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

Saturday, July 24, 2021

Canada Enters the War

The fact that Canada was automatically at war when Britain was at war in 1914 was unquestioned as from coast to coast: in a spirit of almost unbelievable unanimity, Canadians pledged support for Britain. Sir Wilfrid Laurier spoke for the majority of Canadians when he proclaimed: "It is our duty to let Great Britain know and to let the friends and foes of Great Britain know that there is in Canada but one mind and one heart and that all Canadians are behind the Mother Country." Prime Minister Robert Borden, calling for a supreme national effort, offered Canadian assistance to Great Britain. Borden orchestrated a massive national effort in support of the mother country, but also demanded that Great Britain recognize Canada’s wartime sacrifices with greater postwar autonomy. The offer was accepted, and immediately orders were given for the mobilization of an expeditionary force.

Training at Valcartier Camp near Quebec City Before Deployment

With a regular army of only 3,110 men and a fledgling navy, Canada was ill prepared to enter a world conflict. Yet, from Halifax to Vancouver, thousands of young Canadians hastened to the recruiting offices. Within a few weeks more than 32,000 men gathered at Valcartier Camp near Quebec City; and within two months the First Contingent, Canadian Expeditionary Force, was on its way to England in the largest convoy ever to cross the Atlantic. Also sailing in this convoy was a contingent from the still separate British self-governing colony of Newfoundland. A suggestion that Newfoundland's men should be incorporated into the Canadian Expeditionary Force had earlier been politely but firmly rejected.

Upon reaching England the Canadians endured a long miserable winter training in the mud and drizzle of Salisbury Plain. In spring 1915, they were deemed ready for the front line and were razor-keen. Nothing, they believed, could be worse than Salisbury. In the years that lay ahead, they were to find out just how tragically wrong that assessment was.

The first Canadian troops to arrive in France were the Princess Patricia's Canadian Light Infantry, which had been formed at the outbreak of war entirely from ex-British Army regular soldiers. The "Princess Pats" landed in France in December 1914 with the British 27th Division and saw action near St. Eloi and at Polygon Wood in the Ypres Salient. Today, their battalion memorial stands on high ground of just north of Hooge.

Newly Arrived on the Western Front

Early in February 1915, the 1st Canadian Division reached France and was introduced to trench warfare by veteran British troops. Following this brief training, they took over a section of the line in the Armentières sector in French Flanders. Mention should be made of the Royal Newfoundland Regiment, whose Great War experience is forever linked with that of the Canadian Expeditionary Force. In 1914, however, it was a separate Dominion from Canada, and would not become a Canadian province until 1949. Independently, Newfoundland raised and maintained a regiment that over the next four years was kept at battlefield strength through voluntary enlistment. The regiment was integrated with the British Army, serving mainly with the 29th British Division at Gallipoli and on the Western Front. Its losses in several battles were greatly felt within the small dominion of 242,000 residents, and keeping the regiment at battle strength was difficult but achieved.

Source: Veterans Affairs of Canada

Friday, July 23, 2021

Recommended: The Slug-Garden Pest and War Hero


American Warrior

By Launa Herrman, University of California Cooperative Extension

It's almost spring. Once again, my plants are prey to slugs. Damp overcast yet warmer days provide the ideal environment for these slimy shell-less mollusks. Their stealth but obvious presence is unmistakable. Hiding by day, foraging by night slugs slide across the smooth leaves of succulents, chewing erratic holes. Up and over the daffodils they glide, nipping off tender petal tips and leaving behind their tell-tale silvery mucous trail. Most gardeners agree that slugs have little chance of redeeming their repulsive reputation.

But during World War I, this common but destructive garden pest saved countless American soldiers who themselves were falling prey to mustard gas. In 1917, when the Germans first used this deadly chemical weapon, troops had difficulty detecting it when entering a contaminated area or during a direct attack. The gas lingered in the trenches for days, especially during cold temperatures.

Hydrochloric acid is produced when mustard gas comes in contact with moisture. Lung membranes are damaged. Severe respiratory complications follow. Thousands of soldiers were either incapacitated or died from exposure, along with horses and dogs—the military working animals also stationed on the Western Front.

Dr. Paul Bartsch (1871–1960)

Then along came the slug—thanks to Dr. Paul Bartsch, a curator in the Division of Mollusks at the U.S. National Museum (currently the National Museum of Natural History). Curious why slugs (Limax maximus) in the furnace room of his home were sensitive to the fumes, he studied and tested their olfactory capabilities, discovering their extraordinary ability to protect the lung membrane by closing the breathing aperture. He also learned that their tentacles were so sensitive to smell they could detect the scent of fungi in gardens and in the woods.

According to the Smithsonian Institution Archives, Dr. Bartsch's slugs were three times more sensitive than humans to mustard gas, reacting at levels of one particle per 10–12 million by compressing their bodies and closing off their breathing pores, then surviving the gas attacks without a problem—unlike the often fatal response of humans, horses, and dogs.

As a result, the U. S. Army in June of 1918, enlisted ordinary garden slugs to fight in the trenches. They were carried in by the troops. During their five-month tour of duty, these gas-detecting heroes saved thousands of lives by alerting soldiers to the presence of mustard gas. By observing the slugs' compressed bodies, soldiers could put on gas masks before they had any hint of this dangerous chemical weapon.

Sources:  The Solano Sun, 12 February  2019

Thursday, July 22, 2021

Tactics, Diplomacy, and Revolution: The Importance of the September 1917 Riga Offensive

A factor in the accelerating decline of the Kerensky  government  was  the  German  offensive  around  Riga  in September. Though it was a limited affair, and the only real German advance  between  the  summer  of  1917  and  their  final  moves,  it  was significant both in its effect on Kerensky and Lenin, and in its own right as  a  military  operation,  for  it  introduced  what has historically and inaccurately been called “Hutier  tactics,”  which were to come close to winning the war for Germany.  General  Oscar  von  Hutier  was  commander  of  8th  Army,  on  the northern end of the German line along the Baltic coast.  His army would be tasked with taking Riga.

German Troops Entering Riga, 3 September 1917

For two years the Germans had been making occasional attempts to take the fortress of Riga, all without success. Wishing to capitalize on Russia’s internal difficulties, the Germans decided to exert more pressure on the Provisional Government; the taking of Riga might make them ask for an armistice. By now the technicians and theorists of the General Staff had made a  thorough  study  of  the  tactical  impasse  on  the  fighting  fronts. They had carefully analyzed the successes and the failures of both sides. They noted the way some of the British units had made an initial gain on the Somme, how their own troops had attacked at Verdun, and how the French had riposted; they studied Brusilov’s tactics in his great offensive as well. They came to essentially the conclusion that Brusilov and his staff had reached. A vital difference was that the Germans knew why they had reached it, whereas Brusilov had largely stumbled on it by the accident of ammunition shortage and discarded it as soon as the shortages were made up. Brusilov’s lucky shot became Germany’s tactical doctrine. 

The German solution was Stosstrupp (shock troop or storm troop) tactics featuring a brief but intense and precisely targeted artillery preparation and specially trained, independent squads tasked with finding and infiltrating weak spots and bypassing strongpoints, leaving them for follow-up by the regular infantry. Riga would be the first trial of the new doctrine, where it would prove successful, as it would the following month on the Italian Front at Caporetto. This set the approach for the great Ludendorff offensives of 1918.

The Riga offensive contained all the new elements: last-minute approach of fully briefed and highly trained troops, specialized units assigned to given tasks, short preliminary barrage that did not give the attack away, close coordination and support for infantry by carefully controlled  artillery  fire,  and  advance  and  infiltration  that  bypassed strongpoints and flowed through weak spots. The drive opened suddenly on 1 September. Two days later, Riga was German and the Baltic coast wide open. A week after that Kornilov attempted his coup. 

In the next month the Germans went on to overrun Latvia and the Baltic islands, creating an obvious threat to Petrograd, and in November Lenin seized power. Three weeks later he asked for an armistice. It took the Germans a week to reply, but hostilities along the Eastern Front  were  suspended  in  early  December.  The  representatives  of  the Central Powers and of the Bolsheviks met at Brest-Litovsk in Poland on 3 December  to discuss a peace settlement. Trotsky, ultimately representing the Soviets, was in a poor bargaining position. His government had already broadcast to the world a request for an immediate peace without annexations or war indemnities, which had been utterly ignored in  the  chancellories  of  the  belligerents. The  Allies  regarded  the Bolsheviks as traitors to the great cause and were already considering how  they  might  be  brought  down  and  Russia  kept  in  the  war.  

Signing of the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk

The Central Powers, having won at least this part of their war, were in no mood to listen to what they considered sophomoric and utopian schemes from their victims. In addition, the Bolsheviks’ domestic situation was far from secure. If they gave in too much to the Germans, they might well be overthrown at home; indeed, their power base was so insecure that they were still receiving financial support from Germany, and the Germans  were  still  paying  it  because  they  wanted  to  keep  the Bolsheviks afloat long enough to get their peace treaty negotiated.

Sources: A Short History of World War I by James Stokesbury; Over the Top, February 2018

Tuesday, July 20, 2021

Our Article #3,000: What's the Closest the German Army Got to Paris in 1918?


Present-Day View from the Marine Front Line
at Les Mares Farm

The answer is 45.3 miles. That is the distance from Les Mares Farm, located northwest of Château-Thierry, to the Eiffel Tower. It is the place where U.S. Marines held the line against the advancing German forces in the final stage of their third offensive of the spring, Operation Blücher.

Germans Advancing, May 1918

By 3 June, the German offensive had lost momentum and the French rearguard resistance stiffened. West of Château-Thierry, battered French units rallied behind the American 2nd Division’s line. South of the Marne river, fresh French units and the U.S. 3rd Division formed a defensive barrier.

Initially, the U.S. 2nd Division units were attached to the French 43rd and 164th Divisions. Taking position as they arrived on the field and thinly spread on a front of 15 km, soldiers of the 3rd Brigade were split on both flanks, with marines of the 4th Brigade in the center. . . On 3 June, the last exhausted rear guard French elements withdrew and regrouped behind the line formed by the marines and soldiers of the 2nd Division. During the evening of 3 June, the marines of 2nd Battalion, 5th Regiment, repulsed the attack of the German 273rd Reserve Infantry Regiment, 197th Division, at Les Mares Farm; this would be as close as the German Army would get to Paris for the remainder of the war. 

Marines Arriving in the Sector

The  accurate, long-range rifle fire by marines of the 2nd Battalion, 5th Regiment, supported by machine guns and artillery, stopped the massed attack of the German 197th Division’s 273rd Reserve Infantry Regiment, reinforced with the 26th Reserve Jaeger Battalion, in front of Les Mares Farm. This action, plus stiffened resistance all along the Allied line, stood as the highwater mark of the German spring offensive’s Operation Blücher.

Source:  The Bravest Deeds of Men, Colonel William T. Anderson (USMCR)

Literary Memories of World War One

By Modris Eksteins
Originally Published at the British Library Website, 29 Jan 2014

Crisis of authority

The war brought in its wake a crisis of authority of gargantuan proportions: political, economic, social, and, most strikingly, artistic. In the postwar years every book was a war book whether it dealt with the war or not. The war cast its pall over everything. The old comforting connections – the pleasing harmonies, rhymes, and colors – were gone. ‘It’s nice outside,’ wrote the French ex-serviceman and journalist Emmanuel Berl, ‘let’s go to the cemetery.’

Literature of commemoration

For those myriad grieving families who had suffered personal loss in the war, tradition provided some comfort – whichever side you were on. The millions of deaths had not been in vain. The extensive commemorative literature – regimental histories, reverent memoirs, and volumes of diplomatic documents – elicited short notices in the press and a quiet respect, but none of it stirred much debate.


For some, whose emotional pain was often excruciating, such accounts were superficial flimflam. For these survivors, whether soldiers or civilians, the war had transcended previous notions of reality and thus undermined all official explanation, indeed all external truth. Only personal experience remained. The upshot, projected by the title of C E Montague’s war memoir of 1922, was disenchantment, a profound and festering disillusionment with the world that had produced and waged the war. In this mindset, against the backdrop of the machine massacres of Flanders, Verdun, and the Somme, humor turned absurd, art increasingly provocative, and music decidedly experimental. In literature, too, old forms no longer sufficed. Even language was called into question. T S Eliot doubted its ability to capture essence; Franz Kafka termed it a lie; e e cummings, the American poet who had been an ambulance driver with the French, regarded all standard rules of writing, from grammar to punctuation to the capitalization of his own name, as fatuous restrictions, and Ernest Hemingway said famously in A Farewell to Arms (1929) that ‘abstract words such as glory, honor, courage or hallow were obscene’: only place names now possessed dignity. All the old slogans and values had been shattered as if hit by a monstrous artillery shell.

War boom   

For a decade publishers, convinced that the public did not wish to read about the war, resisted war material. Then suddenly in 1928-29, everything changed. The public couldn’t get enough of the war. Erich Maria Remarque’s All Quiet on the Western Front, first serialized in a Berlin newspaper in December 1928, led the way. It depicted the destruction of an entire class of students, one by one, not in order to make the world a better place but simply on account of the cupidity, arrogance, and narrow-mindedness of its elders. The book became a huge international success, the first genuine modern bestseller, rushed into some 30 translations around the world and filmed by Hollywood. In Germany Remarque was joined on the bestseller lists by Arnold Zweig, Ludwig Renn, and Ernst Glaeser; in England by the memoirists Edmund Blunden, Robert Graves, and Siegfried Sassoon, as well as the dramatist R C Sherriff, whose play Journey’s End had 594 performances at the Savoy and Prince of Wales theatres in London from 1929 to 1931. London buses were plastered with the words ‘All roads lead to Journey’s End.’ The notion of the ‘lost generation’ became common coinage. ‘It is time,’ wrote the respected American critic and veteran Malcolm Cowley in 1933, the year the decorated soldier Adolf Hitler took power in Germany, ‘for us to admit … that all of us fought in vain.’ The German Führer of course disagreed. For Germany, he claimed, the war had been a spiritual victory. Yet he, too, wished to reshape the world on the basis of his own experience, his personal struggle – Mein Kampf, as he called it. 

The end of history?

For many, fiction had displaced historical writing. The study of history, a dominant intellectual impulse of the late 19th century, was too constrained by rules; fiction represented freedom. In the 1920s everyone seemed to be waiting, not for the comprehensive historical account, but for the supreme literary masterpiece that, like Homer’s Iliad or Tolstoy’s War and Peace, would invoke and explain all. For Ernst Kantorowicz, author of a widely applauded biography of the medieval emperor Frederick II, the genres blended. At a conference of German historians in 1930 he stirred up a hornets’ nest when he suggested that ‘historical scholarship and historical fiction are, despite their mutual animosity, rightly interchangeable concepts.’

All is not quiet

Many of these issues, particularly the ongoing crisis of authority and the concomitant disintegration of category and definition, still resonate. Novelists and filmmakers keep being drawn to the First World War as a major source of this process of deconstruction and liberation. Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, Timothy Findley, Jane Urquhart, Sebastian Faulks, and Pat Barker, among others, have used the war as a setting to probe contemporary concerns about art, gender, social relations, psychology, and remembrance.

Monday, July 19, 2021

The Škoda 305 Howitzer

By James Patton

No doubt about it, WW1 was a gunner’s war, especially a big gun war. Before the war Krupp had produced the first of their 42cm Minenwerfer-Gerät, nicknamed Big Bertha. During the war the French and later the Americans dismounted large rifled naval cannon from the main turrets of obsolescent ships and installed them on railway carriages. And, of course, in 1918 the Germans built the super long range Paris guns. 

However, even the backward Austro-Hungarian Empire had its own big gun, which was likely the most effective one deployed in the war.

Established in 1859 as an engineering works, the future Škodawerke was based in Plzeň, in today’s Czech Republic. Emil Škoda (1839-1900) expanded the enterprise into the largest industrial firm in Austria-Hungary. During WW1 Škoda produced a variety of artillery, especially mountain guns and mortars, as well as small arms and machine guns, for the Dual Monarchy’s armies. 

The 30.5 cm M-11 Belagerungsmorser, familiarly known as the Schlanke Emma was first proposed by Škoda in 1906, and production started in 1911. Between 72 and 79 (sources differ) of these were produced up to the Armistice, including the lighter and longer range M-16 models that were effective against trench systems using the  Granatschrapnell round. 

The gun was quite modern in design, with safety devices on the breech, a recoil brake, and a hydraulic recuperator. The barrel elevation range was 40 to 70 degrees, and it could deliver a shell weighing 380 kg up to 9.6 km away with a ballistic force capable of penetrating two meters of reinforced concrete. The gun also came with its own transportable steel base box which usually made preparation of the firing site simple—no concrete pad was necessary. The gun crew was 15 to 17 men and the gun could fire 10 to 12 times per hour.

Transport Column

Perhaps the most important feature of the Škoda 30.5 was its transportability. The entire unit was contained on three carriages, one carriage each for the body, the barrel and the base box. The whole unit could be assembled or disassembled in less than an hour by the gun crew using jacks and hoists. The train of the three carriages was pulled by one or two 100-hp Škoda-Daimler M-12 15-ton tractors, depending on the terrain. Due to the slow speed of the tractors rail transport was necessary for long distance deployments but the battery could move itself to the firing site. 

In 1914 the Germans borrowed eight of the Škoda 30.5s for the reduction of the Belgian and French border forts, including the defenses of Antwerp, and later against Russian border forts like Osowiec. In the course of the war the Škoda 30.5’s were deployed in over 30 battles against Russian, Italian, French, Serb, and Belgian fortifications. 

Turret from Antwerp Fort Damaged by 305 Shell

After the, Romania and the new nations of Czechoslovakia and Yugoslavia incorporated leftover Škoda 30.5s into their armies. In the WWII era many of these passed into the hands of the German Wehrmacht, who employed them in Russia against Sevastopol, Leningrad, and other sites. There are four examples of Škoda 30.5s still extant: one is in Italy, one is in Serbia, and two are in Romania. Three of these are M-11s and one is an M-16.  

Today the name Škoda is still familiar, appearing on automobiles, railway vehicles, and electrical generating equipment. 

Sources include:

Sunday, July 18, 2021

Afghanistan and the Forming of the Triple Entente

By Beryl Williams

The Liberals took office in Great Britain in December 1905. On 13 December Foreign Minister Edward Grey assured Benckendorff, the Russian ambassador, that he was in favor of an agreement with Russia. Sir Arthur Nicolson arrived in St. Petersburg as the new British ambassador on 28 May, having 'talked entente in and out, up and down' with Grey, Chancellor of the Exchequer Herbert Asquith and Lord John Morley, Secretary of State for India, before leaving London. Formal negotiations were launched on 7 June. The Russians were far more willing to  receive overtures than they had been in 1905. The appointment of Aleksandr  Izvolskii to the Russian Foreign Ministry signified a turn from Asian adventures and a renewed interest in the Balkans and European problems. However Izvolskii was to have similar troubles with the military in Russia, and for similar reasons, as Grey had with the Government of India.  

The negotiators had overlapping objectives. Russia wished to strengthen its hold on its Asiatic empire without fear of British interference. The British wish to maintain a cordon sanitaire around its imperial crown jewel, India. 

The negotiations turned out to be long and difficult and were more than once on the point of breaking down completely. All three areas concerned—Persia, Afghanistan, and Tibet, were interwoven during the discussions and there were long periods of quiescence. From the 21st century view, of these, dealing with Afghanistan would prove the trickiest and central issue.

It was with Afghanistan that the Government of India was chiefly concerned, as Kitchener's memorandum raising alarm about Russia's intentions indicated. Relations between Great Britain and Afghanistan were peculiar. The external relations of Afghanistan had been under British control for the last twenty-five years and Britain was pledged by treaty to safeguard the integrity of the Amir's dominions. The Amir received through India money, arms and advice yet the actual situation belied this apparently close, protected-protector relationship. No British or Indian agent was allowed to reside in Kabul, and Simla depended on an unreliable Afghan agent who was little better than a prisoner. The British  complained that they had no way of receiving reliable information about the country they were pledged to defend. The Amir refused to allow them to construct the roads, railways and telegraphs thought necessary for his defense and was not adverse to intriguing with the Russians and India's rebellious border tribes.

Click to Enlarge

1907 Understanding

By 1903 the Russians had acquired a long common border with Afghanistan and were demanding contact with the Amir for the settlement of border disputes which it was difficult to refuse. They were also trying to establish a commercial agent at Kabul, and India was again worried at the difficulty of separating commerce from politics. In 1905 the Dane mission was sent from India to impress the new Amir, and a new British-Afghan treaty was signed which left Afghanistan's external relations in British hands. It remained to settle the problem of Russian contacts.

Nicolson was permitted to open negotiations on Afghanistan in September 1906 but these were delayed on his request while the more pressing problem of Persia was dealt with. Grey's draft proposals were finally submitted on 23 February 1907, once the Russian proposals on Persia made the prospect of agreement seem sufficiently good to warrant it.

The final Convention was a pacific enough looking document. The British declared that they had no intention of changing the political status of Afghanistan, and would exercise influence at Kabul in a pacific and in no way anti-Russian sense. The Anglo-Afghan treaty of 1905 was reaffirmed and Britain renounced any intention of occupying or annexing the country or of interfering in internal affairs with the saving clause; as long as Afghanistan kept her treaty commitments.

The Convention acknowledged the already existing Russo-Afghan communications over local issues by the frontier officers of both sides, and established the principle of the Russian right to equality of trading opportunities and facilities with the Indians in this region. Both these were to furnish cause for future difficulties.

Both sides regarded the Convention regarding Afghanistan as by no means the least important part of the whole entente, especially as it would be the section most noticed by the general public. Morley admitted to the Viceroy that 'the public will not trouble itself deeply about Tibet or even about Persia so long as the Gulf is kept in status quo. But any yielding about Afghanistan or even any contingent disturbance there will provoke, and rightly provoke, a fierce row.  Izvolskii, in an interview with Edward VII at Marienbad shortly after the entente was signed, also remarked that it was to this area that most attention would be paid in Russia.  When the accord was executed in 1907 Grey stated  it had secured 'us forever, as far as a treaty could secure us, from further Russian advances in the direction of the Indian frontier.' This was ultimately a question of faith in Russia's good intentions, and on this issue Grey's apparent optimism was not shared either by Curzon or by Curzon's successor in Delhi. 

Source: November 2007 Over the Top

Friday, July 16, 2021

Remembering a Veteran: Brigadier General John Henry "Gatling Gun" / “Machine Gun” Parker, AEF

By Terrence J. Finnegan

Colonel John H. Parker

Brigadier General [rank awarded upon final retirement] John Henry “Machine Gun” Parker, was born on a farm near Tipton, Missouri, and graduated as the 3498th cadet from West Point, class of 1892. His initial notoriety during the Spanish-American War earned him the tag “Gatling Gun Parker.”
In the advance on Santiago, Parker proposed to take one of the two Gatling guns which the Americans had with them and fire over the heads of the front line to check and advance from the Spanish reserves. It was an amazingly innovative application of an evolving weapon system. Parker’s idea was executed—a stream of bullets went over the heads and far beyond the advancing American line and successfully kept back the enemy from reinforcing their front line.

Years later, Lieutenant General Bullard reflected on Parker’s accomplishment with, “In the Spanish-American War at the battle of Santiago, Parker demonstrated to the military world, for the first time, the value of the machine gun which, although existent long before that war, had never been understood or demonstrated as a valuable weapon. You know how the World War proved it. Parker’s mind and conception had run far ahead of the advanced military minds of the world.”
In 1903 Captain John H. Parker was assigned to Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, and organized a “model of unit of machine guns,” the precursor of the machine gun company—further demonstrating what machine guns could do. Parker authored several books that caught the public’s attention on this and other military subjects that reflected a broad and deep intellectual capacity. His first book, The Gatlings at Santiago, put Parker into the limelight both within the U.S. Army and the public at large. His follow-on work, Tactical Organization and Uses of Machine Guns in the Field and Citizen Soldiers, both addressed significant applications of modern weapons as well as innovative roles for the evolving modern U.S. Army. Parker
reflected later in life that his Tactical Organization and Uses of Machine Guns met the test of time at Château-Thierry. “Never in all the history of the military art has any text been so perfectly vindicated as that little book, though it was 20 years before its vindication came.”

Parker’s intellect proved a challenge, for he knew he had a good idea and kept badgering seniors and superiors, including President Theodore Roosevelt, with recommendations to create a machine-gun corps with himself as a brigadier general at its head. His manner and self promotion infuriated Major General J. Franklin Bell. “He’s a pestiferous, immodest ass,” Bell wrote to the assistant secretary of war, “but has much ability notwithstanding and his disagreeable qualities must simply be tolerated for the sake of his usefulness.” Bell did allow Parker to continue work—this time with Company A, 20th Infantry, to experiment further the role of machine guns in war. Parker’s work continued to be valued, but his recommendations for a separate branch beyond infantry and cavalry was dismissed.

One of Parker's Gattling Gun Crews in Cuba

Pershing knew Parker. Parker served Pershing during the Mexican expedition against Pancho Villa. The two were talking one evening in January 1917 when Parker predicted Pershing was to become either chief of staff or commander of an expedition to France. Pershing was taken aback as if he didn’t see that happening. Four months later, Pershing commenced organizing his command and soldiers to proceed to France. Parker became part of the initial crew of experts that arrived in France with Pershing, providing guidance and direction on how machine guns were to be employed by follow-on U.S. Army forces through the automatic weapons schools that he stood up and ran the Automatic Weapons School at Gondrecourt and Langres.
As the director, Lieutenant Colonel Parker that summer conducted a tour of a French training center for automatic weapons. In his report Parker announced, “We are both convinced…the day of the rifleman is done. He was a good horse while he lasted, but his day is over…The rifleman is passing out and the bayonet is fast becoming obsolete as the crossbow.” The report was not well received at Chaumont. Lieutenant Colonel Paul B. Malone, heading GHQ AEF’s training section, scribbled on his copy of Parker’s note, “speak for yourself, John.”Parker mused, “Personally, I prefer the use of machine guns which gives then a chance to come out alive to the one that practically insures the death of more then fifty percent and loss of one-half the guns. I believe in first line machine gun work when it is necessary, and use it when it is necessary. It was necessary at Seicheprey. It was used at Seicheprey. It was necessary at Bois de Remieres,and was used at Bois de Remieres.”

Parker knew almost all of the Chaumont staff. Once Captain George Patton drove him north to observe British operations. When they were returning from the visit, Patton accidentally drove into a railroad gate and received a serious gash to the head. Parker bandaged Patton and took him to a nearby hospital. Later that month the two linked up again when Patton was visiting Parker’s machine gun school. Patton recalled Parker “insisted on calling me major.”
Colonel Parker had a remarkable family. His wife served with him in the Philippines and was instrumental in establishing schools for the natives in areas that were considered hostile. His son, Captain Henry Burr Parker, a non-graduating member of West Point, class of 1914, was in theater at the same time but assigned to the 3rd Field Artillery. The two managed to link up when Parker ran the Automatic Weapons School. Henry Burr Parker also served as an aerial observer while assigned as an artillery man flying with four different escadrilles and two Aero Squadrons. On two occasions he was shot down and survived.

On 13 January 1918, Parker received a phone call directing him to report to General Harbord, Chief of Staff. Parker was teaching the “Suicide Club,” members learning to become machine gun operators. He opined that the school was the best system of training machine gun operators in the world and it made a success of American Arms possible. On that day Parker became an  adopted son of the “Old Nutmeg State.” Harbord told Parker that the 102nd Infantry was in bad shape. The 26th "Yankee" Division was going in the front line and something had to be done quickly. All the 102nd field officers had been relieved and sent to other duties. “Someone must put a soul into that outfit, and General Pershing has personally selected you as the man he believes best fitted to do it.” Parker replied, “Say to General Pershing that no officer trained as I have could possibly refuse such an assignment. I will do my best to make good on the new job.” Harbord concluded the discussion with, “That is exactly what General Pershing expected you to say. Now I shall try to repeat his exact words….Tell Colonel Parker there will be a pair of stars hung up on the Chemin des Dames for him. Tell him to go and get them!”

Men of the Yankee Division at Seicheprey

Two weeks after Parker talked with Harbord, he met General Edwards. It suggested an air of paranoia. Edwards was reserved. “I understand you are sent by General Pershing?” “Yes, General, I was so informed.” “Great friend of yours?” “I have served on his staff twice, General; but do not claim to be at all intimate with him. On the contrary, our relations have usually been strictly formal and official. Of course I admire him greatly.” “Know Chaumont pretty well, I suppose?” “No General; never was stationed there.” “But you know all that group at Chaumont, of course. Did you hear any comment about me there, any indication that I might be relieved of command of the 26th Division?” “My assignment is to take command of a regiment in your Division, General. I have heard no gossip, and would not listen to it if I did. I expect to give you all the loyalty due to my Division Commander, just as I was loyal to Pershing while I served on his staff, and to do the very best I can for the regiment.” The exchange assuaged Edwards’ fears, responding with, “I know you John Henry, and am glad to have you in my command. I shall remember what you have said. Can you, in addition to your other duties, help train the machine guns of the Division?”
Colonel Parker loved to banter with French liaison officer Commandant (Major) Alain du Boisrouvray, who later described the man as “unusually tall, shoulders too wide for his size with a small round head—a head with a short nose and a round chin. He looked like a gigantic Buffalo Bill. He claimed to speak fluent French, Spanish and English—a fact that was somewhat true because he would consistently mix the three languages into one sentence.” One evening at Chemin des Dames Colonel Parker called du Boisrouvray to his headquarters and proceeded to say in a loud voice, “Boar-Rouvray, my friend, I found a way to end the war.” Du Boisrouvray was puzzled. “Yes,” Parker continued, “simply change the spirit, take the offensive spirit of the Crusades…the spirit of Joan of Arc!” In a quiet voice he stated, “Do you know Mademoiselle St. Paul?” Du Boisrouvray replied “I answered that I had heard about her. Parker trumpeted, “Well, here is the new Joan of Arc! It is mademoiselle St. Paul!” Parker met her at Soissons wearing a nurse’s uniform that prominently displayed a red cross! Du Boisrouvray said John Henry Parker always saw big! Parker commanded the 102nd Infantry, the regiment he fondly called his “Nutmegs.

Parker was in his element when the 102nd Infantry assumed command at Beaumont at the southern Woëvre front. He was very energetic. In every phone call he received, he proudly answered “Headquarters Division.” Parker was quick to explain the array of machine gun deployments on the map. “Machine guns everywhere! More Germans nowhere!”  [See the author's article on the most notable action of the Yankee Division while Parker was attached, the Seicheprey Raid, HERE.] Parker’s potential to achieve further command was not hampered by lack of courage. General Edwards cited Parker twelve times in division orders for distinguished contact in battle.  

He did not finish the war unscathed.  After the action at Seicheprey, he was given several new assignments culminating in being named commander of the 362nd Infantry of the 91st "Wild West" Division that went over the top on the first day of the Meuse-Argonne Offensive.  Three days into the battle, Parker  was severely wounded twice. He spent the rest of the year hospitalized. The war and the fighting career of Machine Gun Parker were over.

John Henry Parker was a recipient of four Distinguished Service Crosses while serving as 102nd Infantry commander in battle—an incredible legacy and statement of the man. 

Parker's Grave at the Presidio of San Francisco


This article is excerpted from Terry Finnegan's history A Delicate Affair on the Western Front: America Learns How to Fight a Modern War in the Woëvre Trenches. To purchase the book or for other articles and material on World War I, Air Intelligence and Reconnaissance, and Military Aviation, visit the author's website:

Thursday, July 15, 2021

2 August, 1914: Treaty of Alliance Between Germany and Turkey

Signatories Grand Vizier Said Halim Pasha and German Ambassador Baron Hans von Wangenheim

A secret treaty was concluded between the Ottoman Empire and the German Empire on August 2, 1914. The Ottomans were to enter the war on the side of the Central Powers one day after the German Empire declared war on Russia. The alliance was ratified on 2 August by many high-ranking Ottoman officials, including Grand Vizier Said Halim Pasha, the Minister of War Enver Pasha, the Interior Minister Talat Pasha, and Head of Parliament Halil Bey. Austria-Hungary adhered to the Ottoman-German treaty on 5 August. However, Turkey did not go to war when Germany went to war against Russia.

It seems not all members of the Ottoman government accepted the alliance. There was no signature from the Sultan Mehmed V, who was nominally in charge of the army but had little power. The third member of the cabinet of the Three Pashas, Cemal Pasha, also did not sign the treaty as he had tried to form an alliance with France. 

Berlin grew annoyed as the Ottomans stalled but offered two ships and a large loan. On the 29 October 1914, the Ottomans entered the war after their fleet had bombarded Russian ports on orders from Enver Pasha.

On 22 January 1915, a more general alliance was signed between the Ottoman Empire and Germany that was to last into 1920. On 28 September 1916, a treaty against separate peace was signed. In 17 October 1917, the 1915 treaty was amended to enhance military cooperation between the empires. On March 21 1916, Austria-Hungary had joined the Ottoman-German pact.

Russia declared war on Turkey on 3 November 1914, and on 5 November 1914, Great Britain and France also declared against Turkey.

First and Last Pages of the 2 August Document

Treaty of Constantinople, 2 August  1914

1. The two contracting parties agree to observe strict neutrality in regard to the present conflict between Austria-Hungary and Serbia.

2. In case Russia should intervene with active military measures, and should thus bring about a casus foederis for Germany with relation to Austria-Hungary, this casus foederis would also come into existence for Turkey.

3. In case of war, Germany will leave her military mission at the disposal of Turkey. The latter, for her part, assures the said military mission an effective influence on the general conduct of the army, in accordance with the understanding arrived at directly between His Excellency the Minister of War and His Excellency the Chief of the Military Mission.

4. Germany obligates herself, if necessary by force of arms ... [cipher group lacking] Ottoman territory in case it should be threatened.

5. This agreement which has been concluded for the purpose of protecting both Empires from international complications which may result from the present conflict goes into force as soon as it is signed by the above-mentioned plenipotentiaries, and shall remain valid, together with any similar mutual agreements, until 31 December 1918.

6. In case it shall not be denounced by one of the high contracting parties six months before the expiration of the term named above, this treaty shall remain in force for a further period of five years.

7. This present document shall be ratified by His Majesty the German Emperor, King of Prussia, and by His Majesty the Emperor of the Ottomans, and the ratifications shall be exchanged within a period of one month from the date of its signing.

8. The present treaty shall remain secret and can only be made public as a result of an agreement arrived at between the two high contracting parties. In testimony whereof, etc.



(With regard to 3: The Turks wished to use this phraseology in view of the fact that His Majesty the Sultan is the Commander-in-Chief of the Turkish army. General Liman, however, had officially informed me in advance that he had arranged a detailed agreement with the Minister of War Enver which provided the Military Mission with the actual chief command -- as required by your telegram 275....)


Sources:  Upcoming Armageddon Blog; WWI Document Archive; Wikipedia

Wednesday, July 14, 2021

Hell Spit: One of the Many Names at Anzac


Original Sign (Australian War Memorial Collection)

The Anzac area of Gallipoli became a miniature version of the Western Front. More than 200,000 men packed into a battlefield 1.5 miles square, about the size of San Francisco's Golden Gate Park.

Soon after the initial landings, countless trenches and tunnels cut through the rocky soil like capillaries, bringing fresh blood forward and carrying the wounded back. The soldiers assigned each of these features' nicknames. One narrow stretch of no man’s land was known in Turkish as bomba sirt, or “Bomber Ridge,” because of the near-constant exchange of hand-tossed grenades.  On the other side of the line, the Anzacs proved to be prolific and imaginative name givers.

A Sampler of Anzac Names
Note Location of Hell Spit

The convoluted lines required intimate familiarity with every fold of ground. Geographical features and trench complexes were all named, giving historical accounts a fantastical flavor. Men fought from, in, and over places like the Nek, the Pimple, Dead Man’s Ridge, Battleship Hill, Lone Pine, the Daisy Patch, Plugge’s Plateau, the Sphinx, Courtney’s Post, Shrapnel Valley, Baby 700, and Hell Spit. Since "Hell Spit's" etymology is both apt and easily demonstrated visually, let's look at it briefly.

Aerial View of Hell Spit and Beach Cemetery
Plugge's Plateau to Right

The slight headland destined to be nicknamed Hell Spit is the southern-most point of  the crescent-curved beach of 1000-yard-long Anzac Cove. It was so named because it was the most exposed part of the area held by Anzac troops. The  Ottoman artillery on the headland of Gaba Tepe to the south, bombarded Hell Spit during the day, as did the artillery to the north.

View of Hell Spit from the Northern End of Anzac Cove

Nonetheless, it was a position that had to be held and manned through the entire campaign.  Just inland from here is Shrapnel Valley, which connects the Anzac front line to the beach. Shrapnel Valley was a lifeline—all the stores went up this valley and all the wounded were evacuated back down it. 

View Inland from Hell Spit

At Hell Spit, its "Beach Cemetery" was one of the first graveyards established during the Anzac campaign, and most of the dead had to be reburied a number of times because their bodies kept being blown out of their graves. Today, Beach Cemetery holds the remains of 391 Commonwealth soldiers. The most famous burial is of Private John Simpson Kirkpatrick, the "Man with a Donkey."

Beach Cemetery Today

The name of the first Digger who coined "Hell Spit" is lost to history, but we can be sure when his mates first heard him utter those words, they said to themselves, "Why that's a right proper name for this bloody never never, mate."

Sources: Slate; Wiki Commons, Australian War Memorial, and Donna Gaye, Roads Research Director

Tuesday, July 13, 2021

Answering the Call: Erie County, Pennsylvania in World War One.

Prepared & Published by the Erie County World War One Centennial Committee, 2021.

Reviewed  by Peter L. Belmonte

The Erie County World War One Centennial Committee was formed in August 2018 with the goal of remembering the contributions of the men and women of the county to the American effort in World War I. Their idea to create a plaque with the names of the 190 Erie County men who died in service during the war resulted in their research to find more information about the men. In addition to discovering another eleven men who made the supreme sacrifice, they accumulated enough material to make this book possible. There are several editors listed along with twenty-two contributing authors. The chief editors are: Mary Jane Phillips Koenig, Susan Bowser Mueller, Ann Silverthorn, and Bill Welch.

Answering the Call is divided into short chapters covering many different aspects of Erie County’s war effort. A brief review of some of the chapters will suffice to give the reader an idea of the scope and content of the book. Initial chapters provide an overview of the progress of the war to 1917, a brief history of the county’s involvement in the war, and an explanation of the criteria for inclusion in the list of the dead. The next chapter gives a brief vignette of each Erie County serviceman who died during the war, including a few who died while in the service of another country. Accompanying most of the vignettes is a small portrait of each man.

Subsequent chapters are devoted to vignettes of other men from the county and a brief look at units composed largely of men from Pennsylvania. These include the 28th, 79th, and 80th Divisions. A separate chapter covers the men of the 313th Machine Gun Battalion, 80th Division, and their service during the Meuse-Argonne Offensive.

All the County's Fallen Are Remembered

One chapter is devoted to Benjamin and Carrie Lawson, an African American couple who gave four sons to military service. All four returned home safely at war’s end. In another chapter Ann Silverthorn covers the history of her paternal grandfather’s brother who was killed in action while serving with American forces, and also his paternal grandmother’s brother who was killed in action while serving with German forces. As Silverthorn states, “Imagine the sad conversation they [the author’s grandparents] must have had when they were first getting to know each other” (p. 117).

The editors devote a full chapter of Answering the Call to covering the industrial support given by Erie County to the war effort; products included engines, paper (including sheet music), bombs, and boilers. Another fine section of several chapters covers the work of the women of Erie County during the war. They served in the Red Cross and other auxiliary organizations, they worked in industries, they served as nurses, and they raised money for the war effort.

A chapter covering the pilgrimage of Gold Star Mothers to Europe in the early 1930s provides a sad coda to the story of women on the home front. Other chapters cover the 1918 flu epidemic, the visit of a captured German U-Boat to Erie, the departure of Erie’s U.S. Naval Reserve men for duty in April 1917. Another chapter lists the various awards and decorations, including non-medal awards, which men and women could earn during the war; it closes with a list of eight men from Erie County who earned the Distinguished Service Cross, along with the appropriate citations. The final chapters cover the building and dedication of the Veterans Memorial Stadium to honor the county’s fallen in 1924 plus several more vignettes covering the service of specific soldiers.

Erie County's Industry Made Many Contributions to
the Nation's War Effort

The editors have included a helpful guide for genealogists, historians and others who want to research American servicemen. In addition, a complete list of the men from Erie County is included. The book is heavily illustrated with  photographs of soldiers, places, equipment, etc. It is highly recommended to those readers interested in how the war affected American communities.

For Purchasing  Answering the Call: Erie County, Pennsylvania in World War One:

·  $22 per softbound copy,  plus $5.00 shipping, with all proceeds going toward the maintenance and upkeep of the World War I memorial at Erie County Veterans Memorial Park. 

·  For information on the book, or to request a copy, email or call 814-868-2225. 

Monday, July 12, 2021

The Cypriot Mule Corps in the Great War


The role played by British colonies during the Great War is only now starting to emerge in the last decade or so. This article aims to include Cyprus among those colonies that contributed enormously to the British war effort, such as India, Jamaica and the former settler colonies. Before the war, Cyprus was an "inconsequential possession," and during the first two years of the war it played a very minor role, when for the most part it served as a pawn to lure Greece into the war, which failed when Athens rejected the British offer to cede Cyprus to Greece in exchange for Greece coming to the military aid of Serbia in October 1915. From the summer of 1916, soon after the British and French signed the Sykes–Picot Agreement, the island became a bustling military and humanitarian base, while it also fed and fueled the Allied armies in Egypt, Macedonia, and France. 

Its most significant contribution was undoubtedly the formation of the Cypriot Mule Corps in summer 1916. Cypriot muleteers served in the British Army mostly on the Macedonian Front during the First World War. Until it was dissolved in April 1920, over 12,000 men had served at one time or another, a staggering number given the small size of the island, representing 25 percent of the male population aged 18–35. Some 3500 mules and 3000 ponies were also involved.

The contribution of the island and its people says much about imperial loyalty as well as the social fabric of a Mediterranean island emerging after centuries of Ottoman rule to the modernizing influences of Great Britain. The British government used the existing economic problems in Cyprus to attract Cypriot support. For some Cypriots joining the war, serving in the army was the only way to provide a livelihood for their family. In fact, Turkish Cypriots participated in the Great War against the Ottoman Empire.  At least 38 of the muleteers died in service.  The muleteers were so successful that they were called back for service in the Second World War, seeing action in Greece, Italy, the Middle East, and North Africa.

Sources: "The Impact of the Cypriot Contribution During the Great War" by Andrekos Varnava, First World War Studies, August 2016; "The Cypriot Mule Corps in the First World War," Nur Centiner.


Sunday, July 11, 2021

A Dozen Photos from Verdun's Memorial Museum

Click on Images to Enlarge

Contemporary Graphic Novel

French Reenactors

Lt. Col. Driant's Command Post at Opening of Battle

German Artillery Unit

Stormtrooper Grenade Bags

Stretcher Teams

French Casualty

Post of Command 118

German Aviator's Helmet

Present Day View of Ossuary & National Cemetery

Bois de Cauires After the Battle

Fort Douaumont Today