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

Thursday, April 30, 2020

Lloyd George vs. Asquith

Prime Minister Herbert Asquith & Minister for War David Lloyd George

by George Cassar

Lloyd George's unhappiness at the War Office deepened in the autumn of 1916. The war was going badly for the Allies and his efforts to circumvent the obstructionism of the CIGS and the generals had failed. He could see no ray of light ahead. Pondering on how to achieve greater civilian control of the generals, he could think of no other way than to remove the higher conduct of the war from Asquith's hands. As David Woodward, a leading authority on the period has observed, “It was Robertson and the military policy he represented – not Asquith – whom Lloyd George hoped to overthrow.”

Lloyd George admired Asquith's intellectual qualities, his skills as a parliamentarian, and the resourcefulness that he had shown as prime minister in times of peace. Indeed, during the prewar era Lloyd George had acted as a creative spark for the Liberal social program and someone on whom Asquith could depend, and the two, however different temperamentally, had formed a very effective team, but tensions in their relationship began to appear in the summer of 1915 owing to their differences over conscription. In the months that followed, the gap between the two became more acute as Lloyd George grew increasingly disillusioned with, and critical of, Asquith's inefficient and leisurely management of the war. Not only did Asquith defer to his generals, he also insisted on preserving the cabinet's executive authority. This meant that all major rulings in the War Council and its successors the Dardanelles Committee and the War Committee, were referred to the full cabinet, where too often issues which provoked disagreement were shelved rather than decided on one way or another.

As Lloyd George put more and more distance between himself and Asquith, he forged new links with a number of prominent Unionists. As a group, the Conservatives also wanted greater efficiency and speed in decision-making. They distrusted Lloyd George, however, regarding him as a Welsh radical who in previous years had been a fierce critic of the Boer War. Still they were impressed by his driving force and by his determined approach to waging war, regardless of infringements on individual liberty. In the final analysis they saw Lloyd George as a lesser evil than Asquith. 

The press joined restive Conservatives to clamor for reform of the executive. The Morning Post summed up the frustration felt by many with Asquith's ministry when it wrote on 1 December 1916: “Nothing is foreseen, every decision is postponed. The war is not really directed – it directs itself.” There were demands that Asquith be replaced as prime minister by Lloyd George, who seemed better fitted to play the part of a war leader. In short, the country as a whole wanted a change, a livelier organizer of victory, a new Pitt. On 1 December 1916 Lloyd George, with Bonar Law's backing, presented Asquith with a plan that would reconstruct the system for prosecuting the war. This involved delegating executive authority to a small committee consisting of three or four ministers free of departmental responsibilities and under the chairmanship of Lloyd George. Asquith would be excluded from the new body but would remain prime minister. After some modification, Asquith accepted the arrangement. On 4 December, however, a leading article in the Times attacked Asquith personally and implied that he had been reduced to a subordinate position in his own cabinet. The piece was clearly written by someone with good inside information. It appears that Carson was the informant but Asquith suspected Lloyd George, who was known to have friendly relations with Lord Northcliffe, owner of the Times. His pride injured, Asquith repudiated his earlier agreement with Lloyd George, determined to fight. Lloyd George's response was to resign. Asquith could have weathered Lloyd George's defection, but confronted by the loss of all, or nearly all, of the Conservatives in the cabinet, he had no option but to resign.

Punch, 20 December 1916

The king immediately sent for Bonar Law, the most obvious choice to succeed Asquith. Bonar Law declined the offer when Asquith made it clear that he would not serve under him. Thereupon the king turned to Lloyd George and invited him to form a government. Lloyd George accepted and from 7–9 December garnered enough support from Conservatives, Labour, and Liberal sympathizers to form a government. His longstanding ambition to succeed Asquith had been achieved, not so much by intrigue as by accident. Lloyd George was 54 years old when he moved to 10 Downing Street in December 1916. His accession to power reflected the nation's repudiation of Asquith's “wait and see policy” and a desire for a more ruthless and forceful prosecution of the war. The country as a whole counted on him to break through the inertia of the previous administration and turn the tide in 1917. Although he could expect a short period of grace, he realized that he would have to produce tangible victories, not only for his own political survival but also to boost the morale of the war weary British public. He feared that continued massive casualties in futile offensives, such as had occurred at the Somme, would only increase public support for a negotiated peace. 

From:  Lloyd George at War, 1916-1918 by George Cassar

Wednesday, April 29, 2020

Camp Hancock, Georgia: Training Base of the 28th Pennsylvania Keystone Division

As part of the massive construction program for the American Expeditionary Force, expected to eventually number over 4 million men, a massive construction program was undertaken to build training camps across America.  One of these was Camp Hancock near Augusta in eastern Georgia.  It was the assembly site for the 28th Division from the Pennsylvania National Guard and was subsequently a training base for machine gunners.  The base was demobilized in 1919.  Here are a number of photos of the base from Augusta, Georgia websites and the National Archives.   All of them can be enlarged by clicking on the image.

Tuesday, April 28, 2020

Legions of the East: A Compendium of the Russian Army in the First World War

by Daniel C. Deyo
CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform, 2016
Michael Kihntopf, Reviewer

Russian Troops on the March

There have always been two mysteries about the Russian Army during the Great War which many aficionados of the Eastern Front would like to get their hands on. The first is casualty statistics for the war, which were censored by both the tsarist and Soviet governments and shielded by the Federation. The second is the orders of battle. The first dearth of information will probably remain a mystery forever. The second, however, is answered in Daniel C. Deyo's new book, Legions of the East.

Deyo, a former Central Intelligence officer, delved deep into any source he could lay his hands on, including information he could glean from Russian archives, to construct the orders of battle. In his words, the direction that the research took him was confusing. Many sources proved to be contradictory while others offered a cornucopia of information. In the end, Deyo had to use his own analytical skills to ferret out the intricacies of the Russian Imperial Army.

This book lays out, in easy-to-understand charts, hierarchies of the fronts, theaters, armies, corps, divisional, and special units including subordinate units, mission statements, and commanders. These pages, dare I say too few even though there are 440, are beyond a trite description of "simply informative." They are priceless. The layout of the chapters is reminiscent of the British War Office's Handbook of the Russian Army, published in 1914.

Deyo, though, adds a very important part to the structure: an excellent description of how the Russian general staff formed units during the war to meet the ever-changing nature of offensive and defensive tactics. He lists the following methods: Genesis, Hidden Frame, Expansion, Conversion, Fission, Fusion, and Fission/Fusion. His explanation for each method is thought provoking and shows, despite a common threat which branded Russian leadership as incompetent, just how adept the Russian bureaucracy behind its commanders was.

The only thing I found lacking in Legions of the East was definitions of organizations, such as the difference between a rifle regiment and an infantry regiment, or what the Opolchenie was [ed. it means militia], plus helpful maps—but I managed to get along. I was able to find this information in the many books I have accumulated over the years when looking for the information Deyo refers to in this work.

Michael Kihntopf

Monday, April 27, 2020

What Happened at Le Cateau?

British Artillery on the Retreat from Mons

The first major battle between the British Expeditionary Force (BEF) and the German Imperial Army on the Western Front took place at Mons on 23 August 1914. By 25 August, the German First Army was close on the heels of the II Corps of the BEF, and there was a danger that the retreating British troops, now exhausted and in some disarray, would be overrun and defeated if the withdrawal continued. By nightfall, General Smith-Dorrien had decided that II Corps, along with a detachment of French cavalry under General Sordet, would stand and face the advancing German forces the following day at Le Cateau. 

Shortly after dawn broke on 26 August, German artillery batteries located about three miles to the northeast began firing on British troops who were still taking up their positions to the west of the town. As the first shells landed, German cavalry appeared from the direction of Cambrai and began advancing toward the British lines of defense. Almost simultaneously, German infantry units launched a surprise attack on the men of the East Surrey and Duke of Cornwall regiments who had stationed themselves in the eastern outskirts of the town. 

For the next six hours, French and British troops laid down withering rifle and artillery fire and, despite suffering heavy casualties, managed to hold a greatly superior German force at bay. A threatened envelopment was prevented by the arrival of General Sordet’s French Cavalry Corps on the British left. By midday, more German units were entering the battlefield, enemy artillery fire was becoming more intense, and it was clear that the Allied forces, numbering about 40,000 men, would have to begin to retreat or prepare to surrender. Soon after 1:00 p.m., British artillery units, some of which had been stationed alongside the infantry in the front line, began to slowly withdraw from the battlefield. 

Fierce fighting continued for the rest of the day, and several British units were almost completely wiped out, but by sunset most Allied soldiers had successfully withdrawn. The British suffered more casualties at Le Cateau than at any battle since Waterloo. In total, over 7,000 British and French soldiers were killed, wounded, or taken prisoner and 38 British artillery pieces were captured at Le Cateau, while the German forces suffered approximately 5,000 casualties. The battle had been a costly one, but the stand taken by II Corps temporarily stemmed the German advance and bought the Allied forces in the northern sector valuable time as they retreated toward the Marne. 

The heavy losses at Le Cateau and at Mons seriously demoralized Field Marshal Sir John French. For most of the period between Le Cateau and the first battle of the Marne he was convinced that the BEF would need to be withdrawn from the line to recover. The man who chose to fight at Mons, Command of II Corps, General Horace Smith-Dorrien, a rival of Sir John French, would find he had displeased his commander by independently making the decision to stand at Le Cateau and would be eventually be relieved and sent home after the First Battle of Ypres. ARTICLE

Sources: History of War and Commonwealth War Graves Websites

Sunday, April 26, 2020

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

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

Special Focus:  O, Canada!

  • Canada Enters the War
  • Canadian Fact Sheet
  • A Disproportionate Contribution to Victory
  • Canadian Operations

"Canadians Over the Top" at Amiens by Alfred Bastien

  • Forgotten Victory: Hill 70, August 1917
  • Canadian Tunnelling Company R-14, St. Eloi
  • General Sir Arthur Currie
  • The Lasting Impact of Canada's War Effort

Other Topics:

Red Revolutionaries in Dortmund, 1920

  • 100 Years Ago: The Ruhr Crisis of 1920
  • WWI Film Classic: Passchendaele
  • Excerpt from The General Dies at Dawn by Charles Yale Harrison
  • Plus all our regular updates and features

Saturday, April 25, 2020

Remembering ANZAC Day with a Roads Classic: ANZAC Biscuits

Troops at Anzac Longing for Treats from Home

Australian troops served in the Middle East and Western Front during the Great War—a much, much, longer way from home than, say, Tipperary. The folks at home, however, wanted to develop something that would survive the journey to their boys at the front. Anzac biscuits were created to fill this need.

Drawing on Scottish oatmeal based delicacies, Anzac biscuit recipes omitted eggs because of the scarcity of eggs during the war (after most poultry farmers joining the war effort) and so that the biscuits would not spoil when shipped long distances. The product the women of Australia created turned out to be delicious although the biscuits—like the equally yummy Italian biscotti—are distinctly on the hard side. This, though, makes them absolutely perfect for dunking in coffee.

Anzac Biscuits—Worth Enlisting for!


This is the variation using coconut of the Country Women's Association of New South Wales that has been personally tested and approved by the editor/publisher of Roads to the Great War.


    1 cup each of rolled oats, sugar and coconut
    1 tablespoon Lyle's Golden Syrup
    3/4 cup flour
    2 tablespoons butter
    1 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda (dissolved in 2 tablespoons boiling water)


    Melt butter.
    Add syrup to dissolved soda and water. Combine with melted butter.
    Mix dry ingredients and stir in liquid.
    Place small balls on a buttered tray and bake in moderate oven.
    Lift out carefully with a knife as they are soft till cold.

Source: Australian War Memorial Website

Friday, April 24, 2020

Recommended: Raynal Bolling, Benjamin Foulois, Billy Mitchell, and the Birth of American Airpower in World War I

By Bert Frandsen, PhD, USAF Air War College

How did the United States create airpower in the Great War? The complete story is beyond the scope of this article, but an important part of the story can be told through the contributions of three key architects of American airpower: Raynal Bolling, Benjamin Foulois, and Billy Mitchell. These fathers of American airpower mobilized a combat aviation arm on a par with the other branches of the Army. They harnessed public enthusiasm for airpower, developed the mobilization plans that turned recruits into aviation units, procured the airplanes, learned the operational art from the airman’s perspective, and provided a vision that inspired the future emergence of an independent air force and airpower second to none.

Although the Wright brothers invented the airplane, the birth of American airpower did not take place until the United States entered the First World War. When Congress declared war on 6 April 1917, the American air arm was nothing more than a small branch of the Signal Corps, and it was far behind the air forces of the warring European nations. The Great War, then in its third year, had prompted the development of large air services with specialized aircraft for the missions of observation, bombardment, and pursuit. On the battlefield, machine guns kept infantry on each side pinned down. They sought safety in trenches but were still vulnerable to indirect fire from artillery that caused even more casualties through concussion, shrapnel, and poison gas. Consequently, each side
came to realize the importance of gaining command of the air. Air superiority provided the means for observing the enemy and directing accurate artillery fire on enemy trench lines and the depth of his formations. Thus, many believed that a “decision in the air” was required before a decision on the ground could be won.

In contrast to the European air forces, an American combat aviation arm did not exist. The Army possessed only 26 qualified aviators in the Aviation Section of the Signal Corps.  Their assignment to the Signal Corps can be traced back to the Civil War when the Union linked observation balloons, the telegraph, and signal flags to provide intelligence on Confederate activity. As America entered World War I, the Aviation Section was equipped with a meager number of unarmed and obsolete airplanes. Some of the pilots had seen active service as pilots during the Mexican Punitive Expedition in 1916. The single squadron that accompanied this expedition, commanded by Maj Benjamin Foulois, consisted of eight aircraft—unarmed, under-powered, and unreliable. Consequently, the squadron proved useless for its observation mission and wound up serving as a courier service—a mission that reflected the Signal Corps’ ownership of the Aviation Section.

The paucity of American military aviation in 1916 stands in stark contrast to the country’s enthusiasm for airpower. Within months of America’s declaration of war, Congress passed an appropriation of $640 million, the largest appropriation in its history, to build a mighty air force. Headlines such as “GREATEST OF AERIAL FLEETS TO CRUSH THE TEUTONS” appeared in American newspapers. This unprecedented commitment of national treasure and enthusiasm for airpower is clear evidence that air-mindedness existed in America even at this early date.

Air-mindedness was stronger in civilian society than in the military. Just a few years before, even Billy Mitchell, America’s future prophet and martyr for an independent air force, had testified in Congress against aviation’s independence from the Signal Corps.  More to the point, resistance within the upper echelons of the Army to such a large appropriation for aviation was so strong that the Secretary of War, Newton Baker, bypassed the Army general staff when he took the proposed legislation to Congress. The public’s enthusiasm for airpower manifested itself in a Congress that exhibited an almost messianic faith in the airplane’s ability to deliver victory as reflected in newspaper headlines.   

Air-mindedness owed much to civic organizations, especially the Aero Club of America, which drew its leadership from the captains of industry. The Aero Club was a federation of aviation clubs from across America that sponsored flying exhibitions, issued pilots’ licenses, and promoted a nascent aviation industry.  Promoters of aviation envisioned growth of an aircraft industry as revolutionary as the automobile industry, which was then transforming American society. The efficiencies achieved by Henry Ford’s assembly line had only recently brought automobile prices within reach of the average American, and sales were skyrocketing. In contrast, aircraft production was so small that airplanes were made in shops instead of factories, but hopes for the future were high. The Aero Club was a powerful lobby and had been largely responsible for legislation establishing the Aviation Section of the Signal Corps in 1914. The Club also lobbied for the establishment of aviation units in the National Guard. [An attorney named Raynal] Bolling organized one of these units in New York.

To continue reading the article click HERE.

Thursday, April 23, 2020

The World's Work Magazine Covered the War

The World's Work (1900–1932) was a monthly magazine that covered national affairs from a pro-business point of view. It was produced by the publishing house Doubleday, Page and Company, which provided the first editor, Walter Hines Page.  Page would serve as the American ambassador to the Court of St. James's during the First World War. Possibly because of this, the magazine had excellent coverage of the war, even before the United States became a belligerent. The editors also published periodic compilations of their war articles called "War Manuals."

Sources: Wikipedia, the Tony Langley Collection

Wednesday, April 22, 2020

The Flying Congressman: Fiorello La Guardia’s Great War

By Keith Muchowski

Congressman La Guardia
One winter day in early 1918 Captain Fiorello H. La Guardia took off from an American training base in Foggia, Italy, under tough wintry conditions. The captain’s subordinates advised against the flight but their pugnacious commander—all of 5’2”—would not hear it; he wanted to be more than just base administrator, to do his share in the air. La Guardia maintained control of his Farman aircraft until wind gusts forced a hard landing on the cold terrain. Thrown from the cockpit, he was fortunate to walk away with only a hip contusion and bruised back. Still, La Guardia never fully recovered from the injuries incurred on that Italian training field. Such incidents were hardly unique in America’s nascent flying corps; every time aviators climbed into their primitive flying machines they knew they were tempting fate. Yet hundreds of American men took that risk. What made Captain La Guardia’s circumstances unusual is that the 35-year-old Signal Corps pilot was not merely an American Army officer but also a member of the United States House of Representatives.

Historians properly recognize Fiorello La Guardia as symbolic of melting pot New York. He was born to immigrant parents in Manhattan on 11 December 1882; father Achille was a non-practicing Catholic from Foggia, Italy, and mother Irene a woman of Jewish-Italian heritage from Trieste, then part of Austria. This hardly made the La Guardias unique; in the decades prior to the Great War there were millions of such families. More unusual was when in 1885 Achille La Guardia became a cornetist in a U.S. Army band. The itinerant life of a military family soon took the La Guardias from the East Side to the Old West. As the man himself attested it was the open ranges of the Dakota and Arizona Territories, not the sidewalks of New York, that most shaped Fiorello La Guardia into the person he became.

Farman Aircraft of the Type Crashed by La Guardia

This was the decade prior to Frederick Jackson Turner’s declaration of the closing of the frontier, and the open plains naturally captured young Fiorello’s imagination. There was drunkenness, and shootouts, and cold frontier justice. Fiorello later recalled seeing American soldiers go off to chase and subdue recalcitrant Indians. The squalor of the Indian reservations remained with him throughout his life. The occasional playground taunts of “wop” or “dago” also stung, but the young boy with the immigrant parents and swarthy complexion seems not to have witnessed the more traumatic aspects of the period, such as the lynchings of Italian-Americans common in this era just after Reconstruction. The Spanish-American War had a big impact on the family. Fiorello accompanied his father to the American South for embarkation, but neither ever made it to Cuba; Achille suffered a debilitating case of food poisoning in Tampa that ended his military career. Gone was the steady military paycheck, base housing, and all that came with these. Fiorello never forgot the indifferent treatment his father received from the Army once he became expendable. Not content to be a ditch-digger like so many other Italian-Americans of the time, Achille La Guardia took his family back to Europe.

The decade of the 1900s proved crucial in the now-young man’s development. Fiorello spent nearly a decade in Europe, improving his language skills, connecting with the lands of his family, and working civil service jobs. He also grew increasing aware of his own Americanness, conscious that he was a man of the New World, not the Old. Shortly after his father’s death in 1904, Fiorello returned to the United States, entered law school, and in 1907 took a job as an Ellis Island translator. He held the position for three years until passing the bar. His law practice served many of the same types of people he had assisted at the immigration station. In 1916 Fiorello La Guardia ran on both the Republican and Progressive tickets in New York City’s polyglot 14th Congressional District. He took office in March 1917, the first Italian-American ever elected to the U.S. Congress.

Major La Guardia with Aviation Innovator Gianni Caproni

Unlike many “hyphenated” Americans La Guardia was a staunch Allied supporter; he was restrained and muted in that support, however, given his many Irish- and German-American constituents. Seniority was everything in Congress, and the first-term Fiorello merely a backbencher. This situation poorly suited his feisty, can-do temperament. Always one to act on what he believed, La Guardia joined the Aviation Section of the Army Signal Corps in July 1917. Overseas he could contribute more—and make a name for himself. Air training in Italy was a natural fit: La Guardia already had some civilian flight experience and his language skills would further help. Plus, officials knew it could not hurt to have a sitting U.S. congressman in the air and on the ground in Italy.

Lieutenant La Guardia and his men soon sailed for Europe, with most aboard commencing flight training in Foggia in October 1917. Training in the Farmans was quite basic; trainees practiced landings and takeoffs, performed figure eights, and similar maneuvers. La Guardia, promoted to captain and second-in-charge to Major William Ord Ryan, also dealt with administrative duties. Sometimes the distinction between “captain” and “congressman” La Guardia blurred. The mid-level officer with a sitting congressional seat found he could get away with things no one of similar rank could have imagined. Requisitions were expedited more quickly and invoices paid with fewer questions. Few captains visited AEF headquarters in France as regularly or were consulted so routinely. Even fewer escorted such VIPs as Assistant Secretary of the Navy Franklin Delano Roosevelt around Italy on their fact-finding missions or were asked to speak in place of Vittorio Emanuele Orlando when the Italian premier was otherwise disposed. Eventually promoted to major, La Guardia was soon speaking—in Italian—to listeners throughout that country, winning hearts and minds in the delicate military and diplomatic milieu that was wartime Italy. And of course he remained an aviator, logging many hours of flight time and flying five missions in September 1918. King Victor Emmanuel III awarded La Guardia and others the Croce de Guerre.

Major Fiorello La Guardia returned to the United States a month later, retook his congressional seat, and in November resigned his commission shortly after winning  re-election. He supported Wilson’s Versailles Treaty and League of Nations. The 1920s were a wilderness period for La Guardia, the conservative mood of the nation not fitting his progressive sentiments. He left Congress and worked in local politics before rejoining the U.S. House of Representatives from 1923 to 1933, representing Harlem’s 16th Congressional District. In the age of Coolidge and Hoover, however, there was little he and his allies could do to effect change. His time came in the depths of the Depression, when he won the New York City 1933 mayoral race. What is more, he had the ally he needed in President Franklin Delano Roosevelt.

The year Fiorello La Guardia spent int Foggia, Italy—the place of his father’s birth—was  a formative one in his life. In the years to come La Guardia always helped his beloved Foggianni, as the men who served under his command were affectionately called, when they needed something. Until his death in 1947, Major Fiorello La Guardia rarely missed a Memorial Day commemoration at Central Park’s John Purroy Mitchel memorial.

Keith Muchowski, a librarian and professor at New York City College of Technology (CUNY) in Brooklyn, writes occasionally for Roads to the Great War. He blogs at

Tuesday, April 21, 2020

Vilnius: City of Strangers

by Laimonas Briedis
Baltos Lankos, 2008
Robert Rudolph, Reviewer

Commemorative Medal for the Fighting Against the Soviets in 1919

Napoleon's Grand Armée marched from Vilnius. (Historically the city bore many variations on the name, most commonly Vilna.) The survivors of the disastrous march to Moscow returned to Vilnius—but not to safety. They died on a hill outside the city and were secretly buried by the Russians. Their bodies were uncovered only after the fall of the Soviet Union. Dostoevsky visited Vilnius, then the third-largest city in the Russian empire. He found himself surrounded by Jews and Poles and barricaded himself in his hotel room.

The traveler and naturalist Johann Georg Forster settled in Vilna to teach at the university, after publishing an account of his service on Captain Cook's second South Sea expedition. The ambitious Forster was unhappy in this remote Baroque city, which he described as mostly Jewish. He refused to learn Polish, lectured his students in dog Latin, and moved on to Paris, where he enthusiastically supported the French Revolution.

The Viennese physician Johann Frank and his wife Christine Gerhadi, the well-known operatic soprano, settled in Vilnius. He also taught medicine and had no prejudice against the local languages—rather the reverse. During his lifetime, Frank's patients included the Polish nobility, the eastern Jews of the ghetto, and members of three different imperial families.

The Germans took Vilnius in World War I. The retreating Russians took their statue of Pushkin with them. A German officer wrote a whimsical guidebook during his stay here. For centuries, Vilna's ghetto was an important center of Jewish learning. Jewish Vilna was swallowed up forever during the Second World War. Even the old Jewish cemeteries have vanished.

Laimonas Briedis's Vilnius is a city of anecdotes, a haunted borderland with many well-told stories. For centuries the city was a mix of cultures and nationalities, each with its own name for the city. This city—Vilna/Vilno/ Vilne/Wilna/Wilde/Vilnius—built by a pagan prince after a remarkable dream, protected from hostile Teutonic knights by marshy ground passable only in the dead of winter, and visited by puzzled papal legates. Its rulers negotiated long and hard before the city converted to Christianity.

Rather than writing a chronological history, Briedis makes journeys through the city in different periods, viewing it through the eyes of travelers. Each culture had its own map of Europe and fitted Vilnius into a different system. The section on Vilnius under German occupation would interest any student of the First World War. However, a reader could start almost at random with any of Briedis's eight chapters—each the story of a different culture's Europe, in a different age—and find it excellent reading.

Robert Rudolph

Monday, April 20, 2020

John Lejeune's Favorite WWI Marine Corps Poem

This poem by British-born, American-raised Edgar A. Guest was chosen by Major General John A. Lejeune, commandant of the United States Marine Corps, as his favorite of all the Marine Corps verse written during the war. 

Battle of Belleau Wood

It was thick with Prussian troopers, it was foul with German guns;
Every tree that cast a shadow was a sheltering place for Huns.
Death was guarding every roadway, death was watching every field,
And behind each rise of terrain was a rapid-fire concealed.
But Uncle Sam's Marines had orders: "Drive the Boche from where they're  hid.
For the honor of Old Glory, take the woods!" and so they did.

I fancy none will tell it as the story should be told–
None will ever do full justice to those Yankee troopers bold.
How they crawled upon their stomachs through the fields of golden wheat
With the bullets spitting at them in that awful battle heat.
It's a tale too big for writing; it's beyond the voice or pen,
But it glows among the splendor of the bravest deeds of men.

It's recorded as a battle, but I fancy it will live,
As the brightest gem of courage human struggles have to give.
Inch by inch, they crawled to victory toward the flaming mounts of guns;
Inch by inch, they crawled to grapple with the barricaded Huns

On through fields that death was sweeping with a murderous fire, they went
Till the Teuton line was vanquished and the German strength was spent.

Ebbed and flowed the tides of battle as they've seldom done before;
Slowly, surely, moved the Yankees against all the odds of war.
For the honor of the fallen, for the glory of the dead,
The living line of courage kept the faith and moved ahead.
'They'd been ordered not to falter, and when night came on they stood
With Old Glory proudly flying o'er the trees of Belleau Wood.

Sunday, April 19, 2020

Saint and Martyr of the Great War: Grand Duchess Elizabeth Feodorovna

Sister Elizabeth
Elizabeth of Hesse and by Rhine  was the second daughter of Princess Alice and Grand DukeLouis, and was eight years older than her youngest sister, Alix, future empress of Russia. She spent much time in England with her sisters and grandmother, Queen Victoria, but she was more "German" than was Alix.

Elizabeth, called "Ella" by her family, married the Grand Duke Sergey Alexandrovich Romanov, brother of Alexander III, and Nicholas II's uncle. He was an unusual man, who was strongly disliked by many and was the subject of many rumors and gossip. They had no children.

Grand Duke Sergey was blown up by a terrorist bomb in the Kremlin in 1905. Elizabeth heard the explosion and rushed outside, only to find her husband blown to bits.

Elizabeth was, in great part, responsible for Nicholas and Alexandra's marriage. She acted as matchmaker, to the chagrin of Queen Victoria, who wanted the lovely Alix for her grandson, Albert Victor, Duke of Clarence.

After Sergey's death Elizabeth devoted herself to good works and the poor, opening a hospice and hospital convent dedicated to Martha and Mary in Moscow. She became abbess of the convent. The building was designed by the same architect who would, one day, design Lenin's Tomb and was embellished with exterior reliefs in old Russian style. The interior was painted by the famous Russian painter Nesterov, who also designed the pearl-gray and white habit worn by the sisters of the convent. Surrounding the church was a lovely garden filled with fragrant lilies, flowers, and lawns.

Elizabeth dedicated the convent to the poor of Moscow. It was a hospice and hospital and had a dental clinic attached to it. The sisters came from all walks of life. Orphan girls from the Moscow slums were raised at the convent and given an excellent education. Many of these girls went on to become hospital workers and nuns themselves. The convent was famous in Russia for its charity work, and the work of the convent was unique in Russia, setting an example for the rest of the country in good works. Elizabeth herself would care for the poor, nursing the worst cases of injury and disease herself. The nuns would collect the dying from the streets and bring them to the convent, where they were given a place of shelter and care during their last days.

Elizabeth eventually became somewhat estranged from her sister Alexandra, over Rasputin and the growing chaos in the country. Untouched by the revolution in her beautiful Art Nouveau convent, she was eventually arrested by the Bolsheviks and exiled to Siberia. What happened next is one of the most horrific stories from the First World War.

That night the prisoners were awakened and driven in carts on a road leading to the village of Siniachikha, near Alapayevsk where there was an abandoned iron mine with a pit 66 feet deep. Here they halted. The Cheka severely beat all the prisoners before throwing their victims into this pit, Elisabeth being the first. Hand grenades were then hurled down the shaft, but only one victim, Fyodor Remez, died as a result of the grenades.

According to the personal account of Vasily Ryabov, one of the killers, Elizabeth and the others survived the initial fall into the mine, prompting Ryabov to toss in another grenade after them. Following the explosion, he claimed to have heard Elisabeth and the others singing an Orthodox hymn from the bottom of the shaft. Unnerved, Ryabov threw down still another grenade, but the singing continued. Finally a large quantity of brushwood was shoved into the opening and set alight, upon which Ryabov posted a guard over the site and departed [for fear that local peasants would come to save them].

Early on 18 July 1918, the leader of the Alapayevsk Cheka, Abramov, and the head of the Yekaterinburg Regional Soviet, Beloborodov, who had been involved in the execution of the Imperial Family, exchanged a number of prearranged telegrams saying that the school had been attacked by an “unidentified gang.” Lenin welcomed Elizabeth’s death, remarking that “virtue with the crown on it is a greater enemy to the world revolution than a hundred tyrant tsars.”

Her body was recovered and now rests with her nun-companion, Barbara, in the Church of St. Mary Magdalene in Jerusalem. Elizabeth has been canonized by the Orthodox Church. The convent was closed in the 1920s but the nuns continued their work underground during the Soviet Era. They survived and are trying to reestablish their work in Russia today. The convent is preserved and houses a icon restoration studio. A statue to Elizabeth has been erected in the remains of the church gardens.

Sources:  Alexander Palace Website and  Wikipedia

Friday, April 17, 2020

The Trick the War Played—From Jules Romain's Verdun

Never before in the world’s history had so many men, at one and the same time, said good-bye to their home and families preparatory to cutting one another’s throats. Never before had such crowds of soldiers marched to war so firmly convinced that the “cause” for which they were to fight was personal to each one of them.


No one doubted that, sooner of later, the whole world would be involved in this business of fighting. Already a good part of it was caught in the toils. But, true to tradition, scrupulously observant of all due rights of propriety, the thing had begun as an affair of Frenchmen and Germans before spreading to the rest of the inhabited globe.

Each of the two nations had prepared for hostilities by conjuring up as thrilling a vision as possible of the nature of war.


It was Joffre’s view that some early success in the field, however devoid of real value it might be, was absolutely essential. The anti-militaristic spirit in France might well be but momentarily numbed by emotionalism, and there was always the danger that it might once more get the upper hand. The nation must be given a quick and heavy draft of victory. The army’s stock would soar; there would be no turning back.


Certain truths began now to emerge from a study of the operations and had upon the leaders of both sides a more sobering, because less expected, effect even than the stench of decaying corpses. It became clear that there could no longer be any question for either side of striking a decisive blow or of carrying out brilliant tactical movements. It was equally impossible to break the enemy’s center or to envelop his flanks.

The romantic view of war which had done much to keep men’s hearts high in the early days had received a stab in the back from which it never really recovered. War played a dirty trick on the warriors by turning out to be quite unlike what they had expected. The journalists and orators behind the front did not at first realize what had happened, or, if they did, they set about doing everything they could to hide the fact. The men in the line, however, had no illusions on the subject; nor had their leaders, nor even the political heads of the combatant nations. It was not yet obvious that the war would bring misery to the whole world, but it seemed probable that it would no one any good—except the contractors…

As to the generals, nervously fumbling in this strange new world, biting their lips to make sure that they were not dreaming, they gradually awoke to the fact that what they had so leisurely prepared, without ever clearly seeing the upshot, was something that had turned out to be utterly unpredictable—a war of millions.

A Dubious Lesson Derived from the Boer and Russo-Japanese Wars

Boer Artillery in South Africa

There was an observed tendency amongst [British] junior officers during the Boer war to hesitate in pressing the attack, no doubt as a result of the oppressive firepower they faced. At the battle of Colenso in 1899, Boer firepower paralyzed many units, and this was to be repeated numerous times during the conflict. The British fears, therefore, echoed those of their French counterparts: that dispersion tactics [instead of massed assaults] would sap the army of its offensive spirit, which could only find proper expression in the mass assault. 

But such anxieties themselves were not sufficient to dictate policy, and after the South African War both the British and French heavily revised their infantry tactical doctrines to reflect the "newfound" supremacy of firepower and to place more emphasis on small-unit tactics. Starting in 1902 British training manuals for all three branches of the army were revised with an emphasis on defensive firepower, and the 1904 revision of French doctrine likewise returned to dispersion, abandoning the coude à coude formation and prescribing advances by small groups covering each other. Certainly the armies possessed the ability to learn, and to learn quickly at that. After the South African War, however, anxieties understandably remained high over untried dispersion tactics, and the impulse to revert to more traditional mass-based tactics was strong.

What was needed to move past the miasma of doubt left by the Boer War was a true field test of the operational capabilities of "naked" infantry through the fire-swept zone—a confirmation one way or the other. The future combatants of World War One received such a test during the Russo-Japanese War from 1904–05. This was an absolutely pivotal moment in the development of prewar tactical doctrine, as the theorists of the time tended to read what they wanted to from the lessons it had to offer. By far the most important lesson taken from it was the general consensus that mass infantry assaults with the bayonet, in spite of the harsh trials of South Africa, were still not only possible but increasingly necessary. As British Brigadier Kiggell remarked, after the Boer War the War Office concluded that firepower was now decisive in battle and that the sword and bayonet were out, "but this idea is erroneous, and was proved to be so in the late war in Manchuria. Everyone admits that. Victory is now won actually by the bayonet, or by the fear of it." 

Japanese Soldiers at Port Arthur Preparing to Attack

During the Russo-Japanese War, the Japanese infantry repeatedly relied upon the bayonet assault to break through the Russian fire-swept zone and overtake the Russian trenches, and though they sustained grievous casualties doing so, they were successful. One French observer in Manchuria described an assault, which is worth repeating: 

The whole Japanese line is now lit up with the glitter of steel flashing from the scabbard...Once again the officers quit shelter with ringing shouts of "Banzai!" wildly echoed by all the rank and file. Slowly, but not to be denied, they make headway, in spite of the barbed wire, mines and pitfalls, and the merciless hail of bullets. Whole units are destroyed—others take their places; the advancing wave pauses for a moment, but sweeps ever onward. Already they are within a few yards of the trenches. Then, on the Russian side, the long grey line of Siberian Fusiliers forms up in turn, and delivers one last volley before scurrying down the far side of the hill at the double. 
(General François de Négrier, Lessons from the Russo-Japanese War)

Russian Soldiers on the Receiving End
of a Banzai Attack

Reports like this demonstrated for Europeans that the Japanese had won battles through moral superiority—their disciplined troops embodied the spirit of the offensive, allowing frontal assaults with the bayonet (supported by artillery fire) to carry them through the fire zone. It "proved" the military superiority of the offensive against the passive and immobile [defenses] of the Russians, despite the advantages that firepower had provided. If it had worked for the Japanese, then surely it would work for French or British soldiers, whose élan and audacity would carry the fight to the enemy, and victory would be won on the blades of their bayonets despite the fire they might face.

The lessons taken from the Russo-Japanese conflict were not taken in a vacuum; this was seen as confirmation of existing doctrines that had wavered after the Boer War, namely that superior morale was the solution to firepower. This found expression in the words of men like the British General Altham:

The assault is even of more importance than the attainment of fire mastery which antecedes it. It is the supreme moment of the fight. . . From these glorious examples it may be deduced that no duty, however difficult, should be regarded as impossible by well-trained infantry of good morale and discipline. 
(Howard, "Men Against Fire," International Security Vol.9, No.1,) 

French Infantry Attack, 1914

Allied nations therefore extolled—perhaps obsessively—the virtues of the bayonet, exaggerating its importance so as to convey to the soldiers the absolute necessity of forward motion through the fire-swept zone. They were not alone; German tacticians subscribed to similar ideas. German Colonel Balck, in his 1911 treatise on infantry tactics, confirmed that the Russo-Japanese war had proved "beyond the shadow of a doubt" that cold steel was the way to dislodge determined troops. 

Source:  Over the Top, September 2009

Thursday, April 16, 2020

Remembering a Veteran: Major Sidney Graves, 16th Infantry, 1st Division, and the Siberian Expeditionary Force

Sidney Graves with Hist First DSC
After graduation in 1915 from West Point, Sidney Carroll Graves (1893–1974) became a lieutenant in the 16th Infantry, which was part of the 1916 expedition to Mexico. During World War I, he was the only American to receive the Distinguished Service Cross in different theaters of operation, the Western Front and Siberia. Also, the action leading to his second award may have been the latest of the war.

His first DSC was awarded shortly after the division was assigned to the Cantigny sector in April 1918. It reads in part:

Having located an enemy machine gun in front of his position, Major (then Captain) Graves, with three men, voluntarily crawled out to the position of the machine gun, in full view and within 100 yards of the enemy lines, shot the gunner, killed the rest of the crew with grenades, and returned with his party without a casualty.

As the war ended in Europe, Graves sought a transfer to Siberian Expeditionary Force, where his father, Major General William Graves, commanded the American contingent. There he was cited again for his bravery under fire and awarded his second DSC for an action in November 1919:

In answer to a call to save noncombatants entrapped in the railroad station at Vladivostok, Siberia, Major Graves fearlessly entered a zone swept by intense machine-gun and artillery fire of Russian Government and insurgent forces, entered the station, and assisted in locating six noncombatants. He escorted them through the attacking troops to a place of safety.

Graves's other awards included  the British Distinguished Service Order, two French Croix de Guerre, and the Serbian Order of the White Eagle with Swords. After his return to the United States he was assigned to the staff of the commanding general of the Siberian Expedition. In 1920, he resigned as a major in the infantry. As a civilian he entered the real estate and insurance field. He is buried at the West Point Cemetery.

Source: West Point Register, Find a Grave

Wednesday, April 15, 2020

Sabin Howard's A Soldier's Journey—Centerpiece of the National World War One Memorial in Washington, DC.

All Images Can Be Enlarged by Clicking on Them

Models for the Combat Section

In 2017 we presented an article by our British correspondent Patrick Gregory on the progress made by artist Sabin Howard on his centerpiece 60-foot-long freestanding high-relief bronze for the new World War One memorial.  Please take a look at Patrick's article. It stands the test of time with much information on the the artist's philosophy and the technology he planned to use to create the massive sculpture, which will be the largest of its type in the western hemisphere.

Current State of the Construction During the Shutdown
To the Rear of the Camera, One Block Away, Is the White House

Artist Sabin Howard with a Mock-Up of the Sculpture

However, in the ensuing two and a half years there's much new information come available about A  Soldier's Journey.  On 3 April, I was invited to view a webinar on the status on the memorial which is now under construction. The report included updates from the engineers and construction managers, as well as a report from lead designer Joe Weishaar.  Joe did a wonderful job of describing  how the final design has evolved.  In my view, the final version has come out simpler but more elegant and stroll-inducing than the 2016 initial proposal. I think it will draw more traffic in this configuration. That said, the reputation and public perception of the quality of the new memorial will be based almost entirely on Sabin Howard's creation. In a realistic, non-abstract style that young and old can readily understand, it dynamically tells its story moving progressively left to right. The more I'm exposed to his design, the more I'm convinced he has come up with an inspiring theme that honors with grandeur the Doughboys and the nation's experience in the war.

I've downloaded some images from the webinar and the accompanying documentary film to show what will be coming in over the next three years as the park is completed and A Soldier's Journey is phased in.  I found myself very excited as I listened to Mr. Howard describe his work.

These Are the Models for the "Returning Home" Section
The Young Lady on the Right Is the Artist's Daughter

Father Duffy Conducts a Burial Ceremony in France

Real-life models  of the works 38 human figures are used throughout the multi-step design process.  Armatures of each figure will be created using 3-D printing by a firm in England. They will be returned to the U.S. where Sabin will sculpt the finished figures in clay.  The clay figures will be then cast in bronze. This, of course, will be quite time consuming. Depending on when construction can resume, the full park site should be completed in about a year and will be opened to the public. A Soldier's Journey will be phased in and is hoped to be fully installed by late 2023 or early 2024.

Phasing-in Scheme, First Installation

To listen to Sabin Howard discuss his work, I highly recommend this 14-minute documentary, which also includes comments by Americans whose relatives served in the war and some of the best period photographs I've seen.