’s global responsibilities seemed to have helped to change his attitude. Initially reluctant to support a constitutional amendment guaranteeing women the vote, he changed his position by 1918, telling the Senate in September that passing the amendment would help the United States to retain the faith and trust of the common people of the world. ‘‘The plain, struggling, workaday folk . . . are looking to the great, powerful, famous Democracy of the West to lead them to the new day for which they have so long waited; and they think, in their logical simplicity, that democracy means that women shall play their part in affairs alongside men.’’ The next day, the amendment came up for a vote in the Senate and fell only two votes short of achieving the requisite two-thirds majority. It finally passed the following summer and was ratified in August 1920.

By mid-1918, then, Wilson had come to view the major social and political issues within American society as intimately connected to the global role he envisioned for it in the postwar world, as a model for the new international society he wanted to build. 

Saturday, August 10, 2019

Henri IV: The Strangest Battleship of the Great War

Henri IV Postcard

Henri IV (launched 1899, completed 1903) was a pre-dreadnought battleship of the French Navy built to test some of the ideas of the prominent naval architect Louis-Émile Bertin. She began World War I as guardship at Bizerte. She was sent to reinforce the Allied naval force in the Dardanelles campaign of 1915, although some of her secondary armament had been removed for transfer to Serbia in 1914. Henri IV participated in the fire support for the 25 April landings at Kum Kale on the eastern side of the straits.  Afterward, she was relegated to second-line roles before being sent to Taranto as a depot ship in 1918. She was struck from the navy list in 1920 and scrapped the following year.


Almost everything about Henri IV was out of kilter with the standard naval designs of the turn of the century beginning with its very low stern at only 4-feet freeboard and near-vertical sides. It was also smaller than its predecessors in most European navies. Furthermore, its main battery consisted of only two turrets with one 10.8-in. rifle for each. The secondary armament was seven 5.4-in. guns. The overall appearance and capabilities to many observers seemed to be that of a large monitor rather than a battleship. In operational conditions many problems were uncovered, such as the unanticipated blast effects from the 5.4-in. gun mounted above the rear main turret. There were also problems discovered with the placement of the ship's torpedo room and tubes.  All that said, Henri IV served France honorably  in the war and survived to be scrapped in 1921.

Side View

Sources:  Wikipedia, French and English

Friday, August 9, 2019

Centennial Commemoration of the Signing of the Treaty of Versailles

Commemorative Program Cover

From Our Correspondent Virginia Dilkes

The evening to commemorate the 100-year anniversary of the signing of the Treaty of Versailles was filled with as much anticipation as the actual signing a century ago. The event was organized by the Versailles 1919-2019 Steering Committee in collaboration with the Palace of Versailles. U.S. Commissioner Dr. Monique Seefried directed the effort on behalf of the U.S. World War One Centennial Commission, and Madame Catherine Pégard managed the effort for the Palace of Versailles.

U.S. Commissioner Monique Seefried (R) and Versailles President
Madame Catherine Pégard Arriving at the Palace

Greeted by Flag Bearers Carrying American and French Flags 
from World War I

The American Contingent Arriving, Sabin Howard, WWI Memorial Sculptor on Left and U.S. Commissioner Jerry Hester on Right

“The evening began with a grand entrance across a red carpet bordered by flags of nations involved in the bloody conflict including those from France and the United States.” We were welcomed by the honor guard in the Cour d’Honneur. The welcome was organized by l’Office National des Anciens Combattants et Victimes de Guerre.  Once inside the palace we were offered a glass of champagne and then led to the Salon d’Hercule where a string quartet dressed in 17th-century attire played while Louis XIV and his wife danced the minuet. We strolled through the Royal Apartments and other salons where we were entertained by a brass quartet or a harpist in period dress.

We entered the Hall of Mirrors and could only reflect on what took place in this Hall 100 years ago. The Treaty of Versailles was over seven months in the making. During the negotiations there were bitter arguments not only among the negotiators but also within the Allied constituency.  The acrimonious deliberations took their toll on the health of the participants. So much has been written about the intentions and misunderstandings of the Armistice of 11 November 1918 and what ultimately evolved as the Treaty of Versailles. So much has been written about the role the Treaty of Versailles has had or may have had on world events that transpired within the 20 years after the treaty. These thoughts would go through the minds of the invited guests as we strolled through the Hall of Mirrors to the Salle du Sacre.

Our Correspondent, Virginia Dilkes, in the Hall of Mirrors

We were served cocktails in the Salle du Sacre. We were then shown into the Hall of Battles where dinner was served. The elegance of the banquet was everywhere—from the table settings to the Dîner menu, to the listed program, to the care in which the executive chef designed the evening service. I was impressed with how Executive Chef Alex Hitz (from Atlanta, Georgia) with extensive travels in France researched the traditions and foods of the WWI era, which he served to us this evening. A note in the program described his family’s active involvement in WWI with both of his grandfathers serving in the Great War.

Dinner at the Hall of Battles

Place Settings for the Evening

We were welcomed by General Jean-Louis Georgelin, former Chief of Staff of the French Armies, and the Honorable Jamie D. McCourt, Ambassador of the United States to France, and by Colonel Jennifer Pritzker, the presenting sponsor of the commemoration. The highlight of the evening was the presentation of the Versailles Award for American Philanthropy by Madame Catherine Pégard, President of the Palace of Versailles, to David Rockefeller, Jr., who represented the Rockefeller family. The award was to acknowledge the philanthropy of John D. Rockefeller, Jr., who worked to rebuild France after WWI. M. Pégard wrote he “rescued the Palace of Versailles from dereliction after the First World War, and understood not only the universal significance of this great palace, but also its importance for his own country.” A plaque recognizing the work of John D. Rockefeller from 1924–1936 was hung in the Palace on 30 June 1936, the 17th anniversary of the signing of the Treaty of Versailles.

David Rockefeller, Jr.,  Accepting the Award for Philanthropy 
on Behalf of His Family

Before concluding, some well-organized events held on 28 June, preceding the banquet,  should be mentioned.  A day-long seminar on the Versailles Treaty and American Philanthropy was held on the palace grounds, and a commemorative event took place afterward at the now completed Pershing-Lafayette Monument on the Avenue des Etats Unis at the entrance to the village of Versailles. More on these events will be posted in future editions of Roads to the Great War.

Seminar Opening

Wreath Laying at the Pershing-Lafayette Monument
Commissioner Monique Seefried Representing the United States

The 28th of June 2019 ended with firework, just as it did one hundred years ago. We were led back to the Hall of Mirrors where we watched the fireworks over the Grande Perspective.  Cognac was served in the Salon d’Hercule as a final tribute to the evening. Congratulations to the Versailles 1919–2019 Steering Committee led by Commissioner Dr. Monique Seefried and Ambassador (ret.) Louise V. Oliver for a meaningful commemoration to the treaty that ended the war that changed the world.

The “Evening at Versailles” not only commemorated the signing of the treaty but was also a fundraiser for the U.S. WWI Memorial in Washington, DC, and the restoration of the Queen’s Grove in the Palace of Versailles gardens. The National World War I Memorial, which tells the story of “A Soldier’s Journey,” will be located next to the White House on Pennsylvania Avenue.  It is the story of the over four million American men and women who participated in the war effort; the two million who went overseas; and the 116,516 who gave their lives to keep the world free from tyranny. Its construction is being supported by the generosity of people from all over the world.  

The Queen’s Grove is an ornamental garden designed for Queen Marie-Antoinette, wife of Louis XVI. When it was created in 1776, this flower garden contained many North American varieties newly introduced into France, such as the Virginia tulip tree. The grove will be replenished with diverse botanical species including tulip trees from Virginia.

To help with the construction of the National World War I Memorial in Washington, DC, one can help raise the remaining needed funds. A check made out to the “U.S. Foundation for the Commemoration of the World Wars” can be mailed to:

U.S. Foundation for the Commemoration of the World Wars
Donation Dept.
701 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW #123
Washington, D.C. 20004

To help with the Restoration of the Queen’s Grove in the Palace of Versailles, one can adopt a Virginia tulip tree.  A check made out to “L’agent comptable de l’EPV” can be mailed to:

Chateau de Versailles
Service Mécénat
RP 834 – 78008 Versailles cedex

Thursday, August 8, 2019

Kortrijk, Belgium: Surprise Photos of an Occupied City

One hundred and one years ago Kortrijk was still an occupied city. The Germans exploited the inhabitants. Allied bombs sowed fear and destruction. Thousands of Kortrijk locals lived in terror. All those who could tell us about it have now passed away. Kortrijk was the first major city behind the front line, and this made it extremely important to the Germans. It is no wonder that there are a great many places in our city that conjure up memories of the First World War. For example, the station was used to transport prisoners of war to Germany, to serve as forced labor. 

City Hall Was the Headquarters of the German Occupying Force.  In the Chaire Is Oberstleutnant Günther, Etappenkommandant of the Etappenkommandantur Kortrijk

A visit by the Kaiser (in the limousine) in 1915

Pigeon Prison:  Kortrjik's  pigeons were kept under strict military guard because the Germans feared they would be used for espionage. The owners had to contribute financially to the pigeons’ upkeep.

Eleven military hospitals were located in the area.  The former cloth hall, which was a museum and theatre before the war, was taken over and used as a hospital.

A German troop formation on Handboogstraat, a street with a popular brothel

When the Germans were forced to retreat from Kortrijk on 16 October 1918, they set off no less than 750 kg of explosives under the Broelbrug. The Broel Towers were left badly damaged as a result.

Manfred von Richthofen was wounded when stationed nearby 

British and Scottish prisoners of war passing through

An air raid shelter under construction

Liberation ceremony at the Grote Markt, 28 October 1918

Source: Memories of the Great War in Kortrijk