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

Wednesday, May 31, 2023

What Good Were World War I Helmets?

The first modern combat helmet was the French Casque Adrian, which was designed to address the threats soldiers faced in the Great War. The ballistic helmet was never designed to offer protection from small arms fire. The steel helmets of WWI and WWII  were developed to protect against indirect fire, such as mortar and shell fragments. These helmets were not officially rated to stop any handgun or rifle projectile. Military planners knew well that indirect fire from mortars and artillery can inflict terrible casualties, and the first helmets were designed and issued to counter those particular threats.

In WWI, explosive or fragmenting munitions were responsible for roughly 60 to 70 percent of all combat casualties. At the battle of Verdun, fragmentation and shrapnel from artillery bombardment caused at least 70 percent of the approximately 800,000 casualties that both sides suffered. The remainder were, for the most part, inflicted by relatively heavy rifle and machine gun rounds which even the best helmets of today would not be able to stop. 

The French Adrian  was made of mild steel, 0.7 to 0.8mm thick, with a tensile strength of at least 415 MPa and moderate ductility (18 percent tensile elongation). This helmet was capable of resisting a 230-grain, .45 caliber ball round at 400 to 450 feet per second, which is roughly half the .45 ACP’s muzzle velocity. Notwithstanding this poor performance against bullets, it is estimated to have defeated 75 percent of all shrapnel impacts from airburst munitions, and it had, therefore, an immediate positive impact on troop casualty rates and morale. In the Adrian’s wake, every other participant in WWI—except for Russia—hastened to develop and issue steel helmets of their own.  Like the Adrian, these helmets had very poor resistance to small arms impacts, but were highly effective at protecting their wearers from shrapnel and fragmentation.

These same steel helmets, with minor modifications in some instances, were employed by all American and European forces through WWII. Here they proved even more vital, for whereas fragments and shrapnel accounted for approximately 65 percent of all WWI casualties, they accounted for 73 percent of WWII’s wartime wounds.  

The Adrian helmet specifically holds up well in some respects when measured against 21st-century combat helmets.  A 2020 NPR report claimed:

A recent study done by a team of Duke University researchers finds that the 105-year-old "Adrian" helmet used by the French army in World War I can provide better blast protection than the Advanced Combat Helmet (ACH) widely used by the U.S. military.

It was only when those helmets were exposed to overhead blast waves that the 1915-era Adrian helmet outperformed the others. The Duke researchers point to the raised metal crest running from the front to the back of the Adrian helmet—a design feature also found on helmets used in those times by French firefighters—as a likely explanation for its superior protection from overhead blasts."

Sources: Adept Armor; NPR, 21 February 2020

Tuesday, May 30, 2023

Hitler's First War

By Thomas Weber
Oxford University Press, 2010
David Beer, Reviewer

This book will be of great interest to those primarily interested in the First World War, but students of Hitler's life and career will also find it to be an excellent read. The book is not only filled with facts and statistics—the result of extremely meticulous and detailed research— but also convincingly shows that Hitler's experiences in WWI did not, contrary to a lot of popular conjecture, significantly form him into the monster he later turned out to be. Weber goes to great lengths to support this analysis and in so doing provides the reader with fascinating details about Hitler, his regiment, some of his comrades, and the life and movements of the German army in the sectors where Hitler served.

On reading Hitler's First War (Part 1 covers from 1 August 1914 to 11 November 1918, while Part 2 takes us up to Hitler's death in 1945) a lot of readers will find some of their assumptions about Hitler challenged. Some surprises for this reviewer were that Hitler never was a corporal, (he was made a Gefreiter early in the war, a sort of advanced private with no command over other soldiers); that by being a dispatch runner he managed to serve mostly behind the lines and avoid almost all the bloody combat his regiment saw, thus becoming one of the “rear area pigs” the men in the trenches scorned; that he was awarded his Iron Cross due to favoritism rather than valor; that he never exhibited any particularly anti-Semitic tendencies during his first war; and that much of what was written about his war service by his supporters in the 1920s and `30s—and what he wrote himself in Mein Kampf—was simply exaggerated or outright false. Weber aptly refers to many of these self-serving writings as hagiographies, traditional accounts of the lives of saints which often contain considerable myth, embellishment, and blind adoration.

For the reader wishing to gain insight into life in the German army during WWI and shortly thereafter, most of this book will be a fascinating and valuable resource. The author takes us from Hitler's enlistment at the outbreak of war in the List Regiment, named after its first commander and not the purely volunteer regiment filled with enthusiastic students and artists it was later claimed to be, up to 31 March 1920 when Private Hitler (as the author often stresses) was finally demobilized—he had declined earlier opportunities to return to civilian life after the Armistice. Hitler's biography during these years is interesting, but the real value of the book might be the view it gives us of the German army at this time. The author takes us with the regiment through Belgium, the First Battle of Ypres, to the Race for the Sea, the Christmas Truce, other battles and trench duty, to the Battle of the Somme, Third Ypres, and on to the final desperate 1918 German thrusts followed by failure and retreat. The Armistice by no means concluded the regiment's activity. They saw garrison duty in Belgium and finally made an organized march back to a suffering Germany which nevertheless gave them a heroes' welcome.

As we travel through the war with Hitler's regiment, we are given many interesting and often surprising details of the everyday attitudes of the men, the fairly lenient discipline of the German army and its desire to keep the fighting man as happy as possible, and the lack of any real hatred for the enemy. Nothing during this period seemed to indicate a radicalization of Hitler or of the German soldier in general that would eventually bring about the rise of fascism and the Holocaust. Atrocities did indeed take place in Belgium, but not to the extent that later reports would indicate, and there was frequently fair dealing and even friendship between the Germans and the populations of conquered territory. Battles inevitably resulted in carnage, of course, but it would seem the List Regiment usually saw piles of rotting British corpses, not German.

Hitler's First War is an exceptional work based on firm principles of research. Scholars will find much of value not only in the book's content and clarity but also in its over 1400 endnotes plus its extensive source bibliography of archives, publications, films, Websites, and newspapers. All that is missing is a map or two which could have been helpful in following the movements of the List Regiment. Nevertheless, readers will appreciate the informative insights into the war from the documented perspectives of the German soldier and civilian and will gain a deepened understanding of what Private Hitler was—and was not—in the First World War.

David F. Beer

Monday, May 29, 2023

Memorial Day 2023—Remembering America's Fallen and Veterans of the Great War

Last American Unknown Burial of the War  (1988)
Aisne-Marne American Cemetery, France
(An Unknown Discovered in 2022 Will Be Interred at the
Oise-Aisne American Cemetery in June 2023)

Youngest American to Serve in the War
Arlington National Cemetery, DC

Notable Poet of "Rouge Bouquet" and "Trees", KIA
Oise-Aisne American Cemetery, France

Commanded First Army to Victory in Meuse-Argonne
San Francisco National Cemetery, CA

USMC Double Medal of Honor Recipient, Prewar
Twice Wounded in WWI
Cypress Hills National Cemetery, NY

Theodore Roosevelt's Sons Quentin (KIA) & Ted, Jr.

Last U.S. Aviator to Qualify as an Air Ace in the War

Nurse Helen Fairchild, Died from Mustard Gas
Somme American Cemetery, France

Last Surviving Doughboy of the War
Arlington National Cemetery, DC

Best Remembered Veteran of the War
Wolf River Cemetery, TN

Volunteer and Aviator (KIA)
Meuse-Argonne American Cemetery, France

Black Doughboy with Segregated 93rd Div. (KIA)
Oise-Aisne American Cemetery, France

Navy Dentist KIA at Belleau Wood
Aisne-Marne American Cemetery, France

Soldier of the Northern Russian Expedition (KIA)
White Chapel Memorial Park, Troy, MI

Sunday, May 28, 2023

The Buddies Memorial of Jaffrey, New Hampshire — A Roads Classic

By Mark Levitch, Founder and President
World War I Memorial Inventory Project

The Buddies Memorial Today

Of the hundreds of World War I memorial sculptures across the country, none has a more compelling origin story than Buddies—a deep relief of a soldier carrying a wounded comrade by Danish-born sculptor Viggo Brandt-Erichsen.

While working in Paris in the 1920s, Brandt-Erichsen married Dorothy Caldwell, a wealthy American who had spent summers in Jaffrey.  Both Caldwell and their newborn daughter died soon after the child’s birth, but before she died, Caldwell had asked to be buried in Jaffrey.  The sculptor crossed the ocean with his loved ones’ ashes and spent nearly two years carving an elaborate marker for his wife and daughter in the town’s Old Burial Ground. He quickly became a beloved figure in town.

The Boulder Being Transported to the Jaffrey Town Common, 1928

In 1928, Brandt-Erichsen proposed to create—gratis—a massive World War I memorial relief for the town. A partly buried but suitable 40-ton boulder was located a mile west of downtown; it took six weeks to transport it on rollers over frozen ground to the town common, where it was placed behind a World War I honor roll that had been erected in 1919.  Volunteers constructed a rough shack around the boulder to protect the sculptor from the elements as he worked.

Sculptor Viggo Brandt-Erichsen at the Dedication, 11 November 1930

Brandt-Erichsen worked with an electric chisel and hand tools for two years to complete the relief. He used two local World War I veterans (both of whom are listed on the honor roll) as models. The eight-foot-tall standing soldier carries his wounded comrade even as he aims a pistol gripped in his right hand.  The memorial’s title is engraved at its base: Buddies

The completed memorial was dedicated on Armistice Day, 1930. Featured speakers included the governor and General Clarence Edwards, commander of the 26th (Yankee) Division, in which most of the Jaffrey men had served. Mrs. Carrie Humiston, the mother of the only Jaffrey soldier to be killed in action, unveiled the monument before an estimated crowd of 7,000.

Crowd at the Dedication Ceremony, 11 November 1930

The memorial is not an unqualified success aesthetically. The figures are ponderous and somewhat awkwardly proportioned, but what it lacks in polish is more than made up for in sincerity. 

Saturday, May 27, 2023

The Pre-1914 Fear of Aerial Bombardment

Battle of Coloquintos, Albert Robida, 1880

Strategic bombing of cities and civilians by aerial means was not a new concept in 1914. Beginning with the Montgolfièr experiments with manned flight in 1783, the possibility of using balloons and eventually heavier-than-air machines for military use was envisioned. Initially used as observation posts and artillery spotters, the idea of using airships and aircraft offensively soon found enthusiasts. It was not until the advent of the internal combustion engine, however, that the potential of aerial bombardment from a controlled platform became realistic. In an 1893 letter to the chief of staff of the German Army, Count Ferdinand von Zeppelin, developer of the rigid airship that would bear his name and theorist on strategic bombing, wrote that his machine could perform not only observation and transport roles, but also “bombard enemy fortifications and troop formations with projectiles.”

Original Publication in 1908

In popular literature and science fiction, the inevitability of airships cruising over cities and dominating future warfare was a popular topic by the late 19th century. Jules Verne, no stranger to prescient fiction, wrote in his 1887 story "Clipper in the Clouds" about an aerial battle between two airships loosely resembling the German dirigibles of the First World War. However, it was H.G. Wells who envisioned the strategic bombing of population centers in the future. In his 1908 novel The War in the Air, Wells described a scene in which a fleet of German airships bombed New York City, eerily predicting the fear and terror felt by the public in London and Paris during the Great War. As the historian Lee Kennett argued, so profound and persuasive at capturing public attention was this type of futuristic literature around the turn of the century, that by the time reliable airships and aircraft finally appeared en mass, “extravagant and impossible things would sometimes be expected of them.” During the war, dirigibles and aircraft were seen as an extension of scientific advancement akin to other innovations such as submarines, machine guns, tanks, and poison gas.

Apocalyptic Landscape 3, Ludwig Meidner, 1913

So profound were the concerns over the possibility of airborne bombardment, even before the technology to accomplish such a task was near ready, politicians throughout Europe and the United States attempted to regulate aerial warfare. The 1899 Hague Convention, proposed by Russian Tsar Nicholas II in an attempt to regulate armaments and warfare, passed a resolution “agree[ing] to prohibit, for a term of five years, the launching of projectiles and explosives from balloons, or by other new methods of similar nature.”

Russian Lithograph, 1914, Artist Unidentified

Although tactical aerial bombing in support of combat operations was employed as far back as 1911 when Italian airplanes dropped the first bombs in combat on Turkish forces in Libya, 1914 saw the first strategic use of bomber aircraft to “strike at the very foundation of the enemy’s war effort—the production of war material, the economy as a whole, [and] the morale of a civilian population.” A few days after the beginning of the First World War, German pilots dropped a few small bombs on Paris in August 1914. In October of that year, the British achieved the first substantial strategic success when one airplane destroyed a zeppelin airship in its shed at Dusseldorf, Germany. By December 1914 the Germans were dropping bombs directly on England.

Source: Christopher Warren, Air & Space Power, Issue #3, 2018

Friday, May 26, 2023

A Memorable Episode from a Gold Star Mothers Pilgrimage

A Depression-Era Story of 

Mourning, Motherhood, and Grandiosity

By Lisa M. Budreau

On Memorial Day 1930, Mrs. Mathilda Burling of New York stood before the headstone of her son, Private George B. Burling, Jr, at grave 17, row 29, at the St. Mihiel American Cemetery in Thiaucourt, France. Burling, an imposing matriarch in a cloche hat and glasses, savored the realization that her decade-long struggle to persuade the government to ensure the right of Gold Star mothers to stand before the graves of their sons had indeed succeeded beyond all expectations. She had earned this sweet victory, but just five minutes later, she turned and walked away.

The journey to her son’s grave had been arduous. By the time the Armistice was signed in 1918, thousands of young American men had died in Europe. Shortly after U.S. entry into the Great War the Army announced that the dead would remain temporarily buried in Europe, until after hostilities ended, when bodies would then be repatriated. As the nation searched for a modern way to mourn the sacrifices from this unpopular foreign war, the ongoing plight of the mothers of the dead became a major political saga that dragged out for another decade.

The full story of the pilgrimage of these “Gold Star Mothers” to Europe in 1930 has its quirky, amusing elements, but it reveals an unsettled side to American’s celebration of Memorial Day—born out of long-standing ambivalence about involvement in foreign wars, confusion about how to honor the dead, and a vexed desire to turn grief into glory.

Almost from the Armistice, organized groups of mothers pleaded for subsidized cemetery visits to Europe. By 1928 they had become pros at political maneuvering and social reform, agitation and publicity, initiating bipartisan appeals to legislators through massive letter-writing campaigns, and the manipulation of public opinion. Central to the lobbying effort was a group called the Gold Star Mothers, women named for the gold stars they wore on armbands and service flags in their homes. They were accorded greater recognition from society for having lost loved ones in war.

At last, in 1928, after numerous failed attempts, the legislation to pay for the Gold Star pilgrimages was put before Congress. While several Gold Star Mothers testified, the most aggressive rhetoric came from Mathilda Burling, who was generally known as pushy and presumptuous. While some women despised Burling’s methods, others were quick to praise her as the woman who had worked day and night for this bill. A self-promoter of the highest order, Burling claimed to have conceived the idea of the pilgrimage while simultaneously taking credit for organizing the original Gold Star Association—both untrue.

During the congressional hearing Burling did not hesitate to make jarring assertions like, “Our boys were murdered, they were not given a fair chance to fight in a patriotic way.” Generally, her commentary simply exploited patriotic motherhood ideals with unblushing forthrightness. “As a mother whose only child lies over there, and who is authorized to represent the Gold Star Mothers of America,” she began, “I can not believe that the Senate of my country will deny us the privilege of paying a visit to those holy graves of our heroic sons abroad.”

Burling’s impassioned claims were overzealous at best, but she spoke to something real—the country’s unfinished grief over the war dead. “Eleven long years have passed since my boy, who was only a child in years, gave his life for the defense of this country,” she said. “Each year I have lived in the hope that I would kneel before his grave.” Then, using maternalism to its fullest advantage, she wept while insisting that mothers had sacrificed more than widows. “It was our flesh and blood that enriched the foreign soil. After all, it was the mothers who had won the war.” On 2 March 2 1929, the notoriously frugal President Calvin Coolidge finally signed the pilgrimage legislation.

It was the job of the Army’s Quartermaster Corps, under the auspices of the War Department, to make all arrangements for nearly 7,000 women to travel to Europe in relatively luxurious accommodations between 1930 and 1933. At the height of the Depression, a team of professional officers managed the visits, ensuring the highest quality experience for all. Some mothers had never experienced hot and cold running water before reaching their hotel rooms. However, in keeping with Jim Crow era mores, black mothers traveled on separate ships and experienced less than equal accommodation.

Before setting sail, escorting officers were reminded that they had been selected for their superior judgment, common sense, and tact, but most of all, for their sobriety. Among the chosen was Lieutenant Colonel Stephen W. Winfree, an old-school cavalry officer with a preference for civilian attire, an eye for young women, and a thirst for highballs. Despite all their precautions, neither he nor the War Department was sufficiently prepared for mechanical failures and the late enrollment of one Mathilda Burling.

Mrs. Burling
(Sadly, the Editor was not able to locate a photo of Col. Winfree, in or out of uniform)

Burling’s son George had died of disease in 1918, while serving with the 53rd Coast Artillery Corps, but she decided to join the mothers and veterans’ reunion tour of the more illustrious 27th Division departing on 13 May. Though she was originally scheduled to travel with her own group, this unorthodox change—at the very last minute— would put her in France for the Memorial Day ceremonies. The 27th Division was one of only two American military units to serve with the British during the Great War. Burling could not help but be lured by the full itinerary, which included London, Brussels, and Paris and of course more excitement and media attention.

But just as the reunion voyage prepared to sail out of New York Harbor, an accident aboard another vessel required more Gold Star pilgrims to relocate onto the SS Republic with the women and veterans of the 27th Division. All were asked to share cabin space. It was not long before bickering began aboard the crowded ship with many questioning the presence of the overbearing Burling. The group would be known hereafter by the military organizers as “Party B.”

Colonel Winfree freely admitted that he was in the habit of handling horses and men, not women, but he must have had more serious concerns after being warned that the trip could be troublesome and that Mrs. Burling was a “woman politician” who could be a “nuisance.” There was friction as Party B traveled from France to England and Belgium. Still, he could not have gauged the extent of trouble awaiting him when Burling and a fellow passenger found Winfree enjoying himself with a young lady friend at the hotel bar one night just before the ship’s return to the U.S.

When Burling asked the colonel why he was not wearing his uniform, he replied sarcastically, “What do you want me to do, wear the uniform and look like a porter and carry the mothers’ pocketbooks and handbags?” An argument followed and Winfree, who had clearly had more than a few drinks, insisted that the older women be a “sport” and join the party, according to transcripts of Burling’s later testimony. Then Winfree yelled, “I’d give anything to take you out one night and get you tight, too; come on, have a highball. You are a little virgin, a little white lily; I’d like to get you tight just to see what you would do.” As an afterthought, he added, “And, further, I don’t even know whether you have a boy over here or not!”

Within weeks of the group’s return to the United States, Winfree was forced to defend himself in a military investigation. Burling’s testimony was devastating for the colonel, who was relieved of duty that summer. In his defense, the outspoken cavalry officer had voiced what some in the military had previously only dared to allude to in their private memoranda. Theirs was an organization in crisis, an army in limbo, subjected to relentless fiscal cuts, which meant under-staffing and slow promotions. It was said that military units had to beg outside local sources for office supplies and even the daily ration of toilet paper was limited to three sheets for each soldier. Yet, while the military struggled, the indulgences and approbation shown the Gold Star Mothers were flaunted before the nation.

Winfree denied all charges against him but in doing so, ultimately exposed Burling’s greatest weakness—her “motherhood.” He told investigators that when at last she reached St. Mihiel American Cemetery, the aim of her life’s work, Burling stood less than five minutes before the grave of her son because she was eager to attend a reception at another cemetery. She became indignant at Winfree’s refusal to allow her to leave for what promised to be a more high-profile event. With hostility and impatience, Burling informed Winfree that this grave was, after all, only that of her stepson.

Party B Ready to Depart

Mathilda Burling, whose political abilities had previously helped bring the pilgrimage legislation to fruition, was, by unanimous vote, dropped from Gold Star Mothers membership for “disloyalty” in 1931, still owing two years’ back membership dues.

[Editor's Note:]  Mathilda must have made a comeback of sorts. In searching for photos, I found later images of her laying a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier and shaking President Harry Truman's hand in 1947.  She must have caught up on her dues.]

Source: From the Smithsonian  and Arizona State University Series "What It Means to Be an American."

Thursday, May 25, 2023

Who Was General Ivor Maxse?

General Sir Frederick IvorMaxse,
K.C.B., C.V.O., D.S.O. (1862–1958)

General Sir Frederick Ivor Maxse was born 22 December 1862 in London, educated at Rugby, and, after passing through Sandhurst,  was commissioned into the Royal Fusiliers on 9 September 1882.  He joined his regiment in India—despite being a short man—soon made a mark with his energy, intelligence and pugnaciousness.

On 23 May 1891 Maxse exchanged into the Coldstream Guards. After short service in Scotland, Ireland, and Malta he was selected in 1896 by Colonel Kitchener to serve as a Bembashi (Major) in the Egyptian Army. Shortly afterward, he was given command of the 13th Sudanese Battalion and led them through the battles of Atbara and Omdurman and on to Fashoda with Kitchener.

At the outbreak of the Boer War and through the intervention of Kitchener he was assigned to transport duty under Lord Roberts and remained through the occupation of Pretoria. There he was named Commissioner of Police.

In November 1900, he was posted to the War Office in the Department of Mobilization. In 1903, he took command of the 2nd Battalion of the Coldstream Guards. In August 1910, he took command of the 1st Guards Brigade at Aldershot.

Maxse Decorating Men of the 51st Highland Division, 1917

In August 1914, Maxse took the 1st Guards Brigade to France. He was promoted to Major-General in October 1914 and later took command of the 18th Division. The 18th Division took part in the Battle of the Somme and later captured Thiepval and the Schwaben Redoubt.  His innovative training methods, in which the inculcation of of independence and initiative in junior officers and NCOs was paramount, contributed to these successes.

At the beginning of 1917, Maxse took command of the XVIII Army Corps and was promoted to the rank of lieutenant-general. After performing well throughout the 1917 campaign,  the XVIII Corps fared poorly in the Fifth Army's retreat in March 1918. In April 1918, Maxse was relieved and named Inspector-General of Training in France. He considered this reassignment as a badge of failure even though he was widely considered the best troop trainer of the war.

In May 1919, Maxse was given command of the Northern Command and remained at York until his final promotion to general, in 1923. He retired in 1926 and died at a Midhurst nursing home on 28 January 1958. An open-minded man, full of ideas and appreciative of others, it's somewhat ironic that this outstanding officer was—apparently—the inspiration for "the cheery old card" of Siegfried Sassoon's poem "The General."

Sources: WWI Document Archive; Who's Who in World War One

Wednesday, May 24, 2023

Cambrai: 1918 and a Century Later

Click on Imageto Enlarge

Damaged Areas and Cities of France, 1914–1918

Countless communities of northern France suffered devastating damage during the Great War.  The map above shows the intensity of damage in various sectors.. In the green areas villages escaped most damage, in the red ("devastated") regions in some cases they were simply abandoned.  Towns and cities of the occupied area, however, needed to be rebuilt no matter how serious the wartime destruction. There were strong historic and economic reasons for a large community to exist at a particular location. After the war, efforts to rebuild the cities, make the roads and infrastructure functional, bring back any evacuated citizenry, and resume commerce and normal daily life had to begin immediately. Of course, each city presented challenges particular to it.  In 2019 we looked at the rebuilding of St. Quentin HERE. In this article, we look farther north at the town of Cambrai.

Cambrai 1918

Located in the Nord Department of France, near the Belgian border, the town of Cambrai (population today: 32,000) was partly destroyed during the First World War but was beautifully rebuilt. Occupied by the German Army, it was the site of two major battles fought in and around the town. The First Battle of Cambrai (20 Nov.–3 Dec. 1917)—notable for the first mass use of tanks in battle—caused the first wave of intense damage, mostly due to British Artillery. The Second Battle of Cambrai (8–10 Oct. 1918) caused similar damage in the center of the town and the northern area where German rear guard action against the Canadian troops charged with securing the town was the firmest. With the retreat of the German forces and the continued pursuit by the Canadians, the center of Cambrai was a ghost town and its residential districts suffered scattered, but serious, damage.

Cambrai: 21st Century

Restored Residential Street

Restored City Hall

New Art Deco Building

Chamber of Commerce Building

New Plaza "Octobre 1918"

A new town, however, quickly rose from the embers. A 1919 law required disaster-stricken towns with more than 10,000 inhabitants to adapt a plan for reconstruction within three years. The architect Pierre Leprince-Ringuet was given the job of rebuilding the town. He and his colleagues, Germain Marc Debré and Jacques Debat-Ponsan, gave Cambrai new squares and streets, concentrated the administrative buildings and shops in specific areas, and designed a new town hall. They proposed an architectural mixture of the traditional and local with a modernistic approach characterized by geometric lines and stylized patterns known as Art Deco. His most honored design contribution was the Art Deco Chamber of Commerce in collaboration with Ernest Herscher. Their Cambrai project was completed by 1930, although much construction that ensued around the city followed their guidelines. Today the architecture in Cambrai’s center is a mixture of traditional regional styles and the more modern concept of Art Deco.

Tuesday, May 23, 2023

The First World War: To Arms.

By Hew Strachan
Oxford University Press, 2001.
Geoffrey Wawro, Naval War College, Reviewer

Professor Hew Strachan
(WFA Photo)

What began as a single-volume replacement of Oxford University Press’s long-running World War I survey (A History of the Great War, by C. R. M. F. Cruttwell [1934]) has, in Hew Strachan’s hands, burgeoned into three mammoth volumes, of which this is the first. The second, we are told, will cover the years 1915 and 1916 and will be called No Quarter. The third and final volume, entitled Fall Out (reader be warned that the first volume has been in the making since 1989), will pick up in the winter of 1916 and push through to the end of the war.

Since this first volume alone runs to 1,127 pages, readers will want to know how this book differs from an already crowded field. The answer is that it looks at topics—origins, war planning, tactics, munitions crises, morale—in a broad comparative context. No blundering great power is unfairly singled out. As is obvious from the subtitle, the book is about the origins of the war, mobilization, and opening campaigns. To rephrase what has already been written many times over by battalions of historians is no easy task, but Strachan rises to the challenge. Better yet, he works through all the latest literature in English, French, and German to provide the most up-to-date interpretation of the war’s outbreak. 

In common with most historians, Strachan points to the shakiness of the German Empire and its nervous quest for status and security as the main causes of the war. A chief abettor was Austria-Hungary, whose own military had become so enfeebled by the continuous Vienna-Budapest budget skirmishes that war in 1914 appeared the only way to rally the monarchy behind a much-needed program of rearmament. Similar calculations prevailed in Russia, where the tsar hoped that mobilization in defense of Serbia would heal political wounds and stop a politico-economic strike wave that had escalated from 222 strikes in 1910 to 3,534 in the first half of 1914. France and Great Britain appear more benign; Strachan concludes from the most recent French scholarship that there was no real war fever in France—révanche was a slogan of certain pressure groups. Britain was hamstrung between its fleet and “continentalists” clustered around General Henry Wilson.

Strachan’s analysis of the competing war plans is excellent. Regarding the Schlieffen Plan, he describes Moltke the Younger’s growing unease with the seven-to-one ratio set by Albert von Schlieffen to overweight the “right hook” through Belgium and Holland that would envelop a French thrust into Lorraine. Although Wilhelm Groener and B. H. Liddell Hart later blasted Moltke for his timidity—he reduced the ratio of troops on the right wing to those on the left to three to one—Strachan points out that “an army would [not] behave as a united mass, gaining impetus on its right specifically from the weakness of its left,” for an army “is a combination of individuals and not a weight obeying the laws of physics.” 

That is precisely the point: the Schlieffen Plan was undone not by its relative weighting but by inadequate transport and insoluble problems of supply. Each German corps required 24 kilometers of road space, and there was just not enough of that on the right wing once the Belgians tore up their railways and Holland was foreclosed as a corridor. Add to this the fact that no fewer than 60 percent of German trucks had broken down by late August 1914, and it is easier to explain the German floundering at the Marne. There was also the small problem of French resistance. Having begun the war with tactics that were notoriously “perplexed by the problems of firepower,” the German army faced French forces, commanded by Field Marshal J. J. C. Joffre, that hacked five entire German corps to pieces in the last week of August and the first week of September 1914.

Strachan’s larger analysis of this Battle of the Marne is interesting. The German high command’s initial response to the defeat— Moltke and 32 other generals were dismissed—was to blame individuals, “to make the debate about operational ideas, not about grand strategy.” In fact, the Marne was a strategic failing that should have discredited the kaiser and his army, which “had failed to succeed in its prime role.” Yet there was no healthy introspection or self-assessment; the imperial army would simply hammer away for another four years.

In contrast to the Western Front, hammering seemed to work in the East, where the Germans shattered the Russians at Tannenberg and the Austro-Hungarians achieved some early successes in Galicia. However, there too the war stagnated for logistical reasons; with Germany committed on the Western Front and Russia’s strength divided by French demands for an attack on East Prussia, it was difficult to mass troops and artillery anywhere on the Eastern Front, and yet more difficult to move them, given the poverty of communications.

Although the production of this three-volume history of World War I will take far longer than the Great War itself took to fight, readers willing to enter the trenches with this first volume will be rewarded with a kaleidoscopic and elegantly written presentation of the great issues and problems raised by the war’s origins, campaigns, and home fronts.

Originally published in the Naval War College Review, Autumn 2002

Monday, May 22, 2023

Remembering a Veteran: Brigadier (Later Field Marshal) Sir Thomas Blamey, Australian Imperial Force

General Blamey During World War II

By James Patton

Thomas Albert Blamey GBE, KCB, CMG, DSO CStJ, ED (1884 –1951) was born into a farming family of modest means near Wagga Wagga in the Riverina country of New South Wales. He was from a chapel family and a grammar school boy; he became a teacher and a lay preacher at age 16. From these humble beginnings, he rose to become the first (and to date the only) Australian army officer to reach the rank of field marshal. 

A school cadet, in 1906 he was commissioned in the militia, in 1908 he transferred to the regulars and in 1910 was promoted to captain.

In 1911 he was the first Australian up to that time to pass the entrance examination for the staff college. He was sent to the Indian Army Staff College at Quetta (present-day Pakistan), rather than to Camberley in the UK. He completed the course with high marks in 1913, and was assigned to the staff of the Kohat Brigade in India, then sent to England in May 1914 to serve with the Wessex Division. He was promoted to major in July, then after the war began he joined the staff of 1st Australian Division in Egypt. 

Blamey landed at Gallipoli on 25 April 1915. While in his first stint at Gallipoli he got a Mention in Dispatches for leading a daring but unsuccessful raid against a Turkish artillery position, and he played a key role in the development of the periscope rifle. In July he was promoted to lieutenant colonel and was returned to Egypt to help form the 2nd Australian Division, returning to ANZAC in October. 

He proved to be a consummate staff officer, like the American Gen. George C. Marshall. On the Western Front, he became Chief of Staff of the 1st Australian Division. His battle plan led to the bloody but successful capture of Pozières. In June 1918, he was promoted to brigadier and became Chief of Staff of the Australian Corps, serving as Lt. Gen. Sir John Monash’s right-hand man. Monash later wrote this: 

"He possessed a mind cultured far above the average, widely informed, alert and prehensile. He had [an] infinite capacity for taking pains. A Staff College graduate, but not on that account a pedant, he was thoroughly versed in the technique of staff work, and in the minutiae of all procedure. He served me with an exemplary loyalty, for which I owe a debt of gratitude which cannot be repaid. Our temperaments adapted themselves to each other in a manner which was ideal. He had an extraordinary faculty for self-effacement, posing always and conscientiously as the instrument to give effect [to] my policies and decisions. Really helpful whenever his advice was invited, he never obtruded his own opinions, although I knew that he did not always agree with me."

Blamey at the End of the Great War

After the war Blamey became the Deputy Chief of the Australian General Staff, going to London as Australia's representative on the Imperial General Staff. In 1925 he was passed over for the chief’s job, which went to Gen. Sir Harry Chauvel (1865–1945), the famed light horseman.  

Seeing no future prospects, Blarney transferred to the militia and became Victoria's Commissioner of Police. He modernized the police in several ways but was considered confrontational, violent, and ruthless. His tenure was dogged by controversy; in 1936 was forced to resign after having lied to protect one of his senior officers. During his time in the militia, he was promoted to major general, commanded the 3rd Australian Division, and led a recruitment campaign in 1938 that nearly doubled the ranks of the militia.  

Blamey (third from left) on the USS Missouri,
2 September 1945

At the start of the Second World War he was given command of the new 6th Division. In 1940 he became commander of the Australian Corps which was serving in North Africa. Despite a mixed performance, due in large part to the British determination to dissipate his forces and the misguided attempt to defend Greece, in December 1941 he was promoted to general, at that time the fourth Australian to reach that rank. 

In March 1942, he returned to Australia to be the Commander-in-Chief of the Australian Military Forces and then, serving under the American General Douglas MacArthur, Blarney became commander of all Allied land forces in the southwest Pacific theater. Basing himself on the front at Port Moresby, Blamey planned and executed a series of successful offensives.  Favored by MacArthur, who had the ears of both President Roosevelt and the prime minister, and resented by many senior Australian officers, Blamey encountered challenges, and fired several senior officers on MacArthur’s orders.

Late in the war he was criticized when the Australians incurred significant casualties in mopping-up operations against long-bypassed Japanese units. He was also notorious for drinking and womanizing and his failure to stand up for his subordinates prompted one historian to write that he was "the foremost Australian General of World War II but he will never be remembered as the greatest."

On behalf of Australia, Gen. Blamey signed the Japanese surrender on 2 September 1945. He then retired, receiving only his Buick staff car as a reward for his service (the Labor government didn’t believe in honors). 

After the election of 1949, his promotion to field marshal was put forth and announced on 8 June 1950. Since he was retired, he had to be recalled for one day in order to promote him. He was presented with his baton while in a hospital bed and died within the year. Today the Australian army recruit center is named Blamey Barracks and there is a statue in Melbourne which depicts him standing in a jeep rather than astride a horse. 

Melbourne Monument to Blamey

Source: Australian War Memorial