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

Thursday, November 30, 2023

The Allied Post-Caporetto Military Support of Italy

Italian Forces Retreating After Caporetto

In May 1915 the Kingdom of Italy entered the Great War as one of the Entente nations. A few weeks later, the Italian Army attacked the Austrian frontier defenses and achieved some success, mainly in the mountains north of Trieste. Here the Commando Supremo, General Luigi Cadorna, orchestrated a series of desperate assaults known as the Battles of the Isonzo. In August 1917, the eleventh of these violent clashes left the Austrians in dire straits. The k.u.k. was generally in a bad way after three years of heavy losses in Russia, Serbia and Italy, and desperate for relief. The AOK turned to their German allies who came up with a plan for a short offensive to push the Italians out of the mountains. In late October 1917 the Battle of Caporetto not only pushed the Italians onto the plains but forced them back to the river Piave, where the CS managed to organize and establish a new front line. The despised Austro-Hungarians were back in the Veneto, this time accompanied by fit, battle-hardy, and disciplined German divisions, and it was the turn of the Italians to seek help.

Early in the battle General Cadorna appealed to the French and British for assistance, on the basis of an inter-Allied agreement made in December 1915 during a conference at Chantilly, near Paris. Britain, France, Italy, Russia, and Serbia had each undertaken to hold itself in readiness to stop any enemy offensive on its own front with its own resources, and to assist, to the fullest possible extent, an ally faced with a similar situation. A year later, at another conference, mutual support was again discussed, and talk changed to planning. The British and French each envisaged sending an expeditionary force of two Army corps; about 120,000 men and 26,000 horses, to Italy. 

The British plans were prepared under the direction of Brigadier General JHV Crowe, assisted in Italy by the British Military Mission, Italian staff officers, and representatives of the British and Italian Foreign Offices. The Official History contains a good description of the plans and the associated administrative procedures. French staff officers in the Theatres d'Opérations Extérieures (TOE) section of the GQG and Italian officers in the CS made similar arrangements.  Thanks to the hard work of these officers, after Cadorna's appeal French and British troops were quickly sent to Italy. By 27 October, French advance parties were in Italy and British teams followed a few days later.

Lieutenant-General Rudolph Lambart (10th Earl of Cavan), the C-in-C of the British Army in Italy, and Major General Jean César Graziani, the C-in-C of the French Army in Italy

Most military trains in France and Flanders were generally of a standard "consist": engine, two coaches, 30 of the dreaded Chevaux 8 Hommes 40 vans, seventeen flat cars for vehicles and stores, and two brake vans. One train could carry any unit or sub-unit where the permutation of men and animals did not exceed the capacity of the box-vans; e.g. half an infantry battalion, or half an RFC squadron. As the journey to Italy would take at least five days, space had to be found for rations and forage. As it was thought the troops might go straight into action so pick-axes, spades and sandbags also had to be crammed into the vans.

Most accounts of Great War journeys bemoan the slow speed of the trains. Throughout France, Flanders and Italy, military trains were scheduled to travel through each section of a route at a specific speed, which averaged 30 kph / 171/2 mph for every journey. This unhurried progress may have exasperated the troops, but it helped the railway authorities control, as much as war conditions allowed, complex traffic movements.

British Royal Artillery Anti-Aircraft Piece on the Italian Front

The journey may have been slow and uncomfortable, but it acted as a powerful tonic to the weary troops. Edward Corbett, the well-educated, much-traveled and overage Regimental Quartermaster Sergeant Major of 1/8 Worcesters wrote:

Dawn found us at Longueval, not far from Paris; next dawn we were beside the great Sâone in Beaujolais. The men were enraptured by the scenery. So down the long, lovely valley beneath the Cèvennes, and over the Isêre, till at evening time we saw the high snows of the Dauphiny [sic]... we seemed to be in a new continent - houses of a new type, olive and orange trees, cypresses and aloes, a bright sun, a buoyant sparkling air, white hard roads, (fancy, a dry road, Alf), and now those lovely bays.

The British

The British Expeditionary Force (Italy) detrained around Mantua, south of Verona, and were briefly held in that area as a backstop in case the enemy onslaught crossed the Piave. The GOC was General Sir Henry Plumer, at that time commanding the Second Army in France, and one of the best British commanders of the Great War. The fact that Field Marshal Sir Douglas Haig selected him to command the expeditionary force indicated the seriousness with which the British authorities viewed the threat to the Italian nation, the Otranto Barrage and the Mediterranean seaborne lines of communication.

Many British accounts dwell on the problems of unloading large numbers of men, animals and vehicles at small country stations with limited facilities. The situation was hindered by a lack of interpreters; each battalion was supposed to have one Italian Liaison Officer fluent in English and several interpreters. Even if one was available he might be Neapolitan and unable to understand the Mantovan stationmaster, and possibly speak English with a pronounced American accent. Corbett wrote about one of these interpreters:

Through a little town (Albaredo) we marched to a hamlet here Major Bate achieved a feat which added indescribably to our comfort and well-being all the time we were in Italy. he stole an interpreter, an Italian soldier from London, Luigi Ciapancelli by name, Lulu to our tongues and in our hearts, the best little man that ever made macaroni scarce.

Fortunately many of the Carabinieri, who in Italy carried out many of the functions of military police, spoke some English. All were intelligent and energetic; having by force of circumstances to work closely with British MPs they soon became fluent, as did many of their English colleagues in Italian, to the surprise of their officers and countrymen.

Norman Gladden, a private soldier in 11/Northumberland Fusiliers, noted that the British were in Italy to set an example:

On our arrival in Italy we had been admonished to keep smart and emulate the Guards. During the preceding days much spit and polish had been expended. We were now expected to create an impression, to inspire confidence in the people, who were to see and hear about the Allied contingents marching with drums beating and fifes playing in smartly-uniformed and well-aligned columns of four, towards the field of battle.

The local population, and newspaper reporters from across Italy, were suitably impressed by the long columns of Allied soldiers; smart, disciplined, healthy, cheerful and vigorous. They were in sharp contrast to stragglers from Caporetto slowly making their way westwards. These Sbanditi were shepherded into assembly areas well away from the operational zone; quiet places where shattered units could rally, and exhausted and demoralised men recovered in body and soul. But the Italian nation rallied after the disaster at Caporetto; and propaganda posters appeared everywhere, exhorting everyone to fight and support the nation in its time of danger.

The French                                                

47th Chasseurs Alpin on the Italian Front

The French expeditionary force, the Tenth Army (GQC General Duchêne), were concentrated west of Verona, around the southern shores of Lake Garda, partly to counter a rumored Austro-German offensive down the valley of the river Adige from the Tyrol.

Some of the French troops knew they were marching in their forefathers' footsteps. The Tenth Army passed the battleground of Solferino where, in August 1859, a French army fought an Austrian one; both claimed a victory. The resulting carnage, or rather the sufferings of the wounded left where they fell in the full heat of summer, eventually led to the formation of the International Red Cross. Some French officers knew about the Battle of the Piava (correct spelling at that time, May 1809), when a Napoleonic Franco-Italian Army waded the river near Nervesa and defeated an Austrian army retreating from the Veneto; in 1917 the tale was recounted in cafés and considered to be a good omen.

The Americans

On 6 April 1917 the United States of America entered the war as an "Associated Nation" of the Allies. One infantry regiment, the 332nd, served in Italy, along with several supply and medical units. In addition, a number of American Red Cross (ARC) and YMCA personnel provided care and comforts to the Italian Army, and later to the 332nd Infantry, its support units and the U.S. Military Mission. A very small number of American doctors served in Italy in the ranks of the British Army as unit (infantry battalion, artillery regiment) Medical Officers, but by late November 1917 most had been returned to France to join the American Expeditionary Force. At that time the USA was still not at war with Austria; that occurred on 7 December 1917. There were exceptions, for example Captain S Bayne-Jones U.S. Army Medical Corps served with 11/Sherwood Foresters in France and Italy and was with the unit on the Montello and (briefly) the Asiago Plateau.

Soldiers of Co "K", 332nd Infantry That Served in Italy


In addition to the 332nd and the ARC men (and women), a number of U.S. trainee pilots were sent to Italy under the inspiring leadership of Fiorello La Guardia, at that time a lawyer and recently-elected Congressman for the 14th District of New York, who had learned to fly in 1915 and managed to go solo. In addition, significant numbers of immigrants returned to Italy as recalled reservists or volunteers for the Italian Army. Apart from those killed in fighting along the Austrian frontier and in accidents, some were killed at sea. In January 1916 an Italian merchant ship, the Brindisi, was crossing the Adriatic with war materials and food for Italian and Serbian forces in Albania. She was also carrying several hundred Italian-American volunteers for service with the Italian Expeditionary Force in that country. The Brindisi hit a mine and sank with the loss of over two hundred lives, many of them the luckless volunteers. The mine had been laid by the German UC-14 which was operating against Allied shipping in the Adriatic despite there being no state of war between Italy and Germany until August 1916.

Source; An Excerpt from: Touring the Italian Front by Francis Mackay

Wednesday, November 29, 2023

Never Forgotten: PFC Joseph Lorenz, 150th Machine Gun Battalion, Rainbow Division

PFC Joseph Lorenz (1895–1918)

Joseph Lorenz joined the Wisconsin National Guard in 1916, and was one of the troops sent south for  Mexican Border Service  following the raid by Pancho Villa. In 1917, the Wisconsin Guard was called to Federal Service and his unit was folded into the 42nd Rainbow Division.  At some point these men were classified as machine gunners and were assigned to the  division's 150th Machine Gun Battalion. The full division was shipped to France in October 1917. It was one of the earliest American divisions to deploy to the Western Front and would eventually see heavy fighting in all of the AEF's major battles.

Great-Niece Kathy Compagno at the
Croix Rouge Farm Rainbow Division Memorial

During the Second Battle of the Marne, when the men of the 42nd Rainbow Division crossed the Ourcq River at the end of July 1918,  they found them looking up at an impressive and well-defended hillside. Hill 184—just east of the town of Fere-en-Tardenois—would be a tough fight for the Doughboys, but within two days they would not only knock the Germans off the hill, they would force them into a major retreat to the north.

Hill 184 Shown on the Right

The price was dear, however, for the capture of the position. That's why nearby the Oise-Aisne American Cemetery (near Meurcy Farm on the map) is the final resting place for over 6,000 of our countrymen. One of the boys that fell in the fighting, Private First Class Joseph Lorenz, was wounded during a gas attack on 1 or 2 August. He was evacuated to a base hospital and endured an amputation but died on 21 November 1918. His family later decided that he should be buried in France alongside his fellow soldiers, and he now rests in Plot A, Row 13, Grave 8 at Suresnes American Cemetery, just outside Paris.

Joseph's Mother Rosa Heidler Lorenz at Her Son's Grave

His family and his nation have never forgotten Joseph. The America of General Pershing's era and the American Battle Monuments Commission provided him with a beautiful burial site In the 1930s, his mother was allowed to visit his grave and battlefields through the Gold Star Mothers' Program. In our century, his family—especially my friend, his great-niece Kathy Compagno—has continued visiting France to honor him. Her grandfather, Lt. William A Bertsch of the 3rd Division, was also wounded during the Second Battle of the Marne.

Click on Image to Enlarge

Certificate Signed by General Pershing

In 2015, Kathy contacted me with her interest in visiting Joseph and William's battlefields.  She had visited Suresnes and some other battlefields previously, but had not made it to where her two relatives had been wounded. I told her that I could modify the  itinerary for my upcoming Western Front tour to include extended visits to both sites. It turned out to be a very moving experience for all of us, as Kathy shared details about the lives of Joseph and her grandfather. Some of the tour members in their post-travel critiques mentioned  these stops were highlights of the tour. 

Kathy on the Hill 184 Battlefield

And most recently, Kathy and her family arranged with the Doughboy Foundation to have Joseph honored when "Taps" was played on 18 November 2023 at the National World War One Memorial in Washington, DC. Below is a video of that day's remembrance.

Tuesday, November 28, 2023

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

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

This book was published some 20 years ago but it was a surprising eye-opener for me. I was forced to realize that most of my reading about the Great War over the years had involved either a British bias or, less frequently, a German one. A Fraternity of Arms adjusted my prejudices and showed me that in the latter part of the war an enormous amalgamation of American and French efforts played a considerable part in bringing the war to an end. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

David F. Beer


Monday, November 27, 2023

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

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

Ready to Deploy: Trained Operators at Camp Dix, NJ

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, November 26, 2023

Gueudecourt: The Royal Newfoundland Regiment's Second Battle at the Somme

The Royal Newfoundland Regiment's Five Western Front Battlefields

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

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

Switch Trench: The Regiment's Position After the Fighting

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

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

Newfoundlanders Departing the Somme in 1916

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

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

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

Newfoundland's Caribou at Gueudecourt

Source:  St. Mihiel Trip-Wire, January 2021

Saturday, November 25, 2023

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

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

Friday, November 24, 2023

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

Commander Charles Lightoller, RNR

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

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

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

Sundowner at Ramsgate Maritime Museum

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

Sources: Over the Top, March 2012; Wikipedia

Thursday, November 23, 2023

Images of the Post-Armistice Thanksgiving: 28 November 1918

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

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Wednesday, November 22, 2023

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

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

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

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

Click on Image to Expand

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

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

Victors Kemal and Ismet

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

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

Sources: Wiki Commons,

Tuesday, November 21, 2023

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

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

Royal Engineers on the Western Front

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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