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

Thursday, December 31, 2020

Remembering a Veteran: Lt. Col. Hiram Bingham, U.S. Air Service


Lt. Col. Hiram Bingham

Bingham (1875–1956) was a professor at Yale University, explorer, archaeologist, aviator, and U.S. Senator from Connecticut. On an expedition to Peru in 1911, with a local farmer for a guide, Bingham was the first to make public to the outside world the existence of the ruins of Machu Picchu, the pre-Columbian Inca site.

His autobiographical post WWI book, An Explorer in the Air Service, is a record of the two years after he learned to pilot a flying boat in 1917 at the Curtiss Aviation school in Miami where Glenn Curtiss himself told Bingham, “…anyone who could ride horseback and sail a boat could learn to fly.”

Bingham passed the final test for his Aero Club aviator pilot license on 30 April 1917, less than a month after the U.S. declared war on Germany. Having previously served as a captain in the Connecticut National Guard, he applied for and received a commission in the Aviation Section of the U.S. Signal Officer Reserve Corps.

In May 1917, Bingham reported to Washington, DC, to join a task force of the National Advisory Committee on Aeronautics that helped determine the best way to train U.S. military aviators. The Nation Advisory Committee decided to adopt the British Royal Flying Corps model. Once finished with his duties on the committee, Bingham served with the Chief of the Air Service from April to August 1918.

Hangars and Aircraft at Issoudun

For the remainder of the conflict, from August to December 1918, Bingham, now a lieutenant colonel, served as the commander of the Third Aviation Instruction Center, Issoudun, France. Recalling his time at Issoudon, Bingham recalled that the Third AIC had changed a great deal in the short time he had been away. The fields that had once been muddy and strewn with lumber were neatly manicured and full of living quarters, work centers, and aircraft hangers. 

According to Bingham, the facilities at the Third AIC had developed to such an extent that he had an engineering department at his disposal that could handle nearly any challenge when it came to repairing damaged aircraft. Bingham stated that “If a crashed plane proved to be a total wreck, it was carefully salvaged, all the precious bolts and screws that were so hard to obtain in France during war times were rescued, and everything that could be used again was turned into the supply stores from which planes were rebuilt.”

Bingham related that he had a difficult time procuring enough gasoline to fuel the sorties needed to sustain the high-paced training requirements. He explained that the officers distributing the fuel from other locations were slow to appreciate the fact that the Third AIC flew as many as 1,000 hours per day, since each aircraft used between 12 to 20 gallons per hour.

On 17 December 1918, Major General Mason Patrick, chief of the Air Service, wrote to Bingham thanking him for his “excellent work” while in charge of the Third AIC. Upon leaving the Third AIC on 1 January 1919, Bingham returned to U.S. and took a job at the Air Service Headquarters in Washington, DC, where he remained until 8 March 1919, when his discharge papers arrived. In Bingham’s memoirs of his time in uniform, published in 1921 with the title An Explorer in the Air Service, he recalled that he was initially under the impression that the U.S. Air Service was fully prepared for war. However, he stated that “It was amazing and very disconcerting to learn that the General Staff of the Army had apparently made no plans for the part which aviation was to take in the war.”

Source: The First Wings of War Air Force Reserve in World War I

Wednesday, December 30, 2020

Explaining Those Battleship Turrets Amidships

Sketch of HMS Dreadnought

By Steve McLaughlin

Placing main battery turrets amidships was a common practice in battleship designs up until just before World War I; it was used by the British, German, French, Italian, Japanese, American, and Russian navies (plus on some battleships built in Britain for Brazil and Turkey, as well as a pair of U.S.-built dreadnoughts for Argentina). The reasons were:

Two British Battleships with Turrets Amidships
HMS Erin and Centurion

a) Most navies built ships with twin turrets, and only so many turrets could be stacked ("superimpose" was the technical term) at the ends of the ship, although after Jutland the German Navy studied a design with three turrets, one above the other, at the aft end of the ship. They rejected it!

b) Battleships were meant to fight on the broadside primarily, so end-on fire was usually not seen as very important (although it did play a role in some early dreadnought-era designs including the Dreadnought herself.)

View of Dreadnought's Q-Turret Amidships

Problems with turrets amidships included the fact that their magazines were usually squeezed between engine and boiler rooms, with steam pipes running between these spaces; this made for increased temperatures around the magazines, which was generally seen as a bad thing. There were also some naval architectural problems involving hull strength and other such issues. As gun sizes increased, ships tended to carry fewer guns (e.g., British battleships went from ten 13.5-inch guns to eight 15-inch guns), so there was less reason to squeeze in extra turrets. Also, the use of triple turrets by many navies meant that more guns could be placed at the ends of the ship, again reducing the need for turrets amidships. 

Tuesday, December 29, 2020

The Chief: Douglas Haig and the British Army

by  Gary Sheffield
Aurum Press Limited, 2011
David Woodward, Reviewer

King George V and General Haig

One of Haig's first serious biographers was his chief intelligence officer, John Charteris, who published Field Marshal Earl Haig in 1929, the year after the death of the commander-in-chief of the BEF (December 1915 to April 1919). Wellington commanded only 67,000 men in 1815 at Waterloo; a century later Haig led a force of 1,000,000 men to victory over the German Empire. Charteris suggested that "when the final record is written, the final judgment given, Haig will stand out alone and without rival as the greatest of the great soldiers who led the armies of their country to battle in the gigantic conflict waged in France and Belgium." (p. 397) 

A "final judgment" on Haig, however, appears to elude the biographer, in part because the public's image of the war has evolved over time, with Haig serving as a barometer of how the war is perceived. Haig died a national hero, but soon after the nation mourned his death, trench poets and memoirists such as Siegfried Sassoon created an image not of a necessary and heroic struggle, but one of futility and needless bloodshed. "Haig's reputation, which had risen so high," writes Gary Sheffield, "had the furthest to fall." (p. 3) And fall it did, reaching a low point during the Viet Nam War and its aftermath, a conflict considered by many to be an equal exercise in futility. Even today Haig is demonized in popular culture. A recent copy of Discover Britain (formerly Realm) includes the following quote attributed to Haig as he watched a tank demonstration in 1916: "The idea that cavalry will be replaced by these iron coaches is absurd. It is little short of treasonous."

John Terraine did his mightiest to rescue Haig's reputation, which was being savaged by the "butchers and bunglers" school of thought. He wrote numerous books, including a study of Haig's command (1963) and an account (1981) of the last hundred days of the war when the BEF breached the Hindenburg Line. It is fair to say that Terraine had more success with historians than he did with the general public, which largely remained wedded to a hostile version like the one found in Denis Winter's Haig's Command: A Reassessment (1991), a study noteworthy for its polemical approach and questionable documentation. A scholarly work by Gerard De Groot (1988) was much more balanced, but it virtually ignored the BEF's successful offensive from early August to the Armistice that played a major role in Germany's defeat. This was also true of Tim Travers's The Killing Ground, a work of immense scholarship. Winter, Travers, and De Groot were followed by Andrew Wiest, Walter Reid, and Gary Mead, all of whom found more to applaud than criticize in Haig's command. Two British historians, Gary Sheffield and J.P. Harris, the latter the author of Douglas Haig and the First World War (2009), are the latest to try to put Haig's command into scholarly perspective. Sheffield comes well prepared to the task. He has written extensively about the Western Front, and he and John Bourne recently edited and published Douglas Haig: War Diaries and Letters 1914–1918 (2005).

Sheffield notes that he "deliberately refrained" from reading Harris's biography until he had the first draft of his manuscript in hand. There is much that these two formidable historians agree upon. Sheffield rightly gives Haig credit for making the BEF into a first-rate fighting machine by 1918. So does Harris, who praises Haig for keeping the throttle wide open as the BEF advanced to victory during the last hundred days of the war. They both recognize that Haig was quick to embrace the new military technology: smoke, gas, tanks, and aircraft, for example. They also attempt to put Haig in the context of the war that he had to wage, a war that could only be won by defeating the German Army, with Berlin concentrating its forces in France and Flanders, not in the outer theaters. Modern weaponry, mass armies and strong defenses made the cost of victory extraordinarily high.

At the same time Harris and Sheffield recognize Haig's failings as commander-in-chief. He was frequently overly optimistic about the results he expected his offensives might achieve; this breakthrough mentality contributed to his ignoring the cautious and less costly tactics of the French Army; he mishandled his artillery on the Somme by spreading it too thin; he frequently mismanaged battles by failing to achieve "joined-up" operations because of poor liaison between divisions, corps, and armies. Sheffield makes a case for continuing the Passchendaele offensive into November, while Harris argues that he recklessly endangered the Allied cause, both politically and militarily. Sheffield also justifies Haig's continued belief in horse soldiers. "Far from being an egregious folly, a romantic throwback to the days of Napoleon," Sheffield contends, "Haig's plan to use a cavalry-based all-arms force to exploit success and fight its way forward was a sensible response to the tactical situation." (p. 173)

Sheffield's work is highly recommended. His biography is well researched, judiciously argued, and especially well written. He concludes, "Douglas Haig might not have been the greatest military figure Britain has ever produced, but he was one of the most significant—and one of the most successful." (p. 380) One can be assured that this will not be the final word on Haig, as his command of the BEF continues to serve as a barometer of how one views World War One.

This review originally appeared in the Spring 2012 issue of The Journal of the World War One Historical Society

Monday, December 28, 2020

How America Raised an Army for World War One, Part Two

Recruits Taking an Intelligence Test

By Leo P. Hirrel

Ed. note:  Part One of this article appeared in yesterday's Roads to the Great War.

Although the overwhelming majority of the drafted soldiers went to the infantry, machine guns, or artillery, the modern army still required numerous non-combatant skills. Most of these trades had civilian counterparts and often required special schooling. Therefore, the Adjutant General's specialists needed to cull the soldiers with training or aptitude for the required work.

Shortly after the declaration of war, academic experts in personnel management and psychological testing, led by the Carnegie Institute of Technology, decided to offer their services to the Army. In a fashion typical of the Progressive Era, they believed that “scientific” methods would resolve the Army's personnel problems. To help the Army, they organized themselves into the Committee on Personnel Classification. Although theoretically an advisory body, the committee developed the essential personnel policies and procedures for managing the new soldiers. Many also received commissions to work for the Adjutant General in an official capacity.

These experts brought two innovations to the Army: civilian occupation interviews and intelligence testing. To find the soldiers with desired experience in noncombat functions, the committee developed a system of interviews to determine which soldiers possessed the needed skills. Soldiers who self-identified a necessary skill were sent where their civilian expertise could be put to best use. As the war progressed, the process improved with better questioning. The Adjutant General's Department created a position of Camp Personnel Adjutant for the purpose of screening and evaluating the draftees. These personnel adjutants attended special schools and could not be replaced without approval from Washington.

Large-scale intelligence testing was introduced into the Army at the same time, based upon the recommendation of civilian psychology experts. Every new soldier took a test to measure his basic intelligence. The alpha test used written questions and the beta test used pictures for those who could not read English. Results of the test supposedly identified soldiers with potential for advancement or those who would have difficulty performing Army work. Development of the personnel replacement system came painfully slow, but the lessons resulted in a blueprint that lasted through World War II and the Cold War.

Camp Grant, IL, Under Construction

Before training could begin, the Army required housing, uniforms, and equipment. Without training facilities, the National Guard soldiers were simply kept in their home states to protect key infrastructure against potential sabotage. By autumn, the Army expected to have training camps waiting for them. The Army planned to use tents for the National Guard divisions and temporary wooden buildings for  national Army divisions. Additionally, the Army required a wide variety of other construction, including new training installations for specific functions, fields for the new air service, depots, camps to support embarkation points, terminals for outbound cargo, and hospitals. By the end of the war the Army had initiated 448 major construction projects. 

. . . Having successfully created shelters for the new soldiers, the Quartermaster Corps turned its attention to the problem of feeding them. Despite the effects of the war upon the food supplies of all nations, the Quartermaster Corps did a credible job of obtaining subsistence both at home and in France. Soldiers stationed in the United States ate well, and for the most part soldiers in France ate reasonably well under the circumstances. Later, the War Department, Navy Department, and Allied Provision Export Commission all channeled their purchases through the new Food Administration.

If the Quartermaster Corps did an effective job of sheltering and feeding the new soldiers, clothing was another issue. The principal difficulty came because of the worldwide wool shortage, and wool was the best material for warm clothing at that time. Before the war, Australia and New Zealand dominated the wool export market, but as wartime shipping shortages increased, it became difficult to export the wool across the vast Pacific distances. By 1918 these two nations had a surplus of approximately one billion pounds of wool. The problems affected most nations, but the United States relied heavily upon imported wool.

U.S. Infantryman's Kit

With an inadequate supply of woolen uniforms and blankets, the Army suffered grievously that winter, which was exceptionally cold in all parts of the nation. The National Guard soldiers who were housed in tents fared the worst. The soldiers already in France repeatedly requested more blankets and winter clothing, only to be told none were available. The shortage of winter clothing produced a congressional outcry that cost Quartermaster General Henry Sharpe his job. 

Source:  "America Mobilizes," Over the Top, September 2017

Sunday, December 27, 2020

How America Raised an Army for World War One, Part One

By Leo P. Hirrel

Shortly after the declaration of war, President Wilson activated the National Guard units on his own authority and submitted proposed legislation to Congress to enact the Selective Service (draft). The president signed the Selective Service Act on 18 May 1917, and by 20 July the machinery was in place for the first draft lottery. Initial planning called for 16 divisions to be drawn from the National Guard and 16 divisions composed of draftees (termed the National Army). All the new units were to begin training by September.

Having first decided to raise this enormous army, the War Department next needed to come to terms with the implications for transforming these young men into an effective fighting force. Up to this time, the Army personnel system was structured along 19th- century lines, with the emphasis upon the combat arms regiments. Now the Army needed to adapt to the wide variety of requirements for an early-20th-century military force. In the process, what is now termed human resources matured significantly.

Most of the personnel work fell to the Adjutant General's Department, which also matured during the war. During the 19th century, the Adjutant General performed numerous tasks such as military information (intelligence), in effect functioning as the right hand of the commander. Much of its vast record keeping responsibilities involved muster rolls, officer records, enlisted records, and other personnel-related administrative activities. With the creation of the War Department General Staff in 1903, the Adjutant General's Department began its evolution toward more  emphasis upon personnel issues. Certainly they maintained traditional administrative functions, including the massive War Department correspondence files, but the personnel-type functions increased in proportion to the other activities, as the 1916 National Defense Act increased the size of the Adjutant General's Office. The demands of World War I accelerated this trend.

Even the traditional Adjutant General work of maintaining an adequate records system for the hundreds of thousands of new soldiers was daunting enough. Experience in verifying post-Civil War pensions had established the necessity of accurate individual records from each soldier's initial entry until the time of their discharge. That required processes, forms, and people capable of completing and filing the paperwork.

Yet this war brought an entirely new situation. As the Army completed its transition to a modern force, it also needed to develop competent personnel systems for the complexity of the war. Now the Army required a means to identify soldiers with civilian skills to meet different supporting functions; it also required a means to identify soldiers with potential for advancement. As the Army moved overseas, it also required a means to identify, train, and track individual replacements.

During the closing years of the 19th century, the Army typically placed new recruits directly into their units, which were expected to provide the necessary initial training. By the opening of the 20th century, recruit depots reappeared, and they provided a modicum of training for the newly enlisted soldiers. The expectation remained, however, that most of the training and acculturation would have taken place within the soldier's first unit.

This assumption informed the initial plans for raising an army and created difficulties that lasted throughout the war. The initial mobilization planning consisted of 16 training camps for the National Army divisions (draftees) and 16 training camps for the National Guard divisions. Once raised, the new divisions were expected to train as units in the United States before going to France.

A key staff officer at AEF General Headquarters, General Fox Connor, later expressed a common sentiment when he complained that a “principal replacement trouble was that all of the first 500,000 drafted men were organized into divisions, and a division is a very small part of the Army.” The turbulence that followed from this division-based approach manifested itself primarily in three areas: (1) personnel replacement to correct shortfalls in units before deployment, (2) replacements for losses and other shortfalls in theater, primarily infantry casualties, but not exclusively, and (3) finding suitable soldiers for the skilled trades that a modern army required, including the myriad new non-combat occupations.

As early deploying divisions approached their sailing dates, they were still short of their full strength. Without a replacement system, the only way to fill these vacancies was to pull soldiers from National Army and National Guard divisions then in the process of training. Not surprisingly, this action pleased no one. The deploying divisions received new soldiers with uncertain levels of training and frequently with a suspicion they were receiving the castoffs. The National Army  and Guard divisions found their training plans disrupted.

Next, the War Department needed to send individual soldiers to France in response to the battle and non-battle casualties. Approximately 60 percent of these soldiers were infantry, with the remainder distributed throughout the other branches. The demands intensified as Americans began serious combat operations in the summer of 1918. At first these soldiers were merely identified as “casuals” and placed into improvised units for movement overseas. Without a replacement training program in place, the Army again turned to divisions still training within the United States. The Army lacked a system for tracking the extent of training for these soldiers, which could vary from just adequate to abysmal.

To rectify the situation, the War Department proposed to create “replacement training centers” within the United States. Some of the National Army camps converted to training centers as the original divisions left; other centers began as new installations. Seven of the replacement training centers were for combat functions (infantry, machine guns, or artillery), but others were created for quartermaster, engineer, medical, and signal specialties. The idea developed in April 1918, and by August 1918, the Army established a replacement training structure, but soon the army in France entered its time of intense combat. The training could not keep pace with the demands, creating an enduring problem of untrained replacements.

Source:  "America Mobilizes," Over the Top, September 2017

Part Two will appear in tomorrow's 

Roads to the Great War

Friday, December 25, 2020

A Doughboy’s Christmas, Germany 1918

By Jeffrey A. Lowdermilk

Editor's note: The following is an excerpt from pages 96 and 97 of Jeffrey A. Lowdermilk's book Honoring The Doughboys: Following My Grandfather’s World War I Diary.

George A. Carlson, 89th Division, 353rd Infantry,
Company A, from Denver, Colorado

The 89th Division’s task during the occupation of Germany was to guard the rail line between Trier and Prüm, Germany. The 353rd Infantry Regiment secured the northern rail section and spent most of the occupation in or near the town of Prüm. However, during Christmas of 1918, Granddad and a small number of his company were billeted with families in the village of Philippsheim.

George A. Carlson, 89th Division, 353rd Infantry Regiment, Company A, from Denver, Colorado in World War I (left), and Grandpa Johann in 2007. The two may have shared a Christmas celebration in Philippsheim, Germany in 1918. Years ago, my mother told me Granddad’s 1918 Christmas story.

He and his pal, Walter Spencer, stayed only a few days with a family in the village. On Christmas Eve, he and his friend talked it over and decided they should leave for a few hours so that the family could celebrate Christmas by themselves. So, they went for a walk and most likely saw other friends in their unit.

After some time had passed, they returned home and found the family patiently waiting for them, so they could all have Christmas together. After four years of a world gone mad, humanity had been restored.

Philippsheim in Wintertime

Walking through the tiny village (maybe 15 homes) of Philippsheim during late June 2007, I was thirsty and went into a small, single-story inn to see if I could get a bottle of water. Inside the lobby, a friendly fellow in his mid-twenties stood up from behind the desk and asked if there was anything I needed. I told him, and he gave me a glass of water.

As I drank, he asked in excellent English, “What brings you to Philippsheim?” I told him the Christmas story. “Oh my God, you need to meet Grandpa Johann!” he said with great excitement. He took me through the kitchen of his home and out into the backyard, and there was 92-year-old Grandpa Johann, chopping firewood. With electric enthusiasm, the grandson told the Christmas story to his grandpa in German.

Grandpa Johann, Age 92

Grandpa Johann’s eyes became as big as saucers, and he hurriedly replied. Translating, the grandson told me what he had said: “My parents told me that when I was very little, American soldiers stayed in our home over Christmas!” I was astounded, and so were they. We’ll never know if it really was the same home in which Granddad stayed, but it was certainly close enough for the three of us. Meeting Grandpa Johann was a special moment, as he was the only person I met on my journey whom Granddad may have also met, or been in the same room with, during his time in Europe.

Source: The United States World War I centennial Commission Website

Thursday, December 24, 2020

Oh, What a Lovely War's Christmas Truce

This is still the best and—to me—the most believable presentation of the 1914 Christmas Truce. MH

Wednesday, December 23, 2020

Recommended: Messy Nessy Remembers the Forgotten Doughnut Heroines of Wartime

The doughnut–America’s favorite indulgence–has an unexpected heroic history. Despite having been invented in the 1800s, the doughnut wasn’t popularized until WWI, when the ring-shaped pastries brought comfort to thousands of soldiers serving in the trenches during the brutal years far from home. The Salvation Army, a well-known Christian charitable foundation, became the first prominent organization to provide soldiers with fried doughnuts on the front lines of the Great War, thanks to the brave women whose story has remained a footnote in wartime history.

Although only about 250 volunteers were sent to the French trenches, these women were eventually able to turn out 8,000 doughnuts a day and news of these “doughnut girls” spread quickly throughout France and the U.S. The women traveled with their troops to the front lines, piling their supplies into the ammunition train and moving through the night. Often, army generals weren’t fond of women being so close to combat, but the ladies were determined to dish out their doughnuts to the troops.

Continue Reading at Messy Nessy's Cabinet of Chic Curiosities


PS:  When you click through you will see Nessy has gathered a Simply Fabulous collection of wartime Doughnut phots.

Tuesday, December 22, 2020

Last Christmas in Paris:
A Novel of World War I

by Hazel Gaynor and Heather Webb
William Morrow Paperbacks , 2017
David F. Beer, Reviewer

I hope you did as I wished and took this letter to Paris to read. 
Our last Christmas together there was one of the happiest, wasn’t it? 
What little we knew then of the challenges the New Year would bring (p 363).

An Epistolary WWI Novel!

Does anyone write letters anymore? How long is it, dear reader, since you sat down, pen in hand and a clean sheet of paper in front of you, and composed a clearly written epistle to someone? Yes, letters were also once known as epistles, and that’s why Last Christmas in Paris falls within the tradition of the epistolary novel—a story written almost entirely in the form of letters. The tradition has pretty much died out now, so it’s refreshing to find a modern story like this, written collaboratively by two recognized authors, Hazel Gaynor and Heather Webb.

Don’t be fooled by the title. This book is nothing like the 1972 film Last Tango in Paris or the more recent and delightful Last Tango in Halifax series on TV. Rather it’s an interesting and extended flashback from 15 December 1968 to the war years of 1914 to1918 and the letters exchanged by Evie Elliot and Thomas Harding during that time. A brief ending brings us back to Christmas Eve 1968 and a final letter written in February 1969. The romance and the realism that evolve from the letters during the course of the war are moving and at times shocking. The way the novel deals with both the unexpected and the transitory element of life can ring a bell in our own experience. 

One of the Correspondents Receives a Princess Mary Gift Box

Not everyone appreciates a novel of this sort nowadays. For well over two thousand years people wrote by hand on papyrus, parchment, or paper, and it’s only in the last few decades that we’ve entered the world of the computer, the word processor, email and so on. The generation of the Great War still knew and used pen, ink, and paper and took time to compose and write in a more leisurely manner no matter how poignant the content might be. Just think of all the letters we have on record from soldiers and officers in the trenches. One of the endearing qualities of this novel is how it takes us back to this less hurried form of communication.

It’s always interesting to see what readers think of a book. It seems inevitable that some readers love it, some are ambivalent, and some simply don’t enjoy it at all. So here is a brief paraphrased selection of what others have thought of Last Christmas in Paris: A Novel of World War I:

WOW! Can you imagine reading a book about "The Great War" World War 1, and not only absorb the devastation, emotional and physical distress of both the men and women involved, and yet feel the love, friendship, faith and hope?

Excellent pace, important themes, and powerfully moving.

 I shed many a tear as I eagerly turned the pages to see what the next group of letters would bring.  This was a wonderful read. It not only gave me an appreciation for those who endured the war, but also the practice of letter writing. 

Found the book very slow to get going and not what I had been expecting.

Its ok. [sic]

Well, there’s no accounting for taste, as they say. But if you would enjoy a leisurely read that deftly includes romance, insight, tragedy, and the harsh realities of war, all in the format of letters, then I highly recommend it.

David F. Beer

Monday, December 21, 2020

The Aerial Art of the Carline Brothers

Brothers Sydney and Richard Carline were employed as official war artists by the Imperial War Museum during the First World War, each tasked with documenting aerial warfare. Between 1918 and 1920, the brothers produced dozens of artworks recording views over the Western Front, the Italian Front, and the Middle East. The images below are displayed at 580 pixels, but are downloadable at 1200 pixels.

 Flying Above Kirkuk, Kurdistan
Sydney Carline

The Destruction of the Turkish Transport
in the Gorge of the Wadi Fara, Palestine 

Sydney Carline

The Sea of Galilee from Above the Clouds   
Sydney Carline

Flying Over the Desert at Sunset, Mesopotamia 
Sydney Carline

On Patrol, over the Asiago Plateau, Italy, 1918 
Sydney Carline

 British Patrol Over the Julian Alps
Sydney Carline

Air Battle over Kut El Amara in the
Loop of the River Tigris
Richard Carline

Jerusalem and the Dead Sea from an Aeroplane
Richard Carline

Mount Hermon and Mount Sannin above the Clouds
Richard Carline

Mine Craters at Albert (Somme)
Richard Carline

Sunday, December 20, 2020

The Corfu Declaration

By Samuel Foster
Originally Presented at 1914–1918 Online

Nikola Pašić

The Corfu Declaration was a formal agreement between the government-in-exile of the kingdom of Serbia and the Yugoslav Committee (anti-Habsburg South Slav émigrés) that pledged to unify Serbia with Austria-Hungary’s South Slav territories in a postwar Yugoslav state. It was signed on 20 July 1917 on the island of Corfu.

The Yugoslav Idea Before 1917

Whilst the concept of the Southern Slav inhabitants of the Western Balkan peninsular constituting a single people dated back to the 16th century, the outbreak of the First World War raised the idea of an independent Yugoslav state as a serious alternative to Habsburg regional hegemony. During the 19th and early 20th centuries, “Yugoslavism” gained traction among South Slav intellectuals and politicians. Simultaneously, it clashed and overlapped with the territorial aspirations of Croat and Serb nationalists who envisioned the unification of their respective peoples within a “Greater Croatia” or “Greater Serbia.” In December 1914, from its temporary capital in Niš, the Serbian coalition government of Nikolai Pašić (1845–1926) proclaimed its war aims as the liberation of all South Slavs under Habsburg rule and their unification with Serbia in an as yet undefined South Slavonic state (the term “Greater Serbian” was omitted). In 1915, a “Yugoslav Committee” (Jugoslavenski odbor) was founded in Paris under the leadership of the Croat politicians Ante Trumbić (1864–1938) and Frano Supilo (1870–1917), and the artist Ivan Meštrović (1883–1962), to lobby for the secession of the Austro-Hungarian monarchy’s South Slavonic territories. However, its relationship with the Serbian government quickly became strained as differences arose over what form a future Yugoslav union would take. These uncertainties precipitated divisions within the committee itself and led to Supilo’s resignation in June 1916.

Provinces of the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats, and Slovenes (1920–1922)

In early May 1917, Pašić suggested to Trumbić that a conference be held on Corfu, where the Serbian army had been evacuated following Serbia’s occupation in October 1915, to decide common political aims.

The Declaration

Although both the committee and Serbian government had, since 1914, posited the idea of a single Yugoslav state, the Declaration itself was born largely out of both parties’ external difficulties: the committee’s fears of Italian irredentism in the eastern Adriatic, and the Serb’s anxieties of post-war diplomatic isolation.

Despite numerous appeals, by 1917, the committee had failed to secure Entente support for Austria-Hungary’s postwar dissolution. This lack of success was compounded by developments within their own homelands: on 30 May, southern Slav politicians issued a declaration demanding the creation of a single southern Slav polity whilst reaffirming their intention to remain within a reformed Habsburg monarchy. However, of far greater concern was the gradual revelation of the “secret” Treaty of London (1915). Under the terms of the treaty, in exchange for its entering the war against Germany, the Entente promised Italy extensive territorial acquisitions from Austria-Hungary: these included Slav-populated regions such as Dalmatia and Istria. Serbia and Montenegro had also been promised territory despite neither being signatories.

The Serbian government’s position was also precarious. Russia’s February Revolution had seen its withdrawal as Serbia’s diplomatic champion, throwing Serb hopes of unilateral territorial gains from Austria-Hungary into question. Furthermore, the committee’s Yugoslavist propaganda had swelled the Serbian army’s ranks by some 30,000 South Slav volunteers, most of whom were Habsburg defectors or economic migrants returning from the USA. Having recently purged what remained of the Black Hand (Crna ruka) organization’s leadership, Pašić was determined to ensure that only Serbia’s army would qualify as the armed force of any future Yugoslavia, denying the possibility of the committee raising its own troops should any postwar arrangements break down. At the same time, he was eager to stymie potential revolutionary influences emanating from Russia.

Peter I Karadjordjević was the last King of Serbia,
from 1903 to 1918, and then King of Serbs, Croats,
and Slovenes from 1918 to 1921

Thus, in early June, a delegation led by Trumbić arrived on Corfu. Six weeks of intense negotiations followed, resulting in the declaration itself. Its 14 points envisioned a single state: the so-called Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes. This new polity was to be a constitutional monarchy under Serbia’s ruling Karadjordjević dynasty, with guaranteed universal male suffrage, territorial indivisibility, religious freedom, and full legal equality for the three national denominations. Despite these stated principles, the substance of the document remained ambiguous, with much of its wording left deliberately vague. Unwilling to allow for preset internal borders, Pašić declined to support Trumbić’s proposal for a federal framework. Territorially, constituencies were defined by whichever denomination formed three-fifths of the population, allowing Serbs to be over-represented in the proposed Constituent Assembly (Ustavotvorna skupština). Furthermore, its listing only Croats, Serbs and Slovenes as constituent peoples was equally problematic in the cases of Bosnia-Herzegovina and Macedonia. Nevertheless, the Corfu Declaration was welcomed by Supilo as representing the first formal recognition of a Yugoslav state as a common postwar objective. It also presented a direct challenge to Italy’s desire to supplant Austria-Hungary as the regional hegemon.

Friday, December 18, 2020

Feast of the Dead—Arras 1914

From the Diary of Pierre Minault translated by his granddaughter Gail Minault

Full Diary at  Not Even Past

Pierre Minault, 43rd Fr. Colonial Infantry

31 October 1914

This morning we started out and crossed the main road from Doullens to Arras, by which the German invasion would take place, if ever our northern army were defeated. On the rail line which parallels the road there is a lot of train traffic. In the distance, large caliber guns thunder ceaselessly. We stop at Hambercamp, another muddy village where we will undoubtedly encamp. The fullness which we have experienced since we left our trenches has given us back our morale. We joke, and our Parisian jokers have rediscovered their priceless ability to wisecrack. There’s no more quarrelling.

Our cooks use their ingenuity to improve the cuisine, and we are eating like Gargantua. At night, in the barns, the stories go on and on. Most of the men tell of their exploits at the beginning of the war, the noted retreats of Neufchâteau, of Morhange, of the Marne, where men marched heedlessly forward only to be mowed down by German machine-guns. Others, according to their trade or profession develop theories about work, pay, or the effect of their work on their existence. Among us farmers we discuss the various crops, harvests, livestock. And thus time goes by and we forget a little our past suffering and the separation from our wives and our children.

But always, the uncertainty of tomorrow weighs on us. These moments of wellbeing appear only as preparation for the ills that await us, to death which can come upon us at any moment. It is wartime, and nothing can take away from that fact a small fraction of the dangers that are contained therein. Again we are to go back to the trenches this evening. It is said that the spot is “hot.” The General commanding the 2nd Army Corps came to visit us this afternoon. He questions each of us good-humoredly. For us this form of humor is of questionable taste. All day, our planes have crisscrossed the skies, miraculously evading the black bursts of German shells. It is marvelous how they escape. Yet, I have seen them doing reconnaissance each day from the beginning of the campaign and return each day to their departure point, apparently unscathed. Shelling in space [anti-aircraft gunnery] apparently poses exceptional difficulties. This morning we find ourselves at 300 yards from one of our large 155 mm. guns; its detonation was incredible. I could observe the maneuvering from a distance: after charging and aiming the gun, a soldier came forward with precaution, and pulled on a cord; immediately an enormous explosion of smoke and flames surrounded the battery, and a second later, the air was torn by a deafening noise.

Mobilizing in Paris

1 November 1914

Today, the feast of the dead. To observe it, Parisians go to the cemeteries, and we too go to such places. “Violent fighting” said a recent official press release, “including bayonet charges, have taken place in the Arras area.” I am in the trench from which it sprang, that bayonet charge. On the left, on the right, and in front one can see several hundred bodies of infantry men lying in the mud, and who, it is said, have been awaiting burial for the last three weeks. In the road by which we reached this trench, under a rain of bullets, it was a real charnel. We had to step over dead bodies to go forward: some with their noses in the mud, others on their back, seeming to sleep. Very near me here, another fell while he was going to the toilet. In front of the trench, in all directions, bodies are strewn on the ground. A machine-gun has made a clean sweep.

Since our arrival during the night, the fire of the German infantry, whose trenches are only fifty meters distant, has not stopped for a minute. You can’t take a peek over the trench, but immediately a bullet whizzes by. One of our men has just been hit in the jaw. On the other hand the Germans do not seem to have any artillery, and that certainly is small compensation. The weather is again harsh; the east wind is very cold, and my feet were near frozen all night. Luckily, I was fortunate enough to pick up the blanket of a dead man when we got here.

French Infantry 1914

2 November 1914 

When we were in Maricourt, facing weeks under infernal artillery fire of shells and shrapnel, we managed to avoid casualties, at least in the companies I was a part of. But here, under fire of only bullets, the last 24 hours has cost us one dead and 3 wounded. One of my best comrades in the first squad got a bullet in the jaw; it had first penetrated the metal shield behind which he was firing. Another one was killed outright, while peering over the parapet, by a bullet in the forehead. In the trenches, bullets can only hit you in the head. I, who am tall, have a great deal of trouble not exposing myself, watch out!

16–17 November 1914

Pierre Minault was stricken by a shot to the forehead on 16  November and died as a result of the wound the next day.

Thursday, December 17, 2020

African Troops Fighting in Europe

Moroccan Cavalry

From: "The Recruitment of Colonial Troops in Africa and Asia and Their Deployment in Europe During the First World War" by Christian Koller; Immigrants and Minorities, March/July 2008

The impact of the First World War on the colonies was profound and many-sided.  A conflict that began in the Balkans turned into a general European war in July and August 1914, and then took on extra-European dimensions, particularly as some of the belligerent states ranked as the most important colonial powers globally. . .The Entente powers deployed about 650,000 colonial soldiers on European battlefields. White European settlers from the colonies and dominions, who provided large contingents as well, are not included in this figure. The Central Powers, on the other hand, were not able to deploy any colonial troops in Europe.  [In the remainder of this entry we focus specifically on the contribution of soldiers from African colonies to the war in Europe.]

Britain, altogether, mobilized about 1.5 million Indian soldiers during the war, of which about 90,000 were killed. Some 150,000 Indian soldiers were deployed in Europe from September 1914 on. The overwhelming majority of Indian troops, however, fought in Mesopotamia against the Ottoman empire. 

On the other hand, Britain did not deploy any African troops on European battlefields, although there was a group of officers and politicians with a colonial background lobbying to do so.  Winston Churchill, for instance, claimed in a House of Commons speech in May 1916 that not only 10–12 Indian divisions but also African units should be trained for deployment in Europe. . . Plenty of British African troops, however, fought in the Middle East and in Africa itself. Some battalions of the black "British West Indies Regiment" were deployed in France, but only in ancillary functions, not as combatants.  Officially, this policy was justified with reference to logistical problems, but race probably played a role as well, for after the United States had joined the war, the British army also rejected the training of African-American soldiers, who were eventually incorporated into the French army. 

Unlike Britain, the French deployed large numbers of African troops in Europe, including 172,800 soldiers from Algeria, 134,300 from West Africa, 60,000 from Tunisia, 37,300 from Morocco, 34,400 from Madagascar and 2100 from the Somali Coast. Another colonial contingent of about 44,000 men came from Indochina.  Italy, who joined the Entente side in spring 1915, tried to deploy African colonial troops in Europe as well. In August 1915, some 2,700 soldiers from Libya were shipped to Sicily. However, they did not enter the front line, because many soldiers died from pneumonia immediately after their arrival, and so, the Libyans, who were designated for Alpine warfare, were shipped home again after a short time. In the African theaters of war, however, Italy deployed plenty of Eritrean, Libyan,  and Somali soldiers. 

Algerian Troops Gassed at Ypres, April 1916

. . . Autumn 1914 also witnessed the first actions of African troops on the Western Front. Although North African units had already fought in previous European wars—in the Crimean war from 1854 to 1856, in the Italian war in 1859, and in the Franco-Prussian war in 1870/71—this was the first time that troops from sub–Saharan Africa had entered the front line. In September 1914, West African units fought in Picardy. In October and November, Tirailleurs Senegalais were deployed at Ypres, where they suffered heavy losses.

Afterward, a new doctrine was applied: West African troops no longer fought as independent units, but they were "amalgamated" with European troops. Every regiment of the troupes coloniales, which were composed of Europeans, got a West African battalion after the historical model of amalgamation of old troops and volunteer corps during the French Revolution. The same doctrine was enacted for North African troops, who were often amalgamated into so-called regiments mixtes together with European settlers from North Africa. This doctrine was also aimed at preventing the desertion of Muslim soldiers to the Germans, who were using their alliance with the Ottoman Empire to pose as friends of Islam and even to recruit Muslim POWs to the Central Powers’ cause. 

In the following years, African troops participated in most of the principal battles on the western front, for instance at the Marne, at the Yser, at the Somme and at Verdun.  Furthermore, West African troops also participated in the Gallipoli operation and fought in the Balkans from 1916 onwards. Their number grew as the war continued. Thus while 17 West African battalions fought on the western front in 1916, there were already 41 in 1917 and even 92 in the war’s final year. The number of North African soldiers fighting in Europe increased considerably as well.

[Were] colonial troops were misused as canon fodder?  The cannon fodder theory also entered scholarly discussions after the war. On the Western Front, African troops were indeed often deployed as shock troops. Thus, French soldiers used to interpret the emergence of African troops as an unmistakable sign that an attack was imminent. . . Yet there is much confusion over the casualty rates of African troops.  For example, Joe Harris Lunn, analyzing annual casualty rates of West Africans, concludes that in the last two and-a-half years of the war, when their deployment in Europe reached its peak, the rate of killed and wounded West African soldiers was twice that of French infantrymen.

Men of the 43rd Senegalese Battalion

The deployment of more than half a million African and Asian soldiers in Europe had a strong cultural impact. Never before had so many Europeans been confronted with so many Africans and Asians—as comrades in arms, as enemies at the front, or as prisoners of war. This produced discourses about the colonial soldiers, which included exoticism, racism, and paternalism. On the other hand, never before had so many men from the colonies been directly exposed to the realities of European culture and society. The experience had an impact on their perceptions of their colonial masters and on the long-range, changed colonial relationships.

On balance, the deployment of colonial troops in Europe proved to be a dramatic experience for all contemporaries. Forced recruitment in the colonies met several forms of resistance, including even armed rebellions. Deployment in Europe would then change many Africans’ and Asians’ perceptions of their colonial masters and of Europeans in general. Europeans, on the other hand. . .became aware of the precariousness of their global dominance. However, the impact of colonial troops’ deployment in Europe in the First World War on the colonial system is still debated. In particular, the colonial veterans’ digestion of their European experience was far from uniform.

Wednesday, December 16, 2020

War in Wintertime: Don't Miss This Month's St. Mihiel Tripwire

 War in Wintertime

Don't Miss Your December  2020 St. Mihiel Trip-Wire

available here:

(Click Refresh/Reload if you see an earlier issue. All past issues can be accessed through the "Archives" line.)

Articles in this issue

  • Cold on the Somme: Winter 1916-17
  • Front Line on a Glacier: The Marmolada
  • How Soldiers Suffer
  • "Winter Warfare," by Edgell Rickword
  • Winter Avalanches
  • WWI Weather
  • The Polar Bears' Biggest Challenge
  • 100 Years Ago: "Bloody Christmas" Brings D'Annunzio's Fiume Extravaganza to a Close
  • Remembering Those Oklahoma Doughboys
  • World War One Film Classic: JOYEUX NOEL
  • World War I Headlines