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

Friday, July 31, 2020

Wilhelm Canaris's Incredible Escape, Part II

Part I of this article appeared in yesterday's, Roads to the Great War.

Security around the internees' bungalows on Quiriquina Island was not very tight, and the Chilean Navy overseers event permitted certain German officers to travel to the city of Concepción on occasion.  Canaris slipped away from his guards on 4 August 1915, disguised as a peasant and traveled by train to Osorno about 320 miles away.

South American Portion of the Escape Route (Approx. 2,400 km)

Canaris was met in Osorno by Carlos Wiederhold Piwonk, a successful merchant and explorer who also happened to be the German consul. The 48-year-old Wiederhold was eminently qualified to coach Canaris on a trans-Andean escape route, having blazed the trail in 1894–95, machete in hand, through mountain passes and vine-choked valleys, across wild rivers and immense lakes, over unmapped, unpopulated territory to mark a road to transport his fruits and merchandise to more prosperous markets in Argentina. In the process Wiederhold established trading posts tat seeded settlements and towns as far east as San Carlos de Bariloche on Argentina's remote southwest frontier.  Even though Wiederhold had been born in Chile, he personified the declaration by the director of the German South American Institute that "Germany's main asset is the German in South America.

Wiederhold arranged for Canaris to be sheltered in the mansion of the von Geyso family on the outskirts of Osorno then relayed the fugitive to the Eggers family in Puychue.  From there Canaris allegedly set out alone on horseback across the the Andes in the last weeks of the austral winter, following trails cleared by Wiederhold's mule caravans. Another member of the Eggers family met Canaris on the other side of the cordillera alongside Lake Hauel Huapi and carried him by boat to San Carlos de Bariloche.  

After several days on the estate of Baron Luis von Bulow, a wealthy German in San Ramon, Canaris traveled on to the rail head at Ingeniero Jacobacci and took a train to Puerto San Antonio, then continued to Buenos Aires. He boarded a Dutch steamer, SS Frisia, which transported him to Rotterdam via Montevideo, Santos, Rio de Janeiro, Bahia, Pernambuco, Lisbon, Vigo, Falmouth, and Pile—each port increasing Canaris's risk of detection. He finally arrived in Rotterdam at the end of September.

Canaris After the War: Promoted and an Iron Cross Recipient

Exactly two months later on 4 October 1915 he reported back in Hamburg  Canaris was then sent to join the intelligence service for U-boat operations in the Mediterranean. For the next year he worked as an undercover agent in Italy and Spain before becoming a commander of a U-boat in 1917.  He was credited with a number of sinkings, even coming to the attention of the Kaiser. As a result of his espionage exploits in Spain, he was awarded the Iron Cross First Class. After the armistice in 1918 Canaris joined the Freikorps and took part in the Kapp Putsch. Later he was involved in secretly building submarines for the German Navy. He resumed his naval career and became increasingly involved with military intelligence.  Canaris was eventually appointed to head the Abwehr, German Military Intelligence in 1935.

Sources:  Traces of War; The Intelligence War in Latin America, 1914–1922; Wikipedia

Thursday, July 30, 2020

Wilhelm Canaris's Incredible Escape, Part I

Canaris as a Naval Cadet
In the Second World War Wilhelm Franz Canaris (1887–1945) was a German admiral and chief of the Abwehr, the German military intelligence service, from 1935 to 1944. Initially a supporter of Adolf Hitler, by 1939 he had turned against the regime.  After the attempted assassination of Hitler in 1944, Canaris was arrested, tortured, and eventually executed.  As a junior officer in the First World War he had a distinguished record which included one of the most daring escapes of the conflict.

Canaris was posted  in December 1911 to the light cruiser SMS Dresden. In 1913 this ship was dispatched to the eastern Mediterranean in order to protect the German interests during the Second Balkan War.  On return to her home port the ship was dispatched on a voyage almost immediately (and unable to have the necessary maintenance carried out). This time the presence of the ship was required in the eastern waters off the Mexican coast. At that time civil war was raging in that country and the Dresden was deployed in the evacuation of foreigners from Vera Cruz, whose safety could no longer be guaranteed. For having taken 2000 American citizens to safety, the vessel would be decorated by President Woodrow Wilson.

It was intended that the cruiser would be relieved on 27 July 1914. Due to the tense political situation in Europe and the First World War about to break out, the ship could not depart. Hence, the light cruiser remained berthed in the harbor of Port-au-Prince on Haiti. After the declaration of war by Germany in August 1914, the Dresden was ordered to start a "cruiser war" in the Atlantic Ocean; this entailed hunting down Allied merchantmen and navy vessels.

SMS Dresden Transiting the Kiel Canal

The Dresden then headed for the South Atlantic and rendezvoused with the German East Asia Squadron under Vice Admiral Count von Spee at Easter Island. In company with Count von Spee's other ships,  the Dresden participated in the Battle of Coronel, a decisive German victory. One month later, Dresden was the only German cruiser to escape destruction at the Battle of the Falkland Islands, her turbine engines proving faster than her expansion-engined squadron mates. The ship then headed south, back around Cape Horn to the maze of channels and bays in southern Chile. Until March 1915 she evaded Royal Navy searches while paralyzing British trade routes in the area.  

On 8 March 1915, the Dresden put into Cumberland Bay on the Chilean island of Más a Tierra (today known as Robinson Crusoe Island) which was neutral territory. Due to lack of supplies and parts for the worn-out engines, the ship ceased to be operational. Six days later, on 14 March, the British light cruisers HMS Glasgow and HMS  Kent  found the elusive German cruiser. After a few shots were fired, the  Dresden  ran up a white flag and sent Lieutenant Wilhelm Canaris to negotiate with the British. However, this was merely a ruse to buy time so the Dresden's crew could abandon ship and scuttle her. At 11:15 a.m. the  Dresden slipped under the waves with her war ensign proudly flying.

After much diplomatic wrangling, the crew settled into the limbo of internment on Quiriquina Island, a spot of land just off the Chilean coast north of Coronel Bay. The sailors turned to gardening and chicken farming and enjoyed the support of nearby German communities and clubs. Officers lectured and warned the men not to escape, but as one man explained, "Chilean fishermen would take you to the mainland for 20 pesos and all the shouting in the world couldn't change that."

The German diplomatic and intelligence networks in Argentina and Chile hammered out escape plans for a few select personnel. The first internee tapped to take flight was the young lieutenant Wilhelm Canaris. German agents obtained a Chilean passport for him in the name of Reed Rosas, an Anglo-Chilean vendor and widower. He was ready to begin a two-month odyssey over the Andes in wintertime, then across the Atlantic to be welcomed home a hero.  End of Part I.

See Part II tomorrow in Roads to the Great War.

Sources:  Traces of War; The Intelligence War in Latin America, 1914-1922, Jamie Bisher;                                Wikipedia

Wednesday, July 29, 2020

Spring 1917: A Terrible and Futile Struggle at Bullecourt

An  Australian 18-Pounder Firing at Bullecourt

By Peter Burness
Originally Presented in the Australian War Memorial's Magazine Wartime

Each year hundreds of Australians converge on the village of Bullecourt, France, located ten miles southeast of Arras, to join locals in wreath layings, speeches, and toasts that recall a long association. Bullecourt entered Australian history because of battles fought there by the Australian Imperial Force (AIF) in April and May 1917.

Bullecourt is located in prime agricultural country in an ancient region where long-established small farming villages sit close together. Few of these villages have grown much in the past century and some had to be totally rebuilt after the destruction of the war. Between the villages lie unfenced rich fields of crops that have sustained the locals, and a wider community, for generations. When the Australians were there in 1917 they fought in the fields between the villages of Bullecourt, Riencourt, Hendecourt, and Quéant. War memorials recalling the Australian presence are now to be seen in Bullecourt village and in the adjoining fields. The most prominent is the bronze sculpture The Digger by Melbourne artist Peter Corlett, unveiled in 1993.

There are no large war cemeteries in the immediate vicinity, such as there are at the center of most battle sites. This is a reflection of the fighting in the area. There are cemeteries, but they stand a few kilometrers from the killing fields, which had remained a no-man’s-land throughout the war. Perhaps the most poignant is Quéant Road Cemetery near Buissy. Almost 1,000 graves are known to contain Australians, but for 700 the identity of the actual soldier is unknown.

For those who survived the fighting at Bullecourt, it was an experience of horror and devastation they could never forget. Their battalions had already endured the terrible 1916–17 winter, with the opposing armies facing each other across desolate fields of frozen mud. The Germans had used the time to build a great defensive line a few kilometers behind their front, which the Allies called the Hindenburg Line.

Early in 1917, once the weather had improved, the Germans staged a fighting withdrawal to their new line. For the Allied troops the sudden advance across open fields gave them a false hope that victory could soon be at hand. Their advance continued up to the Hindenburg Line.

Belief in an early victory was soon cast aside. As a part of a fresh British-French Arras Offensive, the Australian 4th Division was ordered to assault the Hindenburg Line to the right of Bullecourt village in the early morning of 11 April 1917. The enemy defenses consisted of deep trenches, dugouts, and pillboxes, protected by wide belts of barbed wire and cleverly sited machine guns. A feature of the attack was the provision of a dozen tanks to support the leading infantry from the 4th and 12th Brigades. 

The attack was a disaster. Despite their crews’ bravery, the tanks performed poorly and were soon burning wrecks. Fighting desperately, the Australian infantry managed to gain a brief hold on the German line but were driven out by fierce counterattacks.

Under heavy artillery shelling, machine gun fire, mortar and grenade exchanges, and even hand-to-hand fighting, the Australians suffered terrible casualties. They were finally forced to withdraw, while the British 62nd Division fighting alongside was also exposed and suffered losses. The Australian division lost 3,000 officers and men killed and wounded, and 1,170 became prisoners of war. The 4th Brigade suffered most, losing 2,339 men from a strength of 3,000!

An Exhausted Digger Sleeps in a Trench

A survivor from one of the 4th Brigade battalions later wrote:

A pitifully weak company was all that remained of the proud, strong unit that had marched that way a few days ago. The other battalions of the brigade cheered us as we marched. That night in Bapaume we sat through a picture-show. It was strange and unreal to watch slapstick comedies with minds not yet detuned from battle. A few days later we stood on parade while “Birdy” (General Birdwood) delivered some of his “usual”. Then he spoke of our losses. Officers – hard-faced, hard-swearing men broke down. From the silent other ranks came a deep feeling of warmth and sympathy, a feeling that endured as long as the flame-racked years, and beyond.

Despite this local repulse, the offensive continued and again, on 3 May, the Australians were made to attack over the same ground. Now the task was given to the 2nd Division. This time the planning was better. Proper artillery support was to be available and there would be no tanks operating with the Diggers. The Australians no longer trusted tanks. (Their faith in them would not be restored until the successful battle of Hamel in July the following year. By that time, a much improved version of the tank was available and employed in large numbers.)

The fighting over the next days was furious, with the Australians getting a grip on the Hindenburg Line and repelling wild counterattacks that sometimes included flamethrowers. The 1st Australian Division then took over and went into the fight. On 7 May British troops captured part of the ruins of Bullecourt village; on the same day the Australian 5th Division resting near Albert was told to prepare for action. The second battle, which was intended to engage one Australian division, had now drawn in three. The British 62nd Division was similarly replaced. Finally, the Germans gave Bullecourt away and on 20 May the fighting closed.

The Australian and British troops, fighting under frightful conditions, had captured a small part of the Hindenburg Line and held it, but this could not be exploited; there was to be no breakthrough. The offensive closed and the British turned their attention to the fighting in Flanders. The second battle of Bullecourt caused a further 7,000 Australian casualties, from which the AIF never fully recovered. The losses meant that plans for a sixth division were dropped and they contributed to another unsuccessful attempt at home to introduce conscription. The tired and depleted troops moved into rest areas for the longest break from fighting they had seen since arriving in France.

The battles of Bullecourt continue to interest historians. Deficiencies in command, from the senior British level to the Australian staff officers and operational commanders, and even the location of the attack, have been examined. In particular, some believe failure to cover the right flank left troops dangerously exposed to heavy enfilading fire. Under this fire, the 5th Brigade faltered on the first day of the second battle, leaving many of its dead hanging on the wire.

War Damaged Quéant on the Australian Right Flank

Bullecourt had again shown the bravery of Australian troops in attack, and added another hard-earned battle honor to the AIF’s list. The opposing soldiers, men of the 27th Württemberg Division, may well have been the toughest fighters the Australians encountered during the war. Still, the heavy losses, for so little gain, were part of the reason that 1917 was to be remembered as a year of disasters.

There would be further fighting by British divisions around Bullecourt, but the Australian troops did not come back. Their main areas of future operations were to be Flanders and the Somme. It is Australians of later generations who come to the place today to remember the sacrifice that took place during the terrible struggle of those fatal weeks of April and May 1917. 

Tuesday, July 28, 2020

Lawrence of Arabia on War: The Campaign in the Desert 1916-18,

by Rob Johnson
Osprey Publishing, 2020
David F. Beer, Reviewer

So many books and articles exist on Lawrence of Arabia—plus a 1962 award-winning movie—that we might be forgiven for thinking the subject has been exhausted. But as author, researcher, and former army officer Dr Rob Johnson reveals in this book, there is still more to be gleaned and appreciated. Lawrence of Arabia on War describes not only the war Lawrence fought but also the many lessons still to be learned from his thinking and actions while fighting a guerrilla war in the desert.

Leading a local irregular army of tribesmen against the Ottoman Army in the brutal environment of the Hejaz required not only tactical skill but also uncommon fortitude, understanding, and philosophical acceptance. Lawrence's "army" consisted of varied Arab groups that were not exactly pals' battalions. Suspicious of each other, often hostile and jealous, they largely focused on what loot might be gained from attacks on Ottoman railways and installations. They marched to their own tune, resting when it suited them, and returning home if they felt like it. Once Lawrence had to wait while a group suddenly decided to kill a camel and eat it. As Johnson points out, "This was the context for Lawrence's observations that the Arab irregulars could neither hold defended positions nor conduct sustained assaults. It was a critical moment in his appreciation of how to orchestrate guerrilla warfare in order to overcome the obvious shortcomings of untrained, badly disciplined fighters who were unused to fighting in large formations" (p. 48).

This is a fast-moving narrative, meticulous in describing operations, topography from Aqaba to Aleppo (almost down to the last wadi), and in providing the names and titles of important Arab fighters and tribal leaders. The geography involved is not well-known to most of us, but the author's careful account, with the help of three maps at the start of the book, keep us grounded in Lawrence's campaign.

The Assault on Aqaba

Some aspects of this campaign became clearer to me while I read. One was the extent to which Lawrence was not always a free agent but was closely tied to the operations of British and French forces and often dependent on them and their supplies. Another was the sheer bloodiness of the campaign at times. Wholesale slaughter of prisoners and wounded was often practiced due to the need for an extremely high degree of mobility—or for revenge. But my most significant insight was (and this relates to Johnson's central thesis) the importance of Lawrence's upbringing, education, interests, psychological makeup, and literary skills, all of which informed his valuable written records.

Lawrence took extensive notes during his desert campaign despite operational demands and his own emotional and physical illnesses. His literary studies and campaign experiences came to fruition in February 1922, when he completed the autobiographical account of his fighting in the desert, Seven Pillars of Wisdom. The book was published in December 1926 and has both its admirers and detractors but is still the one indispensable insight into the nature of Lawrence's campaign. It is one of the primary sources from which we can examine Lawrence's theories of guerrilla warfare, theories that are still relevant today and which to some extent evolved from On War (1832) by Carl von Clausewitz and the 1896 manual of Charles Edward Callwell, Small Wars: Their Principles and Practice.

The author explains these theories, showing how Lawrence arrived at them and put them into practice. In fact Lawrence "summarized the essence of war into the three fundamental elements of algebra, bionomics and diathetics" (p. 294). Daunting as these terms may sound, they are made clear throughout Lawrence of Arabia on War where they are seen, broadly, as the mathematical, psychological, and doctrinal aspects of nontraditional combat. It's not surprising that Lawrence and certain aspects of his doctrines were in following years to become important sources for those planning guerrilla actions, insurgencies, and other forms of covert or maverick military action.

It's difficult to describe such a detailed and engaging work as this in one short review. Sixteen chapters, some 40 black-and-white photos, a comprehensive bibliography, and a solid index all come nicely together to provide a solid and refreshing addition to the corpus of scholarly writing on the man the world still knows as Lawrence of Arabia. I heartily recommend this book.

David F. Beer

Monday, July 27, 2020

Vittorio Veneto: Final Act on the Italian Front

Italian Troops Advancing Toward Vittorio Veneto

Despite the resounding defeat of the Austro-Hungarians at the Battle of the Piave River in June 1918 the cautious Italian chief of staff Armando Diaz hesitated to press home his advantage over the Austro-Hungarians, preferring to confine the army to local operations. This was despite appeals from both Ferdinand Foch–the Allied Supreme Commander–and Lord Cavan, commander of British forces in Italy.

However, the advancing successes of Italy's allies on the Western Front—which effectively ruled out German assistance to their Austro-Hungarian allies on the Italian Front (with the Germans themselves requesting assistance in France)–brought about a change of heart. The Italian government, keen to ensure the maximum territorial gains ahead of the ensuing peace conference, added to the chorus of pressure upon Diaz. Thus, he resolved to launch a combined offensive. A primary assault would be launched on the Piave, intended to advance upon Vittorio Veneto.

Diaz reasoned that this would cause a separation between Austro-Hungarian forces on the Adriatic plains and those in the mountains—at which point he would simply "roll up" the isolated Austro-Hungarian mountain force. Separately to the west, at Mount Grappa, the Italian Fourth Army would penetrate the Austro-Hungarian lines held by Archduke Josef (in the west) and Boroević von Bojna (in the east running along the Piave). Facing the Austro-Hungarians across the river were four Italian armies—the Third, Eighth, Tenth, and Twelfth.

The combined Italian force totaled a sizeable 57 divisions, of which three were British and two French, along with a single U.S. regiment. Ranged against them were 52 nominal Austro-Hungarian divisions. In terms of artillery, the Italians also held the advantage with 7,700 guns to 6,030. Crucially, Italian morale was notably higher than the thoroughly demoralized Austro-Hungarian force.

West Point Atlas Map of the Battle of Vittorio Veneto

The attack opened on 23 October 1918 with an Italian advance in the mountains. The extent of Austro-Hungarian resistance surprised Diaz, however, and succeeded in preventing any significant Italian gains, although the Austro-Hungarians were obliged to bring up reserves from the Lower Piave. Such reserves could be ill afforded given that the main Italian advance began the same day in the Lower Piave.

Lord Cavan's Tenth Army succeeded in capturing Papadopoli Island two days later, on 25 October. On 27 October his force was again in the fore, succeeding—in spite of a river flood—in establishing a bridgehead across the river, meeting with relatively light Austro-Hungarian resistance. Some 24km further north, Twelfth Army, led by General Graziani, also crossed the river and likewise established a bridgehead; Eighth Army followed to Graziani's right. Shortly afterward, Cavan dispatched two detachments to clear the river of remaining Austro-Hungarian resistance, after which the bridgeheads were joined.

With Cavan's main force pushing ahead on 27 October, the Austro-Hungarian Fifth Army was forced back. Three days later the Italian Third and Tenth Armies succeeded in reaching the River Livenza and Eighth Army took the primary target of Vittorio Veneto, thereby splitting the Austro-Hungarian armies. 

American Troops Crossing the Piave River

The U.S. 332nd Infantry Regiment assisted in forcing the Tagliamento River during this phase. With the Allies succeeding in advancing 24km along a 56km front, a truce was finally agreed on 2 November with the capture of Tagliamento; an armistice came into effect the following day, signed at Padua. Hostilities were concluded on 4 November.

A resounding success for the Allies, Vittorio Veneto finished the Austro-Hungarian army as a fighting force. The Italians lost some 38,000 casualties, a figure dwarfed by the 300,000 prisoners suffered by the Austro-Hungarians. Simultaneous political turmoil completed the disintegration of the Austro-Hungarian Empire.


Sunday, July 26, 2020

Important Correction: Regarding the BBC Great War Series

Saturday I posted the second episode of the WRONG World War I series.  If you wish to see the real second episode of the BBC Great War Series, please go here:

General George Marshall Tells Us About His Old Boss—General John J. Pershing—A Roads Classic

The biographer of General George C. Marshall, Forrest Pogue, published the preliminary interviews he made with his subject in 1957. In Tapes 6 and 7, which cover Marshall's time with the AEF (during which he played critical roles as the chief of operations of the 1st Division and then the First Army), Pogue asked a number of questions about General John J. Pershing with whom General Marshall had a long relationship during and after the war. (Pershing lived until 1948.)  Here is a selection of Marshall's memories of his old chief. I've regrouped comments that deal with similar themes and indicated the interviewer's question when necessary.

Colonel Marshall and General Pershing After the War

The Pershing Style of Leadership

FP Question:  How did Pershing operate as top American commander? What is your estimate of him as a leader?

GM Response: General Pershing as a leader always dominated any gathering where he was. He was a tremendous driver, if necessary; a very kindly, likable man on off-duty status but very stern on a duty basis.

General Pershing, as top commander, operated very largely through his operational staff—that was General Fox Conner, who was the head of the G-3 organization—so far as fighting was concerned. He would make a temporary headquarters at the front. And, of course, for quite a long time he commanded the First Army before it was split up into two armies, and then he commanded the group of armies. But he would either live on his train or otherwise get disposed up on the battle front in order to be near the fighting and continue to command. Every now and then he would have to go off to Paris when some momentous meeting would occur.

I have never seen a man who could listen to as much criticism, as long as it was constructive criticism and wasn't just being irritable or something of that sort. You could talk to him like he was discussing somebody in the next county and yet you were talking about him personally. It might be about a social thing, certainly about an official thing. You could say what you pleased as long as it was straight, constructive criticism. He did not hold it against you for an instant. I never saw another commander that I could do that with. Their sensitivity clouded them up so it just wouldn't work. I've seen some that I could be very frank with, but I never could be frank to the degree that I could with General Pershing.

FP:  I have read statements that you absorbed from General Pershing his insistence on "spit and polish" and strong discipline. Is this true?

GM: I don't think I learned from him the spit and polish part. I knew how to do that long before I ever saw him. It has a decided place and is pretty much evidence of the general state of discipline of the command. The point is when it's overdone, of course, it's harmful as anything is, as a rule, that is harmful and that would be particularly harmful if it took away a lot of time from the other training.

I might accentuate the fact that [General Pershing] was very delightful, very delightful to go along with when we weren't working. He was almost boyish in his reactions and we would have a very pleasant time. The minute we came to work, he then was the very serious-minded, you might say almost implacable executive.

Pershing the Strategist

FP:    I understand that General Pershing wanted to go on to Berlin. What was your own view?

GM:  At the time of General Pershing's problem of maybe going on to Berlin, one of the great troubles was there wasn't the transport. The horses were all gone, largely. When they started the [occupation] march into Germany, I had to unhorse brigade after brigade of artillery and leave them on foot near the railheads and take their horses for the units that were going into Germany. We were very hard put in those respects, and if the battle had been carried on into Berlin. . .

FP:  President Pershing?

GM:  I think early in General Pershing's period of return from France, some of his friends deluded him into this presidential aspect. I know one group came up from Tennessee, and I sent them back home. He was away at the time and he was furious with me. I didn't even consult him. I knew pretty well what the general reactions were, and I thought it was a shame that he might in some way cut down his prestige by being involved in that sort of a thing unless it was almost by acclamation.

Pershing's Heritage

FP:   What was the impact of General Pershing on the U.S. Army? Did he raise the soldierly standards of the army by his insistence on discipline? 

GM:  I think he did raise the standards of the army by his insistence on [his] type of discipline. Very naturally, he would. He was a very imposing and impressive man.

Saturday, July 25, 2020

Episode 2 of BBC's GREAT WAR Series

I had such a favoraable response to my presentation of the first episode of BBC's 1964 GREAT WAR series (EPISODE 1 HERE)  that I've decided  to present the entire series starting today and on subsequent Saturdays. Here's Episode 2.

For Such a Stupid Reason, Too

Video Corrected, 26 July 2020, 1617 PDT

Friday, July 24, 2020

Edward Grey's Lamps Are Still There

The lamps are going out all over Europe, we shall not see them lit again in our lifetime.

On Horse Guards Road

It was on 3 August 1914 that Sir Edward Grey made his famous quote. He was speaking to his friend, the journalist John Alfred Spender, editor of the Westminster Gazette, in Grey’s room in the Foreign Office. Looking out from his window, across St. James’s Park, it was dusk and the first of the gaslights along the Mall were being lit. The next day Grey would have to face the Cabinet and to persuade them that the time had now come to declare war on Germany. Those lamps that inspired Grey's thought are still present and operating along the Mall adjacent to St. James's Palace and Horse Guards Road immediately in front of the Foreign Office.

On the Mall Near St. James Palace

Thursday, July 23, 2020

The EU's World War I Roots

Early Advocates
Jean Monnet • Gustav Stresemann   N. von Coudenhove-Kalergi

By Marcus Walker

Many people know that today’s European Union and the euro currency evolved out of 1950s treaties between France, West Germany, Italy, and others that kick-started European integration.

Less well known is that the basic idea—to build a peace-loving European federation through practical economic ties—was a result of World War I. It lost out to national animosities in the interwar period. Only after another war did it become politically realistic.

There is no future for the people of Europe other than in union.
Jean Monnet

Among the progenitors was a young French official and cognac dealer, Jean Monnet, who worked on a proposal for European economic cooperation at the 1919 Paris Peace Conference. Few governments were interested. Instead, the conference imposed the punitive Treaty of Versailles on Germany.

European intellectuals were more enthusiastic. An Austrian count, Richard Nikolaus von Coudenhove-Kalergi, in 1923 published the book Pan-Europa, calling for a European political and economic union, and founded a movement for European unification that won the support of many of the Continent’s leading minds, including Albert Einstein, Sigmund Freud, and Thomas Mann. Early members of Coudenhove’s movement included the mayor of Cologne, Konrad Adenauer.

The Pan-Europa Program is the only possible solution to the European border problem. The incompatibility of all national aspirations, as well as the tension between geographic -strategic, historical-economic and national borders in Europe makes a fair border management impossible. A change of the borders would eliminate old injustices, but put new ones in their place.
Nikolaus von Coudenhove-Kalergi

French Foreign Minister Aristide Briand took up Coudenhove’s ideas and proposed a European federation in September 1929. The same month, Mr. Briand’s ally and German counterpart Gustav Stresemann, the most notable statesman produced by the wobbly Weimar Republic, called for common European money.

Here we encounter two conflicting concepts with which we must come to grips in our time: the idea of national solidarity and the idea of international cooperation. 
Gustav Stresemann

Soon afterward, Mr. Stresemann died, the New York Stock Exchange crashed, and the crisis-plagued 1930s buried Mr. Briand’s plan for a “European Federal Union.”

Mr. Monnet and Mr. Adenauer were among those who revived the idea after the next war left Europe in ruins. This time, it took root.

Source: Wall Street Journal,  100 Years, 100 Legacies from World War I 

Wednesday, July 22, 2020

Ground Zero for the Spanish Influenza Pandemic: Haskell County, Kansas, USA

The Killer of 1918: Virus H1N1

From: The site of origin of the 1918 influenza pandemic and its public health implications
By John M Barry
Journal of Translational Medicine, 20 January 2004

The 1918–1919 influenza pandemic killed more people than any other outbreak of disease in human history. The lowest estimate of the death toll is 21 million, while recent scholarship estimates from 50 to 100 million dead. World population was then only 28 percent what it is today, and most deaths occurred in a 16-week period, from mid-September to mid-December of 1918.

It has never been clear, however, where this pandemic began. Since influenza is an endemic disease, not simply an epidemic one, it is impossible to answer this question with absolute certainty. Nonetheless, in seven years of work on a history of the pandemic, this author conducted an extensive survey of contemporary medical and lay literature searching for epidemiological evidence—the only evidence available. That review suggests that the most likely site of origin was Haskell County, Kansas, an isolated and sparsely populated county in the southwest corner of the state, in January 1918. . .

[If]  the contemporary observers were correct, if American troops carried the virus to Europe, where in the United States did it begin?

Both contemporary epidemiological studies and lay histories of the pandemic have identified the first known outbreak of epidemic influenza as occurring at Camp Funston, now Ft. Riley, in Kansas. But there was one place where a previously unknown—and remarkable—epidemic of influenza occurred.

Location of Haskell County, Kansas

Haskell County, Kansas, lay 300 miles to the west of Funston. There the smell of manure meant civilization. People raised grains, poultry, cattle, and hogs. Sod houses were so common that even one of the county's few post offices was located in a dug-out sod home. In 1918 the population was just 1,720, spread over 578 square miles. But primitive and raw as life could be there, science had penetrated the county in the form of Dr. Loring Miner. Enamored of ancient Greece—he periodically reread the classics in Greek—he epitomized William Welch's comment that "the results [of medical education] were better than the system." His son was also a doctor, trained in fully scientific ways, serving in the Navy in Boston.

In late January and early February 1918 Miner was suddenly faced with an epidemic of influenza, but an influenza unlike any he had ever seen before. Soon dozens of his patients—the strongest, the healthiest, the most robust people in the county—were being struck down as suddenly as if they had been shot. Then one patient progressed to pneumonia. Then another. And they began to die. The local paper, Santa Fe Monitor, apparently worried about hurting morale in wartime, initially said little about the deaths but on inside pages in February reported, "Mrs. Eva Van Alstine is sick with pneumonia. Her little son Roy is now able to get up... Ralph Lindeman is still quite sick... Goldie Wolgehagen is working at the Beeman store during her sister Eva's sickness... Homer Moody has been reported quite sick... Mertin, the young son of Ernest Elliot, is sick with pneumonia... Pete Hesser's children are recovering nicely... Ralph McConnell has been quite sick this week." (Santa Fe Monitor, February 14th, 1918)

The epidemic got worse. Then, as abruptly as it came, it disappeared. Men and women returned to work. Children returned to school. And the war regained its hold on people's thoughts.

The disease did not, however, slip from Miner's thoughts. Influenza was neither a reportable disease nor a disease that any state or federal public health agency tracked. Yet Miner considered this incarnation of the disease so dangerous that he warned national public health officials about it. Public Health Reports (now Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report), a weekly journal produced by the U.S. Public Health Service to alert health officials to outbreaks of communicable diseases throughout the world, published his warning. In the first six months of 1918, this would be the only reference in that journal to influenza anywhere in the world.

View Today from Haskell County's Major Crossroad

Historians and epidemiologists have previously ignored Haskell most likely because his report was not published until April and it referred to deaths on March 30, after influenza outbreaks elsewhere. In actuality, by then the county was free of influenza. Haskell County, Kansas, is the first recorded instance anywhere in the world of an outbreak of influenza so unusual that a physician warned public health officials. It remains the first recorded instance suggesting that a new virus was adapting, violently, to man.

If the virus did not originate in Haskell, there is no good explanation for how it arrived there. There were no other known outbreaks anywhere in the United States from which someone could have carried the disease to Haskell and no suggestions of influenza outbreaks in either newspapers or reflected in vital statistics anywhere else in the region. And unlike the 1916 outbreak in France, one can trace with perfect definiteness the route of the virus from Haskell to the outside world.

All Army personnel from the county reported to Funston for training. Friends and family visited them at Funston. Soldiers came home on leave, then returned to Funston. The Monitor reported in late February, "Most everybody over the country is having lagrippe or pneumonia." (Santa Fe Monitor, February 21st 1918) It also noted, "Dean Nilson surprised his friends by arriving at home from Camp Funston on a five days furlough. Dean looks like soldier life agrees with him." He soon returned to the camp. Ernest Elliot left to visit his brother at Funston as his child fell ill. On February 28, John Bottom left for Funston. "We predict John will make an ideal soldier," said the paper. (Santa Fe Monitor, February 28th, 1918)

These men, and probably others unnamed by the paper, were exposed to influenza and would have arrived in Funston between February 26 and March 2. On March 4 the first soldier at the camp reported ill with influenza at sick call. The camp held an average of 56,222 troops. Within three weeks more than 1,100 others were sick enough to require hospitalization, and thousands more—the precise number was not recorded—needed treatment at infirmaries scattered around the base.

Whether or not the Haskell virus did spread across the world, the timing of the Funston explosion strongly suggests that the influenza outbreak there did come from Haskell. Meanwhile Funston fed a constant stream of men to other American locations and to Europe, men whose business was killing. They would be more proficient at it than they knew.

Soldiers moved uninterrupted between Funston and the outside world, especially to other Army bases and France. On March 18, Camps Forrest and Greenleaf in Georgia saw their first cases of influenza and by the end of April 24 of the 36 main Army camps suffered an influenza epidemic. Thirty of the 50 largest cities in the country also had an April spike in excess mortality from influenza and pneumonia. Although this spring wave was generally mild—the killing second wave struck in the fall—there were still some disturbing findings. A subsequent Army study said, "At this time the fulminating pneumonia, with wet hemorrhagic lungs, fatal in from 24 to 48 hours, was first observed." (Pathology reports suggest what we now call ARDS.) The first recorded autopsy in Chicago of an influenza victim was conducted in early April. The pathologist noted, "The lungs were full of hemorrhages." He found this unusual enough to ask the then-editor of the Journal of Infectious Diseases "to look over it as a new disease."

By then, influenza was erupting in France, first at Brest, the single largest port of disembarkation for American troops. By then, as MacFarlane Burnet later said, "It is convenient to follow the story of influenza at this period mainly in regard to the army experiences in America and Europe."

Tuesday, July 21, 2020

Journey's End (2017 Film)

Directed by Saul Dibb
Adapted from the 1928 R.C. Sheriff Play
Michael Hanlon, Reviewer

C Company Rotating into the Front Line

Journey's End is a 2017 film presentation of the 1928 play of the same title by British war veteran R.C. Sheriff. It came and went without much ado during the last year of the Great War's centennial. I was a little hesitant in getting around to viewing it myself because of my memories of a dismal 1988 TV version that was basically a filmed stage production. The solitary set of that film and the original play was a dark and dreary officers' dugout.

Happily, I had the opportunity to view the 2017 version recently. I discovered that director Saul Dibb and his screenwriter, Simon Reade, chose to add some scenes that allow the viewer and the characters to get outside that confining dugout to breathe a little and engage the men of C Company and their superiors. It's a much more dynamic presentation, much in the cinematic spirit of contemporary British war films like 1917 and Dunkirk.

The DVD for This Version of Jouney's End Can Be Purchased HERE

The story told is a familiar and grim one. Somewhere on the Western Front, it's the spring of 1918 and everyone knows the Germans are about to mount a major attack. C Company is rotated into the front line with the enemy offensive expected soon. Its commander holds orders to defend the line at all costs and not to expect reinforcements. The officers display stiff upper lips before the men, but in their dugout all the stress of the war and the knowledge of what's coming cause them to drop their command faces and reveal their apprehensions as (spoiler alert) their doom approaches.

A Claustrophoic Mess Time in the Officers' Dugout

The cast is uniformly excellent: Sam Claflin as heavy-drinking and hot-headed Captain Stanhope (first played by Laurence Olivier on stage), Paul Bettany (the ship's doctor in Master and Commander) as his firmly grounded and supportive deputy Lt. Osborne, and Asa Butterfield, as the newly arrived 2nd Lt.. Raleigh, former schoolmate of Stanhope and brother of an old girlfriend. The naive Raleigh, naturally, gets a rapid and shocking initiation to the front.

One of the best sequences, a well-staged trench raid, is certainly an add-on for the movie version or a least a greatly enhanced version of whatever was presented in the playhouse. It's an exciting piece of film making in any case.  I think Journey's End is worth the attention of any of our readers and hope you'll take a look at it. It's streamable on Amazon Prime or can be purchased as a DVD. Viewing this well-made film made me wish—one last time—that Hollywood could have produced something of comparable quality to recall the American effort and sacrifices during the war's centennial.

M. Hanlon

Monday, July 20, 2020

Supplying Locomotives for the AEF

A Surviving General Pershing Locomotive

By James Patton

From the outset it was apparent that the American Expeditionary Force (AEF) would have to build its own logistical network in France; up to 25,000 tons of material would be arriving every day, and by war’s end over eight million tons had been shipped to the AEF. Port facilities had to be built or improved at Brest, St. Nazaire, Nantes, Bordeaux, Rouen, Rochefort, La Pallice, Bayonne, Le Havre, and Marseilles. It was also clear that the French rail system wouldn’t be able to move the AEF and its logistical tail around the country. Among other things, they were very short of locomotives. The necessary solution was to bring American railroad equipment to France.

The Baldwin Locomotive Works was contracted to supply 1,500 locomotives, and after testing and acceptance these had to then be disassembled and crated for shipment, a process which took several days. Even with economies of scale, as all of the units were identical 2-8-0 engines, inevitably called "The General Pershing" Class, there were serious delays in reassembling them in France. At first the average time to get a disassembled locomotive in operation after arrival was 33 days, but this increased due to the large number being received and the inevitable mixing up of crates.

This problem landed in the lap of Samuel Morse Felton Jr. (1853–1930), who had been appointed the director-general of military railways. He was the son of a pioneer railroad builder, an 1873 graduate of the predecessor of MIT, and had spent his life in American railroading, finishing as the head of the Chicago Great Western Railroad.

A Services of Supply Crew Preparing a Locomotive in France

It became apparent that the best solution would be to ship the locomotives fully assembled.  Felton had the tonnage market searched for single deck ships with large open holds and at least four hatches of sufficient size to admit locomotives that were 35 feet, 8 inches long and 9 feet wide. They found four ore carriers of the same class, two of which were recently completed and two under construction by the Bethlehem  Shipyard. These ships were:

  • SS Feltore, which later ran aground in Chile in 1930,
  • SSSantore, which was sunk by a mine laid by U-701 on 17 June 1942,
  • SS Cubore, which was torpedoed and sunk by UB-107 on 15 August 1918, outward bound in the Bay of Biscay, and
  • SS Firmore, postwar history unknown.

They found a derrick at Sparrows Point, Maryland, capable of dead-lifting the 75.5-ton locomotives. The first shipment was loaded on the Feltore on 30 April 1918.

Loading a Locomotive onto SS Feltore

Thirty-three locomotives and their tenders, essentially ready for steam, were placed in the hold of the Feltore, with bales of hay wedged around them to keep them from shifting. The shipment arrived at St. Nazaire without incident.

By this means, the time required in getting a locomotive in operation after its arrival in France was reduced to eight hours.

The Collier SS Santore Was Perfect for Carrying Locomotives

Later an improved stowage plan made it possible to load 36 locomotives and tenders in the holds of these four vessels, and Felton’s staff requisitioned another 12 ships capable of holding the units on their wheels, although not as many as in the ore carriers.

Today there are two (possibly three) of the General Pershing locomotives left and only one is operational. During WWI this particular unit was used in the Army’s marshaling yards in New Jersey and today runs as a tourist attraction between Rusk and Palestine in Texas.

Source:  Kansas Centennial Committee Website, 14 March 2018

Sunday, July 19, 2020

My Favorite World War One Sites in London

The Cenotaph

Unknown Warrior
Westminster Abbey

Imperial War Museum
Lambeth Road

Belgian Refugee Memorial (Centerpiece)
The Embankment

Edith Cavell Memorial
St. Martin's Place

Guards Memorial
Horse Guards Parade

Imperial Camel Corps Memorial
Embankment Gardens

National Army Museum

RAF Memorial
Victoria Embankment

Royal Artillery Memorial
Hyde Park Corner

Cleopatra's Needle Sphinx 1917 Gotha Bombing Damage 
Victoria Embankment

Tower Hill (Near Tower of London) Memorial Commemoration Men of the Merchant Navy and Fishing Fleets Lost at Sea During the World Wars

Saturday, July 18, 2020

Messy Nessy Connects Absinthe, Wine, and World War I for Us

One of our favorite bloggers, Messy Nessy, an expert on all things French and Parisian,  occasionally ventures back in time to the First World War.  She shares some surprising insights on matters alcoholic in a recent posting.

 In 1910, the French were drinking 36 million litres of absinthe per year.

Spurred by the temperance movement and, funnily enough, allied by the winemakers’ associations, absinthe began to be publicly associated with violent crimes and social disorder. Haunting posters depicted alcohol and even bartenders as the enemy. France banned absinthe altogether in 1915.

The rise of wine mirrored the rise of the working class, but it wasn’t until World War I that it truly became the French national drink as it is so commonly stereotyped today.

“Basically the soldiers went over the top pickled on pinard, the strong, low-quality wine which was supplied in bulk. Up until then the Normans, the Bretons, the people of Picardy and the north, they had never touched wine. But they learned in the trenches,” explains Denis Saverot, an editor of a wine review magazine speaking to the BBC in 2013 for an article ironically titled "Why Are the French Drinking Less Wine?"

“After that in France we generalized the consumption of cheap wine so that by the 1950s there were drinking outlets, cafes and bars, everywhere. Tiny villages would have five or six. But that was the high point.”

If you are looking for something uniquely different in your daily explorations, try the bubbly and refreshing Messy Nessy and her Cabinet of Chic Curiosities.

Tip of the hat to my Donna Gaye