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

Saturday, July 31, 2021

Poland Defeats the Soviets: Stalin Will Never Forget, Part I

By Jaroslaw Centek, Nicolaus Copernicus University, Poland

Soviet Troops Headed for the Polish Front

Hostilities in 1919

The first clash of arms between the Poles and Bolsheviks took place in Vilnius in January 1919, shortly after the Germans had abandoned the city. The Poles had just established their own self-defense troops. Poland had no eastern border and the Bolsheviks wanted to expand their revolution to Western Europe, making war between them inevitable. A short time later the Red Army captured the city.

Poland’s head of state, Jozef Pilsudski (1867-1935), decided to launch an offensive in order to recapture the city. This operation proved to be a success because the Bolsheviks were also heavily engaged in fighting against the counterrevolutionary White Russian troops. Polish troops advanced as far as the Beresina River, while their forces to the left remained at the Dvina River. A White victory in the Russian Civil War would have been counterproductive for Poland, since its territory could then have been limited to the Bug River in favor of White Russia. For that reason, the Poles refrained from any further offensive action, allowing the Bolsheviks to overcome the counterrevolutionary threat of the White Russian troops.

Pilsudski Inspecting His Forces

Polish-Ukrainian Offensive on Kiev

In 1919, hostilities had been quite limited since the Bolsheviks were heavily engaged in the civil war in Russia. As stated before, the Poles were not interested in a White victory. Furthermore, they made the most of the low activity on the front, using the time to organize their forces. It was obvious that a strong campaign a year later would be decisive for the entire war. Both sides–the Bolsheviks and the Poles–thus prepared for a powerful offensive.

Pilsudski succeeded in forming an alliance with Symon Petliura (1879-1926), president of the Ukrainian People’s Republic. Petliura wanted to preserve an independent Ukrainian state, albeit at the cost of Eastern Galicia, which he agreed to cede to Poland. The allies started the campaign by attacking Kiev which was finally freed from Bolshevik control in early May 1920. However, they were unable to install an effective Ukrainian administration in the captured territories before a massive counteroffensive began.

At the end of May 1920, the Soviet 1st Horse Army emerged on the Ukrainian front, forcing the Polish troops to retreat. Soon after, Mikhail Tukhachevsky (1893-1937), commander of the northern front, launched his own offensive in the direction of Vilnius, Minsk, and Warsaw. Both forces were approximately equal–the Poles and the Ukrainians had about 110,000 to 120,000 soldiers while Bolsheviks possessed 120,000 to 140,000.

On 5 July 1920, the Polish front in the north collapsed. The Poles, who sought British mediation, were obliged to accept harsh conditions: namely to agree to the River Bug as their eastern border and to grant Vilnius to Lithuania. However, the Bolsheviks were so convinced of their ultimate victory that they rejected the settlement and continued hostilities. At the beginning of August 1920, they had moved the front to the Bug and captured the fortress of Brest Litovsk.

Source: International Encyclopedia of the First World War

Friday, July 30, 2021

Hard Slogging on the Somme: The Guards Division at Lesbœufs, September 1916

Shoulder Patch of the Guards Division

The battle of Flers-Courcelette, which began on 15 September 1916, was the third major phase of the campaign on the Somme and its largest operation after the 1 July opening assault. Ten infantry divisions in three corps were to be involved in what was to be a massive attack on a broad front, in conjunction with a major French offensive to the south. It was to be the biggest assault since 1 July. Tanks were to be used for the first time. The Guards Division was part of XIV Corps.

The objective on 15 September 1916 was for the 4th Army to capture Morval, Lesboeufs, Gueudecourt and Flers.  Lesboeufs is a village 16 kilometers northeast of Albert, its capture  the primary responsibility of the Guards Division. In their struggle to take the village, the British Guards Division lost no fewer than 60 officers killed or mortally wounded. The Coldstream Guards suffered particularly severely. With their three battalions attacking in line abreast for the first time, 22 officers died. The enlisted ranks suffered heavy numbers of killed and wounded in all the attack in battalions, but I've been unable to find the statistics for the enlisted losses on 15 September.  Lt.  Raymond Asquith, son of the Liberal Prime Minister H. H. Asquith, was shot through the chest and killed as he led the first half of No.4 Company of the Grenadier Guards, outside Ginchy.

Click on Map to Enlarge 

The attack began at 6:20 a.m., with the three Coldstream battalions, in the words of an eyewitness quoted in the Morning Post, advancing "as steadily as though they were walking down the Mall." From British gun positions, German infantry were seen to retire towards Lesbœufs. Small parties from the Guards Division advanced on Lesbœufs and eventually took cover in a trench for several hours, before falling back during a German counterattack. For several hours the village had been unoccupied but no British reserves were left, after the great number of casualties inflicted on the assault divisions earlier in the day. The Guards Division eventually dug in short of the final objective, west of the Gird Trenches in front of Lesbœufs

Unfortunately, four factors soon turned the operation into a desperate affair. First, most of the tanks supporting the 2nd  Guards Brigade were unable to make much headway and left enemy machine gunners along their designated pathway, which was deliberately omitted from the artillery barrage, free to attack the advancing infantry.

Casualty Clearing Station on the Ginchy-Lesbœufs Road

Second, the 1st  Coldstream found that only 500 yards from their start-off point and before their first objective, there was a trench full of Germans that had not been previously noticed. They caused considerable casualties before being overrun. 

Third, the complete failure of 6th Division to take a strongpoint called the Quadrilateral on the Guards’ right enabled the enemy to pour intense enfilading fire into the advancing battalions. 

Fourth, the two Guards brigades involved in the assault were expected to make a difficult maneuver during the advance, changing direction. But officer casualties were very high from the outset, which, combined with the unknown trench and the intense fire from the right, caused the battalions to lose direction, moving too far in a northerly direction, and to have a confused idea as to how far they had penetrated the enemy’s defenses.

Guards Memorial Along the Ginchy-Lesbœufs Road

None of these factors prevented the 1st  and 2nd  Guards Brigades advancing to take their first two objectives, but Lesboeufs remained beyond their reach on that day. Ten days later, in a better-planned, limited assault. The Guards Division in combination with the 6th Division. Once again the Guards division took heavy casualties at Lesboeufs, about 2,000 total casualties on 25 September. Kipling, in his History of the Irish Guards, said that the plan for the 25th was much less ambitious than that of 15 September. The distance to the first objective was 300 yards, to the second 700 yards, and to the last 1,300 yards. In each case he says that the objective was a clearly defined one. Also the ground sloped toward Lesboeufs. In addition the artillery did its work more accurately than on the 15th. The casualties were nevertheless very high and again especially amongst the officers.

Sources: "Rage, Guilt and This Awful State of Uncertainty," British Journal for Military History; The Irish Guards, The Grenadier Guards Website (Map).

Thursday, July 29, 2021

The Unhappy Fate of the Three Pashas: A Roads Classic

Young Turk Ceremony Declaring the Return of the 1876 Ottoman Constitution

Five years after the Young Turks came to power a triumvirate of three men that had been had been involved in the Revolt of 1908 came to dominate Turkish politics. The Committee for Union and Progress had been steered at first by centrist, moderate elements. A series of disasters befell the empire, though, that would give opportunity for more determined types, the sort of politician that the army could support enthusiastically. In 1913 the stage was set for the men known to history as the Three Pashas.  

Talat Pasha (Mehmed Talat, 1874–1921) was one of the earliest leaders of the Young Turk movement, spending time in prison for subversive activities. After the revolution of 1908 he was elected as a deputy to Parliament and subsequently held important ministerial posts. He gave up his hopes to form an alliance with Russia and, after delaying as long as possible turned to the Germans and worked with Enver to enter the war on their side.

During the war, as Minister of the Interior, he ordered the infamous deportation of the Armenian Christians. At war's end he was grand vizier (prime minister) and after the surrender, with Enver and Jemal, fled to Germany where, three years later, he was assassinated by an Armenian.

Jemal Pasha (Ahmet Jemal, 1872–1922) was a professional army officer who displayed skills as both an administrator and a propagandist. After the coup of 1913, Jemal became the highly important governor of Constantinople and was quite influential in formulating foreign policy for the government.  His preference was to join in an alliance with France, but his efforts failed, and he eventually joined his fellow pashas in favoring fighting in alliance with Germany.

He opened the war as minister of marine, later becoming military governor of Syria and commander of the Turkish Fourth Army. T.E. Lawrence  reports he was considered a butcher by the empire's Arab subjects and was later sentenced to death in absentia for hanging Arabs suspected of treason. After the war he fled Turkey and died in Tbilisi, Georgia in 1922 at the hand of an Armenian assassin.

Enver Pasha (Ismail Enver, 1881–1922) was also a professional army officer, one with dream of expanding the Ottoman Empire. He was one of the organizers of the 1908 Revolt and advanced rapidly afterward, serving with distinction as attaché to Berlin and in the Tripoli War. He led the coup that gave the Young Turks full power in 1913 and entered the cabinet as minister of war. The most pro-German of the Young Turks, he played the key role in joining the war on Germany's side.

His military leadership and planning during the war, however, were disastrous. When defeat came he fled to Germany, pursued his grandiose fantasies throughout the Middle East and Asia, and was shot by the Red Army in Central Asia where he was trying raise a revolt against the Bolshevik government in August 1922.

Wednesday, July 28, 2021

Remembering a Veteran: Capt. Leonard Berthon, Royal Warwickshire Regiment

A British Officer in a Cradle of 

Western Civilization

By Paul Albright

Captain and Mrs. Berthon, Before His Departure for the Dardanelles

British Captain Leonard Tinné Berthon was 41 years old when he died on 25 January 1917 while leading a charge against Turkish forces south of Kut in the eastern part of Mesopotamia, now a part of Iraq. The first word of his death came via telegram to his wife in Folkestone, England. Mrs. Ethel Berthon then wrote a short note to their daughter, Anna: 

My dearest Anna: I have just had a wire. Dear Daddy was killed on the 25th in action. Keep up your heart. Always remember he has died for his country as he would wish to do. With much love…Mummy.

Military mail supplied more detail to the family. “He was killed in the open during a counterattack about 10 a.m., death instantaneous,” one Army official wrote. Included was a hand-drawn map showing approximately where Berthon had perished and where he was buried along with other fallen soldiers in the 9th Battalion of the Royal Warwickshire Regiment.

A division general mailed more information: “We had taken the front line but our men were driven out again by a Turk counter attack. The Warwick’s [sic] who were in reserve advanced across the open under a very heavy fire and re-captured the trench. Your husband fell as he reached the enemy’s parapet at the head of his company. By their dash and determination inspired as it was by the grand example set by your husband (and) the other officers, the Warwicks saved a most critical situation.”

Unidentified British Soldiers at Kut, 1917

“He was killed gallantly leading his men in our attack against the Turkish trenches, which he and his men captured,” wrote one of Berthon’s fellow captains. “The Warwicks were ordered over the top to meet a strong Turkish counter attack and they went to a man, your husband and Col. Henderson leading them. Col. Henderson was killed before he got to the trenches, but your husband took the remainder right into and took the trenches. He was killed in the trench & was buried by his own men. Death must have been instantaneous & he was spared a good deal of pain and suffering, which I hope will be of some comfort to you… The Padre has held a Service on the battlefield for all of the fallen & every regiment was represented to honour those who have given all for their country.” 

Following a family request, the War Office at Whitehall mailed information to the family two years later: “(The battalion) was in line at Kala Haji Fahan (4,000 yards S.W. of Kut). ‘Turks’ attacked and Brits responded taking back one trench. Turks counterattacked and forced the BN (battalion) to withdraw. The BN received the following message from the corps commander: Bravo the Warwick.”

Another officer who was wounded in the same fight wrote to Berthon’s brother in 1919: “The place he was killed was about 900 yards north of the right bank from Kut town. He actually died on the parapet of the Turk trench. Since Warwicks dropped back, assumption was Turks buried his body.” 

Berthon had had a previous brush with death at Gallipoli some 17 months earlier, that time escaping with only a minor wound from a sniper’s bullet during the final phase of the devastating Battle of Sari Bair. He wrote lightheartedly to his family in England that on 10 August 1915 he had been “pipped through the collar bone, carrying a Turkish bullet as overweight.”

Following his hospitalization, Berthon eventually rejoined his regular unit and was with the Warwicks when they engaged the enemy in the second battle of Kut in Mesopotamia (present day Iraq) in January and February of 1917.  In a letter to a cousin written 12 January 12 1917―two weeks before he died and arriving in England one month after his death―Berthon remained uniformly positive and upbeat about success by the Allied forces. At the same time, it was evident in this final letter that Berthon was fatigued by war. “I confess to feeling a little weary,” and added, “I am not now as full of the spirit of adventure as I was in my first campaign twenty years ago.” Recognizing that this letter was not as positive as usual, Berthon ended with a postscript: “The last part of my letter may sound grumblesome. It is not meant to be.” 

      A photo of the Amarah (Amara) War Cemetery in Iraq, taken in about 2003.             The names of the more than 4,500 war dead buried there are on a wall which can be seen in the background of the photo.

At his death, Captain Berthon was buried on the battlefield, but in September 1922, British authorities informed his widow that the grave had been moved “carefully and reverently” to Amarah War Cemetery in southeast Iraq. That military cemetery contains 4,621 burials from World War I, more than 3,000 of which were brought into the cemetery after the Armistice. All of the headstones were removed in 1933 by the British Commonwealth War Graves Commission when it was discovered that salts in the soil were causing them to deteriorate. Instead a wall was erected with the names of those buried in the cemetery engraved on it. 

Upkeep of the military cemetery at Amarah (also spelled Amara) became difficult during the Iran-Iraq war (1980–1988), but the war graves commission had to abandon the cemetery when the Iraqi war erupted in 2003. On its website, the Commission states that it “continues to monitor the situation in Iraq and once the political climate has improved to an acceptable level the Commission will commence a major rehabilitation project for its cemeteries and commemorations.” 


This article is adapted from the Military Postal History Society Bulletin, Vol. 55, #3, July-September, 2016. 

The primary resource for this article, including correspondence and photographs, was the Leonard Tinné Berthon Collection (MS424), University of Colorado, Boulder, University Libraries, Special Collections Department.

Additional resources included: 

British Commonwealth War Graves Commission and

Tuesday, July 27, 2021

MOBILIZING FOR MODERN WAR: The Political Economy of American Warfare, 1865-1919

by Paul A. C. Koistinen
University Press of Kansas, 1997
Ron Drees, Reviewer

Unlike other WWI books reviewed here, The Political Economy of American Warfare takes place entirely within the continental borders of the United States, describes no combat other than impassioned debate, communications, convoluted statements and lies, describes efforts that almost fail to accomplish their mission, and is 24 years old. Nations at war have two fronts, one where the battles are fought and one at home where weapons of war are made. The primary emphasis of this scholarly book is on mobilizing the American economy to support the military during WWI; however, the first third deals with the post-Civil War and Spanish-American War. 

Significant differences existed between the two military services in that 52-year period. The Navy modernized by converting to coal-powered steel ships with turret-mounted weapons, resulting in Dewey destroying the Spanish navy in the Philippines. The Army had degenerated into a frontier operation that was ineffective and counterproductive in moving troops from the U.S. to Cuba for the Spanish-American War. Poor sanitation and an ineffective Medical Corps resulted in epidemics that killed far more troops than combat did. This led to the start of modernization in the Army but was only partially successful by 1917.

Readers are undoubtedly familiar with the saying, paraphrased here, that amateurs think of strategy while professionals think of logistics. This book describes how the Army was structured to think of logistics by being organized into eight bureaus jealous of their turf and the resultant conflict with civilian control and manufacturing. Even in 1917 the American economy was a complicated mechanism between large and small manufacturing concerns, railroads, coal mining, labor, trade associations, and government agencies. Retooling this economic machine to have a very different and much narrower focus without statutory authority is the principal topic of almost the last two-thirds of Koistinen’s book.

The author delves into incredible detail of boards, commissions, and committees that attempted to mobilize the economy, usually with quite limited success. The reader can become glassy eyed in the process. Smaller sections within the chapters and chapter summaries would have been of significant assistance to the reader’s comprehension. While the formation of committees is mentioned, the functions of these committees are not discussed. Yet the author leaves no doubt as to which of the players were effective, which were incompetent, and those who tried but just did not make the grade.

Reading the text left me with the impression that Woodrow Wilson was not a strong leader of the mobilization effort, that he hung back from making decisions or involvement, and only reacted when absolutely necessary. Yet in a summary chapter, the author indicated that Wilson was very much in charge and participated in the effort. 

This book will be of interest if you want a unique look at the American home front, but it is a somewhat ponderous read due to its extraordinary detail that obscures the author’s message.

Ron Drees

Monday, July 26, 2021

The London Underground and the Great War


The Great War left an enormous imprint on London and its transportation system. Stations on London's  Underground provided much-needed shelter from air raids on London in both world wars. The first ever air raid on London took place on 31 May 1915, prompting the use of Underground stations as shelters. Conditions were basic, but many were willing to cope with discomfort for the relative safety that Tube stations offered.

Londoners also had to get used to the very first use of "blackout"—with streetlights extinguished and internal lighting concealed—to make it more difficult for German airships to find targets. On the surface parts of the Underground network, trains were fitted with blinds or had their interior lights turned off during raids. Half of the male employees of the underground, about 3,000 men, were released to served in the armed forces.  This led to the first extensive employment of women as "wartime substitutes" in the system.

London’s searchlights and anti-aircraft defenses initially proved ineffective. It was not until September 1916 that British fighter aircraft were able to intercept and destroy their first airship. From 1917 Germany increasingly used bomber airplanes, particularly large Gotha bombers, instead of airships. Between June 1917 and May 1918 German bombers attacked London 17 times. The Gotha raids of September 1917 put a particular strain on tube stations. There were back-to-back raids on the 24th and the 25th, and another attempt on the 28th, though none reached London in the latter.  

Faced with massive influxes of Londoners seeking shelter now almost every night, the Underground issued new restrictions on its stations’ use during air raids.  Henceforth, people could only take shelter in stations after the air raid sirens sounded, not preemptively.  Additionally, those taking shelter could not bring pets with them.  Memories that pets could not be taken into the Underground may have contributed to the massive, spontaneous cull of over 750,000 London pets that occurred after the outbreak of the next war, 22 years later.  

In the whole of the war, 667 people were killed and 1,936 injured in raids on London. It could have been many more had the Tube not provided valuable shelter. When the Second World War came, the experience during the earlier conflict made the Underground better prepared for the challenges of the Blitz and the V-weapons.

Sources:  London Transportation Museum;  Today in WWI: Imperial War Museum

Sunday, July 25, 2021

Eyewitness to the Assassination of Franz Ferdinand

Count Franz von Harrach (1870–1937), a chamberlain and adjutant to Franz Ferdinand,  rode on the running board of the royal car serving as a bodyguard for the archduke. His account begins immediately after Princip fires his two shots.

The Archduke and His Wife Leave City Hall
Count Harrach Rides the Running Board

As the car quickly reversed, a thin stream of blood spurted from His Highness's mouth onto my right check. As I was pulling out my handkerchief to wipe the blood away from his mouth, the Duchess cried out to him, 'In Heaven's name, what has happened to you?' At that she slid off the seat and lay on the floor of the car, with her face between his knees.

I had no idea that she too was hit and thought she had simply fainted with fright. Then I heard His Imperial Highness say, 'Sopherl, Sopherl, don't die. Stay alive for the children!'

At that, I seized the Archduke by the collar of his uniform, to stop his head dropping forward and asked him if he was in great pain. He answered me quite distinctly, 'It's nothing!' His face began to twist somewhat but he went on repeating, six or seven times, ever more faintly as he gradually lost consciousness, 'It's nothing!' Then, after a short pause, there was a violent choking sound caused by the bleeding. It was stopped as we reached the Konak."

Source: Eyewitness to History

Saturday, July 24, 2021

Canada Enters the War

The fact that Canada was automatically at war when Britain was at war in 1914 was unquestioned as from coast to coast: in a spirit of almost unbelievable unanimity, Canadians pledged support for Britain. Sir Wilfrid Laurier spoke for the majority of Canadians when he proclaimed: "It is our duty to let Great Britain know and to let the friends and foes of Great Britain know that there is in Canada but one mind and one heart and that all Canadians are behind the Mother Country." Prime Minister Robert Borden, calling for a supreme national effort, offered Canadian assistance to Great Britain. Borden orchestrated a massive national effort in support of the mother country, but also demanded that Great Britain recognize Canada’s wartime sacrifices with greater postwar autonomy. The offer was accepted, and immediately orders were given for the mobilization of an expeditionary force.

Training at Valcartier Camp near Quebec City Before Deployment

With a regular army of only 3,110 men and a fledgling navy, Canada was ill prepared to enter a world conflict. Yet, from Halifax to Vancouver, thousands of young Canadians hastened to the recruiting offices. Within a few weeks more than 32,000 men gathered at Valcartier Camp near Quebec City; and within two months the First Contingent, Canadian Expeditionary Force, was on its way to England in the largest convoy ever to cross the Atlantic. Also sailing in this convoy was a contingent from the still separate British self-governing colony of Newfoundland. A suggestion that Newfoundland's men should be incorporated into the Canadian Expeditionary Force had earlier been politely but firmly rejected.

Upon reaching England the Canadians endured a long miserable winter training in the mud and drizzle of Salisbury Plain. In spring 1915, they were deemed ready for the front line and were razor-keen. Nothing, they believed, could be worse than Salisbury. In the years that lay ahead, they were to find out just how tragically wrong that assessment was.

The first Canadian troops to arrive in France were the Princess Patricia's Canadian Light Infantry, which had been formed at the outbreak of war entirely from ex-British Army regular soldiers. The "Princess Pats" landed in France in December 1914 with the British 27th Division and saw action near St. Eloi and at Polygon Wood in the Ypres Salient. Today, their battalion memorial stands on high ground of just north of Hooge.

Newly Arrived on the Western Front

Early in February 1915, the 1st Canadian Division reached France and was introduced to trench warfare by veteran British troops. Following this brief training, they took over a section of the line in the Armentières sector in French Flanders. Mention should be made of the Royal Newfoundland Regiment, whose Great War experience is forever linked with that of the Canadian Expeditionary Force. In 1914, however, it was a separate Dominion from Canada, and would not become a Canadian province until 1949. Independently, Newfoundland raised and maintained a regiment that over the next four years was kept at battlefield strength through voluntary enlistment. The regiment was integrated with the British Army, serving mainly with the 29th British Division at Gallipoli and on the Western Front. Its losses in several battles were greatly felt within the small dominion of 242,000 residents, and keeping the regiment at battle strength was difficult but achieved.

Source: Veterans Affairs of Canada

Friday, July 23, 2021

Recommended: The Slug-Garden Pest and War Hero


American Warrior

By Launa Herrman, University of California Cooperative Extension

It's almost spring. Once again, my plants are prey to slugs. Damp overcast yet warmer days provide the ideal environment for these slimy shell-less mollusks. Their stealth but obvious presence is unmistakable. Hiding by day, foraging by night slugs slide across the smooth leaves of succulents, chewing erratic holes. Up and over the daffodils they glide, nipping off tender petal tips and leaving behind their tell-tale silvery mucous trail. Most gardeners agree that slugs have little chance of redeeming their repulsive reputation.

But during World War I, this common but destructive garden pest saved countless American soldiers who themselves were falling prey to mustard gas. In 1917, when the Germans first used this deadly chemical weapon, troops had difficulty detecting it when entering a contaminated area or during a direct attack. The gas lingered in the trenches for days, especially during cold temperatures.

Hydrochloric acid is produced when mustard gas comes in contact with moisture. Lung membranes are damaged. Severe respiratory complications follow. Thousands of soldiers were either incapacitated or died from exposure, along with horses and dogs—the military working animals also stationed on the Western Front.

Dr. Paul Bartsch (1871–1960)

Then along came the slug—thanks to Dr. Paul Bartsch, a curator in the Division of Mollusks at the U.S. National Museum (currently the National Museum of Natural History). Curious why slugs (Limax maximus) in the furnace room of his home were sensitive to the fumes, he studied and tested their olfactory capabilities, discovering their extraordinary ability to protect the lung membrane by closing the breathing aperture. He also learned that their tentacles were so sensitive to smell they could detect the scent of fungi in gardens and in the woods.

According to the Smithsonian Institution Archives, Dr. Bartsch's slugs were three times more sensitive than humans to mustard gas, reacting at levels of one particle per 10–12 million by compressing their bodies and closing off their breathing pores, then surviving the gas attacks without a problem—unlike the often fatal response of humans, horses, and dogs.

As a result, the U. S. Army in June of 1918, enlisted ordinary garden slugs to fight in the trenches. They were carried in by the troops. During their five-month tour of duty, these gas-detecting heroes saved thousands of lives by alerting soldiers to the presence of mustard gas. By observing the slugs' compressed bodies, soldiers could put on gas masks before they had any hint of this dangerous chemical weapon.

Sources:  The Solano Sun, 12 February  2019

Thursday, July 22, 2021

Tactics, Diplomacy, and Revolution: The Importance of the September 1917 Riga Offensive

A factor in the accelerating decline of the Kerensky  government  was  the  German  offensive  around  Riga  in September. Though it was a limited affair, and the only real German advance  between  the  summer  of  1917  and  their  final  moves,  it  was significant both in its effect on Kerensky and Lenin, and in its own right as  a  military  operation,  for  it  introduced  what has historically and inaccurately been called “Hutier  tactics,”  which were to come close to winning the war for Germany.  General  Oscar  von  Hutier  was  commander  of  8th  Army,  on  the northern end of the German line along the Baltic coast.  His army would be tasked with taking Riga.

German Troops Entering Riga, 3 September 1917

For two years the Germans had been making occasional attempts to take the fortress of Riga, all without success. Wishing to capitalize on Russia’s internal difficulties, the Germans decided to exert more pressure on the Provisional Government; the taking of Riga might make them ask for an armistice. By now the technicians and theorists of the General Staff had made a  thorough  study  of  the  tactical  impasse  on  the  fighting  fronts. They had carefully analyzed the successes and the failures of both sides. They noted the way some of the British units had made an initial gain on the Somme, how their own troops had attacked at Verdun, and how the French had riposted; they studied Brusilov’s tactics in his great offensive as well. They came to essentially the conclusion that Brusilov and his staff had reached. A vital difference was that the Germans knew why they had reached it, whereas Brusilov had largely stumbled on it by the accident of ammunition shortage and discarded it as soon as the shortages were made up. Brusilov’s lucky shot became Germany’s tactical doctrine. 

The German solution was Stosstrupp (shock troop or storm troop) tactics featuring a brief but intense and precisely targeted artillery preparation and specially trained, independent squads tasked with finding and infiltrating weak spots and bypassing strongpoints, leaving them for follow-up by the regular infantry. Riga would be the first trial of the new doctrine, where it would prove successful, as it would the following month on the Italian Front at Caporetto. This set the approach for the great Ludendorff offensives of 1918.

The Riga offensive contained all the new elements: last-minute approach of fully briefed and highly trained troops, specialized units assigned to given tasks, short preliminary barrage that did not give the attack away, close coordination and support for infantry by carefully controlled  artillery  fire,  and  advance  and  infiltration  that  bypassed strongpoints and flowed through weak spots. The drive opened suddenly on 1 September. Two days later, Riga was German and the Baltic coast wide open. A week after that Kornilov attempted his coup. 

In the next month the Germans went on to overrun Latvia and the Baltic islands, creating an obvious threat to Petrograd, and in November Lenin seized power. Three weeks later he asked for an armistice. It took the Germans a week to reply, but hostilities along the Eastern Front  were  suspended  in  early  December.  The  representatives  of  the Central Powers and of the Bolsheviks met at Brest-Litovsk in Poland on 3 December  to discuss a peace settlement. Trotsky, ultimately representing the Soviets, was in a poor bargaining position. His government had already broadcast to the world a request for an immediate peace without annexations or war indemnities, which had been utterly ignored in  the  chancellories  of  the  belligerents. The  Allies  regarded  the Bolsheviks as traitors to the great cause and were already considering how  they  might  be  brought  down  and  Russia  kept  in  the  war.  

Signing of the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk

The Central Powers, having won at least this part of their war, were in no mood to listen to what they considered sophomoric and utopian schemes from their victims. In addition, the Bolsheviks’ domestic situation was far from secure. If they gave in too much to the Germans, they might well be overthrown at home; indeed, their power base was so insecure that they were still receiving financial support from Germany, and the Germans  were  still  paying  it  because  they  wanted  to  keep  the Bolsheviks afloat long enough to get their peace treaty negotiated.

Sources: A Short History of World War I by James Stokesbury; Over the Top, February 2018

Tuesday, July 20, 2021

Our Article #3,000: What's the Closest the German Army Got to Paris in 1918?


Present-Day View from the Marine Front Line
at Les Mares Farm

The answer is 45.3 miles. That is the distance from Les Mares Farm, located northwest of Château-Thierry, to the Eiffel Tower. It is the place where U.S. Marines held the line against the advancing German forces in the final stage of their third offensive of the spring, Operation Blücher.

Germans Advancing, May 1918

By 3 June, the German offensive had lost momentum and the French rearguard resistance stiffened. West of Château-Thierry, battered French units rallied behind the American 2nd Division’s line. South of the Marne river, fresh French units and the U.S. 3rd Division formed a defensive barrier.

Initially, the U.S. 2nd Division units were attached to the French 43rd and 164th Divisions. Taking position as they arrived on the field and thinly spread on a front of 15 km, soldiers of the 3rd Brigade were split on both flanks, with marines of the 4th Brigade in the center. . . On 3 June, the last exhausted rear guard French elements withdrew and regrouped behind the line formed by the marines and soldiers of the 2nd Division. During the evening of 3 June, the marines of 2nd Battalion, 5th Regiment, repulsed the attack of the German 273rd Reserve Infantry Regiment, 197th Division, at Les Mares Farm; this would be as close as the German Army would get to Paris for the remainder of the war. 

Marines Arriving in the Sector

The  accurate, long-range rifle fire by marines of the 2nd Battalion, 5th Regiment, supported by machine guns and artillery, stopped the massed attack of the German 197th Division’s 273rd Reserve Infantry Regiment, reinforced with the 26th Reserve Jaeger Battalion, in front of Les Mares Farm. This action, plus stiffened resistance all along the Allied line, stood as the highwater mark of the German spring offensive’s Operation Blücher.

Source:  The Bravest Deeds of Men, Colonel William T. Anderson (USMCR)

Literary Memories of World War One

By Modris Eksteins
Originally Published at the British Library Website, 29 Jan 2014

Crisis of authority

The war brought in its wake a crisis of authority of gargantuan proportions: political, economic, social, and, most strikingly, artistic. In the postwar years every book was a war book whether it dealt with the war or not. The war cast its pall over everything. The old comforting connections – the pleasing harmonies, rhymes, and colors – were gone. ‘It’s nice outside,’ wrote the French ex-serviceman and journalist Emmanuel Berl, ‘let’s go to the cemetery.’

Literature of commemoration

For those myriad grieving families who had suffered personal loss in the war, tradition provided some comfort – whichever side you were on. The millions of deaths had not been in vain. The extensive commemorative literature – regimental histories, reverent memoirs, and volumes of diplomatic documents – elicited short notices in the press and a quiet respect, but none of it stirred much debate.


For some, whose emotional pain was often excruciating, such accounts were superficial flimflam. For these survivors, whether soldiers or civilians, the war had transcended previous notions of reality and thus undermined all official explanation, indeed all external truth. Only personal experience remained. The upshot, projected by the title of C E Montague’s war memoir of 1922, was disenchantment, a profound and festering disillusionment with the world that had produced and waged the war. In this mindset, against the backdrop of the machine massacres of Flanders, Verdun, and the Somme, humor turned absurd, art increasingly provocative, and music decidedly experimental. In literature, too, old forms no longer sufficed. Even language was called into question. T S Eliot doubted its ability to capture essence; Franz Kafka termed it a lie; e e cummings, the American poet who had been an ambulance driver with the French, regarded all standard rules of writing, from grammar to punctuation to the capitalization of his own name, as fatuous restrictions, and Ernest Hemingway said famously in A Farewell to Arms (1929) that ‘abstract words such as glory, honor, courage or hallow were obscene’: only place names now possessed dignity. All the old slogans and values had been shattered as if hit by a monstrous artillery shell.

War boom   

For a decade publishers, convinced that the public did not wish to read about the war, resisted war material. Then suddenly in 1928-29, everything changed. The public couldn’t get enough of the war. Erich Maria Remarque’s All Quiet on the Western Front, first serialized in a Berlin newspaper in December 1928, led the way. It depicted the destruction of an entire class of students, one by one, not in order to make the world a better place but simply on account of the cupidity, arrogance, and narrow-mindedness of its elders. The book became a huge international success, the first genuine modern bestseller, rushed into some 30 translations around the world and filmed by Hollywood. In Germany Remarque was joined on the bestseller lists by Arnold Zweig, Ludwig Renn, and Ernst Glaeser; in England by the memoirists Edmund Blunden, Robert Graves, and Siegfried Sassoon, as well as the dramatist R C Sherriff, whose play Journey’s End had 594 performances at the Savoy and Prince of Wales theatres in London from 1929 to 1931. London buses were plastered with the words ‘All roads lead to Journey’s End.’ The notion of the ‘lost generation’ became common coinage. ‘It is time,’ wrote the respected American critic and veteran Malcolm Cowley in 1933, the year the decorated soldier Adolf Hitler took power in Germany, ‘for us to admit … that all of us fought in vain.’ The German Führer of course disagreed. For Germany, he claimed, the war had been a spiritual victory. Yet he, too, wished to reshape the world on the basis of his own experience, his personal struggle – Mein Kampf, as he called it. 

The end of history?

For many, fiction had displaced historical writing. The study of history, a dominant intellectual impulse of the late 19th century, was too constrained by rules; fiction represented freedom. In the 1920s everyone seemed to be waiting, not for the comprehensive historical account, but for the supreme literary masterpiece that, like Homer’s Iliad or Tolstoy’s War and Peace, would invoke and explain all. For Ernst Kantorowicz, author of a widely applauded biography of the medieval emperor Frederick II, the genres blended. At a conference of German historians in 1930 he stirred up a hornets’ nest when he suggested that ‘historical scholarship and historical fiction are, despite their mutual animosity, rightly interchangeable concepts.’

All is not quiet

Many of these issues, particularly the ongoing crisis of authority and the concomitant disintegration of category and definition, still resonate. Novelists and filmmakers keep being drawn to the First World War as a major source of this process of deconstruction and liberation. Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, Timothy Findley, Jane Urquhart, Sebastian Faulks, and Pat Barker, among others, have used the war as a setting to probe contemporary concerns about art, gender, social relations, psychology, and remembrance.

Monday, July 19, 2021

The Škoda 305 Howitzer

By James Patton

No doubt about it, WW1 was a gunner’s war, especially a big gun war. Before the war Krupp had produced the first of their 42cm Minenwerfer-Gerät, nicknamed Big Bertha. During the war the French and later the Americans dismounted large rifled naval cannon from the main turrets of obsolescent ships and installed them on railway carriages. And, of course, in 1918 the Germans built the super long range Paris guns. 

However, even the backward Austro-Hungarian Empire had its own big gun, which was likely the most effective one deployed in the war.

Established in 1859 as an engineering works, the future Škodawerke was based in Plzeň, in today’s Czech Republic. Emil Škoda (1839-1900) expanded the enterprise into the largest industrial firm in Austria-Hungary. During WW1 Škoda produced a variety of artillery, especially mountain guns and mortars, as well as small arms and machine guns, for the Dual Monarchy’s armies. 

The 30.5 cm M-11 Belagerungsmorser, familiarly known as the Schlanke Emma was first proposed by Škoda in 1906, and production started in 1911. Between 72 and 79 (sources differ) of these were produced up to the Armistice, including the lighter and longer range M-16 models that were effective against trench systems using the  Granatschrapnell round. 

The gun was quite modern in design, with safety devices on the breech, a recoil brake, and a hydraulic recuperator. The barrel elevation range was 40 to 70 degrees, and it could deliver a shell weighing 380 kg up to 9.6 km away with a ballistic force capable of penetrating two meters of reinforced concrete. The gun also came with its own transportable steel base box which usually made preparation of the firing site simple—no concrete pad was necessary. The gun crew was 15 to 17 men and the gun could fire 10 to 12 times per hour.

Transport Column

Perhaps the most important feature of the Škoda 30.5 was its transportability. The entire unit was contained on three carriages, one carriage each for the body, the barrel and the base box. The whole unit could be assembled or disassembled in less than an hour by the gun crew using jacks and hoists. The train of the three carriages was pulled by one or two 100-hp Škoda-Daimler M-12 15-ton tractors, depending on the terrain. Due to the slow speed of the tractors rail transport was necessary for long distance deployments but the battery could move itself to the firing site. 

In 1914 the Germans borrowed eight of the Škoda 30.5s for the reduction of the Belgian and French border forts, including the defenses of Antwerp, and later against Russian border forts like Osowiec. In the course of the war the Škoda 30.5’s were deployed in over 30 battles against Russian, Italian, French, Serb, and Belgian fortifications. 

Turret from Antwerp Fort Damaged by 305 Shell

After the, Romania and the new nations of Czechoslovakia and Yugoslavia incorporated leftover Škoda 30.5s into their armies. In the WWII era many of these passed into the hands of the German Wehrmacht, who employed them in Russia against Sevastopol, Leningrad, and other sites. There are four examples of Škoda 30.5s still extant: one is in Italy, one is in Serbia, and two are in Romania. Three of these are M-11s and one is an M-16.  

Today the name Škoda is still familiar, appearing on automobiles, railway vehicles, and electrical generating equipment. 

Sources include:

Sunday, July 18, 2021

Afghanistan and the Forming of the Triple Entente

By Beryl Williams

The Liberals took office in Great Britain in December 1905. On 13 December Foreign Minister Edward Grey assured Benckendorff, the Russian ambassador, that he was in favor of an agreement with Russia. Sir Arthur Nicolson arrived in St. Petersburg as the new British ambassador on 28 May, having 'talked entente in and out, up and down' with Grey, Chancellor of the Exchequer Herbert Asquith and Lord John Morley, Secretary of State for India, before leaving London. Formal negotiations were launched on 7 June. The Russians were far more willing to  receive overtures than they had been in 1905. The appointment of Aleksandr  Izvolskii to the Russian Foreign Ministry signified a turn from Asian adventures and a renewed interest in the Balkans and European problems. However Izvolskii was to have similar troubles with the military in Russia, and for similar reasons, as Grey had with the Government of India.  

The negotiators had overlapping objectives. Russia wished to strengthen its hold on its Asiatic empire without fear of British interference. The British wish to maintain a cordon sanitaire around its imperial crown jewel, India. 

The negotiations turned out to be long and difficult and were more than once on the point of breaking down completely. All three areas concerned—Persia, Afghanistan, and Tibet, were interwoven during the discussions and there were long periods of quiescence. From the 21st century view, of these, dealing with Afghanistan would prove the trickiest and central issue.

It was with Afghanistan that the Government of India was chiefly concerned, as Kitchener's memorandum raising alarm about Russia's intentions indicated. Relations between Great Britain and Afghanistan were peculiar. The external relations of Afghanistan had been under British control for the last twenty-five years and Britain was pledged by treaty to safeguard the integrity of the Amir's dominions. The Amir received through India money, arms and advice yet the actual situation belied this apparently close, protected-protector relationship. No British or Indian agent was allowed to reside in Kabul, and Simla depended on an unreliable Afghan agent who was little better than a prisoner. The British  complained that they had no way of receiving reliable information about the country they were pledged to defend. The Amir refused to allow them to construct the roads, railways and telegraphs thought necessary for his defense and was not adverse to intriguing with the Russians and India's rebellious border tribes.

Click to Enlarge

1907 Understanding

By 1903 the Russians had acquired a long common border with Afghanistan and were demanding contact with the Amir for the settlement of border disputes which it was difficult to refuse. They were also trying to establish a commercial agent at Kabul, and India was again worried at the difficulty of separating commerce from politics. In 1905 the Dane mission was sent from India to impress the new Amir, and a new British-Afghan treaty was signed which left Afghanistan's external relations in British hands. It remained to settle the problem of Russian contacts.

Nicolson was permitted to open negotiations on Afghanistan in September 1906 but these were delayed on his request while the more pressing problem of Persia was dealt with. Grey's draft proposals were finally submitted on 23 February 1907, once the Russian proposals on Persia made the prospect of agreement seem sufficiently good to warrant it.

The final Convention was a pacific enough looking document. The British declared that they had no intention of changing the political status of Afghanistan, and would exercise influence at Kabul in a pacific and in no way anti-Russian sense. The Anglo-Afghan treaty of 1905 was reaffirmed and Britain renounced any intention of occupying or annexing the country or of interfering in internal affairs with the saving clause; as long as Afghanistan kept her treaty commitments.

The Convention acknowledged the already existing Russo-Afghan communications over local issues by the frontier officers of both sides, and established the principle of the Russian right to equality of trading opportunities and facilities with the Indians in this region. Both these were to furnish cause for future difficulties.

Both sides regarded the Convention regarding Afghanistan as by no means the least important part of the whole entente, especially as it would be the section most noticed by the general public. Morley admitted to the Viceroy that 'the public will not trouble itself deeply about Tibet or even about Persia so long as the Gulf is kept in status quo. But any yielding about Afghanistan or even any contingent disturbance there will provoke, and rightly provoke, a fierce row.  Izvolskii, in an interview with Edward VII at Marienbad shortly after the entente was signed, also remarked that it was to this area that most attention would be paid in Russia.  When the accord was executed in 1907 Grey stated  it had secured 'us forever, as far as a treaty could secure us, from further Russian advances in the direction of the Indian frontier.' This was ultimately a question of faith in Russia's good intentions, and on this issue Grey's apparent optimism was not shared either by Curzon or by Curzon's successor in Delhi. 

Source: November 2007 Over the Top

Friday, July 16, 2021

Remembering a Veteran: Brigadier General John Henry "Gatling Gun" / “Machine Gun” Parker, AEF

By Terrence J. Finnegan

Colonel John H. Parker

Brigadier General [rank awarded upon final retirement] John Henry “Machine Gun” Parker, was born on a farm near Tipton, Missouri, and graduated as the 3498th cadet from West Point, class of 1892. His initial notoriety during the Spanish-American War earned him the tag “Gatling Gun Parker.”
In the advance on Santiago, Parker proposed to take one of the two Gatling guns which the Americans had with them and fire over the heads of the front line to check and advance from the Spanish reserves. It was an amazingly innovative application of an evolving weapon system. Parker’s idea was executed—a stream of bullets went over the heads and far beyond the advancing American line and successfully kept back the enemy from reinforcing their front line.

Years later, Lieutenant General Bullard reflected on Parker’s accomplishment with, “In the Spanish-American War at the battle of Santiago, Parker demonstrated to the military world, for the first time, the value of the machine gun which, although existent long before that war, had never been understood or demonstrated as a valuable weapon. You know how the World War proved it. Parker’s mind and conception had run far ahead of the advanced military minds of the world.”
In 1903 Captain John H. Parker was assigned to Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, and organized a “model of unit of machine guns,” the precursor of the machine gun company—further demonstrating what machine guns could do. Parker authored several books that caught the public’s attention on this and other military subjects that reflected a broad and deep intellectual capacity. His first book, The Gatlings at Santiago, put Parker into the limelight both within the U.S. Army and the public at large. His follow-on work, Tactical Organization and Uses of Machine Guns in the Field and Citizen Soldiers, both addressed significant applications of modern weapons as well as innovative roles for the evolving modern U.S. Army. Parker
reflected later in life that his Tactical Organization and Uses of Machine Guns met the test of time at Château-Thierry. “Never in all the history of the military art has any text been so perfectly vindicated as that little book, though it was 20 years before its vindication came.”

Parker’s intellect proved a challenge, for he knew he had a good idea and kept badgering seniors and superiors, including President Theodore Roosevelt, with recommendations to create a machine-gun corps with himself as a brigadier general at its head. His manner and self promotion infuriated Major General J. Franklin Bell. “He’s a pestiferous, immodest ass,” Bell wrote to the assistant secretary of war, “but has much ability notwithstanding and his disagreeable qualities must simply be tolerated for the sake of his usefulness.” Bell did allow Parker to continue work—this time with Company A, 20th Infantry, to experiment further the role of machine guns in war. Parker’s work continued to be valued, but his recommendations for a separate branch beyond infantry and cavalry was dismissed.

One of Parker's Gattling Gun Crews in Cuba

Pershing knew Parker. Parker served Pershing during the Mexican expedition against Pancho Villa. The two were talking one evening in January 1917 when Parker predicted Pershing was to become either chief of staff or commander of an expedition to France. Pershing was taken aback as if he didn’t see that happening. Four months later, Pershing commenced organizing his command and soldiers to proceed to France. Parker became part of the initial crew of experts that arrived in France with Pershing, providing guidance and direction on how machine guns were to be employed by follow-on U.S. Army forces through the automatic weapons schools that he stood up and ran the Automatic Weapons School at Gondrecourt and Langres.
As the director, Lieutenant Colonel Parker that summer conducted a tour of a French training center for automatic weapons. In his report Parker announced, “We are both convinced…the day of the rifleman is done. He was a good horse while he lasted, but his day is over…The rifleman is passing out and the bayonet is fast becoming obsolete as the crossbow.” The report was not well received at Chaumont. Lieutenant Colonel Paul B. Malone, heading GHQ AEF’s training section, scribbled on his copy of Parker’s note, “speak for yourself, John.”Parker mused, “Personally, I prefer the use of machine guns which gives then a chance to come out alive to the one that practically insures the death of more then fifty percent and loss of one-half the guns. I believe in first line machine gun work when it is necessary, and use it when it is necessary. It was necessary at Seicheprey. It was used at Seicheprey. It was necessary at Bois de Remieres,and was used at Bois de Remieres.”

Parker knew almost all of the Chaumont staff. Once Captain George Patton drove him north to observe British operations. When they were returning from the visit, Patton accidentally drove into a railroad gate and received a serious gash to the head. Parker bandaged Patton and took him to a nearby hospital. Later that month the two linked up again when Patton was visiting Parker’s machine gun school. Patton recalled Parker “insisted on calling me major.”
Colonel Parker had a remarkable family. His wife served with him in the Philippines and was instrumental in establishing schools for the natives in areas that were considered hostile. His son, Captain Henry Burr Parker, a non-graduating member of West Point, class of 1914, was in theater at the same time but assigned to the 3rd Field Artillery. The two managed to link up when Parker ran the Automatic Weapons School. Henry Burr Parker also served as an aerial observer while assigned as an artillery man flying with four different escadrilles and two Aero Squadrons. On two occasions he was shot down and survived.

On 13 January 1918, Parker received a phone call directing him to report to General Harbord, Chief of Staff. Parker was teaching the “Suicide Club,” members learning to become machine gun operators. He opined that the school was the best system of training machine gun operators in the world and it made a success of American Arms possible. On that day Parker became an  adopted son of the “Old Nutmeg State.” Harbord told Parker that the 102nd Infantry was in bad shape. The 26th "Yankee" Division was going in the front line and something had to be done quickly. All the 102nd field officers had been relieved and sent to other duties. “Someone must put a soul into that outfit, and General Pershing has personally selected you as the man he believes best fitted to do it.” Parker replied, “Say to General Pershing that no officer trained as I have could possibly refuse such an assignment. I will do my best to make good on the new job.” Harbord concluded the discussion with, “That is exactly what General Pershing expected you to say. Now I shall try to repeat his exact words….Tell Colonel Parker there will be a pair of stars hung up on the Chemin des Dames for him. Tell him to go and get them!”

Men of the Yankee Division at Seicheprey

Two weeks after Parker talked with Harbord, he met General Edwards. It suggested an air of paranoia. Edwards was reserved. “I understand you are sent by General Pershing?” “Yes, General, I was so informed.” “Great friend of yours?” “I have served on his staff twice, General; but do not claim to be at all intimate with him. On the contrary, our relations have usually been strictly formal and official. Of course I admire him greatly.” “Know Chaumont pretty well, I suppose?” “No General; never was stationed there.” “But you know all that group at Chaumont, of course. Did you hear any comment about me there, any indication that I might be relieved of command of the 26th Division?” “My assignment is to take command of a regiment in your Division, General. I have heard no gossip, and would not listen to it if I did. I expect to give you all the loyalty due to my Division Commander, just as I was loyal to Pershing while I served on his staff, and to do the very best I can for the regiment.” The exchange assuaged Edwards’ fears, responding with, “I know you John Henry, and am glad to have you in my command. I shall remember what you have said. Can you, in addition to your other duties, help train the machine guns of the Division?”
Colonel Parker loved to banter with French liaison officer Commandant (Major) Alain du Boisrouvray, who later described the man as “unusually tall, shoulders too wide for his size with a small round head—a head with a short nose and a round chin. He looked like a gigantic Buffalo Bill. He claimed to speak fluent French, Spanish and English—a fact that was somewhat true because he would consistently mix the three languages into one sentence.” One evening at Chemin des Dames Colonel Parker called du Boisrouvray to his headquarters and proceeded to say in a loud voice, “Boar-Rouvray, my friend, I found a way to end the war.” Du Boisrouvray was puzzled. “Yes,” Parker continued, “simply change the spirit, take the offensive spirit of the Crusades…the spirit of Joan of Arc!” In a quiet voice he stated, “Do you know Mademoiselle St. Paul?” Du Boisrouvray replied “I answered that I had heard about her. Parker trumpeted, “Well, here is the new Joan of Arc! It is mademoiselle St. Paul!” Parker met her at Soissons wearing a nurse’s uniform that prominently displayed a red cross! Du Boisrouvray said John Henry Parker always saw big! Parker commanded the 102nd Infantry, the regiment he fondly called his “Nutmegs.

Parker was in his element when the 102nd Infantry assumed command at Beaumont at the southern Woëvre front. He was very energetic. In every phone call he received, he proudly answered “Headquarters Division.” Parker was quick to explain the array of machine gun deployments on the map. “Machine guns everywhere! More Germans nowhere!”  [See the author's article on the most notable action of the Yankee Division while Parker was attached, the Seicheprey Raid, HERE.] Parker’s potential to achieve further command was not hampered by lack of courage. General Edwards cited Parker twelve times in division orders for distinguished contact in battle.  

He did not finish the war unscathed.  After the action at Seicheprey, he was given several new assignments culminating in being named commander of the 362nd Infantry of the 91st "Wild West" Division that went over the top on the first day of the Meuse-Argonne Offensive.  Three days into the battle, Parker  was severely wounded twice. He spent the rest of the year hospitalized. The war and the fighting career of Machine Gun Parker were over.

John Henry Parker was a recipient of four Distinguished Service Crosses while serving as 102nd Infantry commander in battle—an incredible legacy and statement of the man. 

Parker's Grave at the Presidio of San Francisco


This article is excerpted from Terry Finnegan's history A Delicate Affair on the Western Front: America Learns How to Fight a Modern War in the Woëvre Trenches. To purchase the book or for other articles and material on World War I, Air Intelligence and Reconnaissance, and Military Aviation, visit the author's website: