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

Wednesday, June 30, 2021

The Royal Navy's Blockade of Germany

The Royal Navy's Blockade of Germany Began in November 1914. Since the early 18th century, blockades had been a central and coercive element in British naval strategy. When war broke out in August 1914, the British government moved immediately to strangle the supply of raw materials and foodstuffs to Germany and its allies. This marked the beginning of the "hunger blockade," a war of attrition that lasted until Germany signed the Treaty of Versailles in June 1919.

A Royal Navy Boarding Party Approaching a Neutral Ship

Armed with contraband lists, British naval ships spent the war patrolling the North Sea, intercepting and detaining thousands of merchant ships thought to be harboring cargo bound for enemy shores. This aggressive display of maritime power aroused considerable anger in neutral countries, many of whom enjoyed strong trading links with Germany. Tension heightened after the North Sea was declared a British "military area" on 3 November 1914. Despite complaints about breaches of international law, however, most neutral merchant ships agreed to put into British ports for inspection and were subsequently escorted—minus any "illegal" cargo bound for Germany—through the British-laid minefields to their final destinations.

The blockade strategy worked effectively. As a memorandum to the War Cabinet on 1 January 1917 stated, very few supplies were reaching Germany or its allies—either through the North Sea or through other areas such as Austria's Adriatic ports, subject to a French blockade since the first month of the war. Germany attempted to counter the crippling effects of the blockade with a new weapon that seemed capable of subverting British naval superiority, the submarine. For much of the war, German U-boats were deployed only intermittently against neutral and Allied shipping. Their devastating impact—as witnessed, for example, in the sinking of the Lusitania in May 1915—was offset by the international opprobrium that such attacks aroused. From 1 February 1917, however, the German naval command adopted a policy of "unrestricted submarine warfare." Despite initial successes, this high-risk strategy did not work. It provoked the USA into entering the war against the Central Powers and its worst effects were successfully countered by the convoy system. The blockade continued unabated.

German Children at a Soup Kitchen

Did the blockade starve Germany and the other Central Powers into defeat in 1918? We examine this is some earlier articles on Roads to the Great War.

Planning Armageddon: British Economic Warfare and the First World War

Starvation at War

Was the Food Weapon a Myth? 

Source: British National Archives

Tuesday, June 29, 2021

A Destiny of Undying Greatness: Kiffin Rockwell and the Boys Who Remembered Lafayettee

by Mark M. Trapp.
System D Publishing, 2019
Peter L. Belmonte, Reviewer

As students of the First World War know, well before the United States entered the war, some American men made their way to Canada, England, and France to enlist and serve in the fight against the Central Powers. Perhaps the most famous unit of such men is the fabled Lafayette Escadrille, the French squadron composed of Americans who had enlisted in the French army. One of the members of this squadron was Kiffin Rockwell, a young man from South Carolina who sought to repay a debt that he felt the United States owed to France for her support of our own revolution. In this book, first-time author and Chicago lawyer Mark Trapp tells the story of Kiffin, his older brother Paul, and many other young men who didn’t forget France in her time of need. The names of many of the men whose stories are in the book will be familiar to some readers. Alan Seeger, Norman Prince, Victor Chapman, Bert Hall, and William Thaw were among the men who volunteered to serve France, and they all appear in these pages in varying degrees.

Trapp begins with a lengthy account of the Rockwells’ family history before getting into their involvement in World War I. In August 1914, Kiffin and Paul were among the first Americans to travel to France and enlist in the Foreign Legion. In the ensuing pages, the author describes in detail the exploits of these men and their compatriots.

Kiffin Rockwell

There is not a lot of operational or strategic level history of the war included in the book. Rather, it covers the activities of the men, often juggling several concurrent threads that weave through their lives, to present, more or less, a history of these men at war. A Destiny of Undying Greatness is crammed with anecdotes and snippets, gleaned from the letters and diaries of the participants, which illuminate their activities and give us a flavor of the war from their vantage point. Trapp traces Kiffin Rockwell and several of the men as they progress from enlistment, through training, to combat in the trenches (for some of them), and then through their transition to the French air service. Although Rockwell and some of the others are best known as pilots, its more than 200 pages before we read of any of them flying, and Rockwell doesn’t take to the air until page 312.

Things weren’t all rosy for the Americans. Indeed, their first real direct engagement in ground combat, which was a relatively minor German patrol action against a small French outpost, resulted in what both Kiffin and fellow American Frederick W. Zinn regarded as utter failure on their part, but the men learned and saw their share of action. Kiffin was himself wounded in the thigh in May 1915. Shortly after his return from the hospital, Kiffin was transferred to the French air service. .

Students of the Great War will enjoy reading about the men’s experiences, both in the trenches and in the air. Trapp reports such things as fistfights between the men in the Foreign Legion, visits to Paris on leave, grousing about decorations and recognition, and the experience of being under aerial bombardment while at their own aerodrome. The author reminds us that for Americans to travel to Europe to enlist in the armed forces of France during this time was by no means routine. There was some question as to whether these men had forfeited their American citizenship by doing so. When several of the men traveled to the United States during the 1915 Christmas season, there were calls from some pro-German quarters to have the men interned as belligerent soldiers in a neutral country. Trapp covers the correspondence with the State Department and the comments by the men; the end result was that the men were not interned and returned to France after the holidays.

Captain George Thenault delivering his eulogy at the funeral
of Kiffin Rockwell. Luxeuil, France, 25 September  1916

After the formation of the Lafayette Escadrille, Rockwell scored the squadron’s first official kill when he shot down a German two-seater L.V.G. on 18 May 1916. Other members soon followed suit, and the squadron became quite successful. There are some choice nuggets here for Great War aviation enthusiasts. For example, Trapp quotes a pilot’s description of changing out the ammo drum of a Lewis machine gun while in flight. Reading this, one wonders how these men managed to survive such an undertaking while in combat. On 23 September 1916, Kiffin was shot down and killed during a fight with a German two-seat reconnaissance aircraft.

Forty-five photographs and illustrations enhance the text and give us a good visual orientation of the men and times. The author’s end notes—127 pages of them—provide much additional information and will aid those who wish to read more about these subjects. There is no index, and this is an obvious drawback to such a book as this. Trapp used numerous important primary sources that have enabled him to write this comprehensive volume. Although some readers might be put off by the depth of coverage, those who wish to learn about Rockwell and other Americans in the French armed forces will enjoy the book.

Kiffin Rockwell and the other men in this book were products of their times, with all the attendant flaws associated with the times and with humanity. As Trapp notes, this is not a hagiography. Still, it’s worth quoting part of Trapp’s closing paragraphs at some length:

"What has happened to our nation in the past hundred years? Today, many American youth would not even fight for their own country, much less another—although perhaps they could be roused to post a hash tag. Masculinity is now scorned as “toxic” and, especially among the so-called elite—the college-educated, the wealthy, and politically connected—the concept of repaying a debt to those who made their own nation and freedom possible is unthinkable. Little wonder, for among much of this crowd, the thought of American exceptionalism is anathema, and words like duty, honor, and sacrifice merely outdated concepts in unread history books." (pp. 573–74)

Of course, this is a generalization, and the point can be argued. Trapp closes with the hope that he has told their story in a manner worthy of their “higher ideals, nobler aspirations, and unwavering patriotism” (p. 574). In this, Trapp has succeeded.

Peter L. Belmonte

Review originally published by Air University Press, April 2020

Monday, June 28, 2021

Important News for ROADS TO THE GREAT WAR Subscribers — Please Read


Those readers who are signed up to receive email notices when a new Roads to the Great War article is posted may have noticed that the delivery of these emails has lately become erratic.  I believe this is because the Blogger/Google platform management has decided to eliminate the notification service as of 1 July and has not offered a replacement option.

I have spent the last month trying to find a replacement service and will continue to do so, but for the foreseeable future,  I need your support to work through this disruption:

1.  Be sure to set a bookmark or favorite for Roads to the Great War.  This will allow you to check yourself to see if there are any new articles while the notification service is disrupted.

2.  I need to develop a confirmed listing of everyone who wishes to receive such notices in the future.  So, on  Wednesday, 30 June 2021, I will be sending you an email explaining that you are on my current mailing list, and offering you the option to  decline future email notifications if you prefer.

3. In the interim, I will be doing a weekly mailing to you with links to all the past week's postings.

4. When I have a new email notification system running, the current subscribers will be automatically added

Thanks for you readership over the years,

Mike Hanlon

PS:  Suggestions or advice are welcome.

Sunday, June 27, 2021

Death at Anchor: The Destruction of HMS Bulwark, 26 November 1914

HMS Bulwark was part of the 5th Battle Squadron and at the outbreak of the war was based at Sheerness in order to protect the southeast of England from the threat of a German invasion. On Thursday 26 November 1914, the pre-dreadnought battleship was moored in the Medway Estuary approximately between East Hoo Creek and Stoke Creek when, at 7:50 a.m., a massive explosion ripped through the vessel.  

Witnesses on the battleship HMS Implacable, which was moored next to Bulwark, described:

…a huge pillar of black cloud belched upwards... was followed by a thunderous roar. Then came a series of lesser detonations, and finally one vast explosion that shook the Implacable from mastheads to keel.

HMS Bulwark Before the Tragedy

The Times reported:

The band was playing and some of the men were drilling on deck when the explosion occurred. A great sheet of flame and quantities of debris shot upwards, and the huge bulk of the vessel lifted and sank, shattered, torn, and twisted, with officers and men aboard...

Boats of all kinds were launched from the nearby ships and shore to pick up survivors and the dead. Work was hampered by the amount of debris which included hammocks, furniture, boxes, and hundreds of mutilated bodies. Fragments of personal items showered down in the streets of Sheerness. Initially, 14 men survived the disaster, but some died later from their injuries. One of the survivors, an able seaman, had a miraculous escape. He said he was on the deck of the Bulwark when the explosion occurred. He was blown into the air, fell clear of the debris, and managed to swim to wreckage and keep himself afloat until he was rescued. His injuries were slight.

Aftermath of the Explosion

The Commonwealth War Graves database names 788 men from HMS Bulwark as having lost their lives in this explosion. There was only a handful of survivors.

On that afternoon, Winston Churchill (First Lord of the Admiralty) made the following statement to the House of Commons:

I regret to say I have some bad news for the house. The Bulwark battleship, which was lying in Sheerness this morning, blew up at 7.35 o'clock. The Vice and Rear Admiral, who were present, have reported their conviction that it was an internal magazine explosion which rent the ship asunder. There was apparently no upheaval in the water, and the ship had entirely disappeared when the smoke had cleared away. An inquiry will be held tomorrow which may possibly throw more light on the occurrence. The loss of the ship does not sensibly affect the military position, but I regret to say the loss of life is very severe.

The subsequent naval court of enquiry found that shells and other ammunition had been stored in the corridors between the magazines, and that a fault with one of the shells or overheating cordite near a boiler room bulkhead could have started a chain reaction which destroyed the ship.

Sources:  Western Front Association; Wikipedia

Saturday, June 26, 2021

A Photograph You Will Never Forget


French Nurse Suzanne Raguin and Multiple Amputee
Lieutenant Robert Fletcher

Engaged at the start of the war as a volunteer nurse at the Union des Femmes de France, Suzanne Raguin, wife of the mayor of Saint-Georges-sur-Cher,  was the only French Nurse at the American hospital in Blois in 1918 and 1919. Very early in her service she caught the attention of military doctors by her listening skills, humanity, and common sense in evaluating a priority intervention. Close to the wounded, the medical nurse attracted the sympathy of the Doughboys by her benevolent smile and her gentle gestures to treat a deep wound. The wounded Doughboys started calling her the "Little Mother."

One morning, Lt. Robert Fletcher, seriously injured in his legs, arrived in the emergency room. Suzanne, preforming the triage function, saw the soldier had contracted gangrene and recommended amputation of both legs to the attending surgeon, Dr. Fred Hodgson, who was unfortunately too busy to intervene immediately. Suzanne, however, insisted, "You have to operate doctor, otherwise this boy will die of gangrene!" Now interested, the doctor ended up taking a closer look and proceeded to the immediate amputation. The intervention Suzanne suggested saved Robert Fletcher's life. He would survive until 1949.

In the 1920s, Mrs. Raguin made an American tour to visit some of the men she had cared for such as Lt. Fletcher. The photo above, dated 15 July 1920, was taken on her trip.

Note added 28 June 21:  One of our readers has pointed out that Lt. Fletcher also appears to have lost his left arm.  I've found no information referencing any injuries other than to his legs, but I've changed the references from a "double" amputee to multiple.  MH

Source: Departmental Archives, Loir-et-Cher; the Lanouvellere Republic

Friday, June 25, 2021

Malta in World War One: The Nurse of the Mediterranean

Wounded Soldiers Arriving in Malta

Malta's involvement in World War II is well known and well documented, but less so is the scale of the island's involvement in the previous great conflict of the 20th century—World War I. With the centenary of the Armistice which ended the Great War being celebrated today, there is even more reason to look into Malta's role as the "Nurse of the Mediterranean" during the first major conflict of the 20th century.

Malta, being a British colony at the time, was naturally not a neutral in the conflict that began in the summer of 1914. Fighting initially was reserved to either the Western Front in France, or the Eastern Front between Russia and Prussia, and as a result, Malta's part in the war was minimal.

It was only when 1915 dawned that this began to change. Leaders started to realise that the war would not be an open and shut case, as the fighting spread further afield. Turkey had entered the war on the side of the Germans and had closed the Dardanelles Strait to shipping—which cut Russian access to the Mediterranean. As a result, British and French armies joined forces, and a naval campaign which started in February 1915 was followed two months later by amphibious landings at Gallipoli.

Royal Navy Ships in Malta's Grand Harbor

Despite an army of almost half a million soldiers, the invasion was a disaster, with the campaign taking just over ten months and culminated in a total Allied retreat. Tens of thousands were wounded throughout the campaign, and it was because of these wounded that Malta gained the badge of being the "Nurse of the Mediterranean" during the Great War. 

Since the island was so far off from the battlefront, it was the perfect medical recovery outpost. The Gallipoli campaign, as well as the Salonika one meant that 136,121 wounded or sick soldiers were treated in Malta. An average of 2,000 wounded soldiers started arriving in Malta from the front every week, while the record for the most patients treated in one day stands at an astonishing 20,994. Malta had, at its peak, 27 hospitals with 334 medical officers, 913 nurses, and 25,000 beds to provide optimum care to those arriving from the front.

A large number of those who were treated in Malta were members of the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps—the ANZACs. Unearthed from the newspapers of 100 or so years ago, are letters that soldiers sent home to Australia and New Zealand which help shed new light on the type of service and hospitality these wounded fighters received upon arriving at the Mediterranean island.

St. Elmo's Military Hospital at Malta

There is general praise for the Maltese regarding their hospitality in these letters. Private O. Waller provided one of the most vivid and detailed descriptions of the reception received upon arrival in Malta, writing: "I think it my duty to let Yorketown people know how well we were treated, when we landed in Malta. Ladies were waiting at the landing stage and gave us drinks, cigarettes, matches, biscuits, chocolates, grapes, etc. We also get the advantage of asking in the Daily Malta Chronicle for anything we want in the form of musical instruments - the people quickly respond to our requests. On certain days ladies visit the wards, bring papers of every description and other comforts too numerous to mention. The nurses are a very nice obliging lot they cannot do enough for us."

Private Sidney Scowcroft wrote in similarly glowing terms, praising both the reception that he had received as well as the quality of the medical treatment: "Once on the landing stage we were fairly rushed by both old ladies and young girls, who were anxious to do us a good turn. They distributed amongst us chocolates, biscuits, cigarettes, matches, soft drinks, anything in fact that helps to comfort the wounded. We were then met by very obliging R.A.M.C. men, who took us to a bath, there to make ourselves fit and proper persons to be received by our English nurses at our various wards. The hospital we are in was once an English barracks, but since the outbreak of war, it has been thoroughly renovated, and now it is one of the most up-to-date hospitals here."

Scowcroft also seems to have had the opportunity to see some of Malta's sites, saying that he and some fellow Australians toured St Agatha's Catacombs and "the Roman Catholic Church" in the vicinity, which could well be St Paul's Cathedral in Mdina, and marvelled at the beauty and intricacy of the buildings.

Vera Brittain Served as a V.A.D. Nurse at Malta

All told, the sentiments of many ANZACs towards Malta can be summed up in the letter of one anonymous Australian officer, whose letter was published in the Zeehan & Dundas Herald on 4 January 1916, who said that the Maltese people "by their goodness, hospitality, cordiality and warm heartedness" had "stirred [their] hearts to the depths".

Source: The Malta Independent, 11 November 2018

Thursday, June 24, 2021

Sinister Omen: The November 1915 Storm at Gallipoli

30 November 1915

As Lord Kitchener's November 1915 recommendation to evacuate Gallipoli was working its way through the government and command structure, the morale and health of the men on the peninsula took dramatic downturns.

A storm with freezing rain and snow struck the peninsula on 26 and 27 November. It was unexpected and proved severely punishing for the troops. Some of the men who had been sent for the August offensive were still attired in summer uniforms with shorts and pith helmets. George Hicks of the Newfoundland Regiment wrote home of the misery:

The sky grew dark, and suddenly the rain fell in torrents. The trenches were  flooded quickly and became rivers. Everyone was soaked to the skin. This rain was followed by sleet, and later the wind changed and became a northerly gale with frost. 

Snow at ANZAC

Trenches experienced flash flooding and some men were drowned as they stood at their posts. Throughout the peninsula roughly 280 men died and 16,000 cases of frostbite and exposure were reported with 2,000 requiring evacuation to hospitals. Concurrently, a plague of dysentery was striking both sides at Gallipoli.  The majority of Allied forces—over 100,000 men—reported symptoms of extreme diarrhea and dehydration. As temperatures continued dropping, however, the cold killed the flies and with the flies gone, there was less chance of disease. 

Johnny Turk, of course, suffered similarly. Mehmed Fasih, a Turkish officer at Gallipoli, noted in his diary at the same time, “I'm 21 years old. My hair and beard are already grey. My moustache is white. My face is wrinkled and my body is rotting. I can't bear these hardships and privations any more. . . Daydream about a happy family and nice kids. Will I live to see the day  when I have some?” 

However, there was one hidden blessing for the Allies in the enemies' misfortune. Their nemesis at Gallipoli, Colonel Mustafa Kemal, was withdrawn from the campaign over his own health issues on 10 December. It is speculation, but it is quite easy to believe that his presence, given his remarkable combination of astuteness and luck, might have resulted in a much more painful withdrawal for the Allies.   

Despite their suffering, though, the Allied fighting men wanted to carry on not at all over some intuition or knowledge about the strategic situation but due to their broadly held intense sense of loyalty to their fallen comrades. As Seaman Joseph Murray of the Royal Naval Division later wrote, "To desert our fallen comrades and sneak away in the dark without a fight is a revolting thing and the thought of it nauseates me." 

On 7 December the British Cabinet approved the scheme to evacuate Suvla and Anzac. 

Source: CBC News, 14 Nov 2015 

Wednesday, June 23, 2021

The Mosquitoes of Salonika: A Roads Classic

Question:  Why Is the Logo of the Salonika Campaign Society a Mosquito?

Visit the Society's Website at:

Answer:  In general, the front was a medical hellhole, especially with regard to malaria.

Serbian forces were hit with a lice-borne typhus epidemic originating in the unsanitary camps of their Austrian prisoners of war in the fall of 1914. Eventually 135,000 soldiers and civilians would die from infection. The Serbs passed on the disease to the invading Bulgarian army in similar fashion during the next year. One silver lining in the 1915 defeat of the Serbian Army for the Allies was, however, that during its evacuation to Corfu, the Serbs underwent a thorough delousing regime.  Consequently, their forces that later arrived on the Salonika Front were essentially typhus-free.

The valleys of the Vardar and Struma, however, especially the latter, which was garrisoned by British forces for the entire period, were breeding grounds for mosquitoes. Men here had to be detailed for "mosquito strafing"—clearing grassy mosquito-friendly fields, pouring creosote in ponds, and carrying stretchers on patrols for soldiers suddenly debilitated by a new bout of the illness. The troops received a regular quinine dose and wore muslin veils under their tin hats on night duty. 

British Troops Issued Quinine

Over 34,000 British officers and men were evacuated home for malaria. This is why the postwar association of British veterans, the Salonika Campaign Society (still existing), selected the mosquito as its emblem.

To the last, disease ravaged the Salonika armies. In September 1918—just as the decisive battle was to be fought—the Spanish influenza pandemic arrived in the Balkans. An entire British brigade was withdrawn from the final offensive because of its impact. 

Tuesday, June 22, 2021

They Fought for the Motherland: Russia’s Women Soldiers of World War I and the Revolution

by Laurie S. Stoff
University Press of Kansas, 2006
Michael P. Kihntopf, Reviewer

Training Camp

Dr. Stoff, Senior Lecturer at Arizona State University, has opened another window into a deeper understanding of World War One’s Eastern Front through a detailed depiction of Russian women’s involvement in combat. Her book breaks away from the traditional paradigm of women’s roles as exclusively Sisters of Mercy during the war to expose what and how women reacted to the Great War.

In 1917 the Russian Army was disintegrating slowly but surely. The horrendous casualties of over two years of fighting, the feeling among the men that there was no end to the war, plus revolutionary incitement, had all destroyed its morale and its fighting élan. The Provisional Government that had replaced the tsar’s autocracy in February was on the horns of a dilemma. National honor demanded that it continue the war as a responsibility to its allies, yet the reliability of its soldiers could not be depended on to maintain a front or to mount an offensive.

Four Officers

The solution was to form units comprised of dependable soldiers employed in support occupations who hadn’t experienced the ravages of combat and who were still considered loyal front-line men. The battalions were named revolutionary, shock, or death battalions. The General Staff believed that such units, spearheading any offensive, would have high morale and lead the rest of the army back into the war by its selfless example. Added to this concept was the development of an all-women’s battalion which was designed to shame the men into action. Such a statement as “shame the men into action” was incomprehensible until Dr. Stoff’s book.

Stoff starts her work by looking at a woman’s role in pre-revolutionary Russia. Stifled by a patriarchal society, few women rose above the strata the men in their lives defined for them. Occupations were limited to traditional roles which involved extensions of what were considered feminine norms. This early chapter creates the atmosphere of a subservient Russian woman and defines how men felt about women in non-traditional roles.

The coming of the Great War was a catalyst for change. The author devotes one chapter to women who lied about their sex to gain entrance into the deploying army. She notes that there is a treasure trove of articles about such women, usually from the upper or middle classes, in various newspapers of the time. Their appearance in the ranks was viewed as phenomena by the public and a propaganda tool for supporting the war. In a sense, such articles achieved what today we would call a viral existence.

In Barracks

The author is quick to point out that most stories about women in the ranks ended with the person being wounded and discovered to be female in hospital, where she would make a rousing speech about how her patriotism had propelled her into the ranks. Little was ever heard from the discovered women again. The casualties of the first two years of the war seems to have lessened the number of women in the ranks, but the February Revolution made it possible for women to return to the ranks in a more open role.

Alexander Kerensky, Minister of War in the Provisional Government, and Mikhail Rodzianko, former president of the Duma, proposed organizing women who wished to be sent to the front as combatants into shock or death battalions as a way of shaming the men into action. Their proposal was met with enthusiasm by the public. Thousands of women nationwide volunteered. However, the Army General Staff was not enthusiastic and put every obstacle imaginable into stifling their organization by refusing to release funds, deterring the shipment of equipment, and ignoring their existence.

Nevertheless, with popular support and Kerensky’s manipulation, women’s units did form in the spring and summer of 1917. Stoff picked four such battalions to describe. The first and foremost is Maria Bochkareva’s First Women’s Battalion of Death, which did see combat. To this depiction she has added three other units, including a very short-lived Naval Detachment. (An appendix lists over 20 units.) The movement died off when the Bolsheviks seized power in the October Revolution. Few of the organizations ever got beyond the preliminary planning stage; however, as Stoff explains in the concluding chapters, the drive to change women’s roles in Russia did not fade away.

They Fought for the Motherland superbly explains another level in the structure of the Great War. Because of it, historians can no longer lightly pass off how important World War I was in developing a new role for women in society. It is not enough to say that women received political recognition when forever after they were actively involved in defending the country in which they lived.

Michael P. Kihntopf

Monday, June 21, 2021

Prelude to Revolution: The Russian Army and the Tsar

Loyal Soldiers of the Tsar

By General Anton Denikin

In August, 1915, the Emperor, influenced by the entourage of the Empress and of Rasputin, decided to take the Supreme Command of the Army. Eight Cabinet Ministers and some politicians warned the Emperor against this dangerous step, but their pleadings were of no avail. The official motives they adduced were, on the one hand, the difficulty of combining the tasks of governing the country and commanding the Army, and, on the other, the risk of assuming responsibility for the Army at a time when it was suffering reverses and retreating. The real motive, however, was the fear lest the difficult position of the Army be further imperilled by the lack of knowledge and experience of the new Supreme C.-in-C., and that the German-Rasputin clique that surrounded him, having already brought about the paralysis of the Government and its conflict with the Duma, would bring about the collapse of the Army.

There was a rumour, which was afterwards confirmed, that the Emperor came to this decision partly because he feared the entourage of the Empress, and partly because of the popularity of the Grand Duke Nicholas, which was growing in spite of the reverses suffered by the Army.

On August 23rd, an order was issued to the Army and Navy. To the official text, the Emperor added a note in his own hand, a facsimile of which is reproduced overleaf:

This decision, in spite of its intrinsic importance, produced no strong impression upon the Army. The High Commanding Officers and the lower grades of Commissioned Officers were well aware that the Emperor’s personal part in the Supreme Command would be purely nominal, and the question in everyone’s mind was:

“Who will be the Chief of Staff?”

The appointment of General Alexeiev appeased the anxiety of the officers. The rank and file cared but little for the technical side of the Command. To them, the Czar had always been the ] Supreme Leader of the Army. One thing, however, somewhat perturbed them: the belief had gained ground among the people years before that the Emperor was unlucky.

Note added by the Emperor to Army and Navy order

With firm faith in the grace of God, and with unshaken assurance of final victory, let us fulfil our sacred duty of defending Russia till the end, and let us not bring shame to the Russian land.


The New Commander-in-Chief


In reality, it was General M. V. Alexeiev who took command of the armed forces of Russia. In the history of the Russian war and the Russian turmoil, General Alexeiev holds so prominent a place that his importance cannot be gauged in a few lines. A special historical study would be necessary in order to describe the career of a man whose military and political activities, which some have severely criticised and others extolled, never caused anyone to doubt that (in the words of an Army Order to the Volunteer Army) “his path of martyrdom was lighted by crystalline honesty and by a fervent love for his Mother Country—whether great or downtrodden.”

Alexeiev sometimes did not display sufficient firmness in enforc[Pg 35]ing his demands, but, in respect of the independence of the “Stavka” (G.H.Q.) from outside influences, he showed civic courage which the High Officials of the old régime, who clung to their offices, completely lacked.

One day, after an official dinner at Mohilev, the Empress took Alexeiev’s arm, and went for a walk in the garden with him. She mentioned Rasputin. In terms of deep emotion she tried to persuade the General that he was wrong in his attitude towards Rasputin, that “the old man is a wonderful saint,” that he was much calumniated, that he was deeply devoted to the Imperial family, and, last but not least, that his visit would bring luck to the “Stavka.”

Alexeiev answered dryly that, so far as he was concerned, the question had long since been settled. Should Rasputin appear at G.H.Q., he would immediately resign his post.

“Is this your last word?”

“Yes, certainly.”

The Empress cut the conversation short, and left without saying good-bye to the General, who afterwards admitted that the incident had an ill-effect upon the Emperor’s attitude towards him. Contrary to the established opinion, the relations between the Emperor and Alexeiev, outwardly perfect, were by no means intimate or friendly, or even particularly confidential. The Emperor loved no one except his son. Therein lies the tragedy of his life as a man and as a ruler.


Several times General Alexeiev, depressed by the growth of popular discontent with the regime and the Crown, endeavored to exceed the limits of a military report and to represent to the Emperor the state of affairs in its true light. He referred to Rasputin and to the question of a responsible Ministry. He invariably met with the impenetrable glance, so well-known to many, and the dry retort:

“I know.”

Not another word.

In matters of Army administration, the Emperor fully trusted Alexeiev, and listened attentively to the General’s long, and perhaps even too elaborate, reports. Attentively and patiently he listened, but these matters did not seem to appeal to him. There were differences of opinion in regard to minor matters, appointments to G.H.Q., new posts, etc.

No doubt was left in my mind as to the Emperor’s complete indifference in matters of high strategy after I read an important record—that of the deliberations of a Military Council held at G.H.Q. at the end of 1916, under the chairmanship of the Emperor. All the Commanders-in-Chief and the high officials of G.H.Q. were present, and the plans of the 1917 campaign and of a general advance were discussed.

Every word uttered at the conference was placed on record. One could not fail to be impressed by the dominating and guiding part played by General Gourko—Chief of the General Staff pro tem.—by the somewhat selfish designs of various Commanders-in-Chief, who were trying to adapt strategical axioms to the special interests of their fronts, and finally by the total indifference of the Supreme C.-in-C.

Relations similar to those just described continued between the Emperor and the Chief of Staff when General Gourko took charge of that office while Alexeiev, who had fallen seriously ill in the autumn of 1916, was undergoing a cure at Sevastopol, without, however, losing touch with G.H.Q., with which he communicated by direct wire.

Meanwhile, the struggle between the progressive block of the Duma and the Government (General Alexeiev and the majority of the Commanding Officers undoubtedly sympathized with the former) was gradually becoming more and more acute. The record of the sitting of the Duma of November 1st, 1916 (of which the publication was prohibited and an abridged version did not appear in the Press till the beginning of January, 1917), when Shulgin and Miliukov delivered their historical speeches, was circulated everywhere in the Army in the shape of typewritten leaflets. Feeling was already running so high that these leaflets were not concealed, but were read and provoked animated discussions in officers’ messes. A prominent Socialist, an active worker of the Union of Towns, who paid his first visit to the Army in 1916, said to me: “I am amazed at the freedom with which the worthlessness of the Government and the Court scandals are being discussed in regiments and messes in the presence of Commanding officers, at Army Headquarters, etc., and that in our country of arbitrary repression . . . at first it seemed to me that I was dealing with ‘agents provocateurs.’”

The Duma had been in close connection with the Officers’ Corps for a long time. Young officers unofficially partook in the work of the Commission of National Defence during the period of the reorganisation of the Army and revival of the Fleet after the Japanese War. Gutchkov had formed a circle, in which Savitch, Krupensky, Count Bobrinski and representatives of the officers, headed by General Gourko, were included. Apparently, General[Pg 37] Polivanov (who afterwards played such an important part in contributing to the disintegration of the Army, as Chairman of the “Polivanov Commission”) also belonged to the circle. There was no wish to “undermine the foundations,” but merely to push along the heavy, bureaucratic van, to give impetus to the work, and initiative to the offices of the inert Military Administration. According to Gutchkov, the circle worked quite openly, and the War Ministry at first even provided the members with materials. Subsequently, however, General Sukhomlinov’s attitude changed abruptly, the circle came under suspicion, and people began to call it “The Young Turks.”

The Commission of National Defence was, nevertheless, very well informed. General Lukomski, who was Chief of the Mobilisation Section, and later Assistant War Minister, told me that reports to the Commission had to be prepared extremely carefully, and that General Sukhomlinov, trivial and ignorant, produced a pitiful impression on the rare occasions on which he appeared before the Commission, and was subjected to a regular cross-examination.

In the course of his trial, Sukhomlinov himself recounted an episode which illustrates this state of affairs. One day, he arrived at a meeting of the Commission when two important military questions were to be discussed. He was stopped by Rodzianko,[3] who said to him:

“Get away, get away. You are to us as a red rag to a bull. As soon as you come, your requests are turned down.”

After the Galician retreat, the Duma succeeded at last in enforcing the participation of its members in the task of placing on a proper basis all orders for the Army, and the Unions of Zemstvos and Towns were permitted to create the “General Committee for provisioning the Army.”

The hard experience of the war resulted at last in the simple scheme of mobilising the Russian industries. No sooner did this undertaking escape from the deadening atmosphere of military offices than it advanced with giant strides. According to official data, in July, 1915, each Army received 33 parks of artillery instead of the requisite 50, whereas, in September, the figure rose to 78, owing to the fact that private factories had been brought into the scheme. I am in a position to state, not only on the strength of figures, but from personal experience, that, at the end of 1916, our Army, albeit falling short of the high standards of the Allied armies in respect of equipment, had sufficient stores of ammunition[Pg 38] and supplies wherewith to begin an extensive and carefully-planned operation along the entire front. These circumstances were duly appreciated in the Army, and confidence in the Duma and in social organisations was thereby increased. The conditions of internal policy, however, were not improving. In the beginning of 1917, out of the extremely tense atmosphere of political strife, there arose the idea of a new remedy:


Representatives of certain Duma and social circles visited Alexeiev, who was ill at Sevastopol. They told the General quite frankly that a revolution was brewing. They knew what the effect would be in the country, but they could not tell how the front would be impressed, and wanted advice.

Alexeiev strongly insisted that violent changes during the war were inadmissible, that they would constitute a deadly menace to the front, which, according to his pessimistic view, “was already by no means steady,” and pleaded against any irretrievable steps for the sake of preserving the Army. The delegates departed, promising to take the necessary measures in order to avert the contemplated revolution. I do not know upon what information General Alexeiev based his subsequent statement to the effect that the same delegates afterwards visited Generals Brussilov and Ruzsky, and after these generals had expressed an opposite view to his, altered their previous decision; but the preparations for the revolution continued.

It is as yet difficult to elucidate all the details of these negotiations. Those who conducted them are silent; there are no records; the whole matter was shrouded in secrecy, and did not reach the bulk of the army. Certain facts, however, have been ascertained.

Denekin Before the Revolustion

Several people approached the Emperor, and warned him of the impending danger to the country and the dynasty—Alexeiev, Gourko, the Archbishop Shavelski, Purishkevitch (a reactionary member of the Duma), the Grand Dukes Nicholas Mikhailovitch and Alexander Mikhailovitch, and the Dowager Empress. After Rodzianko’s visit to the Army in the autumn of 1916, copies of his letter to the Emperor gained circulation in the Army. In that letter the President of the Duma warned the Emperor of the grave peril to the throne and the dynasty caused by the disastrous activities of the Empress Alexandra in the sphere of internal policy. On November 1st, the Grand Duke Nicholas Mikhailovitch read a letter to the Emperor, in which he pointed out the impossible manner, known to all classes of society, in which Ministers were appointed, through the medium of the appalling people who surrounded the Empress. The Grand Duke proceeded:

“... If you could succeed in removing this perpetual interference, the renascence of Russia would begin at once, and you would recover the confidence of the vast majority of your subjects which is now lost. When the time is ripe—and it is at hand—you can yourself grant from the throne the desired responsibility (of the Government) to yourself and the legislature. This will come about naturally, easily, without any pressure from without, and not in the same way as with the memorable act of October 17th, 1905 I hesitated for a long time to tell you the truth, but made up my mind when your mother and your sisters persuaded me to do so. You are on the eve of new disturbances, and, if I may say so, new attempts. Believe me, if I so strongly emphasize the necessity for your liberation from the existing fetters, I am doing so not for personal motives, but only in the hope of saving you, your throne, and our beloved country from irretrievable consequences of the gravest nature.”

All these representations were of no avail.

Several members of the right and of the liberal wing of the Duma and of the progressive bloc, members of the Imperial family, and officers, joined the circle. One of the Grand Dukes was to make a last appeal to the Emperor before active measures were undertaken. In the event of failure, the Imperial train was to be stopped by an armed force on its way from G.H.Q. to Petrograd. The Emperor was to be advised to abdicate, and, in the event of his refusal, he was to be removed by force. The rightful heir, the Czarevitch Alexis, was to be proclaimed Emperor, and the Grand Duke Michael, Regent.

At the same time, a large group of the progressive bloc of the Duma, of representatives of Zemstvos and towns—well versed in the activities of the circle—held several meetings, at which the question was discussed of “the part the Duma was to play after the coup d’état.” The new Ministry was then outlined, and of the two suggested candidates for the Premiership, Rodzianko and Prince Lvov, the latter was chosen.

Fate, however, decreed otherwise.

Before the contemplated coup d’état took place, there began, in the words of Albert Thomas, “the brightest, the most festive, the most bloodless Russian Revolution.”

Source: The Russian Turmoil, by Anton Ivanovich Denikin

Sunday, June 20, 2021

The Constraints and Challenges of the St. Mihiel Offensive

1st Division Troops Prior to Launching the Offense

By Major Joshua M. Betty, U.S. Army

[Around the end of July 1918] he designated officers of the American First Army staff began moving into their new headquarters (GHQ) at the same time the commanders of the Allied armies met to discuss the upcoming offensives. Marshal Foch, recorded in notes by the GHQ, AEF staff, made a point of discussing a number of different future operations, including the clearing of German forces around the Paris-Avricourt railroad in the area of the St. Mihiel salient. The reduction of the St. Mihiel salient would fall to the newly formed American First Army. The reduction of the salient and the operations in the surround area would be the first by the American First Army as a distinct and unique force. The operation would combine divisions and corps with experience on the Western Front and those newly arrived in France. Even though the salient had stood in German hands since 1914, it would be a resounding American success. The next tasks for the GHQ, AEF and the American First Army were to develop a plan for the St. Mihiel operation.   

The planning for the reduction of the St. Mihiel salient began after the conference of the commanders-in chief at the end of July, but as is often the case in war,  the situation on the front changed. Marshal Foch determined an operation in the area between the Marne and the Meuse was now of the utmost importance and should take precedence over any operation in the St. Mihiel area. On 30 August 1918, he visited the headquarters of General Pershing and informed him the operation the nascent American First Army had been planning near St. Mihiel was no longer a priority. He stated the American forces would be needed further north to support French operations in September. General Pershing was determined to maintain the American First Army as a separate entity and to conduct the operation at St. Mihiel. 

French Trenches on the Meuse Heights Where  the
26th "Yankee" Division Launched Their Opening Attack

He was given a day to think over the discussion with Marshal Foch. He responded with a plan that would enable the operations at St. Mihiel and support the French plan in the Meuse area during September. The changes General Pershing purposed would have far-reaching consequences for his own force and would set in motion the largest logistical movement of troops in the American Army’s history. 

General Pershing’s response to Marshal Foch’s 30 August 1918, memorandum about the dispersal of American divisions and the cancelling of the St. Mihiel offensive was for the American Army to assume more of a role in the current fight. He insisted the St. Mihiel operations should continue and presented a plan that would include the involvement of the American First Army to support the operation in the Meuse-Argonne sector. General Pershing argued against Marshal Foch’s proposal of moving the St. Mihiel division north because it could not be accomplished by mid-September. He stated instead the St. Mihiel operations should continue, and the American Army could then shift its additional divisions, not involved in St. Mihiel, to the area north of Verdun and support the offensive with the required force between 20 and 25 September 1918. This plan would involve the American Army in two large offensives in a very short amount of time. 


After two days of deliberation, Marshal Foch responded to General Pershing’s plan and approved of the American offensives in both the St. Mihiel region and the Meuse-Argonne sector. The initial planned dates of attacks were 10 September and between 20 and 25 September, respectively. With the plan for the St. Mihiel operation confirmed the staffs of the GHQ, AEF and the American First Army finalized the details of the attack. The staffs had planned for nearly a month for the reduction of the salient; however, the addition of the offensive following in quick succession to the St. Mihiel operation added a new dimension to the attack all together. 

The movement from St. Mihiel to the Meuse-Argonne posed a major problem that needed special attention above planning for the rest of the operation. The task fell to Colonel George Marshall, attached to the Operations Section of the American First Army from the AEF, GHQ. 

About ten minutes’ consideration made it apparent that to reach the new front in time to deploy for a battle on September 25th, would require many of these troops to get under way on the evening of the first day of the St. Mihiel battle, notwithstanding the fact that the advance in that fight was expected to continue for at least two days. This appalling proposition rather disturbed my equilibrium and I went out on the canal to have a walk while thinking it over. 

 George C. Marshall, Memoirs of My Service in the World War: 1917-1918

In  the span of one evening, he developed a detailed plan of transferring the required troops and equipment from St. Mihiel to the staging points for the Meuse-Argonne offensive.  The massive logistical move of the large number of troops and equipment completed the orders for the reduction of the St. Mihiel salient. The plan of the American First Army called for three American and one French Corps to attack the St. Mihiel salient. Two of the American corps would attack from the south, one American corps would attack from the north, and one French division would attack east from the point of the salient in a large envelopment. The remaining divisions of the French Second Colonial Corps would hold the point of the salient. The great envelopment would involve twelve divisions in the line with an additional seven in reserve.  

American Troops Advancing on the Offensive's
Second Day

The next crucial step to the plan was the artillery barrage used to support the movement of the infantry. There was a large debate on how long the barrage should be and what was enough to maintain surprise and still be productive. As General Pershing remarked in his memoirs, after weighing the options he decided on a four-hour preparatory barrage. On 5 September 1918, Field Order No. 9 added the final touches to the combined arms efforts with the addition of both French and American tanks and the employment of Air Service Units to support the maneuver of the First Army. The American First Army published its orders and all the corps and divisions made the final preparations while they waited for the word to begin the initial operation of the American First Army.

At one o’clock in the morning four hours before the designated start time, the American First Army artillery barrage began pounding the German trenches and artillery positions. Then at five o’clock on 12 September 1918, the infantrymen of the American First Army began their assault behind a rolling artillery barrage. As the infantry reached the German wire positions, they used the cover of the rolling barrage to cut the wire and continue their attack, a tactic never before employed by the Allies.  The attack on the German positions in the St. Mihiel salient would continue throughout the day and into the next afternoon and prove extremely successful for the  American First Army and the AEF. By noon on 13 September, elements of the First American Army had closed the base of the salient and experienced only 5,000 casualties. At this time, the American Fist Army command asked Colonel George Marshall for his opinion on whether to continue the advance. He and Walter Grant, the Deputy Chief of Staff for the American First Army, made the following statement regarding further advancement, “Grant and I drew up a joint statement vigorously opposing any idea of such action." (emphasis added)  Marshall understood the situation of the American Army, as well as its other commitments for the Meuse-Argonne offensive was exceptional and his recommendation was no doubt one of the deciding factors for the remaining actions at St. Mihiel. 

Column of German Prisoners Captured on the First Day


Beginning on 13 September, the American First Army began firming up the line they had captured near Vigneulles on 12 September and over the next three days expanded their defensive positions further to the northeast. The American First Army took most of the large numbers of German prisoners, approximately 14,000, on the first day of the offensive. Gains by all divisions were much less in the successive days of the offensive leading up to 16 September. By the evening of 15 September, divisions were being withdrawn and sent north to participate in the coming Meuse-Argonne Offensive. The remaining troops established a defensive line from Haudiomont to Pont-à-Mousson. The establishment of the defensive line officially brought to a close the St. Mihiel offensive and the American First Army’s opening operation on the Western Front.  

The commanders and staffs of the American First Army turned their attention to the Verdun region after the second day of the St. Mihiel operation and prepared for the upcoming battle in the Meuse-Argonne.

Source:  The Operational Capability of the American Expeditionary Forces in the World War, Major Joshua M. Betty, US Army Command and General Staff College, 2014 

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Saturday, June 19, 2021

Alaska in the Great War

Alaskan Draftees at Fort Seward

Many individuals from Alaska served in the wartime effort. Even before the United States joined the war Alaskan women joined the Red Cross and Alaskan men traveled to Canada to enlist and fight with British Expeditionary Forces.

In Alaska more than 10,000 men enlisted to serve between 1917 and 1918, though only 2,200 of these enlistees were eventually inducted into service. Most of these 2,200 soldiers were sent to military bases in Alaska for training, while some were transported to bases in the Lower 48. Few of the 2,200 inductees traveled to Europe and participated in battle due to the war's end in November 1918.  About 85 Alaskan servicemen died during the war, two from combat wounds, the rest from disease,  mainly influenza or pneumonia induced by the flu. Though Alaska Natives and other ethnic minorities pursued enlistment, most were rejected for induction.

War News

The war impacted Alaska in many ways. While salmon canneries marketed and supplied their goods to Europe and its armies, they also suffered from a labor shortage as workers left Alaska to serve in the war. Although some Alaskan schools trained cadets for war and Alaskans were encouraged to purchase war bonds to help fund American involvement in the conflict, not everyone supported the war. Some Alaskans hoped for peace and the war's end. Xenophobia, an irrational dislike or fear of people from other countries, against those with Germanic ancestry in Alaska was such a problem that Alaska's Governor J.F.A. Strong issued a 1917 Proclamation reminding Alaskans that; “no word or deed on the part of American citizens should operate to incite racial feeling or create prejudice against those who have come to the Territory for the purposes of bettering their condition and enjoying the inalienable right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”

Fishing Was a Critical Part of Alaska's Economy

The  Alaska  Territory’s  leading  staples  industries—gold,  fish,  and copper—each  experienced  the  First  World  War  differently,  but  for  each the war marked the beginning of a period of decline. Cutbacks in production  and  employment  resulted  in  people  leaving  the  territory.  Jones (2010)  observed  that  the  notable  exodus  of  population  “had  a  marked impact on the shops, services and trades.”  The  second  decade  of  the  twentieth  century  was  a  time  of  economic  optimism  in  Alaska.  Coal  and  the  construction  of  the  Alaska  Railroad  represented the promise for the territory’s future. Alaska’s coal resources, which  were  assumed  to  exceed  those  of  Pennsylvania,  were  opened  to  leasing  in  1914.  Railroad construction began in 1914, creating  jobs  and  new  communities;  at  its  peak  there  were  4,500  jobs  in  construction of the line (Naske and Soltnick 1987). The railroad provided the  key  that  promised  to  open  the  potential  of  Alaska’s  interior  to  the  world economy. Unfortunately, the promise was short-lived. The Navy determined in the  early  1920s  that  low  quality  and  high  costs  eliminated  their  interest  in  the  coal  fields  in  Southcentral  Alaska.

The war years treated Alaska’s three main industries differently.  The  war was good to the copper and fishing industries; increased war-related demand for each product resulted in expanding production. Copper prices  reached their highest levels in a century in 1916, and the fish pack in 1918 was  almost  three  times  what  it  was  in  1910  (Cole  and  Rasmuson  2000).  The wartime boom in the fishing industry had limited effect on the Alaska population and economy since there was little resident employment in the fishing industry. The salmon packers brought crews from outside for the fishing season (Naske and Soltnick 1987).

Red Cross Volunteers in Juneau


Gold  production,  however,  went  the  other  way;  production  fell  in  value  by  almost  half  between  1910  and  1918.  The  profitability  of  gold  mining was limited by an inflexible legal price of gold and rapidly rising production  costs.  Wartime  inflation  tripled  the  cost  of  mining  as  labor  and material became more expensive (Cole and Rasmuson 2000). The war also  had  indirect  eff  ects  on  the  economy’s  collapse  and  the  population  exodus.  Military  service  and  high  wages  in  wartime  industries  outside  Alaska attracted its large population of single men. The rapid rise in prices and  the  shortage  of  shipping  to  export  products  and  bring  materials  to  Alaska made living and doing business more difficult. Wartime spending and high costs likely contributed to the decline in investment in the state. Finally,  the  delay  in  appropriations  for  the  Alaska  Railroad  reduced  employment opportunities (reflections of Andrew Stevenson as referenced in Cole and Rasmuson 2000)

The war years saw a substantial departure of population from Alaska. The White population of the territory fell by 50 percent between 1916 and 1918 (Cole and Rasmuson 2000). Anchorage, Alaska’s most recent boom town, lost  around  3,000  people  (Jones  2010).  The  territory’s  population  fell  by  14 percent between the 1910 Census and the 1920 Census—from 55,000 to 47,000 (Naske and Soltnick 1987). This exodus presented a challenge to businesses in the support sector of the economy since it represented a decline in the market for their products. 

The  postwar  period  treated  the  Alaska  economy  no  better  than  the  war  years.  After  the  war,  Alaska  commerce  declined  by  50 percen percent  (Cole  and  Rasmuson 2000). Both copper and fishing suffered from declining prices that  reflected  the  short  postwar  recession  in  the  United  States  and  the  longer  recession  in  commodity  industries  (Walton  and  Rockoff   2010).  With  the  end  of  the  war  and  the  recovery  of  European  agriculture,  the  demand for both copper and fish fell. In addition, overfishing during the war resulted in a significant decline in the salmon runs; the salmon pack fell by 60 percent between 1918 and 1921 (Cole and Rasmuson 2000). 

The  First  World  War  ended  the  “gold  rush”  boom  in  the  North  and  began  the  long-term  stagnation  in  the  Alaska  economy.  As  described  by  historian  Terrence  Cole:  “The  First  World  War  disrupted  Alaska’s economy  as  no  outside  event  had  ever  done  before,  and  set  in  motion  a  downward spiral that continued for years. The traumatic loss in Alaska of businesses, jobs, population, capital, and confidence, equaled the darkest days of any downturn in American history. The Great Depression of the 1930s  left  Alaska  relatively  unscathed  in  part  because  the  economy  and  population  of  the  territory  had  already  collapsed  a  dozen  years  earlier  during the Great War.

A Doctor and Nurse During the Influenza Pandemic


When the war ended in 1918 Alaskans serving abroad wanted to return home and take up their jobs and old lives. The seasonality of many Alaskan jobs such as fishing and mining was a concern to both soldiers and former employers. Many wrote letters requesting their discharge in order to make it back in time to make their income for the year. Despite the governor's and others intervention, release from the armed forces was slow and many continued to serve after the war despite their desire to be discharged. Amid this period the Spanish Flu, a dangerous and sometimes fatal pandemic, spread across the world. Thousands in Alaska died, as well as Alaskans serving in the war effort outside of the Territory.

Sources: Alaska State Archives; Alaska’s Economy: The First World War, Frontier Fragility, and Jack London