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

Tuesday, November 28, 2023

A Fraternity of Arms: America and France in the Great War

By Robert B. Bruce
University Press of Kansas, 2003
Reviewed by David F. Beer

This book was published some twenty years ago but it was a surprising eye-opener for me. I was forced to realize that most of my reading about the Great War over the years had involved either a British bias or, less frequently, a German one. But A Fraternity of Arms adjusted my prejudices and showed me that in the latter part of the war an enormous amalgamation of American and French efforts played a considerable part in bringing the war to an end. 

I suspect Bruce’s argument has been criticized here and there over the years, yet I found his work to be scholarly and thoroughly annotated. As he states in the preface, his intent is to: 

Shed light on a time when the French army and the U.S. army fought side by side in a common cause, against a common enemy, and were indeed, in the words of one French soldier of the Great War, not just allies, but friends (p. xiii). 

In nine chapters and a goodly number of tables, illustrations, maps, plus extensive notes, a bibliography and index, A Fraternity of Arms seeks to persuades us that neither the United States nor France could have brought the war to a victorious end without the help of each other. (The role of Britain and its Commonwealth in the conflict is rarely mentioned.)

The connection between the United States and France in America’s war for independence had remained in both nation’s minds for some two centuries. As we know, when the Great War broke out in 1914 America was by no means anxious to become involved. This did not stop many Americans, several from distinguished and wealthy families, from volunteering for the French army or Foreign Legion. The first chapter of the book goes into considerable detail regarding who they were, their initial experiences, and the contributions they made. The early history of the Escadrille Lafayette is an important part of this chapter.

Bruce’s ensuing eight chapters take on a fast-flowing and surprisingly detailed quality as he builds his case. We go from the French mission to the US of April 1917 to the arrival in France of the AEF and its early inadequacies. Most of the training and arming of American troops was carried out by the French according to the author. The “amalgamation controversy” from December 1917 to February 1918 is given its own chapter, but by May of 1918 American forces, combined with the French, were participating in the fighting. From this point the author uses the term “Franco-American” to describe decisions and actions while more than once emphasizing that American weapons, tanks, planes, and other military equipment were almost totally supplied by the French.

We also get fascinating insights into the personalities of the French and American leaders in the war, including their rivalries and friendships. The challenges to Pershing’s insistence on American forces fighting as a separate army were almost overwhelming and, according to Bruce, never fully attained,. Thus we read, for example, that at Belleau Wood Americans “fought alongside French divisions operating on each flank and were supported throughout the operation by French artillery, far more French guns than American, and French aviation” (p. 209).

French praise for American help is often quoted, almost at times to the point of veneration. The Franco-American victory at the Second Battle of the Marne is claimed to be ‘the real turning point in the war.’ French General Mangin is quoted as being ‘ecstatic’ over the actions of American troops in the closing days of the war, calling them ‘particularly brilliant.’ In a General Order he is “most magnanimous in singling out the Americans for praise (p. 247). Such praise is cited frequently throughout the book.

It might be claimed that A Fraternity of Arms is one-sided in its interpretation of French-American cooperation in the Great War and by almost completely ignoring other contributors to the conflict. However, there’s no denying that Robert Bruce provides copious notes and sources to support his argument. Whatever our own proclivities might be on the matter, we will find this book a clearly written and strongly supported work.

David F. Beer


Monday, November 27, 2023

The Hello Girls Need Your Support—Please Don't Hang Up!

We came over here to do our work and to give quick service and to help the boys a few miles ahead of us to get what they want and what we need to get, the Kaiser. (Hello Girl Letter)

Ready to Deploy: Trained Operators at Camp Dix, NJ

Readers of Roads to the Great War know that I have enjoyed telling the story of those 223 bilingual telephone operators who served in France in uniform and subject to military discipline but were not technically classified as members of the U.S. military. The "Signal Corps Telephone Operator Unit (Female)" was the first  unit of women to directly contribute to combat operations in American history.  [Check out our articles HERE and HERE, if you would like to learn more about them.] After the war, General Pershing—the man who had first  requested qualified, bilingual, female telephone operators—later wrote of their contribution to the victory:

No civil telephone service that ever came under my observation excelled with perfection as ours did after it was well established. The telephone girls in the AEF took great pains and pride in their work and did it with satisfaction to all. My Experiences in the World War

Hello Girls During the St. Mihiel Offensive
(Note the Gas Respirators and Helmets They Were Issued)

Nonetheless, the operators had not received the same treatment as the troops during or immediately after the war.  They had to buy their own uniforms and were not covered by war risk insurance policies, for example. Most shocking today is the fact they were not granted honorable discharges after their service.

Over the next 60 years, there were many efforts to gain those women full recognition as military veterans, but there was little success. Finally in 1977,  after a new wave of advocacy led by Hello Girl Merle Egan Anderson, President Jimmy Carter enacted the GI Bill Improvement Act of 1977 (P.L. 95-202) that granted the Hello Girls veterans status, benefits and receipt of the WWI Victory Medal. Only 18 of the operators who served in France were still alive at the time.

Nothing Says "You're Really in the Army" Like Standing Inspection for the Commanding General 

However, there is one last stumbling block to the full recognition for a service that was essential to America's victory in World War I. The U.S. World War I Centennial Commission is  attempting to get legislation through Congress to enact the Commission's last remaining recommendation to the Congress: the Award of a Congressional Gold Medal to the Hello Girls. The Gold Medal is awarded to impart the highest expression of national appreciation for distinguished achievements and contributions

There is a clear precedent for this legislation. On July 1, 2009, President Barack Obama signed into law Public Law 111–40, which awarded the WASPs (the female pilots who ferried aircraft to the war zones during WWII) the Congressional Gold Medal for their service to the United States.  Two earlier efforts at authorizing the same honor for the Hello Girls have failed to gain Congressional support. (Don't ask me why. I can't fathom it.)

The Centennial Commission by law will cease to exist on 30 September next year, so this is its last shot. Over the past decade I have been a proud partner in the Commission's efforts, and I'm bringing this matter to our readers' attention on behalf of the Commission.

Burial Site in France of Hello Girl Inez Ann Murphy
Crittenden, Who Died on the Last Day of the War of Influenza

I'm encouraging our readers to contact your Senators and Representatives and ask them to support the measure and become co-sponsors of the legislation, to award a Congressional Gold Medal to the female telephone operators of the Army Signal Corps, known as the "Hello Girls," (Senate bill, S.815 and House bill, H.R. 1572).

This can all be accomplished online, since all our Senators and Representatives have websites for receiving messages from their constituents. The Centennial Commission has simplified this process on their site for you.  Beginning on THIS PAGE you will be able to accomplish this by following the checklist they  provide and progressing through all the step right on their webpage. It will allow you to efficiently contact your Representative and both Senators to ask for their support of the legislation. I hope you will take this opportunity to support those who served and sacrificed in that war long ago and help them receive the posthumous honor they deserve.

This Newspaper Ad Said They Would Be "Civilian
Employees," But They Were a Critical Part of the AEF

Sunday, November 26, 2023

Gueudecourt: The Royal Newfoundland Regiments Second Battle at the Somme

The Royal Newfoundland Regiment's Five Western Front Battlefields

Despite the great sacrifice at Beaumont Hamel on the First Day of the Somme, the Dominion continued to send fresh troops to fill the depleted ranks of the Newfoundland Regiment. At the end of July, the Newfoundland Regiment boarded trains and traveled north to the Ypres Salient in Belgium. It was here that they would spend the next three months building and fortifying trenches and taking their turn in the advance trenches, which were at points less than 30 feet from the German frontline trenches. In August the Newfoundlanders came under gas attack for the first time. The order to put on gas masks prevented any casualties.

On 8 October, after an absence of ten weeks, the Newfoundland Regiment was ordered back to the Somme to a position at Gueudecourt. The Battle of the Somme had dragged on since July and featured a series of attacks along the 16-mile German front. Orders were issued for an assault on German lines located on the outskirts of Gueudecourt. The Newfoundlanders were to advance on the right and the Essex on the left. They were given two successive objectives. To gain the first of these—the Green Line, about 400 yards from the British front line—would require the capture of a portion of Hilt Trench, with its extensions of Rainbow Trench to the southeast and Bayonet Trench to the northwest. The plans for the attack introduced a new form of tactics involving an unusually close co-operation between the advancing infantry and the supporting artillery. This became known as the creeping or rolling barrage.

Switch Trench: The Regiment's Position After the Fighting

On 12 October, shortly after two, the order was quietly passed along: “Fix bayonets—and don’t show them over the top of the trench.” At 2:05 p.m., which was designated as Zero Hour, the attack began. At that precise minute, the artillery barrage commenced. Behind the cover of the creeping barrage, the Newfoundlanders advanced. The barrage was so heavy it prevented the Germans from using their machine guns. The Newfoundlanders were able to reach the German lines at an area designated as Hilt Trench. Fierce hand-to-hand combat ensued as the Newfoundlanders thrust with bayonet and hurled grenades into the German defenders. By 2:30 p.m., Hilt Trench was firmly occupied by the Newfoundland Regiment.

It was time now for both of Brigadier Cayley’s battalions to advance to their final objective. Keeping to the prearranged schedule, a party led by Lieutenant Cecil Clift, consisting of two platoons from each of “A” and “B” companies, pushed on toward the Brown Line. Finding no enemy trench in the first 100 yards, they began digging in under heavy fire—though not before half of them had been killed or wounded, including Clift, who was later listed as “missing, believed killed.” Caught in fire from German machine guns on their right, where the British 6th Division’s attack was only partly successful, the Newfoundlanders were forced to fall back to Hilt Trench. Some of the Essex reached Grease Trench before they too were compelled to retire to Switch Trench.

Newfoundlanders Departing the Somme in 1916

By late afternoon the Newfoundlanders trained their Lewis guns on the approaching enemy, inflicting heavy casualties on the advancing Germans. The Newfoundland Regiment was steadfast and held firmly to Hilt Trench. At night, the Newfoundlanders turned Hilt Trench over to reinforcements. For some, the disaster at Beaumont Hamel had been avenged, despite having suffered 239 casualties themselves.

Weary from sleeplessness and the strain and physical exertion of a long day, they filed slowly through the darkness back to Gueudecourt and down a mile of Cocoa Alley to Switch Trench just in front of Flers. It was good to find a meal and then to be able to snatch a few hours sleep before beginning the inevitable task of reorganizing.

On 27 October the regiment occupied Grease Trench, which today is the site of one of the five Caribou Memorials on the Western Front. Over the next several months the Newfoundland Regiment continued to alternate between the Front Lines and the reserve trenches along the Somme Front. Christmas 1916 was spent at the small village of Camps-en-Amienois. Those members of the regiment who had served over six months in France were granted leave in London.

Newfoundland's Caribou at Gueudecourt

Source:  St. Mihiel Trip-Wire, January 2021

Saturday, November 25, 2023

The Live Bait Squadron: the Sinking of HMS Aboukir, Hogue, and Cressy, 22 September 1914 (Video)

In September 1914, three Royal Navy ships of the obsolete "Armored Cruiser" class were patrolling the English Channel. Under-armed, under-armored, and not very maneuverable, they were sitting ducks or "live bait" in British sailor speak. German U-9's captain saw his opportunity and seized it. In short order, the Aboukir, Hogue, and Cressy were sent to the bottom. Almost all of the 1,500 seamen aboard the vessels went down with their ships. This fascinating documentary looks at the event from three perspectives: 1) the attack, 2) the shock wave sent through the Royal Navy, when it was made clear how vulnerable their ships were to the enemy's U-boats, and 3) the human tragedy reaching home to the sailor's communities caused by the sudden and massive loss of life.

Friday, November 24, 2023

Remembering a Veteran: Charles Herbert Lightoller, RNR, Titanic Survivor & Naval Hero in Both World Wars

Commander Charles Lightoller, RNR

The roll of Titanic survivors includes one name whose military and naval service in the coming World Wars was truly extraordinary. Charles Lightoller (1874–1952) was second officer on the Titanic when she sank. He was the most senior officer to survive the sinking. Lightoller survived aboard Collapsible B. As the ship began its final plunge, Lightoller attempted to launch Collapsible B on the port side. This collapsible boat was one of the smaller Engelhardt lifeboats with canvas sides and was stowed atop the officers' quarters.

Called to active service in 1914, Lightoller's reputation survived the early grounding incident of  the armed merchant cruiser HMS Oceanic, on which he was serving as an officer, to give him subsequent command of a number of vessels. In 1916, his torpedo boat HMBT-117 attacked and drove off zeppelin L-31, earning him a DSC.  This action resulted in his being appointed captain of HMS Falcon, a C-class torpedo boat destroyer and for the next two years Lightoller served with the Falcon on the "Dover patrol," protecting the Dover Straits and engaging German destroyers conducting night time raids. Falcon was sunk on 1 April 1918 after a collision, in fog, with the trawler, John Fitzgerald, while both ships were acting as escorts to a convoy in the North Sea. Lightoller was quickly exonerated in a court martial for the loss of the ship, and he was commended for remaining on board the ship along with his first officer until the majority of the crew had been evacuated.

Later in the war, his destroyer command HMS Garry rammed and sank German submarine U-110, earning him a bar for his DSC. Ending the war as a full naval commander, he returned to work with the White Star Line. He was, however, denied a captaincy on a major ship—probably because of the taint of the Titanic disaster—and retired in 1926. 

Sundowner at Ramsgate Maritime Museum

In 1940, Lightoller would again serve in war, commanding his own vessel, the Sundowner, in the Dunkirk evacuation. He and his son rescued not only 130 soldiers from the beaches but also the crew of another rescue vessel that was sinking after taking enemy fire. Charles Lightoller's actions that day were the inspiration for the character Dawson in the film Dunkirk, who set sail on his private yacht with his son to rescue soldiers. During the threatened invasion of 1940–41, he was placed in command of a "Small Armed Vessel," patrolling the River Blackwater, Essex. Lightoller then ferried arms and ammunition for the Royal Army Service Corps until the end of the war. A long-time pipe smoker, he died during London's Great Smog of 1952.

Sources: Over the Top, March 2012; Wikipedia

Thursday, November 23, 2023

Images of the Post-Armistice Thankgiving: 28 November 1918

Click to Enlarge

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Here's an additional menu from the first year of the war for the AEF from reader Dan Anthony:

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Wednesday, November 22, 2023

The Second Battle of Inonu: Turning Point of the Greco-Turkish War

Greek Troops Advancing During the First Battle of Inonu, January 1921

The Greco-Turkish War, which had begun in May 1919 with the landing of a Greek army in Smyrna,  had reached a near stalemate by early 1921. The initial effort by the invaders to secure the region around the city had been successful, but their expanded expedition into northern Turkey and Anatolia had been met with growing resistance, first from guerilla formations, then the more-organized opposition from the Turkish revolutionary movement led by Mustafa Kemal.

The forces of Kemal's revolutionary faction, commanded by Ismet Bey, entered the fray in January to oppose a Greek effort to capture the rail junction of Inonu in present-day Eskisehir Province. They were eventually able to drive the Greek troops out of the village. This minor victory, gave legitimacy to Kemal building on his reputation from the Great War, and allowed him to unify the other revolutionary groups under his leadership.

Click on Image to Expand

A conference, meanwhile, had been called in London by the Allies to review the Treaty of Sevres, which had been made with the Ottoman Empire, rather than the various Turkish leadership factions, and to address the war aims of these new competing Istanbul and Ankara (Kemal) governments and the Greeks. The ascendant Ankara negotiators, seeking major concessions, left the talks after concluding they were getting nowhere. Their bargaining power would be settled on the Turkish battlefields, where Mustafa Kemal had been busy reorganizing a more unified force.

The Greeks attempted to immediately restart their advance. The Second Battle of Inonu was fought between 23 March and 1 April 1921. The battle began with a Greek assault on the positions of Ismet's troops on 23 March 1921. It took them four days to reach Inonu due to delaying actions by the Turks in other sectors. The better-equipped Greeks pushed back the Turks and took the dominant hill called Metristepe on the 27th. A night counterattack by the Turks failed to recapture it. Meanwhile, on 24 March, Greek I Army Corps took Kara Hisar-i Sahib present-day Afyonkarahisar after running over Dumlupinar positions. On 31 March Ismet attacked again after receiving reinforcements and recaptured Metristepe. In a continuation battle in April, Refet Pasha retook the town of Kara Hisar. The Greek III Army Corps retreated. It marked a turning point in the Greco-Turkish War and the Turkish War of Independence of which it was a part, as Greek forces had previously been victorious over mostly irregular Turkish forces and suffered their first major defeat in Asia minor.

Victors Kemal and Ismet

The war dragged on, but the firm Turkish opposition henceforth broke the morale of the frontline Greek soldiers—desertions soared—and the home front public and politicians. Another defeat in August 1921 caused a political crisis in Athens, but the government decided to stay the course. A year-long Greek retreat back to Smyrna ensued. The end at Smyrna was an utter catastrophe, best told elsewhere.

The victory for the Kemalists led to the abolition of the Sultanate and the birth of the Turkish Republic with Mustafa Kemal Atatürk as its first president. The commander of the Turkish forces at Inonu, Ismet, one of Kemal's closest collaborators, had his name changed to Ismet Inonu by Kemal Atatürk himself in memory of the victory at Inonu. He went on to become the second president of Turkey after Kemal.

Sources: Wiki Commons,

Tuesday, November 21, 2023

The Road Less Traveled: The Secret Battle to End the Great War, 1916-1917

By Philip Zelikow
Public Affairs, 2021
Review and Excerpt from PBC Guru and Public Affiars

Royal Engineers on the Western Front

A revelatory new history that explores the tantalizing and almost-realized possibility that the First World War could have ended in 1916, saving millions of lives and utterly changing the course of history. In August 1916, two years into World War I, leaders in all the warring powers faced a crisis. There were no good military options. Money, people, and food were running short. 

Yet roads to peace seemed daunting too, as exhausted nations, drummed forward by patriotic duty and war passion, sought meaning from their appalling sacrifices. Germany made the first move. Its government secretly asked Woodrow Wilson, president of the United States and leader of the only great power still neutral, to mediate an end to the Great War. As a token of good faith, Germany promised to withdraw from occupied Belgium. Wilson was too anxious to make peace. If he failed, he felt sure America would drift into a dreadful, wider war.

Meanwhile, the French president confided to Britain's king that the Allies should accept Wilson's expected peace move and end the war. In The Road Less Traveled, Philip Zelikow recounts the five months when, behind closed doors, the future of the war, and the world, hung in the balance. It is a story of civic courage, of awful responsibility, and of how some rose to the occasion or shrank from it. "Peace is on the floor waiting to be picked up!" pleaded the German ambassador to the United States. This book shows how right he was, and how close leaders came to doing so. . . 

The publisher provides this revealing excerpt from The Road Less Traveled:

On August 18, 1916, the chancellor of Imperial Germany made the first big move. He sent a momentous and secret cable to his able ambassador in Washington. Britain had cut direct telegraph connections from Germany to America. So the chancellor’s message had flashed over the wires first to neutral Stockholm. From there it was relayed to neutral Buenos Aires. From there his coded message was dispatched again, on to the German embassy in Washington. There the chancellor’s words were laboriously decoded.

“We are happy to accept a mediation by the President to start peace negotiations among the belligerents who want to bring this about,” the German chancellor instructed. “Please strongly encourage the President’s activities in this regard.”

To avoid giving any impression that his country was weak or desperate, the chancellor’s plea was utterly secret. The German mediation request was unconditional. The chancellor sought President Woodrow Wilson’s help to arrange both a peace conference among the belligerents to end the war and another, more general peace conference, with participation by the United States and other neutrals, to set postwar plans to secure the peace. The other path now beckoned.

THE IMPERIAL CHANCELLOR who made that plea, the sixty-one-year-old Theobald von Bethmann Hollweg, had been in his job for seven years. He was a tall, firmly built, angular man, graying with a short mustache and beard.

He was not an elected politician. He was an imperial official, appointed by and serving at the pleasure of the kaiser. Bethmann was the supreme civilian leader and foreign minister both for the German Empire as a whole and for its largest member state, Prussia.

He had never attempted to become the kaiser’s friend. His style was to be the quintessential dispassionate public servant. Deliberate, plain-spoken, and truthful, he offered appraisals and advice in a professional, careful, didactic style. Others in the court occasionally resented and mocked him; yet they respected him.

Before the war started, Bethmann had been melancholy, his mood darkened by his wife’s death in May 1914. As the conflict wore on and his son died at the front later in 1914, he became still more somber. By early 1915, Bethmann wondered aloud, to friends, about what share of the blame he should carry for the hurried and negligent diplomacy that had led to war in July 1914. “If one talks about guilt for this war—we also have our share of the responsibility, that we have to confess honestly,” he confided. “And if I say this thought depresses me that would be too little—the thought does not leave me. I live in it.”

Bethmann put some of the blame on xenophobic popular movements, including in his own country. “There we have our part of the guilt, the pan-Germans (Alldeutsche) have their guilt. In our domestic and foreign policy, we have lived in lies.”

By 1916, Bethmann was in plain opposition to the right-wing factions. They were doing all they could to bring him down. To some he seemed worn down, “tense, tired, and nervous,” a colleague observed in the spring of 1916. “His hair has become white; his face is lined with deep furrows.”

But in August 1916 Bethmann had won the kaiser’s approval to step out, for the first time, on the road to a general peace. The path, the German peace strategy, looked to Woodrow Wilson, the only leader of a great power not yet embroiled in the war, to bring the warring sides to the table.

And Wilson was eager to do it. And in Paris, and in London, other leaders too were eyeing the peace road. Bethmann’s timing was better than he knew.

Monday, November 20, 2023

The Lusitania Medal

RMS Lusitania, 1915

There was a dull explosion and a quantity of debris and water was flung into the air beside the bridge. The waterspout knocked me down beside the Marconi office. The explosion seemed to lift the ship hard over to port and was followed soon after by a second rumbling explosion entirely different to the first.

 Lusitania Passenger James Brooks

On 7 May 1915 the Cunard passenger liner Lusitania was sunk by German submarine U-20 in British waters. Eleven hundred ninety eight people drowned, including 124 U.S. citizens and many women and children. Public outrage spun around the world. Robert Lansing, then U.S. secretary of state, wrote of the reactions, “The news of the sinking of the Lusitania on May 7, 1915, sent a wave of horror throughout the country, particularly the East. The public denunciation of German barbarism was bitter. Many newspapers were outspoken in demanding an immediate severance of diplomatic relations with Germany, and no small number clamored for war.”

In August 1915, German artist Karl Goetz cast a medal depicting the sinking of the Lusitania. He intended it to be a metallic political cartoon, but it turned into a  British propaganda tool. On one side, the medal depicts a skeleton selling tickets to long lines of unwary passengers, captioned (translated): Business Above All. A newspaper headline warns: U-Boat Danger. On the other side, the Lusitania is shown sinking by its stern (in reality, it sunk bow first) with artillery pieces and airplanes on the deck. The translated captions relate: No Contraband Goods–The Liner Lusitania Sunk by a German Submarine—5 May 1915.

To the British, the 5 May date on the medal verified the Germans premeditated the sinking, considered a cowardly act. In actuality, artist Goetz simply got the date wrong from using an erroneous newspaper report. About 430 medals with the 5 May date were minted in Goetz’s home. He soon corrected the date to 7 May and minted between 41 to 45 medals of the new version, but the British quickly utilized the first version as propaganda. British Naval Intelligence ordered about 250,000 copies struck with the May 5 date and sold them through the Lusitania Souvenir Medal Committee to the public at one shilling each. The British-produced medal was presented in an attractive box with an explanatory certificate. Proceeds of the sales were to benefit the St. Dunstan’s Blinded Soldiers and Sailors Hostel. 

The specimen shown here is of the corrected, 7 May version and can be viewed at the National WWI Museum located in Kansas City, MO.

Source: "WWI Dispatches from the Front" National WWI Museum, Winter 2012

Sunday, November 19, 2023

Forgotten Diplomat of the July Crisis: Prince Karl Max Lichnowsky—A Roads Classic

By Richard Hephner

When Prince Lichnowsky (1860–1928) left a comfortable retirement to become ambassador to the Court of St. James in the fall of 1912 he was given a difficult task but was not expected to accomplish it. It was his responsibility to repair damaged relations between Great Britain and Germany. He excelled at this job. Between the time of his appointment on 1912 and his departure in 1914 the prince negotiated an Anglo-German colonial treaty, updating the 1898 division of Portuguese colonies into spheres of economic influence between the two powers, played a constructive role in the 1912 Conference of Ambassadors that ended the First Balkan War and, in the main, brought about better feelings between Great Britain and Germany. 

Had Lichnowsky continued to be the trusted representative of his government, had they dealt frankly with him, and through him with us, after the murder of the Archduke, war might have been avoided.
British Foreign Minister Sir Edward Grey

His successes left his Foreign Office superiors in Berlin distrustful of him with his close relationship with the British Foreign Office. In July 1914, Lichnowsky pleaded with Chancellor Bethmann-Hollweg and Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs Gottlieb von Jagow to use discretion in their support of Austria. In his view, Britain would definitely support Russia and France in a war defending Serbia against Austrian aggression. Sadly, the chancellor and the secretary did not trust Prince Lichnowsky's judgment because they believed him to be easily duped by the British.

Thus, his warnings that the Asquith government would honor its entente with France and use the German invasion of Belgium as a rationale for entering the conflict were ignored. After the war started, Lichnowsky returned to Germany and spent the rest of his life trying to justify his actions during the July Crisis.

In a privately circulated pamphlet (1916) he asserted that his efforts to prevent the outbreak of World War I had not been supported by his government. The pamphlet, published in January 1918, without his permission and widely distributed by the Allies, was the cause of his expulsion from the Prussian upper house.

Saturday, November 18, 2023

Borrowed Soldiers: Americans Under British Command in 1918 (Video)


In this highly informative 48-minute documentary from the Western Front Association, Mitchell Yockelson, senior archivist at the U.S. National Archives and an instructor at the Naval Academy, presents the story of the AEF's II Corps, which served exclusively under British command for their entire period of training and combat during the war. Despite General Pershing's misgivings and the contrasting temperaments and experience of the Tommies and Doughboys, the 60,000 man formation served effectively on the cutting edge of General Haig's 100-day victory advance. The illustration above by artist Frank Schoonover, shows soldiers of II Corps in their most notable effort, the capture of the St. Quentin Canal in September 1918.

Friday, November 17, 2023

Kaiser Wilhelm Loved His Navy

A Happy-Looking Kaiser Wilhelm Aboard a Navy Ship

I had a peculiar passion for the navy. It sprang to no small extent from my English blood. When I was a little boy...I admired the proud British ships. There awoke in me the will to build ships of my own like these someday, and when I was grown up to possess a fine navy as the English. 

Kaiser Wilhelm II, My Early Life

In the extra-large fantasy compartment of Kaiser Wilhelm's brain, he could muse over a fleet so magnificent and elegant his British cousins would turn emerald green with envy at the semi-annual naval review while doing their gentlemanly best to hide their crushed self-importance behind stiff upper lips. I doubt, though, that he ever imagined that they would view his naval build-up as a threat to their national survival. Oddly, when the British Admiralty responded determinedly with its own building program and innovative ship design, that didn't seem to puncture the illusions of the Kaiser or his expert, Admiral Tirpitz, whose grandiosity reminds me a bit of a building-czar Robert Moses. They kept building until they ran out of money.

A recent thesis by Wesley R. Hale at the University of Rhode Island nicely summarizes how Kaiser Wilhelm II was inspired (seduced?) into building his huge, but eventually inadequate and doomed, battle fleet.

At the beginning of the 20th century, England possessed the largest navy in the world, having established in 1889 a Naval Defense Act that formalized the "Two Power Standard" of parity with the next two naval powers, France and Russia." Kaiser Wilhelm II sought to earn prestige as a monarch by elevating Germany to a maritime power in the same manner his grandfather Wilhelm I had transformed the Prussian Army to unify Germany under one flag. Unlike his grandfather, whose reorganization efforts benefited from a long history of military institution, where the Prussian army was a fixture of society, Wilhelm II faced the challenge of developing a formidable navy in a country lacking a cohesive naval tradition.

An 1894 Cruiser Design by Kaiser Wilhelm II

Kaiser Wilhelm and his admirals envisioned [a battle fleet] elevating Germany to a maritime power in line with A.T. Mahan's notion of military strength. First published in 1890, Mahan's book The Influence of Sea Power Upon History, 1660-1783 argued that numerical superiority accounted for much of the maritime success of the major world powers against their enemies. While he highlighted several naval battles throughout history, Nelson's victories at the Battle of the Nile and Trafalgar were both particularly important to this argument and still relatively recent history. To that end, Mahan begins his introduction with a discussion of the basic tactics of those battles, which were "to choose that part of the enemy's order which can least easily be helped, and to attack it with superior forces." Mahan's work became one of the most influential geopolitical pieces of its time, eventually becoming recommended reading for every major world leader with global ambitions, including Theodore Roosevelt and Wilhelm II. His book became a manual that set the naval standard to which all major powers subscribed and to which Imperial Germany aspired.

Over the next half-decade, Wilhelm—being Wilhelm—fantasized, talked, consulted industrialists, pressured ministers, and gave endless pep talks to his family and entourage about the necessity for a world-class German fleet. As the illustration above shows, he was even designing his own ships. His motto was "The Trident Must Be in Our Fist." However, when he made that assertion, Wilhelm's "trident" consisted of a navy of only 68 ships, compared to the Royal Navy's 330.

The Four Battleships of the Brandenburg-Class
Were the First Seaworthy German Capital Ships

Yet, the Kaiser's early hopes were not to be completely frustrated. His dreams off a a world-class battle fleet would receive a boost from the emerging expansionist ambitions of Germany's political and economic leadership.  As historian Paul Kennedy described:

. . . The German ruling elite after 1895 also seemed convinced of the need for large-scale territorial expansion when the time was ripe, with Admiral Tirpitz arguing that Germany's industrialization and overseas conquests were "as irresistible as a natural law"; with Chancellor Bülow declaring, "The question is not whether we want to colonize or not, but that we must colonize, whether we want it or not.": and with Kaiser Wilhelm himself airily announcing that Germany "had great tasks to accomplish outside the boundaries of old Europe. . .

What was significant about German expansion was that the country either already possessed the instruments of power to alter the status quo or had the material resources to create such instruments. The most impressive demonstration of this capacity was the rapid buildup of the German navy after 1898, which under Tirpitz was transformed from being the sixth-largest fleet in the world to being second only to the Royal Navy.

Sources: Paul Kennedy, The Rise and Fall of the Great Powers, 1987; Wesley R. Hale,  "The SMS Ostfriesland: A Warship at the Crossroads of Military Technology"; The Dreadnoughts, Time-Life Books

Thursday, November 16, 2023

Mare Island Naval Shipyard During World War One

Northern San Francisco Bay Area
Mare Island Shown

Mare Island History

Mare Island Naval Shipyard in Vallejo, California, became the first United States naval base on the West Coast in 1854. The island, technically a peninsula, is in the northern San Francisco Bay off of a subsection, known as San Pablo Bay. The first U.S. warship (1859) and first dry dock (1872–91) constructed on the West Coast were built here.  The shipyard has been associated with military affairs, development of industrial design, and persons significant in U.S. maritime history beginning with David Farragut on through World War II leaders.  During World War II, it was to evolve into one of the busiest naval shipyards in the world. In its last 25 years of operation, it was the leading submarine port for the West Coast. More than 500 naval vessels were constructed and thousands more overhauled before the yard closed in 1996. 

Click on Image to Enlarge

The Shipyard in 1911

Less well known is the tremendous contribution of Mare Island to the nation's effort in World War I. The first years of the 20th century brought new activity to Mare Island. Two of the Navy’s first fleet of six submarines, Grampus (SS-4) and Pike (SS-6), were delivered to Mare Island from Union Iron Works in San Francisco in 1903.  The submarine torpedo boats were only 60 feet long, with an 11-foot beam. Over a three-and-a-half-year period, they operated in a training and experimental capacity in the shallow waters of the San Pablo Bay. Underwater trips were usually no more than a couple hours long. Lieutenant Arthur MacArthur, Jr., brother of Army General Douglas MacArthur, was skipper of both submarines. In 1904, the first U.S. Navy radio station on the West Coast was established at Mare Island.

WWI Activities

A Ship Launching at Mare Island During the War

Mare Island gained prominence as a shipbuilding facility during World War I and the years immediately following. The yard built its first destroyer, USS Shaw (Destroyer No. 68) [not to be confused with the USS Shaw (DD-373) that had its forward magazine explode during the Pear Harbor attack]. DD-68 was launched 9 December 1916 and commissioned on 9 April 1917.  Shaw escorted the fourth troop convoy of the AEF and would serve a similar role throughout the war and the post-Armistice period.

In 1918, Mare Island broke records by building USS Ward (Destroyer No. 139) in 17.5 days. At Pearl Harbor in 1941, the Shaw would gain lasting fame by sinking  a Japanese midget submarine attempting to enter the harbor by shadowing the Navy ship Antares.  It was later lost in a kamikaze attack off Leyte in 1944.

Destroyer USS Shaw (DD-68) Under Construction
 at Mare Island

The yard set another milestone when it built and launched the first super-dreadnought on the West Coast—USS California (Battleship No. 44). The battleship was launched 21 November 1919 and commissioned two years later. From 1914 to 1918 the Mare Island Yards began construction on the battleship California, nine destroyers, 15 wooden sub-chasers, and two tankers. Not all of them were commissioned by the time of the Armistice, but almost all of the vessels would go on to see service during the Second World War.

Marines Training on a Lewis Gun at Mare Island

In 1911, Mare Island had become one of the first four recruit training depots for the Marines. From 1917 to 1922, Mare Island served as the only boot camp for Marines west of the Mississippi. It was moved to San Diego in August 1923, but the Marine Barracks remained. During this period, the Marines stationed at Mare Island fielded an outstanding college football team which competed against teams in the Pacific Coast Conference and other military service football teams.  The Marine team was twice selected in to appear in the Rose Bowl, defeating the Camp Lewis 91st Division Squad on New Year's Day 1918 and losing to the Great Lakes Navy Bluejackets the following year with an entirely new lineup.

Wooden Subchasers Under Construction at Mare Island

After the Great War

The base grew into one of the largest naval facilities in the world during World War II. It expanded to 996 buildings, 20 ship berths, four dry docks, and two shipbuilding ways. Yard employees built 391 ships during the war. It repaired and sent back to battle 1,227 ships. More than 39,000 civilians were employed on Mare Island alone and thousands more in uniform. Mare Island also supervised the work of 28 private shipyards with 40,000 Navy contractors in the San Francisco Bay Area. Due to the war in the Pacific, the hospital at Mare Island was expanded from 600 beds to 2,300. In August 1943, the Pacific Orthopedic Center was established, charged with fitting all Navy and Marine Corps amputees with prosthetic limbs. 

Battleship USS California, Completed After WWI

In 1954, the Navy announced that the yard’s future role would be to build and repair nuclear submarines—one of the few shipyards to do this. On 19 October 1957, Mare Island built its first nuclear submarine, USS Sargo (SSN 583). It was the first nuclear submarine built on the West Coast. USS Drum (SSN-677), launched 23 May 1970, was the last submarine built at Mare Island. In 1972, Mare Island stopped building new nuclear submarines but continued to overhaul, refuel, and repair the nuclear-powered fleet until the base’s closure. In total, Mare Island built 17 nuclear submarines.  

Mare Island Naval Shipyard was recommended for closure by the Defense Base Closure and Realignment Commission in 1993. President Clinton and Congress accepted the commission’s recommendations, and the base officially closed 31 March 1996. The 5,000-acre island was transferred to the city of Vallejo in 2002 for reuse and redevelopment. The Mare Island Naval Shipyard is now a National Historic Landmark and open to the public. 

[Note: Corrected from the original, 22 November 1918]

Sources:  Wiki Commons, U.C. Berkeley, City of Vallejo, The Subchaser, Marine Corps University, U.S. Navy History and Heritage Command.