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 30, 2024

America Arms for a New Century: The Making of a Great Military Power

Click HERE to Order This Title

By James L. Abrahamson

Free Press, 1981

Reviewed by E.M.  Coffman

Originally Presented in the Journal of American History, March 1982

This author traces the modernization of America's armed forces between the Civil War and World War I, and focuses on technological and administrative innovations  In keeping with the American anti-military tradition, there is a stereotype of military men as self-interested, warmongering, altogether dangerous, and perhaps not quite sane people. They are, in a sense, aliens among us.  Another stereotype, much more rare these days, is that military leaders are heroes, towering on pedestals, impervious of the hopes and fears that make the rest of us normal. Both stereotypes enable their holders to avoid any serious effort to understand professional officers and their place in society.  While there are books written to sustain such beliefs, other writers have recognized military men as individuals who were not immune to the currents of their time. 

In America Arms for a New Century, James L. Abrahamson attempts to place the professional officers of the crucial 1880–1920 era in their proper context. Others have dealt with parts of this subject, but this scholarly soldier's approach is more comprehensive as he encompasses both the army and navy throughout the entire period in his study.

Elihu Root—Civilian Reformer of America's Military

During those four decades, the end of the frontier, the accelerating population shift from the farm and village to the city, and ventures into imperialism and European affairs brought about momentous changes in the American scene. Abrahamson argues that articulate officers were aware of what was going on and sought to change their institutions in order to meet properly the demands of these new situations. The reforms they recommended, he believes, were modest and based on realistic analyses of the circumstances until the very end of this period. 

Immediately after World War I, military leaders, caught up in the euphoria of victory, tried to float large, ambitious programs. They failed (deservedly so, the author says) because they misread not only the political temper but also the military situation of the nation.

General Emory Upton—Early Military Reformer

James L. Abrahamson (1937–2020) was an army colonel and professor of history at West Point.  As one might expect this book is sympathetic to the military, though it is by no means an apology.

E.M. Coffman

Monday, April 29, 2024

Another Time When the Ukraine Faced Occupation

Polish-Ukrainian Forces Parade in Kiev, 9 May 1920

After Germany's collapse, a national uprising broke out in Ukraine in November 1918. The National Directory, which took over Ukraine after a victorious uprising immediately understood the danger of the Bolshevik Revolution to its independence. War broke out when Lenin sent Red forces into Ukraine and southern Russia. Left alone as the Russian Civil War intensified on other fronts toward the end of 1919, the Nationalists sought an alliance with the newly created state of Poland, whose head, Marshal Józef Piłsudski also opposed the Bolsheviks' expansionist aims. Ukraine was also a tantalizing prize; its grain, coal, and industry would drive a Polish economic revival as part of an intended borderland federation; once again Poland would re-govern the vast lands once ruled by their powerful szlachta, or landed gentry.

In April 1920, Poland and Ukraine concluded a treaty in conjunction with a military convention. Piłsudski signed an agreement recognizing the Directory, headed by Semyon Petliura, as the legitimate authority of an independent Ukraine, in exchange for the return of eastern Galicia to Poland. Later conventions provided for combined military operations and the eventual withdrawal of Polish troops. Though operating at cross purposes, they were united in their goal of driving the Russians from Kiev, with their mutual obstacle being the Red Army.

The Red Army Recaptures Kiev, 13 June 1920

Two longstanding considerations drove Piłsudski's Ukrainian policy. First and foremost, no true state of Poland had existed from 1795 to 1918–the year Poland regained its independence at the end of the war. And second, as a consequence of the first issue, no legitimate frontier had separated the Russian-Polish borderlands for 123 years. Piłsudski was compelled to regain the Polish frontier territory lost to earlier partitions and wished to secure his new border with a Polish-dominated federation of states, which included Lithuania, Belarus, and an independent, though truncated, Ukraine. The coveted territory also included thousands of Jewish villages, known as shtetls, within a region that stretched from the Baltic to the Black Sea up to a depth of about 300 miles.

Suspecting a prompt Soviet attack on Poland, Piłsudski quickly organized and launched a preemptive strike into Ukraine on 25 April 1920. While pretending to entertain generous terms from the Soviets for settling the frontier dispute, Piłsudski gathered an army of roughly 300,000 soldiers along the eastern front and struck the Ukrainian capital with around 50,000 troops. His success in capturing Kiev was short-lived, though, as the invasion incited feelings of patriotism among Russian communists, liberals, conservatives, and ex-tsarist officers, who were willing to unite behind the Bolsheviks to drive their enemy from lands considered traditionally Russian. In early June, Semyon Budyonny's Red Cavalry penetrated the Polish lines, driving the Poles and Ukrainians from Kiev and eventually back to Polish territory toward Warsaw. The Ukrainian Nationalists resisted the expanding control by the Red Army until November 1921 when they were routed in a final action at Bazar. A new Polish government, without Piłsudski as head of state, abandoned its dream of an eastern buffer federation and the Ukrainian nationists.

The end of the Ukrainian-Soviet war saw the incorporation of most of the territories of Ukraine into the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic which, on 30 December 1922, became one of the founding members of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR).

Sources: Library of Congress, CIA, and Wikipedia

Sunday, April 28, 2024

Where All Roads Led in October 1914

In the fall of 1914, the new German chief of staff, Erich von Falkenhayn, decided to make a major push to capture the Channel ports, since without them the British Army could neither be supplied nor evacuated, if that proved necessary. To accomplish, he directed two armies, his Fourth and Sixth, to Flanders. The Allies, still thinking on the scale of the Race to the Sea to date, were late in appreciating the size of this approaching German steamroller. They would find themselves outnumbered in the sector through the end of the year. The Allies, though, were able to improvise a mixed defending force of Belgian, French, British, and Indian Army troops. Their decisive action to foil the enemy's plan would be known at the "First Battle of Ypres," which, for our purposes here, excludes the fighting to the north along the Yser section, and to the south from around Armentiéres to the La Bassée Canal. The area would prove to be a unique and challenging battlefield.

Maj and Mrs. Holt's Battlefield Guide, Ypres Salient describes peculiar terrain around Ypres:

The area in which the British found themselves was known as "Flanders," a centuries-old word meaning "flooded land." The town itself sits on a wet plain astride a complex of waterways designed to drain the surrounding land. Beyond that, running in a broad sweep clockwise around Ypres from Passchendaele in the northeast via Messines in the south to beyond Kemmel in the southwest is a low ridge that puts the town at the centre of a natural amphitheatre.

After the desperate struggle of 1914, while the British Army held the town and some variable amount of the surrounding countryside, the Germans occupied the heights, which defined and constrained the "salient" surrounding Ypres and from which they would observe everything that moved in the Salient for much of the next four years.

In mid-October, it was the British cavalry that first saw the importance of the terrain around Ypres when they occupied the high ground to the south of the town. Shortly after, one of the newly arrived British divisions, the 7th, commanded by General Henry Rawlinson, was sent to join the British 3rd Infantry and 2nd Cavalry Divisions blocking the strategic Menin Road east of Ypres and found themselves looking at Passchendaele Ridge. Meanwhile, the Allies along the coast to the north fought off the German Fourth Army, commanded by the determined Duke of Württemberg. Suddenly, this most northern section of the Western Front was effectively shut down when the coastal area of Belgium was flooded. Deflected to the south, the Fourth Army would attack the British forces north of Ypres around a village called Langemark on 21 October. The Fourth Army, however, was made up of older reservists and a few battalions of youthful barely trained "student" battalions, who were ill prepared to go against entrenched British Regulars. In the latter part of the battle, the decisive moments would come farther south, in the center of the salient on either side of the Menin-Ypres Road.

The BEF Heading for Ypres

For this presentation, we will be focusing at the fighting in three key locations: Langemark in the north, Messines Ridge south of town, and east of Ypres, centering on the Menin Road. These dimensions of the battle overlap in both time and space, so our explanations here will necessarily be simplified to cover the big picture. The First Battle of Ypres seems maddeningly complex and chaotic to understand, filled with bad luck, missed opportunities, and startling heroics.

Source: St. Mihiel Trip-Wire, July 2021

Saturday, April 27, 2024

Remembering a Veteran: Volunteer James Rogers McConnell, Ambulance Driver & Aviator

McConnell, American Field Service Driver

James Rogers McConnell was born in Chicago, Illinois, the son of a prominent judge, in 1887. The family later moved to North Carolina. McConnell attended private schools throughout his childhood and went to college at the University of Virginia. He attended law school briefly and then worked in several business ventures back home in North Carolina.

A family friend described McConnell’s “adventurous spirit,” which led him to volunteer in 1915 for the American Ambulance Field Service, a volunteer ambulance corps newly founded by Americans in Paris that same year (later called the American Field Service or AFS). As an ambulance driver, McConnell gathered injured men from the battlefield and brought them for treatment to military field hospitals. After bravely serving for a year, he earned the distinguished Croix de Guerre medal from the French government for courage under fire.

Increasingly passionate about defending France, however, McConnell had begun to consider leaving the noncombatant ambulance service to enlist as a volunteer with the French military. The newly created Lafayette Escadrille provided him the opportunity to do so.

McConnell, Lafayette Escadrille

The Lafayette Escadrille was a group of American pilots serving with the French Air Service (Aéronautique Militaire) prior to the entry of the United States into the war. Authorized by the French government in the spring of 1916, the group was named in honor of the Marquis de Lafayette, considered by many to be a French hero, who helped win the war for the American colonists during the American Revolution. The pilots wore fur-lined uniforms to keep them warm in the fragile planes, often going out on two-hour patrols.

Thirty-eight Americans served in the Lafayette Escadrille, many of whom became famous on the home front for their dangerous volunteer service. McConnell wrote a book about his experiences during the war titled Flying for France (1916); it helped Americans at home understand the kind of service they were doing overseas on the side of France and built support for the U.S. to enter the war.

Volunteering as a military pilot for France allowed McConnell to take sides in what he saw as a righteous cause. It also gave him the privilege of learning to fly. As he wrote about flying for the French Air Service in his book, “It was the beginning of a new existence, the entry into an unknown world. . . For us all it contained unlimited possibilities for initiative and service to France.”

Casualties in this type of volunteer service skyrocketed during the war, as air-to-air combat increased. McConnell’s plane was shot down on 19 March 1917, during aerial combat with two German planes. McConnell was killed just weeks before his government joined the Allied cause in Europe as a combatant nation.

Source: The Volunteers: Americans Join World War I, 1914-1919, AFS International

Friday, April 26, 2024

A Kansas World War I Memorial: The Rosedale Memorial Arch

By James Patton

The Kansas City metro area is justly famous for the magnificent Liberty Memorial and Tower, which sits on the Missouri side and includes the National World War I Museum. However, within sight of the Liberty Memorial there is another significant monument, this one to the Kansans who served in that war. The Rosedale Memorial Arch is a scaled-down copy of Paris’s Arc de Triomphe. Although many such Romanesque victory arches were put up around the country after the war, most were temporary, made of plaster, but not this one. Today Rosedale is known as the home of the University of Kansas Medical Center (KUMC). It’s only a neighborhood in Kansas City, KS, now,  but it was an independent city from 1877 to 1922.

Shortly after the U.S. entered the war the various state units were reorganized into divisions made up of two infantry brigades, one artillery brigade and support troops. Although the final numbering scheme allotted to the National Guard was Divisions 26 through 75, there were only enough troops to staff 17, and the 42nd was made up of "leftover" units from 26 different states. At the urging of then-Major Douglas MacArthur, the 42nd was called the "Rainbow Division." The Kansas and Missouri National Guards were amalgamated into the 35th Division, but both states had an ammunition train, so the Rainbow Division got the 117th (ex-1st Kansas). Like many National Guard units, the 117th was under strength, so its commander, Lieutenant Colonel Frank L. Travis, placed "Men Wanted" ads in local newspapers and netted 375 volunteers that were sworn in on Mount Marty in Rosedale. 

The Rainbow Division came into existence in August 1917 with an authorized strength of 28,105 men and officers. In France they proved to be a first-class fighting division, ready for the toughest jobs, and they sustained 16,242 casualties. They came home in April 1919. 

On 12 May 1919, the city of Rosedale held a "Welcome Home" celebration for returning veterans. The streets were decorated with rainbow colored bunting, and Hudson Road was officially renamed Rainbow Boulevard (still is) in their honor. In 1921 the Kansas Legislature passed an authorization for municipalities to expend public funds, issue bonds, and levy taxes for the erection of permanent war memorials. Accordingly, a special election was held in Rosedale on 21 June 1921 seeking approval for “the establishment of a memorial park and the erection of an Arch at its entrance...The improvement will cost $25,000 for which bonds are to be issued..." The proposal carried by a vote of 129 to 77. John Leroy Marshall, a local architect and veteran, was engaged to design the memorial, and a tract of land on Mount Marty was selected. Also proposed was an athletic field 290 by 150 feet. Marshall's plans were quickly approved, and on 24 April 1922, condemnation was initiated for 5.2 acres of land to be acquired for $10,000. The Rosedale city council then passed an ordinance under the new law for the issuance of $25,000 of special improvement bonds. However, a back story was running concurrently: in 1913 a small majority in Rosedale had voted for consolidation with Kansas City, but the Rosedale city council had consistently refused to certify the results. However, in a surprise vote on 5 April 1922, the council did certify—Rosedale had 21 days before becoming part of Kansas City. The bond issue was rushed through and authorized one day before consolidation, but action by the state legislature on 24 February 1923 was still necessary to enable the city of Kansas City, KS, to issue the bonds.

The "groundbreaking" was held on 20 July 1923 to accommodate the schedule of French General Henri Gouraud (1867–1946), who was touring the country. The parade order was Gouraud and the VIPs first, followed by Ft. Leavenworth’s 17th Infantry (including band), an American Legion color guard carrying the standard of the 117th Ammunition Train, 200 or so 117th veterans and the color guards of area Legion posts. The route was decorated and the crowd numbered about 6,000. Many speeches followed a salute of 21 guns and the playing of the Marseillaise, then Gouraud’s address, through an interpreter, and he turned some dirt with a golden spade.

All this notwithstanding, the property purchase was not finalized until August, and construction not put out to bid until 15 March 1924. The arch was completed by September. It is 34' 6" high, 25' 5" wide, and 10' 5" deep at the base, each pillar is 10' 5" deep by 8' 3" wide. This is about one-fifth the size of the Paris arch. The arch opening is just under 10 ft. in width and 20 feet high. Each pillar rests on a separate concrete foundation extending down to solid rock. It is made of brick with a four-inch limestone facing, the brickwork varying in thickness from 21 inches at the base to nine inches at the top. The roof beneath the parapet is a reinforced concrete slab, and a drain pipe leads down the inside of one pillar to a tile pipe emptying out on the hillside below. A hatch in the roof allows interior access. Other than the moldings and entablature, decoration is minimal: each of the four spandrel panels of the arch contain a bas relief carving of a laurel branch surmounted by a shield of Columbia. There is a carved inscription repeated on both the north and south faces of the parapet, which reads as follows: 


The construction cost was $12,179, which with the land yielded a final cost well below the bond amount. The arch was finally dedicated on 7 September 1924, in a simple ceremony, and began a slow descent into obscurity. A football field was built south of the arch, then a stands (since demolished) in 1929. In 1935 the W.P.A. built a 750-ft. retaining wall around the stadium.  At a point just 82 ft. south of the arch this wall was nearly 22 ft. high. 

Access to the monument was restricted, and the city refused to maintain the property. For the next 30 years a jungle grew up around the arch. In 1962, civic groups cleared the site and had it rededicated to the veterans of all wars. Eventually a tablet with names inscribed was added to the site. In 1968, an urban renewal agency proposal to move the arch was blocked, flood lights were installed by the Rosedale Business Association, and the city built a road up to the arch, at last an acknowledgement of city responsibility. In 1976, the city paved the road and added a small parking area, a walk and steps to a circular plaza built around the base of the arch, two overlooks, and a professional lighting system.

Recently, the 42nd Division Veteran’s Association has taken an interest in the site, and the city has installed ornamental lights along the access road. Due to vandalism, the site is gated and closed at night.

The Rosedale Memorial Arch was entered in the Register of Historic Kansas Places on 1 July 1977, the National Register of Historic Places on 2 August 1977, and as a Historic Landmark: 28 July 1982. At last, the arch has gained the dignity and prominence originally hoped for, visible by day and by night to the thousands of vehicles that travel along I-35 in the valley below, a source of pride rather than of shame. 

Sources: The Kansas Historical Society, the Kansas City, KS, Planning and Zoning Division, and the City of Westwood

Thursday, April 25, 2024

Remembrance: It's ANZAC Day Round the World

Brisbane, Australia, 25 April 1916

Thousands lost their lives during the Gallipoli campaign: 87,000 Ottoman Turks, 44,000 men from France and the British Empire, including 8500 Australians. Among the dead were 2779 New Zealanders, about one in six of those who served on Gallipoli.  Citizens of the two nations, at home and abroad, gather to remember the fallen on ANZAC Day,  the anniversary of the initial landings at  Gallipoli, 25 April 1915.  and thousands make a pilgrimage to the site of the original landings at ANZAC Cove for a sunrise service each year.

New Zealanders Parade in London, 25 April 1916

On its first anniversary in 1916, Anzac Day was commemorated in different ways around Australia. All states held a commemorative service, after which Gallipoli veterans and new enlistees (volunteers for the war) would march down the streets of their town or city. Most states then held festivities of some kind in the evening. In Victoria Anzac Day focused on raising money for soldiers through big celebrations.

Anzac Sunrise Ceremony, U.S. WWI Memorial, 2022

In New South Wales the Lord Mayor of Sydney spent £1000 on lighting public buildings but was criticised by families of soldiers who had died. However, many returned soldiers wanted the day to be as happy as possible, as they felt that this was what the Anzacs who died would have wanted.

Berlin, Germany, 2023

In London 2000 Anzacs marched through the streets and were cheered by the locals, before attending a commemorative service. Anzacs in Egypt attended a morning commemoration and then played cricket, swam in ‘a great Aquatic (swimming) Carnival’, attended a concert and watched a play about the ANZAC landing.

Dawn Service, North Beach at Anzac, 2018

In 1927 Anzac Day became a public holiday in every Australian state for the first time. By the mid-1930s many of the rituals that are now practiced on Anzac Day were created. These included dawn vigils, marches, two minutes’ silence, memorial services, wreath-laying ceremonies and reunions. The most sombre (serious and sad) ceremonies took place in Queensland, under the leadership of military Chaplain David Garland. Garland’s sombre forms of commemoration would become the most common by the 1930s.

Sydney, Australia, 2023

New Zealanders also demanded some form of remembrance on the anniversary of the Gallipoli landings. This became both a means of rallying support for the war effort and a public expression of grief – for no bodies were brought home. On 5 April 1916 a half-day holiday for 25 April was gazetted, and church services and recruiting meetings were proposed. The New Zealand Returned Soldiers' (later Services') Association, in cooperation with local authorities, took a key role on the day, organising processions of servicemen, church services and public meetings. The form of the ceremony on 25 April was gradually standardized.

Auckland, New Zealand, 2023

Sources:  Numerous Australian and New Zealand historic and news sites were drawn on for this article.

Wednesday, April 24, 2024

The Pfalz D.XII: Latecomer on the Western Front

Pflalz D.XII (NASM)

The Pfalz Aircraft Company (Pfalz Flugzeugwerke) was one of Germany’s first aircraft manufacturers, but its designs were overshadowed throughout World War I by the more famous designs of manufacturers such as Fokker and Albatros.The Pfalz D.XII first appeared on the western front in the First World War shortly after the June 1918 fighter trials held at Adlershof, Germany, where a number of aircraft were accepted for production by Idflieg (Inspektion der Fliegertruppen). It was built as a replacement for the outdated Albatros and Pfalz D.III scouts and the outclassed Fokker Dr.I triplane. The Pfalz D.XII was a single-seat, two-bay biplane fighter of all-wood construction with a semi-monocoque plywood fuselage. It carried two forward-firing Maxim machine guns synchronized to fire through the propeller arc. The airplane was powered by a six-cylinder, 180-hp, water-cooled, in-line Mercedes D.IIIa engine. It had a top speed of 170 km/h (106 mph) and a ceiling of 5,640 m (18,500 ft).

Depiction of the D.XII Cockpit (Rise of Flight)

The Pfalz D.XII climbed satisfactorily and its performance in level flight was comparable to that of the Fokker D.VII. Because of its sturdy construction, it could dive faster and steeper than the D.VII, but it could not turn as well and was sluggish in combat. Furthermore, it tended to "float" when landing, and many accidents occurred because of the weakness of the landing gear.

D.XII at the French Air and Space Museum 

Despite these problems, the Pfalz D.XII performed well enough to relieve the German Air Service of its shortage of competitive fighters late in the war. By the time of the Armistice, nearly 800 aircraft had been delivered to frontline service. After the war a substantial number were turned over to the Allies, perhaps as many as 175. Four of those aircraft survive. One is on display at the Musée de l'Air in Paris, another is in the Australian War Memorial in Canberra. The two other examples are former Hollywood movie performers. One of these resides at the Seattle Museum of Flight, and another [shown at the top of the page] at the National Air and Space Museum. 

Source:  The National Air and Space Museum Website; Rise of Flight Video; Wikipedia

***Revisions made 26 April 2024 to the original article.

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 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.