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

Saturday, August 31, 2019

The King—God Bless Him!

This past 16 August was International Rum Day. The Royal Navy's sailors of the High Seas Fleet benefited from the tradition of of a daily rum ration dating back to 1655, shortly after the invasion of Jamaica by the Royal Navy. The daily tot became codified in 1731 but was later watered down, affectionately named "Grog." The rum ration was abolished on 31 July 1970 and is now commemorated on "Black Tot Day" every year. 

Source National Museum of the Royal Navy

Friday, August 30, 2019

Caproni's Ca.4 Series Triplane Bombers

Click on Image to Enlarge

Four Caproni Ca.4 Bombers on the Flight Line

One of the more distinctive large aircraft of the war, the Caproni series of triplane bombers, was actually an effective strategic weapon. Patterned along the lines of its Ca.3 series of biplane bombers, the larger triplanes of the Ca.4 series were designed to be more effective in combat. Sometimes armed with up to eight machine guns, these cumbersome bombers were capable of accurately delivering large payloads of bombs to distant enemy targets. 

Ca.4s were tested by the Italian Air Force in 1917 and began operations in 1918. They were used for attacking targets in Austria-Hungary. Although mainly used at night, they took part in daylight raids towards the end of the war. 

Of 32 Ca.42s manufactured in 1918, six of them were used by the Royal Naval Air Service. At least three CA.42s were sent to the United States for evaluation.  After the war a CA 48, converted to an airliner, crashed at Verona, Italy.  It was Italy's first commercial aviation disaster and one of history's first.

  • Country: Italy 
  • Manufacturer: Società di Aviazione Ing. Caproni 
  • Type: Heavy Bomber 
  • First Introduced: 1918 
  • Number Built: 32 
  • Engine(s): 3 Isotta-Fraschini, V-6, liquid cooled in-lines, 270 hp [190kW](Later versions were equipped with the Liberty engine, which increased their air speed.) 
  • Wing Span: 98 ft 1 in 
  • Length: 42 ft 11¾ in 
  • Height: 20 ft 8 in   
  • Gross Weight: 14,793 lb  
  • Max Speed: 78 mph  
  • Ceiling: 9,842 ft  
  • Endurance: 7 hours 
  • Crew: 4 
  • Armament: four to eight  Revelli 6.5 machine guns
  • Bomb Load: 3,197 lb [1,450 kg] 

Sources: Century of Flight;  Wikipedia

Thursday, August 29, 2019

Recommended: How WWI Food Propaganda Changed the Way We Eat Today

Originally Presented at TheTakeout.Com, 15 March 2017
By David McCowan

Meatless Mondays. Local is best. Eat less wheat. These sound like food fads plucked from 2017’s buzziest blog headlines but are in fact from 100 years ago. Each was a campaign from the U.S. Food Administration during World War I, and the food propaganda it represented was as important to the war effort as Uncle Sam’s “I want YOU for the U.S. Army.” As young men fought in the trenches of Europe, housewives across America were called upon to do their duty by minding the pantry, keeping down food waste, and foregoing the bounty of our amber waves of grain so that the boys “over there” could be fed. Unsung and nearly forgotten, the food calls to action from World War I paint a vivid picture of conservation and volunteerism, early nutritional science, and the birth of advertising. Not surprisingly, some of those behaviors—keeping backyard chickens, using dried peas as a meat substitute—have reemerged in 2017 as in vogue food trends.

For Americans in the early 1910s, access to food was not a major concern. Rural meals revolved around a hearty farm diet rich in meat, produce, sugar, and fats, while city dwellers had access to myriad restaurants as well as both fresh and packaged convenience foods—like Kellogg’s Corn Flakes and Oreos—for dining at home. The food supply was so ample, in fact, that when World War I broke out in Europe in 1914, the United States’ first response was to become the foremost supplier of food relief aid. Hard-hit countries like France and Belgium received dedicated shipments, and private organizations spent more than $1 billion to distribute 5 million tons of food across enemy lines.

The focus of this food delivery infrastructure changed, however, when the U.S. entered the war in 1917. Although aid to allies continued, the primary concern became feeding American troops, and feeding them well. A typical daily ration for a U.S. infantryman during the Great War consisted of up to 5,000 calories made up from a pound or more of meat (bacon or fresh meat, rather than canned, when possible), 20 ounces of potatoes, and 18 ounces of bread (often produced in nearby field bakeries). This was about 20 percent more than the French or British could supply their men, and considerably more than the Germans, especially in the final months of conflict. This food often came straight from the homeland, and supply lines crossing the Atlantic were considered as important as the lines across Europe.

At the behest of Congress, President Woodrow Wilson created the U.S. Food Administration (USFA) to manage the food reserves for the U.S. Army and allies. He appointed Herbert Hoover—then just a private citizen, a mining executive who had left his job to lead the Belgian relief—to serve as the sole director, and Wilson afforded him wide latitude to accomplish the group’s goals. Although the mission was to keep troops fed, this charge required a tremendous amount of intervention in the food habits Stateside. Hoover became known as America’s “food dictator.” The USFA fixed the price of wheat (both so that it could buy and ship in bulk and so it could stabilize the price for worried farmers), commandeered rail lines to improve transport routes, and intervened to prevent food monopolies. Hoover even insisted he receive no salary despite the tremendous amount of work; he felt this allowed him a higher moral ground from which to ask U.S. citizens to make hard sacrifices.

Read the Complete Article Here:

Wednesday, August 28, 2019

The Centennial at the Grass Roots: Minnesota to Replace Its WWI Memorial

Being Replaced

On Monday 5  August, Governor Tim Walz signed Bill HF 810 into law in front of a small crowd of veterans, supporters, and members of the press. The new bill seeks to honor all Minnesota WWI-era veterans by authorizing the replacement of a memorial plaque located in the Capitol’s Court of Honor.

Retired Navy Chaplain David Thompson [friend and contributor to Roads to the Great War], who testified in support of the bill, took issue with the WWI Plaque’s inscription, “Dedicated to the 57,413 Minnesotans who gallantly served in ‘the war to end all wars.’” While 57,413 Minnesotans served in active combat during WWI, many more were stationed on military bases away from the front lines where they battled a dangerous influenza outbreak that would kill 50 million people worldwide. Thompson’s father was stationed at Camp Dodge, Iowa, during the war, where he and 10,008 other soldiers were infected. Thompson detailed his father’s account in a Minnesota Military Museum newsletter article, “The Great Flu Pandemic of World War I: ‘Over Here’ and ‘Over There.’”

He was put on a detail to prepare bodies for shipment home by rail, recalling hundreds of wooden coffins stacked awaiting train transportation,” Thompson explained. “In the process, he got this respiratory flu himself, but he recovered to be discharged and sent home on Christmas Eve 1918.

According to Thompson, 57,460 (50%) of the total 115,660 war dead died as a result of the disease, a number he doesn’t want future generations to forget.

“With our passing, this rarely told ‘other war story’ of the battle with the disease in World War I may fade from memory, leaving only the stories of the conflict’s military battles and strategies,” said Thompson.

Governor Walz and Supporters of the Bill at the Signing

The new Court of Honor plaque will commemorate all WWI service members by including a more representative design and number (now believed to be 118,497) in its inscription. MDVA Deputy Commissioner Brad Lindsay gave some insight as to why the smaller number was originally honored.

“The plaque stated, ‘Dedicated to the 57,413 Minnesotans who served in “the war to end all wars.”’ I believe ‘in’ is the key word in that sentence,” Lindsay explained. “This focus on those who actually served in war was reflected in Minnesota Statutes at the time, which narrowly defined a ‘Veteran’ as someone who served in the U.S. military in a specifically named war.”

Court of Honor, Original Plaque Circled

This difference between those who were considered WWI veterans and those considered WWI-era veterans came down to legislative specifics and, therefore, resulted in the plaque only considering those who served in the WWI combat theatre.

With this signing, Governor Walz hopes to include Minnesota servicemen who died or served in all areas of the War. The new plaque will serve as place for families and military members, like Thompson, to honor their loved ones’ legacies as WWI veterans. 

“If we don’t tell our stories and if we don’t tell our history, we will lose the lessons that we learned,” said Walz upon authorizing the bill. 

To design the new plaque, Walz and the bill’s creators look to the public. The Capitol Area Architectural and Planning Board will collect submissions before deciding on the final design, which will then be furnished by the selected party.

Source: Minnesota Department of Veterans Affairs Blog

Tuesday, August 27, 2019

Alfred Joyce Kilmer, Poet and War Poet

By David F. Beer

Kilmer Before the War
Few people remember Joyce Kilmer, the American writer killed in action in July 1918. In a very informal survey I once asked some friends, all reasonably well educated and "of a certain age," if they had heard of him. None had. All, however, were familiar with the lines "I think that I shall never see/A poem lovely as a tree," from Kilmer's poem "Trees."

The recollection of these lines seems all that remains of the American journalist, editor, and poet who, born in New Jersey in 1886, enlisted in 1917 and as a sergeant in the 42nd Rainbow Division met sudden death at age 32 at the Second Battle of the Marne. (Probably even less remembered is that his father, Dr. Frederick Barnett Kilmer (1851-1934), a chemist employed by the Johnson and Johnson Company, was the inventor of baby powder.)

Before America entered the Great War, Kilmer was an established writer and poet, with some 42 published poems to his credit. Perhaps "Trees" was his best-known work, and it was certainly popular among ladies who liked to sing it at gatherings in their parlors. Yet to judge Kilmer by this rather lightweight and sentimental lyrical poem is to underrate a poet who also composed longer and stronger works such as "The White Ships and the Red" and "Rouge Bouquet."

The former is a lengthy and haunting reflection on what just a week earlier in May, 1915, had shocked the nation: the sinking of the RMS Lusitania. For Kilmer, as for much of the nation, this was an act of shocking barbarity. He poetically imagines how countless ships that over the centuries had sunk to the bottom-Spanish galleons, Roman triremes, and even "the grim Titanic"-now look up from their resting places startled and shocked:

The ghostly vessels trembled
From ruined stern to prow;
What was this thing of terror
That broke their vigil now?
Down through the startled ocean
A mighty vessel came,
Not white, as all dead ships must be,
But red, like living flame!

Soon the Lusitania gives her answer, reinforcing the color imagery of the white ships that had met their ends in expected ways and the red ship now joining them, stained by an unexpected, bloody and shameful act:

But never crashing iceberg
Nor honest shot of foe,
Nor hidden reef has sent me
The way that I must go.
My wound that stains the waters,
My blood that is like flame,
Bear witness to a loathly deed,
A deed without a name.

I went not forth to battle,
I carried friendly men,
The children played about my decks,
The women sang – and then –
And then – the sun blushed scarlet
And Heaven hid its face,
The world that God created
Became a shameful place!

What was not known of course in May1915 was that the Lusitania also carried less innocent cargo. Thus the poem effectively conveys the sense of shock and injustice the sinking caused, all intensified by the aura of grief and tragedy that emanates from the ghost ships.

Also tragic for Kilmer in 1915 was the death of a fellow poet, Rupert Brooke, at the time one of Britain's most admired war poets. Brilliant and handsome, Brooke's death from blood poisoning and burial on the Greek island of Skyros during the Dardanelles campaign sent shock waves throughout the artistic (and probably female) population. Some of this adulation finds its way into Kilmer's timely and somewhat romantic poem "In Memory of Rupert Brooke":

In alien earth, across a troubled sea,
  His body lies that was so fair and young.
  His mouth is stopped, with half his songs unsung;
His arm is still, that struck to make men free.
But let no cloud of lamentation be
  Where, on a warrior's grave, a lyre is hung.
  We keep the echoes of his golden tongue,
We keep the vision of his chivalry.

Kilmer the Soldier
By 1917 Kilmer himself was on a troopship as part of the Irish-American "Fighting 69th" of the 42nd Division. The hardships his regiment was to endure on the march through the Vosges Mountains and into several months of combat are well recorded in Stephen Harris's notable book Duffy's War, but it is on one event at the front that Kilmer's poetic skills most sharply focused.

On 27 February 27 1918 his regiment took up duty in the trenches in the Rouge Boquet Chausailles sector. On 7 March  at 3:20 p.m. the enemy began an artillery barrage of the American trenches in what was supposed to be a "quiet sector." A shell landed on the roof of a dugout in which one officer and 21 men were assembled, and although two men were rescued and five bodies recovered, most were buried alive despite desperate rescue efforts.

It didn't take long for Kilmer to immortalize these men in what is his most noted war poem, "Rouge Bouqet." In the poem he carefully weaves strands of realism, commemoration, Catholic faith, Celtic allusions, and perhaps most notably, the theme and significance of the last notes of "Taps:"

In a wood they call the Rouge Bouquet 
There is a new-made grave to-day, 
Built by never a spade nor pick 
Yet covered with earth ten metres thick. 
There lie many fighting men,   
Dead in their youthful prime, 
Never to laugh nor love again   
Nor taste the Summertime. 
For Death came flying through the air  
And stopped his flight at the dugout stair, 
Touched his prey and left them there,   
Clay to clay. 
He hid their bodies stealthily 
In the soil of the land they fought to free   
And fled away. 
Now over the grave abrupt and clear   
Three volleys ring; 
And perhaps their brave young spirits hear   
The bugle sing: 
"Go to sleep! 
 Go to sleep! 
Slumber well where the shell screamed and fell. 
Let your rifles rest on the muddy floor, 
You will not need them any more. 
 Danger's past; Now at last, Go to sleep!"

There is on earth no worthier grave
To hold the bodies of the brave
Than this place of pain and pride
Where they nobly fought and nobly died.
Never fear but in the skies
Saints and angels stand
Smiling with their holy eyes
On this new-come band.
St. Michael's sword darts through the air
And touches the aureole on his hair
As he sees them stand saluting there,
  His stalwart sons;
And Patrick, Brigid, Columkill
Rejoice that in veins of warriors still
  The Gael's blood runs.
And up to Heaven's doorway floats,
  From the wood called Rouge Bouquet,
A delicate cloud of buglenotes
  That softly say:
Comrades true, born anew, peace to you!
Your souls shall be where the heroes are
And your memory shine like the morning-star.
Brave and dear,
Shield us here.

The poem was almost instantly famous among the men of Kilmer's regiment. According to Yanks, a book of A.E.F. verse printed in France by Stars and Stripes in 1918 (and sold for 2FRF or 50 cents) the poem was dedicated to the 19 Doughboys who died in that dugout in the forest on 7 March 7. At the service conducted at the site by the popular Father Duffy the men placed a tablet, and Kilmer's poem was read aloud by Duffy while "Taps" was played before the last lines of each verse by a bugler on the spot and echoed by another from a copse in the woods. There were few dry eyes.

The poet/soldier had only a few months left to live. After seeing some savage fighting, he was killed by a sniper's bullet while in action on 29 July 1918. He died by the Ourcq River, a stream in Picardy, and his comrades buried him by the side of the stream. Today, Kilmer rests nearby at the Oise-Aisne American Cemetery. A stop by his grave is by far the most frequent request from visitors. The staff there always brings along a copy of "Rouge Bouquet" and encourages a reading of the poem at the grave site. It's always a moving event.

Back home, he left behind a wife and three children. Many in his regiment were greatly affected by his death not only because he was "their poet" but also because he was an extremely well-liked and respected comrade.

David F. Beer

Monday, August 26, 2019

Heroic Fort de Liouville Lost Every Gun but Never Fell

Postwar Photo Showing the Damage at Fort de Liouville
Located on a hill between St. Mihiel and Apremont, the French Fort de Liouville—a  Séré de Rivières fort (Séré de Rivières was a 19th-century military architect)—held out against an German onslaught in September and October 1914 and was held by the French Army for the entire war. The fort was manned by almost 700 men  and was armed with a total of 40 artillery pieces in 1914, including  Mougin (revolving) turret with two 155mm guns. 

Aerial View Showing the Overgrown Fort Today
It Is Located 1.8 Miles Southwest of Apremont de Foret

Fort de Liouville was bombarded by German artillery for a large portion of the war, with the heaviest fire between 22 September and 16 October 1914. The Mougin turret was hit by a 305mm German shell but continued to fire with one gun until 28 September. The north ammunition magazine was penetrated by shellfire. The 75mm turret fired despite considerable trouble with the mechanism and numerous casualties until the fort was evacuated and the turret was jammed by a direct 305mm hit. Infantry continued to hold the area, and the fort was never taken  

Main Entrance

Although every artillery piece was eventually disabled, Fort de Liouville served as an observatory facing German lines along the southern side of the St. Mihiel Salient and as a resting place for the regiments taken out of combat.

An Inner Courtyard (Note Fine Design Features)

Sunday, August 25, 2019

Abrams v. the United States Upholds the Sedition Act: Holmes Dissents

Litigants in the Case; Jacob Abrams on Right

Note 1: The Sedition Act of 1918 was an Act of the United States Congress that extended the Espionage Act of 1917 to made it a crime to "willfully utter, print, write, or publish any disloyal, profane, scurrilous, or abusive language about the form of the Government of the United States" or to "willfully urge, incite, or advocate any curtailment of the production" of the things "necessary or essential to the prosecution of the war."


In March 1919 the Supreme Court ruled 9–0 to uphold the constitutionality of the 1917 Espionage Act in Schenck v. United States. Oliver Wendell Holmes, who had been appointed to the court by Theodore Roosevelt in 1902, wrote the opinion. In his article “Freedom of Speech in War Time,” published in June 1919, Harvard Law School professor and First Amendment scholar Zechariah Chafee , Jr., criticized Justice Holmes for having done “nothing to emphasize the social interest behind free speech, and show the need of balancing even in war time” in his Schenck opinion. In November the court upheld the convictions of several radicals prosecuted under the 1918 Sedition Act in Abrams v. United States, but this time Holmes dissented, joined by Justice Louis Brandeis, whom President Wilson had appointed in 1916.

Oliver Wendell Holmes: 
from Dissenting Opinion in Abrams v. United States

In this case sentences of twenty years imprisonment have been imposed for the publishing of two leaflets that I believe the defendants had as much right to publish as the Government has to publish the Constitution of the United States now vainly invoked by them. Even if I am technically wrong and enough can be squeezed from these poor and puny anonymities to turn the color of legal litmus paper; I will add, even if what I think the necessary intent were shown; the most nominal punishment seems to me all that possibly could be inflicted, unless the defendants are to be made to suffer not for what the indictment alleges but for the creed that they avow—a creed that I believe to be the creed of ignorance and immaturity when honestly held, as I see no reason to doubt that it was held here, but which, although made the subject of examination at the trial, no one has a right even to consider in dealing with the charges before the Court.

Mr. Justice Holmes
Persecution for the expression of opinions seems to me perfectly logical. If you have no doubt of your premises or your power and want a certain result with all your heart you the result, or that you doubt either your power or your premises. But when men have realized that time has upset many fighting faiths, they may come to believe even more than they believe the very foundations of their own conduct that the ultimate good desired is better reached by free trade in ideas— that the best test of truth is the power of the thought to get itself accepted in the competition of the market, and that truth is the only ground upon which their wishes safely can be carried out. That at any rate is the theory of our Constitution. It is an experiment, as all life is an experiment. Every year if not every day we have to wager our salvation upon some prophecy based upon imperfect knowledge. While that experiment is part of our system I think that we should be eternally vigilant against attempts to check the expression of opinions that we loathe and believe to be fraught with death, unless they so imminently threaten immediate interference with the lawful and pressing purposes of the law that an immediate check is required to save the country. I wholly disagree with the argument of the Government that the First Amendment left the common law as to seditious libel in force. History seems to me against the notion. I had conceived that the United States through many years had shown its repentance for the Sedition Act of 1798, by repaying fines that it imposed. Only the emergency that makes it immediately dangerous to leave the correction of evil counsels to time warrants making any exception to the sweeping command, “Congress shall make no law . . . abridging the freedom of speech.” Of course I am speaking only of expressions of opinion and exhortations, which were all that were uttered here, but I regret that I cannot put into more impressive words my belief that in their conviction upon this indictment the defendants were deprived of their rights under the Constitution of the United States.

MR. JUSTICE BRANDEIS concurs with the foregoing opinion.
November 10, 1919

Note 2: Subsequent Supreme Court decisions, such as Brandenburg v. Ohio (1969), make it unlikely that similar legislation to the Sedition amendment to the Espionage Act would be considered constitutional today.

Sources:  World War I and America: Library of America Readers; Wikipedia

Saturday, August 24, 2019

The U.S. Navy's First World War I Mission: Transporting Gold

Although President Wilson immediately issued a proclamation of neutrality when hostilities broke out in Europe, America's preeminent military service, the U.S. Navy, needed to go into action.  There were countless Americans and American businesses that had been trapped in potentially hostile territory.  Funds would be needed to extract them or provide some sort of lifeline for them.  The solution was to send gold to key banking centers for ready access by U.S. diplomats and agents. The Navy was given the job of moving the gold.  Here's the story of the month-long mission told in chronological form.

4 August President Woodrow Wilson issues a proclamation for a policy of neutrality in regard to the conflict in Europe.

5 August Senate and House of Representatives pass House Joint Resolution 314 for the relief, protection, and transportation of American citizens in Europe away from the emerging conflict. The resolution authorized the armed forces to deliver gold abroad, empowering the president “to employ officers, employees, and vessels of the United States and use any supplies of the naval or military establishments, and to charter and employ any vessels that may be required with an appropriation not to exceed $2.5 million.”

Armored Cruiser USS Tennessee (Later USS Memphis)

6 August At 10:20 p.m., the armored cruiser Tennessee (CA-10) sails from New York Harbor for Falmouth, England, carrying $3 million in gold from private banking interests and $1.5 million in gold coin from a Congressional appropriation to provide financial relief to Americans caught up in the outbreak of the Great War. Aboard Tennessee are a delegation of Army officers, additional Navy and Marine Corps officers, five bankers, representatives of the banking interests sending private funds, five representatives of the Treasury Department, a State Department diplomatic advisor, the national director of the American Red Cross and his secretary, and eight War Department clerks and a messenger. Under the auspices of the United States Relief Commission in Europe, the funds are intended to shore up the collapsed European credit system to enable the 125,000 Americans and their interests stranded abroad means to return home.

7 August Armored cruiser North Carolina (CA-12) and collier Vulcan (AC-5) sail from the Boston Navy Yard and rendezvous off Cape Cod with the armored cruiser Tennessee (CA-10) bound for Falmouth, England.

16 August Armored cruiser Tennessee (CA-10) arrives in Falmouth, England, at 7:45 p.m. The following day, $400,000 in gold is sent to London, with $300,000 consigned to U.S. Ambassador to Great Britain Walter Hines Page with the other $100,000 provided to two U.S. Army officers for relief work.

18–19 August Armored cruiser North Carolina (CA-12) sails from Falmouth, England, and arrives in Cherbourg, France, the following day carrying $200,000 in gold and additional American officials for the U.S. Relief Commission in Europe.

20 August Armored cruiser Tennessee (CA-10) sails from Falmouth, England, for the Hook of Holland.

21 August Armored cruiser Tennessee (CA-10) arrives off the Hook of Holland at 4:40 p.m., three miles outside Dutch territorial waters, and is met by the Dutch cruiser Nord-Brabrant, which will accompany American officials and $200,000 in gold ashore to The Hague.

29 August Armored cruiser North Carolina (CA-12) sails from Falmouth, England, destined for Turkish waters carrying $150,000 in gold relief funds for American-owned institutions and businesses cut off from usual channels of commerce and banking because of the war.

Source:  United States Navy and World War I: 1914–1922, by Frank A. Blazich Jr. 

Friday, August 23, 2019

Letter from an Indian Army Lancer at 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