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

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

In Memoriam ~ Javier Arango

by Kimball Worcester, Assistant Editor

Deep sadness pervades the world of Great War aviation upon the death of Javier Arango on Sunday morning, 23 April, in a crash of his Nieuport 28 near his ranch in Paso Robles, California. He leaves behind a wife and two teenage sons, and countless friends and admirers.

Our Friend Javier

Javier's long and extensive commitment to furthering knowledge and understanding of the early planes, even before the Great War, was inspiring to many of us. Having worked with him for years writing and researching for his impressive collection, I mourn him as a colleague and a patron. His quiet intelligence, sensitivity, and high standards always moved me to reach and exceed his expectations. It was an honor indeed to work with him and be a very small part of his Aeroplane Collection.

In the words of Dana VanDersarl*, Javier Arango was not just a pilot, but a true aviator.



*of the VanDersarl Blériot, owned and restored by Javier Arango, winner of the Neil A. Armstrong Aviation Heritage Trophy in 2011.


photograph of Javier Arango by Phil Makanna,
published with gracious permission from the Arango family 



Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Combat: German Infantryman vs Russian Infantryman
Reviewed by Terrence Finnegan


Combat: German Infantryman vs Russian Infantryman: 1914–15

by Robert Forczyk
Osprey Publishing, Ltd., 2015


Russian Infantry

Robert Forczyk's book on combat in East Prussia in the opening months of the war is a thorough and illuminating work on a subject commonly misinterpreted or ignored. For example, public awareness on the significance of the battle of Gumbinnen is virtually nil. However, the war on the Eastern Front in the first weeks of 1914 in many ways decided the outcome of the entire war. This book describes in as much detail available on the open market the tactical role of forces in combat in this theater. The sources for the descriptions from the author and contacts through Osprey reveal never-before-seen photos, detailed battlefield maps very professionally portrayed, and artist renditions for the casual reader to see what the combatants looked like in the battlefield.

Forczyk provides a superb analysis of tactics and combat performance of both sides fighting three battles: at Gumbinnen (20 August 1914), Göritten (7 November 1914) and Mahartse (16 February 1915). He examines execution and results which helps the reader better understand the evolving nature of infantry warfare on the Eastern Front during World War I. Of interest and central to the tactical portrayal of the battles fought is access to Konstantin Pahalyuk's The 27th Division in the Battles in East Prussia, 1914–15. The fact that this book is Russian and published in Kaliningrad shows attention to detail very rarely seen in the West. The accounts on the battle of Gumbinnen alone make reading the book worthwhile.

Published works to date, including Winston Churchill's The Unknown War, mostly provide the strategic view. Forczyk provides further elaboration on how Gumbinnen was fought tactically. Gumbinnen set in motion several chains of causation, violently and even decisively affecting the whole course of the Great War. Russian artillery proved accurate and the German's attack dissolved, some even panicking and retreating. German commanders held the line, but the first major engagement appeared a Russian victory. The Germans readied for another attack but were called off by Generaloberst von Prittwitz, 8th Armee commander, who assessed the situation to be so dangerous as to warrant withdrawal, yielding to the belief that East Prussia must be abandoned. He then took steps to retreat to the safety of the other western shore of the Vistula River.

Gumbinnen aroused personal anxieties for the Prussian military aristocracy whose families residing in the region were threatened. This conviction seems to have dominated Generaloberst von Moltke's (Chef der Grosser Generalstab der Armee) mind during the five- or six-day convulsion which followed in France, and he made two decisive actions. First, Moltke ordered General der Infanterie von Hindenburg and his new chief of staff Generalmajor Ludendorff to proceed to the Eastern Front. Their presence in the coming days shaped Germany's military leadership for the remainder of the war. Second, Moltke's Oberste Heeresleitung (OHL) made the critical decision to remove two German Armee-Korps and a kavalerie division already advancing on Paris through the Schlieffen Plan and have them quickly transported via rail to the Eastern Front. The ongoing victorious German army fighting on the Western Front raised no objectives against the parting of the two Armee-Korps; ironically, those very forces could have filled the fatal gap at the Marne.

Gumbinnen imparted to the Russian command a confidence which was in no way justified. It gave them an utterly false conception of the character, condition, and intentions of the German enemy. It lured General ot kavalerii Zhilinsky, Northwest Front commander, to spur on General ot kavalerii Samsonov's Russian Second Army. The battle's results lured Samsonov to deflect his advance more to the west and less to the north, farther away from General ot kavalerii Rennenkampf's Russian First Army, who in turn dawdled for nearly three days on the battlefield to let Samsonov's more ambitious movement gain its greatest effect. In many ways Gumbinnen was one of the most critical battles fought in the First World War.

German Infantry

Forczyk's approach to describing both Russian and German ranks and units in the original text adds to the credibility of his work. At the beginning of the book, ranks are spelled out and provided equivalency in translation. A footnote needs to be applied regarding the Generalleutnant (German)–general-leytenant (Russian)–lieutenant general (U.S.) and Generalmajor (German)–general-mayor (Russian)–major general (U.S.). Generalleutnant is the equivalent of a U.S. major general (despite the Generalleutnant spelling) and Generalmajor is a U.S. brigadier general (despite the Generalmajor spelling) equivalent. That understanding lends credibility to the discussion on the level of seniority being applied to the ongoing battle.

Osprey has done a favor to military historians who try to make sense of the contribution of the Eastern Front to the total picture of the Great War by publishing Forczyk's Combat: German Infantryman vs Russian Infantryman and providing a snapshot of what occurred at this critical time.

Terrence Finnegan

Terrence Finnegan is the author of two fine works on the First World War:


  • Shooting the Front: Allied Aerial Reconnaissance in the First World War, and



  • Delicate Affair on the Western Front: America Learns How to Fight a Modern War in the Woëvre Trenches


Visit the author's website to purchase an autographed copy of his works.



Monday, April 24, 2017

It's Elementary: Conan Doyle on the Coming Danger of U-boats



Conan Doyle at Work

The most accurate prewar prognosticator of the threat presented to England by German U-boats was none other than Arthur Conan Doyle.  After visiting Germany in 1911, Conan Doyle began to study German war literature. He saw that the submarine and the airplane were going to be important factors in the next war. He was particularly concerned about the threat of submarines blockading food shipments to Britain. 

Convinced that this was a vital precaution, Conan Doyle eventually took his idea to the public in the form of a story, "Danger! Being the Log of Captain John Sirius" that originally appeared in the July 1914 edition of The Strand Magazine. The story dealt with a conflict between Britain and a fictional country called Norland.  In the story, Norland is able to bring Britain to its knees by the use of a small submarine fleet. Its opening passage was an eye-opener:

“It is an amazing thing that the English, who have the reputation of being a practical nation, never saw the danger to why they were exposed. For many years they had been spending nearly a hundred millions a year upon their army and their fleet…Yet when the day of trial came, all this imposing force was of no use whatever, and might as well have not existed.”  
— Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, “Danger!” (The Strand Magazine, July 1914)


Doyle’s proposals, given voice in the imagined Times leader, included: reformation of agriculture and trade policies to provide “sufficient food to at least keep life in her [Britain’s] population;” construction of “two double-lined railways under the Channel” to facilitate movement of goods and, presumably, armies; and “the building of large fleets of merchant submarines for the carriage of food.” Clearly, Doyle’s major concern was with having enough food to feed the nation during hostile times.

Sadly, Conan Doyle's warnings were ignored, at least by the British. German officials were later quoted as saying that the idea of the submarine blockade came to them after hearing Conan Doyle's warnings against such an event. How much of that statement was truth and how much was propaganda designed to cause conflict within Britain is not known.


From: www.siracd.com/ and Continuum, Newsletter of the University of Minnesota Libraries

Sunday, April 23, 2017

Henry Kissinger Reflects on the Great War


Henry Kissinger, U.S. Army

Oppressed by the vulnerability of of its domestic structure in an age of nationalism, the polyglot Austro-Hungarian empire insisted on a generalized right of interference to defeat social unrest where it occurred. Because Britain was threatened only if Europe fell under the domination of a single power, Castlereagh was primarily concerned with constructing a balance of forces. Because the balance of power only limits the scope of aggression but does not prevent it, Metternich sought to buttress the equilibrium by developing a doctrine of legitimacy and establishing himself as its custodian.

Robert Stewart, Viscount Castlereagh

Each failed as he succeeded: Castlereagh in making Britain a permanent part of the concert of Europe; Metternich in preserving the principle of legitimacy he had striven so hard to establish. But their achievements were not inconsiderable: a period of peace lasting almost a hundred years, a stability so pervasive that it may have contributed to disaster. For in the long interval of peace the sense of the tragic was lost; it was forgotten that states could die, that upheavals could be irretrievable, that fear could become the means of social cohesion. 

Klemens von Metternich

The hysteria of joy which swept over Europe at the outbreak of the First World War was the symptom of a fatuous age, but also of a secure one. It revealed a millennial faith; a hope for a world which had all the blessings of the Edwardian age made all the more agreeable by the absence of armament races and of the fear of war. What minister who declared war in August 1914 would not have recoiled with horror had he known the shape of the world in 1918, not to speak of the present? One who had such an intuition and did so recoil was, of course, the British Foreign Secretary, Lord Grey.

That such a world was inconceivable in 1914 is a testimony to the work of the statesmen with whom this book deals. 

Henry Kissinger, A World Restored: Metternich, Castlereagh, and the Problems of Peace 1812–1822

Saturday, April 22, 2017

Bloody April 1917

Contributed by Steve Miller

In April 1917 the British began the  battle for Arras. Aerial reconnaissance had become an essential on all fronts, and the British Royal Flying Corps made a maximum effort. Unfortunately, so did the German fighter squadrons. To the RFC it would be known as "Bloody April," with 245 aircraft down, 211 aircrew killed or missing, and 108 as prisoners of war. The German Air Service lost 66 aircraft from all causes.



Many of the RFC losses were of the B.E.2 type. A reconnaissance airplane in service since 1914, it was designed to be very stable in flight, an asset for observation and photography. By 1917 it was totally obsolete, under-powered, and suffering poor maneuverability to escape contemporary German fighters.



Under the leadership of Manfred Freiherr von Richthofen (the Red Baron), the German Air Service's Jasta 11 accounted for 89 victories, more than a third of the British losses.

For more information on Bloody April, Steve recommends:

Friday, April 21, 2017

La Grande Illusion


Of all the best films  that were inspired by World War One, Jean Renoir's La Grand Illusion ranks the highest in any list of all-time great movies. It is also considered the finest anti-war movie ever made.  Here are some memorable visual aspects of the classic.

The Film Showed Worldwide and Generated Many Posters  
This Is My Favorite



Prisoner of War Status Did Not Eliminate the Class System



Jean Gabin As the Central character, Working-Class Lt.  Maréchal, 
Displays an Amazing Range of Emotions



French Captive Captain  de Boeldieu  Forms a Congenial Aristocratic Bond with the 
Prison Commandant  Captain von Rauffenstein, Played by Otto von Stroheim



The Cheerful Mood of a Prisoners' Stage Show Is Broken with the Announcement That Fort Douaumont Has Been Recaptured by the French—
Nationalism Reigns As the Performers Break Out  "La Marseillaise!"



As de Boeldieu Lies Dying, von Rauffenstein Apologizes to Him for Shooting Him During
the Successful Breakout and Escape by Lts. Maréchal and Rosenthal



The Stunning Final Scene—Maréchal and Rosenthal Escape into Switzerland


Thursday, April 20, 2017

A Notable Weapon of the Great War: The French Hotchkiss Model 1914 Heavy Machine Gun



The Hotchkiss Model 1914 was the standard French Army heavy machine gun during World War I. Heavy but rugged and dependable, the Hotchkiss Model 1914 saw continuous service along the entire line of the Western Front for the full duration of the war. The gun and mount weighed 88 pounds, fired 8mm Lebel Mle 1886 rounds from a 30-round metal strip, and had a rate of fire of 600 rounds per minute. It was gas operated and air cooled and had a maximum effective range of 3800 meters. The Hotchkiss served in both ground combat support and anti-aircraft roles.


Many machine gun units of the AEF entered combat with the 1914 model of the French-made Hotchkiss machine gun. Machine guns were used by the Yanks for both indirect and direct fire missions. When in the former role, the guns were placed to cooperate with the field artillery units in neutralizing suspected enemy observation posts and machine guns during the attack and to sweep the approaches for possible enemy counterattacks after the capture of the final objective. 



Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Who Was Živojin Mišić?



General Živojin Mišić (1855–1921) was Serbia's greatest military commander of the First World War. Called from retirement, he led the Serbian forces in defeating the two initial Austrian invasions of his homeland. An opponent of the great retreat across the Albanian mountains to Corfu, he nonetheless accompanied the troops. He later resumed command of the Serbian forces on the Salonika Front that helped decisively defeat Bulgaria and opened back doors into both Austria-Hungary and Turkey.

In the weeks immediately prior to the cessation of hostilities Mišić led his troops deep into Austro-Hungarian territory, both ensuring its collapse but also—more important for him—greatly assisting the creation of the postwar southern Slav state which he had long advocated (ultimately named Yugoslavia).

Appointed chief of general staff with the end of the war, Mišić died on 20 January 1921 at the age of 66.

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Beneath the Killing Fields
Reviewed by Ron Drees


Beneath the Killing Fields: 
Exploring the Subterranean Landscapes of the Western Front

by Matthew Leonard
Pen and Sword, 2017

Tunnel Entrance
Butte de Vauquois
When I first received this book I noticed that it was short at 170 pages; heavy and expensive at $40; printed on glossy paper; and profusely illustrated with photographs of craters, tunnels, monuments, and soldiers plus a few maps. Not the usual Great War volume as it doesn't concentrate on a specific battle but describes how subterranean activities affected men and how they were used to wage war. The author has a PhD in archaeology and has contributed extensively to the field of modern conflict archaeology, a new and interdisciplinary approach to the study of post-1900 conflicts. This approach uses every kind of information available, from graffiti and artwork to leftover armaments and gas curtains, in order to understand underground conflict.

The book begins with a glossary, vital to readers not familiar with camouflets, kinaesthesia, and souterraine. The first chapter is an overview of underground warfare from Alexander the Great through the American Civil War and the tunneling by Japanese defenders on many Pacific islands. Vietnam and drug smuggling tunnels receive notice and, more important, how the military coped with tunnels. During the Great War, hundreds of troops were staged underground to attack the enemy. The author stated in an email to me that the yardage of tunneling almost equaled the yardage of trenches. What varied between the combatants was the approach to tunneling.

Tunnelers Quarters
Butte de Vauquois
The Germans viewed tunneling and the construction of dugouts as a defensive matter so that their troops could survive shelling and emerge to defeat Allied attackers as they did in the battle of the Somme. The furnishings of destroyed villages outfitted German dugouts comfortably while the Allies did not want their men to be comfortable so as to encourage them to evict the Germans from France. The Allies considered underground work useful for offensive purposes. Before the Canadian attack on Vimy Ridge, hundreds of troops had to wait in cramped quarters with no sanitary facilities except their immediate position. The stench, severely cramped quarters, and pre-battle tension did nothing for morale.

One chapter is devoted to the senses—how each can be used underground to compensate for vision which no longer functions in the dark. When one side would break into the tunnel of the other, soldiers would identify friend from foe by feeling for epaulets on German shoulders in the dark. Then hand-to-hand combat would break out in spaces too small for standing. Yet the tunnelers left a human quality behind through graffiti, instructions on walls to suppress conversation, and even a few works of art.

Dr. Leonard also discusses the beginning of underground archaeology, studying a mine left underground decades earlier that had been defused. The group took the name Durand from a mine in the Vimy Ridge area and remained together to study other tunnels, enhancing knowledge about the skills and innovation necessary to wage war underground. Throughout the book are color photographs of the Durand group working underground, and the difficulties are obvious: very tight quarters, uneven surfaces, knee-deep water, leftover grenades from both sides, and collapses in farm fields from heavy rainfall. One member of the group died when the chalk overhead collapsed.

There is more to this book than the pain of digging tunnels; we also get descriptions of disastrous battles, monuments listing the missing by the tens of thousands, illustrations of the ossuary and the interdisciplinary approach of archaeology and anthropology. The latter quality makes this book particularly worthwhile as the reader learns about an aspect of the war previously untouched: the extent of tunneling, the learning curve of using tunnels to advantage, and the various effects of them upon soldiers including the nerve-wracking silence required to prevent discovery by the enemy digging—and listening—just a few feet away.

Read Beneath the Killing Fields to develop a very different perspective of the war, how it was fought, and its effects upon the combatants. The war was even more wretched than we thought.

Ron Drees

Monday, April 17, 2017

The Price of Vimy Ridge



The Canadian Corps suffered 10,602 casualties capturing Vimy Ridge, including 3,598 killed and 7,004 wounded. German casualties from the attack are unknown, but over 4,000 of the defenders were taken prisoner.

Sunday, April 16, 2017

100 Years Ago Today: Lenin Arrives at Finland Station

On 16 April 16 1917 Vladimir Lenin returned to Petrograd (now, again, St. Petersburg) from exile after the tsar’s abdication. Lenin had departed Zurich, his latest place of exile, a week earlier and with the help of the German government and army, made his way back to Russia in the now famous "sealed train."

Lenin's Favorite Haunt in Zurich

He was met by his followers at Finland Station and climbed onto an armored car where he made his famous impassioned speech. With searchlights pointed at him and his followers standing to attention Lenin pronounced on his arrival:

“I greet you without knowing yet whether or not you have believed in all the promises of the Provisional Government. But I am convinced that when they talk to you sweetly, when they promise you a lot, they are deceiving you and the whole Russian people. The people need peace; the people need bread; the people need land. And they give you war, hunger, no bread—leave the landlords still on the land...We must fight for the social revolution, fight to the end, until the complete victory of the proletariat. Long live the worldwide socialist revolution!"


This was probably the most important moment in Lenin’s career, after which he took into his own hands the direction of the revolution.

By the time Lenin returned to his homeland the government had been weakened. Russia’s involvement in World War One led to the February Revolution. Tsar Nicholas II was eventually forced to hand over his power to the Provisional Government. Almost immediately after his arrival, Lenin published the April Theses, in which he argued that the Bolshevik Party must fight to overthrow the Provisional Government. Lenin’s objective was to seize power by force and he demanded for an armed uprising.

He was successful in convincing the Bolshevik Party. In October that same year, armed workers and soldiers stormed the headquarters of the Provisional Government, arresting its members. This became known as the October Revolution. Lenin came to power as the head of the new Soviet government and became the leader of the USSR in 1922 and ruled until his death in 1924.


In memory of the speech he made on this day, a statue outside Finland Station was erected in 1926 depicting him in the midst of his address. The monument that became one of the most famous statues of Lenin was bombed by vandals on 1 April 2009, leaving a huge hole in the lower part of Lenin’s bronze coat. No one was hurt in the blast, and it is not known who was responsible. 

Source: Content from Russiapedia, Photos by Steve Miller

Saturday, April 15, 2017

The Death of Edward Thomas, Author of the Title for Roads to the Great War


At the top of this page, you will see a quote from poet Edward Thomas from his poem "Roads." His is one of the names on a slate stone in Poets' Corner, Westminster Abbey, which commemorates the sixteen “Great War Poets." It is alongside the likes of Wilfred Owen and Rupert Brooke, so Thomas’s name will therefore be immortalized as a war poet although most of his work was written before he ever went to war.  In fact, his time at the front was tragically short—he was killed at the Battle of Arras very soon after arriving in France in 1917 on 9 April 1917.

Edward Thomas During Training
  
Like so many men of the time he felt compelled to enlist in the Army even though, as a married man of 37, he was not obliged to do so. Thus he joined the Artists Rifles in July 1915.  It is generally regarded that he came to his decision having read fellow poet Robert Frost’s great poem "The Road Not Taken."

He went to France as a commissioned officer of the Royal Garrison Artillery and met his end in curiously tragic circumstances on Easter Monday, April 1917.  Having survived the bloody Battle of Arras he stood casually in his trench to light his pipe.  A late, random shell burst near to him and the concussive blast wave from it was so strong that the force of it killed him where he stood.

Edward Thomas’s body was taken to the Military Cemetery at Agny in France and here he lies among the many rows of fallen soldiers. He left behind his wife Helen and two daughters and so consumed by grief was Helen that she sought solace in writings of her own. She published an account of their early years together called As it Was (1926) with a second volume following in 1931 called World Without End.

This poem was one of the last Edward Thomas Wrote before he left his training camp for France.:

RAIN
By Edward Thomas


Rain, midnight rain, nothing but the wild rain 
On this bleak hut, and solitude, and me 
Remembering again that I shall die 
And neither hear the rain nor give it thanks 
For washing me cleaner than I have been 
Since I was born into this solitude. 
Blessed are the dead that the rain rains upon: 
But here I pray that none whom once I loved 
Is dying tonight or lying still awake 
Solitary, listening to the rain, 
Either in pain or thus in sympathy 
Helpless among the living and the dead, 
Like a cold water among broken reeds, 
Myriads of broken reeds all still and stiff, 
Like me who have no love which this wild rain 
Has not dissolved except the love of death, 
If love it be for what is perfect and 
Cannot, the tempest tells me,  
disappoint.

7 January, 1916 

Source: http://mypoeticside.com/poets/phillip-edward-thomas-poems

Friday, April 14, 2017

When Was the Conspiracy to Assassinate Archduke Franz Ferdinand Hatched?

Answer: April 1914

That month Gavrilo Princip was in Belgrade, where he associated with a number of Serbian students in town cafes and conceived a plan for the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand. He shared the plan with his acquaintance Nedeljko Čabrinović, also in Belgrade, who held similar views and agreed at once to participate in the attempt.

The Conspirators in Court, Princip Circled


Attempts on the archduke's life were a frequent topic of conversation in the circles in which Princip and Čabrinović moved, as the archduke seen as a dangerous enemy of the Serbian people.

Princip and Čabrinović desired at first to procure the necessary bombs and weapons from Serbian Major Milan Pribićević or from the Narodna Odbrana, [the Black Hand] as they lacked the money to purchase the weapons. Since both Pribićević and Živojin Dačić, a leading member of the Black Hand, were absent from Belgrade, they then tried to get the weapons from their acquaintance Milan Ciganović, a former Komitadji [nationalist rebels originally working against the Ottomans] currently working for the state railways. 

Princip contacted Ciganović though a friend and discussed the assassination plan with him. Ciganović endorsed the plan and indicated he would consider providing weapons. Čabrinović also talked with Ciganović about the weapons.

At Easter Princip took Trifko Grabež, also in Belgrade, into his confidence. In his later confession, Grabež admitted his willingness to take part in the attempt. In the following weeks Princip repeatedly discussed the plans with Ciganović, who meanwhile had reached an understanding with his close friend Serbian Major Voja Tankosić to provide the Browning pistols Princip used on 28 June to kill the archduke and his wife, Sophie. 

Sources: Austrian Court District of Sarajevo Record

Thursday, April 13, 2017

A Roads Classic: Ten Quotes About the Battle of the Somme

(This is the most viewed entry I've ever made in Roads to the Great War.  MH)

With the 99th anniversary of the famous battle coming in two weeks on 1 July, I've dug through the files and found some of the more memorable things said of the event. I found it hard, though, to find anything matching Kipling's poignant, "A Garden called Gethsemane, in Picardy it was... 

The River Somme

1. Before the world grew mad, the Somme was a placid stream of Picardy, flowing gently through a broad and winding valley northwards to the English Channel. It watered a country of simple beauty...Then came the pestilence.
A.D. Gristwood

2.  Every Englishman has a picture of the Somme in his mind, and I will not try to enlarge it.
A.P. Herbert

3.  The literature of 1 July 1916 is endless. Salutary at first, a proper corrective to the streams of propaganda claptrap about "laughing heroes" and "the Great Adventure" which had previously gushed forth, after a time it developed into a most mischievous mythology.
John Terraine 

Depiction of the 1 July 1916 Attack

4.  Devonshires Held This Trench, the Devonshires Hold It Still
Marker, Devonshire Cemetery

5.  South of the Ancre was a broad-backed high ground, and on that ground a black vapour of smoke and naked tree trunks or charcoal, an apparition which I found was called Thiepval Wood. The Somme indeed!
Edmund Blunden

6.  During my whole life I have not found a happier hunting ground than in the course of the Somme Battle. In the morning, as soon as I had got up, the first Englishmen arrived, and the last did not disappear until long after sunset.  Boelcke once said that this was the El Dorado of the flying men.
Manfred von Richthofen

7.  It seemed all over, hardly 20 minutes from the start. It was a strong point and still was, even with reinforcements it would be hopeless, with those sodding machine guns still in action. Behind we could see where we started from, in front, the Jerry lines on slightly rising ground. We could see the shape of the Quadrilateral, like a squashed diamond, behind the bank. Judging by the damned chatter when we were going over, a hidden machine gun at every point. Quiet enough now, they had already done all the damage, not giving their position away now, leaving the Jerries in the line to do the odd firing.
Harry Leedham



8.  Idealism perished on the Somme.
A.J. P. Taylor

9.  The tragedy of the Somme battle was that the best soldiers, the stoutest-hearted men were lost; their numbers were replaceable, their spiritual worth never could be.
Unidentified German Soldier

10.  It's the end of the 1916 winter and the conditions are almost unbelievable. We live in a world of Somme mud. We sleep in it, work in it, fight in it, wade in it and many of us die in it. We see it, feel it, eat it and curse it, but we can't escape it, not even by dying.
Edward Lynch

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

British Cavalry Help Capture Monchy-le-Preux–11 April 1917


By Stephen Barker @ Oxford University's World War I Centenary Website

Monchy-le-Preux was one of the keys to the northern end of the Hindenburg Line, giving the Germans ideal observation over any advance from the British trenches in front of Arras five miles away. Third Army’s commander, General Sir Edmund Allenby, ordered the capture of the village and surrounding high ground, as objectives for the first day of the offensive—9 April. In the eventuality that VI Corps infantry broke through the "Green Line" just east of Monchy, Allenby ordered the Cavalry Corps, in conjunction with the infantry, to exploit the gains further, a distance of eight miles in total toward Cambrai.  However, he made it clear that the cavalry was not to be used unless the infantry achieved their first day objectives.

This is important, reflecting Sir Douglas Haig’s order that cavalry be ready to deliver significant advances, yet also be handled carefully. Seemingly contradictory—any such unprecedented breakthrough would inevitably lead to heavy casualties—it also revealed the fundamental tension between those senior officers who believed that a comprehensive "breakthrough" with cavalry was yet possible and those who subscribed to a "bite and hold" doctrine. Yet Haig had recognized the limitations of the use of cavalry early in 1916, when a revision of the existing prewar policy was undertaken. This stressed the value of close cooperation between cavalry and other arms, its ability to perform attacking and defensive duties and to operate in both mounted and dismounted roles.

British Cavalry and a Mark I Tank During the Arras Battle. Image Is Author's Own.

Cavalry was viewed increasingly as one of several mobile elements, including tanks, armored cars, aeroplanes, and bicycle-mounted troops, working with the infantry. If a breakthrough of the enemy line was not possible, horsemen were expected to use their mobility and dismounted firepower to enable the infantry to establish and broaden gaps at critical times in the battle. They were to be capable of an effectual dismounted role, sophisticated fire, and movement tactics, including the taking and holding of ground using speed and mobility.

In the context of trench warfare, the first day at Arras was a success, with ground up to a depth of three-and-a-half miles taken, but the gains fell short of Monchy-le-Preux. Its capture was planned again for the morning of 11 April, when four regiments from 3rd Cavalry Division supported the infantry attack. 3rd Dragoon Guards reached the Monchy-La Bergère road south of the village. Here they dismounted and took up firing positions with their Hotchkiss machine guns, joining up a defensive line between 111 and 112 Infantry Brigades. They endured heavy artillery fire and were strafed by low-flying aircraft, fighting as infantry to repel potential counterattacks.

North of the village, Essex Yeomanry and 10th Hussars, supported by the Royal Horse Guards, galloped eastward, looking to exploit any breakthrough. Meeting machine gun fire, they veered into its streets, as ordered, and then ventured out once more to escape shelling this time, only to be driven back. The arrival of the cavalry in the village enabled the struggling infantry to establish a defensive firing line. By deepening shell holes, deploying machine guns, and establishing two dressing stations, the dismounted cavalry stiffened the infantry’s resolve. They provided rapid reinforcements, leadership, and organizational proficiency at a crucial time, before the arrival of tanks and infantry secured the village.  Six hundred cavalrymen were casualties, and many more horses died. The animals were tethered in the open, as their riders took cover, while attempts to take them to the rear during a box barrage only increased the killing.

Monchy Has Two Memorials to Infantry Units That Helped Capture the Village in 1917:
The Newfoundland Regiment on the Left and the 37th Division on the Right.
No Mention Is Given to the Cavalry Units Discussed in This Article

Today, the apparent folly of employing horses during the Great War belies that fact that cavalry were the only mobile force capable of exploiting any breakthrough in the trench stalemate. For Allied commanders searching for ways to return to "open warfare" and to liberate French soil, there was no alternative—fast, dependable tanks were not yet available. Yet at Arras, although the possibility of a decisive breakthrough was planned for, so too was it acknowledged by GHQ that the task of the mounted arm had changed.

Source:   ‘War Horse’ at Monchy-le-Preux – 11 April 1917 (http://ww1centenary.oucs.ox.ac.uk/?p=734)  

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Heroes or Traitors
Reviewed by James M. Gallen


Heroes or Traitors: Experiences of Southern Irish Soldiers Returning from 
The Great War, 1919–1939

by Paul Taylor
Liverpool University Press, 2015

The guns are silent, the grand review is concluded, the politicians are creating the new world order, and the soldiers return home. Things are different. They are not the same men who marched away. While war has changed them, it has also changed the homes to which they returned seeking to pick up life where they left off. Among none of the nations that were on the winning side during the Great War was the change as profound as it was in Ireland. In 1914 they answered the call in a part of the United Kingdom, but in 1919 they returned to a country seething with rebellion and soon to be one of the new nations to be born out of the cataclysm. How were they to be viewed? As heroes who fought bravely for the kingdom of which their island had been a part for 800 years and that small nations might be free, or as traitors who enabled the imperial power to maintain its grip on their homeland? Those are the start of the questions that author Paul Taylor wants to answer.

The Irish Peace Tower at Messines, Ypres Salient
On 7 June 1917 the Mostly Northern Manned 36th Division Went Over the Top Side-by-Side with the 16th Division Recruited Mostly from Southern Ireland in the Battle of Messines

Taylor begins with an introduction that seeks to untangle the web of myth and history that is, inevitably, written by the victors. As President Mary McAleese noted in a 1985 commemoration, "Those whom we commemorate here were doubly tragic. They fell victim to a war against oppression in Europe. Their memory fell victim to a war for independence in Ireland." (p.4) Taylor shows that Ireland was not as united as Republican tradition would have us believe, nor were the Irish who flocked to the colors as loyal to king and country as some would suppose. Nationalism was stronger in the west, with its dairy industry serving the domestic market, and Unionism more prevalent in the east, where farmers depended on the export market in England.

The author then moves on to examine several facets of the relationships between the returning Irish soldiers and their neighbors. His method relies heavily on statistical analysis and interviews of participants. He examines records of violence and intimidation against ex-servicemen and asks whether they were targeted because of their past service. He cites many examples of men killed or driven into exile by irregulars. Yet men of military experience were of value to both sides in the War of Independence (1919–1921) and the subsequent Civil War (1922–1923). Some offered their skills to the freedom fighters or the Pro-Treaty or Anti-Treaty forces, while others were threatened or executed for suspected espionage. Watch the names carefully; you might find a relative, as I probably did. Britain, like other belligerents, provided benefits to some of its veterans, including pensions and housing. This placed the Crown in the unusual position of providing pensions and owning houses in a land from which it drew soldiers but which was no longer a member of its country.

The expectations of the veterans, the generosity of the Crown and the attitude of the Irish government all contributed to a muddled state of affairs. A few got pensions, and a limited amount of housing was constructed which, while benefiting Ireland economically, was an irritant to its government. When a veteran died should his widow be allowed to stay, or should she be moved out to provide housing for another veteran? Different answers were proposed to that question.

In the final part of the book the author considers the rivalries within society: between those who fought for the Crown in the Great War and later either joined the rebellion, supported the government, or tried to stay out completely, and those who claimed veterans' preferences for having served in various Irish military or para-military units and claimed abstinence from the Great War as a virtue. Heroes or traitors resonated with my interests in Irish and Great War history. At times I found the author to be more statistical and anecdotal in his presentation than I am used to, but overall this is an excellent read for anyone interested in the lingering echoes of the Great War and its wake.

James M. Gallen

Monday, April 10, 2017

A Forgotten Wartime Musical Favorite: I Am Coming Back to Kansas

Contributed by James Patton

I Am Coming Back to Kansas
© Nellie Blanche Smirl 7 Sept 1918, E 432374  



When I have time to dream about you,
Pleasant mem'ries I'll recall,
For I've lived in many places,
But you're dearest of them all.
I can see the rolling prairies
And can breathe the fragrant air,
And Kansas-land shall be my home
When I get thro' over there.

Chorus:
I am coming back to Kansas,
Tho' I am so far away,
There is no place so grand,
It's the fairy land, Of the whole world, I say.
But when duty calls I'll follow,
Follow all the way;
Glad to fight for Uncle Sam with all my might,
But I'll come back some day.



Click Here to Play Music


The same old moon I see a-shining,
And he makes me think of you,
For he heard that lass in Kansas
As she promised to be true.
So while birds are sweetly singing
And the sunflow'rs fringe the way,
And wedding bells have rung for us,
I'll be there to always stay.

Chorus:
I am coming back to Kansas,
Tho' I am so far away,
There is no place so grand,
It's the fairy land, Of the whole world, I say.
But when duty calls I'll follow,
Follow all the way;
Glad to fight for Uncle Sam with all my might,
But I'll come back some day.



"I Am Coming Back to Kansas" was composed and published on 31 August 1918 by Nellie Blanche Smirl (24/11/1889–3/11/1986),also Mrs. Clarence G. Smirl, a 28-year-old homemaker with a six-year- old daughter named Mildred, who lived in the small central Kansas city of Ellsworth in the county of the same name.

There is no record of any other music published by Nellie Blanche during her long life. Although all census records available describe her as a housewife, in 1940 she stated that she had income of $200 per year, which was not small change in an era when the minimum wage was 30 cents an hour. Her obituary in the Wichita Eagle described her as a "retired teacher." She has an entry in the Social Security Death Index, so at some point in time after 1935 she registered, presumably because she got a job. Another detail from her obituary is that she parented a niece and a nephew, the children of a sister.

Nellie Blanche may have been motivated to write her work to honor the service of her brother-in-law, Harry L. Smirl (1893–1978), who survived the war and died in Los Angeles.

Sunday, April 9, 2017

At Arras: The Short Life of the Iron Duke

This week we will be featuring several articles on the the Centennial of the Battle of Arras.  We begin with a well-known photo from the battle.


This classic photo from the Imperial War Museum shows British Mark II Tank  #781,  aka the "Iron Duke," rolling through the city of Arras 100 years ago tomorrow, 10 April 1917 on its way to the battlefield.  Originally assigned to Tank Battalion C, the Iron Duke was temporarily  ditched for some reason prior to the start of of the Battle of Arras. Possibly this is why it was still in the city when the battle was raging just to the east. It was returned to action eventually but was destroyed by enemy fire on 20 April near the present day site of Feuchy Chapel Commonwealth Cemetery.  There is no record of its commander,  2Lt Street, or any of the crew killed or wounded that day.

Saturday, April 8, 2017

Centennial News: U.S. Commemoration Big Success in Kansas City

After streaming the entire Centennial Commemoration of the U.S. Entry into World War I held 6 April in Kansas City, I really regret being unable to attend in person. The program was wonderful in content and epic in scale.  My congratulations to the WWI Commission, the National WWI Museum and Memorial, the Pritzker Museum, and all the other organizations, participants, and volunteers who pulled this off. Helping make the day especially dramatic was the wonderful weather provided courtesy of Kansas City mayor Sly James, who took credit for it during his talk. (I, of course, believe we should take His Honor at his word.)

Below are some images that I hope capture the ceremony with a few of my own impressions. However, you can view the entire event on either YouTube, or at the Commission's site

Next week I will be publishing another article on the local and regional commemoration held on 6 April 2017.  If you have photos and some descriptions of your event please send them to me:  greatwar@earthlink.net

The Venue at Dawn, 6 April 2017
The Big Screens Would Prove to Be Very Effective in Showing Footage from the War (Extremely Well Done by the War) and Views of the Speakers and Performers

Doughboys of the 1st Division Supported the Event

The View from the Audience
Congressman Emanuel Cleaver of Missouri at the Podium

Congressman Cleaver and All His Fellow Elected Officials Were on Message, Well Informed About the War, and Often Moving and Inspiring

A Young Doughboy Views the Event



WWI Commission Chairman Col. Robert Dalessandro Strongly Made the Case for
a National World War One Memorial in Washington, DC
 


Flyover by France's Patrouille de France, Later a USAF B-2 Bomber Flew Over the Crowd


Family Members of Notable WWI Veterans (L-R) George Patton, Noble Sissle,
Alvin York, and John J. Pershing
.
Helen Patton (the General's Granddaughter Here at the Podium) Provided My Personal Favorite Moment of the Event When She Sang Lt. Hunter Wickersham's Poem,
 "The Raindrops on My Old Tin Hat" for the crowd.

The Closing Salute, Fittingly,  Was Fired by a Battery from the 129th Field Artillery,
Which Was Capt. Harry Truman's Unit in the Great War








Friday, April 7, 2017

America's Road to War: The First Big Decisions


By Professor Michael McCarthy,  Marshall University

The day after President Wilson signed the war resolution the United States found itself unmindful of and ill-prepared for the degree of involvement which its participation would require. Fundamental strategic questions—such as whether to send an army to Europe, and if so when and where to deploy it to support national goals—remained unanswered until after the Congress granted Wilson's request for a declaration of war on Imperial Germany.

The decision for war itself answered only the first half of a two-part question. The nation now had to decide how to fight. The thought of committing an army to the Continent was revolting to some American politicians. Three strategic decisions had to be made very quickly: The Nature of American Participation in the War,  How to Raise an Army, and Where to Fight.


What to Do?

Both Great  Britain and France had ideas on this and quickly dispatched military missions to the States. On 27 April France's visiting Field Marshal Joffre met with Secretary of War Newton Baker, Army Chief of Staff Hugh Scott and Assistant Chief of Staff, General Tasker Bliss.  The Frenchman repeated his appeal for "men, men, men" and requested that an American division be sent to Europe at once. His suggestion would not receive an endorsement. General Bliss stated their position that to immediately dispatch an untrained force would result in the butchering of untrained American recruits. The military's position was clear: the immediate dispatch of an expeditionary force to Europe would not, in their opinion, be in the best interest of the American war effort. 

Just such an expeditionary force, however, departed in June 1917 under the command of General John J. Pershing. The British and French missions seem to have persuaded Wilson, and during the resident's four o'clock private meeting with the French field marshal on 2 May he had "allowed General Joffre to take it for granted that such a force would be sent just as soon as we could send it." In his 65-minute audience with Wilson, the French commander successfully elicited what the American military planners had opposed so passionately ever since war had appeared likely.


How to Raise the Expeditionary Force?

Immediately after America entered the war, the problem of raising manpower was addressed at the urging of Army chief of staff Hugh Scott. Conscription would be needed. The president gave his assent, and Army provost marshal Enoch Crowder drew up a bill that met with intense but narrowly based opposition. On 18 May, Mr. Wilson signed the Selective Service Act which, after some expansion in 1918, would draft 2.7 million recruits to supplement the enlistments in the regular services and National Guard.


What to Do With the Expeditionary Force?

The decision to send an immediate expeditionary force to France did not complete American strategic planning. While the United States had committed itself to a military role, the exact nature of the nation's involvement remained to be shrouded in fog as dense as that which surrounded General Pershing* and his staff as they departed New York Harbor for Europe in late May 1917. 

Of immediate concern was the speed with which American troops would follow the First Division across the Atlantic: would the bulk of the American army remain in North America to complete its training or would the United States begin shipping more soldiers immediately? In addition, during the few months after the initial expeditionary force was dispatched to France, some prominent Americans—even Wilson himself—questioned the wisdom of fighting on the Western Front. Almost three years of relentless fighting there had left the terrain scarred with trenches and graves, yet had yielded little gain for either side. An alternative was sought. Western Front early in their war planning. Baker himself recalled years after the war that "General Pershing, General Scott, General Bliss and I had agreed that the war would have to be won on the Western Front at the time General Pershing started overseas. At one of our conferences before he left we discussed some of the sideshows and decided that they were all useless..."In spite of the sound, strategic rationale for this decision, the General Staff would be forced to explain its reasoning repeatedly throughout the remainder of the year.  


A total of 4,734,991 Americans would serve in the armed forces in the First World War. This would have supported an expeditionary force of 80 of these extra-large divisions in Europe. However, with the help of the AEF, with only half of the planned divisions in theater, the war was brought to a decisive conclusion on the Western Front faster than anyone had dreamt possible in 1917.  Those  planners, however, would have been shocked to hear that American troops would also be deployed to Italy,  Northern Russia,and Siberia as well before all the guns became silent.

*The decision to select General Pershing will be discussed in later postings on Roads to the Great War.

Professor McCarthy's article first appeared in slightly different form in the May 2007 issue of Over the Top magazine.

Thursday, April 6, 2017

America's Road to War, 6 April 1917: The United States Declares War on Imperial Germany




On 4 April the Senate held a daylong debate, then voted 82 to 6, with eight abstentions, for war. The House voted 373 to 50 on 6 April, Good Friday. The joint war resolution was rushed to the White House; Woodrow Wilson interrupted his lunch and came to the office of the usher, Ike Hoover. "Stand by me, Edith," he said to his wife. She handed him a gold fountain pen, a gift he had given her, to sign the document. 

Immediately afterward, a signal was passed to a junior naval officer, who  had been instructed by Assistant Secretary Franklin Delano Roosevelt to stand in readiness. Now the young man rushed outside and with his arms semaphored to a figure standing in a window of the adjacent State, War and Navy building, who then ordered that wireless messages be sent to all the ships at sea: the United States of America was at war.

This is the document the president had just signed.

Joint Resolution Declaring that a state of war exists between the Imperial German Government and the Government and the people of the United States and making provision to prosecute the same.

Whereas the Imperial German Government has committed repeated acts of war against the Government and the people of the United States of America; Therefore be it Resolved by the Senate and the House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress Assembled, that the state of war between the United States and the Imperial German Government which has thus been thrust upon the United States is hereby formally declared; and that the President be, and he is hereby, authorized and directed to employ the entire naval and military forces of the United States and the resources of the Government to carry on war against the Imperial German Government; and to bring the conflict to a successful termination all of the resources of the country are hereby pledged by the Congress of the United States.

CHAMP CLARK
Speaker of the House of Representatives

THOS. R. MARSHALL
Vice President of the United States and President of the Senate

Approved, April 6, 1917
WOODROW WILSON

Tomorrow: What Next?