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

Sunday, January 31, 2021

Henry Ford's Peace Ship

By John H. McCool

Originally Presented on the Kansas University History Blog

It ranked, according to one contemporary observer, as “a sublimely screwy paragraph in American history.” And while some later-day historians have been a bit kinder, most still view it as an absurd spectacle that provides, as biographer Charles Merz has said, “another demonstration of America’s abiding faith in slogans.”

Yet, for a two-month period in the winter of 1915–1916, American automobile magnate Henry Ford, then one of the richest men in the world, actually thought he could talk the leaders of Europe into stopping World War I. This experiment in freelance personal diplomacy was called the “Peace Ship” and a Kansas University undergraduate was part of the delegation. His name was Kenneth Pringle, and on 31 January 1916, he returned to Lawrence to tell of his adventures. It had been quite a trip.

In late 1915, Ford decided that the war in Europe had gone on long enough, that there had been already too much killing and suffering, and furthermore, that the U.S. government was entirely wrongheaded in its strict isolationist stance. “If I can make automobiles run,” he rhetorically asked a reporter at the time, “why can’t I steer those people clear of war?” He planned “to put a stop to the silly killings going on abroad” by leading a peace delegation across the Atlantic to negotiate personally with European heads of state. His favorite slogan became “Out of the trenches by Christmas, never to go back,” and the American press was quick to pounce: “Great War Ends Christmas Day; Ford to Stop It!” read a New York Tribune headline on 25 November 1915.

Having no patience for diplomacy, Ford believed if he could only get foreign leaders to sit down in a room, he could make them listen to reason and the war would end. Straight talk from a no-nonsense businessman would persuade where diplomatic double-talk had failed. To symbolize America’s unified desire for peace, Ford invited a remarkably diverse group of people to accompany him to Europe, including thirty college students. Letters went out to the heads of major American universities asking them to nominate a student for this high-profile expedition. One such letter reached the desk of KU chancellor, Frank Strong.

The chancellor decided that the best representative for the KU would be Kenneth Pringle, a senior majoring in history who was also president of the KU International Polity Club. This organization was dedicated to “the fair and impartial study of international relations, with a view to the formation of a sound foreign policy for the United States.” Membership was open to “pacifists and militarists” alike, the overarching goal being a “frank exchange of ideas” on the important, pressing issues of the day.

Henry Ford

Pringle, along with his fellow delegates, would travel to several neutral European capitals (Oslo, Norway; Stockholm, Sweden; Copenhagen, Denmark; and The Hague, the Netherlands) and speak to like-minded pacifists in an attempt to open lines of communication between the belligerent nations. They hoped, as historian Barbara Kraft has explained, to act as international mediators, “transmitting peace proposals from both sides until negotiable terms had been developed and the warring powers were ready to meet at the peace table.” According to Charles Merz, one of Ford’s biographers, “The theory was that the war had settled down into a groove, that the bitterness which it aroused had shut off the chief powers from a direct exchange of their peace terms, but that an indirect exchange of views might in due time take place through a neutral agency.” In actuality, though, the ship itself stole all the attention: “It was the fate of this crusade that the peace ship, a mere incidental to the plan, ran away with the whole idea.”

Indeed, from the beginning, the Ford Expedition was hampered by ridicule from the American press for its idealism and its motley collection of passengers. Burnet Hershey, a Brooklyn Eagle reporter traveling with the Peace Ship, recalled that “every crackpot and nut in the country wanted to get on that boat,” from socialists, to prohibitionists, to anti-smoking crusaders, to pro-German partisans, and people from “every religious splinter-group” in the country. Describing the chaotic scene on the day of departure, Jonathan Leonard, another Ford biographer, later noted that, although “the proportion of actual lunatics was probably small, the general impression was of a revival in a psychopathic ward.” The Expedition also caught scorn from the U.S. government for meddling in international affairs, with one State Department official calling it a “bloody nuisance.”

Nevertheless, hopes were high among the “peace pilgrims” as they embarked aboard the Oscar II, a steamship Ford had chartered for the journey. “We were not very far out until practically everybody had met Mr. Ford,” wrote Kenneth Pringle in a letter to the University Daily Kansan. “He is a likeable, democratic sort of man—very much in earnest.” On the voyage over, British gunboats stopped and searched the Oscar II for contraband and ammunition, and during this interlude, Pringle got to speak with some British marines. They are “sick and tired of the war,” he told the Kansan, and “want to see it ended so they can get back home.” One marine told Pringle that “there was considerable rivalry in the Royal Navy over who would get to take charge of the Peace ship” and this soldier “felt rather proud of his good fortune.”

Aboard the Oscar II, Pringle and the other student reps held “special meetings … in which [we] have discussed chiefly plans for a world court and a world federation.” The “Ford Student Body,” as the reporter Hershey described them, “studied world problems and heard an address every morning from one of the delegates,” although some did not see much merit in these activities. “We are to assemble twice each day for discussions,” one student recalled, but “what we are to discuss seems to be of minor importance.” He continued: “Everyone seems to be in awe of everyone else. We, especially, the students, walk the decks on tiptoe and give everybody who passes a wide berth or a deferential bow.” Well, maybe not everybody; as Hershey remembered, “it seemed every female was strikingly pretty.”

Kansas Student Kenneth Pringle

Kenneth Pringle told the Kansan that he and the other students were “treated royally” by their European counterparts, and “everywhere we were met and entertained with banquets and public meetings.” His visits to the capitals of Norway, Sweden, Denmark, and the Netherlands were “most enjoyable and exciting” and he had “certainly gained much in instruction from the trip to Europe….”

As nice as all this was, by most objective accounts, the Peace Expedition became a farce, not least because, three weeks into the voyage, Ford himself abandoned the group in Oslo, Norway. He had finally heeded the advice of his onboard associates who had been repeatedly urging him to consider his (and his company’s) reputation and return to the U.S. To make his escape, Ford used the pretext of suffering from a bad cold. He exited his Norwegian hotel room at 4 a.m. and took the next ship back to New York.

With Ford missing in action, European leaders refused to conduct any more meetings with the peace delegates. The world press mocked them mercilessly, and the expedition devolved into little more than an adolescent romp in fancy hotels and opulent ballrooms—all on Henry Ford’s tab. Indeed, Hershey remarked, “One of the Expedition parlor games was to see who could run up the highest bill.”

Pringle, apparently, remained strikingly upbeat, both during the trip and following his return to KU. He did not regret “taking the time off from [his] school work to go with Henry Ford to attempt some arrangements whereby peace might be brought to the warring nations.” According to the Kansan, he “does not feel in the least that the expedition has been a failure, as the delegates did not expect to accomplish all” the idealistic goals that many critics had ascribed to them. Pringle’s idealism, however, may not have survived unscathed. A short time later, he and the International Polity Club became involved with an initiative to promote military “preparedness” training on campus. 

Saturday, January 30, 2021

Sources of Frontline Intelligence: Spies


The Traditional Fate of Spies

Treachery was in the air day and night. This sector was full of German agents and spies. Special orders were issued to us and all were placed on guard, challenging everyone at night, both on cross-roads and at points entering our lines.

Edward D. Sirois, Lieutenant, and William McGinnis, Corporal,  

102nd F.A., 26th Div., AEF

By Terrence J. Finnegan

Spies in the Great War provided intrigue, in the minds of both the combatants and the practitioners of the art. The known quantity of spies maintained by both sides at the front, however, remains an elusive fact. The intelligence officer was responsible for preventing these agents of espionage from finding out anything about "ourselves." Contre-espionage required a disciplined self-controlled existence both in the trenches and the rear echelons. Keeping noise down to a minimum was a requirement. Personal letters became intelligence documents detailing morale, locations, personal observations, and other relevant data. Censorship was imposed to curtail any chance of an enemy acquiring a critical snippet of information. A British intelligence officer commented on this intense intelligence gathering environment, "The enemy has many soldiers who speak English perfectly, and they recognize by our accent what part of the country we come from." In contrast, the trench culture mandated that every combatant played an information-gathering role. "Every man should, therefore, look upon himself as a collecting agent of information."

Spying created a culture of distrust and uncertainty throughout the front. Enemy lurking behind the lines in trenches appeared a common concern. British warnings reflected a somewhat chaotic culture, "Because a man is dressed in British, French or Belgian uniform, do not necessarily assume that he is what he appears to be. Such a disguise is by far the most effective and safe one for a German spy, and there is little doubt that it has been frequently made use of. Not matter who the man is, if he acts suspiciously—wants to know too much about the troops—detain him; do not take his name and number and let him go; detain him and hand over to the nearest Staff for investigation. Do not mind what he says to you; the more he protests the more likely that he is a spy."

Furthermore, French and Belgian citizens near the front were also suspect. "The discussion of moves that you know or think you know are going to take place is absolutely criminal. Barbers, café proprietors, waiters and waitresses may all be looked upon as potential spies, and it is most important that they should have no opportunity of picking up odd scraps of information." 

From "Military Intelligence at the Front," Over the Top, February 2009

Friday, January 29, 2021

New Series Announced: "The Sources of Frontline Intelligence in the Great War"


By Terrence J. Finnegan

Military intelligence at the front evolved remarkably during the Great War. Prior to the modern era, intelligence relied on espionage to exploit human frailties for relevant information. Spies and attachés personified traditional intelligence collection, but the rapidly evolving World War I battlefield of 1914 transcended this. Furthermore, the field commander's traditional favorite force arm for intelligence, mobile cavalry, was rendered impotent with the transition to trench warfare. With each passing autumn day in 1914, demand for relevant and timely information increased as enemy forces converged to a territorial stalemate and commenced a strategy of positional war. Come the winter of 1914–15, this static war demanded a constant stream of information, especially, to aid the targeting of field artillery, the most important weapon in the contemporary arsenal. This increased demand for timely and accurate data led to the creation of new sources of intelligence derived from the technologies of the day. By the end of the war the number of frontline intelligence sources had grown to eleven.

Thanks to the expansion of military intelligence—based on the exploitation of  science—enemy intentions could be gleaned and his forces targeted, and the war evolved into the harvest of death that is remembered to this day.  Every conceivable source of transmitting a message, including carrier pigeons, messenger dogs and light rockets, supported the conveyance of knowledge of the battlefield. All converged toward the ultimate objective of positional war—controlling destruction and annihilation of the enemy. 


  1. Spies
  2. Patrol Reports
  3. Ground Observations from Infantry and Artillery Units
  4. Captured Documents
  5. Prisoner Interrogations
  6. Interviews with Repatriated Men
  7. Radio Intercepts and Direction Finding
  8. Sound Ranging
  9. Flash Spotting
  10. Aerial Observation from Balloons
  11. Aerial Observation and Photography from Airplanes.
Tomorrow we will begin a weekly series which will cover Terrence Finnegan's  insights on each of these sources of intelligence.

From "Military Intelligence at the Front," Over the Top, February 2009

Thursday, January 28, 2021

Recommended: Fierce Days and Nights by Hanns-Gerd Rabe for Over the Front Journal

Originally presented in Over the Front Journal

The calls for help from the hard-pressed infantry became ever more urgent in the late summer of 1918. Consequently, my pilot and I now flew in all sorts of weather, often three times a day, as all along the front barrages blazed, keeping our trenches under constant attack. It had gotten to the point where I no longer kept a flight log and so I made no personal notes about my flights by type, duration and mission. Only occasionally in a fleeting sentence of a letter did I refer to my strenuous flying activity. But these brief references could not possibly capture the swarm of emotions one felt during such flights: the giddy feeling at high altitude, the desire for solitude, the sense of detachment from the earth and of being closer to heaven...or the strange sensation of re-starting the engine at high altitude, being entirely at the mercy of the three dimensions; marveling at how the single engine, its precise firing order seeming to bring it to life one cylinder at a time, became a new form of noiselessness because the enormity of the great expanse of empty sky smothered the racket it made. . .or the fascination of watching the muted vibrations trembling over the fabric of the wings. . .or feeling the heat of the ground slowly change to coolness and then frosty coldness...or watching the shadows of the clouds drift across the earth far below. . .or feeling the rain hit one's face with whip strokes...or at high altitude, seeing the landscape transformed into a big abstract art chart...all this until the pilot disrupted the silent spell, signaling with a waggling of the wings: "Wake up! We are there. Six thousand meters (19,750 feet) altitude." I nodded, knowing that we had entered an area of ever-changing hazard, an unknown land where the opponent was a bird of death decorated with cockades or anti-aircraft fire with the twisted black spewing of its muzzle seeming to hang in the air, waiting for its victim.

Some direct impressions of the time can be seen in a letter of 28 July 1918, to my lady friend Franziska, a teacher at a school for German military and civilian dependents in Brussels:

I am in a capricious mood. The bad weather lately is appropriate, for the sky is like a giant cow whose udder is hard to milk. There is much rain, of course. It rains in streams and, despite that, I, the poor Franz' (aviation slang for observer) have flown, ranged heavy artillery batteries and come back all crumpled up, thoroughly waterlogged and then covered with black 'goo' from a leaky oil line that 'spritzed' in my face constantly. Our crate is now in the hangar and the Emil (slang for pilot), not plagued by scruples, is in his bed, while I must have a long telephone conversation with the General in charge of artillery in this area.

Continue Reading the Full Article Here:

Wednesday, January 27, 2021

The Rough Riders Don't Ride Again

Teddy Roosevelt, Rough Rider


By James Patton

Two months before the U.S. declared war, the former president had begun to re-assemble his Rough Riders of Spanish-American War fame. Through his many connections, including his son-in-law, Rep. Nicholas Longworth, language was inserted into the Selective Service Act of 1917 (enacted 18 May 1917) authorizing the creation of "voluntary regiments," but he couldn’t get President Wilson to order the Army to accept his new Rough Riders. Sometimes it is best to hear the story as told by a participant. In this case, Theodore Roosevelt, himself.

The President has announced that he will decline to permit those divisions to be organized or to permit me to have a command in connection with such a force. After consultation yesterday, personally or by wire, with some of the men who have volunteered to raise units…it was decided unanimously that … the only course open to us is forthwith to disband and to abandon all further effort … thereby leaving each man free to get into the military service in some other way, if that is possible, and, if not, then to serve his country in civil life as he best can.

As good American citizens we loyally obey the decision of the Commander-in-Chief … The men who have volunteered will now consider themselves absolved from all further connection with this movement. The funds that have been promised will be treated as withdrawn and applied to other purposes…

Our sole aim is to help in every way in the successful prosecution of the war and we most heartily feel that no individual’s personal interest should for one moment be considered save as it serves the general public interest. We rejoice that a division composed of our fine regular soldiers and marines … is to be sent abroad…

The Brooklyn Eagle last evening stated authoritatively that ‘the sending of this expedition was a compromise between the original plans of the General Staff, which favored no early expedition, and the request of Colonel Roosevelt for authority for an immediate expedition. The Roosevelt agitation… unquestionably had its effect in bringing about the Pershing expedition. The compromise is that France gets American soldiers …, but Roosevelt will not lead or accompany them. It is believed in Washington that any criticism for turning down Roosevelt will be fully answered by the fact that American soldiers are going over.’

If this gives the explanation of the matter, I gladly say that we are all unselfishly pleased to have served this use… It is due to the men who have come forward in this matter … since February 2nd, when I began the work …, that the following facts should be known:

If yesterday my offer immediately to raise four divisions for immediate use at the front had been accepted the various units of the first division would tomorrow have begun to assemble at whatever points the War Department had indicated, and they would have assembled in full force … as rapidly as the War Department directed them where to go and as soon as it provided them camping places, tents, blankets, etc.

We were prepared by the use of private funds partly to make good any immediate lack in such supplies as regards many of the units. Fifteen days afterward the second division would have mobilized in a similar fashion, and then, at intervals of thirty days, the two other divisions.

Roosevelt and Wilson Had Faced Off Against Incumbent William Howard Taft in the 1912 Presidential Election

…each of the divisions would have been ready to sail for France for intensive training at the theater of war within thirty days of the time it began to mobilize, if the War Department were able to furnish supplies and … the rifles and ammunition now in use in the French and British armies.

All four divisions would have sailed and two would have been on the firing line by September 1st, the time at which the Secretary of War has announced that the assembling of the selective draft army is to begin. About one-half of our men, at least of those in the first division, were men who had already seen military service.

I wish respectfully to point out certain errors into which the President has been led … He states that the purpose was to give me an “independent” command. In my last letter to the Secretary of War I respectfully stated that if I were given permission to raise an army corps of two divisions, I desired for myself only the position of junior among the eight brigade commanders…

The President alludes to our proffered action as one that would have an effect “politically,” but as not contributing to the “success of the war,” and as representing a “policy of personal gratification or advantage.” I wish respectfully but emphatically to deny that any political consideration whatever or any desire for personal gratification or advantage entered into our calculations. Our undivided purpose was to contribute effectively to the success of the war.

I know nothing whatever of the politics of the immense majority of the men who came forward… My purpose was to enable the Government to use … men who would not be reached under the selective draft, who were fit for immediate service, and the great majority of whom would not otherwise be used at all.

As above pointed out, all four divisions … would have been sent to the aid of our hard-pressed allies before the training of the selective draft army was even begun, and they would not have been put into the firing line until the French and British military authorities deemed them fit.

The President says in effect that to comply with our offer would have been mischievous from the military standpoint and he adds that the regular officers whom I have asked to have associated with me are “some of the most effective officers of the regular army, “who” cannot possibly be spared from the duty of training regular troops” …

As for my withdrawing them from the “more pressing and necessary duty of training” the troops, I wish to point out that … the present plan will take from “most pressing and necessary duty” about ten times as many regular officers as would have been taken under our proposal.

It has been stated that the regular officers are opposed to our plan. As a matter of fact “the most effective” fighting officers have been eager to be connected with or to have under them the troops we proposed to raise. The President condemns our proposal on the ground that “undramatic” action is needed, action that is “practical and of scientific definiteness and precision.” There was nothing dramatic in our proposal save as all proposals indicting eagerness or willingness to sacrifice life for an ideal are dramatic….

As you doubtless know, I am very proud of the Rough Riders, the First Volunteer Cavalry, with whom I served in the Spanish-American War. I believe it is a just and truthful statement of the facts when I say that this regiment did as well as any of the admirable regular regiments with which it served in the Santiago campaign. It was raised, armed, equipped, drilled, mounted, dismounted, kept two weeks aboard transports and put through two victorious aggressive fights in which it lost one-third of the officers and one-fifth of the men; all within sixty days from the time I received my commission.

If the President had permitted me to raise the four divisions, I am certain that they would have equaled the record, only on a hundredfold larger scale. They would have all been on the firing line before or shortly after the draft army had begun to assemble, and moreover they could have been indefinitely reinforced, so that they would have grown continually stronger and more efficient.”                                                                                                                   

                                                                            — Theodore Roosevelt, 21 May 1917


This article originally appeared in Kansas WWI, 2 May 2018

Tuesday, January 26, 2021

Secret Overture to Lenin: The Bullitt Mission to Soviet Russia, 1919—A Roads Classic

Tula, Russia, May Day 1919

In March of 1919, William Christian Bullitt, an attaché to the U.S. delegation to the Paris Peace Conference, visited Soviet Russia on a clandestine mission. Although Secretary of State Robert Lansing authorized him to report only on political and economic conditions, Bullitt’s actual objective was far more ambitious—to broker an agreement between the Allies and Russia’s Bolshevik government that would end the Russian civil war, lift the Allied blockade of that country, and allow the Allies to withdraw the troops they had dispatched to Russia in 1918. Bullitt eventually received a proposal from the Bolshevik government that would have realized these goals, but the Allied leaders at the Paris Peace Conference were unwilling to accept the offer.

Following the withdrawal of Allied diplomats from Petrograd and Moscow in 1918, the Allied leaders—U.S. President Woodrow Wilson, British Prime Minister David Lloyd George, French Prime Minister Georges Clemenceau, and Italian Prime Minister Vittorio Emmanuele Orlando—grappled with the question of how to address the Russian Civil War that had broken out between the Bolsheviks and White Russian forces following the Russian Revolution. After the signing of the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk in March of 1918, Allied, Japanese, and U.S. troops had occupied parts of Northern Russia, the Ukraine, and Siberia to protect vital areas from falling into the hands of the Germans, and to provide assistance to the White Russians. When the First World War ended, however, Allied leaders found it difficult to justify leaving tens of thousands of war-weary troops in Russia.

In early 1919, both Lloyd George and President Wilson suggested that the leaders of the warring Russian factions should meet in order to hammer out a peace accord. In spite of fierce French opposition, President Wilson succeeded in proposing that the Russians would meet on Prinkipo Island [Büyükada, largest of the Princes' Islands] off the coast of Turkey. While the Bolsheviks accepted Wilson’s proposal, the conference failed to materialize due to French resistance and the unwillingness of Russian anti-Bolsheviks to attend negotiations that would include the Bolshevik government.

Mission Members William Bullitt and Lincoln Steffens
(The third member was Capt. W.W. Pettit, 
U.S. Army Intelligence)

Nevertheless, Lloyd George and Wilson remained interested in working toward resolving the Russian situation. Because Bullitt had urged that a mission be dispatched to Russia, Wilson’s chief adviser, Colonel Edward M. House, asked Bullitt if he would be willing to lead such an endeavor. Bullitt then drew up a list of peace proposals to present to the Bolshevik government that proposed an armistice, the re-establishment of economic relations, and the withdrawal of Allied troops. Additionally, House encouraged Bullitt to secure a promise from the Bolsheviks that they would honor tsarist Russia’s debts to the Allied powers. However, while Bullitt secured House’s assent to his proposals, neither Wilson nor Lloyd George knew of them.

On 6 March 1917 the Bullitt Mission (which comprised Bullitt, journalist Lincoln Steffens, and a U.S. Army intelligence officer) crossed the Russian border. Following a meeting with Deputy Soviet Foreign Minister Maxim Litvinov in Petrograd, Bullitt and Steffens left for Moscow, where they met with Bolshevik leader Vladimir Lenin and his foreign minister, Georgi Chicherin. Although there was opposition to negotiations with the Americans within the Bolshevik leadership, on 14 March Bullitt received a Russian proposal that demanded the Allies call for a ceasefire within the former Russian Empire and agree to a peace conference in a neutral nation. The proposed terms for discussion at the conference included allowing all de facto governments within the borders of Russia to retain the territory they held prior to the armistice, the lifting of the Allied blockade, the withdrawal of Allied troops from Russia, disarmament of the warring Russian factions, and a commitment by the Bolshevik government to honor Russia’s financial obligations to the Allies.

Trotsky, Lenin, and Kamenev, 1919

During his week in Russia, Bullitt also compiled an extensive report on conditions there. While acknowledging the economic hardships facing the Russian people, Bullitt asserted that the violent phase of the Bolshevik Revolution had ended and that the Bolsheviks enjoyed popular support. Furthermore, he reported that Lenin and a large segment of the Bolshevik Party were willing to compromise with the United States. In fact, Bullitt believed that the greatest danger confronting the United States was the possibility that continued Allied interventions and support of the White Russians would lead to the rise of more radical political factions. Consequently, Bullitt concluded that “[no] Government save a Socialist Government can be set up in Russia today except by bayonets,” and that Lenin’s faction of the Bolsheviks was “as moderate as any Socialist Government which can control Russia.”

Bullitt returned to Paris on 25 March and there faced Allied resistance to the proposal he received from Lenin. Although Lloyd George privately assured Bullitt that he was sympathetic to the Bolsheviks’ offer, he repudiated it once news of Bullitt’s mission had been leaked to the British press. Clemenceau had opposed any overtures to Lenin from the start. Wilson was in poor health and was focused on achieving a breakthrough in negotiations with the French concerning the peace treaty with Germany. Furthermore, the President’s relations with House, Bullitt’s original patron, had soured greatly. Finally, news from Russia indicated that anti-Bolshevik forces would soon capture Moscow, thus obviating negotiations with Lenin. Consequently, the 10 April deadline for the Allies to respond to Lenin’s offer passed without any word from the Allied side, and Bullitt angrily resigned from the U.S. delegation on 17 May. The failure of the Allies to agree to the proposal secured by the Bullitt mission delayed official U.S. recognition of Soviet Russia for many years.

Source: Office of the Historian, United States Department of State

Monday, January 25, 2021

What Happened at the Col de la Chipotte?

Chipotte Pass Today, Cemetery on Left

From 28 August to 9 September 1914, Col de la Chipotte, a small pass through the Vosges Mountains six miles south of Baccarat, was the scene of daily desperate struggles that included hand-to-hand combat. Located on the edge of the Vosges mountains, its capture and control by German forces would have allowed them ready access west onto the Lorrain Plateau deep into France.  

Surrounding Terrain

Possession of the pass switched between the French and Germans five times, killing over 4,000 French soldiers. One unit of 3,000 men lost two thirds of its effectiveness in two days of fighting. The battle's survivors remembered it as the "Hell Hole." German losses are believed comparable, but were  not recorded.  On 5 September, first day of the Battle of the Marne, German commanders halted their assault to shift forces elsewhere. A week later, French troops gained full control of the pass. 

German and French Graves Side by Side

Thus, the Battle of the Borders ended that day, with a French victory, but part of the Vosges territory would remain occupied for four long years. La Chipotte is now the site of a French national cemetery and two memorials to the French soldiers who died there. As part of the centennial commemoration of the war, a memorial educational trail was installed around the cemetery with informational panels remembering the details of the small but deadly struggle of 1914.

Memorial to the 86th Brigade of Chasseurs

Sunday, January 24, 2021

Don't Miss Your January 2021 St. Mihiel Trip-Wire!


In this issue, we focus on one of the most remembered and honored formations of the war, the Royal Newfoundland Regiment

Main Focus: 

  • From Your Editor: The Trail of the Caribou
  • The History of the Royal Newfoundland Regiment by James Patton
  • Guedecourt: A Second Visit to the Somme
  • A Busy 1917: Arras, Passchendaele, and Cambrai

Newfoundland's Presence at Suvla Bay, Gallipoli

  • Why the Caribou?
  • The Rev. Captain Thomas Nangle
  • The Little Blue Forget-Me-Not
  • Interactive Map for Newfoundland Memorial Park, Beaumont-Hamel

The USS Texas Is on the Road Back!

Other Topics:

  • 100 Years Ago: An Inter-Allied Conference Inflames the Reparations Dispute
  • What's Happening with the USS Texas (BB-35)?
  • WWI Documentary: Trail of the Caribou (2016)
  • Plus all our regular updates and features

Next Month:  Three Forgotten Victories of the AEF

Saturday, January 23, 2021

Recommended: Warrior—The Horse the Germans Could Not Kill


General Jack Seely on Warrior, painted in 1918
by Sir Alfred Munnings

By Aimee Lewis, CNN
Originally Presented 13 November 2018

On the banks of France’s Arve river, the horse the Germans could not kill faced his most dangerous mission yet.

The star-foreheaded Warrior, who arrived on the Western Front in August 1914, had survived four years of shells and bullets, come through the horrors of Ypres, the Somme and Passchendaele, and was now about to lead one of the last great cavalry charges in history.

In the saddle was General Jack Seely, a flamboyant aristocrat and politician. The pair advanced, galloping at speed for half a mile on muddy terrain before mounting a hill.

Behind the thoroughbred on that morning of 30 March 1918, were 1,000 horses of the Canadian Cavalry; a brigade of cowboys, Mounties, clerks, and Americans. Squadron after squadron followed Seely and Warrior, supported by the Royal Flying Corps which dropped 190 bombs.

Morning turned into a rainy afternoon, then light faded. Warrior survived, as did most of Seely’s command, and Moreuil Wood was taken by the Allies, bringing German advancement to a halt.

“Warrior was the lucky one,” Brough Scott, journalist and grandson and biographer of Seely, tells CNN.

“My grandfather was unbelievably lucky with Warrior. One moment he and another horse were standing together, the horses touching noses while other people marched across a bridge, and there was a sniper and the horse next to him was shot dead.”

General Seely once said of Warrior: “I have seen him, even when a shell has burst within a few feet, stand still without a tremor – just turn his head and, unconcerned, look at the smoke of the burst.”

Warrior returned home to the Isle of Wight in 1918, living on the island off the south coast of England with the Seely family until his death aged 33. Dubbed “the horse the Germans can’t kill,” by Canadian soldiers, Warrior’s obituary would appear in English newspapers The Times and Evening Standard and, in 2014, he posthumously received the Honorary PDSA Dickin Medal, known as the “animal Victoria Cross.”

He is still remembered, still admired. Steven Spielberg, director of War Horse, said during the release of his Oscar-nominated film: “Warrior is an extraordinary example of the resilience, strength, and profound contribution that horses made to the Great War.”

The First World War was a global conflict that defined a century. A four-year battle fought in the fields, the bloodiest in European history, a war which was supposed to end all wars. Sacrifices were made which should never be forgotten, especially the contribution of the stoically silent volunteers regarded as the ultimate war machines.

Horses were the backbone of the Allies’ effort, essential to what ultimately would be victory.

The British Army alone deployed more than a million horses and mules, buying over 617,000 from the US and Canada. Indeed, according to the National Army Museum, Britain sent more hay and oats by weight than ammunition to France.

When the war began in 1914, the British Army possessed just 25,000 horses—within 12 days 140,000 had been purchased.

“The British Army had a very organized system in 1914 to sign horses up for the cavalry because they were aware that they would need horses badly,” says Scott.

“By 1915, 16,000 horses had come from Tennessee, 2,000 from Uruguay. It was horses everywhere.

“We can be too sentimental, but what has been obvious, I think, and particularly the reaction I’ve had about Warrior, because horses can’t speak there’s a noble, uncomplaining, inspirational stoicism about the horse going about its work.

“It doesn’t have a choice, but will go and work for you and, in many cases, die for you.”

Immense resources were invested in the horses which had four main roles: Supply horses and mules were used to move ammunition, general supplies and ambulances, riding horses were ridden by soldiers, gun horses pulled artillery pieces and cavalry horses were used in battle. Britain’s Remount Department alone spent about $3.9 billion in today’s money on purchasing, training and delivering horses and mules to the front.

“A lot of the times they were standing in makeshift shelters in the fields and things were pretty brutal,” explains Scott.

“Horses are bigger targets and you can’t make them lie down. They were going all the time. Riding horses you’re a big target.”

As well as being instrumental to the war effort, for the men in battle the war horses were inspirational figures, says Scott, acting as morale boosters in the darkest of times.

“My grandfather was a flamboyant figure, he would be up near the front when they were parading and marching and very much not hiding and for the troops behind him, seeing the horse up there in front was something they found really inspirational and totemic, he was the ultimate mascot,” says Scott of Warrior.

“My grandfather would say that when he rode up to the troops, they were saying ‘here comes Warrior.’ With a horse, you can go up to it and pat it and say ‘good chap.’ There’s no doubt for those cavalrymen their morale was kept up. Thinking about somebody else is helpful, no question.”

British Cavalry by Sir Alfred Munnings

Horses were, of course, part of everyday life in the early part of the 19th century.

“Today we forget how much horses were used,” Emma Mawdsley, an art historian curating an exhibition at the National Army Museum in London on a collection by British war artist Sir Alfred Munnings, one of England’s most celebrated equine painters.

“The success of the British war effort was totally dependent on horses.

“A new type of war saw men live for months in trenches instead of fighting on the move. Often the mud was so thick motor vehicles could not drive through it. It was left to horses to pull the large artillery guns and ambulances, and bring in supplies of medicine, food and ammunition.”

]These war horses were, of course, well looked after. New Zealand gunner Bert Stokes would later say: “To lose a horse was worse than losing a man because … men were replaceable, while horses weren’t at that stage.”

There were more than 27,000 men serving in the Army Veterinary Corps and 19,000 in the Remount Department of the British Army preparing horses to be sent to war. Women, too, took their place in the receiving departments.

“First of all the horses had to be checked for all sorts of diseases and then broken so they could do the ordinary riding and pulling jobs,” says Scott. “You’d prepare them so they were ready to do their jobs.”

The contribution of the war horses has not been forgotten, says Scott, thanks largely, he says, to Michael Morpurgo’s book War Horse and the film and musical inspired by Morpurgo’s story about Joey, a young farm horse which is sold to the British army.

“Nothing gets anywhere near the contribution of people,” says Scott. “You needed manpower but, overwhelmingly, you needed horsepower.”

Friday, January 22, 2021

Serbia's Greatest General: Živojin Mišić

Field Marshal Živojin Mišić (1855–1921) was Serbia's greatest military commander of the First World War. Called from forced retirement, he led the Serbian forces in defeating the two initial Austrian invasions of his homeland. An opponent of the great retreat across the Albanian mountains to Corfu, he nonetheless accompanied the troops. He later resumed command of the Serbian forces on the Salonika Front that helped decisively defeat Bulgaria and opened back doors into both Austria-Hungary and Turkey, forcing their capitulation.

His pre-Great War service was long and highly eventful. At the very beginning of his 40 years of service, Živojin Mišić served in the Serbian-Turkish wars (1876–1878), as a sergeant, later a lieutenant. Afterward, in addition to the four-year Artillery School, he completed the Austro-Hungarian infantry school in Bruk on Lajta and the two-year general staff course.  

In between, Mišić participated in the short Serbian-Bulgarian War of 1885. For six years, in addition to his regular duties, he taught strategy at the Military Academy. After the May 1903 coup d'etat he was forced to retire with the rank of general staff colonel,  since he was considered too close to the assassinated King and Queen [King Alexander Obrenović and Queen Draga; the rival dynasty of Karađorđević was then installed].

He was reactivated in 1909, during the annexation crisis on the personal request of the Chief of the Supreme Command, General Radomir Putnik, who made him his assistant. Mišić helped General Putnik draw up a Serbian war plan in a possible war with Austro-Hungarian Empire.

In the Balkan Wars, Mišić was also assistant to the chief of staff of the Supreme Command, General Travelers. He was directly involved in planning and managing operations against the Turkish Vardar Army and was subsequently promoted to the rank of general after the Kumanovo battle [First Balkan War, 1912]. He distinguished himself with the correct assessment of the situation on the first day of the Battle of Bregalnica [Second Balkan War, 1913],when the Serbian Supreme Command in Skopje was considering the question of where to fight the crucial battle. His advice had a decisive influence on the final outcome of what turned out to be the decisive battle of the Second Balkan War. 

After the end of this war, Mišić was forced to retire for the second time by the officers of the Black Hand clique. When the First World War started, however, he was known to be too valuable to be kept on the sidelines and was called to the colors. He would outlive his enemies in the Black Hand [secret Serbian nationalist society, involved in assassinations of Serbian king and queen and the Archduke Franz Ferdinand and Sophie Chotek], which was disbanded during the war with its leaders executed, but would die of lung cancer in Belgrade in 1921.

Thursday, January 21, 2021

Images of Wales and the Welsh at War

Editor's Note: We have published numerous articles about the contributions and sacrifices of Wales and the Welsh people on Roads to the Great War in the past. To see a list of those postings click HERE.  In this article, I'm presenting some of the interesting images I've come across over the years.  MH

Departing Wales

To the Trenches

Back Home

Famous Battlefields

Mametz Wood, Somme 1916

Ypres Salient, 1917

Wednesday, January 20, 2021

Recommended: The Canary Girls and the WWI Poisons That Turned Them Yellow

By Messy Nessy

Originally Presented 17 February 2016

At lunchtime, the women had to be separated in the cafeteria because everything they touched turned yellow. They were called the “Canary Girls” because of their bright yellow skin and green or ginger-coloured hair. With the nation’s men at war and male labour in short supply, Britain’s women had been recruited to ramp up production ammunition and were paid on average less than half of what the men were paid. By the end of the war, roughly 80% of the weaponry used by the British army was being made by women who were in fact paying very dearly to “do their bit”.

They had gone from working as housemaids, cooks and nannies to being employed in munitions factories where became known as munitionettes. They performed both heavy-duty and delicate tasks that require more skill than brute force; handling detonators and explosives, machining shell cases etc. 

 But the women also worked with hazardous chemicals on a daily basis without adequate protection, such as trinitrotoluene (TNT). Prolonged exposure to the sulfuric acid caused depigmentation, turning their skin yellow. It was believed that the canary with blue eyes were particularly adept calibration work.

Other strange symptoms included hair turning green or falling out altogether, chest pain, breast deformation, weakening of the immune system, vomiting, anemia, migraines and fertility problems. Cases were even reported of munitionettes giving birth to yellow children. One “baby canary” whose mother worked in a munitions factory in Banbury, remembered that in her town, most children were simply born that way. Doctors said that only time would fade the discolouration. . . 

TNT poisoning became such a common problem that it was frequently mentioned in early 20th century medical journals. They stated that only 24% of the workers (male and female) showed no symptons of TNT poisoning (based on blood tests). 

The body’s reaction to to the TNT usually began with sneezing fits, a bad cough, severe sore throat and profound digestive woes. Some women said the worst of it was the constant metallic taste in their mouth. While some simply couldn’t tolerate it, most munitionettes only left after their health failed. 

But turning yellow, falling ill from the poisons lurking in the air and unfair pay weren’t the only concerns for these women. The risk of exploitation was actually much less than the explosion. Blasts occurred relatively frequently and were another ever-present hazard. The explosives the munitionettes were working with ignited on several occasions, injuring or killing the workers.

Thanks to Reader David Schleeter for suggesting an article on the Canary Girls.

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


Our December 2020 issue of tthe St. Mihiel Trip-Wire focuses on the War in Wintertime.

Main Focus: 

  • From Your Editor: The Suffering of Soldiers
  • Carpathian Winter Fiasco by Graydon A. Tunstall
  • Cold on the Somme: Winter 1916–17
  • Front Line on a Glacier: The Marmolada by Richard Galli

French Mountain Artillery on the Move

  • The Polar Bears' Biggest Challenge
  • Winter Avalanches
  • Winter Warfare, by Edgell Rickword
  • Different Perspectives of Winter Warfare

79th Division, Christmas 1918 in Occupied Germany

Other Topics:

  • 100 Years Ago: "Bloody Christmas" Brings D'Annunzio's Fiume Extravaganza to a Close
  • Remembering Those Oklahoma Doughboys
  • The National Museum of the U.S. Army to Open
  • WWI Film Classic: Joyeux Noel! (1938)
  • Plus all our regular updates and features

Next Month:  The Royal Newfoundland Regiment

Tuesday, January 19, 2021

The Vigilantes


By Keith Muchowski

One Sunday afternoon in November 1916, the same month incumbent Woodrow Wilson defeated challenger Charles Evans Hughes under the banner “He kept us out of war,” German-American poet Hermann Hagedorn visited the home of playwright Porter Emerson Browne and posed a question: how might they and others convey to Americans the urgency for readiness in case of conflict? The two immediately broached the question to a few friends when the inspiration came; as Browne noted in a May 8, 1918 piece for The Outlook magazine, “Being writers, naturally writing was our field . . . It is the written and the printed word that weld a nation into a single entity.” Thus was born the idea of the Vigilantes, a consortium of journalists, poets, novelists, playwrights, and others in the creative space who during the Great War took it upon themselves to prod, cajole, educate, and outrage the American people into readiness and action.

That late autumn a yet larger group convened at the Players Club, the Gramercy Park watering hole and theater founded in the 1880s by Shakespearean actor Edwin Booth for the purpose of bringing together those within the artistic fields. Present too were stakeholders from the business, political, and national security realms. Five days before Christmas 1916 almost three dozen individuals met yet again for the first so-called Vigilantes Dinner to hammer out their plans for the coming year. The men—and women—who comprised the Vigilantes wasted no time; magazine and newspaper articles with Vigilante by-lines appeared in various outlets across the country continuously throughout the winter of 1917.

On 29 March, just one week before Congress declared war on Germany, there was a Vigilantes Dinner at the Harvard Club of New York City’s 44th Street clubhouse. While pleased overall with their progress, they wanted to expand their voice, which meant inclusion of their work not just in individual newspapers but also within the many news syndicates and press associations across the country. Soon the group articulated what would today be called a mission statement, which they laid out plainly on their stationary and letterhead. They also established a Manhattan headquarters.

The Vigilantes saw themselves as part of an intellectual tradition and as writers and artists who understood the power of words and iconography. The group’s name itself connoted the spirit of the Old West, which was fitting, given Theodore Roosevelt and Owen Wister’s participation in the movement. Their logo alluded to the American Revolution, the rider holding his lantern aloft with a steeple behind him clearly meant to conjure Paul Revere and his warning that the enemy was approaching. As literary figures most if not all of the Vigilantes would have known of the influence of pamphleteering during the Revolution and early years of the Republic. They considered themselves to be working within the spirit of this heritage.

They published monographs as well. In 1917 Executive Committee member Charles Hanson Towne edited a 400-plus page anthology entitled For France containing speeches, cartoons, paintings, poetry, and prose with contributions from the like of the late Alan Seeger, William Dean Howells, Booth Tarkington, John Singer Sargent, James Montgomery Flagg, and Ida M. Tarbell, to name just a few. Former President Roosevelt authored a forward. That same year the Vigilantes published Fifes and Drums: A Collection of Poems of America at War with many of the same authors and themes. These endeavors were hardly unique. The American public’s desire for anything relating to the war was so insatiable. The New York Times in October 1917 listed no less than 200 war-related titles released in just the six months since the United States entered the conflict. The Vigilantes were also among the many groups that organized a tribute to France in recognition of Bastille Day held in New York City on Monday 15 July 1918. 

And, of course, there was the ongoing journalism. During the war, approximately 300 to 400 writers, cartoonists, and others committed to contributing at least occasionally to the cause. Once the United States officially joined the fight, the Vigilantes’ emphasis shifted from warning to assistance. Writers wrote in support of George Creel’s Committee on Public Information, Herbert Hoover’s U. S. Food Administration, the various loan drives, and other causes central to the war effort. The New York Times noted on 25 August 25 1918 that over the past year and a half “Authors provided most of the slogans for the Liberty bond and war savings campaigns. Writers whose works occasionally caused the turning up of the fastidious nose may [now] be found aiding the Y.M.C.A.” While the Vigilantes' editorializing could be overly strident and jingoistic, they tried to create a distinction, or at least the appearance of a distinction, between themselves and those scapegoating or encouraging the violence becoming commonplace against ethnic Americans, especially German-Americans. Vigilantes' managing editor Charles J. Rosebault wrote in the September 16, 1917 Brooklyn Daily Eagle that “The organization has taken no part in lynching, in interrupting street meetings, in organizing boycotts, or in the various other activities undertaken by individuals or associations of somewhat similar names. I state this not in criticism of others, but merely to draw public attention to the fact that the Vigilantes mean to continue to agitate for patriotism and to fight pacifism and pro-Germanism entirely through their pens, leaving other forms of action severely alone.”

The Vigilantes were nothing if not passionate and prolific. By one estimate the fair market value of their pro bono contributions would have cost news outlets $20,000 per month in commissions, more than $355,000 in today’s dollars. Their work was crucial in this era just prior to mass radio, let alone television or social media. The Vigilantes certainly moved the needle and steered the narrative of American discourse. Most cities had at minimum a morning and afternoon paper; New York City alone had nearly a dozen dailies. The syndicates reached deep into the isolationist South and West. Venues for the Vigilantes' work included the American Press Association, the Wheeler Syndicate, Western Newspaper Service, the extensive foreign language press that served the country’s many “hyphenated-American” communities, and even agricultural journals, which is probably less surprising than it might appear, given the centrality of American foodstuffs to the Allied war effort. Millions read the Vigilantes' work.

So why is their story not better known today? The answers are manifold. For one thing, little of the Vigilantes' journalism is in one place. Besides the two monographs mentioned above, the editorial pieces are scattered in isolated newspaper morgues and databases across the country. Many of the periodicals for which the Vigilantes wrote no longer even exist. No one seems to have been keeping track of the total output at the time, and no scholar has apparently ever attempted an anthology. In the Roaring Twenties, the stridency of the writing already seemed jingoistic and anachronistic to jaded Americans. While literary critics over the past century have written extensively about Great War poetry, their emphasis has largely been on the anti-war poets, not those who advocated for militarism. This is all unfortunate. While the majority of the Vigilantes' work may be of greater historical than literary merit, it is an important cultural legacy of American involvement in the Great War.

Keith Muchowski is a librarian and professor at New York City College of Technology (CUNY) in Brooklyn. He is currently writing a book about Civil War Era New York City. He blogs at