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

Sunday, April 30, 2023

Eyewitness: Attack at Séchault

Postwar: Horace Pippin Artist with a Self-Portrait

By Pvt. Horace Pippin,  Company K, 369th Inf.

About Horace Pippin

A manual laborer with a love of drawing and little formal education, Horace Pippin had lived a hardscrabble life in upstate New York and New Jersey before enlisting in the 369th Infantry Regiment in 1917. 

During the Meuse-Argonne offensive his unit, the “Harlem Hellfighters,” was attached to the French 161st Division and fought in Champagne, apart from the main American army. On 30 September 1918, Pippin was shot in the shoulder, permanently disabling his right arm. 

After the war, he learned to guide his wounded limb with his left hand and eventually became a widely exhibited painter. Pippin’s unpublished manuscript from the 1920s includes this narrative of the fighting around Séchault. The spelling shown in the account is Pippin's original, paragraphing has been added by the editors.

Pippin's Depiction of the Fighting at War's End

At Séchault

AT ONE o clock the artillery were in thir Position and Began to fire. The Germens air plaines were after us good and strong the end of this Day we got 14 machine guns 500 prisners and a town. Then we held the line for the artillery to move up. Prisners were comeing throu our line. Goeine Back and every one were happy. That they were out of it. For they knew that, they would see home a gan some time. We onley hell the line that night. The machine guns were thick they keeped spiteing Bullets a cross our line on till the artillery came up, then that morneing. I got in, with Co I. I had notheing to eait for 3 Days. 

The Germens line were strong. And shells dropeing every where. Yet we were advancing sloley. I were in shell holes that were smokeing, and they were hot, the machine guns were in trees as well as in Bushess and in Housess and any thing they could get a machine gun in. They had it there. Wimens as well as men, ueseing a machine gun we were faceing a nother hill. The snipers were thick all so, I seen a machine gun nest I got him. My Budy and I were after a nother one.

Both of us were in the same shell hole. I were lookeing for another hole that would put me in [ ] of him. After I seen one. I said to my comrad, you go one way, and Ill go the other, and one of us can get him. For we could not see him, from where we were at. For he were Back of a Rock. Now it were to get him in sight and to do that we hat to take a chance of one to get it. Both of us left the shell hole, at the same time, I got near the shell hole that I had pecked out. When he let me have it. I went Down in the shell hole. He cliped my neck and got me throu my shoulder and right arm. 

Yet I had notheing to eait yet and I onley had a little water in my canteen. I Began to plug up my wounds when my Budy came to me and did what he could for me. Then he tole me that he got the Germen and the gun. I were leyeing on my Back. I thought I could get up But I could not do so. I shook hands with him and I never seen him cents. Now the shells were comeing close to me. Piceses of shell would come in near me some times. Then the Germen sniper kepted after me all Day. His Bullets would clep the shell hole that hell me this were 8 o clock in the morning.

Some time that after noon some French swipers came By. They look for Germen that is left Back so he seen me layeing there. When he did so. He stoped to say sometheing to me. But he never got it out for just then a Bullet past throu his head. And he sank on me. I seen him comeing on But I could not move. I were just that weeke. So I hat to take him. I were glad to get his water and all so Bread. I took my left hand and I got some coffee. After some hird time geteing it from him, after that I felt good and I trided to get up a gan. But I were to week to do so. Night were comeing on. And it Began to Rain. Then I tried to get the Blanked from my Dead comrad. That I could not do. And I could not get him of off me. The Rain came more and more ontill I were in water yet I were groweing weeker and weeker all the time and I went to sleep. I cant say how long I slep. But two Boyes came and I woke up. They took the French men of off me and then took me out of the shell hole for some Distens where there were more wonded ones. I were left there the Rest of the night. Every time I would get in a sleep I would Be woken up By the French troops goeing to the line. 

On tell near morning four French took me in to a Dugout and then to a nother on till they found a Dr. Then he did somtheing, I do not no aney more that night. When I woke up, it were Day. Then I were caryed out of the Dugout I seen then that it were full of shot up men like my self some wirst then I. I layed out there for some time in the Rain waiteing for my tirn to be taken Down to the Road to the amblance. Over the hell came some Germen prisners with a French officer and they took me to the Road. It were all they could do, were to stand up under me goeing Down the hell. They had me over thir heads. And I thought that I would Roal of. A shell or two came close to us. But they made the Road. I seen the artillery were Hobe to Hobe and all at work. 

I were shoved in the amblance with 5 others made 6 in all and shells foloed us ontell we got to the feel Hospital. When I got there it were all I could do, to tell them ho I were. So I pointed to my shirt I had Riten down like this 101127 Horace Pippin Co. K. 369. Inf, I new no more. On tell I were taken to the table to see what were Rong with me. They gave me some dop and that did put me a way for good. I cant say how long I were in it. After I came out of it I were not there long. They took me to a nother Hospital Bace 1 in leeon.

Source:  “Autobiography, First World War” in "World War I and America" from the Library of America

Saturday, April 29, 2023

Recommended: "He Guided Me from Heaven," A Rockport, Massachusetts, Man Retraces His Grandfather's Path Through WWI France

Alton Hawkes in France, 1917, left. His grandson,
Brett Hawkes, right, retraced his grandfather's
WWI route through France.

Brett Hawkes used stacks of old photos to re-create his grandfather’s 600-mile route through the French countryside.

By Christopher Muther Boston Globe Staff, 23 March 2023

It began with albums of black-and-white photos and caches of yellowed letters tucked away in boxes for decades. For the better part of a century, the boxes and their mostly forgotten contents collected dust while occupying real estate in attics throughout Massachusetts.

But for Brett Hawkes, a retired tech salesman who resides in Rockport, the long-ignored photos his grandfather took while serving in the Army during World War I became more than musty relics. They inspired a once-in-a-lifetime journey that spanned 600 miles across the French countryside.

Hawkes received the boxes of old photos and letters when his mother passed away in 2013. He said he glanced at them occasionally, but otherwise, they remained stored away, collecting another decade of dust. He came upon them again in the winter of 2022 while cleaning his office, but this time, the more he studied them, the more he was drawn to what he saw.

The pictures, taken in 1917 on the front lines of the war in France, showed soldiers fighting in trenches, bombed buildings, and previously idyllic fields transformed into hastily dug cemeteries. But his grandfather also took pictures of everyday life in the small towns where he was stationed. There are pictures of friends he made, soldiers playing football in a snowy field, and peaceful streets.

“I stared at these old photos and thought, ‘Oh my God, look at these churches bombed to the ground.’ I started wondering what they look like now,” Hawkes said. “I happened to find a photo he took of a famous chateau, and I Googled it and saw it was all renovated.”

That’s when the idea for his trip took root. He devised a plan to find the locations of as many of the photos as possible—thankfully, his grandfather had labeled the towns where pictures were taken—and re-create his grandfather’s 1917 route in France.

“I said to myself, ‘I have to find every photo and every location, and then I can figure out where it was taken and stand exactly where he stood. I could take it from the same vantage point and see how it’s changed. It was something I was sure no one had done before.”

Hawkes, 71, is an avid cyclist and decided the best way to travel the rural route was on his bike. His wife took a hard pass on joining him. His children, who are in their 30s and have kids of their own, weren’t able to take three weeks out of their lives to join their dad. So Hawkes decided he would make the 600-mile journey solo.

“For three weeks, I was going to drag my grandfather down from heaven, retrace his steps, and connect with Grampy and a forgotten era,” he said.

Lt. Alton Hawkes stands on top of the bombed church in
the French countryside in 1918. His grandson Brett photographed the church as it looks today.

Alton Hawkes stands on top of the bombed church in the French countryside in 1918. His grandson Brett photographed the church as it looks today

Read the entire account of Alton Hawkes's pilgrimage HERE

Thanks to Mr. Jack (Kavanagh) for bringing this article to our attention 

Friday, April 28, 2023

Selections from the Wipers Times — A Roads Collection




A Reminder: This is a representative listing, not inclusive of all the articles we have published on this topic in Roads to the Great War.  To search our archives for other articles on this topic, or to explore other World War One interests of yours, take advantage of the site search engine at the top left corner of every page on Roads to the Great War.  MH

Thursday, April 27, 2023

The Militarization of Science : A Case Study—Academic and Industrial Chemistry in World War I

Gerard J. Fitzgerald, PhD

The economic and industrial forces that altered the face of Europe during the first decade of the 20th century were also instrumental in creating many of the technological innovations driving the war. In time, tanks, submarines, and aircraft revolutionized how World War I was waged on land, sea, and in the air. Chemical weapons were another new marvel of the war, and their successful research, development, and deployment reflected the increasing sophistication of scientific and engineering practice. At the same time, physicians and medical researchers (some of whom worked to create these weapons) struggled to create adequate defensive systems and medical procedures to limit casualties. By the time of the armistice on 11 November 1918, the use of chemical weapons such as chlorine, phosgene, and mustard gas had resulted in more than 1.3 million casualties and approximately 90,000 deaths.

Although one could argue that primitive forms of chemical weapons were used in earlier conflicts, it was not until the 20th century that scientists, engineers, and physicians could predictably and consistently produce these weapons to inflict mass casualties.  At the close of the 19th century, the various European powers became troubled by the potentiality of chemical weapons and began holding conferences and writing various treaties to limit or curtail the development and deployment of this new technology. Suspicion and self-interest among both allies and rivals generally limited the usefulness of these activities, an unfortunate political reality that continues to the present day. For instance, the Hague Declaration of 1899 and the Hague Convention of 1907 forbade the use of “poison or poisonous weapons” in warfare, yet more than 124 000 tons of gas were produced by the end of World War I. 

The development of these war gases, like many of the other new weapons systems created during this period, depended on the work of academic and industrial scientists who increasingly served the military needs of the state. Germany, arguably the world’s leader in science at the time, and without question the guiding force in academic and industrial chemistry, moved decisively in the research and production of chemical agents once the war began. 

The Germans started experimental work on chemical agents in late 1914 at the suggestion of University of Berlin chemist and Nobel laureate Walther Nernst.  This early research quickly produced an effective tear gas artillery shell. Although the Germans fared no better than the French with tear gas as a debilitating agent, German chemists, now with a formal program led by Fritz Haber, continued to work on the chemical weapons problem. By 1915, scientists at the Kaiser Wilhelm Institute had developed an effective chlorine gas weapon. By placing chlorine into specially designed cylinders, chlorine gas could be discharged in a dense cloud that eventually settled into enemy trenches. Interestingly, the German High Command envisioned gas as an effective tool to draw soldiers out of their trenches so as to kill or wound them with conventional weapons rather than as a lethal weapon.

Fritz Haber, a prominent German chemist and future Nobel laureate, led the German program.  Haber, the so-called “father of chemical weapons,” moved enthusiastically between the front and the Kaiser Wilhelm Institute for Physical Chemistry and Electrochemistry in Berlin. As he organized and led the German chemical warfare program, solving ongoing problems in chemical agent development and deployment, his activities anticipated a troubling pattern of behavior among future generations of scientists, engineers, and physicians.

The Germans’ first use of gas mirrored their initial emphasis on the offensive aspects of chemical weapons research and their belief that a technological fix would bring a decisive victory.  Those on the receiving end, France and Great Britain, moved first on the defensive aspects of these new weapons. By war’s end, however, the national programs among the warring nations focused on both the offensive and defensive aspect of chemical weapons. These programs were often a result of the complete mobilization of their nations’ academic, industrial, and economic resources for war.

The expansion of research brought in an array of specialists from chemistry, physics, and engineering and, increasingly, from medicine, biology, and physiology, further blurring ethical demarcations in medical research. Throughout the war, the British armed forces enlisted scientists in many academic institutions—including Oxford, Cambridge, University College London, the Army Medical College at Millbrook, and the Lister Institute—to work on both aspects of gas warfare. The French government took a more direct approach to chemical weapons research by militarizing the chemistry, pathology, and physiology departments of   leading medical schools and institutes. Additionally, it essentially absorbed the University of Paris in order to direct, coordinate, and research all aspects of chemical warfare. 

Research conducted by Allied scientists on the nature of chemical warfare, and the observations and experience of their combat troops was employed by the United States with varying degrees of success when it joined the Allies. The United States had adopted a policy of formal neutrality at the beginning of the war, although ongoing Atlantic trade benefited the Allied cause. American sympathies for Britain, France, and other allies grew during the course of the war, aided both by the deadlock on the battlefield and the increasing menace of unrestricted submarine warfare by German U-boats. In 1917, a marked increase in U-boat attacks on commercial shipping, in addition to a potential German alliance with Mexico, led to a formal declaration of war on 6 April 1917.

The American response to chemical warfare is indicative of the growing sophistication of academic, industrial, and military research and development capabilities in the United States at a time when linkages between the federal government and science were becoming more pronounced.  As the war intensified, increasing anxiety about possible entry into the conflict and the overall lack of military preparation prompted some in government, industry, and academe to begin planning. The origins of an organized program for chemical warfare in Washington came first from the civilian sector. On 8 February 1917, Van H. Manning, the director of the Bureau of Mines, offered the technical services of his agency to the Military Committee of the National Research Council. The familiarity of the bureau with research involving noxious gases, breathing apparatus, explosives, and gas detection technologies seemed well suited for the task. 

On the same day as the American declaration of war, the National Research Council subcommittee on noxious gases was appointed to “carry on investigations into noxious gases, generation, antidote for same, for war purposes.” Within one year, research was under way at a number of prestigious universities and medical schools, including the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Johns Hopkins, Harvard, and Yale, in addition to some of the country’s leading industrial firms.  The chemical warfare program was directed out of offices and laboratories at American University in Washington, DC. During the course of the war, research programs involving gas investigations; defense problems; medical science problems; chemical research; gas mask research; pyrotechnic research; small-scale manufacturing; mechanical research; pharmacological research; [and] administration were carried out in Washington and across the country. 

Research began as the first U.S. troops made preparations for combat. Fear of gas attacks against these members of the American Expeditionary Force (AEF) embarking for the European front initially focused research in the United States on defensive measures, with priority given to gas mask design and production.

As the American war effort intensified, research expanded to include offensive weapons, resulting in numerous discoveries, including the creation of one of the conflict’s only new chemical weapons, an arsenic-based agent similar to mustard gas called lewisite (β-chlorovinyldichloroarsine). Synthesized in his laboratory by Wilfred Lee Lewis, this deadly substance was soon mass-produced by the military under the direction of chemist and future Harvard president James. B. Conant. By July 1918, research and development on agents such as lewisite passed from civilian to military control as the entire chemical weapons program moved from the Bureau of Mines to the army’s newly organized Chemical Warfare Service.

At that time, chemical warfare research in the United States involved more than 1900 scientists and technicians, making it at that time the largest government research program in American history.  By the time the war ended, historians estimate that more than 5500 university-trained scientists and technicians and tens of thousands of industrial workers on both sides of the battle lines worked on chemical weapons. Both the military use and industrial production of chemical weapons presented a number of health risks.

As the war progressed, the knowledge gained by British, French, and German military planners and scientists on the nature of gas warfare quickly evolved into a kind of technological chess match. New offensive threats were met by an evolving array of defensive countermeasures. Overall, the deployment of chemical weapons met with mixed results as the tactics, strategy, and military culture of all of the armies continually struggled to adjust to this new weapon. Aside from tactical and strategic consequences, chemical weapons heralded larger cultural changes for combatant and observer alike. In perhaps his most celebrated poem, “Dulce et Decorum Est,” British soldier Wilfred Owen captured in verse the horrors of this new form of warfare, a horror that he had witnessed first hand at the front.

Gas! Gas! Quick, boys!—An ecstasy of fumbling, Fitting the clumsy helmets just in time;

But someone still was yelling out and stumbling, And flound’ring like a man on fire or lime . . .

Dim, through the misty panes and thick green light, As under a green sea, I saw him drowning . . . 

Source: "Chemical Warfare and Medical Response During World War I", American Journal of Public Health, April 2008

Tuesday, April 25, 2023

"Five Souls" by Wiliam N. Ewer

William N. Ewer (1885–1976) was a British journalist, pacifist, conscientious objector, and a lecturer for the Union of Democratic Control. He is mostly remembered for this inspired piece of anti-war poetry. After the Great War, he functioned as a low-level Soviet agent until the Cold War, when he became an ardent anti-Communist.

First Soul

I was a peasant of the Polish plain;

I left my plough because the message ran:-

Russia, in danger, needed every man

To save her from the Teuton; and was slain.

I gave my life for freedom - This I know

For those who bade me fight had told me so.

Second Soul

I was a Tyrolese, a mountaineer;

I gladly left my mountain home to fight

Against the brutal treacherous Muscovite;

And died in Poland on a Cossack spear.

I gave my life for freedom - This I know

For those who bade me fight had told me so.

Third Soul

I worked in Lyons at my weaver's loom,

When suddenly the Prussian despot hurled

His felon blow at France and at the world;

Then I went forth to Belgium and my doom.

I gave my life for freedom - This I know

For those who bade me fight had told me so.

Fourth Soul

I owned a vineyard by the wooded Main,

Until the Fatherland, begirt by foes

Lusting her downfall, called me, and I rose

Swift to the call - and died in far Lorraine.

I gave my life for freedom - This I know

For those who bade me fight had told me so.

Fifth Soul

I worked in a great shipyard by the Clyde;

There came a sudden word of wars declared,

Of Belgium, peaceful, helpless, unprepared,

Asking our aid: I joined the ranks, and died.

I gave my life for freedom - This I know

For those who bade me fight had told me so.

Source: All Poetry

Monday, April 24, 2023

Why Antwerp Became Belgium's National Redoubt

By Tony Langley

Defeats are never particularly endearing to the country suffering them, and since Antwerp was heralded as one of the largest and most stoutly fortified areas in the world, its loss was an embarrassment that no amount of twisting and turning of the events could ever turn into anything but a missed opportunity by the Entente to hold a more northern front line and secure an important industrial area and fortified zone for their use. The loss of Antwerp was one of a series of defeats and setbacks that almost brought Belgium to defeat in 1914 and contributed to the fall from grace of Winston Churchill, First Lord of the Admiralty.

Antwerp, a mercantile city and trading center of great importance since the late Middle Ages had been subject to attacks and sieges countless times, the most recent having taken place in 1831, when, during the Belgian revolution against Dutch rule, the Dutch garrison commander defended the southern citadel against a besieging French army and shelled the city in retaliation with firebombs. This was the cause of many bad memories and protests when in the late 1850s the Belgian government finally decided upon a comprehensive national policy of defense. Belgium, a neutral country, had been guaranteed independence and aid against aggressors by several signatory nations: France, Great Britain, Prussia, Austria-Hungary, and the Russian Empire. The only sensible military policy for a small country such as Belgium would therefore be to fall back on an easily defensible position and await the arrival of a friendly force, most likely one or a coalition of the signatory powers. In 1859 the government decided that Antwerp would have the honor of being the National Redoubt in time of war, a last line of defense in which both the Belgian government and the army would await help from one of the signatory nations that had guaranteed her independence.

Additional smaller defensive positions were constructed at Liège and Namur, while several smaller, older fortifications such as those at Diest, Termonde, Dinant, Huy, Ostend, and other locations were kept in service, these last often being of Napoleonic origin (if not older), and all being outdated by the mid-19th century.

The defenses at Antwerp were conceived on a grand scale. The 1859 plans called for a double circle of fortifications to guard the city and harbor area to the north: an inner ring consisting of an intricate series of bastions, ravelins, water moats, causeways, raised earthen walls covering brick casemates and barracks, artillery positions, supply depots and fortified ornamental city gates controlling entrance and egress, and a second ring of fortifications, some 7 km distant from the city center, consisting of eight brick-built forts, once again encompassing artillery positions, barracks, and depots, built at intervals of 5 km apart to allow mutual artillery support, but otherwise not connected to each other. To the north, south, and west of the city extensive flooding was planned in the event of an attack on the city.

The two encircling rings of fortifications were built during the years 1859–1865, despite ineffectual protest from citizens and merchants alike. It was a showcase example of military architecture, incorporating all the latest advances and techniques. It was built at great cost, and the main contractors, having apparently misjudged the complexity of things, went bankrupt. Nevertheless, the works were completed in the planned time frame.

By 1878 it was already agreed that the fortifications were in need of extension. Artillery range and explosive power increased at a steady pace, and to compensate for this a third encircling series of forts was planned to be built 15 km from the city center, in a great 100 km-long perimeter, which would hopefully keep all vital parts of the city and harbor safely out of enemy artillery range.

The long siege of Port Arthur in the Far East during the Russo-Japanese War of 1905–06 drove home the need for updated and enlarged fortifications if Antwerp were to hold against a modern army. In 1907 the political decision to build the third line of 17 forts, smaller redoubts, and field positions was finally taken and funds allocated by the Belgian parliament. These 17 outer perimeter forts were the most modern then available, built in non-reinforced concrete several meters thick and incorporating almost every modern design and military application then conceivable: revolving retractable steel turrets housing long-range artillery directed by an intricate system of field telephones and forward observers; steel observation turrets; concrete walls and subterranean tunnels; retractable drawbridges; independent electrical power stations in each fort; flood and searchlights positioned on the walls; concrete-protected machine gun positions and powder magazines; positive-pressure ventilation systems to evacuate noxious gases; and supply rooms and infirmaries.

These forts were built in the following years, with most finished by 1912 or 1913, though in August 1914 there was still work to be completed, often involving the fire and control systems and the protection of steel copulas. They were the most modern and up-to-date series of fortifications on the Continent, and, therefore, upon the outbreak of war in 1914, the Belgian government and both France and Britain were confident that even in the face of a determined German assault, the city would be able to hold out indefinitely.

The first German troops crossed the Belgian border on 4 August and started operations against the Liège forts the following day. Initially, the first assaults—overconfident and hurriedly carried out—were repulsed, much to the satisfaction of the newspaper press, especially in Great Britain, which carried overconfident headlines about the resistance of the gallant Belgians. The Belgian government and the king and queen officially relocated to Antwerp upon the occupation of Brussels early in August.  By the 10th, however, German heavy artillery was brought to Liège, and when the 420mm siege guns started firing on the 12th, it was only a matter of time before a breach was created in the Belgian fortifications. One by one the forts fell, in one of which, Fort Loncin to the west of Liège, General Leman the Belgian commander at Liège, was knocked unconscious and wounded when the powder magazine of that fort was hit and exploded, all but obliterating almost half of the underground casemates and gun turrets. Overnight, General Leman became the first Entente hero of the war and a symbol of Belgian resistance to the invading German armies.

The Belgian government and the king and queen officially relocated to Antwerp upon the occupation of Brussels early in August. There was no shortage of large buildings to house the ministries and parliament and senate. The Atheneum (or high school) and the grand and ornate municipal ballroom were pressed into service for government use. Hotels, of which there was a multitude in Antwerp for use by businessmen and emigrants awaiting departure to the New World, were soon full to capacity, housing diplomats, officers, journalists, and refugees from all over the occupied parts of the country. The rich and wealthy opened their homes for use as hospitals or nursing stations. The Antwerp Zoo, with many large festival and conference halls, was also turned into a casualty recovery ward, and a number of municipal trams were converted into useful and picturesque Red Cross streetcars, plying the routes from outer fortifications to the city center with wounded and injured soldiers.

Sunday, April 23, 2023

The French Mutinies of 1917 Were Not Anti-War, but Anti-Military

Execution of a Mutineer at Verdun
As the Events of 1917 Are Remembered

Historian Michael Neiberg makes the argument that the mutinies of 1917 were not anti-war, but anti-military in his 2007 essay "What True Misery Is."

Leonard Smith’s path-breaking study of the mutinies of 1917 understood the soldiers seeking a redress of their grievances. Smith argued that the men were looking for an alternative to the carnage of the western front that offensives à outrance like that of Nivelles on the Chemin des Dames had revealed to be criminal folly. On the other hand, French poilus were unwilling to face what Smith described as the indefinite incarceration that perpetual defensive operations in the trenches represented. The mutinies were therefore statements by the men that neither suicidal charges for no larger purpose nor a continuation of senseless trench warfare would be acceptable. The mutinies were, Smith concludes, not an anti-war statement because few soldiers demanded an immediate end to the war under any circumstances. 

They were, however, an anti-military statement in that the poilus demanded better treatment for themselves and better conduct of the war for their country. Men were willing to die for France but were unwilling to throw their lives away for no larger purpose. Thus does Smith conclude that the mutinies were in the end an essentially patriotic statement. They represented a demand not for surrender but for a more efficient and sensible prosecution of the war.

Sullen Poilus, 1917

As many scholars have noted, the mutineers did not abandon their posts in most cases, took great care not to let the Germans learn about their protests, and only a few committed acts of violence. Still, men from dozens of units refused to go back into the line and even a few soldiers singing the Internationale could throw French staff officersinto paroxysms of fear. Outside observers rarely spoke of revolution, but they were quick to see how serious the crisis was. British General Henry Wilson, always a keen observer of the French Army and its moods, toured the French lines in June and saw "signs of French demoralisationz everywhere he went and noted that the French army "wants very careful handling if she is to carry on to next year." Still, even Wilson acknowledged that the morale problems of the French Army were due less to losses than to "disappointment"at the failure of the French to make those losses worthwhile by bringing France closer to victory. Waves of strikes in French industry showed that the frustrations of soldiers were also felt by their families at home.

Most military studies credit the reforms instituted by Nivelle’s replacement, General Henri-Philippe Pétain, for quelling the mutinies in the ranks. To be sure, Pétain improved leave arrangements, made sure that officers better understood their men, and oversaw improvements to the quality of the daily life of poilus. It is not, however, true, that Pétain simply waited for the tanks and the Americans as he famously pledged. While he did advocate a strategy of "healing and defense," he nevertheless conducted a number of important, if limited, offensives.

Nor did Pétain necessarily support staying on the perpetual defensive. As early as June, Pétain had advised the French government and BEF commander Field Marshal Sir Douglas Haig that the French Army could conduct an offensive within a month if needed, although he urged that such an offensive not be conducted until he could supervise important doctrinal reforms. It may be worth noting that Pétain’s caution came not from a fear that French soldiers would disobey orders to attack, but because he wanted time to purge the offensive mentalities of his predecessors. Pétain did, in fact, conduct two offensives of his own in 1917.  .  .

Victorious Poilus, 1918

While the reforms instituted by Pétain in the wake of the mutinies were important, we need to cast a wider lens onto the morale crisis of 1917 and France’s recovery from it.Pétain surely improved the daily conditions of French soldiers and helped to change the mentality of GQG from offensive à outrance  to what Michel Goya has called combat en  profondeur [in depth].

Nevertheless, Pétain was not the only agent of change. The crisis of 1917 must be placed into a much larger historical context to include events like the two Russian revolutions, the socialist initiative at Stockholm, and the Papal Peace Note.

Source: "'What True Misery Is’: France’s Crisis of Morale 1917", 1917 Tactics, Training and Technology; 2007 Australian Chief of Army Military Conference

Saturday, April 22, 2023

Indiana, U.S.A., in the Great War

The Dramatic War Memorial Plaza at Indianapolis

The term "Hoosiers" to refer to residents of the Wabash Valley and the state of Indiana was first used in the 1820s. Unceasingly since then, there have been Hoosiers willing to serve and sacrifice for their nation and its ideals. The state of Indiana is represented in every major United States war since the state’s founding and as of the twentieth century, hundreds of thousands of Hoosiers had served their country proudly. By April of 1917, Indiana had demonstrated their willingness and capability to serve and following the United States declaration of war, Hoosiers were ready to step up and answer the call of their nation.  Zealous patriotism prevailed throughout the war. Indiana governor James P. Goodrich stated in 1918, "There can be no middle course in this war. There are just two kinds of people in America—patriots and traitors." Conformity to the war cause became closely watched and any hint of disloyalty was targeted, particularly anything connected to Germany. German instruction was banned in many schools, German-language newspapers ceased publication, and institutions with German names, such as the Das Deutsche Haus in Indianapolis, were changed. 

Enlisted Hoosiers went overseas with the first units to land on European soil. Among them, Sergeant Alex Arch of South Bend, Indiana was credited with having fired the first shot of the war for the United States, pulling the lanyard to fire the first American artillery shell toward German lines. As well as the first strike, the first blow was received by Indiana as well. The first three American casualties of the war included young Corporal James Gresham of Evansville, Indiana who died in hand to hand combat while repelling a German trench raid near Bathelemont in France. Hoosiers such as these cemented the state’s legacy as among the first to strike at the enemy and the first to make the ultimate sacrifice for their country. 

Rifle Range at Fort Benjamin Harrison

As the first of the American Expeditionary Forces were arriving in France, the Indiana National Guard was quickly mobilizing. In 1906, a new military installation near Indianapolis had been officially named Fort Benjamin Harrison, after the former U.S. president from Indiana. During World War I it became one of the key mobilization and training sites in the country, hosting three officer training camps, medical training camps, and engineering specialists. In June 1917, as many as 12,000 men resided at the fort, with thousands of others passing through during the war. 

Units from the Indiana and Kentucky National Guards would form the 38th Division and the 84th “Lincoln” Division would be comprised of guard units from Indiana, Kentucky, and Illinois. In addition, the famed 150th artillery regiment, which had gained a fierce reputation in the Civil War under the command of Captain Eli Lilly, was selected as one of the handpicked units to make up the 42nd “Rainbow” Division. This division would see some of the most intense fighting of the war. The 150th Field Artillery, under the capable leadership of Colonel Robert Tyndall, would take part in six major engagements throughout the war. The first day of draft registration, 5 June 1917, passed without incident in Indiana. During that first period, over 260,000 Hoosiers came forward to register. Over 400,000 more had registered by the war’s end.

Throughout the war, Hoosier men and women would time and time again prove their unwavering courage and loyalty to their country in spite of the many faces of adversity. Lieutenant Aaron Fisher of Lyle’s Station, Indiana, and the 366th Infantry would become the most highly decorated African American soldier from Indiana during the war for his extraordinary courage and level-headed leadership in the face of overwhelming odds. Fisher received the Distinguished Service Cross and the French Croix de Guerre for refusing to retreat or surrender even while his unit was vastly outnumbered. Despite being wounded, Fisher continued to direct his troops amidst the chaos until finally reinforcements arrived and the German force was repelled. 

Medal of Honor Recipient Sam Woodfill's Dog Tag

Lieutenant Samuel Woodfill would become a national hero when he single-handedly incapacitated three German machine gun nests and earned the nation’s highest military award, the Medal of Honor as well as military honors from several European nations. While suffering the effects of mustard gas exposure, Woodfill captured three of the gunners and finished off the rest in intense close-quarters combat where he was eventually forced to wield a trench pick as a combat weapon. General Pershing considered Woodfill the outstanding soldier of the AEF.

At home, citizens continued to support the war effort through the Red Cross and Salvation Army, raising funds and sending supplies to the troops entrenched on the other side of the Atlantic. Women filled the jobs left empty by those men that had departed for the front, eager to serve their country. Among them was Opha Johnson of Kokomo who was the first woman to enlist in the Marine Corps. She took over clerical work in the quartermaster department and was promoted to the rank of sergeant by the war’s end. This names only a few of the many outstanding Hoosiers who contributed to war effort, most of whom would not receive such recognition but who, beyond a doubt, contributed to the nation’s war effort, both overseas and at home. 

American War Mothers at the Old Courthouse,
Petersburg, IN

Indiana’s civilians also quickly mobilized for war. Organizations both public and private adapted to meet the demands of war. During the war, the U.S. Food Administration encouraged people to be thrifty with food so that much-needed supplies could be sent to Europe. The great majority of Hoosiers were fully on board with the slogan "Food Will Win the War." Sugar, in particular, was rationed, and shoppers had to present a ration card issued by a county food administrator to buy it. Retailers and wholesalers were required to sign certificates stating they would follow the laws related to the sale of sugar. 

To raise money for the war effort, the federal government sold Liberty Bonds. Many Hoosiers supported the well advertised Liberty Loan campaigns. Rallies were held throughout the state with patriotic appeals to promote the campaigns, including this bond rally on the steps of the Grant County Courthouse. In Indiana, the total amount of money raised by the war-financing efforts, including the sale of war saving stamps was approximately $500,000,000. 

World War I Liberty Loan Rally in Grant County, IN

Many Indiana companies, such as the Studebaker Corporation, placed their factories “at the disposal of the government.” In the case of Studebaker, they converted half of their plant capacity to the production of military equipment including artillery and supply chassis and wagons. The Eli Lilly Pharmaceutical Company offered $25,000 in funding for medical equipment to form Base Hospital 32, which would be comprised primarily of personnel from Indiana and would treat almost 9,700 patients in France throughout the war. 

Inspired by her son's enlistment in the Army, Johnson County native Alice Moore French mobilized other women with children in the armed forces and founded the American War Mothers in 1917. The Indiana chapter was first to organize. Interest soon spread to other states and the national organization was later incorporated, with French as its first president. The organization aimed to aid soldiers, the government in home-front activities, and families with children in the military. 

Local newspapers and businesses encouraged the citizenry to purchase war bonds, to conserve supplies, and to otherwise support the war effort. Throughout the state, Hoosiers quickly got to work. Famed Indianapolis Speedway played a wartime role. Racing was interrupted in 1917–1918 when the facility served as a military aviation repair and refueling depot, designated the Speedway Aviation Repair Depot, commanded by Captain Patrick Frissell.  In 1926 America's leading air ace Capt. Eddie Rickenbacker would purchase the track and operate it through the Second World War, when racing was again suspended.

Line for Sugar Ration Certificate, Indianapolis,
August 1918

Over 135,000 Hoosiers would serve their country throughout the war. Of this number, more than 3,000 would make the ultimate sacrifice. The countless number of Hoosier soldiers, nurses, and civilians who were there to proudly serve and sacrifice for their nation, deserve more recognition than they have or could receive. They had demonstrated their commitment to the ideals of the United States and proven that, whenever their nation needed them, the men and women of Indiana would be there to answer to answer the call.

After the war the Hoosier state showed the way in commemorating the sacrifices of the nation and their state. The Indiana World War Memorial Plaza was the largest and most elaborate tribute to the sacrifices of World War I veterans constructed anywhere in the United States. It remains a testament to the patriotism of Hoosier citizens during World War I and their support for the war effort.

Much as the state had excelled in contributing to the Union cause during the Civil War, Indiana out-enlisted and out-subscribed many other states during the World War I. The U.S. War Department set a quota for Army volunteers from Indiana at 5,400, and 25,148 men enlisted, more than any other state. The Navy Department called for 800 volunteers for the naval forces, and Indiana, an inland state, contributed 5,516 sailors. After the conflict, Indiana Governor James P. Goodrich noted that the citizens of the state had oversubscribed substantially to all of the Liberty bond drives to underwrite the cost of the war and to campaigns for the Red Cross, Salvation Army, YMCA, and YWCA.

Welcome Home! May 1919

As the war ended, Hoosiers planned "Welcome Home" events for returning hometown soldiers.  Indiana officially welcomed home those who had served in a large celebration on 7 May 1919, in Indianapolis. Thousands gathered from across the state to honor the returning troops and remember those who had lost their lives during the war. The day was highlighted with a magnificent parade that stretched for five miles. 

The Hoosier enthusiasm for prosecuting the war and leading the way carried over in 1919 and 1920. Indiana members of the new American Legion veterans organization won agreement to locate the Legion headquarters in Indianapolis and for the State of Indiana to build a monumental memorial. The Plaza that resulted (photo at top), bounded by Meridian and Pennsylvania on the west and east sides and Vermont and St. Clair on the south and north sides, is a visible reminder of the role of patriotism as a primary civic virtue of the state and its capital, Indianapolis. 

Sources: Encyclopedia of Indiana; Encyclopedia of Indianapolis; Destination Indiana; World War One Centennial Commission article by Connor McBride.