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

Tuesday, August 31, 2021

Six Recommended Books About the World on the Eve of War

From the Editors

  1. Tuchman, Barbara, The Proud Tower: A Portrait of the World Before the War, Ballantine Books, 1996.
  2. Chace, James, 1912: Wilson, Roosevelt, Taft, and Debs—The Election That Changed the Country, Simon & Schuster, 2005.
  3. Vandervort Bruce, Wars of Imperial  Conquest in Africa, 1830–1914, Indiana University Press, 1998.
  4. Wolfe, Bertram D., Three Who Made a Revolution: A Biographical History of Lenin, Trotsky, and Stalin, Cooper Square Press, 2001. 
  5. Morton, Frederic,  Thunder at Twilight: Vienna 1913/1914, Da Capo Press, 2014 (2nd edition).
  6. Neiberg, Michael S., Dance of the Furies: Europe and the Outbreak of World War I, Belknap Press of Harvard University, 2011.

These Are All Available at

Originally presented in the Fall 2012 issue of The Journal of the World War One Historical Society

Monday, August 30, 2021

A Hindu WWI Recruiting Poster in Hindi (Translated)


The caption reads: 

‘Before enlistment…’ The right hand caption reads: ‘Ten days after enlistment… This person has been a recruit for ten days and with his bonus and his uniform he is going to enlist others of his locality and he is happy.’

The main body of the text reads:

‘Brothers, rush, run to enlist or you will regret it later. The Sarkar Bahadur [the honourable Government] has now raised the enlistment bonus from Rs.50/- to Rs.65/. You will get Rs.10 on enlistment, Rs.40/- when you join your regiment, and Rs.15/- on completion of training. The pay has also been increased.

In addition to the monthly wage of Rs.11/- you will get Rs.24/ every six months for the period of the war. Your monthly wage therefore is not Rs.11/- but Rs.15/-. In addition on going on active service you will get a monthly allowance of Rs.5/-. Clothes and food are free whether you are in India or have been sent to the war.

The following can enlist in the infantry: Muslims (Shaikh, Saiyyid, Mughal, Pathan), Brahmin, Rajput, Bhumihar, Ahir, Kurmi, Pasi, Lodhi and Gaderiya. In the artillery anyone can enlist from whose hands Hindus would accept a drink of water. The age should be between 18-30 years, height 5ft 2" and chest 32".

Enlist speedily in whichever unit you choose, and earn rupees and respect, or you will rue the loss of this opportunity. For further details contact us. Come on your own or with some recruiter. Come quickly. Mohammad Nazir, District Recruiting Officer, Ballia.’

The text translated by Professor Radhika Singha for the Imperial War Museum

Sunday, August 29, 2021

Who Was Benjamin Hotchkiss?


Poilus Firing a Hotchkiss Machine Gun

Benjamin Berkeley Hotchkiss (1826–1885) was born in Watertown, Connecticut, and grew up in a family involved in machinery. His father and brother, both inventors, had established a business that manufactured their patented articles. In 1856 Hotchkiss designed a rifle field gun that the Mexican government purchased. Along with his brother, Andrew, he came up with a projectile for rifled artillery. It had two sections (front and rear) made of cast iron that were joined by a band of lead, intended to fit into and take the shape of the grooves of the rifling in the gun. This created a much more accurate shell. Hotchkiss also helped his family to develop a better percussion fuse, and, as a result, more Hotchkiss shells were used for rifled cannons during the American Civil War than those any other munitions manufacturer in the country. His family was so closely associated with the Union cause that during the New York City draft riots of 1863, Hotchkiss had to ride through the streets of Manhattan concealed beneath a pile of cloth.

Benjamin Hotchkiss

Success followed Hotchkiss after the war. He traveled to Paris, where he invented an improved metallic cartridge case and made many improvements in hand-held firearms and cannons. Hotchkiss designed a revolving-barrel machine gun and created a revolving cannon that destroyed a boat during trials, having hit the ship with 70 shots out of 119 fired. While aboard a train in 1875, he met a Romanian army officer who told him of the need for a magazine repeating rifle. In a half-hour, Hotchkiss sketched a design for such a weapon, which later proved to be superior to all others at the time.

Hotchkiss was reputed to be the world's best artillery engineer. By 1882, his B.B. Hotchkiss Company had branches throughout Europe. Hotchkiss was working on a new machine gun design when he died in 1885. His company perfected his plans after his death, and brought out a gas-operated machine gun in 1897. The first gas-operated and air-cooled machine gun, the Hotchkiss  Modèle  1914 was used extensively in World War I, most notably by the French Army and the American Expeditionary Force. It was initially supplied to frontline troops in 1916 when a parliamentary committee of inquiry concluded that the Hotchkiss was more reliable than the previous principal machine gun, the St. Etienne. It had a heavy barrel with external fins to dissipate heat, and weighed 88 pounds (40 kilograms). It could fire at the rate of 450–500 rounds per minute and had a muzzle velocity of 2,325 feet per second. It was fed by strips of belts, each holding 24–30 rounds. A 250-round belt was also made.

Source: How Products Are Made Website;  Britannica

Saturday, August 28, 2021

Anzacs at Krithia: "Ours Is Just to Do and Die"

Machine Gun Position on Helles Front

Krithia was a Greek village on the tip of the Gallipoli peninsula, approximately eight kilometers north of Cape Helles, the site of the costly British landings of 25 April 1915. The village was at the foot of the dominating heights of Achi Baba peak which had been the first objective of the British troops on 25 April. 

Click on Map to Enlarge

Cape Helles Sector

Unable to break through at Anzac, Hamilton focused the MEF’s energies on the Helles sector, targeting the village of Krithia (Alҫitepe) and the hill known as Achi Baba (Alҫi Tepe). An attack by British and French forces on 28 April – the First Battle of Krithia – made little headway and cost some 3000 casualties. To offset these losses, Hamilton dispatched the 29th Indian Brigade and British 42nd Division to Helles from Egypt. Another French division arrived shortly afterwards. The Ottomans matched this build-up of forces and on 1-2 May launched a major attack on the Allied line, which only just held.

Before Second Battle of Krithia

The British 29th Division, in the First Battle of Krithia, advanced the line to within three kilometers of the village. The Australian 2nd Brigade and the New Zealand Brigade were transferred from Anzac Cove to Helles to assist the British and French in the second Battle of Krithia from 6 to 8 May.

Anzac Dead in Second Battle

British attacks on 6 May gained some ground but two further attacks next day failed to make progress. A further British attempt failed on 8 May and just before 5 pm that afternoon, the 2nd Brigade, commanded by Colonel James M’Cay, was given orders to attack at 5.30 pm when it was still light. The Australians advanced from a trench manned by Indian soldiers and 500 meters further on unexpectedly found another trench manned by British soldiers. This trench was named by the Australians as ‘The Tommies Trench’ and the Australians either jumped into it or laid down behind it. Three minutes later, M’Cay with more Australians approached and M'Cay called on the men taking shelter to continue the advance. The Australians pressed forward under heavy enemy fire before casualties compelled them to stop 400 metres from the Turkish trenches and two kilometers from Krithia. The Australians in an hour had suffered 1000 killed and wounded. On the left, the New Zealanders gained a little ground but at a heavy cost. With the Turks digging in and receiving reinforcements, the two brigades returned to Anzac Cove.

British Troops Attacking During Third Battle

A month later, another assault was made to capture Krithia and open a path to Achi Baba.  The previous failures in the first and second battles resulted in a less ambitious plan being developed for the attack, but the outcome was another costly failure for the Allies. From that point on, Helles was a lost venture.  Neither Krithia nor Achi Baba would ever fall to the Allies during the Gallipoli campaign.  For more see our related article HERE.

Sources: Australian War Memorial; NZ History

Friday, August 27, 2021

“Empires at War: Austria and Russia” Opens Today at the National WWI Museum and Memorial


Empires at War,  now open at America's National World War One in Kansas City, MO, features never-before-seen objects from the Eastern Front of the Great War.  By the close of World War I, four empires had collapsed, including both the Russian and the Austro-Hungarian Empires. Empires at War: Austria and Russia examines the conflict on the Eastern Front, an aspect of the war often less surveyed but with cataclysmic results for the millions affected.

Often viewed as the "spark" that ignited the First World War, Austrian Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife Sophie, Duchess of Hohenberg, were assassinated on 28 June 1914. As one of the very first nations to declare war, Austria accused Serbia of plotting and backing the assassination and threatened invasion. Russia roared in to support its Slav brothers, rapidly mobilizing its forces, resulting in huge losses and contributing to revolutions at home.

Russians Operating a Trench Mortar

Austrian Bowl for the Home Front

The Eastern Front was a ‘war of movement’ where the Central Powers, with over 2.5 million troops, faced a much larger, but disorganized, force of 4 million Russians. Drawing from original objects recently added to the Museum and Memorial’s collection, the exhibition features an extraordinary collection of never-before-seen Austrian and Russian material culture—uniforms, equipment, flags, hats, helmets and more.

“The subject matter of this exhibition rose out of the wealth and diversity of Austrian and Russian objects and archival materials that the Museum and Memorial has been fortunate to acquire over the last decade. Unlike many exhibitions, it is not presented chronologically but by topics.” said Doran Cart, senior curator at the National WWI Museum and Memorial. “Pivotal battles, Austrian and Russian women in the war, and the changes in the nations are illustrated, and their stories told by the participants.”

Russian Propaganda Poster (Detail)

Austro-Hungarian Radio Operators

Although the Museum and Memorial has been collecting internationally since 1920, material culture from the Eastern Front of the war has been difficult to acquire due in part to the collapse of dynasties. The commemoration of the Centennial of WWI brought opportunities to re-engage the international community and enrich the collection, shedding new light on the enduring impact of war on the Eastern Front.


Russian Army Belt Buckle

Empires at War: Austria and Russia 

Opens 27 August 2021 and is on view in Exhibit Hall through January 2023. Admission is included with the purchase of a Museum ticket.

Thursday, August 26, 2021

Berlin at War: Deprivation, War Weariness, and Revolution

1 August 1914 – Berliners Enthusiastic for War

By Arnulf Scriba
From Cities at War, 1914–1918 by the City of Brussels Museum

The rapidly increasingly number of propaganda articles appearing in the summer of 1914 created the impression that the war would end triumphantly in a relatively short time. For most Germans the appeals for national unity and radical dissociation from enemy nations served to create a common identity in troubled times. One consequence of this patriotic ardor was a veritable “Germanisation campaign”, . . In this nationally-charged atmosphere of competitive patriotism, there was no need for any intervention on the part of the authorities to mobilize the people of Berlin mentally for the war in August 1914. In a swelling flood of patriotic books and pamphlets, poems and songs varying greatly in quality, most authors invoked national unity. Given the victorious advance into Belgium and particularly following the defeat of two Russian armies which had invaded East Prussia, victory euphoria even spread to working-class areas such as Wedding and Prenzlauer Berg, where now many black-white-red German flags were flown: “detectives, who for service reasons have much to do in working-class circles, can hardly believe that these are the same people who only shortly before cheered the Internationale in protest demonstrations and now are brimming over with patriotism”

[After the battle of the Marne, however, things began to shift.] In accordance with tradition, the list of fallen soldiers was still displayed for public view in the capital in the first weeks of the war. As these lists of losses took on ever greater dimensions, however, their display was forbidden in autumn 1914. The Chief of the Berlin Police remarked on 12 December 1914 in his report: “The number of women dressed in black is increasing noticeably and strikes a bleak note to the Christmas spirit.” To deal with the death of a family member, the Church, the traditional place for coping with bereavement, gained in importance: from the end of 1914 there was a clear drop in the number of those leaving the Church and an increase in those joining again and attending services.

Berliners Checking Casualty Lists, 1914

In February 1915 Berlin was the first city in Germany to issue bread ration cards. The ration set by the municipal authorities of the capital amounted initially to two kilos of bread weekly or 225 grams of flour daily per head, the flour ration being cut soon to 200 grams. Before the war the average per capita consumption of the population had been 380 grams. To the end of 1915 most foodstuffs in the city were strictly rationed. Despite this, the amounts to be purchased in accordance with the food ration cards did not suffice to satisfy calorie needs, as often foodstuffs which were quite simply not available were often indicated. The food ration cards therefore offered no guarantee that one would get the indicated amounts of bread, meat, potatoes or milk but merely indicated that under no circumstances could one get more. 

With the introduction of food ration cards began the time of the “Polonaises”—as Berliners called the growing queues in front of shops and market halls. As these queues were visible daily to everyone, the authorities made no attempt to prohibit public reports about the women who, from midnight, started queuing in order to be able to get some edible product the following morning. While waiting, they sat on the ground, on straw mattresses or little stools. “The others stand there apathetically, some asleep while standing, and the moonlight makes the colorless faces look even more wan. Constables appear and walk up and down morosely. Dawn breaks. New droves draw near. (…) At last selling begins. And the result: a miserable half, or if one is very lucky, whole pound each of meat, lard or butter for half the purchasers, while the other half have to go away empty-handed.

The medical doctor Alfred Grotejahn made this entry in his diary on 17 March 1916 on the consequences of undernourishment: “Every week the people of Berlin look more like Mongolians. Their cheekbones stick out and with the loss of fat their skin has become wrinkled."  Hunger and want took on even more dramatic proportions in the so-called swede-turnip winter of 1916–1917 when, because of a bad harvest, even potatoes, the staple food of the people, could no longer be had and had to be replaced by turnips. . . 

In Berlin and other German cities, as the result of the ongoing food crisis and a food distribution system seen as unjust, there were increasingly protests and disturbances against shortages and profiteering, which had to be ended by police intervention. People who saw how the better off were able to satisfy their needs fully on the black market jumped to the conclusion that there was enough food there for everyone, if only it were distributed more equitably. This led to a huge loss of credibility for the State and above all to frustration and socially-based hatred for those Berliners who, because of their privileged position or owing to illicit trade or dubious dealings, could continue to have all they wanted. The worker Hermann Lorenz wrote to his son at the front, full of loathing for the well off who “live well” and so remain “fat and portly: “I would just love there to be a revolution and then all those found with fine foods would be locked up and made to starve slowly. I would like to be the jailer. They would have to see what it is like when you have to go hungry and the others have tasty portions of roast goose and bottles of wine to wash it down

Berliners Queuing for Food, 1916

. . . From 1916 war weariness in Berlin grew noticeably. The willingness of the people to accept hunger and deprivation declined rapidly in the absence of military victories. There were intellectuals such as the suffragette Hedwig Dohm, the sculptor Käthe Kollwitz or the graphic artist Heinrich Zille who expressed their horror of war ever more insistently. Zille was one of the best known Berlin genre artists in the Kaiser’s Germany. On 20 July 1916 he published the antiwar sheet Das eiserne Kreuz (The Iron Cross) in the art periodical Der Bildermann which was open to public subscription: turned in on herself and clearly helpless, the mother is sitting on the bed while her little son curiously examines the “Iron Cross” lying on the table. The father who has died at the front has indeed been awarded a medal for valor but the five-member family is faced with poverty and an uncertain future. . .

Also in 1916 the largely united front of the Social Democrats which had existed at the beginning of the war began to disintegrate. The internal differences between party leadership and the pacifist left-wing of the Social Democratic Party of Germany (SPD) finally ended with the expulsion from the party of delegates who thereupon, in April 1917, founded the Independent Social Democratic Party of German. With their demands for immediate peace negotiations the Independent Social Democrats drew a lot of war-weary workers to their side, many of whom in 1917 sympathized with the revolutionaries in Russia. 

In January 1918, industrial workers affiliated to the USPD—among them workers in the most important companies of Berlin: AEG, Siemens & Halske, Borsig—organized the biggest in war-time strike so far for a quick end to the war and a better food supply. Spreading from Berlin, where at the end of January 1918 over 400,000 demonstrators took to the streets, the political mass strike affected major cities all over Germany. After a tighter state of emergency had been declared in Berlin and the violent dispersing of demonstrations had led to deaths and injuries, the strike was called off on 3rd February, 1918. It had given unmistakable expression to the war-weariness of wide sections of the population—and barely three quarters of a year later the entire revolutionary potential of Berlin unfolded.

Public Food Kitchen, Berlin 1916/17

With the acknowledgement of the defeat of Germany in autumn 1918, need and deprivation strengthened democratic and socialist ambitions in the German Reich. The mutinies of war-weary soldiers in North Germany burgeoned into a revolution. When they reached Berlin, the Chancellor Max von Baden unilaterally declared the abdication of Kaiser Wilhelm II on 9th November. In the morning there were already massive demonstrations in the center of the capital. Hundreds of thousands of people made known their desire for peace and for a comprehensive remodeling of political relationships. At midday from a window of the Reichstag, Social Democrat Phillip Scheidemann proclaimed the establishment of the Republic. Many of the people of Berlin associated an improvement in the food supply situation and in their personal living conditions with the new political order.

Others, on the contrary, could have no understanding of the rising disaffection with the monarchy or the revolutionary disturbances of autumn 1918—such for example as the nearly 16-year-old Fridel Schuttkowski. From October 1917 this daughter of a high-ranking official had consigned her aspirations and problems to a diary. The war and its consequences play no part in her chronicles, however: neither her father nor her brother was at the front nor had the Schuttkowski household suffered any shortage of food or other significant deprivations. Her first political diary entry, marked by anxiety about the future, comes from 12th November, 1918: “Here in Berlin the Revolution awful! The poor Kaiser fled! (…) Red ribbons everywhere. How low! I could spit in their faces.” The “experience” of the war for Fridel Schuttkowski, as for everyone else, depended on her own social situation and daily family life. 

Different in this from the country and most German cities, the “War in Berlin” was marked by the simultaneous presence of extreme opposites, and these were also to continue after 1918. For Germany the war came formally to an end with the signing of the Treaty of Versailles. When the terms of the Treaty became known, they caused utter outrage in Berlin: “Today is the blackest day of the war, the peace conditions of Versailles! All desire to live is gone, our heart fails. The “vae victis” in the cruelest, most brutal form, proclaimed by the victorious enemies. It still seems inconceivable that such a peace could become reality”, remarked the Berlin manufacturer Oskar Münsterberg on 8 May 1919 . His diary entry is representative of the feelings of many Germans of the time. For others the new political beginning meant hope in the struggle to overcome nationalism and overthrow established social norms.

Revolutionary Speaker in Berlin, November 1919

While already from the early 1920s Berlin was often a synonym in Germany for new aspirations and cultural experimentation, cosmopolitanism and dissipation, the radical right considered the struggle against the politics and culture of the Weimar Republic as a question of national honour. And during the 1920s this struggle was fought out in a bloody way on the streets of the capital in particular.

Wednesday, August 25, 2021

America's Post-World War I Labor Tensions

By Steven Mintz

The years following the end of World War I were a period of deep social tensions, aggrevated by high wartime inflation. Food prices more than doubled between 1915 and 1920; clothing costs more than tripled. A steel strike that began in Chicago in 1919 became much more than a simple dispute between labor and management. The Steel Strike of 1919 became the focal point for profound social anxieties, especially fears of Bolshevism.

Gary, Indiana, Steel Strike, 1919

Organized labor had grown in strength during the course of the war. Many unions won recognition and the 12-hour workday was abolished. An 8-hour days was instituted on war contract work and by 1919, half the country's workers had a 48-hour work week.

The war's end, however, was accompanied by labor turmoil, as labor demanded union recognition, shorter hours, and raises exceeding the inflation rate. Over 4 million workers—one fifth of the nation's workforce—in strikes in 1919, including 365,000 steelworkers and 400,000 miners. The number of striking workers would not be matched until the Depression year of 1937.

The year began with a general strike in Seattle. Police officers in Boston went on strike, touching off several days of rioting and crime. But the most tumultuous strike took place in the steel industry. Then some 350,000 steelworkers in 24 separate craft union went on strike as part of a drive by the American Federation of Labor to unionize the industry. From management's perspective, the steel strike represented the handiwork of radicals and professional labor agitators. The steel industry's leaders regarded the strike as a radical conspiracy to get the company to pay a 12-hour wage for eight hours' work. At a time when Communists were seizing power in Hungary and were staging a revolt in Germany, and workers in Italy were seizing factories, some industrialists feared that the steel strike was the first step toward overturning the industrial system.

Police Strike in Boston

The strike ended with the complete defeat of the unions. From labor's perspective, the corporations had triumphed through espionage, blacklists, and the denial of freedom of speech and assembly and through the complete unwillingness to recognize the right of collective bargaining with the workers' representatives.

During the 1920s, many of labor's gains during World War I and the Progressive era were rolled back. Membership in labor unions fell from 5 million to 3 million. The U.S. Supreme Court outlawed picketing, overturned national child labor laws, and abolished minimum wage laws for women.

Source:  Gilder-Lehrman Institute of American History

Tuesday, August 24, 2021

Three Armies on the Somme: The First Battle of the Twentieth Century

By William Philpott
Vintage, 2011
Leonard Shurtleff, Reviewer

British Artillery Piece Moving into Position,
Somme Battlefield

William Philpott is Professor of the History of Warfare in the Department of War Studies at King’s College, London. He is a specialist in the operations on the Western Front and has published extensively on the subject. He has given us an elegant, sophisticated, and intellectually rigorous analysis of a turning-point campaign of the Great War. Much has been written about the Somme, including detailed studies of individual actions making up the five-month-long struggle.

Most of these emphasize the suffering and futility of the affair, the ineptitude and bull-headedness of British commanders, most particularly Sir Douglas Haig. Philpott, on the other hand, sees the Somme as a victory establishing British and French material and tactical superiority over the previously dominant German Army. He describes in detail not only the battles themselves but also the meticulous planning and preparation (not to mention the inter-Allied squabbling) that went into them

He also offers insight into the strengths and weaknesses of the opposing commanders and analysis of evolving British and French battle tactics, emphasizing the flexible role of platoons of riflemen, grenadiers, and automatic riflemen. As historian Richard Holmes in his review of this book put it, "Something in me shrinks from using the phrase ‘learning curve’, as if the rolling downland was graph paper and the all-too-numerous crosses simple measures of combat effectiveness. But it is nonetheless true to say that the growth of British tactical skill and the degradation of German fighting power were two of the Somme’s many interlocking themes."  

The attrition suffered by the German Army on the Somme obliged its high command to withdraw in the spring of 1917 from the Noyon salient and hunker behind the Siegfried Stellung (Hindenburg Line), shortening their line by some 40 km and freeing 14 divisions for strategic reserve. Bottom line: while the Anglo-British effort on the Somme did not achieve breakthrough, it did lay the groundwork for victory in 1918.

Note: Three Armies on the Somme was originally published in Britain as Bloody Victory: The Sacrifice on the Somme and the Making of the Twentieth Century. Under that title it was awarded the Tomlinson Prize for best World War On book published in 2011.

Monday, August 23, 2021

Remembering a Veteran: Sgt. Sepp Innerkofler, Tyrolean Standschützen


Sepp Innerkofler

By Richard Galli

The people of the valley heard the shooting and prayed for the soldiers fighting up there, without making any distinction between Italian and Austrian.
The History of Val Vanoi

On the 4th of July 1915, an Austrian soldier died on a remote mountaintop in the Dolomites. In the history of the Alpine front, where Italy and Austria battled for three terrible years, two men stand as symbols of each nation's passion and pathos: Caesare Battisti, patriot of Italy and the Trentino who was executed by the Austrians, and Sepp Innerkofler, the Tyrolean mountaineer who died defending his homeland on that July Day. Innerkofler, father and noted mountain guide, had taken up arms to fight what he perceived as interlopers and enemies, his Italian neighbors who had once waved at him from nearby peaks or shared a smoke in the climbing hutte on summer evenings.

Monte Paterno [Left], Drei Zinnen [Right]—Note Destroyed Dreizinnenhutte (Mountain Hut) on Far Right

Sepp's world centered on the Drei Zinnen [or Tre Cime di Lavaredo] peaks of the eastern or Sextener Dolomites. The three summits are amongst the most recognizable and spectacular sights and climbs to be found in the Alps. The Innerkofler family had farmed the area for generations before Sepp was born there on the 28 October 1865, the fourth son of Christian Innerkofler, a yeoman farmer and stonecutter.

Innerkofler's two life pursuits would result from his uncles' influence. Hans, nicknamed Der Gamsmannchen or the Chamois Man, introduced Sepp to hunting. As a lad, Sepp learned to supplement the family table with small game such as mountain grouse; under Hans's tutelage his quarry eventually became the ibex and chamois, the ultimate game on mountain and cliff. Several of his family had also been mountaineering guides, including his other uncle Michel. Known as the Dolomitenkonig [King of the Dolomites], Michel's exploits were legendary. Tragically, he was killed climbing Monte Cristallo in 1888, when a glacier's snow bridge collapsed. Innerkofler would gain renown by expanding on Michel's early instructions, putting up over 50 first ascents in many of the area's classic climbing areas, as well as climbing in the Dachstein Range to the north and on the mighty Matterhorn/Cervino in Zermatt, Switzerland. Sepp's prowess in the combined skills soon became second to none.

By the end of the 19th century, as the European middle class grew in size and adventurous spirit, mountaineering was becoming a popular summer pastime and athletic pursuit. Guides were needed for bourgeoisie climbers, to give advanced lessons and for path finding up the soaring cliffs. Sepp Innerkofler found his calling in this trade and excelled at it. In 1890 Sepp was certified as a mountain guide, no small event in Sexten. He earned 200 florins his first summer guiding; the following seasons brought double that amount.. Most climbing in the Alps, or any peaks a century ago, was on glaciers, with the occasional rock obstacle. A guide cut steps into the ice and kept a course for the summit. There is less ice in the Eastern Alps, but an abundance of vertical rock. New techniques and equipment had to be developed for the extended rock crack, chimney, overhang and knife-edge ridge. Sepp himself was a pioneer of vertical rock climbing for which the Dolomites are now renowned.

1890—Sepp [Center, Standing] Is Certified with
Four Others as Professional Mountain Guides
 by the Austrian Government

After five years of guiding, Sepp married the love of his life, Maria Stadler, in the off season, 8 January 1895. Their marriage was blessed with five children—Gottfried [b.1896], Josef [b.1898], Franz [b.1900], Maria [b.1902], and Adelheid [b.1904]. Sepp ensured security and comfort for his wife and children by working at the local saw mill in the winter and by investing. Sepp and Maria managed the climbers' refuge at Monte Elmo for several seasons. In 1898, they opened their own Dreizinnenhutte, a stone chalet comfortable enough for middle-class tourists from Vienna or Venice and rugged enough to withstand mountain wind, snow, and cold. Clients could relax at dinner, basking in Tyrolian hospitality and the glorious sight of peaks that only hours earlier they had stood atop. In 1903 the Innerkoflers' income increased when they opened the Hotel Dolomiten in Val Fiscalina. For love of family and mountains, the poor son of a peasant stonecutter and farmer had become one of Europe's eminent climbing guides and a man of property.

Sepp Innerkofler was also a member of the Third Company of the Austrian Standschützen, the alpine militia based in Sexten. With their symbolic edelweiss badge and spielhahnstoss [black mountain grouse feather] in their caps, the Standschützen were government subsidized rifle clubs made up of those too young [14 to 20 years old] or too old [40 to 70] for active duty. Defense of their alpine province was the sole mission of these reservists. A similar group, the Landesschützen, were reservists of military age [21 to 41] but liable to service outside the region. Both groups, at least in the Tyrol, were expert riflemen, considering the necessity of hunting combined with a regional pride in shooting. [Imagine men from Siberia, Afghanistan, or Montana.] Indeed, out of necessity, mountain people across Europe have been allowed a much greater liberty with firearms due to their remoteness and fierceness. Rather than costly police actions, most rulers found it easier to allow shooting clubs and patriotic militias to pacify their own mountain areas.

The Standschutzen, were made up of men who had spent their lives in the mountains: climbing guides and porters, herders and foresters, some even possessing the unique skills of poachers and smugglers. Sepp Innerkofler, with his obvious talents and strong personality, was elected Zugsfuhrer [section or platoon sergeant] of a "flying patrol" of 12 of the best on high rock. His region was also manned by the elite Kaiserjager alpine troops, the "Imperials" of the regular Austro-Hungarian Army, as well as a regiment of the German Army Alpenkorps. When the war began in 1914, Austria's military situation on the Eastern Front soon became critical. All regular army and most Landesschutzen units were sent to face the Russians. The Tyrolean Dolomites were left in the hands of the teenagers and old men of the Standschützen.

Spring 1915 saw the Italian Army invading the Tyrol, which they claimed as theirs. Alpini units, mountain troops par excellence, professional and elite, recruited from their alpine peoples and climbers, raced Standschützen patrols to occupy the highest points along the front after the opening shots of 24/25 May. Italy hoped to catch Austria, with most of their forces in Russia, off guard.

A week later Sepp Innerkofler would see his first action, occupying the summit of the icy Cima Undici/Elferkofel [3092 m.] and repelling an observation party of Italian climbers only moments behind them. He would participate in 17 patrols and firefights between the end of May and the 4 July in 1915 and was awarded the Silver Medal of Valor [second class] for his leadership and bravery. The Standschützen had two advantages, despite being outgunned and outnumbered. For the most part, they controlled the high ground and were often fighting around the same valley where they lived. The front line went directly through Sepp's beloved Drei Zinnen refuge, which was totally destroyed by Italian artillery fire the first days of the war. No doubt Sepp had carefully observed Italian positions from the ruined shell of the house that Maria and he had built. What thoughts went through his head? Even in battle Innerkofler was known for being calm, not vindictive or hateful. Nor was his patriotism rabid. But these were his people's mountains. By the end of May, Monte Paterno/Paternkofel [2746 m.] and nearby Tre Cime de Laveredo/Drei Zinnen [2999m.] had become Italian strongholds, with their cannon and machine guns creating a deadly crossfire.

Sepp Innerkofler [Center] and His Flying Patrol

On the 18 June 1915 Innerkofler earned a second Silver Medal [1st class] for retaining his lofty observation post on Cima Uno/Einserkofel [2699 m.] after "a violent duel with the Alpini." His son Gottfried fought by his side on the summit from which they could observe Sexten and the family home. The following morning Sepp reported an estimated 450 Alpini and their artillery reoccupying the strategic summit of Cima Undici that overlooked Passo Monte Croce Comelico [1636 m.] and the road to Sexten, Brunico, and the Brenner Pass.

During an interlude, men from both sides silently observed Innerkofler stalking a solitary chamois buck. The foreboding and emotions felt by the both the Alpini and Austrians watching can only be imagined as Sepp's rifle brought the animal down in a dramatic scene of death in the high mountains. It was, however, to be his final hunt.

In the Tre Cime area, any successful Austrian defense or attack would require the Alpini outpost atop Monte Paterno to be eliminated. Only one man in the Emperor's army was capable of such an undertaking, in regards to climbing skill and knowledge of the spire itself. Sepp Innerkofler was assigned to lead the best five men of his flying patrol against the lofty stronghold. An entire platoon of Austrians followed prepared to hold the vital observation post once it was secured. Nearby mountain howitzer batteries were prepared to give suppressive fire, as was every Austrian machinegun position in the saddle between summits. As with Innerkofler's chamois hunt, the battle would be witnessed by thousands.

Alpini Squad That Occupied Monte Paterno in 1915

The following are eyewitness accounts of what must be one of the most dramatic duels of the Great War. The first is by Antonio Berti, an Alpini medical officer from the Pieve di Cadore battalion from his book Guerra in Ampezzo e Cadore, written in 1967.

There are six, all volunteers, of which three are over fifty years of age, renowned guides in the Val di Sesto- Sepp Innerkofler, Hans Forcher, Andreas Piller. [With them as well are the other younger men in their famous squad- von Rapp, Taibon and Rogger]. They have received the order to climb the Paterno and occupy its top. Armed with carbines and hand grenades, they leave barracks near the Drezinnenhutte, devastated by fire. With them is a platoon consisting of thirty Landesschutzen and a few military engineers commanded by Christl, Sepp's brother. They set out on a gravel path descending from the Sella del Camoscio, and proceed slowly and stealthily, being careful not to displace any stone that might arouse the enemy's suspicion. Christl and his platoon stop at the top of the path, waiting for events to start happening. The six put on their climbing shoes and start up the wall of the Paterno.

With complete assurance they climb under cover of darkness; the way is known as the NNW passage, the same one Sepp was the first man to ascend in 1896, and has climbed countless times since. One hour later the six reach the top [crest] in the dim light of dawn. From Monte Rudo the Austrians start to shoot at once. Then twice again the roar and hiss of the cannons are heard from a lower altitude; a fourth roar brings down a hail of shattered rocks- then a silence. The six men keep on climbing in single file along the edge of the peak. From Forcella di Pian di Cengia, the Alpini can clearly see them silhouetted against the red sky. That is the awaited signal, and while the six climb toward the west [with the sun to their backs], the Italians open fire from [Tre Cime di] Lavaredo. Immediately the Austrians respond, bringing their own machineguns into action. Over the roar one can hear the Austrian cannons on Monte Rudo and a mortar from Sasso di Sesto. A 105 howitzer shoots without letup, toward the Forcella di Pian di Cenega, from the [Austrian] Torre dei Scarperi. The six continue climbing, cautiously, in short sprints, hiding in every hollow. An artillery fragment hits Sepp in the forehead. Blood streaks down his face and covers his eyes; yet he continues to climb. A rock splinter hits Forcher is also on the forehead; he bleeds, but continues to climb. They have almost reached the top. Suddenly, as if by a pre-arranged signal, an eerie quiet succeeds the thunder. A silence of death spreads through the valley, over the mountaintops, on all sides of the trenches. At this precise moment, slowly and clearly visible, one man alone begins to ascend. Ten steps below the top Innerkofler crosses himself and with a wide arc hurls a grenade over the wall of the summit outpost. He then throws a second and a third. Suddenly, an Alpini soldier appears, his face bleeding from the effects of the first grenade. Shouting "So! You won't go away?" [meaning, "I am going to get you."] Standing above the wall, he holds a rock high over his head. He throws it, and Sepp is fatally hit. Raising his arms toward the sky, he falls backward and plummets [50 meters] into a narrow mountain chimney, dead. The Alpini who hurled the rock is Pietro de Luca, an engineer of the Pieve di Cadore Battalion.

Sepp's Original Grave

A second, lesser known memoir of the battle gives an account quite different from Berti's. Speaking is Pietro de Luca himself to a Captain Neri in the book Inediti di Guerra Alpina, 1915-1918 [Edited by Marino and Francesca Michieli in 1996]. De Luca was part of a group of six alpini of the Val Piave Battalion led by Corporal Da Rin posted the Monte Paterno. This is his reconstruction of what happened:

Once in a while I had to look up from below, as I was ordered to do. [De Luca was on sentry duty below the summit ridge.] There was not a living soul! But it was hard to say as it was dark as hell. I had just looked around and then headed behind the cover of a rock, as ordered by Da Rin, since dawn was approaching. It was then that I saw a shadow. Could it be the devil? I said to myself, "Devil my eye!" There was a man all right! The shadow had its back to me and moved as if it was pulling a bucket from a well. I understood afterwards that it was trying to help others climb.

Blessed Virgin Mary! That can only be the enemy, I said to myself and I jumped him. Hell, he was strong like a demon, so much so I was not sure that I could take him! I managed to throw him off and as he came at me again I picked up a rock and crushed his face, sending him straight over the cliff faster than I could say amen. [This entire struggle took place on a ledge or 'shelf' twenty feet long and one or two feet wide, with sheer cliffs above and below.] I forced myself to look down, so I could check where he fell and…damn, what did I see! Just below me there were about thirty of those "mamaluchi" [Mamelukes- an Italian pejorative] climbing like ants. "Da Rin! Da Rin"! I started to yell out. But I could not waste time waiting for Da Rin; so I started to push rock after rock down. It was a pleasure to see them roll down and hear them curse words I could not understand one damn bit…

The Italian squad atop Paterno was quick to respond with a shower of grenades and rifle fire. A call for artillery and mortar fire soon arrived. The Austrians fled. Later that day, under continued rifle and machinegun fire, Innerkofler's body would be found and examined by an Alpini medic, Angelo Loschi. The men atop Monte Paterno reverently buried Sepp on a wide part of the summit ridge on his beloved Paternkofel, beneath a simple cross inscribed "Sepp Innerkofler, guida." When news of this battle reached the Austrian high command Innerkofler was posthumously awarded the Gold Medal for bravery. Of the eight million subjects who served, only 3,700 were awarded this highest of honors.

Sepp Innerkofler Memorial at Monte Paterno

Battles continued to rage on summit and plateau each short summer, yet their intensity diminished as units from both sides were siphoned off to Russia or the Isonzo River Front. On the morning of November 1st 1917, the Austrian forces realized the Italians had abandoned their positions in a front wide retreat after the Battle of Caporetto. The Italians had lost a quarter of a million men there, and were now incapable of holding a vast high altitude front. The area around Monte Paterno and the Tre Cime returned to nature's silence.

In August of 1918 a small expedition was sent to exhume Sepp Innerkofler's remains. This climb in itself was no minor feat. He was returned to his family in Sexten, and buried in the community cemetery along side parents, uncles and eventually 54 other men from Sexten who died in the war. One million Austrian and Italian men would die on the alpine front in avalanche, lightning strike or blizzard or from poison gas, artillery and machinegun. Sepp's sons Gottfried and Josef had enlisted, fought, and survived this enormous war. Josef would live until 1993, and the great age of 97 years. Sepp's memory lives on in his many grandchildren and their thriving families, the rebuilt Drei Zinnen Hutte and the eternal Dolomites. Mutual understanding increases in this bicultural area with each generation—a type of tolerance quite different from events only 100 miles to the east in the former Yugoslavia, where mountain warfare has not ceased. The memory of Sepp Innerkofler is now honored all its citizens.

The Dreizinnehutte Today, Part of Sepp Innerkofler's Heritage

Sources and Thanks: I would like to send my deepest appreciation and thanks to the Innerkofler family of Sexten for all the information and depth regarding their ancestors and area. I would also like to thank my friend Salvatore Vasta, editor of Coorte military history magazine, for his assistance in translating the Fruilian dialect. Postcards and photos are from the authors personal collections and the outstanding three volume history by Hans Von Leichem, Gebirgskrieg 1915–1918. (This article was originally presented on La Grande Guerra: The Italian Front, 1915–1918.)

Sunday, August 22, 2021

Before Bond, Daniel Craig Played a Great Sergeant


Not to be confused with the silly reality TV production with the same title, The Trench, with a just-on-the-verge-of-stardom Daniel Craig in the lead, captures the claustrophobic feeling, tediousness, and random danger of trench warfare better than any film I've seen. The 1999 movie, set in the days just preceding the Battle of the Somme, was written and directed by WWI author William Boyd operating on a low budget. Maybe because of this, except for the concluding and somewhat predictable over the top sequence, the entire story is set in the frontline trenches and dugouts. Yet the dramatic result is most effective. 

By the end of the 98-minute production, the viewer is left with a sense of having spent a long stretch in a linear, open-air prison. The personalities of the soldiers are well explored, but at the center of everything is Sgt. Telford Winter (Craig). One of the things I especially liked about The Trench is the depiction of how it's the sergeants who actually run things at the cutting edge of any combat operation. Winter, burdened with a weak and erratic lieutenant (nicely portrayed by Julian Rhind-Tutt), carries a bigger load than most NCOs. The film is available on Netflix and for purchase on Amazon.

Saturday, August 21, 2021

Nice Little Village Ya Got There, Passchendaele

Click on Images to Expand  

It Would Be Too Bad If a War Came Your Way Someday.

Passchendaele Rebuilt—Similar to Prewar

1916 RFC Aerial Photo – Village Undamaged
(Red Dot Shows Same Location)

November 1917 RFC Aerial Photo—Utter Obliteration

2021 Google Maps Photo

Friday, August 20, 2021

The RFC's First Aerial Reconnaissance Mission: 19 August 1914

Before the First World War the potential of aircraft for military purposes was not appreciated by the majority, but a few borrowed aeroplanes were used in the Army manoeuvres of 1910. These manoeuvres saw what is widely accepted as the first British military aeroplane reconnaissance flight. Despite criticism, the aeroplane was used for reconnaissance in the Army manoeuvres of 1912 and during the First World War, where it was to have every opportunity of proving its worth.

The first wartime aerial reconnaissance mission occurred shortly after the outbreak of the First World War, when two pilots of the Royal Flying Corps, Gilbert William Mapplebeck of 4 Squadron and Phillipe Joubert de la Ferte of 3 Squadron set out for a region of Belgium just south of Brussels on the 19th August. Both pilots made a record of this historic event in their diaries. Mapplebeck is clearly very enthusiastic about his task and records it in detail.

MapplebeckThe night before last after dinner the Major told me I was to make a reconnaissance the next morning at about 9 o’clock. He told me that I was to reconnoitre Gembloux and to look out for large bodies of cavalry. Another machine was also going out probably a Bleriot of Number 3 Squadron to reconnoitre Braine l’Alleud and look out for the signs of the Belgian cavalry. I was tremendously pleased at this as it meant that I was making the first reconnaissance of the war, and am most grateful to the Major for selecting me. At 8 o’clock on the morning of the 19th August, I and my machine were both ready. At 8.15 Joubert (who was going in the Bleriot) and I were sent for by General Henderson, who told us each our particular jobs. Joubert was to go straight to Braine l’Alleud via Nivelles; I was to go to Gembloux near Namur. He was to be over friendly territory and look out for Belgians and I was to look out for advanced German cavalry. My special orders were to keep up with the Bleriot as far as Nivelles then both were to go off to our own districts.

Joubert’s diary entry is shorter and notes one of the major problems with aerial reconnaissance at the beginning of the First World War.

JoubertFirst reconnaissance, with Mapplebeck. Lost myself most thoroughly. Landed at Tournai, where I had lunch with the governor and again at Courtrai, where I was taken for a German, until rescued by the Irish inhabitants. Finally achieved my task and returned after six and a quarter hours flying.

A BE-2 of the Type Flown by Mapplebeck

Mapplebeck also records his report of this reconnaissance in his diary.

MapplebeckLeft Maubeuge 9.30am. Using large scale map, followed Bleriot. I did not pick up my position on the map, so depended on Bleriot’s pilot for correct route, intending to branch off on arriving at Nivelles. Missed Nivelles, arrived at a large town (I was at 3000 feet and in clouds) but could not place it on map. (On my return I discovered this to have been Brussels.) I flew to the other side of the town, turned round and steered South-South-East. I then took out the small scale map and picked up my position at Ottignies and soon found Gembloux after being in cloud. I made a wide circle round it, being in cloud part of the time, but only saw a small body of cavalry about a mile in length, moving faster than a walk in a
south easterly direction. At this time I was at 3400 feet and was just turning a little further south when I was enveloped in clouds. I flew on for about 300 feet out of the clouds and saw Namur. I then turned west and passed Charleroi and altered my course a little south. I missed Maubeuge, flew on for about 15 miles after realizing that I had missed it and landed at Wassigny at 11.30 am, and flew back, landing at Maubeuge at 12.00

This report of the first reconnaissance mission demonstrates that pilots had difficulty with navigation and only looked for specific pieces of information. The mission lacked something which would enable aircrew to record everything visible below them. There was no camera. The aircrew made sketches and annotated maps of the area with what they saw on the ground below. A difficult feat when flying at approximately seventy miles per hour in an open cockpit. 

Mapplebeck (Left); Joubert de la Ferté in WWII

Captain Mapplebeck proceeded to have a very adventurous war. He was wounded during an aerial encounter, but after nine surgeries, returned to action three months later. He was later shot down behind enemy lines near Lille, escaped capture, and made it home to England through the Netherlands.  Then, his luck ran out when he crashed and died on a training flight in August 1915. On the other hand, Philip Bennet Joubert de la Ferté, KCB, CMG, DSO (21 May 1887–21 January 1965) was a senior commander in the Royal Air Force during the 1930s and the Second World War.

Source: Royal Air Force Museum