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

Tuesday, May 31, 2022

Duty, Terror and Survival: The World War One Diary and Art of Doughboy Cpl Harold W. Pierce

By Corporal Harold W. Pierce
Edited by William J. Welch
48 Hour Books, 2022
Michael Hanlon, Reviewer

Cover Art: Detail of Postwar Painting by Harold Pierce
Showing the Argonne Forest in the Distance

In the heat of battle, men do not realize that the enemy is only a scared, frightened boy like we are, killing for self preservation and because he has to and hating it as bad as we do. . . . I wish I could have met these fellows as friends instead of this. HP

Longtime newspaper editor and college instructor William Welch has done a remarkable editorial—or better—book packaging effort in  pulling together what turns out to be not just one Doughboy's war account, but what I believe is a tribute to all the men who fought in the "War to end all wars."

At age 18, Harold Pierce of Youngsville, PA, abandoned high school and joined his brother to enlist in the Pennsylvania National Guard, the manpower source for General Pershing's 28th Division.  That division was one of the earliest to arrive in France and would be called on to fight at Chateau-Thierry, the Second Battle of the Marne, the opening of the Meuse-Argonne Offensive, and, finally, in the controversial attacks mounted on the morning of the Armistice.  At some point, the troops nicknamed their shoulder patch—shaped like Pennsylvania's keystone emblem—the "Bloody Bucket."  In his war diary, young Pierce is a great, sometimes almost clinically detached, observer of the turmoil enveloping him as he goes about the day's activities:

We have prunes. A French artilleryman, caught by the barrage on the road, is carried by on a stretcher with the top of his head blown off and his brains dripping out. He is unconscious and cannot live long. The prunes are very dry. HP

Bridge at Fismette (Detail) by Harold Pierce –
Depicting the Division's Toughest Fight of the War

The core of this book is, of course, Pierce's 79,000 word diary.  Besides the excellent observations he makes about the battles and life out of the line, there is another quality of his writing that separates it from most of the dozens of Doughboy diaries I've read over the years. He is not shy about sharing his fears. These are with him all the time.  At one point he reveals his wish for a wound ("even a foot or hand off") to take him out of the action.  His religious feelings are also important to him, and he reports his regular prayers to the Almighty.

The Harold Pierce diary was previously serialized in local newspapers in the 1970s and kept in archives where several authors, Ed Lengel for example, have found it and drawn on it for their own writings.  But, when William Welch decided it was time to resurrect the account, he decided to supplement the basic text with a number of other features.  This in my view really enhances the presentation. As you can see above, after the war, Harold became an artist of merit and produced a number of large scale paintings depicting the actions of the 28th Division. These are still on display throughout Pennsylvania.  Color plates of these paintings are included in the new book, as well as maps, photos of the men from Harold's unit, and well-written essays giving an overview of the operations to complement the worm's-eye-view of the author. Overall, it's a well-intergrated work that is easy to follow for the reader.  By the end, though, we find our Doughboy narrator has grown very tired of war. On 11 November 1918 he writes:

If there is an Armistice at eleven, it seems so foolish to keep up the killing till the last minute. But the killing the artillery does is so impersonal and miles away. [It] does not see the tortured, horrible looks of the slaughtered or feel the remorse the doughboy feels when he sees a man he has shot. I stay close to a hole, filled with horror at the thought of being killed at the last minute. HP

Brothers Harold (sitting) and Hugh Pierce

I hope you will consider purchasing this book. It stands above almost all the similar Doughboy accounts I've read over the last 35 years. It's only being sold in local bookstores now, so the one way to acquire it is by emailing the editor at Retail cost of the book is $19.95. With shipping, the cost is $24.00.

Michael Hanlon

Monday, May 30, 2022

Memorial Day Weekend: Welcome Home Yankee Division

Countless cities and towns around American held welcome home parades for their returning Doughboys, Marines, and Sailors. I've presented articles on a number of these over the years.  New York, for instance, had the most events as far as I can tell hosting parades for the Fighting 69th of the Rainbow Division, the 27th New York National Guard Division, and the Harlem Hellfighters' Regiment. My home town, San Francisco, had a memorable, rip-roaring parade for its contingent in the 91st Wild West Division.

The Yankee Division, 25 April 1919

The parade held in Boston on 25 April 1919 for the 26th Yankee Division, however, seems to stand out in a number of ways. Since the division was constructed from National Guard units from all six New England states it was more of a regional affair, so it attracted attendees (well over a  million) from all over the region. As the video above proclaims, except for the 2004 World Series victory parade, the 1919 affair was called the "most glorious" public event in Boston's history. Also, for a mere 25 cents, attendees could purchase an outstanding 54-page fully illustrated program (downloadable below) which describes the Yankee Division's history and operations during the war with plenty of maps and photographs of the boys in action. A full news account of the day's events can be found HERE, too.

Click Here to Download the Program

Sunday, May 29, 2022

Memorial Day Weekend: "It may become the greatest memorial bronze of the modern age."

Don't miss Jeff MacGregor's insightful and moving examination of sculptor Sabin Howard's massive bronze tribute to all the Americans who served in the First World War in June's Smithsonian.

Saturday, May 28, 2022

Memorial Day Weekend: Five Doughboy Letters Home from the Western Front

A Doughboy in France writes to his buddy  Elmer J. Sutters

Cote D'Or France

Dear Old Bunkie,

Now don't go into epileptic fits or something like that when you read this letter, that is because I sent one to you as I know I haven't written you a letter for some time. Too busy with Uncle Sam's affairs just now. It was here, old man, that I got my first Hun with the bayonet.

We were pressing through a thicket when this big plug-ugly Hun suddenly loomed up in front of me. It was my first hand to hand fight. I parried off his blow and had him through his throat. He went down like a log ... that was it for Jerry. He never even made a sound.

I know you would ask me if I was afraid. Now I am not going to stick my chest out and exclaim "Like hell I was" or anything of the sort. I sure was afraid, and you and any other chap would be too, but what I was afraid of most was that I would be yellow. If a fellow gets a yellow streak and backs down the other boys won't have anything to do with him and that was what I was afraid of most, of getting a yellow streak. . .

Your Old Friend and Comrade in Mischief,

[Signed] Dickwitch


Lt. Ed Luckert

1st Lt. E dward Lukert writes to his wife, Mabel

June 18, 1918

Dearest Girlie:

We were all subjected to several different kinds of gas today, with and without masks. As usual, I cannot rid my clothes of the odor. It sure is horrible stuff, honey. Deadly and usually insures a slow and horrible death. There is one kind which kills quickly, Chlorine, but I do not prefer any kind or brand myself.

I had to have a photo taken today for an "Officer's Identification Book" which every officer must carry. I believe they take the book when your body is found and send the photo to the War Department. There's no danger tho. You'll have me back soon. The war cannot last forever.

Unlike the majority of other boys, i am not over here to "die" for my country. I came over to live for it, and afther I have helped make it possible for others to live in peace and happeiness, I'll be back to continue living for you. . .

Heaps of love for you wifie dear.

Note: Lukert was wounded in France, but he did return home to his wife. He spent 36 years in the Army and was a regimental commander in World War II.


Before France: Training to Go Over the Top at
Camp Hancock, GA

Hugh (Unidentified Soldier)

December 14, 1918

My Darling Mother, Dad and all:

The argonne; forty days with the booming of the guns, the nerve racking whine of the projectiles and the crash of the bombs ever in my ears, breathing and eating the damnable gases that have shocked the civilized world. Forty days of struggling, toiling and praying with very little food and sleep.

It was forty days of unremitting hell. In fact, the comparison is hardly fair to hell.

It rained continually from the time we got there until the time we left. The rain was finely woven and clammy as a funeral garment. It had a way of soaking through the skin, on into the body of a man until his very heart seemed to be pumping the rain water along his veins instead of blood. It would wet all the world.

God knows where the sun has gone.

Your devoted son and brother,



Pvt. Walter T. Bromich writes to his pastor

June 4, 1918

Dear Reverend:

Here I sit thinking of the little church back home, wondering how you are getting along. Don't think I am down-hearted, but ever since I volunteered I've felt like a cog in a huge wheel. The cog may get smashed up, but the machine goes on. And I can't feel God is in it.

How can there be fairness in one man being maimed for life, suffering agonies, another killed instantaneously, while I get out of it safe? Does God really love us individually or does He love His purpose more? Is it better to believe he makes the innocent suffer for the guilty and that things will be squared up some day. Sounds rather calculating, doesn't it, and not a bit like the love of a Father.

What I would like to believe is that God is in this war, not as a spectator, but backing up everything that is good in us. He won't work any miracles for us because that would be helping us to do the work He has given us to do on our own. I don't know whether God goes forth with armies but I do know that He is in lots of our men or they would not do what they do.

Yours sincerely,

Pvt. Walter T. Bromwich


Lt. Lloyd Palmer

Lt. Lloyd Palmer writes his mother after the Armistic

Dearest Mother:

November 11th 1918 will always be remembered by yours truly. We moved out at 4:00 AM in a heavy mist and marched about 4 km. At 9:30 there was a terrific German barrage. I sure thought it was all up.

At 10:45 the order came to cease firing. Rumors started to spread that it was the end and I am sure I was not the only one to utter a prayer that it was true. Then, 11 o'clock, and a dead silence! That was absolutely the happiest moment of my life. The rest of the day little groups of smiling Germans came up to the line with tobacco and wine. At dusk as far as the eye could reach there was a regular Fourth of July celebration. Also all along the lines were campfires, a thing not seen for years. It was great and I had some sleep beside a roaring fire.

Mother dear, I will come marching home one of these days and we will all be together and happy again, won't we?


Source:  PBS Series War Letters

Friday, May 27, 2022

How the AEF Dealt with War Brides

Two AEF War Couples

It was reported in the 25 Jun 1919 New York Times article "War Brides Taught American Ways" that at least 10,000 soldiers had married in Europe.  Susan Ziegler in her work on these unions, Entangling Alliances: Foreign War Brides and American Soldiers in the Twentieth Century, puts the number at  closer to 5,000. In any case, it was an impressive number. 

Ziegler points out that it was an unanticipated phenomenon that the AEF leadership found perplexing as it began emerging even as hostilities were still underway:

For the leaders of the U.S. military effort in World War I, relations between U.S. soldiers and local women posed a largely unprecedented set of questions with military, diplomatic, and domestic implications.  AEF leaders were unprepared for the range of policy problem they were asked to face, from the licensure of brothels to the resolution of paternity disputes.  Marriage the most public and visible of these problems, was among the most vexing.  Many within the military establishment advocated a ban on soldier marriage overseas.  There wer many reasons to support marriage, however.  What proved to be most significant was pressure from Al;lied leaders, who were outraged by mounting evidence of out-of-wedlock pregnancy and fears for the future of young women abandoned by American "boyfriends."  General John Pershing, commander of the AEF, ultimately took a stand in favor of  marriage for U.S. troops under hi command created policies to facilitate inter-cultural marriage. . . [These were] the first foreign "war brides" recognized by the U.S. government.

US citizenship laws during the WWI era allowed foreign-born wives to become American citizens by marriage. So in addition to the demobilization of troops, AEF policies and procedures to transport "war brides" and their children to the USA were also implemented. New couples were required to complete the necessary paperwork to secure the bride's government-sponsored transport to America, leaving the genealogists and descendants a researchable treasure chest of documents.

While awaiting transport on vessels nicknamed Honeymoon or Bridal Ship, war brides were tutored in English, and schooled in the "American Way" at "bridal camps." France held popular seaport bridal camps in abandoned French barracks in Brest, Bordeaux, and St. Nazaire. Approximately 6,000 soldiers held Franco-American marriage licenses, to include 2,000 recorded marriages between Black soldiers and French women. These European camps, supported by the U.S. Army, U.S. State Department, and even the French government, were staffed by the American Red Cross, YMCA, and YWCA.

Brides of all nationalities, some as young as 14 years old, were transported on ships to America. Icelandic and British women reached France for transport. Italian girls Czechs, Serbians, Portuguese, Spanish, Norwegian, and Russian wives also arrived at the various European camps to await transport. Even German brides, who soldiers were forbidden to marry without an officer's permission, occupied bridal ships, especially during the Germany occupation (1919), when there was an increase in German-American marriages. 

The system established by General Pershing was in good part still viable when the Second World War came around.  After the war 45,000 new war brides came to America.

Sources:  The U.S. National Archives; Entangling Alliances: Foreign War Brides and American Soldiers in the Twentieth Century

Thursday, May 26, 2022

How the AEF Dealt with Fornication

Anti-Prostitution Poster for the AEF

By Gary Mead

There was a degree of hypocrisy in the way the AEF's top officers handled the alcohol question, just as there was over the issue of sexual relations with French and, later, during the Occupation, German women. The AEF's senior officers paid lip service to concern over the morals of the ordinary soldier, but the provision of YMCA and other voluntary organization entertainments, clubs and shows, along with the establishment of some educational outlets, was made partly with a view to the public image back home, and partly from the belief that the devil finds work for idle hands. . .

As for the type of women who might conceivably have been deemed at the time to be of "bad reputation"—prostitutes—the AEF tried to impose on the rank-and-file soldier impossible standards. The French embraced the inevitable and established a system of licensed brothels behind the front lines: establishments with a blue light over the front door were for officers, those with a red light were for other ranks. The typical charge was 15 francs for 30 minutes, or about $2.85 at the contemporary exchange rate. British troops were perfectly free to visit these establishments until in May 1918 the British War Office ruled them out of bounds. Even then the British authorities preferred to turn a blind eye. For the first four months after arriving in France the Doughboys were not under any formal ban from visiting brothels. This changed once Pershing realized how serious a problem VD was for the British and French, who both lost millions of troops' days each year as a result of sexually communicable diseases. Doughboys were then formally banned, on pain of severe punishment, from visiting brothels.

Venereal diseases were from the first the subject of grave concern to General Pershing, and he took a great and useful interest in their prevention. The problem was aggravated by the fundamental differences of opinion between the French and the Americans as to the best means of prevention and control. The French believed that the legalization and control of prostitution were important and highly desirable, and they acted on that belief. The Americans believed that such measures were pernicious and most undesirable, and they acted on their belief. These contradictory opinions were never brought into accord.

Being barred from bordellos is one thing, abstinence is another. There is no way of quantifying how many Doughboys had sexual relations with prostitutes or those who did not charge for the service, but it is evident from the archives that the typical AEF soldier had a normal inclination to indulge this need whenever possible. Various inter-Allied conferences were held throughout the war on what Pershing euphemistically referred to as "this age-long evil," all failing to persuade the French to close down the licensed brothels. Some AEF chaplains tried to persuade men of the dangers of VD, rather than preach the virtues of prophylaxis: 'We had [a] saying "15 minutes with Venus and 3 years with Mercury." This was prior to the invention of penicillin.

Source: Excerpted from The Doughboys: America and the First World War; Reprinted by permission of the author and publisher.

Wednesday, May 25, 2022

How the AEF Dealt with Filth

Mud Was Everywhere

By Gary Mead

It was impossible to keep clean in the trenches. Dirt bred disease, and with only the most primitive drugs, many diseases which are today innocuous could be life-threatening. They also sapped the AEF's fighting power. Official figures show 71 per cent of duty-time lost in the AEF in France was through disease, against just 22 per cent from battle injuries. In 1918, influenza, pneumonia and other respiratory diseases caused 17.33 per cent of all AEF hospital admissions for disease and 82 per cent of illness-related deaths. The same year the total number of AEF soldiers admitted to hospital for disease was 2,422,362. . . Officers were as prone to succumb to bullet or bug as their charges. . .

The vermin [a.k.a. cooties] were about the size and color of small grains of uncooked rice until they would gorge themselves on the blood of their victims. Apparently their digestive system was in the shape of a cross, since when they were well fed, a black cross could readily be seen. The troops considered this a black German Iron Cross. It was a standing joke that there was no point in scratching because the little buggers had legs on both sides. The Army had a "delousing" program which consisted of, thank God infrequent, visits of a large tank-truck-like device and a steam generator. We were required to completely disrobe and toss our clothes into a bundle which was then thrown into the tank and live steam cooked the bugs. During this time we froze, of course, since the contraption never came on a nice warm day, but usually made its appearance during the winter months. After submitting to this we were louse-free until we crawled back into the hay beds, when we again became infested.

The Enemy (Not Actual Size)

There was not much to be done about the cootie, except to grin and bear it. In a June 1918 issue of Stars and Stripes, "W.D.B." offered this "remedy" for the cootie:

First, get a rope or wire, rope preferred, that is about 30 feet long and has two ends. Be sure you get both ends. Then place one end on the ground and the other in the air, climb up and place some cheese or butter—butter preferred—on the top, then come down and hide. You will not have to wait long before a Mr. Cootie will be along. He, of course, hears the butter or cheese up on the rope or wire, and goes up to get a bite. Now, climb up yourself and cut the wire or rope about two feet below Mr. Cootie and place on that end an ice cream cone. Then come down and hide. Mr. Cootie will get all the butter or cheese he wants and start down, not knowing the wire or rope is cut, and fall in the ice cream cone and freeze to death. The same cheese or butter will work for a day or more, if you remove the dead immediately.

The cootie was but one element in a generally filthy existence, a lifestyle which shocked and distressed most Doughboys, who could never accustom themselves to the coarseness of the French billets—usually farmyard buildings—they were expected to occupy when in the rear areas. U.S. armies traditionally built their own encampments but the exigencies of trench warfare made this expensively pointless and French billets were generally used. Many Doughboys decided that a leading feature of the French character was a distinct lack of interest in basic hygiene:

French Houses Displaying Their Dung Piles

One of the conditions of this life of billeting the American soldiers never did fully adapt themselves. It was to the fumier—the heap of manure piled at the front door of every villager—the sign of his thrift and even of his wealth, but a disagreeable thing, irritating and dangerous in the dark, and a kind of front yard ornamentation to which our soldiers could never grow accustomed [...] this one little thing was the cause of more impatience and irritation of American soldiers toward the French population than anything that I can now remember. The French villagers' habit of having farm animals and people living close together under the same roof was repulsive to our sensibilities.

Source: Excerpted from The Doughboys: America and the First World War; Reprinted by permission of the author and publisher.

Tuesday, May 24, 2022

The German Army on the Western Front, 1915

By Jack Sheldon
Pen & Sword Military, 2022
Terrence J. Finnegan, Reviewer

Fighting in the Argonne Forest, 1915

Getting a balanced view of the Great War with accounts on both sides is rare. Over the past decade in conjunction with the centenary several books were published to appeal to a public that was curious about the war. Jack Sheldon’s book was originally published in 2012 by Pen & Sword Books Ltd. A decade later Pen & Sword Military has republished the book in paperback.

Sheldon’s forte is an exemplary ability to translate German regimental histories applied to the exact location at a given point on the battlefield. His wife also came through with her hand-drawn maps that give the reader the most detailed visual guide of the German front line. Sheldon goes further and provides the exact grave site location of many deceased German soldiers mentioned in the regimentals. It is this attention to detail that makes The German Army on the Western Front 1915 an important reference work in understanding what the British and French faced that year. 

German Attack, Champagne, 1915

Seven major battles are addressed in chronological order: the winter battle in Champagne, Neuve Chapelle, gas attack at Ypres, spring battle in Artois (Arras, Aubers Ridge and Festubert), Argonne Forest, autumn battle in Artois (Arras and Loos), and the autumn battle in Champagne. The reader is given ample opportunity to see first-hand what the Germans experienced with positional war that year. Battle strategy and tactics were still new to all combatants. Sheldon quotes Max Bartel (German soldier whose poetry was recognized by the German government with the Bundesverdienstkreuz [Order of Merit of the Federal Republic of Germany] in 1974) to give testament to the transformation of the battleground of 1915:

The war had long since altered its appearance. No longer were there mounted attacks, helmet plumes blowing, spear points and swords red with blood and gleaming in the sunlight. There were no color standards fluttering in the ranks. The colours of war were now grey, blue, red and black; grey and bleu d’horizon were the uniforms, blue-black the steel and the power smoke and red for the gouts of flame and blood. Instead of trumpeters, there was the howl of shells, with one single direct hit having greater power than an entire company storming forward in earlier times.

It is Sheldon’s chapter 3, "Gas Attack at Ypres," that provides the most saliant account of what most students of the war remember about the Western Front that year. Even though the Germans first used poisonous gas on the Eastern Front, the British and French had yet to experience the weapon of mass destruction that typified the most acute horror of positional war. Upon approval by General der Infanterie Erich Falkenhayn, [Germany’s High Command (OHL)], 4. Armee acquired 6000 full-sized cylinders of chlorine to strike the British at Ypres. On 21 April, Generaloberst Duke Albrecht of Wuttemberg received orders to attack at first opportunity.

German Soldiers with French Colonial Gas Casualties,
Ypres, 1915

Hauptmann von Hammerstein, 1st Battalion Reserve Infantry Regiment 213, [Tiessen, History of Reserve Infanterie Regiment 213] provided one of the best descriptions of what it took to fight in the first major employment of gas on the Western front. The attack took place in the evening of 22 April 1915:

The gas cylinders were opened and the lead piping was laid out on the parapets. An indescribable, unforgettable scene for all who took part in this first gas attack then unfolded. A greenish cloud developed to our front and began slowly to roll towards the enemy. Gradually the whole sky seemed to have turned green. This sinister turn of events had an astonishing effect on the enemy. The front-line troops reacted in total confusion and, casting aside weapons and equipment, bolted in large numbers. . . By 6.10 pm the cylinders were empty. . . Everything went like a peacetime maneuver. Where the enemy showed resistance, not much time was wasted with lengthy fire fights. Instead we went straight in with the bayonet.

The remaining battles along the front lines of 1915 show how arduous and terrifying to fight positional war was to all combatants. There is a genuine respect shown toward the adversary in the accounts. Sheldon points out commanders were challenged with poor communications, lack of defense against incessant and overwhelming artillery, and threats posed by allied aerial reconnaissance. The reader gets a glimpse into almost all the battle accounts.

The author concludes this study with the right emphasis for describing the German army on the Western Front. They achieved so much in 1915 because of the “fighting ability and resilience of the men of the hour who manned its regiments. That year their performance was superlative.” In reading the accounts of the regimental histories provided by Sheldon, that observation is fully reinforced.

Terrence J. Finnegan

Monday, May 23, 2022

How the AEF Experience Prepared America for the Greater Challenges Ahead

Omaha Beach Shortly After D-Day

Could Overlord Have Succeeded Without the Lessons
Learned by the AEF?

By Brigadier General John S.D. Eisenhower

With such a small interval between world wars, it is not surprising that the United States Army of 1940 should appear to be a continuum of the AEF of 1918. Pershing's AEF was the first modern Army the United States ever fielded, and the Army of the Second World War was less different from the AEF than the AEF was from the Army that preceded it. Anyone witnessing the mobilization of the draftee Army of 1941 could not help being struck by how much the future GIs of World War II resembled the doughboys of World War I. Soldiers being inducted into service as the result of the draft law of late 1940 were at first issued ill-fitting World War I uniforms, including musty "overseas caps" and even wrap leggings. They were armed with the model 1903 Springfield rifle, which was replaced only when production of the Garand M-1 got under way. Both the heavy machine gun and the light machine gun of the Second World War remained the 1917 Browning models, as did the Browning automatic rifle, which came into the hands of the Americans late in 1918. Bangalore torpedoes, trench mortars, and even rifle grenades changed little between 1918 and 1939.

Perhaps even more important in the development of a modern Army was Pershing's creation of a vast and elaborate supply system that was called Services of Supply in 1917-1918 and Communications Zone (Com-Z) in 1944-1945. This vast organization entailed building and operating large seaports, storage, delivery of all classes of supply to forward supply points utilizing railroads, trucks, and eventually (in the first war) even mules. The Services of Supply, like the Communications Zone of the European Theater in 1944, was organized into three sections (Base, Intermediate, and Advance), with a prescribed level of supply maintained in each. This structure was an innovation of unglamorous but innovative and hardworking staff officers and commanders under Pershing and his headquarters. Nothing so elaborate had existed in the Army before April of 1917.

The staff procedures followed in later years were also developed by Pershing and his staff during the early months of the AEF's existence. Credit for this must be given to Pershing himself, assisted by his chief of staff, James C. Harbord. Their staff organization encompassed the four staff sections-Personnel, Intelligence, Operations, and Supply--in use by the American Army to this day. It is noteworthy that this system was developed by the AEF, not the War Department.

U.S. Artillery Firing at Varennes, Meuse-Argonne Offensive

In many important ways, of course, the armies of the First and Second World Wars were different. The division was reorganized from the cumbersome "square division" of four infantry regiments to the "triangular," comprising three infantry regiments. More important, technical advances provided the one thing the generals on both sides had previously been seeking in vain: mobility on the battlefield. The airplane, the tank, the truck, and the efficient two-way radio are generally credited with breaking the stalemate that plagued the earlier conflict. All were in their infancy at the time of Pershing's AEF, but between wars, military aircraft would progress as rapidly as the civilian aircraft industry; the tanks and trucks that broke down more from mechanical difficulties than from enemy guns would grow in reliability, along with the American automobile industry. The walkie-talkie radios would replace carrier pigeons. But the seeds of this progress were planted with the AEF.

AN IMPORTANT LINK between the AEF and the American Army of the Second World War was the military education it gave to many men who served in both. Because of the short interval separating the two world wars-and with a career officer expected to serve about forty years in those days-many of the officers of the AEF returned to serve once more in 1941. Some had remained in uniform during the intervening years; others were recalled as reservists. It was generally assumed, in fact, that service with the AEF in 1918 was almost a prerequisite for responsible positions in the Second World War.

Examples abound of young officers who returned for the second war. Ladislav Janda, that incredibly optimistic twenty-one-year-old who attained command of a battalion at the end of the [Great] War, was called up for duty as a reservist in 1942. At the end of that conflict, Lieutenant Colonel Lud Janda had not reached his fiftieth year.

Traffic Congestion at Esnes Behind the U.S Front Line
in the Opening of the Meuse-Argonne Offensive

A more noted figure was that of Colonel Theodore Roosevelt, Jr., commanding officer of the 26th Infantry by the last days of the Meuse Argonne. In November of 1942 Roosevelt went overseas as a brigadier general with the 1st Division and later landed with the 4th Division on Utah Beach on D-Day, 1944.

Another young 1st Division officer, Lieutenant Clarence Huebner, of the 28th Infantry Regiment at Cantigny, came back to the 1st Division as its commander in 1944. He commanded the Big Red One when it landed at Omaha Beach on D-Day.

The most important educational impact of service with the AEF, however, lay in the training of "middle-management" officers, men who were colonels and brigadier generals in 1918. The list includes many- George C. Marshall, Douglas MacArthur, and George S. Patton were only three notables. In the first war these young professionals often performed the difficult day-to-day management of units for their star-bestudded generals. The impact of the war on their mental outlooks varied, of course, depending on their positions and temperaments.

Of the three, Brigadier General Douglas MacArthur, of the 42nd Division, certainly enjoyed the most éclat in his spectacular career with the AEF. With flamboyant courage, he participated in one infantry patrol after another, exposing himself far beyond the needs of his office. He was the most decorated American officer in Pershing's force. Yet MacArthur seems to have suffered at least some psychological damage as the result of his experiences in World War I. His miraculous survival while taking extraordinary risks apparently encouraged a mystical feeling of invincibility and destiny, both an asset and a liability. Furthermore, his unhappy relations with Pershing's staff at Chaumont (in which MacArthur was not always to blame) engendered in him an obsession that the "Chaumont Crowd" constituted an organized opposition to him. Even when he was a senior commander in the Second World War, he maintained an obsession that the "Crowd"-now based in Washington-still existed and were still out to get him. He associated George Marshall with that group of imaginary enemies.

Douglas MacArthur in the Field During the Meuse-Argonne

Marshall was the one officer whose training in the AEF did the most to fit him for his future responsibilities. As operations officer of First Army during the Meuse-Argonne, Marshall never commanded troops in France, much to his personal disappointment, but it now seems almost providential that he was stationed where he was. A troop commander is concerned with an area only a few miles wide. The future Army chief of staff, however, was at the very center of the operations of the largest fighting force the United States had ever fielded up to that time. Planning, training, and operations, closely tied to logistics, all fell into his purview. There could have been no better spot for Marshall's training for the pivotal role he was to play in the future.

Much of what Marshall saw undoubtedly affected the way he conducted affairs in the Second World War. When the Army began to expand after the draft of 1940, Marshall saw to it, despite his own background as a staff officer, that troop commanders, rather than staff officers, would be given preference in matters of decorations and promotions. He was also determined that troop commanders would be younger men than the commanders of the First War. In the AEF Marshall saw division commanders such as Omar Bundy and Clarence Edwards, men who were older than Pershing himself, turn in less than stellar performances. As a result, the division commanders of 1942 to 1945 were on the average about ten years younger than those of 1918. The Army and the men who served in it benefited.

The last of the three future household names was Lieutenant Colonel George Patton, who commanded the 1st Tank Brigade until wounded on the first day of the Meuse-Argonne. It was there that Patton underwent his conversion to tank warfare. His period between wars, however, was strange. For a while he was able to further the concepts he had been developing in the 1st Tank Brigade. At Fort Meade in 1920, he teamed up with Lieutenant Colonel Dwight Eisenhower, an automotive expert, in developing doctrines for tank warfare. Patton specialized in light tanks, Eisenhower in heavy.

80th Division Column Advancing Through Buzancy, Late M-A

The Patton-Eisenhower partnership was of short duration, but not by their choice. Both ran afoul of the authorities in the War Department for their "heretical" opinions about the employment of tanks, and both were forced to revert to their basic branches. Their views on the massing of tanks were later accepted, but only after the beginning of the European war in 1939. By that time the old traditionalists had been replaced in positions of leadership by more forward-thinking officers such as George Marshall. That, plus the examples set by the German blitzkrieg across France in 1940 and later in Russia, changed Army thinking. Patton returned to the tanks, his tactical views molded on the Aire River in September of 1918.

Sources and thanks: Excerpted from: Yanks: The Epic Story of the American Army in World War I.  The help of John & Joanne Eisenhower is greatly appreciated as well as that of Bruce Nichols of Simon & Schuster. 

Sunday, May 22, 2022

Postwar, Admiral Tirpitz Looks Back at the Naval Arms Race

Gross Admiral Alfred Peter Friedrich von Tirpitz (1849–1930)

In his memoirs, Alfred von Tirpitz (1849–1930) looks back on the arms race that led up to World War I. He faults both German diplomacy and British animosity for the escalation of tensions between the two industrial powers. For Tirpitz, the Moroccan Crisis of 1911 was the single most unfortunate event in Anglo-German relations.


In the first few years of its encirclement policy, England did not take Germany’s fleet construction program seriously. It was convinced that Germany would not be able to build a first-class fleet with its limited budget. The English believed that our technology was underdeveloped and that we lacked sufficient organizational experience. They were accustomed to seeing us fail, since a large number of Prussian and German naval plans had never made it past the planning stages. It was only in 1904 that they looked at our naval program anew. Contrary to my wishes, we presented all our ships to Edward VII at the Kiel Regatta Week, and the Kaiser toasted "the renewed maritime power of the newly created German Empire." King Edward responded coolly and, when inspecting our ships, exchanged meaningful glances and words with Selborne, the first lord of the Admiralty. These exchanges were disagreeable to me. It was an unpleasant shock to the English that we had accomplished so much with limited funds and that we had developed an organic process that was more methodical than their own. In this area, too, they felt threatened by the Germans’ manner of work, patiently laying stone upon stone [Stein-auf-Stein-Tragen].

Lord Fisher subsequently ordered a concentration of British naval power against us, and in February 1905, this action was underscored in a speech by Arthur Lee, the civil lord of the Admiralty. For no good reason, Lee stated that the British Navy, if necessary, would carry out an initial strike before anyone on the other side of the North Sea would have time to read in the papers that war had been declared. England’s behavior in 1904-05 demonstrated that, at the time, she was strongly disposed toward delivering a single military blow that would destroy the entire foundation of Germany’s international standing. Her disposition toward war is perfectly understandable if one considers that war posed no risk for England at the time. In 1905, the admiralty hoped to counter our nascent naval undertaking by building the dreadnought class, operating under the assumption that the German navy would not be able to bring similarly large ships through the North Sea Canal.

This chain of political and maritime threats, accompanied by a campaign to rally public opinion against us, justifiably alienated a broad cross-section of German society. On the one hand, England’s maritime measures were an acknowledgement that she was taking our fleet construction program seriously. On the other, her nearly decade-long desire for our political submission was well known, and our fleet was too small to justify a program involving the concentration of British squadrons in the North Sea. This move was clearly intended to intimidate us and, if possible, to put an end to our drive for independence in world politics.

As a consequence, I was pressured by various sides in 1905-06 to effect a substantial increase in the strength of the German fleet with the goal of both arming ourselves against the threat of war with Britain and teaching the British a political lesson. The Kaiser, who was heavily influenced by a Navy League campaign to this end, also wanted me to demand of the Reichstag that the service life of our large ships be shortened. As the result of a parliamentary misunderstanding, service life had been fixed at 25 years in the Naval Law, which was longer than in foreign navies and resulted in an aging fleet.

Nonetheless, various reasons compelled me to oppose the introduction of an amendment at that time, and in early 1906 I offered my resignation in connection with this. The amendment that I introduced in 1906, which easily passed in the Reichstag, only included the six large cruisers that the Reichstag had not approved in 1900 and for which I immediately announced renewed requests in 1906. I also had to ask the Reichstag for the larger sums required to begin dreadnought construction, which the English had forced upon us, as well as all the world’s navies. Further, the Reichstag finally had to approve the funds required to enlarge the North Sea Canal on account of increased vessel sizes.

I responded with reserve to the pressures I was under to make additional demands, which not only had a calming effect on foreign policy but also increased the trust shown by the Reichstag. Under the circumstances, any additional demands in 1904-05 would probably have resulted in the direct threat of war without bringing us any immediate benefits. Over and above this, the navy would not have been able to handle further additions.

Fiscal year 1908 was the point at which, for many reasons, we had to ask for the vessels’ service life to be reduced. In the summer of 1907, even before the Imperial Naval Office had decided in favor of a naval amendment, a veritable battle broke out between the centrist parties and the Liberals over who would be the bigger champion of such an amendment, so we had no difficulty having our demands met. It was the first time the Liberals had voted both for the ships and the principle of a legal commitment.

This amendment did not increase the number of ships under the Naval Law, but it did considerably rejuvenate the fleet, thus increasing its combat strength. The replacement of the ships also meant an acceleration of dreadnought construction, a class of ships that had shaken the confidence in older vessels.


The only real crisis in Anglo-German relations between 1904 and 1914 occurred in the summer of 1911 and resulted from the manner in which our political leadership attempted to resolve the Morocco dispute with France. Like so many German diplomats, the foreign secretary, v. Kiderlen-Wächter, lacked any talent for dealing with England. He did not do damage by capitulating but rather by his sloppy handling of the affair. At his suggestion, the chancellor dispatched the gunboat Panther to the Moroccan port of Agadir on July 1, 1911. Though the British government demanded an explanation, the chancellor left them in the dark about our intentions for several weeks. The result was the speech that Lloyd George read before the English cabinet on July 21 warning Germany that Britain would side with France if that country was challenged.

I was off duty and about to leave on my summer holiday when I learned of the order to dispatch the Panther. I considered it a sign of disorganization on the part of our imperial leaders that the Secretary of the Navy had not been consulted prior to a naval manoeuvre of such import for international politics, and, from the moment I learned that we had not informed England, I was also convinced that this show of power on the Atlantic was a blunder. If Kiderlen believed it would be necessary to make a military gesture, it would have to be made on land and solely against the French. I would have been opposed to this in principle. A flag is easily hoisted on a pole, but it is often difficult to retrieve it honorably. We did not want to go to war. But the imperial leadership made the gravest miscalculation when it did not reveal our intentions in the first weeks of July. Kiderlen made subsequent assurances that the chancellor had never considered demanding Moroccan  territory. After Lloyd George’s threatening speech, though, it looked as if he was backing away from England’s raised sword. Our reputation suffered a blow across the world, and public opinion in Germany was influenced by this failure. "England stopped Germany" ran the headline in the international press.

It was the first serious diplomatic defeat since Bismarck had taken over political leadership, a defeat that hit us all the harder because the fragile edifice of our international standing was not yet based on power but primarily on prestige. This had proved effective during Delcassé’s removal (1905), but now we were shown how much it had been eroded. If we had simply accepted this slap in the face, it would have exacerbated France’s proclivity for war, its "new spirit" and we would have exposed ourselves at the next turn to an even worse humiliation. So it was a mistake to try to hide the rebuff we had suffered, which was what the imperial leadership wanted to do, rather than openly acknowledging it and drawing conclusions from the mistake. If a state knows that its citizens’ well-being rests not on whitewashing the facts, but on power and prestige, there is but one means to restore its reputation in such situations if it wants to avert war. It must show that it is not afraid—and simultaneously safeguard itself more effectively against defeat in the face of increased likelihood of war. We needed to do what Bismarck had done in similar cases, namely, to introduce a military bill, and we needed to act calmly and without resorting to provocation.

The Kaiser and the Admiral

It was with these thoughts in mind that I traveled to Berlin in autumn. I told the chancellor that we had suffered a diplomatic defeat and that we had to remedy it with a naval amendment. The chancellor denied the "defeat"—a term that greatly offended him, as he later told the chief of the Naval Cabinet—and he feared that an amendment would lead to war with England.

The amendment that I had in mind was not predicated on an actual increase in the size of our fleet, but on the improvement of its readiness for deployment. One of the weaknesses of our naval strength rested in the short service period and the change of recruits each fall, which crippled the fleet’s ability to strike during a particular period of the year. We were ultimately able to improve our military readiness without a major increase in vessel numbers by activating a reserve squadron, which meant that three squadrons would be constantly in service instead of only two.

Since this enabled us to keep nearly all members of a crew on the same ship during their service, we were also able to simplify our severely strained basic sea training and to free up the officer corps for deep sea navigation and other previously neglected higher duties. It proved necessary to go easier on the personnel, who were quickly worn down by monotonous duty, so that the men moving up the ranks would retain the necessary strength. These organizational reforms necessitated the construction of just three additional ships in the span of twenty years, and they allowed us to improve the quality of the navy for a very small amount of money.

No expert on British politics would have thought that the addition of three vessels in the span of twenty years would provoke England to go to war if it had not already decided to do so of its own accord. Naturally, our ambassador, Count Metternich, did not anticipate the danger of war as a result of these actions either. Nonetheless, due to the desire of the imperial leaders to accommodate England, the request in the amendment for three ships was reduced to two after long negotiations with the constantly vacillating chancellor – negotiations that were influenced by a visit to Berlin by Haldane, the English minister of war.

This was the first, the last, and an entirely insubstantial enlargement of our fleet compared with the naval plan of 1900. As I have already noted, in 1906 we merely renewed the 1900 bill, and in 1908 we did not increase the number of ships at all.


Many believe that in our time the German Empire could have pursued an open, honest relationship with England, and that these prospects were ruined solely by the failures of German statesmanship and, in particular, the construction of a fleet. If this view becomes anchored in the German consciousness, it will positively confirm the truism that history is written by victors. In this case, the vanquished would be falsifying history in order to pay tribute to Anglo-Saxon world domination.

The British now denied wanting go to war against us. Hence all those in Germany who believe that the fleet construction program was responsible for the war cannot even identify an opponent. The self-incrimination follows the wrong lead: the historical truth can sooner be found in one of Bismarck’s last statements, made in 1898, when we did not even have a navy. He regretted that "the relations between Germany and England are not better than they are." Unfortunately, he did not have a solution for this, since the only means known to him—bridling German industry—was not readily practicable.

We would not have been able to gain England as a friend and patron without returning to the rank of a poor agricultural country. Yet there was one means to significantly improve relations with the English: the creation of a German fleet that made any attack on German trade a riskier proposition than at the time of Bismarck’s statement. In this sense, the German navy continued to perform its duty up to July 1914, despite the various failures of German politics, and it is not the fault of the navy that it was not able to serve its purpose as a peacekeeper more effectively or for a longer period of time. It is incomprehensible to me that Herr v. Bethmann Hollweg continues to pin the blame on the so-called naval policy, for which he himself was responsible for eight years as chancellor. It is all the more incomprehensible since, like Lichnowsky and other experts at the Foreign Office, he himself perceived a tangible détente in Anglo-German relations and acknowledged that our fleet construction program, as it drew closer to completion, did not stand in the way of improving our relations with England. The outbreak of war was not caused by a deterioration in Anglo-German relations: an especially tragic twist is that Germany and England were closer in 1914 than in 1896, when Germany had no navy—and even in 1904 when it had a weak navy and Prince Bülow succeeded in bridging this dangerous period. The German navy protected the peace in keeping with its specific function. Interested parties are attempting to alter this clear fact even today. Added to this is the self-destructive streak in the character of Germans, who always love to believe the worst, and who will ridicule as foolish the very thing that they found most sensible the previous day.

Before the war, Bethmann-Hollweg seemed to agree with me that the Naval Law, the basis of all our prospects in international politics, had to be preserved without any tampering. For my part, I concurred with the chancellor that we had to do our best to improve relations with England. From his first days in office, I supported the chancellor in his efforts to accommodate the English in the matters suggested by him. In particular, I influenced the Kaiser in this area and did everything I could to keep the negotiations on a naval agreement initiated in 1908 on track.

Based on these negotiations, which were initially conducted by private negotiators and severely delayed on several occasions by the English, I slowly but surely realized that the English did not take a naval agreement seriously. Rather, they were bent on convincing the Foreign Office that the German fleet was to blame for all their woes and that, without it, Germans would have paradise on earth. The English worked toward this goal with undeniable cleverness, as anyone will confirm who is familiar with the thinking of our Foreign Office at the time or who witnessed the chancellor’s misjudgment of the British political psyche. V. Kühlmann, a German diplomat in London, was one of the main proponents of the view that the horrible German fleet was all that stood in the way of a German Weltpolitik pursued arm-in-arm with England.

The English government’s lack of commitment to a mutual naval agreement first became evident when our approval of their individual demands brought no tangible results. Most significantly, it was not until 1913 that they approved the very core of the agreement—a bilateral reduction in the navy based on a predetermined ratio—even though Lloyd George had hinted at such a prospect earlier, in 1908. It was felt, accepted, and even expressed by all participants that there was no need to fear a war with England on account of the fleet construction program. With each passing year, the risk of a war with England diminished at the same rate that respect for the German navy grew and war became unprofitable even for the jingoistic segment of the English population. The voices of hard-liners such as the Saturday Review or the Civil Lord Lee grew fainter. In London there was an increased tendency toward a more businesslike treatment of German relations. The Anglo-German treaty that was ready to be signed in 1914 appears to be one of various bits of evidence of this. At the very least, it was understood by its German drafters as a serious affair. [ . . . ]

Source: Alfred von Tirpitz, Erinnerungen [Recollections]. Leipzig, 1920, pp. 93-100. Translation: Adam Blauhut

Saturday, May 21, 2022

Remembering a Veteran: Canadian Ace Billy Bishop, VC, Royal Flying Corps

Billy Bishop is widely known as the top Canadian flying ace of the First World War, boasting 72 victories and numerous accolades including the Victoria Cross. He was an Air Marshal and the recipient of many medals. During the Second World War, he was a key player in the implementation of the British Commonwealth Air Training Plan.

Young Billy

William Avery (Billy) Bishop was born in Owen Sound, Ontario on 8 February 1894. He was 20 years old when the war broke out in 1914. As a youth, Bishop had a reputation as a bit of a scrapper. He shied away from team sports, preferring solo endeavors like swimming, horse riding, and shooting. Foreshadowing his future love of flying, as a 15-year-old he flew a makeshift "aircraft." Made from bed sheets, wooden crates and string, he tried to fly it off the third story of his house.

Royal Military College

Even though he was not much of a student, he attended the Royal Military College in Kingston. He had a range of reported efforts—working hard, a bit of failing, and some cheating.

Arriving in England

In 1914, he joined the Mississauga Horse cavalry regiment, and later transferred to the 7th Canadian Mounted Rifles. Frustrated with the mud of the trenches, he requested yet another transfer to the Royal Flying Corps. He figured the war would be much cleaner in the air.

Earliest flights

Even though Bishop had displayed great capabilities on the firing range and was very good with a gun, he rode along as an observer at first. However, he showed a talent for taking aerial photographs, and he soon began training others. On his first mission, he acted as an aerial spotter for British artillery. He continued to work on reconnaissance missions and bombing flights without ever firing a gun.

Becoming a pilot

After he injured his knee during a flight and his father suffered a stroke, he was sent home to Canada to recuperate. With the help of some influential friends he made during this hiatus, he was accepted for training as a pilot at the Central Flying School. Soon after receiving his wings, he had a crash landing resulting in an order to retrain. Luckily, Major Alan Scott vouched for him, and by chance, the very next day he saw his first victory, shooting down a German plane. They let him stay, and as luck would have it, the very next day he saw his second victory.

Becoming a flying ace

Bishop was often allowed to go on solo missions, deep into enemy territory. With his uncompromising approach, Bishop racked up his victories, becoming an ace. He got the nicknames "Hell's handmaiden" and "the Greatest English Scouting Ace" from the Germans. He specialized in the surprise attack, with victory after victory. He was awarded the Military Cross for his participation in the Battle of Vimy Ridge.

The enemy put a bounty on Bishop's head, yet he pushed on to acquire the Distinguished Service Order and Bar, the Distinguished Flying Cross, as well as the Victoria Cross. He was considered one of the top flying aces of the war.

Marriage and promotion

While on leave to Canada, he married his long-term fiancée, Margaret Eaton Burden, and wrote his autobiography, Winged Warfare. When he returned to Europe, he was promoted to major and given command of No. 85 Squadron, "The Flying Foxes."

Recruitment icon

Billy Bishop had become an integral character/story in Canadian recruitment efforts. There began to be worry about what would happen to morale on the home front should something happen to him. He was moved and promoted to lieutenant-colonel. By the time the war ended, he claimed 72 air victories. Some historians believe the total could be lower. He seemed to have a tradition of circumventing the rules. Often victories were attributed in the absence of the usual need for witnesses, etc.

Second World War

During the Second World War he was appointed the first Canadian Air Marshal. He served as the Director of the Royal Canadian Air Force in charge of recruitment, a task he did remarkably well. This resulted in an overflow of applicants.

Death and legacy

Bishop went on to explore various business interests, mostly connected to aviation, and spent most of his remaining days between England and Canada. With the wars taking a great toll on his health, he died in 1956. Bishop and his wife, Margaret, had a son, William, and daughter, Margaret, both of whom went on to be excellent aviators in their own right.

Bishop is memorialized in streets, roadways, parks, a mountain, buildings, airports, and the list goes on. He also boasts a long list of medals and honors.

Source: Veteran's Affairs of Canada