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

Saturday, December 31, 2022

1914-1918: The War Against Champagne

An Anti-German, Pro-Champagne Cartoon from the War

The 1914–18 war again turned Champagne into a battlefield, and again many of its people suffered physical and financial hardship. The war threatened the continued existence of champagne by endangering not only its sources but also its markets.

On 3 September 1914, one month after the beginning of hostilities, the German army entered Reims. On the 4 September it was in Epernay, moving toward Paris.

The mayor of Epernay was Maurice Pol-Roger. With great determination, like Jean-Rémy Moët during the wars of the Empire, he took the destiny of his fellow citizens in hand, when most of the other officials, including the police, had abandoned them and withdrawn in the face of the enemy. He unhesitatingly acted as a mint, committing his own fortune on bills on which were written: Ville d’Épernay - Un Franc - 5 septembre 1914 - Le maire Maurice Pol-Roger. He was rewarded with the gratitude of the inhabitants of Epernay, and by being made a chevalier and then officier of the Légion d’honneur, and also with a wound that he received in a duel with the Préfet of the Marne, whom he had reproached for having abandoned his post.

During the night of 4 September, from his headquarters in Bar-sur-Aube, General Joffre, the commander in chief of the French army, gave his famous order "The hour has come to advance whatever the cost and to die where we stand rather than retreat." The victorious counter-offensive of the battle of the Marne saved Epernay on 11 September and Reims on the 13th. It was then that the war in the trenches began, of which the appalling monotony was interrupted, in Champagne, by two costly French offensives, the first in September 1915, to the east of Reims, and the second in the spring of 1917, which attacked the dominant positions of the Chemin des Dames and the Monts de Champagne.

On 27 May 1918, it was the Germans who took the offensive. Ludendorf failed to the east of Reims before the high ground of the Tahure, but to the west his armies crossed the Marne, from Dormans to Château-Thierry, before finally being pushed back in July, during the second battle of the Marne, by the French, British, Canadian, New Zealand, American, and Italian troops, under the command of Foch, the generalissimo of the Allied forces. The Reims area was evacuated by the Germans at the end of September and Champagne was liberated at the beginning of October—liberated but ravaged.

During the three-and-a-half years of trench warfare, the German lines had camped 1,500 metres north-east of Reims, which was subjected to 1051 days of bombing. The cathedral was hit almost immediately on 19 September 1914 and then terribly damaged on several more occasions. At the end of the war the city was 90 percent destroyed, and during the winter of 1918–1919, weakened by almost four years of shelling, the vault of the Saint-Rémi Basilica collapsed in the middle of the night.

The Devastated Cathedral District of Reims

What happened during this sad period to the vines and champagne production? The vines in the region of Reims were in the war zone. Criss-crossed with German and French trenches and riddled with craters from shells, cultivation had either stopped when the war began or been continued in the worst possible conditions. cultivation carried on in Champagne’s other wine producing areas despite innumerable difficulties. Since all the men were in the army, the population was made up of women, children, invalids, and the elderly; all displayed splendid courage in the face of adversity. There was not enough fertilizer or anti-parasite products, the horses had been requisitioned, the harvest houses were occupied by the troops, and artillery and aeroplane fire made the vines a dangerous place to work, but in spite of all that, and very admirably, production was maintained. The quality was even very good, and 1914 was one of the best vintages of the twentieth century; 1915 and 1917 were also excellent years.

While most of the wines of 1914 were remarkable, this was not true of all of them because the harvests took place just after the Victory of the Marne, and some grapes were picked prematurely in the fear that the Germans would renew their offensive. These produced wines with such exaggerated acidity that when they were young they were not very pleasant to drink, but the acidity helped them to keep, so well, that sixty years later they were drunk with great pleasure in the rare large houses who had by chance saved them. Other grapes were, on the other hand, picked very late, as was the case in Reims for the Clos Pommery harvest, which was brought in under a hail of bombs  on 20 October 1914.

The precarious situation in the vineyards became more difficult than ever in the spring of 1918 when the German offensive necessitated the evacuation of some areas, and fighting was taking place in the middle of the vineyards in the Ardre and Marne Valleys downstream from Dormans; while the vintners could generally get grapes, their means of production were dramatically reduced.

In Reims most of the buildings used for champagne production were very quickly demolished, but when the above ground installations were not completely destroyed, production continued, and the process by which the wines were made sparkling sometimes took place very close to the German lines. Work was carried out in the cellars which, providing shelter from bombs and shells, were a blessing for the merchants and the inhabitants of Reims. The city’s administrative services were set up underground, as were schools and hospitals. The cellars were used to accommodate the population and also provided quarters for soldiers.

A subterranean way of life gradually developed that included work, rest, and play, and which attracted much attention in the press. Concerts were given and there was even an opera performed in the Roederer cellars. The couturier Paul Poiret recounts in his book, En habillant l’Epoque (Dressing the Epoque) that whilst "on a mission to Reims there was an air raid, I rushed into a hole," he wrote, "which led to a tunnel, which led to a corridor, and finally to some vaults that were part of the Veuve Clicquot cellars. There I found forty people seated at tables set with candelabras, hams and bottles of champagne. M. Werlé made a place for me at his table. At five o’clock in the evening we were told that the bombing had stopped. Coming back up to the earth’s surface I realized that I was completely drunk. In my pockets I found sixteen champagne corks, had I drunk them all?"

In Epernay the situation was better. They had only to contend with sporadic air raids that caused some damage and created a general atmosphere of insecurity which did not stop work. Some of the merchants from Reims even came and set up temporary operations in Epernay in order to be able to continue production more easily. Furthermore, when the order was given on 25 March 1918 to evacuate Reims, the champagne houses were authorized to leave a guard that was maintained by the army.

Civilians Sheltering in a Champagne Cave

There were problems with the supply of some of the materials required for the production of champagne, particularly bottles; deliveries were reduced and so bottles were kept and used again, unlike the carefree habits of peacetime when they were discarded. The offices of the Syndicat du Commerce, which had been relocated in Paris, had to request that the authorities facilitate deliveries of sugar and cork from Spain, and also of iron for making the cages for the corks and staples. There was a lack of men to carry out such tasks and, as in the vineyards, the women did everything. Madame Jacques Krug assembled the house’s blends, and women rotated the bottles and carried out the various operations of the sparkling process. Despite all these difficulties, the tenacity of the merchants and the devotion of their workforce triumphed, and production during the war was maintained at roughly half the normal level, i.e. an average of about 14 million bottles per year.

In these difficult times it was not enough just to make champagne, it had to be sold as well. There were of course priorities when it came to the transport of produce during the war, and champagne was far from the top of the list. Orders that were sent from Reims had to pass by dangerous routes with limited traffic, taking either the local train to Dormans or the road to Rilly-la-Montagne and then the train to Epernay. The Nancy-Paris line served the Marne Valley, but was sometimes bombed from the air. It was also cut off in 1918, as it had of course been in 1914. For export, there was a shortage of shipping as submarine warfare destabilized maritime transport.

The Poilu as Guarantor of the Champagne Supply

Selling champagne in France, where there was a strong demand, was comparatively easy, but selling it abroad was more difficult. Commercial relations had, of course, had been broken off with enemy countries. Russia was having a revolution, sales in the United States were deteriorating due to the temperance leagues, and all the countries at war were saving their cash for buying the bare necessities. The merchants were concerned. Charles E. Heidsieck wrote in a letter on 30 July 1916, "I am not without worries, we have to sell the 1917 in England and carry on living. Should we buy at the next harvests or not? What will tomorrow bring?" Audacity and commercial judgement were required to find sales opportunities, which were often challenged by significant increases in retail prices due to the prices of raw materials.

Did champagne help the Allies win the war? It is true that Louis Madelin wrote in the Revue des Deux Mondes of the 15 September 1916, concerning the first battle of the Marne: "They picked up clusters of drunk soldiers from the Garde and neighbouring corps, victims of champagne. And there is no doubt that there were a lot of empty bottles in the ditches by the sides of the roads in Champagne. But to attribute a real role to the region’s wine in the outcome of the military operations would be going a lot further than would be wise. All that can be confirmed is that the Germans requisitioned, or pilfered, to use a term of military origin, champagne at every opportunity that the war presented and that... the French and allied soldiers did the same." P. Ginisty and A. Alexandre recount in Le Livre du Souvenir, written in 1916, that on 3 September 1914 von Kluck, dining in La Ferté-sous-Jouarre, had himself driven to the Hotel de l’Épée, where he was served some of the finest brands of champagne, requisitioned from the best stocked cellars. A postcard of the period shows a pavilion under fire in the grounds of the Château de Mondement where on 7 September the Crown Prince of Bavaria and his military staff were drinking champagne when the French artillery’s first shells arrived, the card’s caption specifies that when the Germans had fled their glasses were found to be half full.

In any event the numbers of bottles that disappeared during the battles of the Marne were insignificant relative to stocks held. Manceau wrote on this subject in the Vigneron Champenois of 21 October 1914, "The champagne missing from our cellars can be found on the battle fields of the Marne. We have enough for ten thousand battles."

The role that champagne played in keeping up the nation and the army’s morale was no doubt more important. We find in the Vie Parisienne on 5 August 1916 that Aristide Briand, president of the Council, had an invariable menu: two fried eggs and a little champagne; "for champagne is the only wine with which our premier has kept up a friendship." Maurice Constantin-Weyer wrote that in 1918, during the German offensive, they left a colonial division in Reims, to whom were promised two bottles of champagne per man per day, so long as they protected the city.  . . They held on until the end! Throughout the war, aeroplane pilots were known for their fidelity to champagne, with which every successful mission would be celebrated. René Fonck, the commander of the famous Cicognes squadron, an ace with 75 official victories, would drink his fill and then set off again to shoot down another enemy plane. And it was the tradition in the mess to replace war trophies with a display of champagne corks.

The injured and the disabled were not forgotten. We read in the Vigneron Champenois of 21 October 1914 that in the British Army, in the campaign medicine chest there were, for 1000 men, 150 tins of condensed milk, 10 bottles of champagne, etc. Maurice de Waleffe recounts that he was present at a lunch for disabled ex-servicemen offered by the couturier Worth. Those who still had their legs danced, he wrote. The champagne helped even those who were terribly disfigured to laugh, their spirits rekindled and happy. The merchants gave free supplies of champagne to the army hospitals, with a special label, Offert pour les blessés et malades militaires (For sick and wounded servicemen). But as canny businessmen they did not miss an opportunity to benefit from the situation and released several patriotic labels such as N’oublions jamais (We will never Forget), Un As (An Ace), Champagne anti-boche (Anti-Boche Champagne), Gloire française (French Glory), La Gloire des Alliés (The Glory of the Allies) and, undeterred by its length, Alliance Creaming Tommy’s Special Dry Reserve.

Wartime Labels

As for the soldiers on leave, what could be more appropriate than champagne to celebrate their return and provide a delightful means of relaxing with their female pen friends? The cover of the 1 April 1916 issue of Vie Parisienne shows the wartime friend and her two comrades opening some champagne, and in the 26 August 1916 issue we see two young women bombarding a lieutenant with champagne corks.

Naturally, champagne as the national wine par excellence was used throughout the war by cartoonists whenever they wished to strike a patriotic chord.

The German eagle and the Kaiser’s nose took turns in being the target of champagne corks in the French and Allied magazines. In an issue of Indiscret at the end of 1914, under the heading "His Consolation," Juan Gris depicts the Kaiser drinking a toast the day after his first defeat in the Marne, and saying, "Friends, let us celebrate our great victories with this excellent champagne harvested in the Marne." In the Petit Journal of 30 June 1918, at the time of the second battle of the Marne, Luc-Cyl shows the Kronprinz, this time trying in vain to open a bottle of champagne, exclaiming, "I am thirsty, thirsty for glory. . . but I am not having much luck!" Forain, the 6 August 1918 issue of the magazine Oui shows a French soldier pursuing a German soldier, who is carrying all the champagne that he can, calling after him, "Wait a minute now, were you planning on helping with the harvest?"

Source: Union des Maisons de Champagne

Friday, December 30, 2022

Surgical Matters—A Roads Collection

Surgeon Edwin C. Ernst, Base Hospital 21



A Reminder: To search our archives for other articles on this topic, or to explore other World War One interests of yours, take advantage of the site search engine at the top left corner of every page on Roads to the Great War.

Thursday, December 29, 2022

New Zealand's Forgotten Warrior: Andrew Hamilton Russell

Major General Andrew Russell (center) with
Key Staff Somewhere in France

By Chris Pugsley

General Andrew Russel (1868—1960) was a New Zealand military leader in the First World War.  Russell was one of the few generals in the was to display innovation and tactical skill.  He brought to his command the practical experience of a working farm manager combined with an understanding of men, and a broad study of military history and tactics.   Born in Napier, he was educated in England, first at Harrow School and then at the Royal Military College, Sandhurst, as was family tradition. After serving for five years in India and Burma, Russell left the 1st Border Regiment to return to New Zealand and farm sheep with his uncle, William Russell. In 1900, while still farming, he formed and commanded the Hawke's Bay Mounted Rifle Volunteers. In 1911 Russell was appointed commander of the Wellington Mounted Rifles Brigade.

When the New Zealand Expeditionary Force was raised in August 1914, Godley, its commander, offered Russell command of the New Zealand Mounted Rifles Brigade. He accepted, but had time to do little more than inspect the separate regiments before the brigade sailed. It was not until the New Zealand Expeditionary Force arrived in Egypt in December 1914 that training started. The Mounted Rifles Brigade landed on the Gallipoli peninsula on 12 May 1915, without their horses, to act as infantry.

Russell took over the northern sector of the ANZAC perimeter, establishing his headquarters on the plateau that later became known as Russell's Top. His troops seized the foothills below Chunuk Bair on the night of 6–7 August and opened the way for an infantry advance, which was one of the most brilliant feats of the campaign. Russell later commanded his exhausted and depleted brigade in the unsuccessful attacks on Hill 60 at the end of August. After this offensive Sir Ian Hamilton, who commanded the Mediterranean Expeditionary Force, considered Russell the outstanding New Zealander on the peninsula. He was made a KCMG on 4 November 1915. Russell succeeded Godley as commander of the New Zealand and Australian Division and was promoted to the rank of major general when Godley assumed command of the ANZAC Corps on 27 November 1915. He commanded the rearguard during the last 48 hours before the evacuation.

New Zealand's Wellington Battalion Preparing for
the Final Assault on Chunuk Bair, Gallipoli

Russell was one of the few commanders to emerge from the campaign with an enhanced reputation and was the obvious choice to command the New Zealand Division on its formation on 1 March 1916.. He was a front-line general, seen to take personal risks. The New Zealand Division became one of the best fighting divisions in France, due largely to Russell’s insistence upon daily inspections, zealous discipline and efficient administration. His subordinates believed Russell took too many risks; in 1917 one of his brigadiers was killed at his side, and two days later a sniper's bullet passed through his steel helmet, creasing his scalp.

New Zealanders at Flers, Somme Battlefield

The New Zealand Division attacked as part of the British XV Corps on 15 September 1916 during the battle of the Somme. Its success established its reputation as one of the finest fighting divisions in France. Much of this was due to the tactical training conducted by Russell in the weeks before the attack. Haig, the British commander in chief, wrote that for 23 consecutive days, the longest single tour by any British division in this battle, the New Zealand Division had carried out "with complete success every task set…always doing even more than was asked of it." This was at a cost of 7,408 New Zealand casualties, and Russell believed that these could only be justified if his division learnt from the experience and became more professional. 

In June 1917, they were tasked with capturing the town of Messines (Mesen) in Flanders. Russell’s aggressive strategy resulted in the seizure of the town, but their concentration in "an awkward salient" led to nearly 3700 New Zealand casualties, including 700 deaths. Haig believed Messines to be the outstanding success of the war to that time. Russell's performance placed him at the forefront of the more innovative commanders in the British, French and German armies. 

New Zealand Division Dressing Station, Passchendaele

The New Zealand Division again suffered severe casualties in October 1917, during the attack on Passchendaele. With artillery hampered by rain and mud, an attack on Bellevue Spur faltered, leaving more than 800 New Zealanders killed and almost 2000 wounded or missing. This represents the highest recorded loss of New Zealand lives in a single day, Russell blamed himself: "It is plain we attacked a strong position, stoutly defended with no adequate preparation." He told Allen that if Parliament wanted a culprit, then he was that man. 

In March 1918 he trained his division in open warfare techniques in the event of a German breakthrough. This was tested when it was deployed to the Somme. The tactical superiority of the New Zealand Division was demonstrated in its advance as part of IV Corps from 21 August. The corps commander gave Russell freedom to plan and fight his division's advance, and the New Zealanders spearheaded the attack. Bypassing population centres, minimising risk, and with firm instructions to its commanders to avoid needless casualties at all costs, the division was usually far ahead of flanking British divisions. Its success often led to the German defences giving way on each flank. The  surrender of Le Quesnoy and the advance through the Forêt de Mormal in early November 1918 marked the end of the war for a division that was still capable of continuing the fight, although Russell's health was increasingly problematic, and he appeared  quite exhausted.

A Fatigued Russell Later in the War

After the war, Russell was president of the New Zealand Returned Soldiers’ Association for more than a decade. In the Second World War, at age 72 he was made inspector general of New Zealand military forces, but retired from this appointment in July 1941. For most of his post-Great War life,Russel lived on his sheep station at Tunanui until his death at the age of 92.

Russell's military achievements were recognised with a CB in 1916 and, in 1917, a KCB. He was awarded the French Légion d'honneur (croix d'officier) and Croix de guerre (avec palme), the Belgian Ordre de Léopold (commander) and Croix de guerre, the Serbian Order of the White Eagle (first class) and the Montenegrin Order of Danilo.

Source:  The Dictionary of New Zealand Biography

Wednesday, December 28, 2022

America's Commission on Training Camp Activities

Founding the Commission

The idea for the Commission for Training Camp Activities (CTCA) emerged before the United States went to war. In August of 1916, with the prospect of American involvement in World War I becoming an increasingly greater possibility, Secretary of War Newton D. Baker sent urban reformer Raymond Fosdick to observe the conditions of army camps located on the Mexican border. Fosdick reported terrible scenes of disorder, drunkenness, and sexual immorality, and envisioned a progressive solution of camp reform that coincided with President Wilson’s vision for bettering mankind.  As a response, when the United States did enter the war in April of 1917, the War Department quickly established the Commission on Training Camp Activities, with Fosdick at its head, to develop a recreational morale program for the American military and to act as “the method of attack by the War Department on the evils…traditionally associated with camps and training centers.” 

War Activities

Over the course of the war, the Commission on Training Camp Activities developed its programs in domestic army bases and their surrounding communities, as well as overseas with the American Expeditionary Force and on Navy ships. It also enlisted the help of the seven civilian affiliates who would eventually create the United War Work Campaign (YMCA, YWCA, Jewish Welfare Board, Knights of Columbus/National Catholic War Council, Salvation Army, American Library Association, and War Camp Community Service). Programming for training camps included athletics, singing, movies, stage entertainment, libraries, and lectures, as well as unabashed modern sex education designed to curb the spread of venereal disease. The Commission on Training Camp Activities also targeted communities surrounding training camps, distributing pamphlets on social hygiene to civilians, regulating the attendance and intimacy level of public dances, and encouraging cities and towns to eliminate red-light districts and provide morally sound recreational facilities. By exercising control and influence over both soldiers and civilians, the Commission on Training Camp Activities could then monitor the interactions between the groups as well.

Cultural Goals

Altogether, Secretary Baker hoped that these measures would give soldiers an “invisible armor” of new social habits that would protect them from immorality in training camps and overseas. The white- and middle-class-minded Commission on Training Camp Activities fought to establish these habits as an alternative to the two extremes of “archaic traditionalism and the corruption of the urban working class”—both of which they feared would threaten the success of its programs by being either too strict or too loose, respectively. Ultimately, Baker, Fosdick, and other supporters and leaders of the organization hoped that their wartime reform would carry on past the armistice, drawing the diverse population of the country into a new, more unified American society 

Raymond B. Fosdick

Raymond B. Fosdick, as head of the Commission on Training Camp Activities, was the man charged with keeping the groups of the UWWC united. Fosdick was born in 1883 and raised in western New York. During his time as a college student, Fosdick visited New York City’s Lower East Side, and the living conditions he saw there motivated him to work at the Henry Street Settlement offering social services to the neighborhood. While still working at the Settlement, Fosdick obtained a law degree from New York Law School. Later, he became a city official and investigator for New York City, uncovering details of municipal corruption.  Backed by John D. Rockefeller Jr.’s Bureau of Social Hygiene, Fosdick also conducted an investigation of European and American police systems. 

Raymond D. Fosdick

Fosdick’s experience with urban reform prompted his selection by Secretary of War Newton D. Baker first as investigator of American troops on the Mexican border in 1916, and then as the head of the Commission on Training Camp Activities in 1917. As head of the CTCA, Fosdick was responsible for overseeing war camp programs as well as for mediating disputes between the organization’s various civilian affiliates.  After the war, Fosdick traveled to the Paris Peace Conference as General Pershing’s aid, then served as Under-Secretary General of the League of Nations until it became clear that the American Congress would not approve the League Covenant.

Raymond Fosdick spent much of the remainder of his life working with the Rockefeller Foundation, including as its president between 1936 and 1948. He died in 1972 at the age of eighty-nine. 
Source: "For the Boys Over There"—The 1918 United War Work Campaign

Tuesday, December 27, 2022

A Second Look at The International Poetry of the First World War by Constance Ruzich

Back in April 2021 our reviewer Bryan Alexander wrote a highly laudatory review of this work published by Bloomsbury. It contains 150 examples of Great War verse, much of it forgotten or from non-English language sources selected with commentary by the presenter of the Behind Their Lines blog, Connie Ruzich. Since we published our review, however, there have been two developments that I thought our readers would like to hear about.

First, International Poetry has received more rave reviews.  Here's a sampling:

From the Times Literary Supplement by Jean Moorcroft Wilson, University of London
. . . Constance Ruzich's conclusion, that we can never fully grasp the multitude of ways in which "the men, women and children who lived through the war composed their own experiences of the ordeal," is undeniable. But her effort to recover "the complexity of the time, the people and the poetry of the First World War" has rounded out the picture, making this collection well worth reading.

From  English Studies by Andrew Frayn, Edinburgh Napier University:

. . . There is no doubt that International Poetry of the First World War: An Anthology of Lost Voices will reshape our understanding of First World War poetry, which remains dominant in the conflict’s literature. Its editing is a major achievement by Constance M. Ruzich, who recuperates to the critical discussion a substantial breadth of material by many different markers of literary form, nationality and identity. It is a salutary reminder that, as Ruzich notes, “there was no single representative experience of the Great War, nor was there a typical response to the conflict”

Before we go on, here's one of the selections. In “A Memory” Margaret Sackville ponders a savaged village but, not from a military standpoint:

The second matter for discussion involves some good news for our readers. With the publication of the work, Bloomsbury made, in my view, a serious error. Their marketing information offered only a hard copy version of the book for a whopping $200 each. I'm sure it was beautifully bound, but I'm also sure it killed the initial market for the book.  However, matters have now been corrected.  As you can see from the insert on the right,  there is now a paperback version of International Poetry available from Amazon for a much more reasonable price of $39.95  Furthermore, if you  wish to go to the Bloomsbury-US Website,  the volume is offered at  the same base price but with a substantial discount price, if you use the codes below when you order. Also, they have Kindle and PDF versions of the work now for sale.

If you are at all interested in the poetry of the war, I hope you will purchase The International Poetry of the First World War.  Connie Ruzich has been making an important contribution to the study of the events of 1914-18, and she deserves our support. MH

Monday, December 26, 2022

Recommended: The U.S. Navy in World War I Chronology

Download this free 255-page highly detailed chronology that covers the operations of the U.S. Navy from President Wilson's Proclamation of Neutrality through the Washington Arms Conference of 1922.  It fully captures the enormous and somewhat forgotten contribution of the navy to the World War I victory. Note that it has active links to related artticles that are still available online.

Download HERE

Sunday, December 25, 2022

Christmas in the Trenches by John McCutcheon

My name is Francis Tolliver, I come from Liverpool.

 Two years ago the war was waiting for me after school.

 To Belgium and to Flanders, to Germany to here

 I fought for King and country I love dear.

'Twas Christmas in the trenches, where the frost so bitter hung,

The frozen fields of France were still, no Christmas song was sung

Our families back in England were toasting us that day

Their brave and glorious lads so far away.

I was lying with my messmate on the cold and rocky ground

When across the lines of battle came a most peculiar sound

Says I, "Now listen up, me boys!'' each soldier strained to hear

As one young German voice sang out so clear.

"He's singing bloody well, you know!'' my partner says to me

Soon, one by one, each German voice joined in harmony

The cannons rested silent, the gas clouds rolled no more

As Christmas brought us respite from the war.

As soon as they were finished and a reverent pause was spent

"God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen'' struck up some lads from Kent

The next they sang was "Stille Nacht." "Tis 'Silent Night','' says I

And in two tongues one song filled up that sky.

"There's someone coming toward us!'' the front line sentry cried

All sights were fixed on one lone figure trudging from their side

His truce flag, like a Christmas star, shown on that plain so bright

As he, bravely, strode unarmed into the night.

Soon one by one on either side walked into No Man's Land

With neither gun nor bayonet we met there hand to hand

We shared some secret brandy and we wished each other well

And in a flare-lit soccer game we gave 'em hell.

We traded chocolates, cigarettes, and photographs from home

These sons and fathers far away from families of their own

Young Sanders played his squeezebox and they had a violin

This curious and unlikely band of men.

daylight stole upon us and France was France once more

With sad farewells we each prepared to settle back to war

But the question haunted every heart that lived that wondrous night

"Whose family have I fixed within my sights?''.

'Twas Christmas in the trenches where the frost, so bitter hung

The frozen fields of France were warmed as songs of peace were sung

For the walls they'd kept between us to exact the work of war

Had been crumbled and were gone forevermore.

My name is Francis Tolliver, In Liverpool I dwell

Each Christmas come since World War I, I've learned its lessons well

That the ones who call the shots won't be among the dead and lame

And on each end of the rifle we're the same

 John McCutcheon 

Friday, December 23, 2022

American Failure: Combat Aircraft Production

Wing Assembly at the Dayton-Wright DH-4 Plant
Read HERE About the Service of the U.S. DH-4

The United States did not produce any aircraft of its own design for use at the front during World War I.   American industry did make two contributions to the airwar.  Building the British designed DH-4, and equipping it with the ground-briaking Liberty-12 Engine.  By the end of the war, Dayton-Wright delivered 3,106 DH-4s, while the Fisher Body Division of General Motors built 1,600 and the Standard Aircraft Corporation added another 140, bringing the total to 4,846. The remaining 7,500 DH-4s still on order were cancelled.  Automakers Ford, Lincoln, Packard, Marmon, and Buick produced 20,748 Liberty-12s, with varying quality, before the Armistice.  These numbers, however, were far, far below the targets created shortly after America's entry into the war. This failure is considered the greatest failure of America's  mobilization effor in the Great War. [Of course, it must be kept in mind that the nation had only been at war for 19 months at the time of the Armistice.] Nevertheless, America's aircraft production proved to be a major disappointment and was the subject of numerous investigations and hearings that began even before the war ended.

Even as the war in Europe demonstrated dramatic improvements in the potential and sophistication of aerial warfare, the United States failed to develop this asset. During Pershing's Mexican expedition he had eight aircraft, from a total of 13 within the Army. These were antiquated and plagued with maintenance problems but they proved their worth. But, at the time of the entry into the war, the Army had only 35 qualified aviators, all residing in the Signal Corps, and not even a prototype for a combat aircraft. 

The Ford Liberty-12 Engine Plant
Read HERE About the Creation of the Liberty-12

A group of army officers under General Benjamin Foulois, who had been involved in U.S. military aviation since the days of the Wright brothers, formulated a production plan calling for construction of 22,625 planes, including training machines, together with 45,250 engines, although the actual types were yet to be decided. [Compare these hopes with the actual figures above!] Some officers at first expressed reservation about the size of the program but eventually acquiesced, in the assumption that their expert advisers were best qualified to know the nation's capabilities and because it was recognized that even if the program was not fully met it would still contribute to the establishment of aerial supremacy. So the War Department asked Congress for $640 million with which to carry out the program, assuring the members that the planes would be at the front by May 1918. The bill to provide this fund, then the largest single amount ever granted, was passed by the House on 14 July, approved by the Senate with a unanimous vote on the 21st, and signed into law by the president on the 24th.

Aircraft production proved to be another example of impressive work that might have made a difference if the war had lasted. The Army quickly determined that it would take too long to design a combat aircraft, so it employed an American model training aircraft but adopted European designs for the combat aircraft. Adoption of European designs involved questions of deciding upon the right design, introducing precision to conform to the American style of mass production, and metric conversion. Despite the best efforts of American manufacturers, by the end of the war the only American-built combat aircraft was an observation plane of British design. The other combat aircraft were built by Europeans, often with the United States furnishing the raw materials. In this case, France was having difficulties meeting its own aircraft needs and the United States took a lower priority. The United States made some significant contributions to aircraft technology, such as the powerful Liberty Engine and the development of a process for “doping” cotton to be used in the wings, but achieved no significant production of combat aircraft. 

Major Hap Arnold with the First Liberty-12
Off the Production Line

In order for the French and British to produce munitions and weaponry for the U.S. Army, the United States agreed to provide the steel for artillery and weapons, the spruce wood for aircraft, or other raw materials in return for European weapons. Although damaging to the notion of independent American power, the arrangement had one huge advantage. Raw materials used much less shipping space than finished products. If American industry had been able to enter mass production immediately, transportation of finished artillery or aircraft across the Atlantic would have been problematic until the United States could also develop the merchant marine fleet.

Transportation constituted an equally significant and intractable problem. The Army needed to move cargo and personnel within the United States by rail and to France by sea. Each form of movement created its own problems, some more difficult than others.  The German advance during March had brought about a change of priorities and a virtual embargo on the shipment of anything but infantry and machine guns for several months. Fighter production was still further delayed. An order for 3,000 SPADs placed with Curtiss in October 1917 was canceled in December when it was decided to purchase fighters in France, paying for them in part with material shipped from the U.S.Thus it was not until 2 August 1918 that the first squadron of American-built planes, powered by American engines, and flown by American crews, flew a mission across the lines. Production in the U.S. was reinstated later, but the war was over before any U.S.-built machines could be shipped to France. [Statistics indicate, however, that production rates for both the DH-4 and Liberty-12 Engine were beginning to increase dramatically, just as the Armistice was signed.]

A U.S. Built DH-4 with Liberty Engine That
Did Make It to the Front

Five separate reviews of the aircraft production failure were made during and shortly  after the war.  Reasons for the lack of production included:

  • Pre-war neglect of the aviation industry, and the consequent need to create an industry where none existed before.
  • Indecision regarding the types selected for manufacture.
  • Airplanes were not suited for mass production.
  • Control by the automobile industry and favoritism in placing orders.
  • Sustitution of the Liberty engine in almost every aircraft design.

All of these problems and setbacks were inevitable and should have been foreseen. Or, more precisely, it should have been foreseen that some such problems would occur, even if no one was sufficiently clairvoyant to predict what they might be. The solution of such problems is the function of management, and without such setbacks industry would run efficiently with no personnel between the board room and the shop floor, but we all know that it does not. Nevertheless, although the American airplane production failed shamefully, the war helped launch an aviation industry that would grow to be second to none. 

Sources: Supporting the Doughboys: U.S. Army Logistics and Personnel During World War I,  by Leo P. Hirrel;  "U.S. Aircraft Production: Success or Scandal?", by Paul Hare; U.S. Centennial of Flight Website.

Thursday, December 22, 2022

Churchill on the Race to the Sea

French Artillery Racing Through Artois

The second phase of the war now opened. The French, having heaved the Germans back from the Marne to the Aisne, and finding themselves unable to drive them further by frontal attacks, continually reached out their left hand in the hopes of outflanking their opponents. The race for the sea began. The French began to pass their troops from right to left. Castelnau’s army, marching behind the front from Nancy, crashed into battle in Picardy, striving to turn the German right, and was itself outreached on its left. Foch’s army, corps after corps, hurried by road and rail to prolong the fighting front in Artois; but round the left of this again lapped the numerous German cavalry divisions of von der Marwitz—swoop and counter-swoop. On both sides every man and every gun were hurled as they arrived into the conflict, and the unceasing cannonade drew ever northwards and westwards—ever towards the sea.

Where would the grappling armies strike blue water? At what point on the coast? Which would turn the other’s flank? Would it be north or south of Dunkirk? Or of Gravelines or Calais or Boulogne? Nay, southward still, was Abbeville even attainable? All was committed to the shock of an ever-moving battle. But as the highest goal, the one safe inexpugnable flank for the Allies, the most advanced, the most daring, the most precious—worth all the rest, guarding all the rest—gleamed Antwerp—could Antwerp but hold out. {Antwerp fell on 10 October 1914]

German Cavalry Crossing a River During the Race to the Sea

. . . The object of prolonging the defence of Antwerp was, as has been explained, to give time for the French and British Armies to rest their left upon that fortress and hold the Germans from the seaboard along a line Antwerp-Ghent-Lille. This depended not only upon the local operations but on the result of the series of outflanking battles which marked the race for the sea. A decisive victory gained by the French in the neighborhood of Peronne, or by the British beyond Armentières and towards Lille would have opened all this prospect. High French authorities have concluded that a more rapid and therefore no doubt more daring transference of force from the right and centre of the French front to its left, ‘looking sixty kilometers ahead instead of twenty-five,’ and generally a more vigorous attempt to outflank the Germans following immediately upon the victory of the Marne and the arrest of the armies at the Aisne, might well have shouldered the Germans not only away from the sea, but even out of a large part of occupied France. In the event, however, and with the forces employed, the French and British did not succeed in turning the enemy’s flank.

Winston Churchill, The World Crisis