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

Tuesday, April 23, 2024

Announcing the 2023 Tomlinson Prize Winners!

The annual Norman B. Tomlinson, Jr., prize for 2023 for the best work of history in English on World War One (1914-1918) has been awarded to:

Download This Book for Free in PDF Format HERE

In Addition, Two Works Have Received Honorable Mention Awards: 

Purchase This Title HERE

Purchase This Title HERE

About the Awards from the World War One Historical Association:

The Tomlinson prize started in 1999. It consists of a cash award and original bronze plaque sculpted by Andrew L. Chernak, a U.S. Army Vietnam War veteran whose sculptures are installed at Arlington Cemetery and and private parks: Honorable Mention awards consist of an original bronze plaque sculpted by Chernak.

Both awards are made possible through a grant from Norman B. Tomlinson, Jr., Director-emeritus of The Western Front Association–United States Branch. (WFA-US became the World War One Historical Association in 2011.) Historians Michael Neiberg, Graydon Tunstall, and Heather Salter, plus former editor of World War One Illustrated magazine Dana Lombardy form the prize jury for the Norman B. Tomlinson Prize. Normally the prize is awarded in the year following the calendar year of publication, but there are occasional exceptions to that policy.

We will be providing full reviews of all these books on Roads to the Great War in the near future. MH

Monday, April 22, 2024

Otto Dix: The Skat Players

One of Dix’s early postwar paintings, which displays the harsh reality of the Weimar Germany in the style of the New Objectivity movement, is The Skat Players painted in 1920. After Germany’s defeat in the First World War, the day-to-day life turned into a grotesque display of mutilated, shell-shocked, and depraved members of society. Dix’s way of getting across his belief of the degrading post-war life was through usage of less symbolism, and more realistic notions, specific for the New Objectivity. The artist wanted to make a clear statement in regard to the damage and destruction the war can do to society, treating the matter in a detached way, showing both a satirical attitude and a serious side of things.

In this painting, Dix presents the war as a gamble, a skat game between the crippled and deformed soldiers, expressing the shocking new reality of that time. Three disfigured soldiers represent the new stereotype of the Weimar Republic: the unemployable and miserable war veterans that are disposed by the working class based society after serving for their country. Without a purpose or a place in life, viewed only as a token of the German defeat, the only thing left for the veterans is playing cards and passing time with fellow soldiers.

Besides giving shape to terror, Dix painted this tableau to illustrate the dehumanizing effects a war has on people, stripping them of all their senses, as the characters are portrayed deaf, blind, burnt, and crippled. The fact that the soldiers have patches and numerous aiding devices sends the viewer into the era of industrialized war. The prosthetics, hearing aids, and glass eyes depict the misuse of technology and industrial progress for the soldiers disabled in the war. To add a personal touch to the artwork, and to show a personal view of the matter, Dix left a small self-portrait within the painting alongside a marking that says unterkiefer prothese marke Dix meaning "lower jaw prosthesis brand Dix." The interesting fact is that Dix left this mark on the soldier that had an Iron Cross decoration, a medal which was awarded to the artist himself during the war, therefore showing empathy toward his subjects and identifying with them.

Black-and-White Version

Source:  WikiArts

Sunday, April 21, 2024

America's March to the Rhine, November 1918–January 1919

American Forces Marching Through Luxembourg,
24 November 1918

By Brian F. Neumann and Shane D. Makowicki

Under the terms of the Armistice, the German Army surrendered 5,000 artillery pieces, 25,000 machine guns, 1,700 planes, and 5,000 locomotives. Article V of the agreement stipulated that the territory on the west bank of the Rhine River would be administered by local authorities “under the control of the troops of occupation of the Allies and the United States.” Moreover, Article IX charged the German government with paying all expenses related to the upkeep of the armies of occupation.

Marshal Foch gave the British the bridgehead at Cologne (Köln), a major city in the Ruhr Basin and the Rhineland’s industrial heart. He assigned French forces the Saar, Palatinate (Pfalz), and Mainz regions. The American zone fell between the British to the north and the French to the south. It covered 6,500 square kilometers, stretching from Luxembourg eastward along the Moselle (Mosel) River and extending across the Rhine to a bridgehead at Coblenz (spelled Coblence during the French occupation). In 1919, the area’s population totaled 893,000. Its two largest cities were Trèves (Trier) and Coblenz, with the latter serving as the Rhineland’s political center and with an urban population of 65,434. Although wartime demands had quadrupled production at the steel and chemical factories in the Neuwied Basin, much of the American zone consisted of small agricultural villages.

Occupation Zones
(British Route of March Shown)

Four days before the signing of the Armistice, Pershing created the American Third Army. Composed of the III and IV Army Corps, each consisting of three divisions, it totaled nearly 200,000 men. Maj. Gen. Joseph T. Dickman, who led the I Army Corps during the last month of the Meuse-Argonne Offensive, assumed command of the Third Army on 15 November 1918. Brig. Gen. Malin Craig, who had served as the I Corps chief of staff since January, held the same position in the Third Army. The III Corps consisted of the 2nd, 32nd, and 42nd Divisions. The 2nd Division was a Regular Army division commanded by Marine Corps Maj. Gen. John A. Lejeune. It had earned fame at Belleau Wood in June 1918, took part in the Allied attack at Soissons in July and the first American offensive at St. Mihiel in September, captured Blanc Mont Ridge in October, and led the American breakout in the Meuse-Argonne Offensive in early November. 

The other III Corps divisions were National Guard Divisions. The 32nd (Red Arrow) Division, made up of units from Michigan and Wisconsin, had fought in the Aisne-Marne campaign in July and August and played a crucial role in seizing the town of Romagne in mid-October during the Meuse-Argonne Offensive. The 42nd (Rainbow) Division, a mix of National Guard units from 26 states, had fought with distinction in the Champagne-Marne, Aisne-Marne, St. Mihiel, and Meuse-Argonne campaigns.

American Convoy Crossing the Ludendorff Bridge
on the Rhine

The divisions initially assigned to the IV Corps were all from the Regular Army. The 1st Division (Big Red One) had served in France since June 1917. As the first American division in France, it had fought in nearly every AEF campaign, gaining distinction at Cantigny in May, at Soissons in July, and in the offensives at St.  Mihiel and Meuse-Argonne. The 3rd Division had earned its reputation for toughness on the Marne River during the Champagne-Marne campaign in July and in the Aisne-Marne, St. Mihiel, and Meuse-Argonne campaigns. Likewise, the battle tested 4th Division had fought in the Aisne-Marne, St.  Mihiel, and Meuse-Argonne. In selecting these divisions for the Third Army, Pershing intended to use his most experienced units for the challenging task of occupation.

On 22 November, two divisions of the VII Army Corps passed to the command of the Third Army. The 89th and 90th Divisions were National Army divisions composed of draftees who had engaged in combat operations up to the Armistice. These two divisions temporarily raised the strength of the Third Army to 9,842 officers and 229,760 enlisted men.

U.S. 1st Division in Trèves, Germany

Pershing directed the Third Army to enforce the terms of the Armistice, which required the Germans to evacuate France, Luxembourg, and the Alsace-Lorraine region within 15 days. The Third Army began its advance to the Rhine at 0530 on 17 November (Map 2). The III Corps comprised the Third Army’s left (northern) flank, with the 2nd and 32nd Divisions in the advance and the 42nd Division in support. To the south, the IV Corps held the right flank, with the 1st and 3rd Divisions out front and the 4th Division in reserve. The French Fifth Army initially advanced on  the Third Army’s left flank and the French Tenth Army was on its right.

German commanders issued strict orders for their men to retreat with the utmost discipline so as to maintain firm control of the roads and railroads leading into Germany. Their soldiers generally complied. American intelligence reports indicated that the Germans left behind a substantial amount of military equipment while retreating at a steady pace and refraining from pillaging. Within the American zone, the Germans withdrew northeast through the towns of Montmédy, Longuyon, and Marville, and the Third Army followed without incident at a distance of ten kilometers. On 20 November, American forces crossed into Luxembourg, where the people lined the street to shower the soldiers with flowers and music. The next day, Pershing reviewed the Third Army from Luxembourg’s royal palace as it marched through the capital city. A group of workman’s unions, Boy Scouts, and women’s societies escorted the Americans. They carried a banner that read “To the Saviours of Our Country.”

Pershing issued a proclamation to the people of Luxembourg, stressing that American soldiers came as “friends” who would conduct themselves “strictly in accordance with international law” and would in no way interfere with local government. By 23 November, the III and IV Corps, with the VII Corps following close behind, reached the border with Germany. There the Third Army halted with its entire front along the border to the northwest of the Moselle River.

A Stern General Pershing at a Red Cross Hut
 in Germany

Following a week-long pause for training, inspection, and reorganization for the Third Army, the VII Corps closed up on the III and IV Corps in preparation for a general advance into Germany on 1 December. When the 42nd Division crossed the border, Chaplain Francis P. Duffy of the 165th Infantry described how regimental bands played Over There as the soldiers “marched triumphantly onto German soil.” As the German Army continued to withdraw, the Third Army moved toward the Rhine. The IV Corps maintained contact with the French Tenth Army on its right, whereas the left flank of the III Corps had become linked with the British Second Army to the north after the French Fifth Army halted at the Luxembourg-Germany border. By the end of the day, the Third Army’s front ran along a line from Alfersteg to Trèves on the west bank of the Moselle.

German citizens, who only days before had witnessed the retreat of their own First, Third, Seventh, and Seventeenth Armies, displayed little animosity toward the soldiers and gazed on them with what American officers termed “indifferent curiosity.” Duffy thought that the “greatest surprise” upon entering Germany was the attitude of the people; a farmer actually invited him and Capt. John Mangan into his home for dinner and schnapps. Likewise, Brig. Gen. Johnson Hagood, the commander of the 66th Field Artillery Brigade, claimed that the Third Army was “greeted as long lost friends” by Rhinelanders, and they attempted to “ingratiate themselves with the Americans.” Even the discharged German soldiers—many still in uniform—who milled about the towns were “curious, almost friendly.”

Although bad weather turned the roads to mud and slowed the pace of the advance, the III and IV Corps continued their movement toward Coblenz, located at the junction of the Rhine and Moselle Rivers. The VII Corps crossed the German frontier on 6 December; its 90th Division followed the IV Corps on the right, whereas the 89th Division supported the left flank of the III Corps. On 7 December, the German Army completed its evacuation of Coblenz and retreated to the east bank of the Rhine. Dickman ordered the Third Army to reach the river by 11 December and halt for further orders. American cavalry patrols reached the Rhine at Remagen on 8 December, found the railroad bridge in working order, and immediately placed a guard on it. The main elements of the III and IV Corps, as well as the French Tenth Army, subsequently moved into position on the west bank and spent the next few days resting and cleaning their equipment.

Occupation Service Medal

At the beginning of the general advance in mid-November, Marshal Foch had ordered that each bridgehead on the Rhine be occupied by inter-Allied forces. Foch wanted one French division stationed at the Cologne bridgehead and two French divisions at Coblenz, ostensibly enabling the French to exert administrative control over the entire occupied zone. The British, however, refused to allow French soldiers to move into Cologne. Pershing likewise resisted Foch’s efforts, contending that dividing the bridgehead at Coblenz would complicate logistics and confuse administration in the American zone. Privately, he confided that it was time that American forces “for once act independently of the French.” Ultimately, Pershing declined to execute Foch’s order, and the marshal conceded the point. However, Foch responded by removing the southern third of the Coblenz bridgehead from the Third Army’s control and assigning it to the French. Although Pershing considered this a slight, he had been instructed by the War Department to return American soldiers to the United States as rapidly as possible. Although he did not press the matter, the controversies with Foch added to Pershing’s wariness regarding the French.

Beginning on 13 December, the Third Army moved into the Coblenz bridgehead—an area defined by a 50-kilometer arc that stretched from Malmeneich in the south to Ariendorf in the north. The III Corps (now composed of the 1st, 2nd, and 32nd Divisions) crossed to the east bank of the Rhine, using a pontoon bridge at Coblenz and railroad bridges at Engers and Remagen. The IV Corps (3rd, 4th, and 42nd Divisions) stayed on the west bank to occupy Mayen, Ahrweiler, Adenau, and Cochem, whereas the 89th and 90th Divisions of the VII Corps concentrated around Trèves and Wittlich. Dickman ordered his units to set up five defensive positions: an outpost position, a main position of resistance with half of the Third Army’s troops, two reserve positions to the west of the Rhine, and a “switch position,” which was to be held until the American line connected with the British to the north. Together, these positions formed a series of mutually supporting strong points. Dickman placed the bulk of the Third Army’s artillery in support of the main position and instructed his soldiers to erect firing trenches and wire obstacles. He also told his corps and division commanders to remain “prepared for aggressive offensive action” at all times. On 17 December, Dickman announced that the Third Army was in place around Coblenz, with its rear stretching back to the German-Luxembourgish border.

American Soldiers Looking over the Rhine at the
Ehrenbreitstein Fortress

A commercially robust city, Coblenz became the focal point of the American occupation. After witnessing the war’s devastation in France, Hagood noted that Coblenz “showed no sign of war. . . The shops were open and displayed everything in the way of food, clothing, toys, furniture, [and] hardware that would be seen in any American city.” A pontoon bridge stretched 400 meters across the Rhine, and the “enormous traffic in both directions” impressed Dickman. This bridge led to the fortress of Ehrenbreitstein, located on a “precipitous cliff” on the river’s east bank. Dickman thought that the fortress, which towered over Coblenz, was “among the most picturesque attractions” he had ever witnessed. In a symbolic move to demonstrate American control over the region, Dickman ordered the “largest American flag that could be found” to fly from Ehrenbreitstein’s tallest flagstaff. When the flag caught the wind, Dickman proudly claimed that to the men of the Third Army it was “the finest sight in the world.”

Source: Excerpted from Occupation and Demobilization 1918–1923, U.S. Army Center of Military History, 1919

Saturday, April 20, 2024

Alan Seeger: War Correspondent—A Roads Classic

The poet/soldier Alan Seeger, born in New York and educated at Harvard University, lived among artists and poets in Greenwich Village, New York, and Paris, France. When the Great War engulfed Europe, and before the United States entered the fighting, Seeger joined the French Foreign Legion. I have a friend, who has been telling me for years that Seeger was a tremendous war correspondent, and I've finally had a chance to read some of his work.

Frank, you were right! In the collection of Seeger's letters and diary are included six long letters he sent to the New York Sun. Below are some passages from the first of these, dated 8 December 1914. One commentator describes Seeger's style as His war is intensely impressionistic — vivid, intensely colored, even painterly.

To: the New York Sun

Arriving in a New Sector

There is something fascinating if one is stationed on sentry duty immediately after arrival in watching the dawn slowly illumine one of these new landscapes from a position taken up under cover of darkness. The other section has been relieved and departs, we are given the consigns by the preceding sentinel and are left alone behind a mound of dirt facing the north and the blank, perilous night. Slowly the mystery that it shrouds resolves as the gray light steals over the eastern hills. Like a photograph in the washing its high lights and shadows come gradually forth. The light splash in the foreground becomes a ruined chateau, the gray-streak a demolished village. 

The details come out on the hillside opposite,  where the silent trenches of the enemy are hidden a few hundred meters away. We find ourselves in a woody, mountainous country, with broad horizons and streaks of mist in the valleys. Our position is excellent this time, a high crest, with open land sloping down from the trenches and plenty of barbed wire strung along immediately in front. It would be a hard task to carry such a line, and there is not much danger that the enemy will try. 

French Sentry On Duty

With increasing daylight the sentinel takes a sheltered position and surveys his new environment through little gaps where the mounds have been crenellated and covered with branches. Suddenly he starts as a metallic bang rings out from the woods immediately behind him. It is the unmistakable voice of a French 75 starting the day s artillery duel. By the time the sentinel is relieved, in broad daylight, the cannonade is general all along the line. He surrenders his post to a comrade and crawls down into his bombproof dugout almost reluctantly for the long day of inactive waiting has commenced. . . 

The State of the War

After the brilliant French victory in the battle of the Marne, the Germans, defeated in their attack on Paris, fell back to a line about midway between the capital and the frontier and intrenched [sic] themselves strongly along the crests well to the north of the River Aisne. The French, following close on their heels, took up whatever positions they could find or win immediately behind and sat down no less strongly fortified along a line separated from that of the enemy by distances of usually only a few hundred meters. A deadlock ensued here, and the theatre of critical activity shifted to the north, where the issue is still at stake in the tremendous battle for the possession of the seaboard and the base for an enveloping movement which may be decisive. 

Toward the east the operations have become pretty much confined to the artillery, pending the result of the fighting in the north, which must be decided before an advance can be undertaken by either side on other points of the line. 

It's Already an Artillery War

True, occasionally a violent fusillade to the right or left of us shows that attacks are being made and at any moment are likely to be made, but these are only local struggles for position, and in general the infantry on the centre are being utilized only to support the long line of batteries that all along this immense front are harrying each other at short distances across field and forest and vineyard. 

This style of warfare is extremely modern and for the artillerymen is doubtless very interesting, but for the poor common soldier it is anything but romantic. His role is simply to dig himself a hole in the ground and to keep hidden in it as tightly as possible. Continually under the fire of the opposing batteries, he is yet never allowed to get a glimpse of the enemy. Exposed to all the dangers of war, but with none of its enthusiasms or splendid elan, he is condemned to sit like an animal in its burrow and hear the shells whistle over his head and take their little daily toll from his comrades. . .

It is ignoble, this style of warfare, he [a veteran of the Balkan Wars] exclaims. Instead of bringing out all that is noble in a man it brings out only his worse self meanness and greed and ill temper. We are not, in fact, leading the life of men at all, but that of animals, living in holes in the ground and only showing our heads outside to fight and to feed. 

French Burial Party Removing
Artillery Casualties

Though modern warfare does not allow us to think more about fighting than eating, still we do not actually forget that we are on a battle line. Ever over our heads goes on the precise and scientific struggle of the artillery. Packed elbow to elbow in these obscure galleries one might be content to squat all day long, auditor of the magnificent orchestra of battle, were it not that one becomes so soon habituated to it that it is no longer magnificent. We hear the voices of cannon of all calibres and at all distances. We learn to read the score and distinguish the instruments. Near us are field batteries; far away are siege guns. Over all there is the unmistakable, sharp, metallic twang of the French 75, the whistle of its shell and the lesser report of its explosion. When the German batteries answer the whistle and explosion outdistance the voice of the cannon. 

When one hears the sifflement [whistling] the danger has already passed. The shells which burst immediately overhead and rattle on the roof of our bombproof dugout come unheralded. Sometimes they come singly, sometimes in rapid salvos of two or three or four. Shrapnel's explosive report is followed by the whiz of the flying balls. Contact shells or marmites explode more impressively, so that the earth trembles. Shrapnel shatters trees and snaps good sized trunks as if they were twigs; contact shells dig holes eight or ten feet across all over fields. . .

Back on Sentry Duty

It is toward evening that the cannonade is always fiercest. With darkness it almost completely subsides. Then the sleepy soldiers, cramped and dishevelled, crawl out of their holes, rouse themselves, stretch their legs and take the air. Everybody turns out like factory workmen at 5 o clock. The kitchen squad departs, others set to work repairing smashed defensive earthworks and the night s first sentinels go on. 

Sentry duty, which may be all that is melancholy if the night is bad and the winter wind moans through the pines, may bring moments of exaltation if the cloud banks roll back, if the moonlight breaks over the windless hills or the heavens blaze with the beauty of the northern stars. It has been so for the last few nights, since I commenced these notes. A cold wave has frozen all the bad ways; a light snow has fallen and at night the moonlight flooding out of a frosty sky illumines all the wide landscape to its utmost horizons. In the hollow the white shell and chimneys of the ruined chateau stand out among the black pine groves; on the crest opposite one can trace clear as in daylight the groves and walls and roadways among which wind the silent and uncertain lines of the enemy's trenches. 

Daily Life in a French Trench
During the Early War

Standing facing them from his ramparts the sentinel has ample time for reflection. Alone under the stars, war in its cosmic rather than its moral aspect reveals itself to him. Regarded from this more abstract plane the question of right and wrong disappears. Peoples war because strife is the law of nature and force the ultimate arbitrament among humanity no less than in the rest of the universe. He is on the side he is fighting for, not in the last analysis from ethical motives at all, but because destiny has set him in such a constellation. The sense of his responsibility is strong upon him. Playing a part in the life of nations he is taking part in the largest movement his planet allows him. 

Seeger would serve another 19 months in the trenches before he met his Rendezvous with Death on 4 July 1916 during the Battle of the Somme.  Letters and Diary of Alan Seeger (New York: Scribner’s, 1917) is available online at no charge. 

Friday, April 19, 2024

Twelve World War I Images I've Never Seen Before from the Library of Congress

From the Library of Congress

At Belleau Wood by Lucian Jonas (1918)

General Pershing Returns Home on USS Leviathan,
September 1919

 Night in Souchez (Artois)
by Théophile Steinlen (1917)

Vietnamese Drivers Assigned to Transport American Troops

Slaughterhouse of High Culture by Jan Sluijters (1916)

The First Stevedores to France for the Quartermaster
Corps Were in an All-Black Unit (1917)

Looking to America, Unknown (1915)

Women's March for Peace, NYC, 29 Aug 1914

Peace, Nelson Harding (1919)

Future Wartime Secretary of State
William Jennings Bryan in His Prime (1908)

War Profiteers and Angry Veterans, John C. Coacher (1919)

Secretary of State Charles Evans Hughes Signs
the Washington Arms Agreement, February 1922

Thursday, April 18, 2024

Eyewitness: Major Herbert S. Thomson, MD—Saving Lives in the Argonne

AEF Evacuation Hospital 14, Les Islettes, France

In October [1918], Surgical Team No. 51 of Base Hospital #30, which was staffed by doctors and nurses from the University of California at San Francisco, received orders to support the offensive into the Argonne Forest. Accompanying Major Thomson were Captain Homer C. Seaver, who had graduated from the University of California Medical School only weeks before deploying to France, along with nurses Adelaide Brown and Kathleen Fores and three corpsmen.  

Medical Staff, Base Hospital 30

In the history of the base hospital, Major Thomson described the work in the Argonne:

The Germans had been beating a slow [strategic] retreat since June, but now that their homeland was imperiled for the first time of the war, they turned and fought hard. 

We were ordered from Toul to the Argonne Forest on October 8 and received transportation by ambulances to Evacuation Hospital No. 14, situated in the Argonne Forest near the village of Les Islettes. This hospital was situated in the heart of the Argonne Forest near the line of American advance and in a country that had been completely destroyed by the Germans in their former campaign. 

Red Cross Hut at Evacuation Hospital 14

The hospital was entirely under canvas except for a small chateau which housed the nurses and senior officers. This country was very wet; it rained nearly every day and there was mud everywhere. The operating tent was pitched on the ground and for the first few days there was considerable mud on the operating room floor. In order to go from the operating room to the wards, one had to wade through about six or eight inches of mud. 

While at Les Islettes, the Team was busy all the time, working on the twelve-hour shift. There never was a time when anyone had a breathing spell as the triage was always filled with patients and there was frequently a line of ambulances waiting in the road. At this hospital, only the seriously wounded were treated and there was a very large number of gas infections. Many times, patients were brought in from two or three days after being wounded and a patient was rarely operated on within 15 hours of being wounded. 

Patients Arriving at Base Hospital 30 from
Evacuation Hospitals

At this hospital, we were near the German lines and were treated to the spectacle of anti-aircraft guns shooting at the German planes and could always see the observation balloons over the forest to the north. It was difficult to get supplies in this region and the hospital was rather poorly equipped. On the 25th of October the Team was ordered to return to Base Hospital 30.

Thus, the work of Base Hospital 30 continued throughout the long months from June to November 1918.

Sources: The Record (History of the 30th Base Hospital); Library of Congress; National Library of Medicine; Base Hospital 30, One Hundred Years Later, Aaron J. Jackson, PhD, UCSF Website.

Wednesday, April 17, 2024

What Pre-Revolutionary Russia Can Tell Us About Russia Today: Part IV — Nationalist Russia

Russian Troops Blockade Ukrainian Soldiers at a Base in Crimea, 10 March 2014

Russian foreign policy is a puzzle inside a riddle
wrapped in an enigma, and the key is Russian
Winston Churchill (Paraphrased)

The Russian traditions of messianism and expansionism took on racial overtones in the 19th century, adding another frightening aspect to the world's perceptions of autocratic Russia. As with some of the revolutionary theories, this racialized thinking developed abroad, having Czech and German roots. Russia embraced it, applied it more diligently, and passed it onto the rest of the world and posterity, in particular, on to Germany's Nazi Party. 

In the course of the 19th century, the spread of the rights of man had been linked to the spread of the rights of nations to rule themselves. Napoleon's attempt to redraw the map of Europe was rebuffed, and the Napoleonic wars led to the formation of a wave of nation-states. In Europe this form of nationalism (as originally conceived) would culminate in the unifications of Italy (1870) and Germany (1871). The language of nationalism shifted over time, becoming used to suppress the rights of minorities and to build support for regimes challenged by liberal and socialist popular movements within the core ethnic population. The rhetoric of blood as in "blood line" or "blood sacrifices" to differentiate peoples started appearing. Nationalism became ethnic. It encouraged people with similar folk origins, independent of their history, present circumstances, or location, to bond in kinship. In a way, this neo-nationalism was just the opposite of its earlier namesake. Rather than all citizens pledging allegiance to the state or a government (unifying the nation), the new nationalist's first loyalty was to the tribe (dividing nations with multiple ethnic groups).

In Russia especially, this form of nationalism would take on an irrational, violent dimension. Once set loose in Russia, this impulse led to a new ideology known as pan-Slavism, inspiring pogroms against the Jewish population and fostering an increasingly virulent form of anti-Semitism. Eventually, during the revolution of 1905, a virulent nationalist, counterrevolutionary movement known as the Black Hundreds would explode out of this trend. 

Tsar Nicholas II Visits with a Deputation of the
Black Hundreds in

In large empires, such as Austria-Hungary or tsarist Russia, this emerging form of nationalism initially led to a heightened self-awareness by minorities and conquered people. In Russia, the now-alarmed establishment's response was to turn this around with an insistence on "one, indivisible Russia," believing that non-Russians could be turned into Russians. This policy, of course, would never appeal to the non-Russian population, but the overall approach had some other flaws. What about the non-Russian Slavic peoples who had been absorbed into the empire? Furthermore, this Russia indivisible policy was too inwardly focused for an empire still interested in outward expansion.

The solution found for these complications by influential Russians was to adopt something called "Pan-Slavism." It was never official state policy, but it would periodically dominate state policy. Not just Russians, but their fellow Slavs, were united in their messianic mission. Other Slavs were also divinely "chosen” and thus superior to all other nationalities.

This anchored the empire politically with a Slavic core and supplied a rationale for international adventurism ranging from dabbling in the affairs of other countries with Slavic minorities (like the Balkans) to acquiring territory for Slavic population expansion from inferiors (like the Ottomans) to simple conquest of other Slavs (like the Poles).

This new form of Russian nationalism was a clear threat to all its neighbors. Pan-Slavs claimed as early as 1870 that the best possible starting point for an enlarged Pan-Slav empire would be the disintegration of the Hapsburg empire. Later in that decade, Pan-Slavists in the tsar's government maneuvered the country into a war with the Ottomans for the purpose of capturing Constantinople. Later, after Russia's expansionist aims in the East were defeated by the Japanese, the Pan-Slavists next steered the nation to focus on the Balkans. The Pan-Slav movement had set the table for World War I. It embroiled Russia in the Balkans, where crisis piled on crisis, and one was sure to become unmanageable and lead to war. The July Crisis after the Archduke's assassination also provided—albeit with considerable risk—the double opportunity of swallowing a chunk of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and capturing the Dardanelles and Constantinople from the Ottomans. Behind the tsar's decision to mobilize and go to war was the Russian version of neo-nationalism—Pan-Slavism.

These nationalistic trends led to the fall of the Russian Empire and its replacement by communism, which itself has come and gone, but they made a major impact on another attitude that seems to be reemerging with a vengeance in the 21st century—anti-Semitism. 

19th-Century Anti-Semitic Cartoon

By about 1870, the ruling elites in Russia—at least those who were not already secret supporters of the revolutionaries—had internalized Pan-Slavism. This took place just as Russia's Jewish population began escaping the Pale of Settlement (areas away from the heart of the empire where they were allowed to live.  After the assassination of Alexander II in 1881 by members of the People's Will, anti-Semitic elements were given an excuse to retaliate against the empire's Jews when it was discovered that two of the conspirators were Jewish. Anti-Jewish legislation was passed, and pogroms and mass violence directed against Jews followed.

Pogroms themselves were nothing new. Historically, violence against Jews in Russian territory was sporadic and located on the periphery of the core of the empire. It was not until the post-assassination days that the pogroms became a mass movement, originating in cities and spreading to villages via rivers and railroads. Initially, attacks were directed mostly against property rather than individuals. It was estimated that about 250 such events occurred in this period. Casualty counts are unreliable and often mix Jewish deaths with rioters killed by troops suppressing the violence, but most sources suggest the number of killed Jewish victims were in the dozens during this period. Although this first wave of pogroms was suppressed by 1882, they reappeared with less frequency through the 1880s and '90s. The pogroms had a number of serious detrimental effects on Russia for its future.


The material in this series, I hope, gives a thought-provoking summary of major movements, political, social, and ideological, that influenced events in Russia throughout the 19th and 20th centuries. Each of Russia's four faces, Messianic, Imperial, Revolutionary, and Nationalistic, exerted a powerful influence across multiple levels of Russian society, often with sadly ironic consequences, such as the assassination of Alexander II, who was in fact a progressive tsar implementing social reforms such as freeing the serfs, and the emigration of tens of thousands of Jews to nations, notably the United States, where they were freer to worship and engage in political, social, and economic activities.

Each face also heavily influenced the major global events of the 20th century, and perhaps beyond, including of course the Great War, the Russian Revolution, the establishment of the Soviet Union, the export of revolutionary techniques and anti-Semitism, the run-up to World War II, the Holocaust, and the annexation and reintegration into the Soviet Union of former imperial territories, including the Baltics, Central Europe, the Balkans, and Central Asia, among others. Indeed, as I write this in March 2014, the faces of Russia appear yet again in the current Ukrainian crisis.  [And, again as I republish this in the spring of 2024 during the ongoing Russian–Ukranian war.]

Part I of this Series Can Be Found HERE

Part II of this Series Can Be Found HERE

Part III of this Series Can Be Found HERE

Sources:  How Russia Shaped the Modern World, Steven G. Marks, Princeton University Press, 2003; Doorway for Devils, Kellan D. Bethke, Thesis, U.S. Naval Postgraduate School

Tuesday, April 16, 2024

Gallipoli — Oxford Great Battles Series

To Purchase This Title Click HERE

By Jenny MacLeod

Oxford University Press, 2015

Reviewed by Richard Fulton

Published on H-Empire (April 2016) 

Gallipoli is one of four volumes in the Oxford University Press Great Battles series, edited by Hew Strahan. 

Strahan has asked his authors to describe the subject battle in reasonable detail; contextualize it within the war in which it took place; and then “discuss its legacy, its historical interpretation and reinterpretation, its place in national memory and commemoration, and its manifestations in art and culture” (p. ix). In Gallipoli, Jenny Macleod has succeeded in this complex assignment by assessing the place of the battle not only in Australia and New Zealand’s national cultures but in the cultures of three of the other primary participants as well: Turkey, Britain, and Ireland.

It is in gathering the national stories in one place—particularly the Turkish and Irish studies—that she has made a significant contribution to the already massive amount of work on Gallipoli in this the centenary of the Gallipoli campaign.

Her first four chapters summarize the high points of the several battles on and around the Gallipoli Peninsula: the initial British plan for a naval campaign only, which lurched into a half-baked plan to combine an infantry landing with naval bombardments; the gathering of available infantry—two Anzac (Australian and New Zealand Army Corps) divisions, two British army divisions (the 29th and the 42nd), a British naval division, an Indian brigade, and a French division—and the initial landings on 25 April 1915; the inconclusive fighting over the next three months that cost tens of thousands of lives on both sides; the horrible conditions; and the eventual withdrawal on 9 January 1916. The consistently inept planning in London and equally inept command on the ground have been exhaustively studied elsewhere; Macleod provides some of the highlights (or more often lowlights) of  the campaign rather than delving into tactical minutiae. She also offers some insights into the tactics of the Turkish defenders and discusses both the Turkish leadership and the quality of the Turkish soldiers.

She concludes her introductory survey with the comment that “the evacuations were the only thoroughly well-planned and successfully executed Allied operations of the entire Gallipoli campaign” (p. 65), and she provides the butcher’s bill for the roughly nine-month campaign: 250,000 Turkish casualties (101,279 killed); 70,000 British; 23,000 French; 25,725 Australians; 7,197 New Zealanders; and 5,478 Indians. And she seems to agree with Robin Prior, Rhys Crawley, Asley Ekins, and others that no matter what might have changed tactically on the British side in the Dardanelles, the excellent quality of the Turkish troops combined with the whole context of the geography of the site plus British incompetence, arrogance, and inability to plan realistically doomed the campaign from the start.

At Anzac Cove

In the last 70 percent of Gallipoli, Macleod examines how the defeat in the Dardanelles worked its way into the national cultures of Australia, New Zealand, Britain, Ireland, and Turkey. Her main focus is on Australia and New Zealand, where Anzac Day quickly became a day of national celebration. She notes that the first use of the term “Anzac Day” occurred in Australia in October 1915 when the troops were still stalemated in Gallipoli; widespread celebrations broke out all over the country in April 1916, which included a parade of four thousand returned soldiers in Sydney. Over the next several years, this Anzac Day celebration was used as a memorial day to remember Australian dead as a day to celebrate a unique Australian warrior ethos (unstinting bravery, mateship, good humor, etc.), and as an event to raise funds for the Returned Services League (RSL, the major Australian veterans association).

The event quickly became gendered; by the end of the war, “women were expected to be an audience for—not participants in—commemorations,” she says with some asperity (p. 79). In New Zealand, the day initially became purely a  solemn day of remembrance for the New Zealand soldiers of the Crown (as opposed to the Australian carnival-like atmosphere and celebration of Aussie manhood and exceptionalism). While the atmosphere of the celebrations lightened up as the century progressed, Anzac Day in New Zealand never really became the central day of national celebration as it did in Australia.

The last 30 years have seen a revised interest in Gallipoli and the Anzacs in both Australia and New Zealand. Macleod attributes the revival in part to the Peter Weir film Gallipoli (1981) (in Australia) and in part to a renewed interest by scholars and historians in the campaign (especially in New Zealand). In both countries, politicians have used the day for national purposes; thus, in Australia speeches emphasizing “valor” and “sacrifice” are used to rally Australians to continue to support Australia’s role in the wider world, and in New Zealand the integration of Maori people and Maori customs in the celebrations are used to focus on the unity of the New Zealand people.

Gallipoli Day was never the same kind of day in the other countries that participated in the campaign on the Allied side. Macleod points out that Britain in general seemed to be content with supporting the Anzacs in their celebrations. Bury and Manchester, home of the Lancashire divisions that composed a significant element of the British contingent, at first commemorated Gallipoli Day a week or more after 25 April; later, in those scattered locations where Gallipoli was memorialized, it was done so fairly consistently as Anzac Day. A sort of romantic version of Gallipoli developed—part of a tradition that included Isandlwana and Maiwand, and a host of heroic last stands across the empire—but the battle became just one of dozens of military metaphors for heroism against all odds, and duty, honor, and manhood. 

In Ireland, home of the Tenth (Irish) Division, the battle was celebrated early on, but in fact Ireland was far more caught up in its independence than in looking back, and Gallipoli and all of the Great War became something of an embarrassment for the new Irish Republic. In recent years in both countries, says Macleod, people seem to be content to memorialize Gallipoli as an Anzac celebration when they memorialize it at all.

Australian School Group Visiting Gallipoli
(Your Editor Rear in Gray Cap)

In her summary of the role of Gallipoli in modern Turkish culture, Macleod  embeds the battle as part of modern Turkey’s struggle to be born out of the ancient Ottoman Empire. By far the most important foundation myth for Turkey is the War of Independence, but because Gallipoli was the one shining victory among many Ottoman defeats during the Great War, and because Mustafa Kemal (later Atatürk) commanded Ottoman troops at Gallipoli, the battle is still remembered with national pride. During World War II and later, the Turks reached out to the Anzacs in friendship, and a kind of joint celebration of martial pride has developed in recent years. But as Macleod points out, because the battle was fought at a time that ethnic cleansing and the Armenian genocide was taking place, the Great War in general is a period of some ambivalence for Turkish historians, and official celebrations on Gallipoli have often carried the freight of some difficult political messages.

Macleod’s Gallipoli is a valuable contribution to the sea of Gallipoli scholarship available. Her focus on the meaning of the campaign to the cultures of several of the participant nations is a much-needed scholarly approach to what is often an emotional discussion (especially as it concerns the militaristic, gendered, racialized Australian creation myth). The presentation could have been strengthened by a list of abbreviations at the beginning (RSL for Returned Serves League, MEF for Mediterranean Expeditionary Force, RND for Royal Naval Division, etc.). Also, at least a nod to the Indians and French, who suffered over 20 percent of the casualties, would have been helpful. Certainly the battle must have some cultural significance for the French especially, for whom this was a joint exercise, albeit under British command. And there may be some memory in the home territories of the Sikh battalion, which was virtually wiped out with 74 percent casualties at the Third Battle of Kristhia. Still, her carefully researched accounts of the continuing importance of Gallipoli in the popular culture adds much to our appreciation of the meaning of the campaign to the participant nations. 

Richard Fulton

Monday, April 15, 2024

The Red Baron’s JG 1 vs. the Black Squadron

James Patton

Manfred Freiherr von Richthofen (1892–1918), familiarly known as the Red Baron, was an obscure cavalry lieutenant in 1914. With the advent of static warfare, his unit was broken up and he was assigned to a supply unit, duty that he found distasteful. He volunteered for aviation service in May 1915, serving as an observer until October, then went through flight training. He flew two-seaters until August 1916, when he finally became a true fighter pilot. He chanced to catch the eye of  Oswald Boelcke (1891–1916), known as the “Father of Air Fighting Tactics,” who selected von Richthofen for his elite “Jasta 2“ (short for Jagdstaffel 2). Von Richthofen later formed his own elite squadron, Jasta 11, which out-performed Jasta 2. In January 1917, he painted his Albatros D-III bright red, which led to his famous sobriquet. 

SE-5a of Captain Grinnell-Milne
with 56 Squadron Markings

The Red Baron became a special target for the British Royal Flying Corps for several reasons. First, he shot down a lot of their planes; second, he was in-your-face flamboyant; and third, although of noble background, he was not gentlemanly in his behavior, pursuing his foes ruthlessly. The RFC bore a huge grudge against the Red Baron for hunting down their first ace, Maj. Lanoe Hawker ,VC, who was trying to nurse his shot-up DH-2 back to his lines.

With the mounting success of Jasta 11 and then von Richthofen’s  four-squadron Jagdgeschwader 1 (JG1), known as the “Flying Circus”, the RFC decided to create a special "Black" squadron whose primary mission was to hunt down the Red Baron and his ace pilots. In March 1917, No. 56 Squadron was uprgraded, staffed exclusively with experienced pilots, some already aces (particularly Capt. Albert Ball, a future VC), equipped with brand-new SE-5 aircraft, the latest and best available, and dedicated to fighting in packs rather than in dashing mano-a-mano duels, always outnumbering their quarry and luring them into traps.  

Maj. James McCudden's Four-Blade Propeller

Since the original pilots were all experienced, they tinkered with their aircraft. In particular, Maj. James McCudden, VC, a gifted mechanic, supervised changes in engine compression, the exhaust system, the propeller, and the dihedral angle of the top wing, as well as reductions in weight, in order to improve high-altitude performance. With these aircraft, a flight of No. 56 changed its mission and went after the German high-altitude reconnaissance planes, particularly the Rumpler C.VIIs. McCudden died on 9 July 1918  in an aircraft accident. 

In the course of their service, No. 56 scored 427 victories (most in the RFC/RAF) while losing 40 killed and 31 taken prisoner. The squadron had 22 aces, including McCudden (57 victories) and Ball (44).  

Memorial to 56 Squadron Pilot Albert Ball

No. 56 didn’t get the Red Baron, although they came close, claiming one of his top subordinates, Lt. Werner Voss (48 victories), who in an epic fight was tricked into taking on eight No. 56 pilots, all of whom were aces, and scored hits on all the No. 56 planes before he was shot down. No. 56 also brought down Lt. Kurt Wissemann, who had shot down the French ace Capt. Georges Guynemer (54 victories) 17 days earlier. 

No. 56 has had a long and colorful history. Known as "The Firebirds" since 1960, when it transitioned to the RAF’s first supersonic aircraft, the Lightning F-1, today it is an RAF Reserve unit that tests, evaluates, and operates drones; previously, from 1992 until 2008, No. 56 was the only Reserve Squadron operating the Tornado F-3 frontline interceptor. 

The squadron has its own website, which you can visit HERE.

Revised on 19 April from original version.