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

Monday, January 31, 2022

What Were the "Green Cadres" That Threatened the Hapsburg Empire?

Depiction of a Deserter Cadre

While the armed forces of the Dual Monarchy were beginning to lose in the field in 1918 and working-class unrest was convulsing the major urban and industrial centers, revolt was spreading across vast territories of the countryside. Here "Green Cadres" (sometimes called "Green Guards" or "Green Brigades") had coalesced from groups of army deserters and radicalized local peasants. With strongholds in forested and mountainous areas, they violently resisted their reenlistment for the war effort and mounted armed attacks on civilian and military authorities. Strikingly, rural common people near their spheres of action often saw in these forces their emancipators.

First mentioned by the authorities sometime in 1917 in the crown land of Croatia-Slavonia, the Green Cadres likely became the most fearsome opponents of the empire along its "inner front" in the final months of the First World War.  Then, as the old monarchy began to collapse, they took the initiative in offering a new socio-political order in the countryside. Yet to many observers, particularly among the propertied and respectable classes, the order imagined by the Green Cadres looked more like the disorder of the revolutionary mob. 

They were present in nearly all areas of Austria-Hungary, but particularly large numbers were found in Croatia-Slavonia, Bosnia, western Slovakia, and Moravia, as well as in Galicia. The Green Cadres had no centralized structure and relied on peasants and banditry for food and shelter. In late October and November 1918, the activities of the Green Cadres became indistinguishable from a wave of violence, arson and looting against former officials, landlords and Jews. These disturbances were particularly severe in Croatia-Slavonia, Galicia and western Slovakia, while in other places where Green Cadres had existed, such as Moravia and Slovenia, these bands seemed to disappear altogether.

Instead of open revolt or revolution, [as one historian] emphasizes "the ordinary weapons of relatively powerless groups: foot dragging, dissimulation, desertion, false compliance, pilfering, feigned ignorance, slander, arson, sabotage, and so on."  In this scheme, desertion is a classic form of peasant resistance. Lacking any obvious political or revolutionary content, the act of escaping from the most coercive of state institutions and hiding in one’s home district amounts to a rejection of the state and its authority. Such "everyday forms of resistance" formed the protean building blocks of the Green Cadres, though in the extraordinary circumstances of the First World War they evolved into an organism more complex and with unusually formidable striking power.

The general conditions that facilitated the formation of Green Cadres are well known. These included the steady erosion of morale in the Austro-Hungarian armed forces; the rise of national liberation movements among the empire’s  subject peoples, often with the support of the Western Allies; the return of radicalized prisoners of war from Russian internment who had just witnessed the Bolshevik Revolution and were commonly enthusiastic about it; the dire provisioning situation in the hinterland as well as food and clothing shortages among enlisted men; and the disaffection of formerly loyal rural populations through forced requisitioning and war profiteering.

Though apparently short-lived, this movement reshaped rural culture and politics in (post-) Habsburg central Europe during the "age of catastrophe." It combined old scripts—that is, meaningful roles or patterns of behavior understood to be appropriate to certain situations—of peasant recalcitrance with new scripts of national and social revolution, which emerged in the apocalyptic end phase of the war. In this paper, I also consider the materiality of these newer roles that the Green Cadres assumed and how that amplified their impact. For their legacy stretched not only into the immediate postwar years but also into the period of the Second World War when they were resurrected, usually as forest-based anti-Nazi partisans.

Sources: The Birmingham Centre for Modern & Contemporary History: "The Green Cadres and the Collapse of Austria-Hungary in 1918,"  Past and Present, 31 May 2017

Sunday, January 30, 2022

Avenue du President Wilson, Paris

Eastern Terminus at Place du Trocadéro
(Click on Image to Enlarge)

It's an indicator of how happy France was to see America join the war.  The decision was made to rename one of Paris's glorious boulevards in honor of President Wood row Wilson—even before the war was won.

The street formerly named the Avenue du Trocadéro was formally rechristened in his honor on 4 July 1918, when all Paris celebrated the American Independence Day and General Pershing sent  troops directly from the battlefield to parade through the city. 

Avenue du President Wilson runs from Avenue George V just before it crosses the Seine on the Pont de l'Alma to the Trocadéro with its famous overlook of Paris. Two American-themed landmarks shown above are located on the avenue, an equestrian statue of George Washington (dedicated in 1900) and Marche (Market) President Wilson.  In 2018 a plaque was dedicated to honor the centennial of the official renaming.

Saturday, January 29, 2022

Case Made: The Machine Gun Shaped the First World War More Than Artillery


Hiram Maxim, Father of the Machine Gun

The Development of the Machine Gun and Its Impact on the Great War *


At the onset of the Great War, the tactics and strategies of all of the major powers did not take into account the technological development of the weapons that were implemented. All of the major powers held firm to the belief that the modern battlefield would allow militaries to maneuver and engage with tactics that had been used prior to the implementation of one major innovation—the machine gun. The introduction of this weapon to the battlefield allowed a concentration of firepower that changed the way war was fought and ultimately led to the establishment of the trench system. The defensive power of the machine gun created the stalemate on the Western Front, and almost all of the technologies that were introduced during the war were built in order to defeat it. The introduction of this weapon radically changed the strategies and tactics used by militaries in the future. 

The Franco-Prussian War and the Russo-Japanese War are the two most significant wars that influenced military theorists prior to the Great War. These wars revealed the improvements made in artillery and small arms. The Russo-Japanese War of 1904–05 demonstrated the impact of the machine gun and revealed two important lessons: 

* First, that use of the machine gun in the defense resulted in the digging of trenches,


* Second, that machine guns could be used to decimate a far larger offensive force as was demonstrated by the Japanese use of the Hotchkiss gun. 

World militaries were not ignorant to these lessons, but they tended to view the battlefield developments as proof of Russian military weakness and not the result of the inherent defensive power of the machine gun or the inevitability of trench warfare.

Instead, the European militaries were influenced primarily by the Franco-Prussian War of 1870-71. This war occurred in Europe and had been won using classic maneuver and encirclement tactics. It became the archetype for all of the European powers—particularly France and Germany—on how to conduct a successful military campaign. The major powers of the Great War failed to understand that in the 43 years since the Franco-Prussian War, technology had developed in such a way as to make previous tactics obsolete, as demonstrated in the Russo-Japanese War. These militaries envisioned a highly mobile offensive as the key to success in future battles. France was soundly defeated and humiliated at the Battle of Sedan (Franco-Prussian War, September 1870), and the provinces of Alsace and Lorraine were annexed. “Joffre [commander of French military] was an ardent admirer of the all-out offensive,  l’offensive à out-rance. He vowed never again to allow a French army to be encircled as at Sedan.” 

It was from these origins that the spirit of the offense became the cornerstone of all the major powers’ military strategies. Prior to the Great War, a Polish writer named Jean de Bloch wrote a book arguing that “the increased fire power of infantry weapons would force troops to dig in for defense. Between the trenches a fire swept zone would be created which could be crossed only at the cost of devastating losses.”  Although his prediction turned out to be remarkably accurate, the professional militaries of the time dismissed his claims, citing once again the importance of troop morale and offensive spirit. History seems to judge France particularly harshly when regarding its reliance on the offensive spirit (elàn). It is true that the French believed that it was the offensive spirit that would win battles, but in reality all of the European powers were duped into the belief that the spirit of the infantry would be able to break a fortified defense. They all believed it would be the power of their offense that would be decisive in future wars. 

When the Great War began in 1914, the attacks were linear in nature and based on pre-war theories which didn’t account for the machine gun. Each battalion advanced shoulder to shoulder with a screen of skirmishers out front. Once the main force made contact with the enemy, reserves were fed into the battle in order to fill the gaps created by casualties. The advancing force had two objectives: to suppress enemy fire and inflict sufficient causalities in order to make the opposition waiver. Then, theoretically, once the enemy began to waiver, a bayonet charge would deliver the final blow. “Victory would result, therefore, not from superior tactics, or even superior weaponry, but from the imposition of superior will.” In reality, attacks very rarely ever culminated in a bayonet charge. 

Much has been made of the battles of attrition, such as Passchendaele, Verdun, and on the Somme that occurred later in the Great War. Often the initial battles, which were not fought from trenches, have been forgotten. The impact of the machine gun was felt early on, and the result was the largest number of losses during the war. “The enormous losses in August and September 1914 were never equaled at any other time, not even at Verdun: the total number of French casualties (killed, wounded, or missing) was 329,000. At the height of Verdun, the three month period February to April 1916, French casualties were 111,000.” It was the impact and associated losses of the machine gun that drove the major combatants into the trenches. The machine gun came to represent the use of technology applied to weaponry. The power it gave to a single man made the offensive doctrine of the European powers obsolete, forcing the armies on the Western Front into trenches. All of the combatants were left with the option to dig in or be annihilated. 

The primary reason the machine gun caused trench warfare was that the weapon was defensive. The Maxim and Hotchkiss models were significantly smaller than previous models, but they were still heavy by modern standards. The German Maxim 08 weighed between 136.4 and 146.3 pounds. and required at least six men to carry it and its ammunition. The French and British machine guns of 1914 were not much better: the French Hotchkiss weighed 103.4 pounds and the British Vickers-Maxim 118.8 pounds.  This meant that the machine gun could only be utilized in a defensive role because it was far too heavy to incorporate in a highly mobile offensive manner. The results were catastrophic and completely unforeseen by the military leadership. Sir John French, commander of the British Expeditionary Force (BEF), captured the bewilderment of the now engaged European militaries when he said, “I cannot help wondering why none of us realized what the modern rifle, the machine gun, motor traction, the aeroplane, and wireless telegraphy would bring about.”

By 1915, a series of trenches stretched from the English Channel near Ostend to the northern border of Switzerland. This situation would remain relatively unchanged until 1918. The Germans started 1915 with several major advantages. Because they were occupying significant areas of France and Belgium, they did not face the same political pressures to attack that the Allies had. The German army had chosen the areas for their trenches, and they naturally chose terrain that favored the defense. This meant that the Germans were able to take a primarily defensive position in the West, forcing the Allies to take an offensive strategy. The Germans also had a greater number of machine guns than the Allies. “At the beginning of the war, the German army had more than 4,500 machine guns, compared with 2,500 for France and fewer than 500 in the British army.” 

The Allies stuck to their now outdated doctrine and attempted a number of attacks by overwhelming forces against the Germans with the hope that a combination of weight in numbers and offensive spirit would drive holes in the German lines. They were a wholesale failure. The Allies demonstrated a complete inability to change their tactical doctrine despite the unsuccessful nature of their repeated attacks. This lack of understanding was epitomized by British commander-in-chief Sir Douglas Haig, who in 1915 asserted that the machine gun was “a much overrated weapon.”

The German army would place their machine guns in such a manner that all areas of “no man’s land” were being covered by the fire of multiple machine guns. This process of overlapping machine-gun fire was particularly successful because it meant that if an individual machine gun was knocked out of action, the weapons to the right and left of it could still cover all of the space between the trenches. It also meant that at all times the individual attacker was being shot at from two separate locations. This made it very difficult for an offensive assault to achieve cover because the enemy fire was coming from two separate directions. To further enhance the fire power of the machine gun, barbed wire became a common feature in “no man’s land”. It was used by both sides in order to slow down an attack and channelize the enemy into areas where they could easily be killed, called “kill zones.” At the Battle of the Somme, one German soldier commented about how easy it was to defend against such an attack: “When the English started to advance, we were very worried; they looked as if they must overrun our trenches. We were very surprised to see them walking… When we started firing, we just had to load and reload. They went down in the hundreds. You didn’t have to aim, we just fired into them.” 

The attackers now had to run across open but uneven ground and cut through massive quantities of barbed wire before reaching the enemy trenches, all the while under machine gun fire. Once the wire had been breached, the attackers would naturally mass at the opening, thus presenting an even more attractive target to overlapping fire. Expressing the feelings of a soldier facing masses of machine guns, French author Henri Barbusse described a French platoon waiting to attack: “Each one knows that he is going to take his head, his chest, his belly, his whole body, and all naked, up to the rifles pointed forward, to the shells, to the bomb piled and ready, and above all to the mechanical and almost infallible machine guns.”

In an effort to break the deadlock, the British and French began to rely heavily on their superior supply of artillery munitions. The concept was simple. They would bombard the German lines which would kill the front-line defenders and destroy the barbed-wire obstacles. This would allow the Allies to move forward and seize the enemy trenches. Artillery, as an indirect fire weapon, was still in its infancy, however, so it failed to achieve these two main objectives and was therefore unable to overcome the supremacy of the machine gun. The process of aiming indirect artillery fire (called registering) was notoriously inaccurate and unreliable. Even if the assault was successful, a dependency on artillery made extensive gains impossible. The process for targeting artillery was time consuming. The artillery’s reliance on registration meant that it was only effective to a range where targets could be accurately identified. “Once beyond their original front line, the [attacking units] were no longer working from accurate maps and aerial photographs. The enemy did not occupy such obvious positions, and many attacks came unstuck in hidden belts of barbed wire or were decimated by previously concealed machine guns.”

Even when artillery was effective, it still failed in its two main objectives. Artillery failed to destroy the barbed wire or sufficiently kill the defenders in the front-line trenches. Although they produced many casualties, they did not result in significant gains. This was exemplified in the Battle of the Somme, which would later become iconic to the British for the futility of the frontal assault. During this battle, the British falsely believed that they could overwhelm the defensive might of the German trenches and machine guns with artillery alone. The tactic proved unsuccessful. When the infantry began their attack, they found that the German wire was intact and the German trenches were well defended. When the assault began, the Germans emerged from the bunkers, positioned their machine guns, and proceeded to mow down the advancing British infantry. “No matter how heavily the artillery pounded the enemy trenches, a few German machine guns survived and cut down thousands of attacking infantrymen. By 19 November, when the offensive was called off, the deepest British penetration was seven miles from their starting point on 1 July. They lost 419,654 men. The overwhelming majority of the dead fell to the machine gun.”

The deadlock caused by the machine gun gave birth to a number of new technologies. In April of 1915, the German army first used chemical weapons—in the form of chlorine gas—at the Second Battle of Ypres. The gas was a terrible new weapon, but ultimately it proved too uncontrollable to be used successfully. “The problem with releasing gas from cylinders was that the wind had to be just right, lest the gas blow back into the [attackers'] own trench.”

The Great War also saw the first military use of the airplane. The airplane was used primarily as a reconnaissance vehicle. When the war began, all of the aircraft were unarmed, but through the course of 1914, aircrews began to carry revolvers and carbines in order to attack other enemy aircraft. In 1915, all the major combatant powers began experimenting with machine-gun technology in the air.

In 1916, the tank first saw action during the Battle of the Somme. The tank appeared to offer the perfect solution to the machine gun. The tanks deployed by the British came in two separate models: “the male version which included six-pounder guns, and a female, which had only machine guns.”  Later French and German tanks would also have mounted machine guns. The presence of machine guns is very revealing. The tank was seen as a means of carrying the power of the machine gun onto the offensive. It recognized that the best chance the infantry had of executing successful offensive actions against machine guns was to use other machine guns. In the Great War, tanks suffered from mechanical defects and were extremely slow (1.8 miles an hour on level terrain). For example, on 8 August 1916, the British began with “more than 450 [tanks] on the first day; there were about 150 left on the second day, and 85 on the third.” Most of the tanks failed to even make it across “no man’s land.” The tank would ultimately become a decisive weapon in World War II, but it would require years to improve the construction of the weapon and perfect the tactics. 

The most successful efforts to overcome the supremacy of the machine gun came not from technological advances but from tactical changes. On the Western Front, the Germans had the advantage of being able to maintain the defensive and as a result suffered fewer casualties than the Allies. The German army was more progressive in tactics, having learned much by watching the continuous ineffectual results of Allied offensives. In 1915, “German divisions got smaller; this was seen as proof that Germany was running out of men, but in terms of firepower—which was the important measure—the divisions were becoming more and more powerful as machine guns replaced rifles.”  More importantly, the German military began a long process of revising its tactical doctrine. The process would result in the development of modern small unit tactics and offered the most successful countermeasure to the supremacy of the machine gun. 

Initially, the German military suffered the same fate as the Allies during offensive operations in 1915, but as opposed to the Allies they recognized that they needed to address shortcomings in the way they conducted assaults. In 1915, the German General Staff began exploring several different approaches to combat, and they were able to see marginal successes over the next few years because of their tactical refinements. German doctrine called for an active defense, which meant that limited attacks should be made even while holding a defensive line. The Germans created elite units called storm troops (Sturm Abteilungen)—“infantry able to mount countering attacks that would throw the decimated attacking force back to its own line.”  The storm troops were given greater ability to conduct tactical experiments and develop offensive tactics. The result was a sharp contrast to the grand offensives launched by the Allies. The Germans began operating in battalion or company-size elements using hand grenades as a primary weapon (thus the origin of the word Panzergrenadier). The goal was to move with small units under the cover of darkness or by using a short artillery barrage. German tactics worked because the Germans decentralized decision making downward. In order to execute these actions, the soldiers had to be better trained and able to operate with minimal leadership. The result was the formation of modern small unit tactics and the increased role of NCOs. 

In combination with their decentralized tactics, the Germans employed sub-machine guns. In 1914, the Germans began gathering the Danish Madsen and captured Lewis sub-machine guns from the British in 1916. These weapons were distributed to storm troops and played an important role in German counterattacks at the Somme.  After the Somme the German army introduced its own light machine gun—the MG08/15. These were produced in numbers significant enough for them to make an impact on Storm Troop tactics. “Fed by 100- or 200-round belts, the MG08/1915 could provide much greater volume of fire than the Lewis or Chauchet light machine guns being used by the Allies, and despite its weight (43 pounds), it anticipated the tactical role of the [machine gun] in World War II.” Technical refinements to the sub-machine gun continued after the Great War and would ultimately result in the creation of the assault rifle.  

The Germans demonstrated their evolving small unit tactics during two large scale German offensives—Verdun in 1916 and the Offensive of 1918. At Verdun, General von Falkenhayn engaged the French in a number of limited engagements that were meant to take small amounts of land using storm troop tactics to limit casualties. Once territory was gained in one area, the attack was shifted to another section. These small gains would add up to significant territorial gains. French general Maurice Sarrail described the method as such: “They conquer parcels of terrain where the loss or gain is of minimal importance, but their operations permit them to conserve moral ascendancy.” The German objective was to seize Verdun and annihilate the French when they attempted to reclaim it. “It was fundamental to his plan that the place chosen for attack should be, for whatever reason, an objective for the retention of which the French General Staff would be compelled to throw in every man they have.”  In effect once Verdun was captured using superior German tactics, then the French would destroy themselves against German machine guns using inferior tactics. Though gains were made, the Germans failed to capture Verdun and endured significant losses in the effort. The Germans often found themselves in the same predicament that the Allies had. At Verdun, “one [French] section of two guns was isolated [and] held off the enemy for 10 days and nights, during which the two guns are supposed to have fired in excess of 75,000 rounds.” But their tactics were marginally vindicated. They suffered roughly an equal number of casualties as the French. But this was still a far better ratio then the Allies’ offensives against the Germans, where they often suffered eight times the number of casualties as the defender.  

The Germans came very close to victory using decentralized tactics in the 1918 offensive. With victory in the east over Russia, the Germans found themselves with a numerical superiority on the Western Front. The strength of their position was only temporary as the U.S. was now entering the war, and the Allies would soon (and once again) outnumber the Germans. In March 1918, the Germans gambled on one last offensive in an effort to win the war—the Kaiserschlacht (Kaiser’s Battle). Unlike all of the previous failed Allied assaults against the German trenches, the Germans would achieve a significant territorial gain. “By the time the Storm Troops led the great German offensive of March 1918, German infantry tactics had changed beyond recognition.” The tactics of the Storm Troops were continually being refined and disseminated throughout the army. “The Landwehr troops learned to fight in platoons and sections, rather then lining up each rifle company in a traditional skirmish line. [sic] For the first time, NCOs found themselves given a real job of leadership—making their own tactical decisions.” The change placed an emphasis on short artillery bombardments (Sturmreifschiessen), the empowerment of small unit leaders, and by passing strong points such as the machine-gun positions. The policy of bypassing strong points would be further refined after the Great War and would become the foundation of blitzkrieg (lightning war) tactics of World War II. The result was an overall improvement of the entire German army’s ability to defeat the machine gun’s domination of the battlefield. 

The success of these tactics was remarkable. On the first day alone, German forces took about 98.5 square miles of territory, “which was about the total amount of German-held territory re-conquered by the British during the whole of the 140 days of the Somme offensive in 1916.”  Ultimately, the German’s tactical refinements came too late. Despite their success after one week, the German army was unable to advance farther. They had achieved the greatest gains in territory since the stalemate began in late 1914. But in doing so, they incurred 239,000 casualties during the advance while the newly arriving American numbers in May rose from 430,000 to 650,000. The gamble had been lost, and the German government realized that defeat was inevitable. There is a certain amount of irony in the fact that it was the German army that found the key to the breakthrough, but they would ultimately lose the Great War. 

There were a number of technological advances introduced during the Great War, but the machine gun was the most decisive. WWI European powers failed to recognize how the machine gun would impact their tactics; they all believed it would be the power of the offense that would be decisive in future wars. They were proved wrong in numerous battles which resulted in significant loss of life for minimal territorial gains. Ultimately, it was the implementation of small unit tactics developed by the Germans—not the grand offensives of the Allies—that provided the best solution. The machine gun was the decisive weapon of the Great War, and its introduction to the battlefield would radically change the strategies and tactics used by militaries in the future.

*The views expressed here are those of the author and are not necessarily agreed with by the editors.

Source: Infantry Online, January-March, 2016

Friday, January 28, 2022

Hew Strachan on Germany and Britain's View of Their Great War Experience

A Young, Reflective German Officer, 1916

Presented in a 2014 interview with Max Easterman of the Goethe Institut of London

Max Easterman  Sir Hew Strachan is currently Professor of International Relations at the University of St Andrews. He was born in Edinburgh and went to Cambridge University, where he’s still a Fellow of Corpus Christi College. He’s been a merchant seaman and a lecturer at the Royal Military Academy, Sandhurst. He’s the author of the Oxford Illustrated History of the First World War and has written about Clausewitz and German strategy in the First World War, so he knows both sides of that coin. 

Max Easterman The Germans confront their past, they call it Vergangenheitsbewältigung…why is it the Germans have done this and we have not? 

Hew Strachan There is a very straightforward answer to that and it is the Third Reich, it is a question of whether there is collective German responsibility for the Nazis and for the Holocaust. There is a continuous narrative that really begins with Frederick the Great’s Prussia that sees the army as essential and the use of military power essential to the assertion of Prussia as a Central European state. And, after all, it is essentially surrounded by land frontiers and by possible enemies. The army has to be essential to the formation of the state and it is through war that Germany is both unified in 1871 and through war that Germany expands in the 20th century. And the First World War is part of that narrative that ends in Berlin in 1945. In confronting that Germany is asking real question about how it got where it is today. 

Max Easterman How did the First World War then change Germany’s view of war as an essential military tool for, if you like, maintaining the nation? 

Hew Strachan Not as much as it should have done, is the short answer. Partly, of course, because the army engineers the revolution from above, so called. In other words it itself gets rid of the Kaiser. The Keiser doesn’t topple through a democratic process, which is what Woodrow Wilson, the American president, had hoped would happen. It therefore is able, it – the army, is able to argue after 1919 that it hadn’t lost the war on the Western Front, because it was still standing on French territory when the war ended. And it was able to argue that the reputation Germany had for military prowess was therefore unbroken. It’s extraordinary in many ways if you look at the 1920s and 1930s that Germany—reduced to an army of 100 thousand men by the Treaty of Versailles - that Germany is still seeing war as one of the ways it might defend itself. It really hasn’t fully come to terms with the notion that this may be the war to end all wars. 

Hew Strachan and Max Easterman

Max Easterman You wrote recently that we in Britain have “parochial preoccupations with the mud of the Western Front.” What do you mean by that? 

Hew Strachan I’m concerned that our approach to this war is still very nationally determined, that we find it very hard to raise our eyes above the British experience and that means in most people’s understanding the experience of the Western Front, although British servicemen and women served in many other parts of the world and, of course, did many other things than to serve in the army. We tend to forget that there were people in Royal Navy, people in Gallipoli, people in Mesopotamia, people fighting in East Africa. So there isn’t one experience of this war, but we’ve allowed one experience to colour it. And the Western Front that we are concerned with runs only as far as the Somme. Champagne, Verdun, Vosges—they don’t figure, they are not part of our understanding. And there is almost a genuine surprise when you say something staggeringly obvious about the French or German or Austro-Hungarian experience, because it’s different, or it might be different, or it might be similar, but there isn’t an awareness of that. 

What I would hope is the four year centenary is an opportunity for us to widen our approach. So far there is no sign of that happening. Putting it another way round, 88 per cent of those who put on a uniform in the British Armed Forces between 1914 and 1918 came back from this war. In other words the majority, the vast majority survived this war. Of course it depended on which part of the army, which front you served on, if you were in Infantry on the Western Front your chances of survival were much less, if you were Royal Flying Corps pilot—even less than that. The point is, when somebody is says, I hear it said very often: “my great-grandfather was one of the lucky ones, he came home”, actually that’s true of most of us who are alive today: our great-grandfathers came home, because otherwise we wouldn’t be here 

Max Easterman British historians have arguments about the 1st World War…German historians have arguments about the First World War But do you have arguments with German historians about the First World War? 

Hew Strachan Yes actually I’ve had a few arguments. One of the things about German historians and study of war is because it has been inherently very difficult, it’s been much easier for British historians to study war and to study the First World War than it has been for Germans, because Germans come with more baggage to their own experience of war and we come at it from outside. It’s also been in a way liberating for me, because one of my concerns as an academic military historian in Britain is that as we Brits become more monoglot and particularly my students become more monoglot, they are far less able to engage with what I would call comparative military history. 

War, you know, is a reciprocal business; it’s not just fought by one country. You can’t write military history from the perspective, in my understanding, of one country. We talk about an army and its relation to parent society, but you can’t talk about battle, campaigns, wars without engaging with interaction with the enemy. For me, working above all on the First World War, it’s incredibly liberating and enlightening and exciting to engage with the literature of not only Germany, but also of France. It’s a truism that I am sure you are aware of that it doesn’t require much reading in another language to suddenly realise that you are in a very different place. And that’s vital.

Thursday, January 27, 2022

A Dozen Photos from the Volksbund: Germany's War Graves Commission

Click on Images to Enlarge

German Field Cemetery Destroyed by Artillery Fire

British Prisoners of War, Battle of the Somme

British Dead in Captured Trench, 1918

Gas Mask Drill

Local Children Receiving Leftovers at Mess Hall

Russian Prisoners of War, Eastern Front

German Field Hospital in a Church, Flanders

Trench Digging Machine

French Tanks Destroyed in Nivelle Offensive

View from Loophole at the Yser Canal

Soldiers' Canteen in Flanders

210mm Howitzer Near Langemarck


Wednesday, January 26, 2022

BOMBTURBATION: A New Scientific Term Inspired by Verdun

Verdun Battlefield Today

In a 2006 article published in Soil Science journal, scientists Joseph Hupy and Randall Schaetzel, who had spent long periods studying the Verdun battlefield, introduced the term ‘‘bombturbation’’ for cratering of the soil surface and mixing of the soil by explosive munitions, usually during warfare or related activities. Depending on exactly where the explosion occurs (above, on, or below the soil surface), bombturbation excavates a volume of soil from the site of impact, forming a crater and spreading much of the ejecta out as a surrounding rim of mixed, but sometimes slightly sorted, debris. Because such explosions are nonselective, that is, all of the material removed is mixed and redistributed, bombturbation is often proisotropic [tending toward randomness] and. . . causes existing soil horizons to be entirely destroyed or intimately mixed. Unlike the rare instances of extraterrestrial (meteoroid) impacts [impacturbation], bombturbation by bombs and munitions is common worldwide; on some battlefields, it is so prominent that little or none of the original soil surface remains undisturbed.


In WWI, the most influential form of bombturbation came from artillery  propelled, explosive munitions, launched from various calibers, ranging from small 70mm shells that produced shallow craters (G1-m diameter) to massive 420mm rounds that left behind craters greater than 10 m in diameter and often several meters deep. The explosive shells used in WWI were particularly suited to bombturbative disturbance because they were set to detonate upon impact with whatever surface they struck. This type of detonation device directs a large amount of the blast downward into the soil  In WWII, when the forests of Europe, particularly France, were subjected to yet another round of war, the soils were not as heavily bombturbated because of advanced detonator devices in the artillery rounds with timers and proximity fuses that caused them to explode above the soil surface—in the tree canopy.

Mine Craters Éparges Spur

Another form of bombturbation in WWI that left its mark upon the landscape stemmed from the wide use of tunneling beneath enemy lines and the emplacement of explosives below ground—to be detonated beneath enemy positions. These underground mines produced massive crater complexes with craters of more than 50 m in diameter and often more than 20 m deep. In some instances, the mines, when used in combination with artillery, caused entire ridges to be lowered in elevation by several meters. For example, because of the combined effects of bombturbation, Hill 304 on the Verdun battlefield was so disturbed that its elevation dropped from 434 m before WWI in 1915 to 430 m in 1918).

Source: INTRODUCING ‘‘BOMBTURBATION,’’ A SINGULAR TYPE OF SOIL  DISTURBANCE AND MIXING," Joseph P. Hupy  and Randall J. Schaetzl, Soil Science, 2006

Tuesday, January 25, 2022

The True Story of the Christmas Truce: British and German Eyewitness Accounts from the First World War

By Anthony Richards, Foreword by Hew Strachan.
Greenhill Books, 2021
Peter L. Belmonte, Reviewer

The Opening of the 1914 Christmas Truce
Depicted in Oh, What a Lovely War!

The centennial of the Great War brought renewed attention to that historic conflict. One of the many episodes remembered and celebrated is the Christmas Truce of 1914. This new book by Anthony Richards examines the truce and analyzes its causes, meaning, and legacy. Richards, a historian who has been an archivist at the Imperial War Museums, utilizes British and German firsthand accounts to bring us this fascinating story. He states that the reasons the troops sought to fraternize are, in some ways, self-evident. The real question, he says, is why the troops chose to continue fighting afterwards and why a truce of this kind didn’t recur during the war. In addition, Richards says, “the main encouragement for me to write this book lay in a fresh availability of a wealth of rarely seen German accounts of the Christmas truce, many never before translated into English and some not previously published” (pp. 7-8).

In reviewing the truce, Richards doesn’t proceed by unit or by geographic location. Instead, Richards examines Christmas Eve and then Christmas Day in the British sector, followed by Christmas elsewhere, Boxing Day, and the days afterward. While focusing on the general area of the truce (Flanders), he examines events leading up to the truce including failed and bloody British assaults less than a week before Christmas. This resulted in the presence of large numbers of mostly British dead between the lines; the bodies provided a valid reason to conclude at least a brief local truce to bury the dead. Early on, Richards postulates that the nearness of opposing trenches to each other, coupled with the Christian fellowship of the season and the very real need to improve trench living conditions, provided the proper atmosphere for a truce.

The truce manifested itself in various behaviors ranging from shouted greetings to meetings in No-Man’s-Land. In many cases, soldiers actually visited the opposing trenches although many frowned upon this practice. Indeed, on several occasions soldiers who ventured too near the enemy’s trenches during the truce were detained as prisoners of war. The personal accounts are interesting and entertaining. One humorous example involved a German-speaking British soldier who is summoned to translate for a drunk German soldier who wandered into the British trench system during the latter phase of the truce. The German waved two beer bottles and requested to be joined in a drink. He refused to return to his own trenches, and he declined to be taken prisoner. Eventually two British soldiers forcibly escorted the errant German back to his own wire obstacles where they left him to fend for himself. Other firsthand accounts focus on what the participants experienced and how they felt about it; all the accounts are interesting glimpses into this unusual occurrence.

In the penultimate chapter, Richard discusses the causes of the truce. In addition to the feelings of brotherhood common to Christians at Christmastime, the author reiterates another cause: the common desire for all fighting men to improve their immediate conditions. This meant burying the dead (with the added benefit of improving morale), draining and reinforcing trenches, and getting a bit of fresh air and exercise. The shared misery of the soldiers in the front line trenches—the notion that the infantry of any nation had more in common with each other than with rear area troops, for example—also served to instill a feeling of a common bond even between enemies. Richards also discusses the views of more senior officers who, not unexpectedly, took a dim view of the proceedings. The author reports how the British and German home front, including the press, viewed the truce. Here, too, feelings and opinions varied between disgust and hopeful feelings of brotherhood.

The author contends that after Christmas 1914 new developments in trench warfare, notably the greater use and improved tactics of artillery and trench mortars, “meant that trench fighters were forced into a situation of constant aggression” (p. 193). This dramatically cut down the opportunities and desire for any large-scale truces. The author provides a summary of truces experienced throughout the remaining war years; nothing like the Christmas Truce would occur. . .

Richards does a fine job of weaving analysis into the interesting firsthand recollections. His use of German sources also enhances the historical significance of the book. Eighteen photographs and one map support the text. The author includes end notes, a brief select bibliography, and an index. This book is highly recommended for those who want to read more about the Christmas Truce; those who wish to learn more about German participation in the war will also greatly enjoy the book. .

Peter L. Belmonte

Monday, January 24, 2022

Worms and Voracious Rats: Rickword's Vision of War (A Roads Classic)

I find re-reading this poem a nice antidote whenever I find myself losing touch with the essential character of the war.

Click on Image to Expand

German Dead on the Western Front

John Edgell Rickword (1898–1982) served on the Western Front and wrote a number of war poems. His war poetry was published in 1921 in a volume entitled Behind the Eyes. After the war he went on to a long career in publishing, editing, and writing.

Trench Poets

I knew a man, he was my chum,
but he grew blacker every day,
and would not brush the flies away,
nor blanch however fierce the hum
of passing shells; I used to read,
to rouse him, random things from Donne–
like "Get with child a mandrake-root."
But you can tell he was far gone,
for he lay gaping, mackerel-eyed,
and stiff, and senseless as a post
even when that old poet cried
"I long to talk with some old lover's ghost."

I tried the Elegies one day,
but he, because he heard me say:
"What needst thou have more covering than a man?"
grinned nastily, and so I knew
the worms had got his brains at last.
There was one thing that I might do
to starve the worms; I racked my head
for healthy things and quoted Maud.
His grin got worse and I could see
he sneered at passion's purity.
He stank so badly, though we were great chums
I had to leave him; then rats ate his thumbs.

Also, don't miss David Beer's article on Edgell Rickword that examines another of his poems, "War and Peace."  HERE

Sunday, January 23, 2022

Keweenaw Copper at War

One of the Keewenaw Mines About the Time of the War

As World War I entered its second year, the American Institute of Metals trade journal blithely remarked that “[i]t is almost impossible to kill a man in an up-to-date and scientific way without using copper." 

The journal was right. By 1914, copper had become an essential component of every weapon, vehicle, and piece of equipment used on the battlefield. Its ability to conduct electricity, withstand water, and transmit heat made it ideal for many different applications, as did its malleability and durability. Engineers used copper to improve weapons and develop machines that were far more deadly than those used in previous conflicts, including armored tanks and airplanes. Submarines had increased capacity and range; rifles and machine guns were more accurate than ever before.

At the time, Michigan’s upper Keweenaw Peninsula was one of the most important copper mining regions in the United States. Although it was no longer the country’s leading producer—that distinction shifted to Montana and Arizona mines in the 1880s—Keweenaw copper was highly prized because it was nearly pure, elemental copper, which gave it exceptional conductive qualities. Actively mined over thousands of years by early American Indians, industrial-scale operations began in 1845, and the Keweenaw quickly became the most important copper mining district in the world. Many different companies operated along the mineral range, but they were led by two giants: the Quincy Mining Company (1846), and the Calumet and Hecla Mining Company (merged 1871). Their innovative and unique mining history is commemorated at Keweenaw National Historical Park.

Miners worked in dangerous conditions, as this image
from 1910 illustrates. At the time, the United States
exported most of its copper to Germany.

Germany had been the largest importer of American copper before the war, including copper from the Keweenaw. Germany relied on these imports to build its army and navy, including the unprecedented Untersee-boats that sunk merchant and passenger ships in the North Atlantic.  Trade with Germany ceased in 1914 when France, Britain, and its colonies (including Canada, Australia, and New Zealand) declared war, but exports to these and other Allied nations increased as they expanded their own forces and stockpiled copper for ammunition and artillery. In 1916, Keweenaw mines, mills, and smelters reported their single most productive year to date: more than 16 thousand men worked to produce 267 million pounds of copper that year alone.

To put the value of that production in a different light, a single bullet required nearly a quarter ounce of pure copper alone, and Allied forces needed a reliable supply. The metal’s price rose from 11.3 cents per pound at the beginning of the war to 36 cents per pound in 1917, before the United States declared war. Knowing how critical copper was to Allied efforts, the government’s War Industries Board negotiated price controls to stabilize the industry, which had been rocked by war-time uncertainty, fluctuating prices, and—particularly in Montana and Arizona—labor strife. At that time, Keweenaw copper became vital for mobilizing the American army and navy. Keweenaw soldiers from Company A, Michigan Engineer Corps, also mobilized and deployed to France; on the way, their ship, the SS Tuscania, was torpedoed by a U-boat and sank. While 200 men were lost, all members of Company A survived. Designated part of the 1st Engineer Battalion, they formed part of the 32nd Infantry Division, the Red Arrow Division.

Company A Marching Off to War

Keweenaw copper built armies and navies on both sides of World War I and became a critical component of the Allied war effort. It also left a lasting imprint on the battlefields themselves. Many former battlegrounds around Ypres, for instance, now fields and pastures, were recently discovered to have heightened levels of copper and other metals. Scientists attribute the contamination to the corrosion of unexploded ordnance, fragments of exploded ammunition, and leaking shells that have lain in the ground for 100 years. Many have defined this harmful legacy in Ypres, and other battlegrounds, as a form of collateral damage that residents continue to cope with, a century after the war ended.

Today the Keweenaw Peninsula Is the Site of a National Historic Park, the Source of this Article and Photos

Saturday, January 22, 2022

How Scotland, Ireland, and Wales Supported the British War Effort

Early Volunteers for Kitchener's Army

Scotland—There are many examples of Scottish patriotism during the war, including the hugely successful "tank campaign" of 1917/18 in which battle-scarred tanks toured towns and cities to drum up sales of War Bonds and Savings Certificates. Several Scottish cities vied to outdo each other, and Dundee raised £4.5 million in one week. Yet a number of Scottish cities were also leading centers of the anti-war movement, and saw significant industrial and civil unrest, during and immediately after the war.

Pilots at Scotland's Montrose Air Station

A Scottish location famously associated with the First World War is the Craiglockhart Military Hospital in Edinburgh, where officers suffering from shell shock were treated with "talking cures" and other newly developed therapies. It is also where the poets Wilfred Owen and Siegfried Sassoon first met, inspiring each other to write some of the poetry that continues to shape the view of the war that so many of us have.

Ireland—Unlike the rest of Britain, there was no conscription in Ireland, yet around 140,000 Irishmen joined during the war as volunteers. Some joined up for the perceived justice of the cause, but Ireland in 1914 was deeply divided between nationalist and unionist political groups, and these more local considerations also played their part. Recruitment posters were crucial, and special effort was made by poster companies such as Hely’s in Dublin to appeal to Irish sensibilities. An estimated two million posters were displayed around Ireland, in railway stations, offices and on hoardings, and many featured Irish symbols such as the shamrock and the wolfhound, as well as messages targeted at Irish Catholics. 

Despite the complexity of Irish politics and individual responses to the war there were a number of significant and fascinating places that reveal other aspects of WWI. The airship mooring station in Whitehead for example, played a key role in the protection of shipping from German submarines or U-boats in the North Channel.

WalesThere has been a perception that the Welsh were less keen to go to war than people elsewhere in Britain. Recruitment figures for Wales, however, are on a par with those for England and Scotland, although there is some anecdotal evidence of farming communities being reluctant to give up their labor. In many parts of Wales the fear of "khaki fever" (the supposedly overwhelming attraction felt by young women to men in uniform) led to some unsettling treatment of young women by the authorities. 

Welsh Munitionettes Mourning Fellow Workers

Women in Wales were policed under the Defence of the Realm Act, with arrests being made among those who were caught committing "indecent acts." Women in Cardiff faced a curfew, and concerned citizens in Swansea took things into their own hands when the Swansea Women’s Citizens Union launched a "Purity Crusade" to "stem the tide of immorality sweeping over the town."

Source:  BBC "World at Home" Series

Friday, January 21, 2022

The Sergeant Stubby Memorial

By Kevin Crompton
Originally Presented in Connecticut in World War I, May 2019

Barking warnings of incoming shells and gas attacks, rescuing wounded soldiers, boosting the morale of comrades, and even capturing a German soldier, Sgt. Stubby is widely regarded as a World War I hero. The monument for Sgt. Stubby was unveiled just outside Veterans Memorial Park in Middletown, CT, on Memorial Day weekend, May 2018.

“The park is really to represent and memorialize humans,” said Curt Deane, grandson of Robert J. Conroy, the 102nd Regiment soldier who took care of Stubby during the war. “I just kind of felt like to have him inside the park, some people might take offense.”

The bronze life-size statue of Stubby at 2 feet, 6 inches tall, sits on his hind legs atop a granite base saluting visitors upon entrance into the park.  “Since his big deal was that he could salute, why not have him near the entrance where he’s saluting and honoring the families of the fallen veterans,” said Deane.

The monument, including the brick walk-way leading up to Stubby, cost about $84,000. A portion of the money was donated from the U.S. War Dog Association while $30,000 was provided, and raised, by Deane and his family. California artist/sculptor Susan Bahary designed, crafted, and built the statue. Deane said he and his family chose Bahary to design the statue after seeing her work on the “Always Faithful” war dog memorial which was originally unveiled at the Pentagon in 1994.

Bahary specializes in bronze, acrylic, and stainless steel. She used the plaster of Paris replica of Stubby, currently located at the Smithsonian The Price of Freedom exhibition in Washington, DC, as a model to help sculpt the monument and ensure the size was true to reality. The replica has Stubby’s ashes inside, while the monument and plaster of Paris replica both show Stubby fitted with a vest, embroidered with his name, rank, infantry, and unit.

Stubby and His Division Arrive Home

According to a 1919 article in the Hartford Courant, Stubby was found wandering the campus of Yale University in New Haven and was befriended by Conroy, a New Britain native. Deane said despite Stubby being found in New Haven, the war hero is enshrined in Middletown because Yale felt Stubby would pose a threat to their bulldog mascot.

“Yale didn’t want it,” said Deane. “We asked, we prodded, we tried, but Yale [athletic department] felt he was going to be unfair competition to their mascot.”

While Yale already had their bulldog mascot, Stubby became the first mascot for Georgetown University where Conroy attended law school after the war. Stubby was a mix-breed dog. Deane said Stubby was more Staffordshire terrier than anything else, but one breed cannot solely be used to describe Stubby. After Yale declined the request, Deane said he and his family thought New Britain would make logical sense as a home for the monument however, he said there was no appropriate place to put a statue.

“Just by serendipity, we got a call from Susan Martuchi, who was one of the founders of [Veterans Memorial Park in Middletown],” said Deane. “She heard through someone that we were thinking about doing a statue and she contacted me and I came down and saw [Veterans Memorial Park] and said ‘you know what it’s perfect.’”

A Salute from the Sergeant

Deane said Martuchi has plans to add a large plaque near the Stubby Monument detailing other military service dogs from various other wars. The goal for completion of that plaque is Memorial Day 2019. “It just all fell into place,” said Deane.

Stubby and Conroy were members of the 102nd Infantry Regiment, 26thYankee Division. Together they served 18 months of active duty in World War I, with Stubby later going on to meet with Presidents Woodrow Wilson, Warren G. Harding, and Calvin Coolidge. Stubby even has his own animated film, Stubby: An American Hero, released in April 2018.

“Our goal is to make people more aware of how important service dogs are and to send contributions in to organizations that train service dogs for returning soldiers with PTSD and who need help,” said Deane. “I promised my grandfather, before he died, that I would keep Stubby’s memory alive and this is how we’re doing it.”