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

Friday, October 30, 2020

Lt. Xavier Fluhr's Remarkable Photo Collection

Lieutenant Xavier Paul Fluhr (1885–1956) was an officer with the French 38th Army Corps.  He was apparently a photographer himself, but his collection of war photographs also contain images seized from German prisoners.  Here are a dozen from his collection of over 400 photographs.

Kaiser Wilhelm II Decorating a Wounded Manfred von Richthofen

Fokker Eindecker E-3 Taking Off

Crash of German Rumpler Fighter

Bombs Falling on a Railyard

Tribute to French Pilot Joseph Vachon, KIA

Crown Prince Wilhelm Hosting the Tsar of Bulgaria

Crown Prince Wilhelm at His Headquarters for the Battle of Verdun

Damaged Reims Cathedral from the Air

French Lookout Killed at Post and Devoured by Rats

German Prisoners

Trenches at Berry-au-Bac, April 1916

Military Attachés at GQG de Compiègne

Source:  Hérault Department, France, Archives

Thursday, October 29, 2020

Emperor Karl's 1917 Peace Effort


Karl I was the last ruler of the Austro-Hungarian monarchy (21 November 1916–11 November 1918). A grandnephew of Emperor Franz Joseph, Karl became heir presumptive to the Habsburg throne upon the assassination of his uncle, Franz Ferdinand. After his accession, he made a series of attempts to take Austria-Hungary out of World War I through secret overtures to the Allied powers. His effort was the first in a series of ill-fated peace initiatives and gestures in 1917.

As early as 1915, in uniform on the Eastern Front and still heir to the throne, Karl was losing his earlier enthusiasm for the war. He let it be known he would be happy if Austria-Hungary concluded a separate peace with Russia status quo ante-bellum. On the eve of his succession he expressed doubts about the endurance of his own army and that peace would have to be concluded in any case when it soon ran out of men. He enthusiastically endorsed a German peace feeler but knew it was doomed because it was “too demanding regarding territorial conquests.” Karl ascended to the throne determined to use his new powers to seek peace. Soon after, he learned of impending food shortages, especially for cereals and potatoes, due to poor harvests, the turmoil in Galicia, and domestic distribution issues. Shortages of all kinds were especially bad in his capital, Vienna. Buried in his accession manifesto is this revealing sentence: “I want to do everything to banish the horrors and sacrifices of the war as soon as possible, and to win back for my peoples the sorely missed blessings of peace.”

With this determination to pursue peace, he chose to act in secret using his own brother-in-law, Prince Sixtus von Bourbon-Parma, a serving officer in the Belgian Army, as the lead intermediary. The core points of the emperor's proposal were a peace based on the restoration and compensation of Belgium, a peace with Russia in return for Russia's declaration that it held no claim to Constantinople, the re-establishment of Serbia with an outlet on the Adriatic, and support of the "just" claims of France in Alsace-Lorraine.

All of Karl's efforts failed because Germany effectively held veto power over any military settlement, resistance from his foreign ministry, and his own refusal to cede the Sud Tyrol (Trentino) to Italy. His secretive effort blew up in the spring of 1918, when French prime minister Clemenceau publicly confirmed the substance of the discussions, much to Karl's embarrassment. Nonetheless, all the would-be peace efforts of 1917 were doomed. The belligerents were not ready for it.

Source: Over the Top, December 2017

Wednesday, October 28, 2020

Italy's Unknown Soldier

Contributed by Steve Miller

Italy's Unknown Soldier lies at Rome's magnificent Victor Emmanuel II Monument, named after the first king of a unified Italy. Officially it's known as Altare della Patria (Altar of the Fatherland), located in the center of Rome.

Italy's Unknown was chosen on 28 October 1921, in the Basilica of Aquileia by Maria Bergamas, mother of Antonio Bergamas whose body was not recovered. She chose the coffin from among 11 unidentified bodies of members of the Italian Armed Forces whose remains had been retrieved from various areas of the front. Passing in front of the first nine coffins, she screamed her son's name and slumped to the ground before the tenth. The bodies not selected were buried at Aquileia's Military Cemetery.

Victor Emmanuel II Monument

The Unknown lies in a place of honor beneath the statue of the goddess Roma. Official ceremonies take place annually on the occasion of the Italian Liberation Day (25 April), the Italian Republic Day (2 June), and the National Unity and Armed Forces Day (4 November), during which the president of the Italian Republic and the highest offices of the state pay homage with the deposition of a laurel wreath in memory of the fallen and missing Italians in the wars.

He was awarded Italy's highest military decoration, the Gold Medal of Military Valour. On the front door of the internal crypt are words written by King Victor Emmanuel III: "Unknown the name—its spirit dazzles—wherever Italy is—with a voice of tears and pride—they say—innumerable mothers:—it is my son". An honor guard selected from Italy's various armed services is present, alternating every 10 years.

My thanks to Angelo Romano for his assistance. Grazie, Paisano!

Tuesday, October 27, 2020

Pioneers of Armour in the Great War

"Grit"— First Tank to Arrive in Australia

by David A. Finlayson & Michael K. Cecil
Pen & Sword Military, 2017
Bruce Sloan, Reviewer

This title is somewhat misleading, as the book was first published as Pioneers of Australian Armour in the Great War.  As such, it is of lesser scope than would otherwise be assumed. That being said, the text is an in-depth look at the beginning of Australian armor, from the first two volunteer-built armored cars (part 1) to the tank used as a crowd-pleasing fund-raiser in-country (part 2).

In early February 1916 the two armored cars were completed, the first a Daimler and the second a Mercedes. Training, staffing, etc. occurred until June, when the group embarked. In August, they arrived in Egypt and were attached to the 2nd Light Horse Brigade.

After patrolling and taking part in the actions in the Libyan desert, the crews switched to light Ford cars with machine guns and thus became the 1st Australian Light Car Patrol. They then patrol and fight in Palestine, are attached to various commands, are stationed at the Dead Sea, and participate in the Battle of Megiddo and the dash to Aleppo. After the Armistice, in January 1919, they battle with Kurdish bandits before going home.

Back in Australia, prior to receiving an actual tank, many different mock-ups were used to raise funds, some somewhat fanciful. When the real tank arrived in July 1918, and the fund-raising really started, the Mark IV female tank was named "Grit" by the wife of the South Australian Governor. Although "Grit" was not used in combat, it wowed the crowds in various cities and brought in many thousands of pounds for the war effort.

As the crews of the armored cars, the light car patrol, and "Grit" were not large, the authors are extremely detailed in the biographies of each crew member. This really gives the reader the flavor of Australian life at the time. The appendices include myriad details concerning the equipment, the timeline of the desert warfare, and even notes on tank driving.

If you are interested in the Anzac desert campaign, this is a wonderfully complete companion to that study.

Bruce Sloan

Monday, October 26, 2020

What Happened at Festubert?

Cameron Highlanders at Festubert

By David Craig

After the early 1915 battles of Neuve Chapelle (a British success) and Aubers Ridge (a failure due to inadequate artillery fire), Joffre and Foch continued to put pressure on Sir John French to continue offensive action. The day after the failure at Aubers Ridge, and despite the heavy fighting involving the defense of Ypres by the Second Army, planning for a further offensive operation on the Artois front was ordered. The BEF had a manpower shortage as newly raised divisions were being held in the UK while decisions were made to send them either to the Western Front or to Egypt. Despite the shortage of gun ammunition on the Western Front, French had been ordered to send much of his 4.5-inch howitzer ammunition to the Dardanelles and the BEF was reduced, at one point, to 92 rounds of ammunition for every rifle.

British Battlefields in Artois Early 1915

Nevertheless, Haig continued to plan a further assault on the Artois. The bitter experience of Aubers Ridge convinced him that, in the face of the developed German defenses and well-sited machine guns, a rapid infantry assault with distant objectives preceded by a short and sudden burst of intensive artillery fire was no longer possible. He planned to adopt the French pattern of a long methodical bombardment by heavy artillery to destroy the enemy's wire, strongpoints, and machine guns before the infantry was sent forward, with artillery moving forward in support. By 12 May a plan had been developed for an attack much reduced in scale from the Aubers Ridge attack, with two attacks 600 yards apart (as opposed to 6000) and objectives of 1000 yards (as opposed to 3000). 

A night attack on a one-mile front would enter the first two lines of German defenses, with a further attack at dawn, accompanied by a new simultaneous attack on a half-mile front just north of Festubert village. Again it was hoped that as the attackers spread out, they would join up. Air activity would now include bombing various German rest points and observation posts in the rear area. The intention was to wear down the defenders before the assault, acknowledgment being made that the long preliminary preparations would lose any element of surprise. Field artillery was carefully registered and the fire of the heavy artillery observed and corrected. (The observers would report that again many howitzer shells failed to explode, providing evidence of manufacturing failures.) 

At 11:30 p.m. on 15 May the Meerut Division attacked with mixed results. In places the German defenses were breached and the second line taken, but on the right of the attack the Germans illuminated the battlefield with searchlights and flares and heavy machine gun fire stalled the attackers. 

At first light, 3:15 on 16 May, the 7th Division attacked in the south. Despite German machine gun fire, the attacking troops broke into the German position and took the front line but were unable to make further progress. At 9:30 a.m. the gap between the two attacks had still not been closed. However, as the day wore on, small local attacks by the British continued to improve their situation. Fighting continued overnight. The German defenders in the south had been given orders to withdraw to a new line three quarters of a mile in the rear. At 2:45 a.m. on the 17th the British guns carried out a bombardment of German-held trenches in the vicinity of a strongpoint called "the quadrilateral.” So accurate was this fire that by 7:00 a.m. white flags were showing all along the line in this area and a large number of Germans attempted to surrender. Many were killed by their own artillery, but some 450 managed to cross no-man's-land to the British lines. 

Captured German Front Line

Fighting continued until the 18th, with both sides now nearing exhaustion and the attackers increasingly unable to make progress as German resistance stiffened on their new front line. On 19 May the line was taken over by the Canadian 1st Division and over the next nine days repeated attacks continued to gain ground, but by 25 May both sides were consolidating their new lines as fighting diminished. Despite German efforts the British held their new positions. 

That day the battle was shut down. Although results had been, in the words of the official historian, "tantalizing," the shortage of gun ammunition in First Army was such that continued offensive operations were simply not feasible. The fighting ability of the BEF was increasing, partly because of the "battle hardening" of raw troops and party due to the influx of recovered 1914 wounded and re-enlisted old soldiers, many with experience of fighting in South Africa or even older wars. Commanders were learning how to mount successful operations against entrenched positions, although much still needed to be learned. 

Though no German reserves had been called on to deal with the attack in the Battle of Aubers Ridge on the 9th of May the operation at Festubert had brought to the battle every German who could be spared.
British Official History

British losses were 11,739 wounded, 2,151 dead, and 2,758 missing. 

If the Aubers Ridge battle was a complete failure, the change in tactics delivered near success a mere three weeks later.

Source:  Over the Top, July 2015

Sunday, October 25, 2020

Buried Together: Two Brothers, Different Armies

Two brothers from Westfield, NJ, today lay in peace side by side at America's Meuse-Argonne Cemetery. Salter and Coleman Clark are one of 21 pairs of brothers buried there. They are unique, however, because they served in the armed forces of separate nations.

The older brother, Salter S. Clark Jr., was drafted into the war in February 1918 and landed in France in June with the AEF. He was brigaded with the British until his unit, the 311th Infantry Regiment of the 78th Lightning Division, was sent to Verdun. He was killed in the Argonne Forest on 1 November 1918.

When the United States entered the war, Asp. Coleman T. Clark attempted to join the American military but was told that his eyesight was too bad. Still determined to aid the war effort, Clark went to the French Army and joined the French Foreign Legion. He was killed in counter-battery fire on 29 May 1918 while attached to the 28th Air Corps of the French Army. He held the rank of aspirant (cadet) when he was killed. He was a recipient of the Croix de Guerre.

Coleman Tileston Clark is buried in Meuse-Argonne American Cemetery, Plot G, Row 1, Grave 6. His brother is alongside in Grave 7.

Source: ABMC

Friday, October 23, 2020

Recommended: Vienna 1913

1913 Vienna: When Hitler, Trotsky, Tito, Freud and Stalin All Lived in the Same Place

By Andy Walker, originally presented on BBC Radio 4,  18 April 2013

In January 1913, a man whose passport bore the name Stavros Papadopoulos disembarked from the Krakow train at Vienna's North Terminal station. Of dark complexion, he sported a large peasant's moustache and carried a very basic wooden suitcase. "I was sitting at the table," wrote the man he had come to meet, years later, "when the door opened with a knock and an unknown man entered.

"He was short... thin... his greyish-brown skin covered in pockmarks... I saw nothing in his eyes that resembled friendliness." The writer of these lines was a dissident Russian intellectual, the editor of a radical newspaper called Pravda (Truth). His name was Leon Trotsky. The man he described was not, in fact, Papadopoulos. He had been born Iosif Vissarionovich Dzhugashvili, was known to his friends as Koba, and is now remembered as Joseph Stalin. 

Vienna on the Eve of War

Thursday, October 22, 2020

The Emergence of the Poilu

The French frontline soldier of 1914 began morphing into the Poilu or "hairy one" as the war turned into a long slog. The expression has origins in the Napoleonic Wars, and while it explicitly refers to the facial hair that the men in the trenches affected, it suggested some other qualities like virility, self-reliance, the rural background of many of the soldiers, and a propensity to resist authority (grumbling).

The composite image above from Tony Langley's collection show the evolution of the Poilu as presented in French publications.

  • Top left, a sort of idealized, clean-cut image from the early war.
  • Bottom left, a 1914 image shows the growing popularity among the troops for mustaches and beards.
  • Top right, by 1915 the soldiers are showing serious cultivation of facial hair.
  • Bottom right, a 1917 drawing shows an example of the French soldier who had fully emerged by that stage of the war, the Poilu. Untidily bearded, utterly independent looking, he is carrying all the things necessary for making life at the front bearable, including kitchen utensils, and is smoking his ever-present pipe.
This Poilu "look" became almost a uniform standard for the French enlisted men of the Great War. As one commentator later said, it came to look as if every Poilu had the same mother.  Below is a late-war postcard from the French WWI Centenaire Association that similarly captures the spirit of the hairy one.

Here's a rough partial translation: To make a hairy one (Poilu), it obviously takes hair, optimism, courage, a ration of wine and wit.

Wednesday, October 21, 2020

The Fullerphone

Contributed by James Patton

The Fullerphone was a portable DC line Morse telegraph, devised in 1915 by Captain (later Major General) A.C. Fuller of the Royal Engineers Signal Service. The important feature of the Fullerphone was that its transmissions were practically immune from being overheard, which made the system at the time very suitable for use in forward areas. In addition, the Fullerphone was very sensitive, and a line current of only 0.5 microampere was sufficient for readable signals. In practice, however, 2 microamperes were required for comfortable readings, and it could be worked over normal Army field lines up to 15-20 miles long. When superimposed on existing telephone lines, telephone and Fullerphone signals could be sent over the line simultaneously without mutual interference. Fullerphone signals were much clearer than those of a "Buzzer telegraph," as the start and end of a signal did not depend on the starting and stopping of a vibrating armature. Hence the potential speed was higher than that offered by the Buzzer telegraph.

Captain A.C. Fuller

The Fullerphone should not be compared with other DC telegraph systems and Buzzer telegraphs, since its operational principle differed considerably. The Fullerphone employed direct current in the line. By means of a chopping device and a filter circuit the current which flowed into the headphones of both transmitting and receiving Fullerphones was interrupted at an audible frequency (about 400 to 550 Hz). That means that no call could be received (or side tone be heard) unless the chopping device (also known as [the] Buzzer-Chopper) was working and properly adjusted. Therefore the Buzzer-Chopper was always required—whether transmitting or receiving. A filter combination of chokes and condensers prevented any variation in the line current during a signal and suppressed any audible frequency currents produced either by induction from other lines or by a buzzer or telephone speech on the line from passing through the headphones. It also ensured that the rise and fall of line current was comparatively slow and thus prevented "clicks" being heard in the receiver of a telephone set superimposed on the same line. Thus, the Fullerphone could not be overheard either by induction or earth leakage and could only be "tapped" by a similar instrument directly connected to the line. It was found that only with the use of very sensitive equipment, believed to be valve [vacuum tube] amplifiers, was it possible to overhear a Fullerphone, and then only when the listening earth was within 180 feet of the Fullerphone’s  earth contact.

Improved models of the Fullerphone were also used in WWII.

From The Imperial War Museum site (with minor editing and emphasis added)

Tuesday, October 20, 2020

The Russian Civil War 1918-1921: An Operational Strategic Sketch of the Red Army's Combat Operations

Author M.N. Tukhachevskii

by A.S. Bubnov, S.S. Kamenev, M.N. Tukhachevskii, and R.P Eideman, Editors
Translated by Richard W. Harrison, PhD,  

Casemate Academic, 2020
Michael P. Kihntopf, Reviewer

This work is the last of three volumes about the Russian Civil War, which were published from 1928–1930. The first volumes, The Red Army's Combat Life and The Red Army's Military Art, according to Dr. Harrison, a former professor of Military History at the U.S. Military Academy, may be of interest to only a small group of military historians. This work, however, is an excellent source for both tactical and strategic operations during the Civil War.

There are very few books about the Russian Civil War which don't have a taint about them. Counterrevolutionary or Whites survivors, such as Anton Denikin and Piotr Wrangel, both prominent leaders, have a tendency to blame their failures on everyone else, whereas, Red Army survivors such as Semyon Budyonny, leader of the Red Cavalry Army, conveniently overlook their mistakes and lionize their victories usually brought about by guile and superior political orientation. Then there are later accounts which bear the stamp of Josef Stalin that clearly show that without Stalin all would have been lost. (Stalin's name appeared only three times in this book and then only as a political organizer.)

This work is very detailed in laying out all the elements of the conflict without blaming anyone for defeats or entering into heroics, although there are occasions where the proletariat as a whole receives praise for staying the course through extremely hard times. A Civil War researcher will find a wealth of knowledge in these pages. Besides detailed information, such as unit strengths and command and control details, about Red Army units fighting at, say, Orel or in Crimea, the pages also lay out the opposing White forces just as accurately down to divisional level. For every incident, chasing Kornilov or dealing with Admiral Kolchak, the reader has a 360-degree view.

There are numerous maps which are detailed but, at times, a little hard to decipher. Cross references help in understanding them. Of great interest were how the Red Army adapted to their foes in forming new units, reorganizing front commands, and dealing with logistics. It was surprising to find that the editors cited the Anarchist role in defeating Denikin and Wrangel—although they didn't stray from Party thought that said the Anarchists were brigands and at times collaborated with the Whites, nor did they include anything about their eventual elimination.

I highly recommend the book to the few of us who have a deep interest in this part of the Great War. I also recommend it to the researcher who wonders why the White forces were so handily defeated by a less than adequately led and equipped Red Army. A spoiler: the Red strength was in a unity of command and political goals whereas the Whites could never organize themselves. Incidentally, three of the editors, Bubnov, Tukhachevskii, and Eideman, were executed by Stalin in the 1930s purges while Kamenev managed to die naturally before the purges got under way.

Michael P. Kihntopf

Monday, October 19, 2020

Battle Buses

London Double-Deckers on the Way to the Western Front

A Bus for London 

Developed by the London General Omnibus Company (LGOC), the B-type was the first successful mass-produced motor bus. Introduced in 1910, it was designed and built in London. Within 18 months the LGOC had replaced its entire fleet of horse-drawn omnibuses. By 1913 there were 2,500 B-type buses in service, each carrying 340,000 passengers a year along the capital’s busy roads. 

View from the Top

At the outbreak of the First World War in August 1914, buses were commandeered for the war effort. Over 1,000 LGOC buses, one third of their fleet, were sent to the front. Most went to France and Belgium, some even as far as Greece. The buses served various roles. Many were used for transporting troops to and from the front lines. They were fitted with protective boarding and painted khaki. Each vehicle could carry 25 soldiers and their equipment, compared to 34 seated passengers in London. Some buses were converted into lorries, others served as ambulances or even mobile pigeon lofts. After the war, surviving buses that could be repaired returned to the streets of London. 

Note the Side Protection Added in 1915

Impact on the Home Front

Many drivers and mechanics were recruited for war service along with their vehicles. This resulted in shortages of both buses and staff on the home front. For the first time women were employed as conductorettes and mechanics to keep London moving.

Home Front Tram and Battle Bus

Between 2014 and 2018 an authentically restored Battle Bus took part in events in the UK, France, and Belgium. London Transport Museum’s restored B-type bus, fleet number B2737, served Route 9 between Barnes and Liverpool Street from January 1914. When war broke out, it was commandeered by the War Department. Returning to London after the war still in khaki livery, about 250 of B2737 was used as a "Traffic Emergency Bus" —an austere solution to postwar bus shortages. In 1922 it was sold to the National Omnibus & Transport Company for use outside London. The restoration was completed in June 2014. After a busy 2014 summer attending events in original red and cream LGOC livery, the bus was converted into a military troop carrier and taken on a commemorative tour of the Western Front.

Sunday, October 18, 2020

1914: Not Bismarck's Dual Alliance

[During his tenure] Bismarck did not intend to enter into war against Russia for Austria-Hungary’s interest on the Balkan Peninsula. The German chancellor professed that the stronger party of the alliance must set the pace, noting “within an alliance, there is always a horse and a rider.” Bismarck openly declared that for Germany the casus foederis [for the Dual Alliance] would not extend over the Balkans, and he did not urge cooperation between the German and Austro-Hungarian general staffs or a synchronizing of operative planning.

In his interpretation, the Dual Alliance served to keep Austria-Hungary at a distance from Russia and restrained the czarist empire from either confronting or embracing the Dual Monarchy. Backing up aggressive anti-Russian plans did not fit into this framework at all. Without Bismarck’s approval, any promises on behalf of the German military leadership toward their Austrian colleagues concerning the modalities of a future joint action against Russia were meaningless.When William II was enthroned as emperor of Germany and king of Prussia in 1888, things changed significantly. Two years later, Bismarck, the Iron Chancellor, had to go, and a new German foreign policy was inaugurated. Austria-Hungary’s position in the Dual Alliance had been modified as well. Unlike the Bismarckian era, the Dual Monarchy could perceive distinct evidence of support from Berlin concerning the Balkan affairs. Germany seriously worried about its doomed ally, whose fate seemed to be similar to that of the Ottoman Empire. An active Balkan policy would be needed against this threatening outcome, and Berlin promised full support for such a new course. Germany’s backing up was efficient during the crisis of annexation, and later, to Vienna’s great surprise, its alliance partner declared acceptance of the casus foederis for the Balkans and initiated intense cooperation between the chiefs of the two general staffs. Despite the constant urging of the Austro-Hungarian chief General Franz Conrad von Hötzendorf, however, again there was no elaboration of a synchronized common deployment. Although the two military leaders agreed to accept the principles of a common strategy based on the plan devised by Alfred von Schlieffen, the Germans refused to tell the Austrians that in all probability they would have to hold off the mighty Russian army without any significant German contribution.

On the other hand, the deployment of the necessary Austro-Hungarian divisions in Galicia would make it impossible for the Dual Monarchy to realize its most important war aim—defeating Serbia. In fact, war aims of the two allies not only differed from each other but, to some extent, also could be achieved against each other. The mutual distrust may be explained by this, as well as from the different military strengths of Germany and the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Moreover, as the international relations grew more unfavorable for the participants of the Dual Alliance, their inter-dependency deepened. Anglo-German antagonism prevented the powers from loosening their bonds to the alliances and seeking connections with members of other coalitions. 

On the eve of the First World War, the Dual Alliance—established as a defensive pact—mutated after 1909 into a bloc, had similarity to the classic movie titled The Defiant Ones, in which Sidney Poitier and Tony Curtis play fugitives shackled together and trying to survive. Each step they take demands cooperation, and this causes serious difficulties for each man. As their inter-dependency increased, it was hardly possible for the stronger party to set the pace, especially when temporarily ceding power to the weaker member, as happened when William II gave Austria-Hungary a blank check of support in July 1914. As Günther Kronenbitter, one of the best German experts on the history of German–Austro-Hungarian relations of the time, has written, “despite the fact that it was Austria-Hungary that triggered the Third Balkan War and thereby provoked the outbreak of the Great War, historians interested in the origins of World War I have tended to focus on the system of international relations or on Germany’s role before and during the July crisis. Even today, it seems to be received wisdom among scholars in Germany and elsewhere to consider the Habsburg monarchy as the weak-willed appendix of the powerful German Reich.”

Kronenbitter considers the hesitation of the Austro-Hungarian chief of the general staff to abandon the Serbian campaign and transfer the bulk of the Dual Monarchy’s army to the Galician theater before receiving reliable reports on the Russian general mobilization to be evidence of an attempt to exploit the given situation for setting the pace and carrying out his own war, no matter what happened with the Schlieffen Plan. To be sure, Conrad von Hötzendorf was rather pressed by Austro-Hungarian policymakers to achieve quick military success on the Balkan Peninsula and restore the prestige of the Habsburg Monarchy as a great power. On the other hand, it is true that after writing out the blank check, the German government and the Kaiser showed signs of uncertainty and kept their ally in the dark about unconditional support for an Austro-Hungarian war against Serbia. In Vienna, therefore, one could not know whom to believe—the Kaiser of 5 July or the Kaiser of 30 July, chief of the general staff Helmuth von Moltke or Chancellor Theobald von Bethmann-Hollweg.

Source: "The Dual Alliance and Austria-Hungary's Balkan Policy," Ferenc Pollmann, Multinational Operations, Alliances, and International Military Cooperation: Past and Future, 2005

Friday, October 16, 2020

The Great War's Olympiad: Antwerp 1920

This month's ST. MIHIEL TRIP-WIRE is dedicated to the story of the 1920 Olympiad, held in Antwerp, which had been occupied for nearly the entire war.

Visit at:

Thursday, October 15, 2020

A Schoolboy's Account of a Zeppelin Raid to His Father

This letter from schoolboy Patrick Blundstone to his father contains a fascinating eye-witness account of the destruction in September 1916 of a Zeppelin airship near Cuffley in Hertfordshire by William Leefe-Robinson, VC.

Dear Daddy, 

I hope you are not alarmed, you should not be, unless you know where one of the Zepps went. I have heard that it raided London (up the Strand) and caused heavy causalities. But this I know because I saw, and so did everyone else in the house.

Here is my story: I heard the clock strike 11 o'clock. I was in bed and just going to sleep. Between 2 'clock and 2.30 o'clock, Lily (the servant) woke Miss Willy and told her she could hear the guns. Miss Willy woke Poolman and told him to wake me. He did so. Miss Willy helped Mrs Willy downstairs. We were all awake by now, we had a Miss Blair staying with us for the weekend. We saw flashes and then heard "Bangs" and "Pops".

Suddenly a bright yellow light appeared and died down again. "Oh! It's alright" said Poolman. "It's only a star shell". That light appeared again and we Miss Blair, Poolman and I rushed to the window and looked out and there right above us was the Zepp! It had broken in half, and was like this: it was in flames, roaring, and crackling. It went slightly to the right, and crashed down into a field!! It was about a 100 yards away from the house and directly opposite us!!! It nearly burnt itself out, when it was finished by the Cheshunt Fire Brigade.

I would rather not describe the condition of the crew, of course they were dead - burnt to death. They were roasted, there is absolutely no other word for it. They were brown, like the outside of Roast Beef. One had his legs off at the knees, and you could see the joint!

The Zepp was bombed from an aeroplane above, with an incendiary bomb by a Lieutenany Robertson (Johnson?). We have some relics some wire and wood framework.

The weather is beastly but Mrs and Miss Willy are jolly people, hoping you are all well, love to all. Your loving son Patrick.

Please don't be alarmed, all is well that ends well (and this did for us). We are all quite safe.

Source:  The Imperial War Museum Website

Wednesday, October 14, 2020

Falkenhayn, Verdun, and the Will to Fight


World War I German chief of staff Erich von Falkenhayn is a testament to the ability of Western military officers to understand, appreciate, and incorporate will to fight into the planning and execution of military operations. Falkenhayn interpreted every move through the lens of moral force: attack would most likely succeed when enemy will to fight was low and stood a good chance of failure if enemy will to fight was high. Falkenhayn also provides a case study in the failure of tactical-operational intelligence to accurately assess opponent will to fight and a testament to military hubris. While he tried to put Clausewitz’s theories of will to fight into practice, he erred badly at Verdun.

In late 1915 Falkenhayn and the rest of the general staff planned a large offensive near the Meuse River. Their intent was to break French state's will to fight. According to Falkenhayn’s plan, French military defeat would be so terrible and irrecoverable that France would quit the war. This would leave the British at the mercy of what would be a correspondingly larger German Army. Falkenhayn selected the French position at Verdun as the focal point of the offensive. Here the French had unintentionally extended their lines in a broad salient centered on the Meuse heights. This position left the French flanks exposed, and only narrow routes for reinforcement and counterattack. The figure below depicts the battle lines at Verdun between the beginning of the German offensive in 1916 and the limit of German advance. The general direction of the German attack was north to south, or top to bottom in the map. The German plan called for massive artillery bombardments followed by a multi-division ground assault intended to trigger a crushing rout. 

Click on Image to Enlarge

German intelligence backed Falkenhayn’s assessment of French will to fight:

Many French deserters spoke of the war-weariness of the French soldiers and particularly of the adverse effect on French morale of the failure of and the high casualties suffered during the offensives in [1915]. . . . When the French began instituting a defense in depth and leaving their first trench line only lightly defended,  German intelligence interpreted this to mean that the French command feared that their troops would break under the German Trommelfeuer [drum fire].

While French will to fight was indeed suffering, the German assessment of French tactical-operational will to fight at Verdun was dangerously exaggerated and arguably wrong. German intelligence officers made two mistakes. First, they failed to account for the French noria system.  French Général de Division Philippe Pétain, then commander of the Second Army’s Verdun salient, recognized that French soldiers were suffering from exhaustion. His noria reserve rotation plan was designed to provide soldiers rest, to rebuild their will to fight, and to ensure the Germans would face only fresh troops with strong will to fight.vTo the German intelligence officers, this rotation—designed to improve French will to fight—gave the appearance of thinned lines and weak will.

Second, the Germans assessed that the poor morale (or temporary feelings) of captured French troops amounted to poor will to fight among all French troops. It is generally unwise to extrapolate the unsurprisingly sour disposition of prisoners to the will to fight of active, armed soldiers, at least not without solid corroboration. More important, the Germans took poor individual morale to be an indicator of weak unit cohesion and the unwillingness of the Second Army to hold the line or counterattack. Yet it is possible—even common—to have poor individual will and strong collective, unit-level will to fight. Despite the external appearances given by poor prisoner morale, the French at Verdun were more than ready to hold the line against withering German artillery fire and bayonets. Falkenhayn’s entire plan rested on a false assumption about French will to fight, and the plan failed.

French Poilus at Verdun

Both sides suffered tremendous losses. French casualties exceeded 300,000. But the Second Army held and Falkenhayn’s plan cost the Germans an equivalent number of casualties: over 300,000.  German casualties over ten months at Verdun may have amounted to approximately two-thirds of the entire U.S. Army’s active duty force in early 2018. Many other factors contributed to German failure, including bad weather that bogged down German artillery. Whatever the proximate cause of their tactical defeat, the Germans did not achieve their objectives: Falkenhayn failed to seize Verdun, failed to break French tactical-operational will to fight in 1916, and failed to break French state will to fight. The war went on for another two years, and the losses at Verdun contributed to Germany’s strategic defeat.

Writing about Verdun in his 1919 memoirs, Falkenhayn describes “powerful German thrusts” that had “shaken the whole enemy front in the West very severely” and that had placed doubt in the minds of the Entente partners. French counterattacks were “desperate,” made up of troops collected in “extreme haste.” He estimated German to French casualties at an unrealistic 2:5 ratio. He follows with paeans to German will to fight, and it is abundantly clear throughout his memoir that he had little respect for French fighting spirit. Falkenhayn is to be commended for his genuine appreciation for will to fight as a central factor in war. If he had had a better analysis method to help him understand French will to fight, he might have altered his plans. His hubris and jingoistic vision of Teutonic will to fight made the defeat at Verdun far more likely. Nothing can be done about hubris. Much can be done about will-to-fight analysis.

Source: Will to Fight: Analyzing, Modeling, and Simulating the Will to Fight of Military Units, The Rand Corporation 2018

Tuesday, October 13, 2020

Pussycats: Why the Rest Keeps Beating the West and What Can Be Done About It

[Editor's note:  The work reviewed here is a little off our usual World War I focus, but it is an important work on military matters that I believe has been grossly neglected because: a) it violates numerous dogmas of political correctness, and b) the author or publisher chose an unfortunate title. MH]

by Martin van Creveld
DLVC Enterprises, 2016
Jan van Tol, Reviewer

Martin van Creveld is one of the foremost—and most controversial— contemporary students of warfare. He has authored over two dozen books exploring various facets of strategy, the future of warfare, and military operations and organization, including such works as The Rise and Decline of the State, The Transformation of War, Technology and War, Command in War, Supplying War, and The Training of Officers.

In Pussycats, van Creveld notes that, despite their overwhelming superiority in virtually every facet of military power, Western militaries since 1953 deployed abroad to fight non-Westerners almost always have been defeated and forced to withdraw. He poses the question, “How did the world’s best and most ferocious soldiers, who for centuries fought and defeated anybody and everybody until they dominated the entire world, turn into pussycats?” Van Creveld suggests five broad categories of causes that individually and collectively over time have eroded greatly the basis for effective Western military superiority: 

• Subduing the young
• Defanging the troops
• Feminizing the forces
• Constructing post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
• Delegitimizing war

The first refers to the ever-growing restrictions most Western countries have placed on young people, ostensibly on grounds of their safety and welfare. The author declares that “the move to impose more and more restrictions on young people is a manifestation, if not to say disease, typical of modern life in general and Western life in particular.” The entry into adulthood becomes ever more extended, reinforced by phenomena such as “helicopter parenting,” “safe spaces,” and “trigger warnings” on campus, and strict limits on work that minors are permitted to do. This is complemented by an excessive emphasis on unearned “self-esteem,” a strong desire to avoid “traumatizing” the young by criticizing or reprimanding them, a de-emphasis on assuming individual responsibility, and the devaluation of competition for fear of hurting those who do not perform as well as others. The cumulative effect, van Creveld argues, is to infantilize the young, undercut the motivation to excel, and steadily reduce individual and societal willingness to take risks—thus, “scant wonder that a great many young people no longer know how to cope with anything.” Yet this is the pool from which Western militaries must draw their troops.

Van Creveld asserts that many factors have contributed to “defanging the troops.” He notes the vast increase since Vietnam in the proportion of senior officers in the U.S. military. This rank inflation has resulted in ever more decisions being pushed to higher levels, with a seriously negative impact on the speed of decision making and a mounting risk aversion at all levels. Another problem is the spread of civilian attitudes into and imposition of civilian norms on the military. War is a deadly business, yet Western, especially U.S., military forces have been hobbled by “exquisite” rules of engagement that often impede mission accomplishment at excessive risk to friendly forces. One side cannot play by “Marquess of Queensberry rules” alone. At the same time, there is a growing trend of senior officers “treating their troops as if they were rowdies and/or babies unable to look after themselves, and/or ‘pussycats.’” The recurrent bouts of drastic liberty restrictions on U.S. forces in Japan are a prime example. The author writes that “in today’s politically correct world it is no longer enough to kill those who would kill you;” the enemy must not be disrespected, let alone humiliated after his defeat—no battlefield souvenirs taken. Male aggressiveness, historically quintessential to battlefield success, is now a problem for leadership to deal with, particularly with regard to matters such as pornography and allegedly rampant sexual misconduct in the military, which have nothing to do with combat effectiveness. The proliferation of military lawyers on staffs means that commanders or squad leaders now must keep potential legal ramifications constantly in mind, on top of all the other battlefield imperatives.

But even worse, posits van Creveld, is the “de-Militarized Military.” While it is undeniable that “war is the most terrible of all activities we humans engage in,” there always has been a sense of satisfaction, even enjoyment, in it. But “in the prevailing attitude of political correctness [to proclaim that] invites attack.” For example, when Marine general Jim Mattis noted that shooting some people who merited it was “a hell of a lot of fun,” he was roundly condemned and “counseled” to shut up. Similarly, the notions of “hero” and “heroism” that traditionally underpinned a military’s fighting spirit and its “culture of war” have been devalued systematically in Western societies as they pertain to combat, whereas they once were associated closely with pride. But the author warns that “any attempt to tamper with [the culture of war], even if laudable in terms of a progressive country’s instincts, is dangerous and should only be undertaken with the greatest caution. What has been demolished can never be restored.” Thus, he concludes, “scant wonder that . . . the willingness to serve has been declining for decades.”

Van Creveld’s third category, “feminizing the forces,” is no doubt the most controversial. He starts by stating flatly that “currently Western countries are embarked on a social experiment that has no precedent in history.” He further asserts that “whatever feminists may claim and the statute books may say, women and men are only equal in certain respects but not in others. Hence the attempt to treat them as if they were was bound to cause as many problems as it solved.” There are two principal physical differences between the two sexes, namely, physical strength/endurance and pregnancy/motherhood. The author goes into some detail on how these impact individual and unit performance.
U.S. Marines on the March

More important, van Creveld notes that the sustained, intensive effort to create a “unisex” military has had serious second-order consequences. Measures such as putting men and women through separate courses with different physical performance requirements and “gender norming” are inherently suspect from a combat-effectiveness perspective. The problem is that fair treatment implies equality, meaning that unit members essentially must be interchangeable, because “cohesion, the ability to stick together and stay together even when—particularly when—things go disastrously wrong, is the most important quality any military formation must have.” Writes van Creveld, “since men and women are not identical, treating them as if they were is unfair. But treating them as if they were not is also unfair, though in a different way.”

The contribution to a climate of intellectual dishonesty within the U.S. military is a more serious second-order effect. Van Creveld suggests that female service members actually receive preferential treatment, including higher promotion rates and more lenient treatment during disciplinary proceedings, and in connection with pregnancy. What is more dishonest is that “service personnel are prohibited from saying that such privileges exist,” or, for that matter, from writing or commenting in any way that might suggest there are problems or challenges associated with full integration of women into all military fields. “The accusation of being ‘hostile to women’ will follow almost automatically,” and being branded as such “can easily bring about the end of one’s career.” One other form of dishonesty concerns charges of sexual harassment; as one female U.S. pilot told the author, “sexual harassment is what I decide to report to my superiors.” Whether that is an accurate reflection of reality or not, it is widely perceived that way among many men in the U.S. military. As a result, van Creveld notes that “to avoid trouble, men, military men more than most, are expected to believe—or at least conceal their disbelief in—two contradictory things. The first is that military women can serve and fight just as well as men can and that they therefore deserve the kind of equality they and their supporters are demanding. The second is that, being equal, they do not enjoy privileges of any kind.” These contradictory ideas are “precisely the kind of thing that George Orwell in 1984 called ‘double-think.’”

The author concludes this discussion with one final point. “Feminizing the forces and having women take an active part in war and combat threatens to take away one of the most important reasons, sometimes even the most important reason, why many men enlist and fight: namely, to prove their masculinity to themselves and to others.” The “end of masculinity” as a desideratum for a military force is bound to undermine its “culture of war.”

With regard to “constructing PTSD,” historically there is little record of it as a widespread phenomenon. Van Creveld suggests that this was in part because war from ancient times had been associated with notions of arete (excellence) and virtus (prowess), and more recently with “honor” and “pride,” all of which helped to forestall or suppress it. But over the last century, “what changed was the way [war] was perceived and understood. From a revelatory experience akin to a religious one, it was turned into a thoroughly rotten business [that] was without either virtue or honor or knowledge of any sort, merely a process whereby obtuse generals sent millions to be slaughtered. . . . As a result, almost anybody who spent enough time fighting was bound to suffer psychological damage.” Or so it was claimed.

Western militaries in the world wars came to accept notions of “shell shock” and “combat fatigue.” What is notable, however, is that U.S. forces suffered proportionately ten times the rate of such psychiatric casualties as did the German Wehrmacht, which was accepted generally as having displayed far greater cohesion and fighting power than its Western counterparts throughout the second war. Interestingly, postwar East Germany saw far lower rates of such conditions than West Germany, although both were treating the same ex-soldiers. This suggests that “there can be no doubt that social factors—politics, culture, organization, leadership, what have you—do much to determine the way PTSD is treated. The same seems to apply to its frequency and, perhaps, even to its very existence.”

Psychiatric cases spiked in Vietnam and PTSD claims remain at high levels. Various causes are postulated: concussion; “the sheer terror of modern war;” guilt feelings from surviving while comrades died; guilt feelings from killing others, especially in close combat. But as van Creveld demonstrates, many of those factors were always present in war, yet did not manifest themselves in large-scale PTSD. In more-recent conflicts, van Creveld notes that there was a far lower incidence of PTSD among North Vietnamese than among U.S. veterans, suggesting that “victory is the best cure for the soul.” Nor is defeat linked to widespread PTSD, as evidenced by the German experience in two world wars or, more recently, that of Serbs after the Yugoslav wars—a Serbian attaché informed the author that “PTSD is not a hot topic” in Serbia.

So why is the PTSD rate in the United States so high today? “Is it really war that is generating PTSD? Or is it present-day society’s idée fixe that war is bad both in itself and for the soul of those who participate in it, so that over enough time anybody who does so must break down,” in which case there is no disgrace involved? Van Creveld suggests that the cure may be driving the disease; there may be perverse incentives to over-diagnose PTSD, with the fear of liability at the societal level driving the process. There are large numbers of claims and claimants, and medical specialists, mental health workers, and lawyers all have strong incentives to keep the process going at full speed. Van Creveld poses the difficult question: “Is it conceivable that the compensations and pensions are providing at least some soldiers with an incentive to invent or exaggerate symptoms and retain them for as long as they can?” He concludes by quoting a speech by General Mattis: “I would just say there is one misperception of our veterans and that is they are somehow damaged goods. I don’t buy it. If we tell our veterans enough that this is what is wrong with them they may actually start believing it. While victim-hood in America is exalted, I don’t think our veterans should join those ranks.”

Van Creveld then segues to his fifth category, “delegitimizing war,” by noting that “to wage war two things are indispensable: armed force and legitimacy.” He briefly reviews various notions of legitimacy, including war as civic duty in ancient times, defense of the sovereign power of the state, doctrines such as jus ad bellum and jus in bello, war as the “school of the nation,” and finally the linking of war to Darwinian theories regarding natural selection, survival of the fittest, and nations’ “will to live.” The rise of powerful anti-militarist feelings after the world wars deeply eroded the idea of duty to the nation, even while “the language of rights now dominates political debate in the United States.” The post-Vietnam shift to an all-volunteer force further diminished the sense of individual obligation to the whole, while military service often came to be seen as being only for those with no better prospects. Van Creveld notes darkly that “where rights reign supreme and duty has become an object of neglect, suspicion, and even derision—as it has in most Western societies—whether, if and when the test comes, they will be sufficient is anybody’s guess.”

The 1899 and 1907 Hague Conventions initiated the idea that there were, or should be, better ways to settle international disputes than by war. This trend was reinforced strongly after the ruinous world wars by numerous subsequent conventions and treaties and the establishment of the United Nations. In parallel, concepts of “war guilt” and rejections of the national use of force except strictly in self-defense supplanted older notions of “the right of conquest” and have tended increasingly to delegitimize war, at least in the West. Thus, for many Western thinkers, the search for a replacement for war ought to favor nonmilitary alternatives, such as police training teams, mediators, and “dialogs.” In van Creveld’s view, “both intellectuals and politicians keep promising their audiences security without sacrifice, privilege without responsibility. But what if terrorists/guerrillas/ insurgents/freedom fighters refuse to answer empathy with empathy?”

In van Creveld’s view, these five trends collectively have deeply undermined Western military effectiveness and societal resilience, aggravated by the inability or unwillingness to examine the underlying causal factors rigorously and honestly. He closes by asserting that the bedrock cause is that “large parts of both European and American societies, each in its own way, have come to see war not simply as an evil that is sometimes made absolutely necessary by circumstances but as the ultimate one that almost nothing can justify. This will have to change. Or else.”

Many readers will reject various of the author’s arguments as anachronistic or, in any event, “overcome by events,” hence not of interest or worthy of further debate or assessment. However, that at least some of them represent significant threats to contemporary policies or agendas is suggested by the ruthless de facto suppression of vigorous debate on sensitive topics by senior officers and top civilian leaders (which invariably leads to self-censorship, particularly among ambitious officers). Such intimidation is pure intellectual thuggery, which in itself is a great institutional danger, especially in the military profession, where free thinking, combined with robust debate, is the essential prerequisite for not being out-thought and out-fought by future foes.

Almost as dangerous as intellectual thuggery is willful ignorance of “unpleasant truths” or empirical evidence. This was illustrated most notoriously by Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus’s recent a priori policy decision, made in the fashion of Alice in Wonderland’s Red Queen (“Sentence first, verdict afterwards!”), to open all ground combat positions to women regardless of any data that might result subsequently from the Marine Corps’s rigorous year-long study regarding the performance of mixed-gender units. That sort of thing corrosively undermines the institutional trust essential to the success of any military organization.

Pussycats doubtless is controversial. However, van Creveld’s arguments are coherent and intellectually substantive, even if one may disagree with some of the assumptions he makes to support them. Because they explicitly address the most fundamental criterion for assessing military forces—their combat effectiveness—they are very worth pondering by serving military officers and civilian policy makers, especially those more senior. Certainly the question of why Western military might, in conjunction with the other elements of state power, has not been more effective during the past half-century is a crucial one, given the multiple dangerous challenges the West confronts both today and over the longer term.

Jan van Tol, the original article appeared in the Naval War College Review, Winter, 2017