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

Thursday, March 30, 2023

Recommended: The Rise and Fall of the Austro-Hungarian Navy, 1900-1918

By Stanley D. M. Carpenter, Professor Emeritus, U.S. Naval War College (Excerpts)

Building a Modern Navy

At 1645 on 31 October 1918, onboard the flagship of the Imperial and Royal Austro-Hungarian Navy, the red-white-red ensign of the Habsburg Navy fluttered down from the jackstaff.  Rear-Admiral (Kontre-Admiral) Nicholas Horthy, Fleet Commander-in-Chief (C-in-C), tucked the folded ensign under his arm and departed as the last official act of the Habsburg Navy. Had not World War I and the military defeat of the Central Powers unleashed the nationality tiger in the Austro-Hungarian Empire, might the Navy have become the dominant Mediterranean naval power?  Based on the pre-war building program in the new dreadnought era (post-1906) under the leadership of aggressive, politically astute commanders Admiral (Admiral) Count Rudolf Montecuccoli (1904-13) and Grand Admiral (Grosadmiral) Anton Haus (1913-18), Austria-Hungary embarked on a naval expansion program. The plan was reflective of Rear Admiral Alfred Thayer Mahan’s doctrine of taking command of the sea through decisive battles fought by great battle fleets as advocated in his influential work, The Influence of Sea Power Upon History, 1660 to 1783. 

SMS Tegetthoff, Destined to Be Surrendered, October 1918

Might the Navy have become the equal of the Italian service or even the French Mediterranean force? Indeed, by 1910, the technological means existed as did the prerequisite of reliable enemies in Serbia, Russia, and Italy.  The Austrian and Hungarian Delegations all possessed the political will, albeit often begrudgingly, to appropriate funds for naval building and development for the Austro-Hungarian Navy to dominate the Eastern Mediterranean, Ionian, and Aegean Seas.  But, when the crucial test of war came in 1914, the Navy proved singularly ineffective in several critical areas of naval warfare and played a comparatively minor role in the fight against the Allied Powers in the Mediterranean Theatre. . .

Technological developments and the Industrial Revolution made the battleship era possible. By the 1890s, warships displacing 14,000 tons of water, with steel armor up to fourteen inches thick, able to withstand the steel-capped armor-piercing shells of 12- and 13.5-inch naval guns, became the standard. Naval gunnery improved dramatically. Rapid and more accurate fire power made possible by such developments as “continuous aim” introduced by Captain Percy Scott, RN, using gyroscope technology as well as the improved optics introduced in German capital ships for gun-laying, increased accuracy and destructive potential at greater standoff distances.

Austro-Hungarian U-boat SM U-1 in Pola

Austria-Hungary possessed the robust industrial potential for warship construction. The Skoda Works at Pilsen, Silesia, manufactured heavy caliber guns using the “jacket and hoop system,” which gave tremendous strength with high elasticity. The Poldihutte Works near Prague and the Witkowitzn Berghau und Eisenhutten-Generkschaft Works at Witkowitz in Moravia together produced over 9,000 tons of steel armor plate per annum. Five Dalmatian and Adriatic coast shipyards-built vessels ranging from small craft to massive warships; notably, the Stabilimento Tecnico Triestino yard at Trieste for the battleships and the Cantiere Navale Triestino at Monfalcone for cruisers, destroyers, and small craft. The Hungarian Danubius yard by 1914 could construct all types, particularly the latest dreadnought type. The Whitehead Yards at Fiumi manufactured an improved gyroscope-guided Whitehead torpedo with much-improved accuracy. . .

More massive battleships of the Erzherzog class, funded and launched between 1902 and 1908, displaced 14,500 tons and mounted 12-inch guns in the main battery, as did the 14,200-ton Radetzky-class battleships.   Moreover, in a significant departure from previous practice, the new warship designs incorporated open ocean operational requirements as opposed to the earlier strictly coastal defense capabilities. 14   The years 1910-11 saw the building of the ultimate expression of Austro-Hungarian naval power – the four dreadnoughts of the Viribus Unitis class.  With coal bunkers for 2,900 tons of fuel giving an operational range of 4,200 nautical miles at ten knots on turbine engines, these ships of the dreadnought squadron could sail to the North Sea without coaling. The 12 x 12-inch main battery guns mounted in four turrets represented the first battleships to have triple gun turrets. Thus, by the war’s start, the Austro-Hungarian Navy had evolved from a coastal defense force to a real “blue water” navy.  But, as events demonstrated, that capability came to nothing more than a wasted asset. . .

Inscribed in gold letters on a marble plaque at the main entrance to the Naval Academy at Fiume was the Navy’s motto—“Above Life Stands Duty”—a powerful statement. Every officer candidate entering the Academy saw the inscription as he entered the halls. 19  Naval personnel came from all parts of the Empire, but specific nationality patterns emerged. The majority of officers of all branches and specialties came from German Austria—roughly 1,000 commissioned officers (line, chaplains, lawyers, and surgeons) and 1,000 commissioned officials (engineers, paymasters, and supply) in 1914. Enlisted sailors originated predominately from the coastal regions. . . Although German represented the language of command, every officer spoke four languages.  Despite its multi-national nature, the Navy exhibited a remarkable spirit of “monarchical patriotism” to the end of the Empire in 1918. 

The Coming of War

The strategic situation in August 1914 hampered the Navy’s role in the four-year struggle.  Three overarching strategic dynamics determined the Navy’s dilemma. First, the correlation of forces in the Mediterranean, even excluding the Italian Navy, proved overwhelming. Against just the British Royal Navy and the French Mediterranean forces, the disparity in tonnage, total hulls, and gun caliber meant little in the Mediterranean for the surface ships. Second, the failure to secure and develop advanced operating bases in the Mediterranean or Ionian Seas dictated that all operations originated from either Pola or Cattaro. The limited operational range of the smaller ships meant that any operations external to the Adriatic lacked escort protection for the battle line. Submarines could and did operate in the Mediterranean when the Otranto blockade could be passed. 

Essentially, the Navy undertook only five limited missions: 1) defend the coast; 2) attack enemy Adriatic shipping; 3) support Army coastal operations; 4) protect its commercial trade; and, 5) influence neutral countries in favor of the Central Powers.


The River Flotillas did execute successful supporting operations against Serbia and Montenegro.

Austro-Hungarian submarines did have some successes. On 20 December 1914, the U-12 torpedoed the French battleship Jean Bart inducing the French to withdraw all heavy capital units from the Adriatic. On 27 April 1915, the U-5, under the command of Austrian naval hero Captain Georg von Trapp, sank the French armored cruiser Léon Gambetta in the Strait of Otranto with a loss of 684 men. Consequently, the French withdrew south to maintain the blockade from a discreet distance. Austro-Hungarian submarines did ultimately sink ninety-four vessels for a total of 190,000 tons.

Only three significant surface actions occurred throughout the war. Within minutes of Italy’s declaration of war, Admiral Haus ordered the fleet to raise steam at Pola, resulting in a coastal raid with the desired strategic effect of delaying Italian mobilization along the vulnerable frontier. As a result of the heavy shelling of railways, rail centers, and communications facilities combined with an Italian fear of an amphibious landing at Ancona, Italy delayed troop movements northward towards the frontier. 

SMS Szent István Sinking, 10 June 1918

The Otranto Barrage, running from Cape Santa Maria on the Italian Adriatic coast across the mouth of the Adriatic to the islands of Corfu and Fano, consisted of drift boats with suspended anti-submarine nets equipped with hydrophones and explosives. Attempts to disrupt the drifters led to the second and third major surface engagements, both commanded by Captain (Fregattenkapitän) Horthy of the SMS Novara on 22 December 1917 and as Fleet C-in-C in May 1918.  The first raid by cruisers and destroyers disabled twenty-seven Allied drifters, two destroyers, and two transports. The second and more massive raid utilized the dreadnought squadron and resulted in disaster. Although the escort ships did significant damage to the drifters, Szent István, while skirting the Dalmatian coast to avoid detection, was struck by two torpedoes from the Italian torpedo-boat MAS 15 (Motobara Armata Silurante). She capsized, killing four officers and eighty-five sailors. . .

With the peace settlement, all that remained of the Imperial and Royal Austro-Hungarian Navy were eleven torpedo boats left to Yugoslavia and a few river monitors to Hungary. In judging the performance of the Navy in World War I, despite some small-scale successes, by and large, it proved a wasted asset. When put to the test of combat, the Navy failed to influence the war, despite great warships, well-trained professional crews, and excellent support infrastructure.

Source: International Journal of Naval History, 30 December 2020

Professor Carpenter's 3,400 word article has considerably more detail than these selections, especially on the politics and financing behind the naval buildup.  It can be read HERE

Wednesday, March 29, 2023

Launching the Race to the Sea: September 1914

Early British Trenches On the Aisne

One aspect of the post-Marne war of movement that is mislabeled and usually under-discussed is the "Race to the Sea,” conducted from mid-September to mid-October 1914. It is mislabeled because it was neither a race nor headed to the sea but actually a succession of abortive attempts to gain the northern flank of the opposition. For this article's purpose, what is neglected in accounts is that the combatants each at least twice came close to turning or closing off that flank. A key figure from that period, General Joseph Gallieni, is supposed to have said: “the Allies were always 24 hours and an Army Corps behind the Germans." This is true in one sense—the Allies (French forces in the key locations) were rarely able to follow Bedford Forrest's advice (Get thar the furstest with the mostest) well enough to be in a position to turn the German flank—but misleading in another. They repeatedly moved quickly enough to frustrate their enemy's moves, and the Germans sometimes managed to miss their own opportunities.

During this period, whole armies from both sides were maneuvering and engaged in intense, desperate combat. Tens of thousands of soldiers were confronting one another over a battlefield eventually stretching 125 miles in length. It was almost comparable to the Battle of the Marne in the scope of the battle and its fateful importance. In the cross-France movement of armies and mobilization of new formations, it was similar as well to the build-up before the Battle of the Marne—with some difference. Before the Marne, General Joffre and his staff had shorter distances to shift troops, since, as his forces retreated, his position became more compact. After the Marne, it was the German Army retreating and drawing back on their lines of communication, reversing the situation. This is why they were often a little speedier in extending the lines during the Race to the Sea. Also, the German Army had a new supreme commander.

French Cavalry

The Battle of the Marne had ended the career of Helmuth von Moltke. His duties were absorbed in mid-September 1914 by the war minister, Lt. General Erich von Falkenhayn. Holding both posts Falkenhayn guided the empire's fortunes during the Second War of Movement. He shifted his armies artfully, coming close at times to turning the Allies' flank, while reorganizing the field forces and improving their supply.

He had gained high offices applying a unique formula of detached analytical thinking, aloofness, and personal charm to overcome his disadvantageous Bohemian and Austrian ancestry. Falkenhayn had supported war in 1914, made himself indispensable when hostilities broke out, and had won the admiration of Kaiser Wilhelm as well as the circle of the Crown Prince, his one-time student.

German Infantry On the March

Stuck on the ridges above the River Aisne, both commanders, Joffre and Falkenhayn, decided concurrently to attempt to flank their enemy to the north and ordered preliminary attacks along the Oise River, which flows into the Aisne near Compiègne from the northeast. Joffre made the first move, using Maunoury’s Sixth Army in an advance up the Oise, at the western end of the Aisne battlefield. Joffre ordered Maunoury to advance on the right bank of the river, giving him more space to move around the German flank (Kluck’s First Army). Instead, the French Sixth Army moved up the left bank, nearer the Germans, and did not cross over to the north until 17 September. 

By that point, Kluck had already moved his own right wing across the river, and the French advance stalled. Having attempted to turn each other's flanks with troops already on the Aisne, both Joffre and Falkenhayn now brought in new armies from Lorraine. The French Second Army (Castelnau) formed up south of Amiens, the German Sixth (Crown Prince Rupprecht) around St. Quentin. The Germans also used their Seventh Army (Heeringhen), which had earlier been used to plug a gap on the Aisne. These probes on 17 and 18 September proved indecisive. However, as described above, both sides were also moving additional armies into the region, and they were ready a few days later to resume fighting on a broader front across Picardy.

Source: Originally presented in the March 2021 St. Mihiel Tripwire

Tuesday, March 28, 2023

Reclaiming the Salient: Resurrecting the Great War Battlegrounds of Flanders Fields

By Roger Steward
Helion and Company, 2023
David F. Beer, Reviewer

Part of the Salient's "Iron Harvest"

“You did it, you clean it up!” Most of us heard this as children when we spilled something, were messy with crayons, or just a bit careless with the cornflakes. But there is nothing childish about the inconceivably hideous cleaning up of bombs and bodies that Roger Steward describes graphically in Reclaiming the Salient. Yes, we did it and we had to clean it up, and we haven’t finished the job yet.

This book is divided almost evenly between intensive efforts to clean up Flanders Fields of "dud" ammunition, and to recover human remains. Part 1, "The Iron Harvest," covers in seven chapters the massive human labor, both British and Belgian, involved in clearing still-lethal shells—a task, as any of us who have toured the area knows, goes on to this day. An almost mind-boggling number of both explosive and gas artillery shells and mines lay untouched in the area at the end of the war.

The author takes us from 1918 to the present day with unexploded materials in the Salient. We get details of the people involved in the clean-up, both military and civilian, the dangers constantly involved, and the evolution of government entities which still oversee the job. 

Fortunately, there is a two-page list of abbreviations at the start of the book which we can refer to when we meet them in the text, such as ASD (Army Salvage Department), DOVO (Service for Clearance and Disposal of Explosive Ordnance [Belgium]), and NBC (Nuclear, Biological, and Chemical). Some refer to the technology involved in munitions destruction laboratories, such as PINS (Portable Isotopic Neutron Spectroscopy). It is also interesting to learn that…

DOVO has built an incredible physical library of munitions at the base of Poelkapelle. Started in the 1990s, the library contains at least one complete example of every type of ammunition recovered by DODO and serves as an important tool of reference. The collection totals over 440 different types of munitions, ranging from hand grenades to artillery shells, the largest being a 15-inch-calibre British high-explosive shell and a German 38cm-calibre shell (p. 94).

We can see the library via two black and white photographs. Other photos show workmen in the mire, random piles of shells, a man’s hand injured by a leaking mustard gas shell, and the detailed process of shell destruction in the SDC (Static Demolition Chamber). The author also relates several anecdotes of ignorant or reckless tourists collecting or meddling with potentially live shells. (It still happens!)

German Fatalities from the Salient Prepared for Burial

Part II of Reclaiming the Salient, "Recovering the Fallen," is even more riveting—and very sobering. It’s to a great extent a paean to the men and organizations involved in searching an often "noxious quagmire" to find tens of thousands of bodies in the decades after the war. Obviously these bodies were severely deteriorated, having lain in mud for ages or dug up from shallow graves hastily prepared by comrades. The author deals with this subject in a level-handed manner, however, and is never morbid although some photos are quite graphic.

No one was prepared for the task of recovering the dead when the war ended. Manpower had to be hastily organized, difficult as it was since demobilization of troops was soon in full sway. The IWGC (Imperial War Graves Commission) estimated at the armistice that approximately 500,000 bodies were missing on the Western Front, a great many of these in the Salient (p. 121). Two extraordinary men—Sir Fabian Ware and Captain G.F. Crawford—are connected with the forming and continuing excellent work of what is now the Commonwealth War Graves Commission, and Steward gives full information on such involved organizations and their work up to the present time.

The author also leaves us with this present day thought at the conclusion of his thorough and very readable book:

With millions of tons of ammunition still believed to be concealed beneath the surface of the fields of Flanders and tens of thousands of bodies of World War One soldiers still unaccounted for, the battlefields of the Ypres Salient of the Great War will still be releasing their secrets long into the future, long after you and I have faded into history (p. 229).

Known Unto God.

David F. Beer

Monday, March 27, 2023

Remembering a Veteran: C.E.W. Bean, Australian War Reporter and Official Historian

Charles Bean Atop the Great Pyramid at Cheops
Prior to the Gallipoli Invasion

By James Patton

Charles Edwin Woodrow Bean (1879-1968), MA DLitt (hon) LLD (hon), was born in Bathurst, New South Wales, on 18 November 1879. His father was an Anglican clergyman and a school master. 

When Charles was nine they moved to England. In 1898 he won a scholarship to Hertford College, Oxford, where he graduated with a 2nd in classics and then studied the law. In 1904 he returned to Australia and was admitted to the New South Wales Bar. For the next two years he rode the legal circuit, clerking and seeking briefs. He also wrote The Impressions of a New Chum, in which he first defined "The Australian Character" based on his encounters with people in the demanding environment of the outback—mate-ship, resilience, and stoic endurance even in the face of adversity. 

The book was not published, but excerpts ran in the Sydney Morning Herald in a series called “Australia”, and in 1908 he was hired on as a Herald reporter.

One of his first assignments was to write a series about the HMS Powerful, flagship of the Royal Navy squadron on the Australian station. Later these reports were published as With the Flagship of the South, in which he recommended that Australia needed its own navy. Next he returned to the outback to file articles on the wool industry. He hit on the theme that their most important product was actually the "Australian Character" of the laborers and he concentrated on the detail of their lives. Again he drew books from the articles, publishing On the Wool Track in 1910 and The Dreadnought of the Darling in 1911.

In 1913 he began a daily column which in mid-1914 became a commentary on the events in Europe. In September it was decided that Australia would send one official correspondent with its expeditionary force. The Australian Journalists Association held an election which he won, narrowly defeating the Sun’s Sir Keith Murdoch KBE (1885-1952), later the father of media mogul Rupert Murdoch AC, who nevertheless managed to wangle a brief visit to Gallipoli in September 1915. 

Bean remained a civilian, although he wore an officer’s uniform (with no "pips"), and had officer’s privileges. In October 1914 he went to Egypt with the 1st Australian Imperial Force (AIF), then landed at Gallipoli at 10 a.m. on 25 April 1915. With the 2nd Australian Brigade when they attacked at the Second Battle of Krithia on 8 May, he was put forth for the Military Cross for rescuing wounded. As a civilian he was ineligible, but he got a Mention in Dispatches. In August, he was wounded but refused evacuation, remaining in his dug-out with daily care. He was there from beginning to end, writing the first of his 286 notebooks. He filed regular stories and included his own photos. In 1916 he published The Anzac Book, which included material that he collected from the soldiers. 

At Gallipoli he noticed that soldiers were collecting souvenirs and he had the idea of a national museum featuring battle relics, photographs and documents. In November 1916, Bean found a sympathetic ear in the Minister for Defence, Sen. George Pearce KCVO (1870-1952), whose motives were narrowly political—one national institution could mollify the demands from state governments for funding to commemorate the service of their own. In September 1917, Bean made his case in the official Commonwealth Gazette, calling war relics "sacred things". 

Charles Bean on the Western Front

Although it took many years to build the museum at the Australian War Memorial (AWM), he was a key player in its development. In 1932 he gained the funds to purchase the Pozières Mill site on the Somme for perpetuity. 

With the possibility of a detailed history in mind, he also urged the systematic collection of records. In May 1917 the Australian War Records Section (AWRS) began operations under the command of Lt. (later Lt. Col.) John L. Treloar OBE (1894-1952), who later would be the Director of the AWM for 32 years. The stated purpose of the AWRS was to keep Australia’s war history completely distinct from Britain’s. 

The war's end brought Bean no respite. In November 1918 he published In Your Hands Australians, a short book in that outlined his vision of a new Australia which would be a result of the war experience; the triumph of the "Australian Character." He wrote: "It was character which rushed the hills at Gallipoli and held on there during the long afternoon and night, when everything seemed to have gone wrong and there was only the barest hope of success..." 

In 1919 he returned to Gallipoli at the head of the Australian Historical Mission to collect relics for the memorial, obtain Turkish materials and report on the condition of the graves (which of course was appalling). He wrote about this experience in Gallipoli Mission, not published until 1948.

On his return to Australia after four and a half years overseas, he began the official history. He estimated that this would take five years; however it ran to 12 volumes and wasn’t completed until 1942. He wrote the first six volumes and edited the rest.

In 1930, the British Royal United Services Institute gave him the Chesney Gold Medal for the first three volumes, and he received his first honorary doctorate.  Over the early years sales of the official history were good (mostly to libraries) and it was critically acclaimed. When the final volume was completed, Prime Minister John Curtin (1885-1945) congratulated Bean on his achievement. However, he turned down any honors from the Crown. In 1946 he produced a single-volume version called ANZAC to Amiens. He also contributed the Australian section of The Empire at War by Sir Charles Lucas KCB KGVO (1853-1931). 

On 11 November 1941 Bean saw his second ambition realized when the AWM opened. The style of the structure reflects his desire for the building "to at once be museum, monument, memorial, temple and shrine…"  He served on the Board of the AWM from 1919 to 1963. 

Having witnessed the horror of WWI, he had fervently hoped that there would never be another such conflict. In the early 1930’s he was an active member of the British League of Nations Union (1918-1948). During WWII he wrote a pamphlet called "The old AIF and the New in 1940" and "War Aims of a Plain Australian," in which he decried the failure of Australians to live up to the ideals of the Diggers. He also worked as press liaison in the Department of Information, and in 1942 he became chairman of the committee which created the national Archives. In 1943, he persuaded the government to commission an official history of WW2, which he didn’t write. In 1946 he recorded "The ANZAC Requiem," a meditation that was broadcast for many years on ANZAC Day. 

Bean Working the Australian Official History in 1935

After WWII he was financially strapped. The body of his work was not generating much income; the only copyright he still held was for ANZAC to Amiens. In 1952 he became chairman of the Board of the AWM (an unpaid position) and was commissioned to evaluate WW1 relics for inclusion in the collections. In this role, his principles were to "avoid glorification of war and boasting of victory" and "perpetuating enmity…”

Between 1947 and 1958 he chaired the Promotion Appeals Board of the Australian Broadcasting Commission. In 1950 he wrote a history of Australia's non-government schools called Here, My Son. His early books, The Dreadnought of the Darling and On the Wool Track, were republished in new editions. He planned a series of biographies but only one was written: Two Men I Knew, about the Generals Bridges and White. It was Bean’s last book.

Often described as modest, he said he was "too self-conscious to mix well with the great mass of men", yet it was the ‘great mass of men’ that he commemorated and whose respect he coveted. Many who worked with him held him in high regard. General Sir Brudenell White KCB DSO (1876-1940) said of Bean: "That man faced death more times than any other man in the AIF, and had no glory to look for either. What he did – and he did wonders – was done from a pure sense of duty."

In 1964 he fell ill, dying in August 1968. The AWM wrote: "His official history of Australia in the War of 1914-1918 is his greatest monument, and the Memorial that he imagined in 1916 is the main repository of Australian military history, a museum and a memorial to the fallen. Included in its collection are the notebooks, letters and diaries that he started when he left Australia in 1914." These occupy 27 meters of shelf at the AWM Archives. There are also numerous memorials and facilities dedicated to him throughout Australia; there is even a postage stamp. 

Sources include The Australian War Memorial

Saturday, March 25, 2023

Nimrod Frazer—WWI Commemorative and Historical Contributor Extraordinaire

By Editor/Publisher Michael Hanlon 

Shown above is Nimrod (Rod) Frazer of Montgomery, Alabama, at his 2017 award ceremony for the French Legion of Honor. Sadly, Mr.  Fraser,  who may have accomplished more to remember and honor his nation's sacrifices in the First World War during the recent Centennial commemoration than any private citizen, passed away on 7 March at age 93. 

The presentation shown above was for his efforts  at keeping alive the memory of the French and American soldiers who fought and died in World War I. The award specified his commissioning of the Memorial to the U.S. 42nd Rainbow Division at Croix Rouge Farm north of the Marne River. That monument, though, is just one of his numerous contributions to the remembrance of the First World War.  

Inspired by his father's service in the 42nd Rainbow Division and his own combat service during the Korean War during which he earned the Silver Star, and encouraged by like-minded friends, especially WWI Centennial Commissioner Monique Seefried, Frazer spent over a decade fully committed to honoring his dad's fellow Doughboys, America's aviators, and the contributions of his home state during the war. To appreciate his achievements, let me paraphrase the famous plaque at St. Paul's Cathedral, "If you seek his monument—look at these accomplishments."

New World War I Memorials

Click on Image to Enlarge

Daedalus,  Artist James Butler with his Rainbow Division Sculpture, and Return from the Argonne

Rod Frazer sponsored and championed the design, financing, and installation of four new World War I memorials.  Today, just north of Château-Thierry at a former battlefield known as Croix Rouge Farm, you will find a bronze sculpture depicting a Rainbow Division soldier carrying one his mates who fell in the nearby action. It has become the principal monument honoring the division in France and a key stop for all Americans visiting the World War I battlefields. It was designed by the artist personally selected by Frazer, James Butler of Britain's Royal Academy.  This location, also chosen by him, was the site where the division's 167th Infantry, its Alabama regiment, saw heavy action.  In 2017, he donated a second casting of the statue to the city of Montgomery, AL, from which the unit departed for the battlefield 100 years earlier.

The same year, he donated a second casting of Daedalus, also by Butler, to the U.S. Air Force at Maxwell, AFB. to honor America's aviators of the war.  The original, in London, honors Britain's naval aviators. In an interview at the time of the dedication, he explained why he added Daedalus to his list of projects.  "When I saw the Daedalus in London years ago, I just knew it belonged at [Alabama's] Maxwell Air Force base," said Frazer. "I didn't have the money then, but I knew I wanted it to be part of the centennial for World War I, to celebrate combat fliers for our United States Army Air Service, flyers who risked their lives."

His fourth memorial, although similar to the others in subject matter, had its own unique inspiration and origins.  Over 2,500 Alabamians died fighting in France and almost half of their families chose to have their sons buried there near where they fell.  The others, though, were brought home over the course of several years and buried in their home state. Growing up, Rod Frazer's father told him of all the funerals he attended over that period.  The bulk of them had fallen in America's biggest battle, the Meuse-Argonne Offensive.  "Argonne," with sad connotations affixed, was a name young Rod would never forget.  As part of his contributions to the Centennial of the war, he decided a monument specific to Alabama's sacrifices was needed.  He turned, once again, to James Butler to design an appropriate monument.

Today, at Montgomery's Union Station adjacent to the second Rainbow Memorial, sits Return from the Argonne.  It honors the fallen soldiers of Alabama from all units and services.  The bronze depicts  the body of a fatally wounded American soldier that has been sent back to his home for burial.  The body is covered by a torn shelter half, and part of the face is revealed.  One leg has been wounded. The memorial, the final of the four for which Nimrod Frazer was primarily responsible, was dedicated on 11 November 2021.

Military Historian

Click on Image to Enlarge

It's a little hard to believe, but during the period Rod Frazer was bringing these four monuments to fruition, he seems to have had time to become a crackerjack historian.  His two books are both related to the efforts of the Alabama National Guard 167th Regiment, which was a component of the 42nd Rainbow Division. Both are notable for the quality of the research, readability, and maps and photos.  I've read a lot of military history over the years, and these are of professional quality.

Send in the Alabamians is a detailed "unit history" of the regiment from before the war when they were dispersed in separate armories across the state, through their  deployment to France and return home. The boys saw lots of action with the Rainbow Division being among the three or four most "blooded" formations of the AEF.  Before the action at Croix Rouge Farm, the boys helped repel the last German offensive of the war and subsequently fought in the two largest American operations of the conflict at St. Mihiel and the Meuse-Argonne. Read our full review HERE.

The Best World War I Story I Know: On the Point in the Argonne, on the other hand is a riveting tale of combat.  The strongest defenses the American First Army faced in the Meuse-Argonne Offensive were in the heights around the village of Romange.  To break through here would mean Pershing's First Army had effectively opened the road to Sedan, the strategic objective of the entire campaign.  Arguably the most difficult section of these heights,  a densely-wooded hill backing the Hindenburg Line defenses known as the  Côte De Châtillon had to be taken.  The mission was given to the 167th Alabama Infantry, the 168th Iowa Infantry, and the 151st Machine Gun Battalion from Georgia, under the the tactical command of Brigadier General Douglas MacArthur.  In his clear style, Frazer captures the stresses of the preparations and the intensity of the fighting, as well as the spirit and courage of both the American attackers and the desperate German defenders.  See my full review of the work HERE.

For His Service in Korea and Later, As a Caretaker
of Our Nation's Heritage, Nimrod T. Frazer Deserves
Our Appreciation and Lasting Memory

The Rise and Fall of Kerensky

Aleksandr Kerensky

Born in 1881 in Simbirsk, Russia, Aleksandr Fedorovich Kerensky died in 1970 in New York City. A moderate Socialist Revolutionary, he served as head of the Russian Provisional government from July to October 1917 (Julian). While studying law at the University of St. Petersburg, Kerensky was attracted to the Narodniki (populist) revolutionary movement. After graduating in 1904, he joined the Socialist Revolutionary Party and became a prominent lawyer, frequently defending revolutionaries accused of political offenses. In 1912 he was elected to the Duma, and in the next several years he gained a reputation as an eloquent, dynamic politician of the moderate left.

Unlike more radical socialists, he supported Russia’s participation in World War I. He became increasingly disappointed with the tsarist regime’s conduct of the war effort, however, and, when the February Revolution broke out in 1917, he urged the dissolution of the monarchy. He instituted basic civil liberties—e.g., the freedoms of speech, press, assembly, and religion; universal suffrage; and equal rights for women—throughout Russia and became one of the most widely known and popular figures among the revolutionary leadership.

In May, when a public uproar over the announcement of Russia’s war aims (which Kerensky had approved) forced several ministers to resign, Kerensky was transferred to the posts of minister of war and of the navy and became the dominant personality in the new government. However, h His philosophy of "no enemies to the left" greatly empowered the Bolsheviks and gave them a free hand, allowing them to take over the military arm or voyenka of the Petrograd and Moscow Soviets. His arrest of Lavr Kornilov and other officers left him without strong allies against the Bolsheviks, who ended up being Kerensky's strongest and most determined adversaries, as opposed to the right wing, which evolved into the White movement.

Kerensky Visiting the Troops Before
the 1917 Offensive

The Kerensky Offensive of July 1917 was the last made by the Russian army during the Great War and finally broke its cohesion.  Kerensky's failure to end the war made it impossible for him to deal with any of the pressing internal problems of Russia. He became inclreasingly isolate between the counter-revolutionary forces of the right and and the revolutionary forces led by Lenin.  His attempt to arrest the Bolshevik leaders on 5 November failed and two days later they overthrew his government.

Kerensky escaped and tried to rally loyal forces but was quickly defeated.  After hiding for several weeks, he managed to make his way to France. He remained neutral during the Russian Civil War. When Germany invaded France in 1940, Kerensky emigrated to the United States,  moved to Australia for six years with his second wife, and—with her death in 1946—eventually settling back in the U.S.  He split his time between New York and California, where he was a fellow at the Hoover Institution and lecturer at Stanford University. He died in New York in 1970.

The One-Time Revolutionary Became
a Respected Academic

Sources:  "Revolution in Real Time: The Russian Provisional Government, 1917," Old Dominion University; Who's Who in World War One

Wednesday, March 22, 2023

Prelude to WWII: When the Franco-Polish Alliance Was Initiated

Poland, strategically threatened by both the Soviets and the Germans, signed a treaty of political alliance with France on 19 February 1921. It would later be supplemented by additional agreements and renewals, and the alliance would be strained almost to the breaking point by 1936. However, as Hitler's rearmament and diplomacy clarified his intentions, and with Britain now participating in the arrangement, the alliance hardened and would be the basis of France and Great Britain declaring war on Germany when Poland was attacked in September 1939. Below are some of the key points of the early agreements.

1921 Signatories Aristide Briand (France) and
Eustachy Sapieha (Poland)

Franco-Polish Agreement

Paris, 19 February 1921 (excerpt)

THE Polish Government and the French Government, both desirous of safeguarding, by the maintenance of the treaties which both have signed or which may in future be recognized by both parties, the peace of Europe, the security of their territories, and their common political and economic interests, have agreed as follows:

In order to coordinate their endeavors towards peace the two Governments undertake to consult each other on all questions of foreign policy which concern both States, so far as those questions affect the settlement of international relations in the spirit of the treaties and in accordance with the Covenant of the League of Nations. . .

Franco-Polish Warrant Agreement

Locarno, 16 October 1925 (excerpt)

In the event of the Council of the League of Nations, when dealing with a question brought before it in accordance with the said undertakings, being unable to succeed in securing the acceptance of its report by all its members other than the representatives of the parties to the dispute, and in the event of Poland or France being attacked without provocation, France, or reciprocally Poland, acting in application of Article 15, paragraph 7, of the Covenant of the League of Nations, will immediately lend aid and assistance.


Tuesday, March 21, 2023

Kitchener and the Dardanelles Campaign: A Vindication

By George H. Cassar
Helion and Company, 2022
Michael Hanlon, Reviewer

Field Marshal Kitchener with General Birdwood
at Gallipoli, 13 November 1915

Prolific World War I historian and retired professor George H. Cassar has written a valuable top down look—emphasizing the politics and policies over details of the fighting—at the Dardanelles/Gallipoli failure of 1915. The author is eminently qualified to produce such a work, having previously published histories on other aspects of the Dardanelles Campaign and the wartime leadership of both France and Britain, as well as a biography of Horatio Kitchener, the central figure in this work.

Before proceeding, however, this reviewer, would like to place his one gripe about Kitchener and the Dardanelles Campaign: A Vindication up front. It's over the title the publisher selected. I think it's misleading. The first part "Kitchener and the Dardanelles Campaign" is a bit too narrow. Further, I question whether "A Vindication" needed to be tacked on. It suggests the entire work is dedicated to overcoming a century of persecution and blame of K of K for the whole sea/land campaign.  I'm just talking about matter of proportionality here. It's clearly an important matter for Professor Cassar. And, for me, he makes a convincing argument that although the endeavor was originally championed and stage managed by Winston Churchill, a decisive level of malfeasance by Kitchener was later made historical "fact" in Churchill's The World Crisis and carried into the present day by succeeding generations of Winston's biographers.  This discussion simple does not constitute the whole book.  Now we will outline some its other main points below.

News Report of Earliest Action at the Straits
Based on Admiralty Press Release

Kitchener and the Dardanelles Campaign includes—besides a nice biographical sketch of Kitchener and thorough details about his involvement in every stage of the expedition—much information I've never encountered before about the Dardanelles Campaign.  This includes the early cabinet deliberations, the thinking behind the naval actions at the mouth of the straits in February, the decisive and ill-fated battleship assault of March, and the almost automatic sliding into a land assault that was doomed from the start. One of the author's best sections cover the Field Marshal's visit to the battlefield, after which everyone accepted the operation needed to be shut down before enough German-provided heavy artillery to blow the invaders off the beaches arrived in theater.

Now, back to Kitchener vs Churchill and the Historians. According to the author it was really a political blame game. Recall, Kitchener—by conveniently dying in June 1916—could not have been more helpful to anyone trying to bury their own mistakes from view. Of course, Winston Churchill was the most interested party in laying things at Kitchener's grave. Cassar's critique of his conduct starts with errors of strategy and feasibility Churchill made in selling the plan and adds other errors that compounded the earlier misjudgments as the operation unfolded. For instance, after the initial shelling of the forts at the mouth of the Dardanelles, the Admiralty produced a press release (shown above) describing the bombardment in great detail (some of which were deleted in the version shown), thus revealing the Allies were planning a major operation in the area. Consequently, strategic surprise and any "wiggle room" for backing out of the commitment without a loss of face vanished. The story of the press release and its impact was apparently just one of blunders buried after the war. On a longer timeline, the author argues that Churchill wrote a misleading defense of his strategy and recommendations in the second volume of The World Crisis and hid key details behind the protections of the Official Secrets act. Most unfairly, Churchill fingered Kitchener as acting alone to authorize the land campaign. The decision, although not wise and made with Kitchener's participation, was made by a consensus of the Cabinet.

Winston Churchill and Horatio Kitchener

I can't say Professor Cassar's "Vindication" portion of  Kitchener and the Dardanelles Campaign will persuade all readers. Churchill devotees will certainly be resistant. Nevertheless, I'd estimate that that portion is but 25 percent of the book. If you have any interest in those great events of 1915, then George Cassar's latest is well worth reading. The rest of it is solid history, well written, and based on up-to-date research.

Michael Hanlon