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

Tuesday, February 7, 2023

Little Italy in the Great War: Philadelphia’s Italians in the Battlefield and Home Front

Both Flags Fly at a Wartime Event in Philadelphia's Little Italy

By Richard N. Juliani
Temple University Pres, 2022
Peter L. Belmonte, Reviewer

Somewhere around twenty to twenty-five percent of the United States armed forces during World War I were immigrants to this nation. Immigrants from Italy probably made up the largest national immigrant group represented in the U.S. military. Little Italy in the Great War: Philadelphia’s Italians in the Battlefield and Home Front looks at one specific Italian immigrant group and how they adapted to wartime in America. Author Richard N. Juliani, Professor of Sociology, Emeritus, at Villanova University, has written extensively about the Italian immigrant experience, specializing in Philadelphia’s Italian population. In this book, Juliani “seeks to examine the impact of the war on men who served in the ranks of the military and civilians who defended the nation in industrial and civic roles on the home front” (p. 5). In doing so, Juliani points out the nuanced differences from previous works on immigrants showing their successful assimilation during the war.

Juliani’s survey of the community is vast. He discusses the origins of the war and the call from Italy for her army reservists to return for service in the war in 1915. This occasioned a deep interest in the war in the Italian community. Juliani discusses how the various sources of information and misinformation impacted the community. This, of course, is a microcosm of how the war was “marketed” to the American public in general during those years.

Juliani’s lengthy discussion of Italian immigrants in the U.S. military is thorough and helpful in understanding how these men served and how they viewed their service. The author also discusses various means of “Americanizing” immigrant soldiers of all nationalities, hundreds of thousands of whom enlisted or were drafted into the military. He provides plenty of examples and vignettes of those who served, including those who served stateside and those who served in combat. Final chapters cover the home front and the soldiers’ return to Philadelphia. A concluding chapter discusses the overall effects of the war on the veterans and the community in general.

In the end, Juliani concludes that while Philadelphia’s Italians had demonstrated their loyalty during the war, subsequent (1924) immigration quotas impacted the renewal of their pre-war life and language. Reformers’ efforts at assimilation were, according to Juliani, “made unnecessary alongside the inherent and inevitable results of daily life in America” (p. 260). Thus, Juliani sees the war as one step in the slower process of “Americanization” or assimilation that impacted individuals in different ways.

Juliani consulted a wide array of primary sources to bring us this important work that sheds light on a little-studied aspect of the war and American society. Little Italy in the Great War is a thorough analysis of how World War I impacted Philadelphia’s Italian community. It is a fine synthesis of military, social, urban, and immigration history. Our understanding of America's war effort would benefit from similar analyses of other immigrant communities. This book is highly recommended to anyone interested in Italian American history, as well as those interested in how American immigrants adapted to wartime in their new home country.

Peter L. Belmonte

Monday, February 6, 2023

The Saddest Farewell Story You Will Ever Hear

An Earlier Photo of the Future Sgt. Major Cavan

A First World War soldier who was called to the Western Front at short notice made a desperate bid to say goodbye to his family by scribbling a note in a matchbox and throwing it from a moving train.

Sergeant Major George Cavan hurled the message onto the platform of Carluke train station in South Lanarkshire, Scotland, and shouted to an onlooker [probably known to him]  to give it to his wife, Jean.

Dearest wife and bairns, off to France, love to you all, Daday

The serviceman and his unit were suddenly called to fight in the Ludendorff Offensive—Germany's last major effort to win the war—from their base in Glasgow, but didn't have time to tell loved ones.

But just 15 days after penciling the note, Sgt Maj Cavan died after being wounded in the battle, though his body was never found.

The note, which read "Dearest wife and bairns, off to France — love to you all, Daday," was eventually given to his wife, Jean Cavan.

George Cavan's wife, Jean, and their three children
(L-R) Lucy, Jean and Georgina

She kept the letter and matchbox for the rest of her life and handed it to her daughter Lucy who in turn left it to her daughter, Maureen Rogers. Mrs Rogers, [then] 72, said: 'The matchbox and letter were treasured by my grandmother for the rest of her life.  'My grandfather must have thought "how on Earth am I going to let my family know I am going to war?"

Sources: Article  –  Daily Mail, 26 February 2015; Photos – Private  Collection of Maureen Rogers

Sunday, February 5, 2023

Battlefield Survivor:  Verdun's  Caverne du Douaumont aka Abri 320

Interior View Today

Abri 320 is an underground  brick and concrete shelter  for soldiers who might be fighting in the  sector. Built between 1889 and 1891, after the Franco-Prussian war of 1870-71. It was also to serve as a dressing station and a command post. The shelter dates from the same time than the defense forts of Douaumont, Vaux, Froideterre and Souville. The shelter is located  at 334m above sea level, at the foot of the Douaumont National Cemetery and Ossuary.

Position on the Battlefield

Topside View:  Note Position of the Two Chimneys

The structure, covered by 12 feet of earth, consists of a 60-meter long main gallery, capable of holding  300 men, with two lateral entrance tunnels.  Ventilation was provided by two massive concrete metal chimneys which are still visible today.

Schematic Plan: The Entrances Are on the Backside of
the Above Photo

Abri 320 was deactivated in 1915, during the phase of disarmament of the surrounding forts. However, the  great German offensive of February 1916 forced the government to reopen it and it became the main command post for the Thiamont sector of the battle.  In June, the Germans first forced its evacuation, after which its possession went back and forth until the French drove the enemy back to Fort Douaumont and secured it for good.

Partially Filled Entrance

Both Chimneys Survived All the Bombardments of the Battle

Abri 320 was bombarded by both sides through the battle but it's structural integrity was never compromised. The ground located above and around the shelter has been left in its wartime condition although the terrain has been softened somewhat by time and the weather.

The Terrain Around Abri 320, a Century Later

Source: De la Fortification Séré de Rivières

Saturday, February 4, 2023

South Africa's Jackie the Baboon Who Served on WWI's Front Line

By Katie Serena

Due to his dedication to the army, Jackie became the official mascot of the 3rd Transvaal Regiment and was taken everywhere with the soldiers. Jackie the baboon started out as a pet to a man named Albert Marr. Marr found Jackie wandering around his farm and decided to take him in and train him as a member of the family. As one does.

Jackie lived with Marr for several years, learning how to be a respectable young baboon. Then, in 1915, Marr was enlisted to join the war. Unwilling to leave Jackie behind, he asked his superiors if Jackie, too, could join the army. Much to everyone’s surprise, they said yes.

Once he was enlisted, he was treated just like all of the other soldiers. He was given a uniform, complete with buttons and regimental badges, a cap, a pay book, and his own set of rations.

He even acted like all of the other soldiers. When he saw a superior officer pass by he would stand and salute them correctly. He would also light cigarettes for his fellow officers and stand sentry, a job he excelled at due to his heightened sense of smell and hearing.  He spent time in the trenches in France and was even wounded by enemy fire.

Jackie with a Young Supporter

During an explosive shootout in one of the trenches, Jackie was seen building a wall of stones around himself for protection. While he was preoccupied, a piece of shrapnel flew over his wall and hit his right leg.

The regiment’s doctors took Jackie via stretcher to the camp’s hospital and tried to save his leg, but unfortunately, it had to be amputated. Due to being knocked out with chloroform, and the unknown effects of chloroform on baboons, the doctors were not confident that he would recover. However, within a few days, Jackie had done just that. For his bravery, Jackie was awarded a medal for valor, as well as promoted from private to corporal.

Eventually, near the end of the war, Jackie was discharged at the Maitland Dispersal Camp in Cape Town. He left with his discharge papers, a military pension, and a civil employment form for discharged soldiers. Like a true friend, Jackie returned to the Marr family farm, giving up his life of service for a life of leisure as a pet, until his death in 1921.

Source:  All That's Interesting, 31 January 2019 

Thursday, February 2, 2023

But the End Came Surpisingly Fast! — The Armistice Through the Doughboys' Eyes

False Hope: 8 November 1918

. . . The night of November 8 was indeed a wild one. It was on this night that the first report, or rather the false report, of the signing of the Armistice was received. Parades formed immediately: Flags appeared from every window and from all balconies. The cafes and restaurants were crowed to capacity. Everybody seemed happy. The next morning, however, the real facts were learned and the spirits of the people somewhat damped.

Sgt. Albert Haas, 78th Division, In Vichy, France recovering from wounds

Anticipation: 0800 Hrs, 11 November 1918

And this is the end of it. In three hours the war will be over. It seems incredible even as I write it. I suppose I ought to be thrilled and cheering. Instead I am merely apathetic and incredulous. . .

Robert Casey, 33rd Division

1100 Hrs, 11 November 1918: The AEF's Happiest Day

Again stern orders were given to roll our packs for a final drive. It was now twenty minutes to eleven, November 11th, 1918. We fell in line and marched onward.

We had had no official word yet that the armistice was to be signed. In fact we had heard so often about Germany's peace talk that we paid no attention to wild rumors.

Exactly at eleven o'clock, came the message from Marshal Foch's headquarters, the "Armistice was Signed." Instantaneously wild shrieks, shouts and yells of thousands and thousands of voices could be heard. The night had been a thing of horror! Daylight brought her joyful tidings to thousands of wearied fighters! Visions of home and dear ones, of transports homeward bound, waiting for the boys who answered the call of their country - the boys in khaki - the Yanks!

Pvt. Mathew Chopin, 356th Inf., 89th Div

As noon approached, we became conscious of an unusual quietness all around us. Firing of all kinds had almost entirely ceased. The Germans were not firing even a machine gun, though our artillery continued to send over a shell now and then. The Germans occupied the crest of the ridge along the river, and if they had had sufficient numbers, could easily have cleaned us up. After eleven o'clock, all firing ceased entirely, not a sound any where. Soon everyone was talking about it. No word had reached us yet.

A wounded fellow from our company was discovered, down near the river bank, where he had laid since before daylight. Getting a stretcher, McDermott and I went to him and dressed his wound. He was shot through the hip, and just about unconscious, as a result of his exposure to the cold. We wrapped him in a blanket, and laid him on the stretcher.

While we were getting ready to take our wounded man to the rear, a runner appeared' with the official news that an Armistice had been signed. Most everybody let out a few healthy yells, but I did not. For one reason, didn't feel much like yelling. I had some difficulty getting three more fellows to help me carry the stretcher. The one I did get had to stop every few minutes and rest. I kept urging the necessity of getting the fellow under medical care as soon as possible, for he was badly in need of attention. As we had to go back along the river bank to where we had crossed during the preceding night, I had a good opportunity to see just what we had done, and the hazardness of our undertaking.

Pvt. Clarence Richmond, 5th Marines, 2nd Division

FINALLY CAME NEWS of the Armistice. Somehow we could not believe it was true the war was actually over. Then, on Dec. 7, we saw a beautiful sight. Here came a passenger train flying U.S. flags. We climbed aboard. We were leaving German territory. I had been in a prison camp only 58 days, but felt as if I had been there 58 years.

Pvt. Charles Dermody, 132nd Infantry; 33rd DivisionPrisoner of War at Rostatt, Germany at time of Armistice

GREAT DAY !!! THE WAR HAS ENDED !!! PEACE HAS COME !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

While we were eating mess, a French soldier came running by waving a flag and yelling "Finis la guerre!" Later, an official communication affirmed the great news. We are all overjoyed. . .

Sgt. Edwin Gerth, 51st Artillery

On Monday at 11:30 am when the sound of cannon boomed the joyful news that the longed for peace had come ... The French seemed stunned at first--they couldn't in a moment throw off these four years of horror and grief. But [we in] the Red Cross turned out strong. [Outside, in the street], a drum appeared from somewhere ... and in a moment the crowd was singing the Marseillaise. So many people were crying that it was a little difficult. Then a procession formed ... If you could have seen me marching between a Tommy and a wounded Poilu, the latter helping me carry the flag with his good arm. A French boy scout carried the French Flag. The whole of Paris seemed to join in the parade. You never saw anything like it.

Elizabeth Ashe, American Red Cross

Somebody came out waving a white flag. An American officer stepped forward to greet the German. Then the German kids started coming down. We celebrated that day with the German soldiers. They came down and we mixed all up. Some of them could speak English and we could speak German. . . They were glad to see it over with, too.

Gene Lee, USMC, 51st Company, 2nd Division
Interviewed at age 104, 7 November 2003

Nov 11: Fighting stopped.We hardly knew what to do with ourselves for a while it seemed rather queer to not hear the screech of a shell or the sharp reports of rifles and machine guns. Tents were pitched in a nearby field the farmers furnishing straw to floor them with and we could have fires, smoke or anything else after dark.

On the morning of Nov 17th we started on a hike for Germany with the French making about 15 miles to a place called Dikilvenue where the company slept in a brewery and in the morning started on another hike to Borsbeke where we stayed for two days.

Pvt. Robert L. Dwight, 148th Infantry, 37th Division

Wednesday, February 1, 2023

Remembering 100,000 Veterans: Sandy the War Horse and All the Other "Walers"


By James Patton

In 2011 Stephen Spielberg’s film War Horse was a box office smash hit, grossing $177.6 million. Spielberg’s subject character was fictional, but the move sparked an outpouring of stories written about the real "war horses." It has been estimated that at least eight million horses must have died in the First World War.

According to the Australian War Memorial, Australia sent about 136,000 horses overseas during that war. Most of these were Australian "Walers," a breed developed on the cattle stations in the outback of New South Wales that are roughly equivalent to American cow ponies. Walers were strong, quick, fast, nimble, possessed of great stamina and adapted to arid conditions. In 2015 the Australian Broadcasting Corporation produced a feature-length documentary The Waler: Australia’s Great War Horse, which has never been broadcast in the U.S.

Only one of these 136,000 horses was ever returned to Australia. He was a Waler, a bay named Sandy. At 16 hands he was slightly taller than an American Quarter Horse. Due to his gentle disposition, he was picked by Major General Sir William Bridges KCB CMG (1861–1915), the commander of the 1st Australian Division. He had three mounts, but Sandy was his favorite. (See Jim Patton's earlier article on General Bridges HERE.)

Sandy’s back story is brief. He was foaled in 1907 in the "old" village of Tallangatta, Victoria, near the border with New South Wales, which was submerged by Lake Hume in the 1950s. He was owned by the O'Donnell Brothers, brickmakers.

At the outbreak of war in 1914, the O'Donnells sent Sandy to the war effort, and he was on the first convoy of ships to sail for Egypt. Somewhere along the way, he caught the eye of Bridges, though with a longish, slightly hooked nose, Sandy wasn't classically handsome.

He never landed at Gallipoli; he was one of 6,100 horses sent there, but the ship was turned around before they could be landed, as it was obvious that there would be no place for them at ANZAC Cove. He was returned to Egypt and was shipped to France six months later, where he was attached to the Australian Veterinary Corps Hospital at Calais. Though he was not used in the fighting, he was ridden by the veterinary personnel. One of his riders died in a gas attack but Sandy survived.

Walers of the Australian Light Horse

In October 1917 the Australian Minister of Defence, Sir George Pearce KCVO (1870–1952), decided that Sandy should be shipped home and stabled at Duntroon. There is a symmetry here. Bridges, who was fatally wounded at Gallipoli, was one of just two of the 60,000 Australians who died overseas in the First World War to be returned home for burial. His grave is at Duntroon, the Canberra-area military  college that he founded in 1910.

Sandy was taken from France to England in May 1918 and embarked on the voyage from Liverpool to Australia in September. He arrived in Melbourne in November, but the war was over so he never got to Duntroon, spending the rest of his life at the central depot called Fisher’s Stables, on Remount Hill, at Maribyrnong, Victoria, which is now a part of metropolitan Melbourne. He had been there before, in 1914, when he and many other horses sent to the war had begun that journey.

He lived there until 1923, when blind and sick, he was put down. Most of Sandy’s remains are still buried there, in an unmarked site, but his head was mounted by a taxidermist and, along with one hoof, was displayed at the Australian War Memorial in Canberra. These artifacts are still there but have been in storage for a long time now. Another hoof was silver plated and given to the Royal Military College at Duntroon. The photo at the top is the only known photograph of Sandy taken when he was alive.

Today funds are being raised to erect memorial statues of Sandy at sites in both the "new" village of Tallangatta and at the site of the depot in Maribyrnong. There is also a memorial to all of the Walers and the Light Horsemen who rode them at Tamworth, New South Wales, and talk of another Waler memorial to be erected at Albany, Western Australia.

And what became of all of Australia's other war horses? Around 30,000 died in field service. Several thousand who were over 12 years of age or in poor health were put down. Some were sold off in France, mostly for slaughter. The rest were transferred to the British and Indian armies. The Australian government had judged it to be too expensive to ship the horses back to Australia where they would be surplus to military needs, glut the market and sold for cheap, thereby bankrupting horse breeders.

It is said that around 250 light horsemen couldn't bear to leave their Walers to an uncertain future in Palestine or Egypt so they shot them instead. This poem was written about one of these men:

I don’t think I could stand the thought of my old fancy hack

Just crawling round old Cairo with [Egyptians] on his back

Perhaps some English tourist out in Palestine may find

My broken-hearted Waler with a wooden plough behind

No: I think I’d better shoot him and tell a little lie

“He floundered in a wombat hole and then lay down to die”.

Sources: the Sydney Morning Herald, Australian War Memorial

Tuesday, January 31, 2023

General Jan Smuts and his First World War in Africa, 1914–1917

By David Brock Katz
Casemate Publishers, 2022
Jim Gallen, Reviewer

General Smuts on an Inspection Tour of the Western Front

Roads readers are familiar with the Western Front, maybe Gallipoli and the Russian or Italian Fronts, but few with the Great War in Southern Africa. General Jan Smuts and his First World War In Africa, 1914-1917 is an in-depth study of that theatre from the South African perspective. Author David Brock Katz has crafted a defense of Smuts against his critics, primarily those who disparage him as an amateur soldier, unqualified for his level of command, while telling the saga of the Great War in Southern Africa.

The scene is set historically and geographically. South Africa had emerged from its war between the Afrikaner Republics and the British as a country divided between empire loyalists and Boer nationalists. Its neighbors included German Southwest Africa, later Southwest Africa and now Namibia, and German East Africa, later Tanganyika, and now the mainland portion of Tanzania.

The central figure of this work, General Jan Smuts, was, like his mentor and superior Prime Minister Louis Botha, a multi-faceted man. A scholar in literature and science, placed by at least one commentator on a par with John Milton and Charles Darwin, a lawyer, a politician and a military leader, Smuts is one of the most impressive figures of both world wars. 

A fighter for the Afrikaner Republics during the South African War, Smuts, along with Botha, became political leaders who strove to unite Dutch and English settlers in a Dominion of the British Empire. A political and military leader, in the tradition of Napoleon, he balanced a vision of political expansionism with his public’s desire for low casualties. Though an Empire loyalist, Smuts remained a practitioner of the South African way of war. An advocate of maneuver rather than frontal attack, he lacked the will to annihilate his enemy but led his men to victory.

South African Troops in Action

Envisioning the expansion of South Africa to encompass Africa to the equator and the position of the dominant Dominion in a Cape-to-Cairo British domain, Smuts’ war aims meshed with those of his British colleagues. As rulers of the waves, Britannia sought to drive the German Navy from the South Atlantic by capturing the German Western African ports of Luderitzbucht and Walvis Bay and the destruction of the German wireless stations in those ports and Windhoek. While achieving those goals, Smuts led his South African forces to capture the whole territory. Success having been achieved in the West, Smuts and his forces turned to German East Africa which it conquered in joint actions with British and Belgian units.

With South Africa holding sway over much of the southern portion of the Continent, Smuts was dispatched to London to be part of the Imperial War Cabinet and to participate in the peace conference. Resisting offers of the Egyptian Command, deeming it a sideshow, and a secret mission to Russia, which he regarded as a spent force, Smuts played roles in the development of air power and the settling of Welsh strikes. In peace discussions, Smuts’s expansionist goals were thwarted but South Africa emerged as an enhanced Dominion, and his international reputation would carry him into prominence in the Second World War.

Smuts’ war was in a secondary theatre. Why should a Roads reader take the time to add this study to his Great War canon? I see several reasons. It is well written. Katz has skillfully woven cultural, political, and military themes into his account. The text is helpfully supplemented by maps, tables, photos, a bibliography, and cartoons. A student of military operations will appreciate the detail with which they are presented.

Smuts is depicted, in my view, as more of a Pershing, in his preference for movement, than a Haig, Nivelle or Smuts's British colleagues in South Africa in their practice of static warfare and direct attack. Smuts, the Afrikaner political leader, first had to draw public opinion into support for the war before marching onto Mars’s fields. One is reminded of Confederate heroes, Joseph Wheeler and Fitzhugh Lee, who re-donned the blue to rally Southern support for the Spanish American War. Katz illustrates that some warriors fought in a manner unlike the bloodbath of the Western Front. This book reminds us that the Great War was, after all, a world war that profoundly shaped world history beyond Europe and even the Middle East. It provides a perspective lacking in most Great War histories.

Jim Gallen

Monday, January 30, 2023

The Military Service in Two World Wars of Insulin's Co-Discoverer, Major Frederick Banting

Banting in World War I

By Stacey Devlin, Banting House

Although Frederick Banting is often remembered for his discovery of insulin, he is not as frequently acknowledged as a war hero.

Banting served in both the First and Second World Wars. Banting’s attempts to enlist during the First World War were rejected twice due to poor eyesight. However, as the war continued, the military was in desperate need of doctors, leading to Banting’s deployment to England and then to France as an orthopedic surgeon. During the Cambrai Offensive of September 1918, Banting was injured in the right arm by shrapnel. Rather than evacuating as ordered, he remained on the front lines (some reports say for 17 additional hours!) to help other soldiers. He referred to himself as “the luckiest boy in France” because the war was over by the time his arm had healed. He was awarded the Military Cross in February 1919. This is the second-highest honour awarded in the British Empire after the Victoria Cross.

Dead Canadian Lewis Gunner at Canal du Nord

Banting insisted on serving in the Second World War just as he had served in the First. He was promoted from Captain to the rank of Major. His knighthood transformed his official title to “Major Sir Frederick Banting, MC.” Because of his research, the Canadian government would not allow him to serve on the front lines. However, they urged him to continue his involvement with the National Research Council of Canada. He worked on such diverse projects as treatments for mustard gas, anti-gravity suits and oxygen masks, and biological and chemical warfare. Banting played his greatest WWII role in helping organize Canada's effort in researching the medical aspects of military aviation.

In February 1941, Banting was given the opportunity to return to England for three weeks. He was sent to review wartime medical research in England, with the possibility of bringing some of this research back to Canada for protection. At 8:30 p.m. on 20 February 1941, he left with a crew of three on Hudson Bomber Flight T-9449. Approximately half an hour later, the oil cooler failed, leading to the failure of both engines and the radio. Captain Mackey attempted to land the plane on Seven Mile Pond, Newfoundland (eventually renamed Banting Lake). The aircraft clipped the trees and was brought down only meters away from a potentially safe landing place. Two of the crew died upon impact; Banting and Mackey survived. Mackey left to get help. Wounded and delirious, Banting wandered away from the plane and died of exposure.

Banting in World War II

The bodies of the three passengers were recovered on 23 February. A funeral ceremony was held in Toronto on 4 March 1941, and Banting was buried in Toronto’s Mount Pleasant Cemetery. Lady Banting was given the Memorial Cross on Major Sir Frederick Banting’s behalf.

Source: Banting House — Birthplace of Insulin

Sunday, January 29, 2023

When America's War with Germany and Austria-Hungary Officially Ended

Preliminary Congressional Report on the Proposed Resolution

On 2 July 1921, while visiting a friend's estate in Raritan, NJ, President Warren G. Harding signed into law the Knox-Porter Resolution officially concluding the United States’ involvement in the First World War. The bill had been derived from two separate resolutions drafted by Senator Philander Knox and Representative Stephen Porter, both Republicans from Pennsylvania. Congress had decided that the United States would not repeal the declaration of the state of war between the U.S. and the Imperial German Government signed on 6 April 1917 but simply declare the state of war to be at an end. Representative Ross Collins of Mississippi concluded that “with the exception of the United States of America, all the nations that were at war with the Central Powers are now at peace with them. This country alone remains in a state of war . . . the people in all parts of our Nation are hungry for actual peace.”

President Harding Signing the Resolution, 2 July 1921

The Knox-Porter Resolution also declared peace with the recently separated nations of Austria and Hungary. By declaring peace, the U.S. hoped to consolidate its power in the postwar world and play a prominent role in the treaty-making process. “We will ask only for a just, equitable, and honorable disarmament, no more, and will accept no less; as we will ask for only a just and honorable peace,” said Representative Robert Maloney of Massachusetts.

The resolution also guaranteed the rights and privileges of American citizens by protecting them from government seizures of property. During the war, the U.S. seized German property from American citizens through the office of the Alien Property Custodian. While the government retained this property, the resolution paved the way for trade resumption between the United States and previously hostile Germany, Austria, and Hungary.

Sources: Website of the U.S House of Representatives

Saturday, January 28, 2023

President Pershing? — A Roads Classic

World War I did not produce a military hero who became president, but it did launch at least one aspirant, Gen. John J. Pershing, supreme commander of the American Expeditionary Force. Pershing challenged a second soldier-candidate from an earlier war, Maj. Gen. Leonard Wood, for the Republican presidential nomination in 1920. Many believe Pershing's fear of Wood—an extremely political general—was his sole motive for mounting a campaign. However, the "Pershing for President" boom soon collapsed.

Not a Natural-Looking Politician:
With His Son Alongside, Pershing Manages to Appear Dour at an Event Honoring Him at His Hometown in January 1920

Attention focused on Pershing as a presidential possibility soon after the close of World War I. When he returned to the United States from Europe, welcoming crowds were enthusiastic. His reception in New York was like that of a returning hero as thousands lined Fifth Avenue to catch a glimpse of the most heroic figure of the war. Cautious by temperament, Pershing consulted friends, especially Charles Gates Dawes, about what course his future should take.

Dawes and another friend of both Dawes and Pershing, Mark Woods of Lincoln, began working to establish a "Pershing for President" boom in Nebraska. Like most professional soldiers, Pershing lacked a permanent residence, but he had lived in Lincoln from 1891 to 1895, and his family continued to live there. His backers faced a daunting task—building a statewide organization before the April 1920 presidential primary. Rival candidates Leonard Wood and Senator Hiram Johnson were far ahead.

General Leonard Wood
Pershing Came to Despise
His Former Booster
The strategy for capturing the 16 Nebraska votes at the Republican convention was to present Pershing as a favorite-son candidate and rely on voter loyalty to a fellow Nebraskan. A long campaign ended when Nebraska voters went to the polls to vote in the primaries on 20 April 1920. The final tally found Johnson the victor with 63,262 votes; Wood, 42,385; and Pershing, 27,669. Nebraska's favorite son carried only Lancaster County by the slim plurality of 35 percent and was second choice in another ten counties near Lancaster.

The draft Pershing longed for did not come. His name never appeared before the Republican convention, which nominated Warren G. Harding for president. Pershing did derive some satisfaction from the defeat of his rival general, Leonard Wood. A number of factors were responsible for Pershing's poor showing. Cautious and reserved by nature, he did little personal campaigning and was often indecisive at crucial moments. His localized campaign lacked the organization and financing necessary to upset rival candidates, who had entered the contest earlier and with more resources.

Pershing served as U.S. Army chief of staff from July 1921 to September 1924, when he retired from military service. He went on to additional distinguished service to the nation as the founding head of the American Battle Monuments Commission. He died in July 1948.

Source: The Nebraska Historical Society

Friday, January 27, 2023

A Forgotten Action in the Race to the Sea: The Battle for Messines Ridge

15 October – 2 November 1914 

Indian Troops Called In to Defend Messines Ridge

Immediately south of Ypres rises a five-mile-long spur that commands the open territory to both the west and east to a considerable distance. This ridge starts just at the point where the southern part of the salient's bulge emerges. Atop it sit three villages, St. Eloi, Wytschaete, and Messines. Messines Ridge, as it came to be known, would in 1917 be the site of one of the most spectacular events in military history. In October 1914, no one knew of this future fame, but the riders of General Edmund Allenby's recently created Cavalry Corps clearly saw that its possession was the key to the southern defenses of Ypres. At this point, the Race to the Sea melded into the series of actions later known as the First Battle of Ypres. The actions around Messines would overlap and impact nearly all the action to the north during the First Ypres.

By the 18th the partly dismounted Cavalry Corps flanked by two infantry divisions were positioned on the eastern slope of the ridge. However, the two cavalry divisions each contained only half the manpower of a British infantry division, while the accompanying Royal Horse Artillery was simply no match for the approaching German forces. Further, at this point neither BEF Commander Sir John French and his staff, nor sector coordinator Ferdinand Foch. had grasped the enemy's intentions and the massing of forces just over the horizon. Their orders for the day were for their small, under-gunned forces to advance east. For three days, the advance proceeded eastward of Messines and Ploegsteert Wood, involving only light skirmishing. The Germans were building up their manpower for the push to the channel, which would be launched on 29 October.

Over the next week, the sheer mass of the advancing German Sixth Army drove the cavalrymen back to Messines Ridge, where thinned-out units combined with French reinforcements and some newly arrived Indian Army battalions made a stand. At 0530 on 29 October the Germans opened a broad offensive from north of the Menin Road to Messines. The 1st Cavalry Division repulsed German attacks against the town of Messines, but further north on the ridge things were dire, despite French reinforcements sent by Foch. The next day the II Bavarian Corps renewed the attack on Messines in the evening and broke into the town at 0430 the following morning. In the local area, about 6,000 Germans were engaging less than 900 of the dismounted cavalrymen. After extensive house-to-house fighting the British troops withdrew. Reinforcements arrived around noon and tried to regain the town, but were unsuccessful. Farther north at Wytschaete, a similar pattern developed, with outnumbered British troops losing the attritional battle as both sides experienced heavy casualties.

London Scottish Territorials, Decimated at Messines, Withdrawing

Wytschcaete fell at 0245 on 31 September and attempts by French forces to regain it failed. With both key positions on Messines Ridge in enemy hands, the decision was made to withdraw Allied forces from the high ground. To safeguard their retirement, the British shelled Messines to prevent a close pursuit. The French 32nd Division passed through the exhausted retreating British and secured a defensible position west of Messines Ridge.

Things quieted down after 2 November all along the new front around the Ypres Salient. Except for a successful breakthrough at St. Eloi that was quickly halted, for the next week German efforts concentrated on artillery work to batter the town of Ypres and the field fortifications springing up around it. On 10 November, the German Army launched what turned out to be their last offensive action in the west in 1914. It did not provide pressure around the new line west of Messines, however. This position would remain stable until 7 June 1917 when Messines Ridge would be the site of the most spectacular demonstration of mine warfare in military history.

Thursday, January 26, 2023

Weapons of War: The First French Tank—the Schneider CA-1

A Schneider on Display at the French Tank Memorial, Berry Au Bac

Perhaps the most recognizable tanks of the war were the British Mark-series tanks—the Schneider CA1 was France’s version of the tank. The Schneider’s main purpose was to create channels through no man’s land through which thousands of infantry troops would pour, towards German lines and into their trenches. To achieve this purpose, the Schneider had a peculiar boat-like prow. This pointed front served two purposes. The first was to push down and aside barbed wire obstacles that littered the battlefield so that the wire would be out of the way for dismounted infantry. It was also hoped that the prow shape would assist the Schneider in getting across trenches, as the front end tended to make contact with trench walls and get stuck. Built atop the double tractor design of California's Holt Tractor Company, the CA-1 was the first operational French tank and the second in the world after the British Mark-I.

Since the beginning of hostilities Colonel Jean-Baptiste Eugène Estienne was fascinated with the idea of armored transports that could bring infantry safely up to the enemy trenches. After observing frontline action the first weeks of the war, on the 25 August he declared in front of his staff and officers "Gentlemen, victory will be owned by the one of any belligerents that could place a 75mm gun on a car able to move on all terrains". He learned during the summer of 1915 that Eugene Brillié was already working on an armored prototype able to cross barbed wire, based on a Holt tractor. After gaining the approval of General Joffre for 400 orders, he gathered a small team in early February to produce the prototype of the CA-1 on the basis of the Schneider chassis, which was ready within two weeks. After relatively successful tests, Schneider began building the infrastructure for mass-producing the CA-1. This process was quite long. The first units were ready in September. At the same time Estienne was named at the head of the newly formed "Special Artillery" corp. The first unit was ready for combat in April 1917, in time for the Nivelle Offensive.

The strange tank's armament was irregularly placed. A single 75mm cannon was on the Schneider's right forward corner and had only a limited traverse. Its location inside the tank necessitated a very compact design, which resulted in a very short barrel. The short barrel length had an adverse effect on both projectile velocity and accuracy.

By period artillery standards, the Schneider had to be virtually on top of German lines before it could score chance hits at maximum range, a little over 2,000 meters or a bit above one mile. Aiming was coordinated by both the gunner and the driver, as the Schneider had to face enemy trenches at an oblique angle for the gun to face the right direction. In addition to the single 75 millimeter gun, two machine guns were mounted internally.

Amazingly, a crew of six were expected to fit inside the Schneider: two machine gunners, a driver/commander, a 75mm cannon gunner, a loader for the cannon, and one mechanic/machine gun loader. Ventilation in the terribly cramped space was achieved through ventilation slits in the roof, which were intended to suck hot air and shooting fumes outside the vehicle. Though significantly more capable than preceding tank designs, the Schneider CA-1 had several design flaws that hindered its usefulness. Externally carried fuel tanks were prone to catching fire when hit. Moreover, in order to increase range, additional fuel was sometimes carried inside and was very likely to explode if enemy artillery penetrated the Schneider's armor.

Schneider CA-1s Attacking at the Chemin des Dames, April 1917

The first batches of CA-1s were ready for action on 16 April 1917, just in time to be sent into action during the Nivelle Offensive at Berry-au-Bac. A hundred and thirty-two tanks, almost all models then available, were engaged. But the result was a disaster. Many found the rough terrain was too much for their tracks, and their forward rail acted to overhang the hull, prone to ditch itself in any solid obstacle. The engine was not powerful enough, and many broke down at the very beginning. The others advanced in broad daylight and the Germans deployed a lethal artillery barrage using field guns at short range in direct fire, firing on flat trajectories against tanks which were designed to only sustain machine gun and infantry fire. Eventually, the Germans learned to target the exposed forward gasoline reserve and many burst into flames, earning it the infamous nickname of "mobile crematoriums." A total of 57 CA-1s were lost that day. Forty-four broke down at the start and the remainder managed to reach their objectives, breaking through German first and second lines. However poor coordination meant that the infantry failed to support them and retreated. Only 56 survived. The entire, futile offensive, was a disaster and Nivelle was sacked. Later on, in 1918, available Schneider CAs were reorganized into 20 Artillerie Spéciale units and given to then-general Estienne. They participated in some minor offensives including the American capture of Cantigny.

Sources:; The National Interest