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

Tuesday, June 30, 2020

On the Eastern Front 1914: Meine Kriegserinnerungen

The Author Martin Riess (Center) as a Young Man with
His Father and Brother

by Werner N. Riess. Edited by Warren C. Riess.
1797 House, 2020
Michael P. Kihntopf, Reviewer


When I finished On the Easter Front 1914 I thought of the motion picture Rollerball (1975) and a particular scene (I'm paraphrasing here) in which the protagonist asks the futuristic library computer to tell him about events in the 13th century. The computer answers by saying nothing of note happened during that time. In short, the entire 13th century was deleted because no one had seen any need for it. Many historians these days often overlook or ignore memoirs that are not done by notable people or that do not contain heroic battle scenes. I beg to differ with that viewpoint and this work shows how important daily life is.

On the Easter Front 1914 was written by Werner Riess while he was convalescing from gall bladder surgery in 1915. He had just spent six months as an artillery corporal in charge of the 6th battery supply team, with the 36th Reserve Artillery Regiment, 1st Reserve Corps, Eighth Army in East Prussia. He tells us he wrote the memoir while the experience of war was still fresh in his mind. It probably was never meant for publication. Werner Riess had his manuscript typed out in two copies. (Interestingly, Warren Riess later had the book's type mimic typewritten letters, a nice touch.) These copies-the original handwritten manuscript no longer exists-remained with the family after Werner's death and were passed down to his grandson Werner whose wife encouraged him to translate them into English and publish them.

A Battery Similar to Riess's in a Prewar Exercise

In these pages the reader will find a war of movement very unlike the image we all have about most of the war being a stalemate of trench warfare. Riess was extremely descriptive in explaining what life was like in an active battery during some of the most harrowing months of the war. His battery was involved in the battles of Gumbinnen, Tannenberg, and the First Masurian Lakes, but there is little bravado in his words. He's not in the thick of things although he comes under fire a number of times and has near death experiences. Rather, he spends more time talking about non-stop movement to reach positions where the cannons opened fire. The reader experiences the road and weather conditions, the fatigue of countless hours of marching, and the wonder that a single soldier has about what all the movement and haste is about. Luckily, we have the editor to give us a more detailed picture of what was occurring.

Warren Riess has added a section in each chapter of the memoir which explains the strategic events that his ancestor was going through. These sections are brief and very well written and include portions of letters to and from the author's wife which go into more detail than the memoir. At times I was amazed that there was so much detail in the letters, which included place names, unit designations, and command structure names. At times, the information that the pages contain is overwhelming, a cornucopia of battle information. There are no heroics to applaud although the mention of near misses is frequent. I wondered about this. Wouldn't this have caused his wife severe stress knowing that death could occur at any time? However, Riess and the people around him did their job to the best of their abilities and rarely looked for praise beyond the satisfaction that they had contributed to a victory or a successful retreat. He does not state that he was lucky or fated for something better.

Every so often the author hints at the horrors of the war through tacit remarks such as a comment about the youthfulness of a corpse lying on the side of the road, or about maiming injuries sustained by friends or the destruction of homes due to artillery fire. He tactfully talks about the futility of the war—not easily done considering that he wrote the memoir during its first year when hopes were still high for a timely German victory. Riess never returned to the fray after his surgery and died (the circumstances of his death are unknown) sometime in 1918 probably before the war ended.

To counter the library computer material of Rollerball and sensationalist historians, the personal experience of a few months of war is worth knowing about. Riess did the job for which he was trained and duly documented it. The drudgery of the times is just as important as the moments of action. As a bonus, the editor has included a copy of the untranslated memoir for those who can read German and want to explore the innuendos that exist in the language. On the Eastern Front 1914 is a work that is a priceless reference guide for understanding the Great War on a personal level.

Michael P. Kihntopf

Monday, June 29, 2020

Remembering a Veteran: Dr. William T. Fitzsimons, Medical Corps, AEF


By James Patton

Dr. Fitzsimons
William T. Fitzsimons was born in Burlington, Kansas, on 18 April 1889 and attended St. Mary’s Seminary before shifting to the University of Kansas (KU) School of Medicine, from which he received his MD in 1912. In September 1914, Dr. Fitzsimons felt compelled to travel to Europe to assist, in whatever way he could, those soldiers currently being ravaged by the early battles of the Great War. He spent six months treating the wounded at hospitals in England, and then crossed over to work in hospitals in Belgium, before returning home in late 1915.

Back in Kansas, Fitzsimons accepted surgical and teaching positions at the KU School of Medicine.  As soon as the United States declared war on Germany, Fitzsimons joined the Army Medical Reserve Corps. He was quickly commissioned a first lieutenant, and in July 1917, steamed back across the Atlantic. KU Med School Dean Dr. M.T. Sudler later said 

His voluntary return to France was made in spite of the fact that he had seen the Great War in all of its hideousness. He could have no feeling of romance, for he knew the grimness of the struggle upon which he entered; yet he felt that there was definite work which he could do; and perhaps the call came more clearly to him because of this former experience and knowledge.

The Army assigned Lt. Fitzsimons to a group of doctors called the Harvard Unit. He would serve with this unit for less than two weeks. On the night of 7 September 1917, Fitzsimons was killed during a German air attack on Base Hospital No. 5 near Dannes-Camiers in Pas-de-Calais, France. He was the first American officer and, with his comrades  Pvts. Oscar Tugo, Rudolph Rubino, and  Leslie Woods, one of the first four American soldiers to be killed by enemy action.   

The hospital was apparently the target of the attack, a colleague (Maj. Paul Wooley, MD) later recalled: “there was nothing of military value near the hospital tent in which he was working.” Some even claimed that the American unit itself was the target. Former president Theodore Roosevelt drew the country’s attention to Fitzsimons’s death with a scathing, front-page editorial that appeared in the 17 September 1917, edition of the Kansas City Star, denouncing Germany’s “calculated brutality,” her “deliberate policy of wickedness,” and her “systematic campaign of murder against hospitals and hospital ships.” 

In a moving eulogy, Dean Sudler said:

Any country is safe when such high ideals are held and practiced by its young men. This loss brings home keenly to the University of Kansas that the liberty of our country was again in jeopardy and that men were giving their all in order that democracy might live; and the future of a free country be safe-guarded.

In 1923 St. Mary's College, Where Fitzsimons Spent Time as an Undergraduate,
Dedicated This Arch in Honor of the Students Who Served in the War
and, Specifically, Fitzsimons Himself

KU Chancellor Frank Strong also praised Fitzsimons’s willingness to “give his life for the freedom of all humanity.” He praised Fitzsimons’s selflessness as indisputable evidence of how “our country has assumed the spiritual leadership of the world.” Strong also hoped that, in the future, all young men would be as willing as Fitzsimons to “feel the promptings of loyalty and respond so nobly to the call of their country.”

In 1920, the Army renamed its General Hospital No. 21 in Aurora, Colorado, as Fitzsimons General Hospital. The Army operated this facility until 1999, when it was turned over to the University of Colorado as the site of the Anschutz Medical Campus and the Fitzsimons Life Science District. In 1922 the William T. Fitzsimons Memorial Fountain in Kansas City, Missouri, was also dedicated to his memory. It’s still there, at Paseo and E. 12th St..

Source: The University of Kansas

Sunday, June 28, 2020

The Return of the Mayflower: American Destroyers Arrive at Queenstown


Click on Painting to Enlarge


Return of the Mayflower
Painting by Bernard F. Gribble. U.S. Naval Academy

The United States entered World War I on 6 April 1917 when Congress declared war on the German Empire. Literally days later, American naval officials met with their counterparts from the French and British navies who revealed the dire situation of the Allied war effort. This same message was being sent to U.S. Navy leadership by Rear Admiral William S. Sims, the officer sent to liaise with the British Admiralty in London. German submarines were inflicting tremendous losses on shipping bound for Allied European ports, particularly those in Great Britain. These losses were causing a disruption in supply shipments to the Allies that threatened to starve them into submission. The Entente naval officials requested assistance from the U.S. Navy, including the dispatch of destroyers and small anti-submarine vessels to combat the submarine menace. President Woodrow Wilson, Secretary of the Navy Josephus Daniels, and Chief of Naval Operations Admiral William Benson agreed to initially dispatch six destroyers to Europe, a number soon increased to 36.



Division Commander Joseph Taussig (second from right) and His Officers


On 24 April 1917 six destroyers of Division Eight, Destroyer Force, Atlantic Fleet, under Commander Joseph Taussig were tied up in Boston, Massachusetts, prepared to depart immediately upon receipt of orders. The vessels were among the most advanced destroyers in the Navy at the time. Sealed orders from Washington arrived that morning and at 16:45 Davis (Destroyer No. 65) shoved off and steamed for open sea followed in single file by McDougal (Destroyer No. 54), Wainwright (Destroyer No. 62), Conyngham (Destroyer No. 58), Taussig’s flagship Wadsworth (Destroyer No. 60), and Porter (Destroyer No. 59). At a prescribed position 50 miles east of Cape Cod, Taussig unsealed his orders in which Secretary of the Navy Josephus Daniels tasked the division “to assist naval operations of the Entente Powers in every way possible.” He ordered the vessels to sail to the British naval base located at Queenstown (now Cobh, pronounced "Cove") on the southern coast of Ireland, ideally located to combat the submarines infesting the strategically essential Western Approaches to the British Isles.

After a difficult transatlantic cruise that was fraught with mechanical troubles and rough seas, the division encountered the British destroyer Mary Rose off the coast of Ireland on 3 May. The British vessel hoisted the signal “Welcome to the American colors,” and escorted her allies to Queenstown.


Photo of the Actual Arrival (Compare to Painting Above)


On the afternoon of 4 May 1917, the American sailors arrived at Queenstown. As British and American naval officials greeted the destroyers, small boats full of civilians packed the harbor and the town cathedral sounded a bell rendition of The Star-Spangled Banner. Motion picture clips taken of the arrival circulated throughout the British Isles in the following weeks and provided a needed morale boost to the populace. The pomp and celebration almost did not occur; only hours before Division Eight arrived, British minesweepers had cleared a path through a freshly laid German minefield outside of the harbor. The Germans had anticipated the American arrival as well.

After the division tied up at their Queenstown moorings, Commander Taussig and the ship captains reported to Vice-Admiral Sir Lewis Bayly, RN, senior officer on the coast of Ireland. Navy folklore states that Bayly inquired when the Americans would be ready for sea. Commander Taussig immediately replied, “We are ready now, sir.” While Taussig wrote in his diary that he did not recall ever saying this, he does note that another American officer, who was in the room, assured him that he had said it. Nevertheless, after limited training and the installation of depth charges on some of the American destroyers, they departed from Queenstown for their first anti-submarine patrol on 8 May 1917.


Destroyer USS Wadsworth at Anchor, Queenstown Harbor

The Atlantic crossing of Division Eight marked the first of many such wartime voyages. By 6 April 1918, 59 American destroyers operated in European waters. U.S. Navy destroyers and other anti-submarine craft helped provide the strength needed to effectively combat the German submarine offensive. With increasing numbers of vessels on hand, Allied officials instituted a convoy system that drastically lowered shipping losses from German submarines. As part of that system, American destroyers escorted transports carrying over 1.25 million American service members without the loss of a single European-bound transport. These destroyers also escorted some 27 percent of merchantmen carrying cargoes to England, France, and Italy. In short, the U.S. Navy contributed to defeating the submarine blockade, thereby keeping Great Britain in the war. The troops the Navy escorted to Europe convinced the German Army high command that continuing the war was a fruitless endeavor and thereby directly contributed to victory on land. The arrival of Division Eight, an event referred to as “The Return of the Mayflower,” has come to symbolize the U.S. Navy’s significant contribution to the Allied victory in the First World War.

Sources: Essay from Dr. Dennis Conrad and S. Matthew Cheser, Naval History and Heritage Command

Saturday, June 27, 2020

On the Idle Hill of Summer: Europe on the Brink of War (BBC Video)


On the Idle Hill of Summer
BY A. E. HOUSMAN

On the idle hill of summer,
      Sleepy with the flow of streams,
Far I hear the steady drummer
      Drumming like a noise in dreams.

Far and near and low and louder
      On the roads of earth go by,
Dear to friends and food for powder,
      Soldiers marching, all to die.

East and west on fields forgotten
      Bleach the bones of comrades slain,
Lovely lads and dead and rotten;
      None that go return again.

Far the calling bugles hollo,
      High the screaming fife replies,
Gay the files of scarlet follow:
      Woman bore me, I will rise.





Friday, June 26, 2020

Russia's Unknown Soldier


Photos from Steve Miller's Collection


Russia's Unknown Soldier fell in the 1941 Battle of Moscow. The fallen of World War I are not honored in a similar fashion, at least not yet.


The Unknown was selected from the cemetery which marked the closest point the German Army came to Moscow in 1941. He was disinterred and moved to the walls of the Kremlin in December 1966.


The tomb is located at the northwest corner of the Kremlin and is accessed through the Alexandrovsky Gardens.


The torch for the memorial's Eternal Flame was transported from Leningrad, where it had been lit from the Eternal Flame at the Monument to the Fighters of the Revolution on the Field of Mars. To the left of the tomb is a granite wall with an inlay stating: "1941 – To Those Who Have Fallen for the Motherland – 1945".

Eternal Flame


A New Russian Tradition—For Newly Weds to Visit and Leave a Flower
 at the Tomb of the Unknown


Thursday, June 25, 2020

Churchill Looks Back on the Last Day of War



11 November 1918

It was a few minutes before the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month. I stood at the window of my room looking up Northumberland Avenue towards Trafalgar Square, waiting for Big Ben to tell that the War was over. My mind strayed back across the scarring years to the scene and emotions of the night at the Admiralty when I listened for these same chimes in order to give the signal of war against Germany to our Fleets and squadrons across the world. . . 

And then suddenly the first stroke of the chime. I looked again at the broad street beneath me. It was deserted. From the portals of one of the large hotels absorbed by Government Departments darted the slight figure of a girl clerk, distractedly gesticulating while another stroke of Big Ben resounded. Then from all sides men and women came scurrying into the street. Streams of people poured out of all the buildings. The bells of London began to clash. Northumberland Avenue was now crowded with people in hundreds, nay, thousands, rushing hither and thither in a frantic manner, shouting and screaming with joy. . . 

After fifty-two months of making burdens grievous to be borne and binding them on men’s backs, at last, all at once, suddenly and everywhere the burdens were cast down.

In Winston S. Churchill, volume IV World in Torment 1916-1922, by Sir Martin Gilbert.

Wednesday, June 24, 2020

Special Focus: Woodrow Wilson and the American Expeditionary Force to Siberia


The May and June St. Mihiel Trip-Wires Were a Double Issue on America's Siberian Intervention

Waiting in Siberia: White Russian Forces


May Issue
http://www.worldwar1.com/tripwire/smtw0520.htm

June Issue
http://www.worldwar1.com/tripwire/smtw0620.htm



May: Why Siberia?

Part 1: Wilson Confronts the New Russia
Part 2: The Czech Legion
Part 3: President Wilson Sends the Army
Wilson's Biographer Explains the Decision
Siberian Timeline

June: Siberian Briar Patch

Part 4: The Military Mission
Part 5: Along the Railroad
Part 6: Time to Leave
Doughboys at Ekaterinburg
The Landing of the Japanese Army

U.S. Commander MG William Graves and Staff with
White Russian Commander Grigory Semenov


Other Topics:

May:

100 Years Ago: Kiev and the Fate of Ukraine in Play
WWI Film Classic: Reds
The Centerpiece of America's New World War One Memorial

June:

100 Years Ago: Treaty of Trianon Signed
WWI Film Classic: Admiral
77th New York Metropolitan Division to Be Honored in France

Plus all our regular updates and features in both issues

May Issue
http://www.worldwar1.com/tripwire/smtw0520.htm

June Issue
http://www.worldwar1.com/tripwire/smtw0620.htm


Tuesday, June 23, 2020

The Lafayette Escadrille: A Photo History of the First American Fighter Squadron


by Steven A. Ruffin
Casemate Publishers, 2016, Paperback, 2020
Michael Hanlon, Reviewer


I do not feel that I am fighting for France alone, but for the
 cause of all humanity—the greatest of all causes.
Kiffin Rockwell, KIA


At Bahonne Aerodrome During the Battle of Verdun

On my bookshelves sit many "illustrated" and "photo" histories touching on the First World War. Usually, either the historical narrative or the set of images suffers, and often, both. Former USAF aviator Steven Ruffin's treatment of the Lafayette Escadrille, however, is now the most balanced  and complete of such works in my collection. The story of the squadron is comprehensively told: origins, personalities, operations, aircraft, and the enormous contributions the unit made by the pilots to America's Air Service when their homeland entered the war. As for the photos gathered by the author and his publisher—the huge collection (for a 228-page volume) is superb, comprehensive and nicely displayed.

Founding Member Norman Prince
The unique French-operated American World War I squadron that we now know as the Lafayette Escadrille made an impact far greater than its actual combat achievements. It was during the 1916 Battle of Verdun that the American volunteer ambulance drivers and pilots of the Lafayette Escadrille got the American public—despite their country's neutrality—emotionally involved in the actual fighting of the war. And they were unquestionably on the side of the Entente, which helped shift public opinion toward the Allies. 

During its 22-month operational period, the 38 Americans who eventually flew with the squadron downed a total of 33 enemy aircraft, 16 of which were credited to the squadron's lone ace, Raoul Lufbery. Eight Americans from the squadron died in combat, including founding members Victor Chapman, Kiffin Rockwell, Norman Prince, and James McConnell. An additional three—Lufbery, Paul Pavelka, and James Doolittle—were killed soon after leaving the squadron. Yet, in spite of this more or less average combat record, the Lafayette Escadrille has continued to live in history as an aviation legend. Why? Author Steve Ruffin offers these thoughts.

These highly principled young Americans were much more than simply mercenaries. They volunteered for what they believed – almost to a man – to be a greater cause: that of France and of freedom. It was almost entirely for these ideals that they put their lives on the line. In so doing, they forged a seemingly unbreakable bond with this country's oldest ally and are today rightfully remembered as the men who comprised America's first fighter squadron.

Two elements of The Lafayette Escadrille make it especially enjoyable for me. On the first, let me begin by asking the reader something. Have you ever been reading a military history work and started wondering if the writer had ever visited that battlefield? It's happened to me frequently. Well, you won't get that feeling with Steve Ruffin as your guide. He has "seen the elephant" and traveled to all the key sites of the squadron in France and back here in the states. It adds a pleasurable sense of authenticity when your historian includes visual descriptions of such things as the state of the dozen or so aerodromes where the unit was deployed or the sites of crashes of friends or foes. Included in the collection of photos is an excellent set of "then-and-now" shots with the present day images taken by the author.

Also to be commended are the three concluding chapters that cover the phase-in of the pilots to the American Air Service, biographic sketches of postwar lives of the survivors, and the legacy of their service, especially the magnificent Memorial de l'Escadrille Lafayette outside of Paris. Right up to the end, the author fills us in with rich details I've not seen in other sources like the sad deaths of lion mascots Whiskey and Soda shortly after the Armistice and the 4,000 false claimants to having served in the Lafayette Escadrille.

Highly recommended without qualification.

M. Hanlon

Monday, June 22, 2020

Recommended: First Impressions of the Versailles Treaty


By Mike Shuster
Originally Presented at The Great War Project, 4 April 2019


The German Delegation That Would First Hear
the Terms of the Versailles Treaty

The Germans, in the midst of fighting Bolsheviks and imminent starvation, managed to stay in close touch with the peace process in Paris.

So reports historian Thomas Fleming.

"They had even set up a Bureau for Peace Negotiations. The Bureau’s existence testified to the widespread German conviction that Germany had signed a contract with Woodrow Wilson to negotiate peace on the basis of Wilson’s Fourteen Points."

[To prepare for the peace conference], “The country put forty bureaucrats to work,” Fleming reports, “on Wilson’s various statements on peace, backed up by more than one hundred experts on agriculture, industry, education, and almost every other conceivable topic that might come up when negotiations with the Allies began.”

“When the Allied note asking Berlin to send representatives to hear the preliminary terms arrived in Berlin, the German foreign minister assumed that the document could be picked up by a messenger. He would dispatch an ambassador, an aide, and four clerks to do the job.”

“Back came a stiff reply from the Allies.” They wanted top individuals – individuals capable of carrying out decisions – plenipotentiaries in the parlance of diplomacy, ready to discuss all aspects of the proposed peace.”

“The foreign minister, a veteran diplomat, was not in the least non-plused. He quickly assembled politicians, soldiers, and top-level bureaucrats, and soon 180 Germans were on their way to Versailles.”

They arrived on 29 April 1919 over a century ago. Around their hotel was a barbed wire fence patrolled by French sentries.

“For the next week,” reports historian Fleming, “the Germans waited, and waited, and waited. In Paris the drafting committee was still writing the treaty. Meanwhile groups of French patriots showed up at the hotel’s barbed wire fence to scream insults at the Germans.”

On 5 May, the draft of the treaty went to the printer. More than 200 pages, 440 articles, 75,000 words. Before dawn on 7 May, messengers rushed copies to Allied delegations, including to collaborating officials such as Herbert Hoover, in charge of getting food to the starving people of Germany.

Hoover concluded that Wilson could not make peace on the basis of the Fourteen Points, and he didn’t hold back telling Wilson as much.

“Hoover finished reading the draft treaty at dawn. He could not believe his own disappointment. The thing was an abomination, a parody of the Fourteen Points. The economic clauses aimed at crippling Germany would pull down the whole continent.

“Unquestionably the terms contained the seeds of another war,” was Hoover’s view.

And in the words of U.S. Secretary of State Robert Lansing, “The terms were immeasurably harsh and humiliating.” And they made a mockery of the League of Nations.

What did it all add up to? Lansing asked. “Disappointment, regret, depression.”

Editor's Addition:

Nonetheless, the principals—Wilson, Lloyd George, and Clemenceau—were pleased with the draft.  On 7 May, for the first time, the German delegation, led by Foreign Minister Ulrich von Brockdorff-Rantzau, heard the Allies' terms. They were stunned.

Sunday, June 21, 2020

It's 25 April 1918 and the Most Important Position on the Western Front Is Mont Kemmel, Flanders


Mont Kemmel Today from the German Approach

The second of Germany's Ludendorff Offensives, Operation Georgette (also known as the Battle of the Lys), was launched in French Flanders on 9 April 1918.  Meanwhile, the initial German attack in the Somme, Operation Michael, continued despite strengthening Allied opposition. Luckily for the Allies, Ludendorff did not choose to terminate Michael earlier and redirect all available forces to support the effort in Flanders.  

Georgette, nonetheless, started with success similar to its immediate predecessor. The Portuguese Expeditionary Force collapsed almost immediately at Neuve Chapelle and only a spectacular defensive effort by the British 55th Division prevented an early collapse of the southern Allied sector. The spectacular advance was quickly followed by the capture of Estaires (9–10 April), Messines Ridge (10–11 April), and the destruction and capture of Bailleul (12–15 April). The opening advance, however, fizzled out near Hazebrouck, a railway junction and the most strategically important objective of the entire campaign (12–15 April). Instead of renewing the assault on Hazebrouck, Ludendorff decided to focus on pushing through the Flanders Hills, the most eastern of which is Mont Kemmel. It was there that Operation Georgette eventually ground to a halt.

French Troops En Route to Mont Kemmel

The First Battle of Mont Kemmel (17–19 April) put a stop to another advance, this time directed toward Béthune. Several British divisions did their best to check the German advance with only sparse resources at their disposal. At Bailleul, for example, delaying units were stationed under cover of railway embankments and overpasses, turning them into field fortifications. The British forces covering Mont Kemmel were eventually able to repulse the three-division assault, but their final line was stretched thin and General Haig had no reinforcements to send.

Aware of his ally's perilous situation, General Foch sent in French troops to face the Germans at Mont Kemmel. By 25 April the French reinforcements had arrived but quickly found themselves pitted against elite mountain German troops. This Second Battle for Mont Kemmel began with an intense hail of shells reminiscent of Verdun for the Frenchmen. After some furious (often hand-to-hand) fighting, though, the Germans finally took control of the summit. A four-mile gap had opened in the Allied lines, and it would remain uncorrected for eight hours. It was one of the last opportunities of the war for the German Army to turn their fortunes, but they were unable to organize an exploiting attack.

French Ossuary, Mont Kemmel

The Spring Offensive drew to a close with a final German attack launched from Mont Kemmel on 29 April. They were able to take one more of the Flanders Hills to the west, but were stopped there. Even though the Germans had managed to move forward, Georgette was ultimately a failure because the Allies had also stabilized the front and prevented the enemy from breaking through, albeit at great cost to human life. Marshal Foch's skillful dispatch of reinforcements to Mont Kemmel had saved the day.

The Sad Angel
Today Mont Kemmel is remembered as the most significant battlefield of the French Army in Flanders. Nicknamed "bald mountain" by the poilus because of the desolation on its war ravaged summit, Mont Kemmel is today home to an ossuary which holds the bodies of 5,294 French soldiers, most of whom were killed on the hill, although only 57 of the soldiers were identified prior to being interred. The column which stands at the center of the cemetery is topped with the traditional rooster mascot of France.

Farther up the hill stands an imposing victory memorial to the French soldiers who fought on the battlefields of Belgium. It features the statue, sculpted by Adolphe Masselot, of the Roman goddess Victoria, whose melancholic gaze has earned her the nickname "The Sad Angel of Mont Kemmel Hill."

Sources: Battlefields of Northern France and Wikipedia

Saturday, June 20, 2020

My AEF Battlefield Guide




Since 1991 I have been leading First World War battlefield tours to the Western Front, Gallipoli and Italy, and this will be my last year doing so. By far, the greatest interest for my groups has been in the American battlefields. Also, over the years I have received hundreds of inquiries through the Internet as to how to visit the site where a family member, a Doughboy, airman, marine, or sailor served and how to gain information on what happened where they fought. What I decided to do for the subscribers of my publications OVER THE TOPROADS TO THE GREAT WAR, and the ST. MIHIEL TRIP-WIRE was consolidate and organize all the information I have gathered over the years on the battlefields of the American Expeditionary Forces into one document. I hope you will consider purchasing it. It is a distillation of all my research and on-site explorations on the subject, organized in a way that I believe is easy to follow. Here are some details about the work and how to purchase it.


The Battlefields Covered:

  • Cantigny
  • Chateau-Thierry, Belleau Wood, and Vaux
  • Second Battle of the Marne
  • Flanders: Mt. Kemmel
  • Frapelle
  • St. Mihiel Salient
  • Meuse-Argonne
  • The Hindenburg Line & Beyond
  • Blanc Mont Ridge
  • Flanders-Lys
  • Other Notable Operations

Sample Section



Specifications:

  • 28-page, full color, large 8½ x 11-inch printable PDF document, readable on desktops, laptops, or P.E.D. devices
  • Ten major battles and five notable smaller operations covered
  • Each main section includes: quick facts, then-and-now photos, maps, details about the battle, and key sites to visit with GPS coordinates.
  • Delivered electronically
Price: $14.99


How to Purchase


Include Both Your Email & Mailing Address for Delivery

Friday, June 19, 2020

A Great Series of AEF Photos at Fold3 from Ancestry.com

Ancestry.com is a subscription genealogical service that sometimes offers free material to the general public.  They now have available well over 1,000 individual portraits and wide-format group and panoramic images of Americans who served it the Great War.  I believe they are all from the collections on the National World War One Museum at Kansas City, MO.  Those available online can all be accessed here:


Below are some that caught my eye as I scrolled through the two sets.  Click on the images to get much larger versions of the photos (except the two portraits).

Officers and Men 2nd Division in Germany (Detail)



Six Observation Balloon Crews



Hello Girl Marie LeBlanc, Signal Corps



803rd Pioneer Infantry (Detail)



U.S. Meuse-Argonne Cemetery in Transitional Phase
with 22,000 Graves, 1920



Medal of Honor Recipient John Barkley, 3rd Division


Nursing Staff at an Unidentified Base Hospital


USS Mercury Returns to Charleston, SC, with Troops of the
30th Old Hickory Division, March 1919


Thanks to Steve Miller for the heads up on this resource.

Thursday, June 18, 2020

John Dewey Thought We Were Fighting for World Government and Socialsm

What Are We Fighting For?

By John Dewey


John Dewey
Severally and collectively mankind always builds better or worse than it knows. Even in the most successful enterprises aims and results do not wholly coincide. In executing our immediate purpose we have to use forces which are outside our intent. Once released, however, they continue to operate, and they bring with them consequences which are unexpected and which in the end may quite submerge the objects consciously struggled for. Such an immense undertaking as the present war is no exception. The will to conquer describes the immediate aim. But in order to realize that end all sorts of activities are set going; arrangement made, organizations instituted, as incidental means. After they have been called into being they cannot be whisked out of existence merely because the war has come to an end. They have acquired an independent being and in the long run may effect consequences more significant than those consciously desired. If, for example, one takes a cross section thru the warring countries at present, one finds a striking rise in power of the wage earning classes. Thru the necessities of war, their strategic position in modern social organization has been made clear, and the Russian Revolution has brought the fact to dramatic self-consciousness. Is it not conceivable that some future historian may find this consequence outweighing any for which the war was originally fought?

If it is the unintended which happens, a forecast of the consequences of the war seems doubly futile, for it is hard enough to disentangle even the professed aims in such a manner as to make them precise and definite. Yet it is possible to see some of the forces which have been released by the war. Thru fixing attention upon them, we make some guess about the future in its larger outlines. The first result which I see is the more conscious and extensive use of science for communal purposes after the war. Changes which are effected by embodying scientific discoveries in mechanical inventions and appliances endure. The transformations brought about first in industry and then in general social and political life by the stationary steam engine, the locomotive, the internal combustion engine, etc., have stayed put, while matters which absorbed in their day much more of conscious attention and made much more of a stir in the realm of thought have sunk beneath waves of oblivion. 

Mechanically speaking, the greatest achievements of the year have been of course, the submarine and airplane, the mastery of the undersea and the air. Is it not likely that the combined effects of the two will do more to displace war than all the moralizing in existence?  Anticipations of the future are too readily couched in terms of the fantastic rather than of the commonplace; or rather the miraculous, once established, becomes commonplace. But considering the social revolution wrought by steam and electric transportation on land and water in abolishing parochial and provincial boundaries, it seems probable that air navigation will round out their work in obliterating nationalistic frontiers. The war has, in addition to specific inventions, made it customary to utilize the collective knowledge and skill of scientific experts in all lines, organizing them for community ends. It is unlikely that we shall ever return wholly to the old divorce of knowledge from, the conduct of social affairs—a separation which made knowledge abstract and abstruse, and left public affairs controlled by routine, vested interest and skilled manipulation. The one phase of Prussianism, borrowed under the stress of war from the enemy, which is likely permanently to remain, is systematic utilization of the scientific expert. Used for the ends of a democratic society, the social mobilization of science is likely in the end to effect such changes in the practice of government—and finally in its theory—as to initiate a new type of democracy. With respect to this alteration, as with respect to the airplane, there is more likelihood of underestimating than of exaggerating the consequences which are to follow.

Another consequence not directly willed but made necessary as an incident of the war, is the formation of large political groupings. Almost all the nations of the world are now arrayed on one or other of the two sides.

Not only is such a world-wide organization including the peoples of every continent a new and unique fact, so much so that the world for the first time is politically as well as astronomically round, but the character of the alliances is quite unprecedented. In order that the military alliance may be made effective, there is in effect if not in name a pooling of agricultural and industrial resources, a conjoint supervision of shipping and hence of international trading, a world-wide censorship and economic blacklist. In addition each nation now has an interest in knowing about other nations, which has put the world as a whole on the map for the citizen of Little Peddlington and Jay Corners. The kind of knowledge and interest that was once confined to travelers and the cultured has become widely distributed. "When a million or two young men return from France, the jolt given to our intellectual isolation by the very fact of the war will be accentuated. And Europe, it is safe to say, will have learned as much about us as we about it. The shrinkage of the world already effected as a physical fact by steam and electricity will henceforth be naturalized in the imagination. All of these things mean the discovery of the interdependence of all peoples, and the development of a more highly organized world, a world knit together by more conscious and substantial bonds.

Whatever the immediate decisions of the statesmen who sit in the peace conference at the end of the war, this means that an international state is on its way. Few people realize what a small number of independent states remained in the world even before the war—many times less than there were within the present German Empire a century ago. Consolidation has proceeded with the same certainty and acceleration as in the case of the multitude of small local railway systems which once sprawled over this country and from the same causes. The war has speeded up the movement, and in the various commissions and arrangements which it necessitated will leave behind mechanisms which are bound to continue in operation—first in order to meet actual post-war needs and then because there is no way of getting rid of them without uprooting too many other things which will have got linked up with them. It is a mistake to think that the movement for the self-determination of nations, the releasing of nationalities now held in dependence, will arrest, much less reverse, the integrating movement. Cultural emancipation of nationalities and local autonomy within a federation are to be hoped for; if they are not attained, the 'war will have been fought in vain so far as its most important conscious objective is concerned. But even if this goes beyond local autonomy to the point of complete political independence of a new Bohemia, Poland, Ukrainia, Palestine, Egypt, India, it will not militate against the virtual control of the world by a smaller number of political units. The war has demonstrated that effective sovereignty can be maintained only by states large enough to be economically self-supporting.

New nations could exist permanently only if guaranteed by some large political union, which would have to be more closely knit together than were the treaty-alliances which, "neutralized" (till the war broke out) some of the smaller states of Europe.

To say, however, that the world will be better organized is not—unfortunately—the same thing as to say that it will be organized so as to be a better world. We shall have either a world federation in the sense of a genuine concert of nations, or a few large imperialistic organizations, standing in chronic hostility to one another. Something corresponding to the present anti-German federation, with minor realignments in course of time, might constitute one of these; the Central Empires and southeastern Europe another; Russia, it is conceivable, would go it alone, and the Oriental countries might make a fourth.

In this case, we should have a repetition of the Balance of Power situation on a larger scale, with all its evils, including the constant jockeying to secure by threat and bribe the allegiance of Scandinavia, Spain, and some of the South American countries to one imperialistic federation or another. The choice between these two alternatives is the great question which the statesmen after the war will have to face. If it is dodged and the attempt is made to restore an antebellum condition of a large number of independent detached and "sovereign" states allied only for purposes of economic and potential military warfare, the situation will be forced, probably, into the alternative of an imperially organized Balance of Power whose unstable equilibrium will result in the next war for decisive dominion.

The counterpart of the growth of world organization thru elimination of isolated territorial sovereign states is domestic integration within each unit. In every warring country there has been the same demand that in the time of great national stress production for profit be subordinated to production for use. Legal possession and individual property rights have had to give way before social requirements. The old conception of the absoluteness of private property has received the world over a blow from which it will never wholly recover. Not that arbitrary confiscation will be resorted to, but that it has been made clear that the control of any individual or group, over their "own" property is relative to public wants, and that public requirements may at any time be given precedence by public machinery devised for that purpose. Profiteering has not been stamped out; doubtless in some lines of war necessities it has been augmented. But the sentiment aroused against profiteering will last beyond the war, while even more important is the fact that the public has learned to recognize profiteering in many activities which it formerly accepted on their own claims as a matter of course.

In short, the war, by throwing into relief the public aspect of every social enterprise, has discovered the amount of sabotage which habitually goes on in manipulating property rights to take a private profit out of social needs. Otherwise, the wrench needed in order to bring privately controlled industries into line with public needs would not have had to be so great. The war has thus afforded an immense object lesson as to the absence of democracy in most important phases of our national life, while it has also brought into existence arrangements for facilitating democratic integrated control. This organization of means for public control covers every part of our national life. Banking, finance, the supervision of floating of new corporate enterprises, the mechanism of credit, have been affected by it to various degrees in all countries. The strain with respect to the world's food supply has made obvious to all from the farmer in the field to the cook in the kitchen the social meaning of all occupations connected with the physical basis of life. Consequently the question of the control of land for use instead of for speculation has assumed an acute aspect, while a flood of light has been thrown upon the interruption of the flow of food and fuel to the consumer with a view to exacting private toll. Hence organization for the regulation of transportation and distribution of food, fuel and the necessities of war production like steel and copper. To dispose of such matters by labeling them state socialism is merely to conceal their deeper import: the creation of instrumentalities for enforcing the public interest in all the agencies of modern production and exchange. Again, the war has added to the old lesson of public sanitary regulation the new lesson of social regulation for purposes of moral prophylaxis. The acceleration of the movement to control the liquor traffic is another aspect of the same fact. Finally, conscription has brought home to the countries which have in the past been the home of the individualistic tradition the supremacy of public need over private possession.

In that period he was indisputably the intellectual leader of the liberal community in the United States, and even his academic colleagues at Columbia and elsewhere who did not share his philosophical persuasion acknowledged his eminence as a kind of intellectual tribune of progressive causes.

Sidney Hook, 1987


It may seem a work of supererogation to attempt even the most casual listing of the variety of ways in which the war has enforced this lesson of the interdependence, the interweaving of interests and occupations, and the consequent necessity of agencies for public oversight and direction in order that the interdependence may become a public value instead of being used for private levies. It is true that not every instrumentality brought into the war for the purpose of maintaining the public interest will last. Many of them will melt away when the war comes to an end. But it must be borne in mind that the war did not create that interdependence of interests which has given enterprises once private and limited in scope a social significance. The war only gave a striking revelation of the state of affairs which the application of steam and electricity to industry and transportation had already effected. It afforded a vast and impressive object lesson as to what had occurred, and made it impossible for men to proceed any longer by ignoring the revolution which has taken place. Thus the public supervision and control occasioned by this war differ from that produced by other wars not only in range, depth and complexity, but even more in the fact that they have simply accelerated a movement which was already proceeding apace. The immediate urgency has in a short time brought into existence agencies, for executing the supremacy of the public and social interest over the private possessive interest which might have taken a long time to construct. In this sense, no matter how many among the special agencies for public control decay with the disappearance of war stress, the movement will never go backward. Peoples who have learned that billions are available for public needs when the occasion presses will not forget the lesson, and having seen that portions of these billions are necessarily diverted into physical training, industrial education, better housing, and the setting up of agencies for securing a public service and function from private industries will ask why in the future the main stream should not be directed in the same channels.

In short, we shall have a better organized world internally as well as externally, a more integrated, less anarchic, system. Partisans are attempting to locate the blame for the breakdown in the distribution of fuel and the partial breakdown in food supplies upon mere inefficiency in governmental officials. But whatever the truth in special cases such accusations, it is clear that the causal force lies deeper, fundamental industries have been carried on for years and years on a social basis; for public service indeed, but for public service under such conditions of private restriction as would render the maximum of personal profit. Our large failures are merely exhibitions of the anarchy and confusion entailed by any such principle of conducting affairs. When profit may arise from setting up division and conflict, it is hopeless to expect unity. That this, taken together with the revelation by the war of the crucial position occupied by the wage earner, points to the socialization of industry as one of the enduring consequences of the war cannot be doubted.

Socialization, as well as the kindred term socialism, covers, however, many and diverse alternatives. Many of the measures thus far undertaken may be termed in the direction of state capitalism, looking to the absorption of the means of production and distribution by the government, and to the replacement of the present corporate employing and directive forces by a bureaucracy of officials. So far as the consequences of war assume this form, it supplies another illustration of the main thesis of Herbert Spencer that a centralized government has been built up by war necessities, and that such a state is necessarily militaristic in its structure. On the other hand, it must be pointed out that in Great Britain and this country, and apparently to a considerable degree even in centralized Germany, the measures taken for enforcing the subordination of private activity to public need and service have been successful only because they have enlisted the voluntary cooperation of associations which have been formed on a non-political, non-governmental basis, large industrial corporations, railway systems, labor unions, universities, scientific societies, banks, etc. 

Moreover, the wage-earner is more likely to be interested in using his newly discovered power to increase his own share of control in an industry than he is in transferring that control over to government officials. He will have to look to polities for measures which will secure the democratization of industry from within, but he need not go further than this. Reorganization along these lines would give us in the future a federation of self-governing industries with the government acting as adjuster and arbiter rather than as direct owner and manager, unless perhaps in case of industries occupying such a privileged position as fuel production and the railways. Taxation will be a chief governmental power thru which to procure and maintain socialization of the services of the land and of industries organized for self-direction rather than for subjection to alien investors. While one can say here as in the case of international relations that a more highly organized world is bound to result, one cannot with assurance say which of two types of organization is going to prevail. But it is reasonably sure that the solution in one sphere will be congruous with that wrought out in the other. Governmental capitalism will stimulate and be stimulated by the formation of a few large imperialistic organizations which must resort to armament for each to maintain its place within a precarious balance of powers. A federated concert of nations, on the other hand, with appropriate agencies of legislation, judicial procedure and administrative commissions would so relax tension between states, as to encourage voluntary groupings all over the world, and thus promote social integration by means of the cooperation of democratically self-governed industrial and vocational groups. 

The period of social reconstruction might require a temporary extension of governmental regulation and supervision, but this would be provisional, giving way to a period of decentralization after the transfer of power from the more or less rapacious groups now in control had been securely affected. The determination of the issue in one sense or the other will not, of course, immediately follow the conclusion of the war. There will be a long period of struggle and transition. But if we are to have a world safe for democracy and a world in which democracy is safely anchored, the solution will be in the direction of a federated world government and a variety of freely experimenting and freely cooperating self-governing local, cultural and industrial groups. It is because, in the end, autocracy means uniformity as surely as democracy means diversification that the great hope lies with the latter. The former strains human nature to the breaking point; the latter releases and relieves it—such, I take it, is the ultimate sanction of democracy, for which we are fighting.

Source: The Independent, 22 June 1918

Wednesday, June 17, 2020

The Alpine Nightmare: Avalanches! – A Roads Classic

The Alpine Nightmare

Contributed by Richard Galli

[This was written by experienced soldier and mountaineer Richard Galli, who has spent much time pn the mountains of the former Italian Frong. MH]


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Mountain Outpost in the Italian Alps, 1916

During the three-year war in the Austro-Italian Alps at least 60,000 soldiers died in avalanches. [This conservative statistic comes from the research of Heinz von Lichem, in his outstanding three-volume study Gebirgskrieg 1915–1918.] Ten thousand died from avalanches in the "lesser" ranges of the eastern half of the high front—the Carnic and Julian Alps. In the "high" Alps to the west, the Ortler and Adamello groups, the Dolomites, avalanches claimed 50,000 lives. 

To put these casualties in perspective, a total of 25,000 troops were killed by poison gas on this war's Western Front in Belgium and France. Gas killed an additional 7,000 men on the Austro-Italian front, the greater part on the plains and plateaus along the Isonzo and Piave rivers. [Gas is not very effective in the cold windy atmosphere of mountains.]


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Italian Sniper Team in the Snow

Survival in the high Alps would entail applying a great many methods, from locating the barracks men lived in, to meticulous planning of routes taken on attack or patrol, to the careful consideration of snow and weather conditions. Roofs could be reinforced to survive minor slides, but the best safety came from burrowing under glacial ice or into mountain rock; or, incredibly, building on or below the steepest of slopes, where snow does not accumulate. Patrols could cross danger areas one man at a time, with 25-meter intervals and ropes, but larger units of Kaiserjäger or Alpini had less choice in tactical movements or during the attack. Two of the worst incidents of avalanche on the Alpine front occurred in 1916, when both armies were still adapting to mountain warfare and survival above the timberline. On 13 December catastrophe struck the Austrian barracks below the Gran Poz summit of Monte Marmolada. This encampment had rock cliffs to shield from direct fire, and was out of high-angle [mortar] range. But these defenses from human violence could not protect them from the mountain itself, despite the "city under the ice." Two hundred thousand tons [one million cubic meters] of snow and ice buried over 500 men. Only 40 bodies were recovered of the estimated 300 who perished. The snow did not cease. Wind and accumulation made the conditions critical, and on 17 December the nightmare began. During the next two days, avalanches would take the lives of 9,000 to 10,000 Italian and Austrian soldiers. Communication lines, fixed ropes, and climbing ladders were swept away, as were entire companies and batteries of men, guns, and mules. In spring their remains were found by the ravens.


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Austrian Teleferica Station

The total statistics of avalanche and cold, these tens of thousands of casualties of alpine warfare must be considered in one more aspect—that they almost all took place in just two winters. Italy had not yet entered the war in the winter of 1914/1915 and the eastern Alps remained peaceful and quiet. It was the winters of 1915/1916 and 1916/1917 that saw the true extent of "death by nature." The beginning of winter in 1917 saw an almost total collapse of the eastern Alpine front, with the Italian Army's disastrous defeat at Caporetto in October, and the eventual retreat to the distant Piave River. To reinforce this line the Italians withdrew all their troops from the hard-earned terrain of the Dolomites and eastern sub-Alps, as well as rushing units from the northwestern front lines of the Ortler and Adamello ranges. With the momentum of the offensive, the Austrians followed suit. With the high mountains unmanned or abandoned, the casualties due to avalanche dropped considerably in the winter of 1917/1918. Cold would continue to take its toll in the desperate, winter long battles on Monte Grappa and the Altipiano. Prevention was ignored or impossible due to the critical situation at hand. What happened in these highlands was not a skilled battle of mountain troops; there was the slaughter so common to this entire war, events usually reserved for the short summer on this front. Mercifully, the Great War would end before the 1918/1919 winter, and on all fronts the killing and dying came to an end, including the trenches at 10,000 feet.


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Lone Mountain Sentry