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

Saturday, February 29, 2020

The Great Photo Collection of the American Battle Monuments Commission

American Eagle Sundial at the St. Mihiel Cemetery

During the recent WWI Centennial commemorations the staff of  the American Battle Monuments Commission (ABMC) did a wonderful job of making more of their organization's photo collection available for downloading online. Included in hundreds of photos now available are images of the American cemeteries and monuments overseas—all professional quality like the image from the St. Mihiel Cemetery above—plus some outstanding period and action shots. Here is a selection of six more photos from the ABMC collection.

After Belleau Wood, Marines Pose with a Captured German Minenwerfer

An Aerial Image Captures the Scale of the Meuse-Argonne Cemetery

President and Mrs. Wilson Lay a Wreath at Suresnes Cemetery,
Memorial Day 1919

Deck Crew Firing from Destroyer USS Little on Convoy Duty

The Spectacular Memorial Atop Montfaucon,
Captured 27 September 1918

To browse the entire collection, just click on the link below and go to the "Cemeteries and Memorials" section.

Friday, February 28, 2020

Gallipoli in Australian Memory

From the 2004 Australian War Memorial Anniversary Address by journalist, editor, and historian Les Carlyon.

I’ve taken on a difficult topic tonight, not because I’m adventurous but because Steve Gower told me I wanted to talk about Gallipoli in a Nation’s Remembrance and generals must be obeyed, lest order break down completely. Part of the trouble is that Gallipoli means different things to different people. It is a set of facts and these facts are impressive enough by themselves and, I think, say enough by themselves for Australians to feel proud about what happened at Gallipoli. But these facts are also mixed up with legends and myths and symbolism and sometimes, most of the time perhaps, these latter things become the larger part of the story.

Gallipoli is an episode of military history and in the context of the Great War it is not a big one. In Australia Gallipoli is also a state of mind, a place in the heart, and the stuff of warm inner glows for those of us who were lucky enough not to have been there or to have suffered from its after-effects. Gallipoli is part of the folklore, one of the few words spoken in Australia with something approaching reverence. Gallipoli has become a church and even secular churches need myths. Gallipoli had become a faith and faiths are hostile to analysis. As Bill Gammage wrote long ago, Gallipoli is bigger than the facts. And as someone else said, Gallipoli just is.

What we all know is that it has become a larger part of this nation’s remembrance. When a lot of people thought the story might begin to fade, when all the Australians who fought there have passed on, the tale has taken on a lambent glow. When I was a kid the mood of Anzac Day was rather different, perhaps because the day usually ended up being linked to the latest crisis of the Cold War. It was also probably true that Gallipoli was not a happy word in many families then, because men had come home moody and morose, wives and children had suffered, and the memories were still fresh. Gallipoli is more appealing to modern generations who did not have to live through the aftermath. Gallipoli and Anzac Day when I was a kid seemed to belong to the returned servicemen. We others looked on, politely and from a proper distance. Now Gallipoli, it seems, belongs to all of us, all of the nation. It is above politics. It is not linked to the military causes of the present day. It stands alone and apart. It has found a place of its own.

Les Carlyon, AC
To sit above North Beach on Anzac Day is these days a thing of wonder. As the dawn breaks, as little waves rattle the shingle, you see thousands upon thousands of Australians, far from home, huddled against the cold, spread out around the amphitheatre and silhouetted high above on Walker’s Ridge: young people using the flag as a shawl, middle-aged Australians in Wallaby guernseys, older Australians wearing ties and sports coats and medals, grandmothers cupping their hands around flickering candles.

Why are they here, so many of them? What has changed? Why has the place of Gallipoli in a nation’s remembrance become more secure?

Perhaps we need to look at how Gallipoli first came into the nation’s consciousness. The first reports linking Australians to the Gallipoli landings appeared in the Australian press on 30 April 1915. Most of the newspaper editors didn’t know what to do with them. For days the main story had been about the fighting at Neuve Chapelle in French Flanders. That’s where the war was supposed to be, not at the Dardanelles, and that’s where the Australian contingent was assumed to be heading.

What was to become one of the strongest strands in our folklore began with falsehoods. The papers ran a British War Office announcement saying that the Allies were advancing steadily up the Peninsula and that the Turks had prepared deep pits with spiked bottoms. The papers ran patchy reports for several days, including a story that 8000 Turks had surrendered and another that the Turks were burning every village from which they were driven, which was really something because the Turks hadn’t lost a single village, and didn’t. According to the press, the Australian death toll had crept up to 41. Then Ellis Ashmead-Bartlett’s story appeared.

Ashmead-Bartlett worked for the London Daily Telegraph. He was an experienced and intelligent war correspondent and a stylish writer who was occasionally careless with facts. But the best thing about him, as far as Australian editors were concerned, was that he was English, and here he was writing admiring words about Australians. England was the mother country and the child craved approval. Australia, the nation, was only 14 years old; it had never done much in the wider world before. Ashmead-Bartlett had the Australians jumping out of their boats and rushing trenches with bayonets. He had men who had been ‘shot to bits’ lying on the beach and cheering throughout that first night. He declared that the Australians were the equal of the heroes of Mons, the Aisne, Ypres and Neuve Chapelle.

Clergymen quoted from Ashmead-Bartlett’s piece in their Sunday sermons. People cut out his words and pasted them in scrapbooks. Enlistments soared, reaching heights in July and August of 1915 that were never again reached. Ashmead-Bartlett, without meaning to, had started the Anzac legend. He had done for Gallipoli what Shakespeare did for Agincourt and Tolstoy for Borodino. The trouble was, there was also an Anzac reality. It too was something to be proud of, but it was not the same as the story Ashmead-Bartlett had created.

Censorship is inevitable in war and Ashmead-Bartlett had to leave things out. The result of these omissions, plus Ashmead-Bartlett’s rush of enthusiasm, meant that Australians became captivated by a story that wasn’t quite accurate and sounded like an adventure written by Kipling. Ashmead-Bartlett made Gallipoli sound romantic and it wasn’t. Rather than fleeing, the Turks were fighting with extraordinary courage. In military terms the landing was nearer to a failure than a success. The Australians were clinging to around 400 acres above the beach and in the rough shape of a triangle. After that first day they could not advance; they were already in the early days of a siege. The casualties were not the few hundred the newspapers were suggesting. By the time Ashmead-Bartlett’s report appeared the Australian and New Zealand casualties were approaching 8000, of whom more than 2000 were dead.

We should not be surprised that exact casualty figures were a long time coming. Even in June the Australian newspapers were reporting only 688 dead. We should not be surprised that the papers were publishing despatches from men such as Sir Ian Hamilton, the Allied commander-in-chief, who announced, with a nice feel for the abstract noun, that ‘good progress’ was being made. But, as a result of all this, young men were lining up at the recruiting centres with a fraudulent picture of the war in their heads. And families with husbands and sons at Gallipoli were living with false hopes.
John Kirkpatrick Simpson
"The Man with a Donkey"

Soon the Gallipoli campaign had a hero—Simpson the Christ-like figure, Simpson the one-man epic with the donkey, Simpson the man who didn’t carry a gun. In death he enjoyed a grace he never enjoyed in life. He became Everyman at the Gallipoli front. He was beatified, then canonised. He was described as a six-foot Australian when in truth he was a Geordie who wanted to go home and stood five-foot-nine. He lodged in Australia’s collective mind and grew bigger and bigger. And indeed he was a brave man who performed selfless acts. But—and I hope this doesn’t sound unkind, because it isn’t meant to be—there were larger heroes on Gallipoli, dozens and dozens of them.

Men like Harry Murray, who became the most decorated Australian of the war; his mate Percy Black, who died at Bullecourt; Alfred Shout, who won the VC at Lone Pine and talked cheerfully as they carted him off to die; Walter Cass, who the following year became one of the heroes of the battle of Fromelles in French Flanders; Fred Tubb, who won the VC at Lone Pine and died two years later trying to win another one during the battle of Menin Road; the irrepressible Pompey Elliott; Bert Jacka, who won the VC on Gallipoli and should have received another at Pozières; and William Malone, the New Zealander who should have won the VC on Chunuk Bair. Gallipoli was also a fine training ground for future Australian generals. Monash, Glasgow, Gellibrand, Rosenthal, Hobbs, Holmes, Blamey and Morshead—all these were on Gallipoli, but for some reason that is unclear we remember Simpson best of all.   

In some ways the mold for the Gallipoli story was cast back then, back when the Great War was still going on. The story, so the legend had it, was essentially about the beach and the rushing of the hills. It was essentially romantic. And, as time passed and the Allies eventually had to evacuate the Peninsula, it became a sort of romantic tragedy, and eventually the best remembered tragedy in Australia’s military history, which surely sells short what happened to us at Singapore in 1942. Gallipoli was about Simpson and the beach.

North Beach, Anzac, 100th Anniversary of Gallipoli Landings

My dear friend Kenan Çelik of Çanakkale was a few years ago asked to go to the helicopter pad on Hill 971 and guide a Sydney couple around the battlefield. The couple arrived in a helicopter they had chartered in Istanbul and asked Kenan to drive them straight to the beach. They spend twenty minutes there, took photographs, said it was very moving, thanked Kenan for "showing them Gallipoli," and at once flew back to Istanbul. In passing I like to think the man was a rich Sydney property developer.

Whoever he was, he missed the real story, which was up on the escarpment. He missed seeing the scenes of real heroics. He missed seeing the wonder, the sheer improbability, of the Australian positions along that second ridge. He missed seeing Lone Pine where, in the grottoes, Australians did things so brave they beggar the imagination. He missed seeing Chunuk Bair, where the New Zealanders fought a battle as frightful as Lone Pine. In short, he missed the grander story of Gallipoli, which was about the hanging on, rather than the rush across the beach.

From those days in May 1915, when the first reports appeared in the press, Gallipoli has overshadowed all our military history. It is a word that immediately evokes an image, the way El Alamein, say, does not. Gallipoli took two volumes of our official history of the Great War, against four volumes for France and Belgium, and one has to wonder if we got the proportions right. Six times as many Australians died in France and Belgium as did at Gallipoli. As one historian has put it, the western front is the major episode in Australia’s military history. There, he said, we engaged the main army of the main enemy in the main theatre of war. Never was this more obvious than in the victories of 1918.

At Fromelles, in French Flanders, on one night in July 1916, the Australians suffered 5500 casualties. Some of our best spirits died out on that soggy plain, mown down, as one man present put it, like great rows of teeth knocked from a comb. Fromelles was arguably the worst night in Australian history. It was a blunder by British and Australian generals. But who remembers it? Who goes there? Not many, if you look in the visitors’ book at the Fromelles cemetery

Pozières, down on the Somme, began a few days later. Three Australian divisions went through here twice. They fought under artillery bombardments that reduced the village to piles of ash and caused strong men to go mad. When, after six weeks, the last Australians were pulled out, the casualty list stood at 23,000. Twenty-three thousand Australians dead and wounded to reclaim about 600 acres of France. The losses at Pozieres were the spur for the first conscription referendum in Australia and all the divisiveness that came with it. Men who had been at Gallipoli said Pozières was worse, almost certainly because, by the standards of the Western Front, the artillery fire on Anzac Cove was relatively light. Pozières is not that well remembered either, and it should be.

Nineteen-seventeen was the worst year of the war for Australia. First there were the two battles of Bullecourt. Another 7500 casualties. Then came Passchendaele, or, more accurately, the series of battles that were called Third Ypres, a campaign that ended when men and horses were drowning in the mud. If you stand at Tyne Cot cemetery, look up the hill towards Passchendaele village and let your imagination run, you can see the hopelessness of the final assaults there. That field in front of you was a sea of craters, lip to lip, all of them filled with slime. The mud had become glue. Men couldn’t move and rifles wouldn’t fire.

Centennial Poster

You can stand at the Menin Gate and, if you have a few days of spare time, read the names of 6176 Australians who were lost in the Ypres Salient and have no known grave. Australia’s casualties from Third Ypres were 38,000. The British remember Passchendaele. There are buses of English pilgrims in the streets of Ypres just about every day. We don’t remember Passchendaele so well here.

And now we move on to the strangest thing of all, the famous victories of 1918 that led to the first Remembrance Day: the battle in front of Amiens, the taking of Mont St Quentin and the breaking of the Hindenburg Line. Much is made these days of small detachments of Australian troops being under some form of American control. It is not generally known in this country that Monash at the Hindenburg Line had temporary control over two American divisions. The Australian and Canadian corps in 1918 were important in a way quite out of proportion to their size, and probably didn’t receive the credit they deserved because that would have implied some criticism of the divisions from the United Kingdom. Monash and Arthur Currie, the Canadian commander, were perhaps the two best generals in the last year of the war. This wasn’t going to be mentioned much in Britain either. The British generals came from the officer classes of Victorian England; Monash and Currie were citizen soldiers.

We could have talked and written about these events in France and Belgium, but we didn’t much, and still don’t. Gallipoli is the campaign that goes past the brain and wriggles into the heart. It dominates popular discussions not only of the Great War but also of all Australian wars, and in objective terms this is surely wrong. But here we come to the essence of the matter. Gallipoli is part of the national mythology and mythology is seldom objective.

Ned Kelly is a lesser part of that same folklore and one might argue that he fails the test of objectivity too. Kelly fascinates people, generation after generation. We don’t remember Redmond Barry, the judge who sentenced him to death, and yet it might be argued that Barry, through his interest in libraries and Melbourne University, was a civilising force in the Victorian colony, whereas Ned Kelly was a colourful step towards anarchy. We remember Bradman from the '30s and '40s, and rightly so, but we don’t much remember Howard Florey, the pathologist from Adelaide, who saved the lives of hundreds of millions. There are no rules to these things, and we should not try to find them.

Military history has its paradoxes too. I sometimes get the feeling from things people say that World War II was won when Steven Spielberg landed Tom Hanks on Omaha beach. I read a particularly silly piece in the New Yorker recently, a triumph of style over content that suggested that the lore of World War II remains "on the whole heroic," while the imagery of the First "remains that of utter waste." There were Sommes and Passchendaeles in World War II, lots of them, but they mostly happened in Russia and outside Berlin. I doubt Ukrainians would say that World War II was "on the whole heroic." We in the west will one day need to accept that that the worst horrors of the second war against Germany happened in the east and that the war was actually won there.

Agincourt has a special place in British history, thanks mainly to Shakespeare. In truth the tale is rather seedier than he would have it. The Englishmen didn’t look nearly so handsome as they did in Laurence Olivier’s film and one probably needed to be upwind of them. They were ragged and suffering from dysentery. And they weren’t quite gentlemen either, because they methodically set about slaughtering prisoners. The incident at San Juan Hill has a place in United States history way beyond its true significance, even if it did help with the election of a very fine president. There is also the Russian veneration of Marshal Kutuzov for his defeat of Napoleon. I wonder if Kutuzov really was as crafty as he is made out to be. Might it be that Napoleon was beaten by his own vanity, by miscalculations, and by the snows of a Russian winter? 

No, these things are not objective. But we should not be in hurry to say that Gallipoli doesn’t deserve its tender place in Australian life simply because it is shrouded in myths and half-truths, or because it is occasionally reinterpreted by adjunct professors like Alan Bond.

There are several things about Gallipoli that make it special. It is the first big thing that Australia, the new nation, did in the world. Then there is the place itself. It gets into your soul. Every time I smell thyme I think of Gallipoli. Every day I turn to the weather page of the Australian to see what the weather is like there. Gallipoli is a harsh landscape, more Asian than European, and yet is has a pagan beauty. The water has all the colours of a peacock’s tail. The sunsets make you wish you could paint. You look across to the island of Samothrace, a mountain peak exploding out of the sea, the home of gods with a corona of mist around the summit to prove it. There is a sense of timelessness. Every now and then you think you are lost in antiquity. You climb a hill and you can see Troy on the plain over the water. Climb another and you can see where Xerxes crossed on his way to Athens 2400 years ago. Look out from one of the abandoned forts on Kilit Bahir plateau and you can see pretty much what Alexander the Great saw. 

You wander up Gully Ravine, down at the old British front at Helles and probably the worst hellhole of the whole Gallipoli campaign, and you swear you are walking with ghosts and that you have entered a place of corruption. You can stand below the Nek at Anzac, where the Light Horsemen crouched on that murderous dawn, and look, not at the ditch of perdition up ahead, but behind you, over the Aegean; and it is such a shade of pale blue that you cannot tell where the sea end and the sky begins. The Anzac position has a charm, a sense of foreboding and foreignness, on the one hand, and of uncommon beauty on the other. It is like no other place on earth. To me, the battlefields of France are sad and evocative places and are set among some of the prettiest farm land in the world, among beech and plane trees and stands of corn seven feet tall. Yet they are not exotic; they are not Gallipoli.

The poetic associations go beyond the place itself. The story has a poetry to it, which might explain why it has produced so many books, not just here but in Britain. It is a natural story in three acts. It has heroes and villains. It has the Hamlet-like figure of Ian Hamilton, a brave man but a poor commander, cultured and courtly, more a man of letters than a general, a man of real substance and a ditherer, a man looking back to some Arthurian age of chivalry, a man who did not understand the industrial age and its howitzers.

And there is Kemal Atatürk, a man who believed in himself, who made his mind up quickly, who could reduce a problem to its essentials and never shrunk from the solutions that he deemed necessary. Hamilton was a romantic and Kemal a realist, and they are both the stuff of literature.

And then there is the supporting cast: Enver Pasha, the intriguer who put his country up for auction; Churchill, a brilliant man consumed by the need to make a mark; Kitchener, the gloomy lighthouse who every now and then gave off a flash of light; Asquith, a good man who seemed terrified of the things a prime minister has to do in time of war.

Part of the folklore is to see Gallipoli as an example of British military incompetence and we Australians as victims. There were some poor English generals there, notably Hunter-Weston at Helles, who had clearly envisioned Blackadder; Godley, the robotic soldier; and the doddering Stopford at Suvla. But there was also Birdwood. He was no tactician, but he had affection for his Australians. And there was Harold Walker who took over our 1st Division and to whom this country owes a large debt. For reasons I don’t understand Hooky Walker is not remembered here. The truth is that some of our senior officers didn’t perform that well either, particularly in the shambles that followed the landing and in the August offensive.

In folklore Gallipoli is all about "what ifs." What if we had been landed on Brighton Beach instead of at Ari Burnu? What if the New Zealanders had reached Chunuk Bair on time? What if the Suvla landing had worked? What if the Turks had not been warned that a landing was coming? What if Vice-Admiral de Robeck’s navy had shown more interest in fighting the Turks?  

Speculating about those "what ifs" and concentrating on failures of military command tend to miss a much larger point. Gallipoli was first of all a political failure. The "Easterners" in the political salons of London believed that the war could best be won by opening up fronts on the flanks, by niggling not at Germany but at Austria- Hungary and the Ottoman Empire. It is easy to see from this distance that this policy was wrong-headed. As someone said, it was like a boxer trying to win the fight by knocking out his opponent’s seconds.

The truth, I suspect, is that the Gallipoli campaign, and what was supposed to follow from it, could never have succeeded. Thus the "what ifs" don’t matter. I don’t think the Gallipoli campaign could have worked if ten, rather than five, divisions had been landed. It’s a long way from Gallipoli to Vienna. The war was always going to be won or lost on the Western Front.

And I don’t think it matters if there are two Gallipolis, one that belongs mostly to folklore and mythology and another that belongs to facts and reality. But I do think the factual story is the more affecting, the more worthy, if you like. The story of what happened to the infantrymen, the volunteers from Ballarat and Bathurst, stands the scrutiny of 90 years.

Getting ashore was not that hard. Hanging on, up on that second ridge, for eight months—that was hard. The Australians defended absurd positions like Pope’s Hill, with a cliff behind them and the Turks a few yards ahead of them. They looked after each other: Gallipoli was all about mateship. They kept their good humour. There is indeed a cheerfulness in soldiers’ letters from Gallipoli that one seldom comes upon in letters from France. There were no back areas: even when you were out of the line you were still under artillery and sniper fire. The food was unspeakable and almost inedible. The flies were a plague. At one point up to 70 per cent of the Anzac force was thought to have dysentery. Everyone had lice—they made no distinction between generals and privates. Men who went briefly to the island of Imbros marvelled at sounds they hadn’t heard for months: a woman’s voice, a dog’s bark, the tinkle of a piano.

The miracle is simply that these men didn’t lose heart—and they didn’t, not even when they knew it was all lost and they were creeping away by night, leaving so many of their mates dead in the ground.

That, to me, is why we are right to remember Gallipoli—because of what it says about the spirit of the men who served there. If we are to have a foundation story, we could do worse than a tale that is a compound of mateship and endurance, cynicism and rough humour, bungling and heroics.

These, in Charles Bean’s words, were great-hearted men. They were not necessarily better than the other men who fought at Gallipoli. But they were our great-hearted men, and they were not like those of any other nation. We are surely right to honour them. We are surely right to walk past the political intrigues and the military blunders and say that Gallipoli says something good about the Australian people and the Australian spirit.

And it says something too that almost 90 years after the event we believe in the Gallipoli story more ardently than we ever have. Maybe Bondy was right. Maybe in some unexplainable way we did win.

But it hardly matters at all what I say here tonight. To paraphrase from Lincoln’s Gettysburg address, the world will little note nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did there.

Vale Les Carlyon AC, 1942–2019

Source: Australian War Memorial

Thursday, February 27, 2020

Flight of the DH-4 Liberty: A Major World War One Aviation Event

On 16-17 May 2020 in Bowling Green, Kentucky (KBWG), the first public light of the ONLY U. S.- produced aircraft to fight in World War I, the DH-4 Liberty, will be witnessed by the general public. The aircraft was restored "to honor and remember" all American aviators who have flown during and since WWI, and will do so this Armed Forces Day. The stage will be set for dignitaries from America, Britain, and France to commemorate the famous first flight photos and newsreels of 1918 taken in France over a century ago. Then, after flags of America, Britain, and France are removed from the cowling, the Liberty plane will start its large V-12 400-hp engine and take to the skies.

Deep in the annals of time and history is a story of American ingenuity, determination, courage, and achievement that is waiting to be brought back to light. The restoration and first flight of America’s first warplane, the 1918 DH-4 Liberty plane embodies this mission. Without the DH-4, tomorrow’s missions to the Moon and Mars; last century’s overnight mail service across the country and across the globe; air-to-air refueling; supersonic fighter jets; and massive bombers would have been inconceivable. It was the innovative minds in the early 20th century who elevated man in flight and who prepared for victory in the skies above. The DH-4 Liberty plane represents the aerial challenges, breakthroughs and achievements, and focuses on the story behind the first American aeroplane that fought for freedom and the first American test pilot, a Kentuckian, who flew it on the battlefront. A century later, it comes full circle with the restoration and maiden flight of the only remaining original airworthy 1918 Liberty plane. But it is not just about the first flight, it is also about the people behind these  achievements. True American heroes. True Kentucky heroes. Please join us in this important and commemorative celebration.

For details contact Elaine Walker at

Wednesday, February 26, 2020

World War One's Greatest Aircraft Design Fail

Royal Aircraft Factory B.E.9

This is one man's opinion, of course, but this is the plane I would least wish to pull observer duty in.  Designed as a replacement for the Royal Aircraft Factory B.E.2c reconnaissance aircraft, which was considered a "sitting duck," its observer position seems to provide a nice view, but:

A.  He's inches away from getting sliced up by the propeller at any time. (By the way, is this a pusher or a tractor design or both?)

B.  If there's a crash landing he seems be in serious jeopardy from both the propeller and the engine sitting just behind the propeller.

C.  Just how does he communicate with the pilot?

D.  Speaking of the pilot, he seems to be sitting more to the rear than normally, putting him farther out of touch with the observer.

Anyway, one of the B.E.9s was deployed to the Western Front where three RFC squadrons gave it a test ride and said "No, thanks".

Please list your nominees for biggest design fail in the comments section below and I'll see what I can find out about them. Being ugly is not sufficient basis for a  nomination, however.

Tuesday, February 25, 2020

The Desert Column

by Ion L. Idriess
Angus & Robertson Limited, 1937
Michael Kihntopf, Reviewer

Australian Troopers During the Battle of Romani

Ion Idriess (1889–1979) was one of Australia's most prolific writers, having produced over 50 books in the space of 43 years. Each of the books had something to do with aspects of his colorful life in which he worked at almost anything that got him money, including stints as a dingo shooter, rabbit poisoner, gold prospector, and opal miner. The Desert Column is based on his diary entries while in service with the 5th Light Horse, Australian Imperial Force. The book was first published in 1932 and received many more printings after that. My copy was the ninth edition.

Idriess kept small notebooks which he filled with impressions of the day and recounts of actions that he was involved in beginning with his landing on the Gallipoli peninsula. He faithfully kept those notebooks, often chucking other parts of his kit to make room for their ever-growing volume. His sole purpose was the "thought that if he survived shot and shell and sickness, he would like, when he came to an old man, to be able to read exactly what his feelings were when things were happening."

From the first chapter, I was launched into his world as a common trooper. There are no descriptions of tactics or "Heads'" (Aussie term for the generals) strategies for the peninsula. He talks about sniping, trench raids, and both Turkish and Allied artillery barrages. The most gloriously detailed accounts are of receiving rations. I surmised that the deprivation he endured in working around Australia and living with the Aborigines on Cape York Peninsula made him appreciate a "splendid tea" of tinned beef mixed with onions and fried in bacon fat, biscuits and cheese, biscuits and jam, and tea. Service on the Gallipoli peninsula was cut short when he was nicked in the knee by a shrapnel ball. The wound turned septic and he was evacuated to Alexandria to recover.

Recovery was short, but by the time he was ready, his regiment had been evacuated from the peninsula and moved to the Sinai. There he joined the Desert Column, consisting of Australian and New Zealand units in the march on Jerusalem. Descriptions of sand, oases, the heat, the Bedouin people, and leave in Cairo are excellent. Idriess was involved in the first battle for Gaza. Once again, it is told from the trooper's viewpoint. There aren't any squadrons moving here or there. There are individual fire fights, bayonet charges, and flanking runs on horses.

The one criticism for the Heads relates to this. Idriess and his battalion had secured the city, but the order came to withdraw back to their starting positions, which allowed the Turks to reoccupy Gaza. What followed was a stagnant slug-fest with patrols, observations, and what he termed "Cossack raids." He defines these raids as eight to 12 men who rode close to the Turkish lines. If the enemy chased them, they unloaded their magazines at them, and hightailed it back to their positions for support. He termed it as exciting as when the Turks were caught in planning a raid. That definition is where I had my first and only disappointment.

Idriess seems to become a caricature of an Australian trooper at about mid-book. He begins many descriptions of getting great fun from potting at the Turks whenever he can and going on daring raids voluntarily in which he is almost captured but saved by excellent horsemanship or the appearance of a superior force. But the hardest comments to take were he and his mates jumping on their "neddies" laughing and calling to one another as they chased down Turks at breakneck speeds or were running from them while dodging their pursuit fire. It wasn't just one incident but several. I was reminded of the characters in a motion picture that would come later (1940s) called Forty Thousand Horsemen; a bonus picture to see with a lot of close-up camera work of horses charging and so on. Thank goodness the author's dramatization did not distract me from the overall writing of The Desert Column. It was just irritating at times.

Michael Kihntopf

Monday, February 24, 2020

Blind Spots in the German Army's Interwar Modernization

German Officers at Maneuvers, 1925
General Hans von Seeckt (Center) Was in Charge of Restoring the German Army

From: "The German Army after the Great War" by Geoffrey P. Megargee in Victory or Defeat: Armies in the Aftermath of Conflict

Much has been made of the genius of men such as Heinz Guderian (especially by men such as Heinz Guderian) in forcing a stodgy,conservative military leadership to accept the new gospel of mobile warfare. . . Amidst all this praise of German doctrinal brilliance, however, one should remember that the First World War offered some operational lessons that escaped the Germans completely. rue, they did gradually develop a way to return operational maneuver to the battlefield, but there is more to the operational level of war than maneuver. Perhaps most important, the Germans failed to develop any deep understanding of the role of logistics, either in terms of their own capabilities or as a consideration in striking at the enemy. They never could escape a mind-set that put the scheme of maneuver before all else. They only thought about logistics—or "supply," the term they actually used, and a much more limited idea—after they developed the maneuver plan. 

And so, for example,they failed to learn any lessons from their own offensives of spring 1918, in which they advanced into positions that were logistically untenable, while simultaneously missing the operational and strategic importance of the enemy’s rail hubs, whose loss or interdiction might have forced the British to abandon their position in northern France and perhaps even driven the Allies to the negotiating table.

One searches in vain, however, in the postwar studies, in F.u.G., or in any of the following doctrinal manuals, for any discussion of logistics on this level. Herein lay the seeds for some of Germany’s greatest failures in the next war, when the capabilities of the logistical system did not always match the speed and scope of German advances.

The strategic sphere was more problematic still. In fact, one can argue that the Germans simply did not understand strategy; their conduct of the Great War, and the lessons they drew from it, certainly point to that conclusion. The "stab-in-the-back" myth, the concept of "total war," and the focus on operational and tactical issues—all those explanations miss the strategic blunders that really lost the Great War for Germany. For example, the Reichswehr’s leaders never questioned the wisdom of invading Belgium in 1914. In their minds, there were sound operational reasons for doing so; the fact that the invasion brought Britain into the war was unimportant to them, as it had been to the leaders of 1914. Likewise, the decision to launch unrestricted submarine warfare in1917 drew no significant attention, even though it led to war with the United States. The Germans’ fundamental problem was that they equated strategy with what one might call "grand operations." That is, when they wrote or spoke about strategy, their focus lay entirely on winning battles and campaigns. they figured that military solutions were the only solutions, and if they won enough battles, the war would take care of itself. They failed to understand how to balance political ends with economic and military means on the strategic level, and thus did not perceive that, no matter how superior their tactics and operational doctrine might be, there were some fights they just could not win, and thus should not start. As Blomberg once put it, "The more enemies, the more honour! Here again, this was a weakness that would come back to haunt the Germans in their next fight.

Sunday, February 23, 2020

The Voyage of the Deutschland and American Treason

Deutschland in Chesapeake Bay

In 1914, on the eve of World War I, 94,000 Germans lived in Baltimore, and most maintained close cultural ties to their homeland. After hostilities broke out England's massive navy blockaded the Central Powers, including Germany, and put a stranglehold on its economy.

Two years later, in the summer of 1916, the German-built U-boat Deutschland circumvented the blockade and embarked on a "merchant submarine" mission to deliver highly sought-after vibrant-hued dyes to Baltimore clothing manufacturers. With its low surface profile and the ability to submerge, the Deutschland was able evade Allied warships and cross the Atlantic.  To the Americans, the fact that Deutschland possessed no guns was the single fact used to determine her status as a trade vessel. She brought German goods to America and carried home nickel and rubber, both critical to the German war effort. But England and France were not pleased with the Deutschland's arrival at Baltimore and considered the boat a warship by virtue of its construction alone. 

Deutschland's Crew in Baltimore

When America entered WWI in 1917, unrestricted submarine warfare was declared and Germany's unarmed merchant submarine program abruptly ended.  Deutschland became attack submarine U-155, now outfitted with deck cannon and torpedo tubes. Between May 1917 and October 1918 Deutschland/U-155 sank over 30 ships, including several American vessels.

When the Deutschland visited Baltimore in August 1916, life was still relatively normal for the city's German community.  In fact, two Baltimore businessmen, father and son, Henry and Paul Hilken of A. Schumacher and Company, who were also agents for the North German Lloyd Steamship Line,  sold  tons of the chemicals for an unheard-of $6 million, earning themselves a massive profit. The submarine received a heroes' welcome, and its captain, Paul Lebrecht König, was treated like a celebrity. In fact, Paul Hilken escorted Captain König to some of the city's best restaurants, such as at the Hotel Belvedere and the Germania Club, where he also met Baltimore mayor James Preston.

Captain König and Paul Hilken

However, "This was not only a German trade mission, it was a German propaganda mission, that put on show Germany's peaceful trading mission with America, the key world power that continued to remain neutral," according to Alexandra Deutsch of the Maryland Historical Society. Further, the Deutschland episode connects with another effort that Germany was making in pre-intervention America.

Not only was Paul Hilken a prominent businessman; some accounts state that he was also likely a spy. Hilken had visited Germany on a business trip earlier in 1916, and it appeared that while there he was recruited by the German secret services to facilitate German sabotage cells in Baltimore, New York, and New Orleans.  He served as paymaster for Germany's spies and saboteurs on the East Coast.  These units had specialized on bombing loaded cargo ships with small incendiary devices called "cigars." One such attack was successfully carried out at the Black Tom pier in Jersey City, New Jersey, on 30 July 2016, killing five people and massive destruction. Reverberations could be felt as far away as Perryville, Maryland. It is thought that Hilken played an instrumental part in this attack. His headquarters in Baltimore was Hansa Haus, site of a present day FedEx-Kinko's store at the corner of Charles and Redwood Streets.

Hansa Haus, Baltimore, Spying Headquarters

After the explosion, Paul Hilken fled to Connecticut and was never prosecuted due to his 1928 confession and cooperation with the Federal Government in their 18-year pursuit of a claim against Germany for the Black Tom sabotage. The verdict, which found the German government liable for the Black Tom explosion, came in September 1939 as Hitler was rolling through Poland. Germany made the last payment of the $50 million claim in 1976. Henry Hilken had somehow avoided being connected to his son's more nefarious activities and later served as German Consul in Baltimore.

Sources:  The Maryland Historical Society, Baltimore Sun

Saturday, February 22, 2020

The Black Watch Museum at Perth

A Sentry of the Black Watch (Royal Highlanders), 1892

The Black Watch was one of the most distinguished of Scotland's infantry formations, dating its lineage back to 1725 when six "watch" companies were authorized to patrol the Highlands. On 28 March 2006 the Black Watch (Royal Highland Regiment) was merged with other Scottish Infantry battalions to form the Royal Regiment of Scotland. The Black Watch members formed the 3rd Battalion of the new regiment. Despite the consolidation, a great effort has been made to ensure that the history of the Black Watch will not be forgotten.

 Balhousie Castle

WWI Display

WWI Display

The Regimental Trustees of the Black Watch bought Balhousie Castle outside of Perth, Scotland, in January 2009, and it became their headquarters and museum of the regiment. The museum displays the history of the regiment from 1739 to the present. The Black Watch Heritage Appeal was launched in September 2009, allowing the regiment to raise in excess of £3.2 million to develop Balhousie Castle to provide a permanent home for the museum and archive of the Black Watch. 

The 51st Highland Division Arrives at the Somme

Rum Ration on the Western Front

The new museum was opened in 2013. Shown here are some photos of the castle and the World War I section of the museum, as well as some of the photos in the archives of the Black Watch in action.

The Black Watch on the March in Mesopotamia

Pipers and Drummers of the Black Watch Entertaining the Men

Friday, February 21, 2020

Our February 2020 St. Mihiel Trip-Wire

Don't Miss Our February 2020 St. Mihiel Trip-Wire

Main Focus:  The Armenian Genocide

  • Prelude to Mass Murder
  • Organizers of the Crime
  • Rationales for Genocide: Betrayal and Revolt

Public Execution of Armenians

  • Deportation Routes and Camps
  • Report from a German Observer
  • On the Scene: U.S. Ambassador Henry Morgenthau
  • A Conversation with Turkish Police Capt. Shukri

Other Topics:

  • The Polish-Soviet War Heats Up
  • WWI Film Classic: The Promise
  • Plus all our regular updates and features

Thursday, February 20, 2020

Recommended: The Myths of Verdun, by Professor Paul Jankowski

This lecture was delivered at the National World War I Museum and Memorial's Symposium–1916.  Professor Paul Jankowski of Brandeis University had recently written a new work on the Battle of Verdun.  I did not attend the seminar but did have the pleasure of viewing his talk recently. I must say, he takes a fresh look at the battle, and I learned much from his presentation.

Professor Jankowski had some very interesting visuals he used to support his main points. Here's one I've never run across before.

Wednesday, February 19, 2020

Who Was General John Hines?

By Editor/Publisher Mike Hanlon

John Leonard Hines was born in White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia, on 21 May 1868. He graduated from the U.S. Military Academy in 1891, commissioned a second lieutenant, and assigned to the 2nd Infantry. Hines performed troop and staff duties on the frontier in Nebraska and Montana from 1891 to 1898.   

After serving as acting quartermaster of the 2nd Infantry in the Cuba expedition and participating in the famous action at San Juan Hill, he filled a number of quartermaster positions in the U.S., Cuba, and the Philippines and served as a military representative in Nagasaki, Japan, where in 1908 he crossed paths with his future mentor and champion, John J. Pershing. In 1914 he was assigned under Pershing, then commander of the 8th Infantry Brigade at the Presidio of San Francisco. Pershing’s brigade was subsequently deployed to the Mexican border and Hines served as the adjutant of the Punitive Expedition into Mexico (1916–1917).   

Pershing and His Staff on the Punitive Expedition
Hines Is Third from Right

The United States entered World War I while Hines was serving at Governors Island, New York, and Pershing quickly invited him to join his initial entourage to travel to France and plan the expeditionary force. They sailed on SS Baltic in June 1917. His first assignment was as assistant quartermaster of the AEF, but when Pershing asked what he wanted to do, Hines requested a combat command. His rise from that point was nothing less than meteoric. Recently promoted to lieutenant colonel, by October he was colonel commanding the 16th Infantry. 

The following April he was promoted to brigadier, commanding the 1st Brigade, 1st Division, at Cantigny and Soissons. Impressed with his work, Pershing then gave him another star and command of the 4th Division during the St. Mihiel Offensive and the opening stage of the Meuse-Argonne operation. Hines’s greatest moment, however, was yet to come.

With his expeditionary force expanding explosively, Pershing delegated command of the U.S. First Army to Hunter Liggett and named Hines commander of its III Corps. Liggett needed to reorganize the First Army—which was bogged down in the heights around Romagne and Cunel—on the fly. 

Having served with Hines in the 1st Division, Liggett knew of his quality and was confident enough in his abilities to entrust Hines with a critical role in the last stage of the Meuse-Argonne Offensive.  In early November 1918, III Corps forced the River Meuse at Dun-sur-Meuse and flooded across. This reoriented the main axis of attack of the entire AEF, creating an immediate threat into the Rhineland, thus setting up the further campaign to force Germany from the war. Had the war continued, Hines surely would have played a large role in the anticipated offensives—but the Armistice came.

After the War, Hines (Rt) Served As Deputy Chief of Staff Under
Pershing Before Succeeding Him

John Hines is most remembered today as the fastest rising officer of the American Expeditionary Force. He was promoted from major to lieutenant colonel in May 1917, then to colonel, brigadier general, and, in August 1918, to major general—four grades in 16 months, assuming successively larger commands—from regiment to brigade, division, and, finally, corps. Hines served the U.S. Army with distinction for more than 40 years in a full range of line, staff, and combat positions, and he inevitably advanced to the highest position in the Army when he succeeded General Pershing as chief of staff in 1924. He died on 13 October 1968, at the age of 100. 

In 2000, your editor Michael Hanlon was asked to be a historical consultant for the U.S. Postal Service on a series of commemorative stamps honoring Distinguished American Soldiers. Alvin York and John Hines (stamp shown above) were the World War I selections. This article is taken from some of the material he developed for that project.

Tuesday, February 18, 2020

Latin America and the First World War

by Stefan Rinke
Cambridge University Press, 2017
Prof. John Bawden (University of Montevallo), Reviewer

Brazilian President Venceslau Brás Declares War on the Central Powers

Latin America and the First World War, originally published in German as Im Sog der Katastro- phe (In the Wake of the Disaster), takes issue with the tendency to emphasize the economic crisis of the 1930s as the key moment when the direction of Latin American history changed. The First World War, Stefan Rinke contends, was a critical turning point that shifted the region’s outlook and global awareness.

Drawing from a wide array of source material, Rinke examines the ways Europe’s cultural and economic power drew Latin America into the conflict. The war elicited immediate interest and passion from large immigrant communities across the Southern Cone, where conscripts and volunteers of European descent mustered in South American ports to return home for military service. Elites generally sympathized with the Allies because they regarded France as a beacon of world civilization, but Germanophiles existed in every country, and the far-reaching economic power of British and American capital had important political ramifications.

During the war years (1914–18), Britain’s naval blockade slowed or halted vital imports to the region and everywhere prices fluctuated. Decreased demand for commodities such as coffee, tobacco, and sugar resulted in unemployment, and the cost of living skyrocketed in major cities. Thus, trade disruptions affected millions of illiterate Latin Americans and forced governments to confront the consequences of their dependence on Europe. The actions of belligerent nations also raised sovereignty issues. Britain and France blacklisted German-owned companies in Latin America and pressured governments to seize enemy property. Not long after the resumption of unrestricted sub- marine warfare in early 1917, German U-boats torpedoed merchant ships from Brazil and Argentina, which touched off mass protest and anti-German riots in both countries.

The book highlights regional dynamics. Brazil eventually declared war on the German Reich, but neighboring Chile and Argentina did not. Still smarting from the loss of Panama in 1903 due to American military intervention, Colombia’s leaders stayed neutral and looked with skepticism on calls for pan-American solidarity. U.S. clients (Cuba, Panama, Guatemala) acted in concert with Washington’s dictates, and revolutionary Mexico cultivated ties with Berlin as a counterweight to U.S. hegemony. In sum, national governments acted cautiously and pursued their own interests. Meanwhile, imperial Germany wanted to destabilize the Allies’ colonial empires through support for dissidents and revolutionaries in Africa, Asia, and the Americas. That policy informed the Zimmerman Telegram (1917) and German efforts to incite revolt against British and American interests in the Caribbean Basin.

A central argument of Latin America and the First World War is that the conflict’s impact “went far beyond the exclusive spheres of the diplomats or the elites involved in the propaganda war” (p. 195). Urban dwellers followed events thanks to the burgeoning newspaper industry, and trade disruptions affected millions of workers in the export sector. Thus, “the conflict had an astonishingly wide social impact in many parts of Latin America.” In the realm of ideas, the war’s murderous brutality shattered Europe’s claim to be a universal model of progress and civilization; at the same time, a new generation of students, writers, and intellectuals questioned Western dominance of the international order. The Versailles Treaty and League of Nations, for instance, elicited feelings of disillusionment because the victors espoused a high-minded rhetoric about the equality of nations, but France and Britain were not about to give up their colonial empires. Similarly, the United States continued to occupy nations such as Nicaragua, Haiti, and the Dominican Republic. Everywhere the Bolshevik Revolution radicalized the international atmosphere. Here, the book links the war and its aftermath to Latin America’s anti-imperialism movements during the 1920s and convincingly argues that wartime shortages and price dislocations set the stage for the politics of economic nationalism.

Latin America and the First World War is a valuable contribution to the historiography. Rinke consulted 13 national archives as well as an array of newspapers and magazines to achieve a remarkable coverage of print sources and diplomatic exchanges. That bird’s-eye view of the region yields various comparative insights, although it should be noted that the Italian and Ottoman Empires do not receive attention with respect to their wartime policies or, more important, how sizable Italian and Arab communities in South America reacted to events overseas. The book’s 23 illustrations, mostly from South American magazines, illuminate the war’s impact on educated opinion and support the author’s assertion that “continental consciousness” developed among writers and intellectuals. That said, the degree to which the First World War transformed the mindset of ordinary Latin Americans is much more of an open question, just as the war transformed some countries and regions much more than others. Nonetheless, Rinke has introduced a worthy set of questions in his ambitious, deeply researched international history.

By permission of the author. Originally presented on H-War, 6 February 2020

Monday, February 17, 2020

German Tactical Bombing on the Western Front (Late War)

 A German Friedrichshafen GIII Bomber

German tactical bombing on the Western Front was conducted only at night after early 1917. They used their A.E.G., Friedrichshafen, Gotha, and Giant bombers to attack rail targets, ammo dumps, cities, armies’ headquarters, and supply depots. In addition to the more well known raids on Paris, the Germans attacked the port of Dunkirk night after night. (These sustained attacks were unique in the Great War and have never been adequately researched by historians.)  

Of particular note is the German attack on the British ammo dump at Audruicq, France the night of 20/21 July 1916. It was raided by only four light bombers which dropped a total bomb load of only 752 kilograms. The devastation in the ammo dump reached the equivalent of $80 million in 2001 US$, probably the most destructive raid in the First World War. It led to a formal inquiry and a redesign of British ammo dumps to avoid such destruction in the future.

Damage at the Site of the Audruicq Raid

Beyond these circumstances, however, German tactical bombing on the Western Front could be characterized more as a serious nuisance than a serious threat. It did force the Allied armies to move at night and curtailed the use of lights outdoors for many miles from the front itself, but the one raid on Audruicq was the only time the bombers even came close to affecting overall events on the Western Front. Part of the reason for this, of course, was that there never were that many bombers—they totaled only from 150 to 200 throughout 1918. 

Thanks to aero-historian Steve Suddaby for this material