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

Tuesday, September 26, 2023

Aviator, Historian, Collector Javier Arango on Flying the Ground-breaking Fokker D.VIII

Fokker D.VIII, photo © Philip Makanna
(Note Wing Thickness)

A selection from the forthcoming collection of essays by the late Javier Arango, The Nature of World War I Aircraft (Ghosts, 2023)


"The Fokker D.VIII"

Anthony Fokker was one of the most prolific aircraft designers working during World War I. His aircraft became closely associated with many of Germany’s famous aces, such as Oswald Boelcke, Max Immelmann, Ernst Udet, and Manfred von Richthofen. Fokker was an agile and daring entrepreneur and excelled at quick and dynamic experimentation. By the end of the war, he and his team of designers must have amassed a tremendous amount of knowledge concerning fighter aircraft design.

The Fokker D.VIII was his last operational fighter before the Armistice, and as such should have represented the epitome of his design philosophy. The aircraft, however, is something of a paradox. It is extremely modern in some respects but retains some traits that seem rooted in an earlier time.

One of the most remarkable aspects of the D.VIII is the fact that it is a monoplane. Fokker had achieved early success with a wing-warping monoplane, the Eindecker, which became the terror of the skies over the Western Front. He then evolved the Eindecker into a biplane that had only moderate success. Probably Fokker’s most famous and recognizable design was a triplane. Subsequently he experimented with biplanes, triplanes, sesquiplanes, monoplanes, and even one airplane with five wings. That his last design of the war was a monoplane is revealing. Fokker was an expert pilot himself. He had the privilege of experiencing very many configurations in flight and had developed an uncanny ability to sense relative advantages in performance and subtle differences in handling qualities. The D.VIII’s monoplane configuration was no accident. Fokker was exploiting an aerodynamic reality—monoplanes are more efficient than airplanes with multiple wings, each of which inevitably interferes with the airflow of the other.

This fact must have been known to Fokker and to other designers, but the key difficulty was in the execution. The predominant biplane configuration of the day had many practical advantages that compensated for its aerodynamic inefficiency. The engineering of externally braced biplanes was simple and intuitive. It used rectangular, cross-braced trusses, commonly known and seen in many structures, such as bridges. This building technique was easily scalable. The construction of the wings themselves could be imprecise because small errors could be simply “rigged out” by adjusting the lengths of the members joining the wings to one another and to the fuselage.

Monoplanes, on the other hand, had either to support the wing externally with wires, as in the Eindecker, or to provide sufficient internal structure to support the wing as a cantilever. The obvious aerodynamic preference would have been to eliminate the external wires altogether. But then the wing would need a strong, deep spar, which would have made it heavy and thick, two attributes that were considered inimical to efficiency.

Fortunately, Fokker had previous experience with thick cantilever wings. Thanks to his willingness to try any conceivable idea, and even to pull together existing ideas that in isolation had little success, he had experimented with thick wings years earlier. There is speculation as to where Fokker got his idea for the thick wing and whether he copied it from the engineer and industrialist Hugo Junkers, who was building thick cantilever wings made entirely out of metal early in the war. As with many other Fokker innovations, the source of the initial idea may be in doubt, but the successful embodiment of the idea in a practical, useful product is not. Unlike Junkers’ airplanes, Fokker’s were extremely practical and effective. The Fokker Dr.I already used three cantilever wings with thick airfoils. The D.VI turned the triplane into a biplane, still using thick airfoils. The D.VII, arguably the best aircraft of WWI, also used thick airfoils. It was no accident that Fokker felt comfortable enough with his cantilever wings and thick airfoils to produce an internally braced monoplane.

Early D.VIII Prototype (period photo not in the book)

Contrary to the view prevalent at the time, the thick airfoil was actually superior. Fokker knew from experience that thick airfoils actually did not add much drag, if any, at high speed, and that they had much better characteristics than thin airfoils when flown slowly, at larger angles of attack. Fokker had the technology to build a single cantilever wing while keeping it within weight restrictions. He avoided metal or other exotic materials—high-strength aluminum alloys were not yet available (Junkers had used extremely thin sheet steel)—and instead used wood. His factory workers required little training to produce the new wing. Fokker achieved a wing that was easy to build, relatively light, structurally efficient because its thin plywood skin, unlike the more conventional linen, was a load-carrying part of the structure, and aerodynamically highly efficient as well. As always, Fokker innovated by combining existing ideas with proprietary experimentation in order to produce a practical, useful machine. The resulting Fokker D.VIII is an astounding aircraft. Its wing looks completely out of place among other WWI airplanes; it seems to belong to a 1940s-era fighter.

I have been fortunate to fly a Fokker D.VIII powered by a 160-hp Gnôme rotary engine. The D.VIII has an amazing climb rate and is also fast in level flight. When maneuvering, the D.VIII shares a very positive characteristic with the other thick-airfoil Fokkers—it can achieve very high angles of attack while giving the pilot a comfortable feeling that the wing will not suddenly stall and go out of control. Contemporary airplanes with thin airfoils, like the Sopwith Camel and the Nieuports, can turn sharply but, without warning, will suddenly fall out of control. The D.VIII will continue to “mush” through a turn, gradually alerting its pilot that it needs more speed. This quality is extremely useful in dogfights, where controlled, tight turns to the maximum ability of a wing confer an important advantage. Landing the D.VIII is also simpler because it stalls gradually toward the ground, giving the pilot a larger margin of error in the flare.

The D.VIII’s most remarkable characteristic, however, is that, unlike most other WWI airplanes, it has ailerons that actually work very well. Fokker had not only perfected his wing design but had also finally come up with the correct configuration for the ailerons. They were very long and narrow and completely embedded into the wing, so that no turbulence-producing gap opened when they deflected. The D.VIII therefore rolls like a modern airplane, sharply and with little of what is called adverse yaw—the tendency of the nose to swing away from the direction of a banked turn, owing to the greater drag of the downgoing aileron.

Given all these successful design characteristics, would I qualify the D.VIII as Fokker’s best fighter? No. The Fokker D.VII, for example, is more powerful, faster, easier to fly, and has a better engine. For dogfighting, the tiny Fokker D.VI, with its short wingspan and very light weight, may be superior to the D.VIII. The constraints of a practical world where Germany was losing a war of attrition and running out of supplies interfered with the D.VIII’s success. The D.VIII was the best Fokker could do given a relatively weak and practically obsolete Oberursel rotary engine. The Oberursel was no match for the new generation of Allied engines or even for the German in-line Mercedes and BMWs that yielded nearly twice the horsepower, but it was relatively plentiful at a time when the better engines were practically unavailable. So the ever pragmatic Fokker designed the D.VIII to be the best airplane it could be, using an outdated engine and facing enemy aircraft that were becoming more dependent on power and speed than on sheer maneuverability. He knew what he was doing. In order to compete with the more powerful fighters, he made the D.VIII remarkably light. It weighed only two-thirds as much as the Mercedes-powered D.VII. To make it easy to build, the fuselage was simply square, not streamlined, and was based on structural techniques already used in previous Fokker aircraft. The cockpit was miserably equipped. The D.VIII was evidently designed to quickly get an effective aircraft to the front. Unfortunately, haste in production and design also led to wing failures that ended up grounding it.

The Fokker D.VIII is a desperate airplane, made not to be the best air-superiority fighter but to be the best fighter that could exist amid the very challenging realities of a nation about to collapse. Fokker did succeed in delivering an easy airplane to build, with an available, though obsolete, engine. The D.VIII’s light weight gave it excellent climb capability. Its rotary engine, which did not need to be warmed up, allowed it to get into the air quickly in order to defend against invading airplanes. Once airborne, it had the advantage of being fast and rolling quickly into turns. And, very important, it could be flown effectively by inexperienced pilots who surely enjoyed the docile handling characteristics provided by its excellent, futuristic, thick-airfoil wing. 

[Originally published as "The Fokker E.V/D.VIII" in Jim Wilberg, et al. Aviators of the Great War: The Aviation Art of Steve Anderson. Aeronaut Books, Indio, CA, 2014. Reprinted with permission]

The Nature of World War I Aircraft—Collected Essays by Javier Arango, with photos by noted aviation photographer Philip Makanna is expected to be available for purchase in December. We will alert our readers as soon as it can be acquired. Here are the cover and table of contents for the book:

Monday, September 25, 2023

The First Ace: Second Lieutenant Adolphe Célestin Pégoud — A Roads Classic

Pégoud Receiving the Croix de Guerre

The term "ace" was first used in World War I when French newspapers described Adolphe Pégoud (1889–1915) as l'as (French for "ace") after he shot down five German aircraft. After serving in the French Army he pursued a career in aviation and received his private pilot's license in March 1913.

While he was a test pilot for Blériot, he was credited with being the first aviator to fly a loop, although it was discovered much later that a Russian pilot had preceded him by 13 days, and, also to be the first pilot to jump with a parachute from his aircraft. Joining the French Air Service he was assigned to fly a Maurice Farman over the Argonne sector, where he achieved his five victories.

Click Image to Enlarge
Immortalized in Comics

After gaining a sixth victory, Pégoud was shot down and killed on 31 August 1915 by one of his prewar students, Walter Kandulski. 

Pégoud's Tomb at Montparnasse Cemetery, Paris

Sources:  Tony Langley Collection, Wikipedia, Traces of War and

Sunday, September 24, 2023

The Very Big Problem of Shipping the AEF Over There

By Leo P. Hirrel 

Prior to resuming unrestricted submarine warfare, the German government calculated that even if the United States could adjust its industrial might to war production, it would be unable to transport and resupply an army across the ocean. To be sure, the Army Transport Service originated in 1898, and its troopships began crossing the Pacific the following year in response to American annexation of the Philippines. Yet these ships were not suitable for moving troops across the Atlantic, because their slow speed left them vulnerable to submarines and they could not carry enough coal for the return voyage. Even if this small fleet were suitable, it could not carry nearly enough soldiers to make a difference. 

Nonetheless, the United States was determined to send an infantry division to France by early summer if only to reassure its allies. A civilian advisory committee identified seven suitable passenger ships that were available. Although sufficient to move the token force, clearly this fleet would never work for the millions of soldiers destined for France.

Help was on the way from a most unwilling source. In 1914, ships from the German passenger fleet sought protection from the British Navy in the then-neutral harbors of the United States. As war with the United States appeared more likely, the Germans recognized that these ships might be seized, but they believed they could keep these ships from being used against them without their total destruction.

They ripped apart the giant steam cylinders within the engine rooms, believing that it would require over two years to replace them. Disregarding maritime customs, the U.S. Navy chose to repair the existing steam cylinders instead of replacing them, which placed the ships in operation relatively quickly. Altogether the United States gained 20 passenger ships this way, including the giant Vaterland, which became the famed Leviathan. These ships played a critical role in the early part of moving the U.S. Army to Europe. 

The USS Allen Convoying the USS Leviathan

The Army acquired other passenger ships through a variety of means. The  government exercised its right to commandeer use of existing passenger ships and those under construction, with payment to the owners. The United States solicited neutral nations for permission to charter their ships, and for the most part, neutral nations agreed because the war drastically reduced passenger commerce. The Netherlands, however, was unwilling to agree, so the United States simply employed a seldom-used belligerents' right to commandeer neutral property within its boundaries by seizing Dutch passenger ships in American ports, with compensation.

Ships were re-configured for the maximum numbers of passengers, and soldiers slept in shifts. Altogether, 347 ships made a total of 1,228 voyages. Even with these acquisitions, the United States still lacked the means to move its army across the ocean. To meet the gap, Great Britain provided its own passenger ships and cargo ships that had been converted to passenger ships. By the summer of 1918, the combined fleet was sufficient to move over 200,000 soldiers per month. 

Cargo proved to be the more difficult problem. Before 1917, about half of the American merchant marine was engaged in coastal trade, not transoceanic. Whereas passenger traffic declined in the war, the demand for cargo ships increased, including such added requirements as moving nitrates for munitions from Chile to the United States. Until the convoy system was introduced, the German submarines sank ships faster than the British could build new ones. Moreover, the demand for shipping accumulated with each successive increase in the numbers of American soldiers. On average, each soldier in France resulted in 28 to 33 pounds of cargo per day. An increase of 200,000 soldiers meant at least another 2,800 tons daily cargo requirements, and the numbers just kept climbing. The inability to move supplies across the Atlantic became a major impediment to American operations.

As early as September 1916, Congress had recognized the potential need for a shipping industry by authorizing a shipping board, with the option to create an emergency fleet corporation should construction of ships be required. The early history of the corporation, however, illustrates how the administration's initial reluctance to use wartime authorities to commandeer material hindered the mobilization. Ships required steel, which was in short supply and therefore priced high.

After a failed wooden ship effort, the board did turn to steel ships, including requisitioning ships then under construction at American shipyards. It also developed means of fabricating parts throughout the nation and using the shipyards for final assembly. In the process it established new shipyards, notably at Hog Island near Philadelphia. These new yards required construction of the facilities, staffing, establishment of administrative procedures, recruiting labor, and even housing for the employees. All of this required time. The Emergency Fleet Corporation did not reach full production until October 1918. In that month alone, the Corporation launched 77 ships that could carry 398,000 deadweight tons, almost one-third more than the entire United States had produced during all of 1916. These were impressive production numbers but at the end of the war.

Massive Hog Island Shipyard, Philadelphia, PA

In the meantime, the United States needed to contend with inadequate shipping and every prospect of watching the situation deteriorate. Movement of supplies to Europe was the greatest concern but not the only need for shipping. The Navy also needed commercial cargo shipping, as did the Belgian relief efforts. The nation needed to import essential raw materials, most notably nitrates from Chile but also a wide variety of other material. Some prewar trade patterns were too essential to allow discontinuance. Each segment of the oceanic trades had its own fleet, which created a situation that was inefficient in the aggregate.

In response to the rapid deterioration of the situation, the government developed the Shipping Control Committee in January 1918. The concept ended the practice of separate fleets for each particular purpose and placed all available ships into a single pool. The committee then determined the optimum use of each ship in supporting the various facets of the war effort. Ships were assigned based upon this need, not upon any ownership principles. Within a few weeks the changes somewhat eased the shipping situation until new construction could take effect.

Sources: Over the Top, September 2017

Saturday, September 23, 2023

The Tsar Visits the Fallen Fortress of Przemyśl (Video)

For Background, read our article "The Fall of Fortress Przemyśl" by Historian Graydon Tunstall HERE

Friday, September 22, 2023

Remembering a Veteran: André Breton, French Medical Service, Father of Surrealism

Soldier, 1916

Born in Tinchebray in Normandy, the son of a shopkeeper, Andre Breton's early years were spent studying medicine. As a result, when the Great War arrived in August 1914, he found himself assigned to  a psychiatric ward in Nantes. 

There he became interested in psychiatric diseases such as hysteria and psychosis. In 1916, he worked as a medical orderly in Nantes and later as a student in the neuro-psychiatric center of the second army in Saint-Dizier (east of Paris). In Saint-Dizier, Breton especially cared for shell shock victims. He became fascinated with psychiatry and thought seriously about becoming a psychiatrist, but could not unequivocally decide to abandon literature.

He later wrote of this experience:

I was sent to a centre for disabled men, men sent home due to mental illness, including a number of acutely insane men, as well as more doubtful cases brought up on charges on which a medical opinion was called for. The time I spent there and what I saw was of signal importance in my life and had a decisive influence in the development of my thought. That is where I could experiment on patients, seeing the nature of diagnosis and psychoanalysis, and in particular, the recording of dreams and free association. These materials were from the beginning at the heart of surrealism’

From Saint-Dizier, Breton was sent to the front near Verdun as a stretcher bearer but due to shortage of personnel also served as a kind of doctor. From January to September 1917, Breton indeed worked under Babinski as a non-resident student at the neurological center of La Pitié  hospital in Paris. Later that year, Breton continued his studies at the military hospital Val-de-Grace and prepared for his exam. However, he never qualified as a medical doctor. Shortly after the war, he became involved in the avant-garde milieu, such as Dada. The origins of surrealism have further been traced back to several avant-garde currents including Dada and to the defeatism and feelings of disgust after World War I. Wartime experiences, such as the folly of political and military forces but also madness as a result of violence on individual men, served as inspiration. 

Surrealist, 1924

Breton's first collection of poems—written before and during the First World War—appeared in 1919 as Monte de Piete (Pawnshop).  By 1924 Breton had become a prominent figure in the Parisian avant-garde and had gathered around him a group of poets and artists interested in exploring the subconscious. The surrealist movement was launched that year with Breton's "Manifesto of Surrealism."

It's hard to summarize Breton's view of Surrealism, but perhaps some of his better known quotes will help a little:

The imaginary is what tends to become real.

The man who cannot visualize a horse galloping on a tomato is an idiot.

Beauty will be convulsive or will not be at all.

All my life my heart has yearned for a thing I cannot name.

The mind, placed before any kind of difficulty, can find an ideal outlet in the absurd. Accommodation to the absurd readmits adults to the mysterious realm inhabited by children.

I could spend my whole life prying loose the secrets of the insane. These people are honest to a fault, and their naivety has no peer but my own.

Sources:, "Neurology and Surrealism: André Breton and Joseph Babinski", Brain, June 2012

Thursday, September 21, 2023

Légion étrangère in the Great War

Swedish Volunteers for the Legion

The French Foreign Legion of the colonial era was mainly deployed in extra-European areas and consisted of mercenaries on five-year contracts. After its foundation in 1831, the  Legion’s main task was to serve French imperialism with deployment in colonial conquests and counter-insurgency in Africa, Mexico, Indochina, and the Middle East. In World War I, the Foreign Legion fought in many critical battles on the Western Front, including Artois, Champagne, Somme, Aisne, and Verdun (in 1917), and also suffered heavy casualties during 1918. The Foreign Legion was also in the Dardanelles and Macedonian front and was highly decorated for its efforts.

The situation during World War I, however, was different: A large proportion of the Legion was deployed not on colonial soil but on the Western Front and other European theaters of war. This was mainly due to a decree from 3 August 1914 that allowed foreign volunteers to enlist “for the duration of the war.” As French law forbade foreigners from joining the regular army, these enlistments had to be in the Foreign Legion.

The Legion on the March in Champagne

In the days before the enlistment decree, there had been several calls to serve for France, including one by a group of intellectuals living in France led by the Swiss novelist and poet Blaise Cendrars (1887–1961). Cendrars himself immediately joined the Legion and lost his right arm in September 1915, an experience he would describe in his autobiographical book La Main coupée (1946). Those willing to serve for France included, amongst others, Italians, Russian expatriates, East European Jews who had fled to France in the 1890s, nationals of neutral countries (including the American poet Alan Seeger (1888–1916)), members of minorities of the Habsburg Empire, and allegedly even 800 Germans and Austrians. 

Their motives included a love for France and its political system and the wish to participate in a war that was anticipated to be short but in some cases also the need to avoid unemployment after the closing of factories upon mobilization. Altogether nearly 43,000 foreigners enlisted in the French army during World War I, although not all of these served in Foreign Legion units.  In the summer of 1914 the Foreign Legion, as usual, was dispersed to colonial locations in Morocco, Algeria, and Indochina. When the war broke out, the Algerian battalions were ordered to send half of their manpower to France to incorporate the new recruits and form four new Legion regiments. Those staying in North Africa included a large proportion of Germans and Austrians, who in general displayed a remarkable loyalty to the French mercenary troop. Unlike the figures of the other units of the “Armée d’Afrique” fighting on European soil, the number of legionnaires did not increase but displayed a sharp fall from 1914 to 1918. While the overall number of legionnaires from 1913 to 1915 doubled to nearly 22,000, there was a drop to about 12,000 in the second half of the war. Five march regiments were formed and then reorganized into a single regiment on 11 November 1915 due to severe losses to create the RMLE or the Foreign Legion Marching Regiment. 

Legionnaire Edward Morlae Wrote a 1916 Memoir
on His Experiences in the War

The inclusion of allegedly idealistic wartime volunteers into the Legion would considerably, albeit only temporarily, change its image. The London Times during autumn 1916 characterized legionnaires as “fighters for an idea," attributing to them “a deeply-rooted love of liberty and justice”: “The old idea that the Legion is a regiment of wrongdoers is exploded […].” However, the wartime Legion did not just consist of idealistic volunteers, and indeed, the amalgamation of “old” legionnaires arriving from the colonies and the wartime volunteers proved to be extremely difficult. The two groups’ mentality and outlook were radically different: Many of the new volunteers were patriotic, middle-class, politicized, and not at all happy to be incorporated into the infamous mercenary unit. “Old” Legionnaires, on the other hand, overwhelmingly stemmed from the lower classes, considered fighting a profession and hardly empathized with the idealistic volunteers.

A lack of experienced cadres added to these problems which, together with high casualty rates and widespread discontent, would soon result in a serious crisis that threatened the Legion’s fighting efficiency. In May and June 1915 there were several cases of mutiny. These problems forced the Legion to restructure and to restore much of its prewar character. Many volunteers had left again after their own countries had entered the war. British and Belgian volunteers had very quickly been allowed to join their own national armies in 1914. The same applied to Italians in spring 1915. In mid-1915, wartime volunteers were also given the opportunity to fight in other French units, and many volunteers decided to do so. Those who remained in the Legion from now on were voluntarily there. New entrants only had to serve for a very short time in the Legion before being transferred to other units.

American Volunteers

All these measures transformed the Legion on the Western Front from a gathering of reluctant foreigners to an elite regiment, considerably reduced in numbers, but strengthened in morale and fighting efficiency. It was not by chance, therefore, that the Legion would not be affected by the general morale crisis and mutinies of the French army in spring 1917. In November 1915 two Foreign Legion units had been merged into the “Régiment de marche de la Légion étrangère” which subsequently would fight at the Somme, at Verdun, in the second Marne battle and other theaters of war. Towards the end of the war, however, a serious dearth of recruits would jeopardize the Legion’s continued presence at the Western Front. Officially 4,116 members of the Foreign Legion were killed on the Western Front and another 1,200 in other theaters of war. Thus, roughly 10 percent of those serving in the Legion between 1914 and 1918 lost their lives.

Sources: Chemins de Mémoire;  A Soldier of the Legion: Edward Morlae; Encyclopedia 1914-1918

Wednesday, September 20, 2023

The Sins of Horatio Bottomley

War Booster Extraordinaire 

Horatio Bottomley (1860–1933) was a man of humble origins, who became a famous, popular, and larger-than-life character during the years before and during the First World War. He started up the populist magazine John Bull and other newspapers and magazines and made a great deal of money out of these and other business ventures. He was twice elected to Parliament. Bottomley was involved in several failed companies and narrowly escaped being convicted of fraud at trials in both 1893 and 1908.

During the war, after his offer to serve as Director of Recruiting was rejected by the Government, he set himself up as an unofficial war recruiter and propagandist, holding vast meetings which whipped up the crowd to a fever of anti-German feeling and patriotism. His style was bombastic and jingoistic, but wildly popular, and his hundreds of "patriotic war lectures", publicized and performed like music hall entertainment, made a great deal of money. The profits were advertised as going to his War Charity Fund; in fact, they went into Bottomley’s own pocket.

The swindle that finally brought him down involved the Victory Bonds Club, which was set up in 1919. Bottomley claimed that for a minimum investment of £1 (compared with £5 for the underlying bonds), subscribers would get the chance to win prizes from a lottery funded by the interest payments. Bottomley used the money in a bid to rebuild his media empire, as well as to fund an extravagant lifestyle.

Arriving at Bow Street Court for His Trial

Bad investments, poor administration, and the high level of expenses meant that the club could only survive if it could find new investors (turning it into a de-facto Ponzi scheme). Unfortunately for Bottomley, investors started to lose confidence in the scheme, pulling their money out. In 1921 Reuben Bigland, Bottomley's former business partner, published a pamphlet attacking him and the club. 

After Bottomley lost a libel case against Bigland, he was arrested by the police. He went to trial on 19 May 1922. After a 28-minute deliberation by the jury he was convicted of embezzling £170,000 and sentenced to serve five years in prison. After serving the full sentence, he tried many schemes to resurrect his fortune—even a music hall speaking gig—but died destitute on 26 May 1933.

Sources: Scotland's War; Money Week; The Times Literary Supplement

Tuesday, September 19, 2023

Pershing’s Lieutenants: American Military Leadership in World War I

Edited by David T. Zabecki and Douglas V. Mastriano
Osprey Publishing, 2023
John D Beatty, Reviewer

Panthéon de la Guerre, Detail
National WWI Museum, Kansas City, MO

(Click on Image to Enlarge)

In the pantheon of books on WWI, you can count the number of works on American leadership during the Great War on the fingers of one hand. There are many essays on the U.S. Army’s education system before 1920, but they are buried in dusty archives and specialist publications. Pershing’s Lieutenants is an effort to correct that with 26 essays of selected officers at all levels of command and as a bonus give some insight on just why the officer pool was so limited.

MG Zabecki is no stranger to many, having several military history works under his name or aegis; this reviewer wrote several essays for Garland's World War Two in Europe: An Encyclopedia that Zabecki edited. Douglas V. Mastriano is a Pennsylvania state senator who wrote a well-received biography of Alvin York. The two editors together wrote the introduction and wrote several essays.

Well-known scholars wrote all the essays that are grouped into classifications such as future chiefs of staff of the U.S. Army, future commandants of the U.S. Marine Corps, the senior staff officers, the army commanders, corps and division commanders, the specialist officers, and the regimental officers. The count of essays in each section is uneven, but that hardly matters.

The biggest section is the future chiefs of staff. All five officers are familiar—Hines, Summerall, MacArthur, Craig, Marshall—and appear in the order they served in the top spot. The same for the commandants—Lejeune and Neville. After those two, the order no longer matters. What matters is the quality of the essays and how they convey the message the editors want to pass on: America went into WWI in something of a muddle, but came out of it with a greater sense not just of leadership but also of organization. The army commanders and the corps and division commanders sections exemplify this sense. From the very highest echelons to the very lowest, not just organization but the fundamentals of Western Front warfare in 1917 had to be learned and developed in a hurry. It becomes painfully obvious, reading the essays, that Pershing’s draconian policy of removing officers who couldn’t measure up or were not physically fit was essential.

The specialist officers section has interesting vignettes of familiar names. While Billy Mitchell was indeed a specialist, George Patton was a cavalry officer assigned to the early tanks and nearly died in the Meuse-Argonne. The regimental officers section contains a future president of the United States (Harry Truman), a future head of the OSS (Bill Donovan), and the son of a president (Teddy Roosevelt, Jr.). The appendix, "U.S. Army Professional Military Education in the Early 20th Century," is essential to understanding why the leadership pickings were so slim. Pershing had a very shallow pool to select from, and the appendix shows why. Though they don’t mention it, the Navy/Marine Corps education system wasn’t a lot better.

The list of officers is hardly comprehensive, but all the essays are complete bios, some spending more space outside the 1917–18 time frame than in it. But the essays highlight the reasons behind the selection of these men over others, sometimes for negative reasons. The United States was still in its adolescence in 1917, though it grew up in an awful hurry. The leadership of the Army and Marine Corps was better than was to be expected in 1917, and Pershing’s Lieutenants reflects assessment. Well worth the time, if only for an appreciation of the interaction among leadership, experience, and education.

John D Beatty

Monday, September 18, 2023

Organizing the Kaiser's Army for War

By Janet and Joe Robinson

Even though most people find it convenient to call it Germany, there really was no completely unified Germany before the First World War. The German Empire, which was not founded at all until 1871, was just over 40 years old when the war started. Nietzsche in 1873 wrote that "up until now there has been no original German culture." The empire itself was a cobbled-together federation of 25 different states. Each of the states had given up their sovereignty to be part of the empire but had a wide range of powers in governing their internal affairs. Not all of the states were equal, some states having a considerable amount of autonomy, while others had very little. While the Imperial German Constitution provided for an imperial navy, there was no imperial army. In fact there were four separate armies.

The army had four distinct components—Prussian, Württemberg, Saxon, and Bavarian armies. This was and is incredibly confusing as far as terminology is concerned. Even Bismarck was confounded by the references. He admitted that it was not constitutionally correct, but rather than name each individual army, he elected to use the expression "imperial army" for the sake of succinctness. Reichsheer was the term favored by the Kaiser. The Imperial German Army is the term used in many sources, but most of time one sees "German Army" used even though it is not correct.

According to the Imperial Constitution, the empire covered the expenses of the Prussian, Württemberg, and Saxon components. Bavaria had to cover the  peacetime expenses of its army from its own resources. Only upon mobilization did Bavaria receive financial support from the Reichstag. Artidl3 53 of the Imperial Constitution declared that the Navy of the Empire was united and under the Supreme Command of the Kaiser. Artidle 53 was written, in part, because of all the 25 states, only Prussia had a navy prior to the constitution. Art. 63 stated, "The entire land force of the Empire shall constitute a united army, which in war and in peace shall be under the command of the Kaiser." Article 63 is legal language, which makes for many loopholes. There was no imperial army but simply contingents of the member states. The navy was an internal indivisible organization set forth in the constitution. The army was a collective unit and its unity did not cancel the existence of state contingents. The term "Imperial German Army" is an improper collective phrase that is used continuously, under which the combining of the different armies may be easily understood.

The key to understanding this is that when the states joined the German Empire, they ceased to be sovereign but did not cease to be states. Nowhere did the states give up sovereignty more completely than in military affairs. Most states had their own armies, but each army was recruited, organized, equipped, and drilled not in conformity with state regulations but rather by the rules of the empire, which were determined by Prussia. Formally, the state possessed military supremacy, but the content and extent of that supremacy was determined by the military conventions between the state and Prussia. 

The Hanseatic cities and four principalities did not form their own military. Rather, Prussia had units stationed in their capital cities, and often those Prussian units are erroneously considered units of the hosting state; however, they were not—they belonged directly to the Prussian army. The conscripts from these states entered directly into the Prussian army through separate military conventions. This was really a holdover of the North German Confederation, i.e. Militärkonvention zwischen dem Norddeutschen Bunde und Hamburg vom 23, Juli 1867. This made sense at the time; however, these agreements froze regimental structure and eventually led to a very convoluted recruiting and naming system. For instance, Infantry Regiment 31 (1st. Thüringisches) was moved from Erfurt in Thüringia to Altona, a suburb of Hamburg, in 1871 and lost any connection to Thüringia except in name.

All states eventually entered into military conventions with Prussia. These conventions ceded to the King of Prussia what constitutional powers the states may have had relative to military matters. Unlike the North German Confederation, each of the armies was placed underneath the Kaiser and imperial army in the event of war as well as in peace. The King of Saxony and the King of Württemberg could appoint officers within their contingents; however, the appointment of generals was contingent upon the consent of the Kaiser. The Kaiser personally approved the appointment of every army corps commander. The King of Bavaria had no such restrictions; he still had the right to appoint commanding generals of the Bavarian army corps without being endorsed by the Kaiser. By these conventions, the rulers of the states resigned all power over their armies into the hands of the King of Prussia. Their sovereignty over the military was in name only. The rulers retained military honors and the right to appoint aides-de-camp. The small states paid a certain price to the Prussian treasury for each soldier absorbed into the Prussian army. Prussia then paid the men, promoted them, and received their oath of allegiance.

Officers of the small states were normally required to provide a written document to their ruler reinforcing their faith as loyal subjects, but then submerged themselves in the Prussian army. In many cases, the rulers of the small states published farewell messages to their troops. 

So why was Prussia so dominant? In addition to great success in recent wars, when the 22 states of the North German Confederation united, Prussia represented 80 percent of the total population and 85 percent of the total area. (Of that population of 30 million, 24,000,000 were Prussian and 2,000,000 were Saxon, leaving 4,000,000 to be divided among the other 20 members.) Art. 61 of the North German Confederation constitution gave Prussia the power of having all military legislation immediately introduced into the entire territory of the union. Art. 61 of the imperial constitution was the same with the change of words from "the entire territory of the union" to "the empire." Prussia gained the constitutional right to dictate military regulations and instructions; other legislation had to be adopted immediately by all contingents in the empire. By 1914, 19 of the 25 army corps were from Prussia. Seventy-five percent of the army was Prussian. 

The Kaiser's control of the military, explained in the constitution, was controversial. Total control benefited the Kaiser and the military, but the Reichstag held a different view. The Kaiser split control of the army into three separate groups: (1) the chief of staff, who was in charge of the Great General Staff, (2) the war minister and the corps commanders, and (3) the Kaiser's Military Cabinet. This led to an unbelievably convoluted chain of command that often revolved around who had the most access to the Kaiser. 

The chief of staff and the Great General Staff were responsible for military strategy, mobilization, and the readiness of the army. The war minister—who was really the Prussian war minister—was responsible for doctrine, ostensibly the corps commanders, and for the structure of the army. He was directly responsible for the size of the army and getting financial support annually from the Reichstag; he was also responsible for dealing with the Chancellor. The Military Cabinet was directly responsible to the Kaiser, independent of both the Great General Staff and the Ministry of War and made all the personnel appointments in the army. 

This is the crux of the split-command issue. The war minister drafted the legislation and submitted the budget to the Reichstag that funded the size of the army. The chief of staff determined what the requirement for the size of the army was. The Military Cabinet determined what key officers would be in position to make it all happen. This agreement and competition  amongst these three groups, especially the war minister and chief of staff, would lead to a disconnecting of requirements and resources.

Source: Originally preswnted in OVER THE TOP, April 2010

Sunday, September 17, 2023

The Lost Blueprints for the First Tank Find a Home

Auctioneer Paul Laidlaw with the Blueprint

In 2021 the "lost" blueprint for the world's first tank, the British Mark-I, was  unearthed in an "astonishing" discovery. It was sold at auction in February 2022 by Cumbria auctioneer Paul Laidlaw.  The fascinating document is the only known blueprint for the British-made Mark I tank that exists. Sold alongside it was the 20-page patent specification for the tank. The Tank Museum in Dorset secured the plans and patent for the Mark-I tank for a hammer price of £14,600.

The highly detailed, large-scale technical plan is like an X-ray for the tracked vehicle that helped change the course of the First World War. The 44" x 28" blueprint, dated May 1916, came from a private vendor whose family have owned it for some considerable time.

British Mark-I tank, C.19 "Clan Leslie," at the
Battle of the Somme

The museum-quality documents have been described as the "birth certificate" for the tank, an invention that also changed the nature of modern warfare. The patent describes the tank as "transport vehicles propelled by an endless moving chain track" in the shape of a "lozenge or diamond".

It says they are adapted to traverse conditions that are "exceedingly difficult owing to the presence of obstructions, such as trenches, parapets, shell holes, craters and so forth". 

"The casing as seen in the side elevation, approximately in shape resembles a lozenge or diamond standing on its edge. The high end is the front, whilst the low end is the rear."

"The chain track or tracks extend entirely around the frame, so that the machine is arranged within the area enclosed by the track or tracks."

The Mark-I tank was designed and manufactured in 1916 by agricultural machinery company William Foster & Co of Lincoln. The documents bear the ink stamps of the designers and manufacturers of the tank "William Foster & Co Limited, Engineers, Lincoln, England" and "Metropolitan Carriage Wagon & Finance Co. Ltd."

Specifications That Accompany the Drawings

The historic documents were sold by Laidlaw Auctioneers of Carlisle, Cumbria. Mr. Paul Laidlaw, a star of the BBC's Bargain Hunt and Antiques Road Trip, said the blueprint is like a work of art in its own right.

He said: "It has always been thought that no original blueprint for the Mark-I tank exists. The Imperial War Museum and the Tank Museum in Dorset do not have one. . . When I laid eyes on the blueprint its immediate visual impact far exceeded my expectations. It's like seeing an X-ray of a mechanical leviathan and gives some insight into why these 'land ships' induced such shock and awe in the troops of 1916. . . The blueprint is a thing of beauty. It is a work of art as much as it is a historical document and with the original draft patent document, this is the birth certificate of the tank."                        .

Sources: Wales Online and the BBC

Saturday, September 16, 2023

Adolf Hitler — "War Poet"?

Hitler with His Fellow Soldiers

It Was in the Thicket of the Forest at Artois... 
based on a true event.

Attributed to Adolf Hitler

It was in the thick of the Artois Wood.
Deep in the trees, on blood-soaked ground,
Lay stretched a wounded German warrior,
And his cries rang out in the night.
In vain ... no echo answered his plea ..
Will he bleed to death like a beast,
That shot in the gut dies alone?

Then suddenly . . .
Heavy steps approach from the right
He hears how they stamp on the forest floor .
And new hope springs from his soul.
And now from the left . . .
And now from both sides . . .

Two men approach his miserable bed
A German it is, and a Frenchman.
And each watches the other with distrustful glance,
And threateningly they aim their weapons.
The German warrior asks:
"What do you do here?" "
I was touched by the needy one's call for help."
"It's your enemy!"
"It is a man who suffers."

And both, wordless, lower their weapons.
Then entwined their hands
And, with muscles tensed, carefully lifted
The wounded warrior, as if on a stretcher,
And carried him through the woods,
'Til they came to the German outposts.
"Now it's over.
 He will get good care."
And the Frenchman turns back toward the woods.
But the German grasps for his hand,
Looks, moved, into sorrow-dimmed eyes
And says to him with earnest foreboding:

"I know not what fate holds for us,
Which inscrutably rules in the stars.
Perhaps I shall fall, a victim of your bullet.
Maybe mine will fell you on the sand
For indifferent is the chance of battles.
Yet, however it may be and whatever may come:
We lived these sacred hours,
Where man found himself in a man . . .
And now, farewell! And God be with you!"

This is presented here as a matter of historical interest rather than for the quality of the verse. (Although this is a translation, and I don't know how well it reads in the German original.)

Sources: I've found two sources which attribute this poem to Hitler: Hitler to Power  by Charles Bracelen Flood, and the original (in German) Hitler’s World View by  Eberhard Jäckel.