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

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Georges Scott: Portraitist of the Poilu

Georges Scott is one of the great illustrators of the First World War. His work is of the highest quality and in his battle depictions he captures the dynamic element of war better than any artist I know of. His drawings of the trucks on the Voie Sacrée and the U.S. Marines fighting through Belleau Wood are unforgettable. However, what has struck me about Scott is  his series of sympathetic individual portrayals of his fellow Frenchmen, in the trenches, the Poilus. Here are some of his illustrations from the collection of our contributing editor Tony Langley, the commentary is also Tony's.

Georges Scott (a French citizen in spite of the  English-sounding name) was the son of an engraver and illustrator. He started his career in the 1890s and worked as war correspondent for the news magazine L'Illustration during the Balkan Wars of 1912–13. When war broke out  in 1914 he was mobilized into the French Army and was able to continue his work as artist-illustrator for that same prestigious publication, producing many renowned and now famous works dealing with the Great  War .

Georges Scott worked from sketches and photographs and also illustrated many heroic accounts he read about in newspapers. At times he was not above creating a fictional, but heroic, war scene. He was an  illustrator foremost, producing work especially intended for the news media. As such, his images were deliberately patriotic and inspiring, with an element  of 1870s Franco-Prussian War dash and glory thrown in for good measure. Then, again, much of his later war work was highly realistic and accurate with regard to conditions at the front. He produced work in varied styles, using various media such as  watercolors, chalk and pastels, or oil paints. 

As with François Flameng, most of Scott's works were originally printed in lavish two-page color spreads in French magazines or as cover pages and were reprinted in magazines and books in many countries, both during and after the war. Even German magazines were not above reprinting his illustrations during the war, though with slightly less inspiring French patriotic captions.

He continued a long and successful artistic career  after the Armistice, still working as a war correspondent/illustrator for L'Illustration during the Spanish Civil War at the age of 65 and afterward during the early part of the Second World War as well. Many of his original works are now in the Musée de l'Armée  in Paris and are still  regularly exhibited.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Late Arriving, but the Men of the AEF's 40th Division Saw a Lot of Action

Shoulder Patch—40th "Sunshine" Division

The 40th Division of the AEF was composed primarily of National Guardsmen from California  and the nearby western states. It was initially formed up in August 1917 at Camp Kearney in southern California. However, its manpower was depleted by 8,000 men to fill  out other divisions in late 1917. The division was not brought up to full staffing until the summer of 1918, but the training regimen had not been completed when the division was ordered to France. Its most famous member when it departed was comedian Buster Keaton.

The Division Training at Camp Kearney

On 26 July 1918, Headquarters and Headquarters Troop, followed by the different units, entrained for overseas duty, the entire 40th Division arriving in France during the month of August 1918, where it became the Sixth Depot Division or replacement division. As a unit, 40th Division saw no active service at the front, but its officers, and men formed parts of the First, Second, Third, Twenty-sixth, Seventy-seventh, and Seventy-ninth Divisions at St. Mihiel and in the Argonne. On 20 September 1918, a few days before [the Meuse-Argonne] drive an order reached the 40th Division Headquarters for 5000 infantry replacements, including officers, to be sent to divisions at the front. Of that number, 2500 were taken from the 159th and 160th Regiments. The 5000 officers and men of the 40th Division became part of the 77th Infantry Division during the Meuse-Argonne drive, and 100 men of Company G , 160th Infantry, were in the famous "Lost Battalion."  

Capt. Holderman
The Lost Battalion group included Capt. Nelson Holderman, who received the Medal of Honor for his part in the action. His road to the Argonne is instructive as to what service around the time of the Great War could involve for a National Guardsman. He had served in Company L [Santa Ana], 7th California Infantry Regiment during the Mexican Border Service and then in the 160th Infantry Regiment, until his company was reassigned in total as Company K, 307th Infantry Regiment.

All units of the National Guard that engaged in active service were present at the two  major offensives, the St . Mihiel and Meuse-Argonne. By 11 November 1918, the 40th Division had processed over 27,000 replacements into the front lines, and ranked seventh among the combat divisions of the A.E.F. in casualties. Of the men who started out with the 40th Division 2,587 were killed in battle, 11,596 were wounded in action, 70 taken prisoner, and 103 died due to other reasons.With the signing of the Armistice on 11 November 1918, the units of the 40th Division returned to California and were discharged at Camp Kearney and the Presidio of San Francisco, their services being no longer required. The last unit of the California National Guard, Company A, 115th Field Signal Battalion, was demobilized 16 July 1919 .

Sources: History of the California National Guard and Naval Militia in World War I
1917-1919, and California and the Lost Battalion.  Thanks to Sgt. Major  Dan Sebby for letting us know about these resources.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Men in War
Reviewed by David F. Beer

Men in War

by Andreas Latzko
BiblioBazaar reprint, 2016. First published in 1917.

What was a man who lay gasping on the road to him? One man more or less. In the rhythmic regularity of the marching column, he had passed by thousands like him, and it had never occurred to his mind, dulled by weariness, that the grey spots thickly strewn over the fields, the heaps lining the roadway like piles of dung in the spring, were human beings struck down by death (p. 117).

Men in War is a psychologically penetrating scream against the horrors of World War One. Its six chapters stand alone as short stories or vignettes, each revealing what the war could do in one way or another to its participants. The author well knew what he was writing about: Andreas Latzko was a Hungarian Jew who served as an officer in the Imperial and Royal Wehrmacht of Austria-Hungary. When war between Italy and Austria-Hungary broke out he was sent to the front on the Isonzo River, where he contracted malaria. He was forced to fight on for some time before suffering severe shock during a heavy Italian artillery attack near Gorizia (or Goerz). He then spent eight months in hospital before going to Davos for more convalescence. During this period he wrote Men in War.

Andreas Latzko
Although the author describes background settings and events with evocative clarity, his real subject matter is the human mind and what war can do to it. The opening chapter, for example, describes an officers' hospital behind the front. A group of patients enjoys a warm evening outside by the fountain while in the distance the big guns growl. The conversation turns to what each felt was the worst thing about the war. Suddenly one of them, whose timid wife is visiting him, screams out: "What was the most awful thing? The only awful thing is the going off. You go off to war—and they let you go. That's the awful thing." He continues, "sputtering from his twitching lips with a fury that cast out the words like a seething stream," with a piercing attack on the wives and families who had betrayed them all by cheering them off to war, rather than holding them back at all costs from the horrors. Eventually this "crazy" officer is restrained and taken back to his bed. Evening becomes night, others go back to their wards where they still hear screams from their demented comrade. An old watchman outside clenched his fist, "and sent out a long curve of saliva from between his teeth, and muttered in a disgust that came from the depths of his soul: "Hell!"

Suffice it to say (not to be a spoiler), each chapter is centered on a specific event or circumstance that plumbs the depth of psychological and emotional torture brought on by the war. Many subtopics are familiar, such as ignorant or uncaring civilians, hideous and haunting deaths, the conditions of troops versus high-ranking staff, and the homecoming of the mutilated. These and other themes are all used to undergird the powerful emotions of anger, fear, and resentment that carry the book along, such as this from a soldier who has had his fill of what he refers to as "man salad."

Men come home with motionless, astonished eyes, still reflecting death. They walk about shyly, like somnambulists in brightly lighted streets. In their ears there still resound the bestial howls of fury that they themselves bellowed into the hurricane of the drumfire so as to keep from bursting from inner stress. They come loaded down, like beasts of burden, with horrors, the astonished looks of bayoneted, dying foes on their conscience-and they don't dare open their mouths… (p. 91).

Austro-Hungarian Amputees

Men in War is not a long book (124 pages in the reprint I have), and the translator has done an excellent job. It reads clearly and easily, without hesitation—but the subject matter gives us considerable pause for reflection and even shock. No wonder Latzko first published it anonymously, and although soon a great success, it was banned for some time by most of the countries involved in the Great War. It is certainly one of the most powerful antiwar books I have ever read.

David F. Beer

Monday, March 20, 2017

The Centennial at the Grass Roots: Doughboy-MIA

Lost Battalion Memorial
Author and historian Robert (Rob) Laplander, currently living in Wisconsin, has a lifelong passion for the study of American participation in the First World War, in particular the activities of the 1st Corps of the American 1st Army during the Meuse-Argonne Offensive.

His specific research into the "Lost Battalion" of the 77th Division spans 20 years and is by far the most extensive ever done on the battalion's behalf.  His book on the subject, Finding the Lost Battalion: Beyond the Rumors, Myths and Legend of America’s Famous WW1 Epic, has become the benchmark work on that event, for which he is recognized the world over.

Rob Laplander
Rob was also the driving force behind the Lost Battalion Memorial at Charlevaux Mills near the actual site of the heroic event in the Argonne Forest (shown on the left). Prior to its dedication in 2006, there was no on-site commemoration for the men who suffered the five-day ordeal.  Rob's body of work led to his being a featured figure in the upcoming PBS three-day television event, The Great War

He is also the founder  of Doughboy-MIA, a  project dedicated  to tracking down  all the missing service personnel from the war (HOMEPAGE).  It is the only one of its kind to deal exclusively with that subject. Here you find nothing on America’s other wars and their casualties. Instead here you will find only information, stories, and research tools designed to investigate the American lost of WW1 as well as the most accurate and up to date list of those American soldiers, sailors, and Marines still listed as Missing in Action from the Great War.

The Wall of Remembrance at the Meuse-Argonne Cemetery 
Lists 954 American's Missing in Action During the Great War.
8 Men of the Lost Battalion Are Included and
They Inspired Rob Laplander to Start the Doughboy-MIA Project.

Rob was recently interviewed by Chris Isleib of the World War One Centennial Commission in which he described the mission and some of his thoughts about the effort.

No man's or woman's sacrifice in the cause of freedom should ever be forgotten, no matter how much time has passed or whether there are living memories of them or not. These people went Over There and lost their lives, then were largely lost to history. They have remained in a shadowy area between those who came back and those who did not and remained in France. True, they are there (or at sea), but their stories are open-ended—for their families closure was denied, and all that remained for them was a name on a wall. While that was better than nothing at all, today even the names are largely forgotten. As a country we go to great lengths to recover our dead. The DPAA sends teams out to work over recoveries from WW2 on up to today—but WW1 is outside of their parameters. They simply don't have the funding, personnel or the expertise in the era to do the work. That's where we at Doughboy MIA come in. Just because it happened 100 years ago now doesn't mean we should give up. Not when the possibility still exists, which it does. Remember: A Man Is Only Missing If He Is Forgotten. We won't let them be forgotten.

Support the Centennial
Purchase Rob's Book
Doughboy MIA is doing well.  We've submitted a report late last year to the American Battle Monuments Commission (ABMC) on a name that looks to have appeared on the list twice, and the wheels are turning on that right now. It also looks like, thanks to a reader who cares, that we've got a Navy fellow who was lost at sea very early in the war who was never placed on the list or commemorated on any of the Walls of the Missing in the cemeteries overseas or here at home. We're making our double checks now on that case before we submit it to the ABMC for consideration. And we're wrapping up the last bits on the case of a 1st Division sergeant whose remains went unlocated following the war that we've been investigating for about a year now. This is for the 1st Division Museum in Illinois. It looks as if there is the possibility that we might be able to locate him using some of today's technology. The initial report will be submitted on that early next week and at the beginning of April I will be consulting with a soil expert on the use of some of these technologies as per this case and possible others.  We still have not been able to locate the paperwork relating to the Unknowns buried overseas. Readers are encouraged to contact us if they think they may have an idea where that stuff might be, though be advised that we've combed through the "low hanging fruit" a long while ago, so what we're looking for isn't going to be in obvious places listed online. Remember: a man is only missing if he is forgotten.

If you would like to help Rob and his Doughboy MIA team or have some information that may help them at their work (especially that missing paperwork), please contact them at:

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Sir Ernest Rutherford, Father of Nuclear Physics and Sonar

Sir Ernest Rutherford 
Detecting submarines under water was a major challenge during the Great War, tackled by a section of the Board of Invention and Research under Sir Ernest Rutherford. In 1915 Rutherford published a paper about a signaling system that would use sound waves beyond the range of human hearing. Rutherford and his colleagues performed secret experiments to test underwater microphones (hydrophones) in water tanks in labs at the University of Manchester. Later they used donated fishing trawlers to conduct full-scale tests at a research outpost on the south coast of Fife, Scotland.

The first practical device was the hydrophone, which, when lowered into the sea, could detect the sound of a submarine’s engine and the direction in which it lay. There was, however, no means of determining distance. In 1917 Rutherford traveled to the United States and formed an association with the American scientific community, which contributed to further research. Also, helpful was the research of French physicist Paul Langevin on echo-ranging. 

The Hydrophone in Concept

By 1918 a primitive means of detecting a submarine by use of a pulse of sound had been devised and the first set was at sea just before the Armistice. Known as “ASDIC” (Anti-Submarine Detection Investigation Committee) until the term was superseded in the 1960s by the American “Sonar” (Sound Navigation and Ranging) this device was not fully operational until 1924. Other means of detecting submerged submarines, by the use of sea gulls and later sea lions, although tried, did not prove practical.

Source: New Zealand Naval Museum and Live Science Websites

Saturday, March 18, 2017

Key Failure of the Gallipoli Campaign: The Naval Assault of 18 March 1915

It is no longer possible to force 
the Dardanelles . . . 
Nobody would expose a modern fleet 
to such perils.
Winston Churchill, 1911

18 British and French Capital Ships 
Approaching the Straits on 18 March 1915

Obviously, Sir Winston changed his mind four years later, despite Horatio Nelson, greatest admiral of the Royal Navy, having advised against ships engaging fortifications. Lord Nelson had considerably more experience in such matters than the First Lord of the Admiralty. Nonetheless, the first phase of the Allied assault against the Dardanelles involved a major fleet effort to eliminate the numerous forts, open and mobile batteries, and old castles with modern artillery installed, all arrayed along the straits. Eighteen battleships with their enormous main batteries, supplemented at times by Marine landing parties apparently seemed sufficient to the naval planners for the mission. Also, the decision makers felt the mines planted in the straits were a solvable problem. However, it was the combination of the fort and the artillery that was to prove unsolvable.

Two Views of the Dardanelles
Below:  City of Çanakkale  at the Narrows, Entrance to  Straits to Far Left
Top: Narrows from Çanakkale,  Kilid Bahr Fortress Visible 

to Left on Shoreline 

These views, above and below,  give a sense of the distances involved and the tactical situation on 18 March.

Battleships, Minefields, and Shore Batteries
(Çanakkale Is the Large Square on the Right)

The Turkish guns were considered too old, too exposed, and of too small a caliber to threaten the heavily armored ships. However, I have visited many of the sites, and the positions were numerous and all very well sited, with commanding views of the straits.

Lower: Your Editor at Kum Kale on the Asian Side, 
Typical Turkish Shore Battery
Top: Kilil Bahr, Largest and Most Modern of the Forts, Today

The decisive blow against the British and French armada, though, came due to a passive defense—mines. Beginning where the width Dardanelles decreases from its maximum 7 km to 1.6 km at the Narrows, ten rows of naval mines were laid just below the surface perpendicular to the straits. The Royal Navy knew all about these. They just needed to be swept away to allow the fleet to advance. But the forts on shore prevented the mine sweepers from doing their work, so the battleships in rows of four were sent in to take turns pounding the forts. After firing, each row was to turn starboard toward the Asian side, where an indentation on the shoreline provided a turning basin for moving to the rear. 

Nusrat, the Most Famous Turkish Ship of the War, 
Views of the Minefield Area, the Turning Basin (Upper Right), 
and French Battleship Bouvet Sinking

Unbeknownst to the Allied naval command, however, was the work of the German-built minelayer Nusrat. On the night of 7/8 March  1915, with Capt. Hakki Bey in command, Nusrat ventured out in the silence and darkness from Çanakkale and parallel to shore laid the 26 remaining available mines (in what was to prove the fleet's critical turning area near the Asian shore). Naval and air reconnaissance failed to discover these mines. In quick succession here on March 18, the Royal Navy lost HMS Ocean and Irresistible and the French Navy the Bouvet. Three other battleships were seriously damaged from mines or in the exchange of gunfire. These undreamt-of losses utterly demoralized the naval staff, and a land campaign was initiated—one that the Turkish Army was confident it could defeat.

During my visits to Gallipoli I have discovered that the Turks have a completely different view of the 1915 campaign than that presented in English-language sources. They believe that after the main naval assault of 18 March failed they had defeated the Allies because they could subsequently deploy enough forces to Gallipoli Peninsula or the Asiatic side to foil any effort to control the straits or march overland on Constantinople. Enver Pasha declared this to be the case at the time, and, for once, his instincts were correct. "March 18, 1915" is Turkey's equivalent to Anzac Day—but a victory day, proclaimed as such in a large sign on a hill overlooking Çanakkale, and the name that is given to the local university.

Friday, March 17, 2017

Carl Sandburg: A.E.F. & Buttons

Carl Sandburg —Army Veteran, War Correspondent, Sentimentalist, Socialist, Populist, Globalist, Novelist, Biographer, and Poet. A man of so many parts it's probably impossible to list  them all. No  doubt he was deeply affected by the First World War. For a lot of Americans (as Sherwood Anderson wrote) "among all  the poets of America he is my poet." Here are two representative poems (I think) from his First World War  period.  Additions and opinions welcome in the comments section.

A. E. F.

There will be a rusty gun on the wall, sweetheart,

The rifle grooves curling with flakes of rust.

A spider will make a silver string nest in the darkest, warmest corner of it.

The trigger and the range-finder, they too will be rusty.

And so hands will polish the gun, and it will hang on the wall.

Forefingers and thumbs will point absently and casually toward it.

It will be spoken among half-forgotten, wished-to-be-forgotten things.

They will tell the spider: Go on, you're doing good work.


I HAVE been watching the war map slammed up for
advertising in front of the newspaper office.
Buttons–red and yellow buttons–blue and black buttons–
are shoved back and forth across the map.

A laughing young man, sunny with freckles,
Climbs a ladder, yells a joke to somebody in the crowd,
And then fixes a yellow button one inch west
And follows the yellow button with a black button one
inch west.

(Ten thousand men and boys twist on their bodies in
a red soak along a river edge,
Gasping of wounds, calling for water, some rattling
death in their throats.)

Who would guess what it cost to move two buttons one
inch on the war map here in front of the newspaper
office where the freckle-faced young man is laughing

to us?

~ Carl Sandburg 

Source: Smoke and Steel, 1920

Thursday, March 16, 2017

Executed for Cowardice

Rev Richard Griffiths served as a chaplain to the forces in the 24th Field Ambulance, Eighth Division, of the British Army in France. He was 49. He wrote about his experiences in a detailed journal. The extract below describes the execution of a deserter. 

3 June 1915: I received the shocking confidential information that one of the men was condemned for repeated desertion and cowardice and is to be shot. The message came late last night and I have been with him most of the afternoon. I sat on the edge of the dug-out talking, with him crouched on the straw. The bullets and shells did not matter, as this lad pleaded with me to do all I could for him, and I tried to bring him to truth, honour and God. Many thoughts weighed up. 

Pro: His youth, not yet 20. His circumstances—an only son and his mother a widow. His health—he repeated that his head troubled him, and he did not know what he was doing. 

Con: The selfishness of a man wishing other people to face dangers for him and unwilling to take his share. What right has any man to ask that? The falseness of some of his statements. The need of discipline—on two battlefields he had run away, after being warned. The assurance that every consideration must have been weighed by the Court Martial, the Brigadier, the General, the Corps Commander, the Army Commander and the Field-Marshal—and yet one’s last lingering wonder is whether penal servitude would not have answered the offence. Those responsible have decided not. 

Film Depiction of a WWI Execution

4 June 1915, 4.30 a.m.: It is all past—the hideous business. The actual agony was over in three minutes and the burial in another five. Everyone was assembled by 3.30 a.m. He was a man who had made many scenes, and it was thought I should not speak with him again, and I felt that that was right. The sandbag bank, the hollow in front of it with the stake. The long grass and oat stalks. The trench made for the purpose, along which were lined small detachments from other battalions. The firing party about 20 paces in front. The Provost Marshal, the Colonel, three or four officers, the doctor. I put on my black scarf and stood at the side, almost too stunned to pray. Behind came the prisoner, scarcely able to walk, pleading and groaning. As he turned the corner he suddenly dashed from his guard and ran wildly across the broken ground, stumbling, panting, able in his despair to reach an astonishing speed, and for the time, to outdistance the men, laden with their equipment. He was eventually caught, and as he came back facing us, he presented a pathetic figure. He was tied to the stake. His eyes were bandaged. "Past 4 o’clock," said the Colonel to the Provost Marshal. A sudden quick crack and the huddled earthly form was separated from the soul gone to the beyond. 

4 June 1915, later: The strain of this morning has been rather much. Other men have gone from us, so many now, good and gallant—known to be sinful, some of them, but redeeming so much by dying bravely. One likes to recall them at a time like this. That abject cry: "Can I have the bandage off, sir? I want to see the sky"—cut short with the sharp crack, the quiet thud, the absolute silence, the stillness. The quick "about turn" to the firing party. The swish of an enemy bullet in the long grass across the path — it was difficult to pray.

Published in the Guardian, 26 July 2014

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

100 Years Ago: Tsar Nicholas Romanov Abdicates the Throne

The Headquarters

To the Chief of Staff

In the days of the great struggle against the foreign enemy, which almost for three years has tried to enslave our country, God the Lord has seen it fit to send Russia a new ordeal. The arisen internal disturbances among the people will threaten to have a disastrous reflexion in the further conduct of the obstinate war. The fate of Russia, the honor of our heroic army, well-being of the people, the whole future of our dear Fatherland demand the war to be brought to the victorious end by whatever means. The cruel enemy is straining its last strengths and already close is the moment, when our valiant army together with our glorious allies will finally be able to break down the enemy. In these decisive days in the life of Russia WE have considered it to be the duty of conscience to facilitate for OUR people the close unification and rallying of all national forces, for the earliest reaching of the victory, and with the consent of the State Duma WE have considered it right and proper to give up the Throne of the State of Russia and to resign OUR Supreme Power. As we do not want to part with OUR son, WE pass OUR legacy to OUR Brother, Grand Duke Michael Alexandrovich and bless Him to ascend the Throne of the Russian State. WE command OUR Brother to govern affairs of the State in full and inviolable unity with the representatives of the people in the legislative bodies on such grounds, which they will enact, and to make for that an inviolable oath. In the name of the warmly beloved homeland I call all true sons of the Fatherland to fulfill their sacred duty for Her by their obedience to the Tsar at a difficult moment of nationwide ordeals and help HIM, together with the representatives of the people, to lead the Russian State to the road of victory, prosperity and glory. 

May God the Lord help Russia.

2 March 15 h 5 min. 1917 (old calendar)


Minister of the Imperial Court
Adjutant General Count Freedericksz

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Kentucky Marine: Major General Logan Feland
Reviewed by Peter Belmonte

Kentucky Marine: Major General Logan Feland and the Making of the Modern USMC

by David J. Bettez
University Press of Kentucky, 2016

With this book, David J. Bettez, former director of the Office of International Affairs at the University of Kentucky, has given us a well-deserved biography of an important figure in Marine Corps history, Major General Logan Feland. As a complete biography, it covers Feland's entire life, from his humble origins in rural western Kentucky, through his schooling, U.S. Army service, U.S. Marine Corps service, to his final days as a senior Marine Corps officer. The text is enhanced by many fine photographs of Feland and the men with whom he served. Bettez also includes a helpful timeline of Feland's life and thorough endnotes. His bibliography is more than enough to satisfy anyone desiring further reading on these topics.

Feland's military career started as a Kentucky National Guard officer in the 1890s. During the Spanish-American War, his regiment was mobilized and deployed to Georgia. Unfortunately, due to illnesses in the ranks and other systemic problems, Feland's company didn't go to Cuba until after the fighting had ended. He served a short time at Guantanamo before returning to Kentucky. In 1899 Feland sought and was granted a commission as a first lieutenant in the U.S. Marine Corps.

The Fifth Marines Heading for France, 28 June 1917
Logan Feland Would Command These Men in France

Bettez's descriptions of young Feland's early Marine Corps career is a dizzying recitation of numerous expeditionary deployments. The young officer deployed to such places as the Philippines, Panama, Cuba, Puerto Rico, and Mexico. These assignments reflect the United States' role as a hemispheric power and its emergence as a world power. Although Bettez doesn't cover the history of each intervention in depth, one can readily grasp how politicians viewed the Caribbean as vital to U.S. national and economic interests. Interspersed with these deployments, Feland participated in efforts to shape Marine Corps doctrine and training in a variety of assignments.

Feland's World War I experience, although exciting and important, is given only 36 pages of coverage. He was instrumental in the success, albeit costly, of the Marine brigade at Belleau Wood where he earned the Distinguished Service Cross for his heroism. Shortly after the battle he was promoted to colonel and assumed command of the Fifth Regiment of Marines. Colonel Feland then commanded that regiment at several bloody engagements well known to readers of this blog: Soissons, Saint Mihiel, Blanc Mont, and the Meuse-Argonne.

Bettez devotes by far the most space to Feland's life and duties during the 1920s and 1930s. The author covers U.S. involvement in Nicaragua quite thoroughly. Feland served there in the late 1920s; part of the Marines' duties was to hunt down guerilla leader Augustino Sandino and his gang of "bandits." Although Feland's men never brought Sandino to ground, they did keep him on the run and, according to Bettez, allowed for a peaceful Nicaraguan presidential election in 1928.

After his Nicaraguan tours of duty, Feland returned to the U.S. and sought, unsuccessfully, the position of commandant of the Marine Corps. Bettez's account of this, and also of Feland's previous attempts at securing promotions, brings to light the petty bickering and backstabbing that was prevalent among the higher ranks. Although Feland is portrayed mostly, and rightly, in a positive light, his quibbling over fundraising for a Second Division memorial in Washington, D.C., was not his finest hour. Major General Logan Feland died in 1936. He served his country and the Marine Corps faithfully and is deserving of the honor of this biography.

James M. Gallen

Monday, March 13, 2017

Some Favorite Images from Over the Top: Magazine of the World War One Centennial

I have been publishing my Over the Top monthly magazine since 2007, and during my recent computer upgrade I've had the chance to take a  fresh look at some of the images  we have presented, or considered presenting, to our readers  over the years. Here are some that struck me as particularly striking or interesting.

Powerful Propaganda Piece Obviously Designed to Enhance the Hindenburg Mystique

Opening Ceremony, 1920 Antwerp Olympics

Minstrel Harry Lauder on a Visit to America with Two U.S. Marines 

An Allied-Free French Victory Celebration

The Kaiser Visits the Sultan 
Note the Suspicious Enver Pasha on  the Far Left

Fairly Accurate, but Unrealistically Clean, Depiction of the Real Version

The Contrasting Expressions on the Two National Representatives Is Priceless

I Have Lost the Title and Artist of This Painting, Leave a Comment Below If You Know

A Rejected Design for Our First Cover (I Still Like the Fonts)

Then and Now: Fort Troyon 
Possibly the Most Important Fort of the War

Mosaic of the Squadron Insignia, Lafayette Escadrille Memorial

The Yanks Arrive in Paris
The Mourning Widow and Her Children  Make an Interesting Contrast

Doughboy Door Handle, Memorial, St. Mihiel Cemetery

One of the Secrets  of the Miracle of the Marne
The 75 Took a Tremendous Toll on the Advancing German Forces

Sunday, March 12, 2017

The Infamous Reprisal Camp

As the Battle of Verdun wound down in December 1916, the German Army demanded that the French withdraw the camps for their German prisoners to a distance of 30 km behind the front line. If the terms were not met, the Germans threatened to place their French prisoners within reach of French fire. 

The terms were not met, so a camp was opened at the village of Flabas, very close to the famous Bois des Caures, where the first action of the Battle of Verdun took place. Almost 500 prisoners were held in an enclosure of 1500 square meters. The prisoners were brutally treated. After several months the French authorities relented and the prisoners were moved away from the front. The episode was never forgotten, however, and the monument shown above stands in Flabas today recalling the incident.

Saturday, March 11, 2017

Remembering a Veteran: Captain Otto Hersing, Pour le Mérite, U-boat Commander


Capt. Hersing
Captain Otto Hersing (1885–1960) commanded one of the most successful submarines of the Great War. His boat, U-21, served in continuous action through the entire war, sinking 40  vessels, and earning him the Pour le Mérite.

Three notable events marked his fighting career with U-21.

  • U-21 sank the first ship of the war, the British Cruiser HMS Pathfinder, becoming history's first submarine to sink another ship and itself survive .

  • U-21 had a remarkable voyage to the Dardanelles area in 1915. Within three days, the German submarine, commanded by Kapitänleutnant Otto Hersing, sank two British battleships, HMS Triumph (25 May) and HMS Majestic (27 May). He earned the nickname in the U-boat service of  Zerstörer der Schlachtschiffe (Battleship Destroyer).

  • Ordered to turn his boat over to the Royal Navy at war's end, he chose instead to scuttle the boat while under British escort.

He and his crew survived, and Hersing remained in the navy after the war.  He became involved in an attempted putsch against the Weimar Republic and was eventually dismissed from the service in 1924.  He subsequently became a potato farmer and died in 1960.

Friday, March 10, 2017

Just How Useless Was the Bayonet in the Great War?

Fix Bayonets

Rob Engen

The soldier should not be taught to shrink from the bayonet attack, but to seek it. If the infantry is deprived of the arme blanche, if the impossibility of bayonet fighting is preached, and the soldier is never given an opportunity in time of peace of defending himself, man to man, with his weapon in bayonet fencing, an infantry will be developed, which is unsuitable for attack and which, moreover, lacks a most essential quality, viz., the moral power to reach the enemy's position. 
Colonel William Balck, Tactics: Introduction and Formal Tactics of Infantry, 1911

Looking into the obsolescence of the bayonet during the First World War is a complicated issue. As a direct killing weapon the bayonet was certainly past its prime, though it is debatable whether or not it ever had history. At best, a fraction of a percentage of total casualties were inflicted by the bayonet during the Great War, though unfortunately we will never know the true account for many deaths on any battlefield in modern numbers.

Bayonet Practice
Simple statistics, however, belie the true uses of the bayonet before and during the fighting. As discussed in this paper, bayonet assault doctrine was the result not of wistful nostalgia among the high commands—though it would have satisfied traditionalists—but of deliberate strategic decisions made to overcome existing difficulties. The problem of moving men forward through the fire-swept zone dominated tactical thinking at the turn of the 19th century, and after the Russo-Japanese War it was sincerely believed that such problems could be overcome by morale and the mass bayonet charge. During the war itself, the bayonet found use as a psychological tool, capitalizing on a natural human revulsion at the thought of being stabbed to both frighten the enemy and carry soldiers wielding it forward. Allied units with a reputation for closing with the enemy and engaging in hand-to-hand killing, such as the "savage" non-white colonial troops, were feared by the Germans out of all proportion to their success in the line.

So while doubt can (and should) be cast on the bayonet's efficacy as a killing weapon, it was never intended as an anachronistic substitute for firepower, but rather as a solution to defensive fire. Given the theoretical difficulty of integrating fire and movement in the doctrines of the time, the bayonet charge was a rational—if not entirely successful—solution in overcoming it in infantry doctrine. Even when the coude à coude (elbow to elbow) formations failed, though, the "offensive spirit" engendered by the bayonet was held in high regard by commanders and military theorists during the war, and it saw frequent use as a morale booster and component of the war's many infantry advances. Given all of this, a serious reassessment needs to be made of how the bayonet is portrayed and demonized in the histories of the Great War, and the bolstering of the moral power of soldiers in pitting steel against fire demands broader acknowledgment in the literature.

The rarity of bayonet fights does not prove the uselessness of the bayonet, but shows that opponents will rarely be found who are equally capable of making use of it. Indeed, the bayonet cannot be abolished for the reason, if for no other, that it is the sole and exclusive embodiment of that will power which alone, both in war and in every-day life, attains its objective, whereas reason only tends to facilitate the attainment of the object
Lt. Colonel Dave Grossman, On Killing: The Psychological Cost of Learning to Kill 
in War and Society, 2009)

Source: Over the Top, September 2009

Thursday, March 9, 2017

General Pershing's Letter of Appreciation to His "Fellow Soldiers"

General Pershing Awarding Decorations About
the Time His Letter Was  Sent to the Troops
General Pershing's letter to his soldiers shown below will be part of an exhibit to open at the National Postal  Museum in Washington DC, on 6 April. His letter of thanks and congratulations to the members of his expeditionary force inspired the title of the program—"My Fellow Soldiers: Letters from World War I." The exhibit is intended to cover the history of America’s involvement in World War I through the letters of America's participants in the struggle, including General Pershing. 

The program has been developed in partnership with the Center for American War Letters at Chapman University and will run through 29 November 2018.

Each member of the AEF was to receive a personal copy of General Pershing's letter.  This is an image of the letter presented to Corporal Raymond Maurer of the 310th Machine Gun Battalion, 79th Division from the Villanova  University Digital Library.