Yes, Michael Edward Hanlon and Donna Gaye Wagner are finally tying the knot on August 1st. Don't worry, though, the daily articles on Roads to the Great War, will resume tomorrow and continue through our honeymoon. MH
Now all roads lead to France and heavy is the treadEdward Thomas, Roads
Of the living; but the dead returning lightly dance.
Sunday, July 31, 2022
Zouaves were soldiers of the French Army recruited from Algerian Berber tribesmen and the large European emigrant population (pied noirs) that lived in Algeria from the 1830s up until the independence of Algeria in 1962. They had a a reputation for being fierce warriors who would charge into battle with wild cries, swords or bayonets at the ready. The Zouaves, along with the indigenous Tirailleurs Algeriens, were among the most decorated units of the French Army.
|Zouaves on Parade in Paris|
The distinctive uniform of French and other Zouave units was of North African origin. It generally included short open-fronted jackets, baggy trousers (serouel), sashes, and a fez-like chéchia head-dress. The four Zouave regiments of the French Army wore their traditional colorful dress during the early months of the First World War. Vincent van Gogh found their uniforms fascinating and produced several paintings and studies of Zouaves. The development of the machine gun, rapid-fire artillery, and improved small arms obliged them to adopt a plain khaki uniform from 1915 onward, in common with other units of the Armée d'Afrique.
|Zouaves in Uniform, Probably a Training Photo|
When the war broke out, the French were still in the process of conquering Morocco, where many of its premier troops were. A Moroccan division was created, which was a mélange of French troops, Zouaves (mostly European North Africans), tirailleurs, and some West African troops. Algeria (which was the headquarters for the XIX Army Corps) and Tunisia immediately supplied 13 battalions of Zouaves and 16 battalions of tirailleurs. These formed the 37th and 38th divisions.
|On the Western Front, Early War|
Approximately 104 battalions were sent from North Africa during mobilization. North African units faced heavy combat from the marshes of St Gond during the battle of the Marne and the subsequent race to the sea. Throughout World War I, the Zouaves received the best care and had the highest morale of all the units of the Armée d’Afrique.
|Zouaves Later in the War|
Zouave regiments also fought in World War II, although much of their organized participation was limited to the opening and closing stages of the war. During the Zouves' existence, other nations had military units modeled on and named after the Zouaves, including during the American Civil War.
Saturday, July 30, 2022
|Marine General Lejeune and Army General Pershing|
I strongly encourage our readers to download this 16-page article that was originally published in the winter 2019 issue of Marine Corps History. Its author, Col. Peter Underwood, stated intention was to examine "how Pershing’s purported attitudes toward Marines affected his decisions regarding Marine employment in the AEF." He examines this issue quite thoroughly, but I also enjoyed all the details about the nuts and bolts of gathering and deploying a huge number (for the small prewar Marine Corps) to a distant theater. Roughly half the Marines in Europe got to the front line and the others—a full brigade—served in the Services of Supply. Another interesting section, for me, was the impact of the heavy casualties and the difficulty in gaining replacements in the 4th Marine Brigade, whose parent formation, the 2nd Division, effectively fought non-stop from the late-May crisis around Château-Thierry through the Armistice.
The article can be downloaded as a pdf document
Friday, July 29, 2022
|British Atillery, Ypres Salient, 1917|
|French Railroad Artillery at Verdun|
Thursday, July 28, 2022
|Caught in Their Own Barrage|
[Editor's Note: This excerpt is from what what was published as a fictionalized memoir in 1929. I don't believe any of it is fiction. MH]
By Sgt. William T. Scanlon, 6th Marines
AT SIX o'clock the next morning I saw the company runner, Shorty Parker, stop at Lieutenant Marco's hole. Runners always meant movements of some sort so I went over to find out what was on for the day.
The dope was that our artillery would lay down a box barrage in the woods which were directly in front of us. The barrage would begin at six fifteen and end at six thirty. We were to be moving forward at six thirty and enter the woods at six thirty-two. There would be no rolling barrage following the regular barrage. The confidential stuff that Shorty gave me was that a strong force of picked German machine gunners had been concentrated at various places in the woods with positive orders to hold their positions at all costs. They were to stick to their posts in the face of their own barrage, which was to shell the woods. This sacrifice was to be made in order that the balance of a German brigade consisting of several thousand men could make good their escape from the western section of Mont Blanc which they now occupied.
This information was brought to our lines by two Germans who gave themselves up early in the morning. They were a part of the detail that was to be sacrificed. Promptly at six fifteen our artillery opened up with one big bang. Before this time there had not been a shell falling on either side. The woods were less than two hundred feet ahead. We sat in our trench on the side nearest our own artillery to protect ourselves against our own shells that were falling short. At six twenty-nine we were out of the trench and at six thirty we were racing toward the woods. The barrage stopped as suddenly as it had begun.
The dead silence that followed seemed unearthly. We entered the woods on a run and penetrated them to a depth of about ten feet. Then we stopped—and almost staggered back out again!
There, lined up in the woods as close to the edge as they could get and still be concealed, was the whole German brigade, officers and all, standing in close order formation like soldiers on parade. They surrendered to us in a body. So startling was the effect on us that we simply stood and looked with our mouths open. Had we been met with a hail of machine-gun bullets we would have stumbled on in some way, but to see a line of Germans dressed in their best soldier suits, wearing caps and cleaned shoes, was too much.
The second wave now came crashing through the woods in back of us and almost ran us through with their bayonets. We had to move on to get out of their way. We passed down along the long line of Germans. They watched us going by, dirty and crummy looking as we were, with a look on their faces as much as to say, "All right, clean up the mess we made. We're going on a vacation." Somebody in back of me said, "It looks as though the war was over now all right."
|Entering a Deep Enemy Dugout|
And I said, "Yes—for them it is." We pushed on through the woods, passing great piles of lumber, barb wire, tools, narrow-gauge railroad tracks, ammunition, some big guns, lots of smaller guns and dugouts of all descriptions. Reaching the western boundary of Mont Blanc we swung to the north. Not another German was found. Not a shot had been fired. And the fellows had all found their voices. It was the first time we had talked out loud since just before leaving Suippes.
We finally took up positions along a narrow-gauge railroad running near the northern summit of Mont Blanc. Here we fried bacon and boiled coffee. It was the first cooked food we had had in four days. After the food came the sight-seeing parties. We were like a bunch of kids turned loose in an old attic full of junk.
The Germans had built squatty houses among the trees with wooden sidewalks between them. We ransacked these houses and rooted in piles of rubbish that had been thrown out in back of them. We found piles of books and papers. One type of book seemed very popular as we found a lot of them. They were paper-covered booklets about eight by six inches with pictures of Indians, log cabins and early American settlers on the covers. The Indians were shown trading with whites, offering furs in exchange for beads. The booklets may have been simply story books but some of the fellows that could read German said that they were a form of propaganda showing the crude, uncivilized conditions that existed in America.
The fellows were loading up on every form of junk they could find—tin whistles, old bayonets, helmets, papers, pipes, playing cards. I asked some of them what they were going to do with the junk. They said, "Going to take them home."
. . . Then when everything seemed nice and peaceful and we were beginning to make ourselves believe that maybe the war really was over, the damn German artillery had to open up.
It seemed most ungrateful on their part. Here we had just let a couple of thousand of their men march away in their best clothes and they were now probably away back some place eating the food we should have had. And then another bunch has to turn around and try to blow us up. We couldn't help but feel that our good nature had been imposed upon. It made us mad.
"All right, men—stand by to move out . . ." And it wasn't long before we were ducking across the road that runs between Suippes and St. Etienne-a-Arnes. After passing down a steep slope we took up positions in a ravine through which a railroad ran. We were now out in the open country.
It seemed like a new world. The land behind us from Suippes to Mont Blanc was one stretch of shell holes, broken barb wire, trenches, dugouts and dead men. Even the air was rotten. But out in this open country everything was fresh and the sun was shining. We advanced from our ravine position up a slope leading to the north. About a hundred feet out the Germans spotted us and opened up with a terrific machine-gun and artillery fire. It just swept the hill. I was about twentyfive feet in front of the platoon as I wanted to reach the top of the hill before they did but the fire was so hot that we just flopped and stayed down for a while.
I happened to lift my head and look toward the left. A shell landed about fifty feet away. It made a direct hit on a man. I couldn't draw my eyes away. I could pick out plainly the separate parts in the air—the legs, the arms, the body. They seemed to go up in perfect order. . . . Again I felt the sick, sinking feeling I had had in the field before Bouresches. The situation now was practically the same—an open field with machine-gun bullets pecking up the ground and shells crashing all around and that body sailing in the air. . .
Source: Excerpted from God Have Mercy on US! by William T. Scanlon, USMC
Wednesday, July 27, 2022
|Erwin Rommel with Pour le Mérite|
Within two days of the opening of the Battle of Caporetto on 24 October 1917, Lt. Erwin Rommel’s Württemberg Mountain Battalion captured three peaks south of Caporetto and 9,000 Italian soldiers. What was the key to this amazing accomplishment? To answer this, I've had to draw on the writings of three different militay commentators. This article is a bit patched together, but I think it captures both the fresh thinking and pure animal energy of the young Rommel.
Since the beginning of his military career, Erwin Rommel showed signs of bravery, intuition, and contempt for higher authority that he felt did not understand the tactical situation. In September of 1914, Rommel was wounded in the leg when, having run out of ammunition, he charged three Frenchmen with a bayonet. After returning to the front lines in the Argonne area in January of 1915, Rommel received his first decoration for bravery, the Iron Cross Class I. In October of 1915, he was transferred to the mountain unit for training. Rommel was posted to the Carpathian Front, in the area of Siebenburgen, in late 1916, where he took part in the assaults on Mount Cosna and Caporetto. For his subsequent outstanding action at Caporetto, Rommel received Germany’s highest award, the Pour le Mérite, Order of Merit, and was promoted to the rank of captain. Rommel was one of few junior officers awarded the Pour le Mérite. Shortly after, he was posted to a junior staff appointment, where he remained to the end of the war.
After the war, Rommel went to Stuttgart, where he commanded an infantry regiment and served as an instructor at the infantry school in Dresden. During this time, Rommel wrote and published his book, Infanterie greift (Infantry Attacks), which he based on his experiences during World War I, and, of course there is extensive discussion of Caporetto and the follow-up campaign in which his unit pursued the retreating Italian forces to Monte Grappa.
Several serving infantry officers have commented that the idea of having a large firere-support element and a small assault group is nothing new, and that Field Marshal Erwin Rommel was doing it as early as World War I, which Rommel’s own book Infantry Attacks demonstrates. Consider, for example, the German attack on Mt Matajur in October 1917. In mountainous terrain, Rommel’s detachment succeeded in infiltrating successive enemy defensive lines, capturing 9150 prisoners and eighty-one guns for the loss of only six killed and thirty wounded—an astounding casualty ratio for a battle in World War I. Rommel’s method was to employ "a supporting element, usually consisting of massed machine-guns, in position to suppress enemy forces while a small penetration element created and widened a gap and his exploitation element (which usually consisted of the bulk of his forces) passed through the gap and moved deep into enemy lines’
A careful reconnaissance of enemy lines was always conducted to find gaps or areas where Rommel’s forces could closely approach enemy lines. During the execution of the attack, he always tried to take advantage of terrain, weather, and weaknesses in enemy deployment to move his forces through enemy lines with a minimal amount of contact. In other words, he always tried to infiltrate. If he could infiltrate without any contact or by quietly surprising and dispatching a small enemy position or section of the line, then he did so. If the infiltration option failed, he was always ready to execute a penetration by: (1) having a supporting element, usually consisting of massed machine guns, in position to suppress enemy forces while (2) a small penetration element created and widened a gap and (3) his exploitation element (which usually consisted of the bulk of his forces) passed through the gap and moved deep into enemy lines.
|German Soldiers with Italian Prisoners at Caporetto|
The infiltration or penetration was not the objective, it was simply a means to an end. The objective was to get through enemy front lines in order to get to logistic and command post areas and key terrain in the enemy rear. Rommel’s reconnaissances were usually made while the men rested, and were almost always conducted by officers and NCOs. These leaders were more lightly equipped and did not suffer the fatigue that the men did, making them available for scouting missions.
The leaders conducting these patrols were usually given the freedom to make and secure gaps in the enemy lines if possible. If these reconnaissance patrols came across enemy elements that were not sufficiently alert, the recon patrol would capture them and thus create their own gap. Often these recon elements, in the purest form of “recon pull,” made the gaps, sent back a runner, and “pulled” the rest of the unit through. Such gaps are a tenuous, ephemeral commodity, and Rommel always took immediate advantage of these opportunities, communicating back to his men a sense of urgency and the feeling that “a second’s delay might snatch away victory.”
In support of his recon pull, Rommel made extensive use of visual observation, using his binoculars more than any other single piece of equipment. In later operations he made excellent use of a powerful (captured) telescope and an ad hoc observation squad to conduct visual reconnaissance prior to attacking.
During the passage of his forces through three enemy lines of mountain defensive positions, Rommel made repeated use of stealthy approaches to surprise the enemy and infiltrate into his positions. On several occasions he took advantage of adverse weather, the fog of war, and fluid front line situations to deceive the enemy into believing that his troops were Italians. In one situation he prepared careful fire support and disposed his troops for a penetration operation, but in hopes of taking it by surprise he ordered a select squad under a handpicked leader to “move up the path as if he and his men were Italians returning from the front, to penetrate into the hostile position and capture the garrison… They were to do this with a minimum of shooting and hand grenade throwing. In case a battle developed they were assured of fire protection and support by the entire detachment.” In this instance they succeeded in silently capturing a hostile dugout with 17 Italians and a machine gun. The gap was widened as dozens of additional Italians were captured by approaching their positions from the flank and rear, and the way was opened to move even deeper into the enemy positions — all without firing a shot.
The stealth of these attacks was maintained at all cost, and if some enemy soldiers chose to run rather than surrender, Rommel’s men “did not fire on this fleeing enemy for fear of alarming the garrisons of positions located still higher up.” Rommel found that “The farther we penetrated into the hostile zone of defense, the less prepared were the garrisons for our arrival, and the easier the fighting.”
As Rommel relates in his Infantry Attacks, his troops’ momentum also let them rely on enemy supplies. He and his men made good use of captured enemy pack animals and bicycles during attacks. (Had he needed vehicular mobility it would have been readily available to him by using the vehicles captured in his ambushes, but his strength was in his ability to approach from unexpected directions over rough terrain.) In a later operation they were even able to acquire clean, dry underwear and sleeping gear from a captured Italian laundry depot, and on several occasions they came to rely “on the abundant weapons and stores of ammunition” captured from the Italians.
The most common enemy asset, and that which seemed to have given him and his men the most joy, was the enemy’s food. “The contents of the [captured] vehicles offered us starved warriors unexpected delicacies. Chocolate, eggs, preserves, grapes, wine and white bread were unpacked and distributed. The worthy… troopers… were served first… morale two miles behind the enemy front was wonderful!”
If you have any interest in military operations or the personal story of Erwin Rommel, by all means ready his Infantry Attacks. Remember the film Patton, when he says, "Dammit Rommel, I read your book." Infantry Attacks is that book.
Lt. Col. David Kilcullan, Australian Army Journal, Vol 1. No. 1; Walter Zapotoczny at wzaponline.com; and David Grossman in On Killing
Tuesday, July 26, 2022
|Opening Front of the July 2022 Fire on the Karst|
Heat Domes are known to create stable weather and often also very dry air mass due to subsidence (subsiding air mass) in its center. Domes bring very low chances for precipitation, not even allowing clouds or fronts to move across. Air parcels in the center of the heat dome are sinking toward to ground. A heat dome from western Europe has gradually spread towards central Europe through early July, worsening the ongoing drought with more dry air and more heatwave events. By 19 July the dome had stretched to cover the Karst (Carso in Italian) Plateau at the base of the Adriatic Sea.
The Karst Plateau extends across the border of southwestern Slovenia and northeastern Italy. The plateau rises quite steeply above the neighboring landscape, the steepness is less pronounced on its northeastern side. One disadvantage of the region is the lack of surface water. The soils are fertile enough, and even though there’s quite high rainfall amount annually, rainwater quickly moves through the crevices into the deep ground. Therefore, the surface rapidly dries out during heatwaves and summer months, leading to the worst drought conditions in the region.
Climate-wise, the Karst region is also less exposed to the beneficial climatological effects of the Mediterranean due to its steeply descending slopes towards the Adriatic Sea. However, these slopes are, on the other hand, accelerate the wind flow from the northern Adriatic region inland into western Slovenia.
|Former Austrian Strongpoint Jeopardized by the Fire|
These winds were the trigger for explosive fire fronts breaking out in this historic area. Drought is extreme, the heatwave is at its peak, and fire conditions are at an exceptional level. The main wildfire, known as The Karst Fire in Slovenia and the Carso Fire in Italy, started on 19 July and is located between the cities of Gorizia and Trieste. It has become the biggest wildfire on record since Slovenian became an independent nation in 1991.
The fire has engulfed more than 14 of the Karst's 50 square miles. and set off unexploded ordnance left over from World War I. Twelve battles, with nearly continuous trench fighting in-between, were fought in this sector during the First World War. Learn more about the fighting on the plateau HERE and HERE.
|800 Night Time Firefighters Are Working|
During the present crisis, authorities have removed a hundred pieces of unexploded ordnance from the burned areas. During the blazes crossing these areas, huge explosions were heard from these grenades and shells. For this reason, hundreds of firefighter crews were not allowed to battle the fire at its core, as the threat of injuries was too high. The main support came from the aircrews, with helicopters and Canadair planes.
|News Photo of Fire Vehicles and Aftermath of the Fire|
As of 24 July, wildfires were reportedly being brought under control, thanks to a huge amount of work done by aircrews and ground personnel performing forest cutting and watering the areas along the road to stop the fires from advancing farther. Despite high temperatures and winds that are still strong, the situation seems to be improving as we go to press.
Sources: Compiled from multiple Italian and Slovenian news feeds.
Monday, July 25, 2022
|Detail, Lone Tree CWGC Cemetery, Ypres Salient|
For the important work of memorializing the British Empire’s war dead, the Imperial War Graves Commission (now the Commonwealth War Graves Commission [CWGC]) employed luminaries of architecture, landscape, and literature: Sir Herbert Baker, Sir Reginald Blomfield, and Sir Edwin Lutyens to design the monuments, with typeface designed by Max Gill; Gertrude Jekyll to oversee the landscape design; and Rudyard Kipling to choose the inscriptions. Because of the popularity of gardening in Great Britain, and even among the troops themselves, a general design guideline was that the cemeteries should remind visitors of an English country garden. In an interesting contrast, German landscape architects selected a more somber forest-like theme.
War Graves Commission cemeteries are not identical, but they do have certain features in common. Most have stone enclosing walls and wrought-iron gates, and all feature standard headstones. Cemeteries with more than 40 graves generally have a Cross of Sacrifice as a focal point. Designed by Sir Reginald Blomfield, the Cross of Sacrifice is a granite cross with a bronze sword embedded on the front, mounted on an octagonal base.
|Serre Road #2 CWGC Cemetery, Somme Battlefield |
Cross of Sacrifice to Left, Stone of Remembrance to Right
Sunday, July 24, 2022
|Japanese Depiction of the Siege of Tsingtao|
The Chinese port city of Tsingtao—modern-day Qingdao—came under German rule in 1897. During WWI, it was to become the site of a fatal siege and the cause for continuing antagonism in the east for decades. When China was reeling from the fall of the Qing dynasty and had become an easy prey for foreign powers, who snapped up key ports along the Chinese coast. One of them was Germany, a newcomer to colonial adventures and a rising power eager for its “place in the sun.” In 1897, Germany seized on the murder of two German missionaries to grab Tsingtao and force China to grant a 99-year lease on the Yellow Sea port.
By the time the war came to Asia, Tsingtao had evolved from a fishing village into a modern city with German infrastructure, schools and its key naval base in Asia and the Pacific, where it also had possessions in far-flung New Guinea, Samoa and the Marshall Islands. To protect the strategic port, German governors built three lines of defense along the steep hills that encircled the town and stationed a garrison of some 4,000 men. All of this alarmed Germany’s rivals in the scramble for control of the Far East, chief among them Britain and Japan.
|Japanese Forces Arrive|
When the war in Europe began in August 1914, Britain promptly requested Japanese assistance. On 15 August, Japan issued an ultimatum, stating that Germany must withdraw her warships from Chinese and Japanese waters and transfer control of its port of Tsingtao to Japan. Japan’s aim was to tighten its grip on China. For Britain, it was a case of nipping Germany’s East Asian expansion in the bud.
On 15August 15, just twelve days after the start of the war in the West, Japan issued an ultimatum demanding that Germany give up the port of Tsingtao. Berlin flatly refused. Kaiser Wilhelm II made the defence of Tsingtao a top priority, saying that "it would shame me more to surrender Tsingtao to the Japanese than Berlin to the Russians."
The Germans were braced for attack. Chinese labourers had been enlisted to build fortifications along the city's steep hills, dig trenches and position artillery. The Japanese navy soon blockaded the port, and on September 2 General Mitsuomi Kamio's 18th Division of 23,000 men backed by 142 guns began bombarding German positions. Two-thousand British troops were also deployed. The Japanese effort was methodical and notable for its use of seaplanes for effect reconnaisance and some bombing raids. The German garrison was able to field only a single Taube aircraft during the siege, flown by Lieutenant Gunther Plüschow.
The ultimatum expired on 23 August, and Japan declared war on Germany. At the beginning of hostilities, the ships of the East Asia Squadron under Vice Admiral Maximilian von Spee were dispersed at various Pacific colonies on routine missions. Spee's ships rendezvoused in the Northern Mariana Islands for coaling. SMS Emden then headed for the Indian Ocean, while the rest of the squadron made their way to the west coast of South America.
|Japanese Officers Observe Arriving British Soldiers|
The city came under siege. For two months it was pummelled from land and sea. Bombs rained down from the new weapons of war - aeroplanes. Overwhelmed by force and without sufficient reinforcements, Germany eventually capitulated on 7 November 1914. Casualty numbers pale in comparison with the carnage that would soon unfold in the West, but the battle's implications were far-reaching.An estimated 450 men died in the siege, 40 of them were Chinese labourers.
Politically the siege had enormous ramifications. Tsingtao was not returned to Chinese rule, but instead the Japanese victors held on to their territory. After the war the world powers met in Versailles to negotiate the terms of global peace. Japan refused to relinquish Tsingtao and China refused to sign the treaty, setting off a chain of events which lead to war 20 years later.
Sources: BBC; France 24
Saturday, July 23, 2022
|Kaiser Wilhelm Arrives in Exile, 10 November 1918|
In November 1918, Wilhelm II was at the military headquarters of his troops in Spa, Belgium. He found himself unable to return home because of rebellions and revolution in Germany but unable to stay in Spa either due to the advancing troops of the Entente. He was advised by those closest to him to flee to a neutral country. The nearest neutral country was the Netherlands. At 6 a.m on 10 November 1918, Wilhelm II arrived at the train station in Eysden on the Dutch border. There he was granted political asylum and was temporarily housed in Amerongen Castle where he would stay for nearly two years. A few weeks after his arrival he abdicated as German emperor.
Gradually, it became clear that the emperor would not be forced to leave the Netherlands, despite the provisions set out in the Treaty of Versailles. He began to search for a permanent residence and in 1919 bought House Doorn from Baroness Van Heemstra de Beaufort, the great-grandmother of Audrey Hepburn. He renovated the house and furnished it with goods, art, and objects from his former palaces in Germany.
The Dutch government allowed Wilhelm II to remain in Netherlands under strict conditions. He had to stay in House Doorn and was only allowed to move freely within a radius of 15 kilometers around the house. He had to refrain from making political statementsб and his mail was regularly checked; he was also under permanent police surveillance. . . A return to Germany was impossible and Wilhelm stayed in Doorn for 21 years, until his death in 1941. In his last will, Wilhelm II stated that he wanted no Nazis present at his funeral. He was buried with full military honors.
Despite the British postwar election call to “Hang the Kaiser,” and the French prime minister Georges Clemenceau’s view that a trial of the Kaiser “would be one of the most imposing events in history, and that the conception was well worthy of being pursued,” Wilhelm II would never be arrested, tried, or sentenced. A Keystone Kops-style kidnapping organized by U.S. Army Col. Luke Lea in January 1919 embarrassed the Allies, and any further unsanctioned efforts to apprehend the Kaiser were strongly discouraged. However, many of the Allied governments worked, mostly far behind the scenes, to find some quasi-legal way to pressure the Netherlands to hand over the world's most hated war refugee.
Nevertheless, on 23 January 1920, Dutch officials notified the Allies that they would not extradite the former Kaiser to be tried for war crimes.
Doorn Museum, The Netherlands
Friday, July 22, 2022
|American Destroyer USS Chauncey|
|The Grand Sea Fleet at Sea|
|Scapa Flow Scuttle, 1919|
Thursday, July 21, 2022
Centennial Pilgrimage: A Visit to the Lafayette Escadrille's Airfield for the Battle of Verdun—A Roads Classic
|Insignia of the Lafayette Escadrille|
|The Field Today: Everyone Was Surprised by the Slope|
The first volunteers at Bar-le-Duc. L-R; Lt. DeLaage, Charles Johnson, Laurence Rumsey, James McConnell, William Thaw, Raoul Lufbery, Kiffin Rockwell, Didier Masson, Norman Prince, Bert Hall. (Again note the slope of the field.)
|Our 2016 Group in About the Same Position as the Pilots|
|Patrick Gregory of Centenary News, First World War, and Mike Hanlon, Editor/Publisher of Worldwar1.com, at Ste. Catherine farmhouse, 5 May 2016|
Thanks to Steve Ruffin and the New England Air Museum
Wednesday, July 20, 2022
|Depiction of the Fighting Durint the First Artois|
There is a piece of the Western Front, running north of Paris to the Channel, principally entailing the department known at the Pas de Calais. The heart of the Pas de Calais is a district known as Artois, the largest city of which is Arras, about 110 miles north of Paris. Further north from Arras is a series of ridges known as the de Lorette Heights. A chap named Napoleon Bonaparte, who knew something about battlefields, once said, "Whoever dominates the de Lorette Heights commands France." This was validated, by the way, in 1940, when the last big effort of the Allies to stop the German Panzers was defeated in the shadow of these ridges and the Germans quickly got to the Channel and turned on Paris. France soon fell. In World War I, though, Marshal Joffre fully understood the importance of the heights and launched the first post-trenches attack of the war here in late 1914.
|The Action Described Here Was at the Very Top of the Map|
On the night of 4 October 1914 Bavarian Infantry had taken possession of the flat-topped Hill 165—already known locally as Notre Dame de Lorette— which had been left almost defenseless by the French during the "Race to the Sea." A chapel, built when the hill was a site of sacred oratorios, was turned into a bastion. The surrounding villages were also well fortified by the Germans and connected via underground passageways.
There followed three subsequent distinct battles around Notre Dame de Lorette identified as the Battles of Artois, though accounts of their precise dates and results differ between the French and British versions. The first these began on 26 October 1914 with a series of German attacks and French counterattacks which kept Notre Dame in German hands. The collection of actions which ensued are generally categorized historically as the First Battle of Artois. Some sources discount the October fighting and place its start as 17 December 1914. There also seems to be some disagreement about the conclusion of the fighting since fighting on the plateau continued intermittently right up until the next major French offensive in May 1915, the Second Battle of Artois.
|The Prewar Chapel on de Lorette Height|
Early in December 1914. the tactical situation did change with the arrival of several units of French heavy artillery, whose fire compelled the Germans on Lorette ridge to take cover in their deep dug-outs. The French Higher Command ordered the XXI. Corps, which had held the Lorette sector since its stabilization, to attack in the hope of a breakthrough. The Corps commander, Gen. Maistre, was doubtful of the success of the operation proposed, judging the means insufficient and the obstacles to be encountered too strong. Nevertheless, the attack took place on 17 December on a front of a mile and a quarter, with diversions against other German strong points in Artois. Near Lorette, the artillery preparation had not been sufficient to prevent the assaulting troops coming under heavy fire, especially from machine guns, as they left the trenches. The German wire was strong and had been very little cut. Nevertheless, the attacking Poilus struggled on through deep mud, and succeeded in taking some trenches. For four days the operation was persisted in. The artillery support was weak, partly because of the winding, irregular front line, partly through insufficient liaison with the infantry. Against such handicaps the infantry strove bravely but in vain. At last, after murderous losses which justified only too well Gen. Maistre's forebodings, the main attack was broken off.
|German Trench on de Lorette Height|
In the afternoon of December 27 ten battalions of Chasseurs Alpins, commanded by Gen. Barbot, attacked the hamlet of La Targette to the south [see map], after two hours of artillery preparation. "No-man's-land" here was a quarter of a mile wide, quite flat, and without cover save for a single sunken road. Hence losses were heavy and onlv half a mile of first-line trenches were taken. A nearly unbroken series of minor operations took place throughout the winter and early spring.
|Believed to Be an Authentic Photo of a French Attack on de Lorette Height|
As the winter went on, the sticky mud became even worse, and the heavy German trench-mortars added still more to the danger and discomfort of the trenches. On 3 March at dawn, after a short but violent preparation by heavy artillery and heavy trench mortars, an entire German division made a sudden attack along the crest of the ridge, and drove the French into Buvigny wood. Two days of counterattacks recovered most of the ground lost, and throughout March and April a series of local attacks and counter-attacks slightly improved the French position at a cost in casualties disproportionately severe in comparison with the ground gained. The dead were not all Frenchmen. Already the German troops were beginning to call the ridge "Tolenhugd," the Hill of Death. A second general attack (Second Battle of Artois) was mounted in May 1915 that secured Notre Dame de Loreette and even included a penetration to distant, Vimy Ridge that was, however, quickly beaten back by the Germans.
|Preserved Trenches from the 12–15 Fighting|
Except for the 1917 Canadian victory at Vimy Ridge, the Artois and de Lorette Heights are one of the neglected battlefields of the Great War in most English-language sources. For some reason, these intense battles lack the "sex appeal" of Flanders or Verdun for historians. However, consider this—on the crest of Notre Dame de Lorette rest the remains of 40,000 Frenchmen in France's largest war cemetery and ossuary, and a magnificent basilica on the site of the original chapel. Alongside them is a massive new elliptical monument, something in the character of America's Vietnam Memorial, with the names of all the combatants of all nations who fell in Artois and French Flanders listed. There are 580,000 names on that monument, including some Americans. An impressive section of the 1914–15 trenches have been preserved on the site as well.
|Notre Dame de Lorette Today|
During 1914–15, the French Would Have Been Attacking from the Upper Left (West)
[Click on Image to Enlarge]
Sources: Encyclopedia Britannica, 1922; Webmatters