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

Monday, November 20, 2017

Ten Facts About the Forts of the First World War:

Forts played key roles in many of the most important battles of the Great War. 

1. At Liège, Belgian forts initially set the Schlieffen Plan behind schedule but also showed their vulnerability to modern siege artillery.

The Ring of Forts Guarding Liège in 1914

2. At Antwerp, Belgian forts bought time for King Albert to evacuate his army down the coast and join the other Allies.

3. Fort Troyon on the Meuse River prevented the Crown Prince's army from crossing and compromising General Joffre's position at the critical moment of the Battle of the Marne. 

4. Turkish forts at the Dardanelles were the initial obstacle to the naval assault.

Mecidiye Tabyalari, the Strongest and Most Modern Fort Guarding the Dardanelles in 1915

5. The first shots fired on the Italian Front were by the Italian fortress line in the Altopiani.

6. Przemyśl's network of forts proved to be the key to the Galician campaign of 1915.

Fort Geschichte at the Przemyśl Fortress Zone, Galicia

7. The role of the Verdun forts in the battle of 1916 is well known. 

8. In  July 1918, Fort Pompelle played a vital role in the defense of Reims. 

9. The design of forts were closely guarded secrets before and during the war. 

10. The success of forts for defensive purposes during the First World War, especially at Verdun, helped inspire the Maginot Line.

Sunday, November 19, 2017

Doughboy Basics: Who Were Some of the Most Memorable Doughboys?

They were all memorable, weren't they?  That's why I decided in 1998 to  build my first website around the (then) somewhat forgotten story of the American Expeditionary Forces. Here is the section in which we honor the individuals who served the nation in those days. The Second Army of our Doughboy Center has accounts and photos of the AEF's battlefield heroes, veterans who made a big impact on the nation afterward, and hundreds of typical Americans from every corner of the country, every  walk of life,  and every service and volunteer group, who shared in the adventure "Over There." After nearly 20 years, we are in the process of giving the award-winning and venerable Doughboy Center a face lift, but the information is still solid and accessible. I hope you will choose to visit these pages, frequently.

Saturday, November 18, 2017

The Unique Military Funeral of Harry Patch, the Last Tommy of World War I

(Thanks to Kathy Compagno for bringing this to our attention.)

Harry Patch at Age 109
Patch,  Henry John  [Harry]  (1898–2009), soldier and plumber, and longest surviving British veteran of the First World War, was born on 17 June 1898 at Fonthill Cottage, Combe Down, Somerset, the youngest of three sons (there were no daughters) of William John Patch (1863–1945), master stonemason, and his wife, Elizabeth Ann, neé Morris (1875–1951). He left school at 14 to start a plumbing apprenticeship with Jacob Long & Sons, one of the area's leading builders, and had no inclination whatever to volunteer for service when war was declared two years later. Instead he continued his apprenticeship and studied for the examination of the London Guild of Registered Plumbers, which he passed toward the end of 1915. The following year conscription was introduced and he was called up in October. "I didn't want to go and fight anyone, but it was a case of having to," he recalled. "I wasn't at all patriotic. I went and did what was asked of me and no more."  (Patch and van Emden, 59)

In June 1917 Patch embarked for France, where he was drafted to the 7th battalion of the Duke of York's Light Infantry as a Lewis gunner. Lewis gun teams consisted of five men: Patch was no. 2, whose responsibility was to carry spare parts, including a heavy additional barrel, so that if the gun became damaged it could be quickly repaired in situ. Towards the end of July, the regiment moved into the front line to take part in the third battle of Ypres, otherwise known as Passchendaele, with the immediate objective of ousting German troops from the village of Langemarck. Patch and his team went into action in the early hours of 16 August near Pilckem Ridge. During the advance, he came across a young British soldier "ripped open from shoulder to waist," who begged to be put out of his misery. It was an image that would haunt Patch for the rest of his life.  (Patch and van Emden, 94) The team had made a highly irregular pact not to kill anyone unless their own lives were in danger, so when they saw a German soldier running towards them with a fixed bayonet while they were providing covering fire for advancing troops, Patch used his service pistol merely to put the man safely out of action.

The Casket at Wells Cathedral
Note the Escorting Soldiers from Belgium, France, and Germany

On the night of 22 September, while the team was making its way across open ground to the reserve line, a stray shell burst directly above them and Patch received a shrapnel wound in the groin. It was only while he was recuperating in a military hospital in Liverpool that he learned that three of the gun-team had been killed by the shell, a loss which affected him deeply. By August 1918 he was deemed fit to resume training and was on the Isle of Wight when the Armistice was declared.

Exiting the Cathedral

On 18 July 2009 Harry Patch became the last officially recognized World War I British veteran, a distinction he held for just one week. He died at Fletcher House on 25 July. Having declined a state funeral, he had nevertheless agreed to a large public one at Wells Cathedral, which was held on 6 August and broadcast live on television. It was designed to reflect his belief that all those who fought in wars were victims, irrespective of the uniform they wore. His coffin was borne into the cathedral by six currently serving men from his old regiment, flanked by two infantrymen from Belgium, two from France, and two from Germany—all of them, at his request, unarmed and as young as he had been at Passchendaele. Even ceremonial weapons were banned from the service, at which representatives of the Belgian, German, and French governments gave the readings. Patch's body was then taken to Monkton Combe church, where his family and ancestors lay, for a private burial.

From: Text from and photos from Wikipedia and The Guardian

Friday, November 17, 2017

The Legendary Pursuit of the Goeben and Breslau

by Paul Chrastina
(From our Trenches on the Web site)

SMS Goeben

In the summer of 1914 the Imperial German Navy had only two warships stationed in the Mediterranean Sea. The battle cruiser Goeben and the light cruiser Breslau were under the command of Admiral Wilhelm Souchon, "a droop-jawed, determined little man," who was said to look "more like a parson than an admiral." As mounting international tensions pushed the nations of Europe toward war, Admiral Souchon found himself in a dangerous position. His two cruisers were outnumbered by the 27 ships of Great Britain's Mediterranean Fleet, a potential enemy.

Admiral Souchon's heavy battle cruiser, the Goeben. was one of the fastest and most powerful warships of its day. Manned by over 1,000 crewmen, the ship measured 640 feet in length, and carried 34 guns of various sizes. The  Goeben's largest guns could accurately fire explosive shells at targets up to 15 miles away. Despite the Goeben's formidable size and weaponry, the two-year-old ship was plagued by defective coal-fired boilers that leaked water, causing a loss of power.

Hoping to repair the  Goeben before a war began, Admiral Souchon took the ship to the Adriatic port of Pola, which was controlled by Germany's Austrian allies. Souchon's other ship, the Breslau, was in good repair but was a smaller and less powerful vessel, with a crew of 370. While the  Goeben was being repaired in Pola, in July of 1914, the Breslau lay anchored off the southern coast of Italy.

On 1 August 1914, Admiral Souchon received a wireless telegraph message informing him that Germany had declared war on Russia and would soon declare war on France.

For several months, Admiral Souchon had carried secret instructions which he was to execute in case of war with France. First, the Goeben and the Breslau were to attack French military centers in the colony of Algeria. Next, Souchon's two ships were to flee from the Mediterranean, to join the main body of the German fleet in the North Atlantic Ocean. With the repairs to the Goeben's boilers still unfinished, Souchon departed from Pola on 1 August and steamed south to join the Breslau. The two ships then passed through the Straits of Messina. which separate Italy from Sicily.

On 3 August 1914, while heading west off the coast of Sicily, Admiral Souchon received the expected news that Germany had declared war on France. He also received an unexpected change in his orders. After attacking the Algerian coast, he was no longer to sail west to the Atlantic Ocean. Instead, he was now ordered to turn around and sail east to Turkey. His new mission was to persuade the neutral Turkish government to enter the war on the side of Germany.

Route of the Pursuit: Pola to Constantinople

Following his new orders, Souchon bombarded the French colonial ports of Philippeville and Bona, Algeria, on the morning of 4 August. To confuse the French, during the bombardment he deceptively flew Russian flags, in violation of international treaties. The German ships then prepared to sail to Constantinople, Turkey, which lay 1.000 miles to the east. Lacking enough fuel for such a long passage, Admiral Souchon headed back toward Italy, where he had arranged to purchase additional coal.

Souchon's new course was taking him toward Great Britain's Mediterranean fleet, which lay anchored south of Sicily. As far as Souchon knew, Britain was still neutral, but, in fact, Great Britain was preparing to declare war on Germany. The commander of the British fleet, Vice-Admiral Sir Archibald Berkeley Milne, had received orders from London instructing him to locate and track the German ships. Under international law, Milne was allowed to pursue, but not to attack, the German ships until hostilities were officially declared.

Admiral Milne was an upper-class "social" officer, a friend of British Queen Alexandra, who fondly referred to him as "Arky-Barky." Milne had no wartime experience, and his previous title had been flag officer, Royal Yachts. One of his classic remarks was "they don't pay me to think, they pay me to be an admiral." Milne was also proud of the fact that he "never disobeyed an order and never used his discretion." Admiral Milne sent his two strongest battle cruisers, the Indomitable and the Indefatigable, to search for the Goeben and the Breslau. As the British ships approached Algeria, they unexpectedly encountered the Goeben and the Breslau coming straight toward them.

Mutually surprised, the two sets of heavily armed ships passed one another at high speed. Neither side offered the customary peacetime salutes. Instead, each ship's crew stood ready at their guns to return fire if they were attacked. After passing the Germans, the Indomitable and the Indefatigable circled around and began to follow the Goeben and the Breslau back toward Italy. At two o'clock in the afternoon, Souchon ordered his engine room to put on full speed, in an effort to shake off the trailing British ships. The German ships began to pull away from the British, but the intense heat took its toll on the German engine stokers, many of whom began to pass out while shoveling coal into the huge furnaces below decks. As the Goeben reached full speed, a defective valve ruptured, releasing into the engine room a cloud of super-heated steam that killed four men.

Despite the trouble with the Goeben's engines, the Germans outran the British ships. By nightfall on 4 August, along the north coast of Sicily, the Goeben and the Breslau pulled out of sight of their pursuers. Ignoring international law, Souchon entered neutral Italian waters and anchored his ships at the port of Messina, where merchant German coal ships were waiting for him. Nervous Italian authorities gave the German captain 24 hours to refuel and leave.

Admiral Milne meanwhile obeyed the letter of international law, and did not pursue the German ships into neutral Italian waters. Instead, he deployed the Indomitable and the Indefatigable west of Messina, where the Germans were refueling. Thinking that Souchon was either going to make a break for the Atlantic or else return to the port of Pola in the Adriatic, Milne failed to block the Germans' route toward Turkey.

SMS Breslau

At Messina, Souchon' s crew impatiently tore the decks off the merchant coal ships, transferring 1,500 tons of fuel to the Goeben and the Breslau. This was enough coal to reach the Aegean Sea, where Souchon had arranged to meet another merchant collier. While the Goeben and the Breslau took on coal, their officers grimly made out their wills and wrote letters to their families in Germany, believing that they were likely to be captured or sunk by the pursuing British fleet within hours. Souchon received a telegram from Berlin informing him that, unfortunately, the Turkish government had not yet agreed to allow his ships to enter the harbor at Constantinople.

With Italian officials urging him to leave immediately and the British fleet waiting for him in the open waters of the Mediterranean, Souchon boldly decided to head for Constantinople anyway. He later said that he felt sure that he could "force the Turks, even against their will. to spread the war to the Black Sea against their ancient enemy, Russia." The Goeben and the Breslau prepared to sail south out of Messina harbor at midnight, 5 August. Britain officially went to war with Germany at the same time.

As the Goeben and the Breslau left the harbor, their crews fully expected to find the powerful British navy waiting to pounce on them. Admiral Milne, however, had posted only one ship, a light cruiser named Gloucester, at the exit from the harbor. The Gloucester sighted the fleeing German ships by the light of a full moon and reported to Milne that they were unexpectedly heading east. For the rest of the night, the single British ship cautiously trailed the Goeben and the Breslau. Maintaining full speed, Souchon did not want to waste any time or fuel by firing on the Gloucester but instead tried unsuccessfully to jam the British ship's radio-telegraph transmissions to Admiral Milne.

The next morning, the Gloucester closed in and opened fire on the Breslau and was in turn fired upon by the Goeben. None of the ships was hit during the exchange. Careful not to stress the Goeben's engines, Souchon broke off the encounter and continued eastward, hoping to shake off the Gloucester and meet with his next coal ship in the Aegean Sea.

Near the western coast of Greece, the pursuit of the Goeben and the Breslau was taken up by four more British ships, led by Milne's second-in-command, Admiral E. C. Troubridge. Troubridge's ships were smaller and faster than the Goeben, but their guns were also smaller and could not match the range of the Goeben's ordnance. As Troubridge's light cruisers closed in on the fleeing German ships, a British gunnery officer quickly calculated the difference between the range of the British and German guns. The officer persuaded Troubridge that the Goeben would be able to "pick them off" at leisure before they could ever get close enough to attack. Troubridge kept his distance from the Goeben and the Breslau.

Confident that he now had the German ships trapped in the eastern Mediterranean, Admiral Milne ordered the Gloucester and Troubridge's cruisers to give up the chase. Never suspecting that Souchon might be headed for Turkey, Milne sent some ships to the southeast to guard the Suez Canal from possible German attack. At 5:00 p.m. on 10 August, the Goeben and the Breslau reached the entrance to the port of Constantinople. Admiral  Souchon's orders instructed him to force his way into the port if necessary. "Enter," the orders read. "Demand surrender of forts. Capture pilot."

In Constantinople, both German and British diplomats were meeting behind closed doors with members of the Turkish government. When the German diplomats were informed of the arrival of the Goeben and the Breslau, they persuaded the Turks to allow the ships to enter the harbor. Admiral Souchon, expecting Turkish resistance, was surprised when a small boat came out and volunteered to guide his ships through the minefields that protected the harbor.

Once Souchon's ships were safely in the harbor, the German diplomats reminded the Turks that Great Britain had recently broken a contract to supply two new battleships to the Turkish government. The British Admiralty, nervous about the threat of a European war, had decided to keep the new warships for its own use instead of transferring them to Turkey. The Germans now offered to provide the Turks with the ships they needed by selling them the Goeben and the Breslau.

After several hours of negotiation, the Turks agreed to purchase the German battle cruisers from Germany. Retaining their German crews, the ships were renamed the Yavuz Sultan Selim and the Midili. Wilhelm Souchon was made commander-in-chief of the Turkish navy. Souchon made overdue repairs to the Goeben's boilers, then took the ships into the Black Sea, where he bombarded the Russian cities of Odessa, Sebastopol, and Novorossiysk without the knowledge or consent of the Turkish government.

On 30 October 1914. Turkey officially joined the war on the German side, substantially won over by the acquisition of the powerful, though somewhat autonomous, German warships.

HMS Gloucester

The escape of the Goeben and the Breslau effectively ended the careers of British admirals Milne and Troubridge. Milne served out the rest of the war without commission on half-pay, while Troubridge was assigned to land-based duties below his rank for the remainder of the war. Only the captain of the Gloucester received commendation, for having at least exchanged gunfire with the fleeing Goeben and Breslau.

The Great War at Sea 1914-1918, by Richard Hough, Oxford U. Press, 1983.
"Goeben and Breslau: The Ones that Got Away," by Richard Wright; The Marshall Cavendish Illustrated Encyclopedia of World War One, 1984.

Thursday, November 16, 2017

The First War with Mass Vaccinations of the Troops

In this photograph, soldiers of the Liverpool Scottish show off their arms
after being vaccinated, c.1914.

Many of the most important medical developments and practices of the last century have their origins in the First World War. Vaccines were first used on a major scale during the war and most British servicemen sent abroad were vaccinated against typhoid. As a result, deaths from the disease were significantly reduced. 

For the British Army this was due to one not well known event, when Sir William Osler, Regius Professor of Medicine at Oxford University, persuaded senior army officers about the necessity of vaccinating troops against typhoid, despite a conscientious objector law preventing compulsory vaccination backed by the powerful Anti-Vaccination League. Osler argued that the "army marched on its brain" and that vaccination against typhoid would reduce mortality by half. In the event, Osler’s arguments won the day and soon 97 percent of the troops were being vaccinated. It is worth pointing out that by 1911, vaccination against typhoid was mandatory for American troops, and one of the reasons for the low mortality from disease in the 1904–05 Russo-Japanese War was that the Japanese vaccinated all their troops against typhoid. By 1914 there were also vaccines against cholera, anthrax, rabies, typhoid, and plague, but they appear to have been used randomly without any obvious strategic plan.

Sources:  Imperial War Museum; "The First World War Disease the Only Victor," Lecture by Professor Francis Cox, Gresham College

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Remembering a Veteran: Soldat Maurice Chevalier, 31st R.I., French Army

Maurice Chevalier, 31st R.I.

On August 1914, a young Parisian star called Maurice Chevalier was stationed in Belfort, north-eastern France, with a year of national service to complete before he could return to where he really wanted to be—the stage. Chevalier had made his name as a singer and dancer in musicals as a child and hooked up with two of the era’s biggest actresses/singers, Fréhel and Mistinguett—the latter 13 years his senior when he became her 23-year-old lover and dance partner at the Folies Bergère.

But then war broke out. “That meant putting aside my stage ambitions for a while. For how long, who could guess?” he told the journalist Percy Cudlipp in 1930 when compiling his memoirs. As an infantry private, Chevalier kept in practice by entertaining his comrades. “But when we went into the trenches, there was no more singing or dancing,” he said. “Our losses were severe. One by one, my friends were killed or wounded, and I was beginning to think myself a very lucky fellow to remain unscathed.”

In the first weeks of combat a shrapnel shell exploded in Chevalier’s trench, hitting his chest, and entering his lung. “Then it was, as the English Tommies used to say, that I got my packet.” He recalls the pain, blood oozing from his mouth, and soldiers carrying him to a village behind the lines. The next day the Germans took the village: those too badly injured to move, including Chevalier, were captured.

His Prisoner of War Accommodations
Do Not Seem Too Uncomfortable 

Chevalier was in hospital at Magdeburg before being moved to Altengrabow prison camp. “That was a bitter experience for discipline was strict,” he said. He feared the injury had ruined his singing voice, but he was relieved to find he could still entertain his fellow prisoners, “just as I had done some months before, when we were all free men”. Chevalier learned to speak English in Altengrabow from Ronald Kennedy, a teacher who had been with the Durham Light Infantry. “I suppose just as I welcomed any opportunity to sing or dance, Kennedy longed for work in which he could apply his teaching gifts. He found it by starting a class at which French prisoners could learn English. Every other day we met, and made great strides. Kennedy was a wonderful teacher, and a very real friend,” Chevalier said.

But he was desperate to escape and found a way involving King Alfonso XIII of Spain, the only king of a neutral country related to both British and German royal families—and an admirer of Mistinguett. “Through the King, it had been arranged that the French and Germans should exchange prisoners who were ambulance workers,” Chevalier told Cudlipp. “So I became an ambulance worker. That is, I altered my identification papers, then claimed a mistake had been made in that I should have been sent back to France. Had the deception been discovered, my punishment would have been severe.’’
Chevalier with Mistinguett

After two years and four months as a prisoner of war, Chevalier was free. He returned to Paris and was declared unfit to carry out further war service. He was discharged and awarded the Croix de Guerre. Soon after, the theatre called—and so did Mistinguett, with whom he rekindled his stage partnership. Chevalier captured the spirit and imagination of postwar Paris like no other before, enjoying fame in London, Broadway, and Hollywood. But he didn’t put his wartime past behind him entirely. In the Second World War, he returned to Altengrabow to perform for the prisoners, liberating 10 people in return for his services. Chevalier died in Paris in 1972, aged 83.

P.S. Here is a small tidbit of interest regarding Maurice Chevalier. In the movie La Grande Illusion the actor Julien Carette plays the role of the funny guy (Cartier), always wisecracking and making jokes. Cartier is a POW who in the movie was in the music halls before the war, which is why he gets to do several musical numbers when the soldiers put on a play. 

Sources:  The Telegraph Website, 29 November 2013; Tony Langley, Photos and Anecdote

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Border Conflict: Villistas, Carrancistas, and the Punitive Expedition 1915-1920
Reviewed by Dennis Linton

Border Conflict: Villistas, Carrancistas, and 
the Punitive Expedition 1915–1920

by Joseph A Stout, Jr.
Texas Christian University Press, 1999

Pancho Villa was not over five feet ten, with the chest and shoulders of a prizefighter and a perfect bullet-shaped head…A small black mustache serves to mask a mouth which is cruel even when it is smiling. New York Times, 1914

Border Conflict is a study of the Mexican Revolution of 1910–20. Joseph Stout's research of Mexican correspondence and field reports is insightful as it shows the conflict through the eyes of Mexican soldiers and political leaders. The book primarily covers the time frame of 1915–1920 when the United States crossed into Mexico to stop raids and incursions on the U.S.–Mexico border. Besides extensive coverage of the internal Mexican conflict, the book looks at the activities of the Punitive Expedition that President Wilson sent in to find Pancho Villa.

Pancho Villa's relationship with the United States was complicated. However, after he led 500 men across the border and attacked Columbus, New Mexico, on 9 March 1916, Wilson ordered Villa captured dead or alive. General John Pershing took command of primarily cavalry soldiers in pursuit of Villa into Mexico. When Pershing's Punitive Expedition entered Mexico, the American Army's total troop strength in the continental United States was only 24,602. Pershing had parts of four cavalry regiments, two field artillery batteries, and various horse-drawn and motorized supply units totaling 4,800 men and 4,175 animals. Pershing also had an aerial reconnaissance unit, one of the first deployments of a nascent Army Air Corps. The Punitive Expedition would be one of the last times U.S. horse cavalry regiments would see action in battle.

The author does an excellent job of setting the background of the Mexican Revolution and the rise of Venustiano Carranza to the presidency. The book looks at the internal dynamics of Carranza's Constitutionalist forces as well as its campaign against Villa. The use of Mexican sources provides essential context for understanding Villa, the Constitutionalist Army and their clashes with each other and U.S. forces in 1916 and 1917. Joseph Stout's research shows that Carranza actively sought to defeat Villa's forces, contrary to other books based solely on U.S. sources. While Carranza saw the American intrusion as a possible long-term threat, he was more worried about Villa, Zapata, and various other revolutionary factors posed to his regime survival. The Constitutionalist Army fought battles with Villa but was hampered by lack of unity of command, inconsistent provisions, and poor pay for the troops. Additionally, Villa used Pershing's incursion into Mexico as a propaganda tool asserting Carranza could not protect Mexicans from the gringo army.

Although both countries had Nationalist factions calling for war, neither Wilson nor Carranza wanted or could afford a costly and protracted conflict. Carranza still had not consolidated power in Mexico, and the possibility of entering World War I was on Wilson's mind. However, after direct negotiations failed on 9 May 1916, in El Paso, Texas, the Constitutionalist Army was ordered to oppose the U.S. forces.

While there was much posturing, there was little actual fighting between the American and Constitutionalist forces; both spent most of their energy and forces protecting against attack instead of taking offensive actions. The book does go into detail with the one significant fight between the 10th U.S. Cavalry and the Mexican Army in the battle of Carrizal, where the U.S. suffered twelve killed, ten wounded, and 24 taken prisoner. The fight at Carrizal brought both nations to the brink of war. The U.S. used the new powers of the Defense Act of 1916 to call up 100,000 citizen soldiers of the newly formed National Guard to defend the U.S.-Mexico border.

Pancho Villa with His Irregulars

While this was a big military move, the reality was that both countries made overt diplomatic gestures to avoid war. During the protracted negotiations, the soldiers of the Punitive Expedition stayed in Mexico, but not in close contact with Mexican forces. The Punitive Expedition engaged Villa forces in many small skirmishes, but it did not succeed in capturing Villa; he retired as Pershing's forces withdrew and was assassinated in 1923. However, the U.S. expedition did enable Carranza to escalate anti-American sentiment and strengthen his position as president. Border Conflict is well worth the read to understand the context of the Mexican Revolution and the American forces before the United States entered World War I.

Dennis Linton, COL, U.S. Army, retired. Assistant Professor, U.S. Army Command and General Staff College, Fort Leavenworth, KS. Docent at the National World War I Memorial and Museum.

Monday, November 13, 2017

Over the Top: Magazine of the World War I Centennial Announces Its 12th Year of Publication

Help Support Us!

Over the Top Magazine is the one revenue producer for  Our subscribers support Roads to the Great War, The St. Mihiel Trip-Wire, The Doughboy Center, and all our other free websites.

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Sunday, November 12, 2017

Doughboy Basics: Why Did the U.S. Marines Get Everywhere?

After America joined the war, the U.S. Marine Corps commandant was determined his service would play a major role in the Great War, and on 29 May 1917 President Wilson approved sending a Marine regiment of 4,000 men equipped as infantry. This unit, the 5th Marine Regiment arrived in France on 27 June, the first of 32,000 Marines to be deployed to France during the war.  Many of the the later arriving Marines were given security missions, naval shore support duties, jobs with the new Marine Corps aviation effort, and so forth. But historical attention focuses primarily on those first Marines who were joined by a second regiment, the 6th Marines, and a machine gun battalion, also number the 6th. Gathered together they formed a brigade, the 4th, composed of 280 officers and 9,164 enlisted men. The brigade was assigned to the Army's 2nd Division, which formed up and began training in early 1918.

Getting over there early, they were destined to see a LOT of action. The early-arriving divisions, the 1st and 2nd regulars, and the National Guard divisions that were ready to ship over early, like the 26th Yankee, 28th Pennsylvania, and 42nd Rainbow Division, had two things in common, they saw action early, and because they were now the most experienced of Pershing's units, they were sent to combat over and over. The 2nd Division, including the 4th Marine Brigade, was the most extreme case. They fought at Belleau Wood, Soissons, St. Mihiel, Blanc Mont, and the Meuse-Argonne. The division had more men killed and wounded than any other division in the AEF, including 11,366 wounded and 3,459 dead. If you have been following the numbers, you can see that the Marines suffered more than 100 percent casualties.

The 4th Brigade, however,  was a lesser part of the 28,000 man division, and the 2nd Division was only one of 41 divisions of similar size that made it into Europe before the Armistice. Yet, in every general history of the AEF and accounts of every major operation and most smaller operations of Pershing's forces the Marines—totally out of proportion to their relative numbers—put in a major appearance.  Why is this?

The fighting record of the Marine Brigade doesn't fully explain why they are so prominent in accounts of the war. Other divisions had excellent combat records and suffered near comparable casualties.  Why do the Marines continue to jump out?  I have two theories about this; let me call them the Then and Now approaches.

Belleau Wood Captured the World's Spotlight

2nd Battalion of 6th Marines after Belleau Wood

The first major action of the AEF was fought by the 1st (all Army) Division at Cantigny in the Somme sector, and began on 28 May 1918. Cantigny got some attention, but it had been over a month since there was serious fighting in the area, so there wasn't much urgency attached to the action. Two days later, however, Germany launched an offense from the Chemin des Dames pushing toward the Marne river,  apparently intending to cross and head for Paris. Initially successful, the assault  alarmed all the Allied nations because there didn't seem sufficient forces available to stop the enemy. This is when General Pershing released two of his divisions, the 2nd and 3rd, to the French Army to defend the Marne river line.  

The 3rd Division's machine gunners arrived first and prevented any crossing of the river at Chateau-Thierry and to the east. Other elements of the 3rd arrived soon after and stopped any threat of a crossing. The 2nd Division was deployed northwest of the town, with the 3rd (Army) Brigade on the flank of the 3rd Division with the 4th (Marine) Brigade farther north in front of a dense mile-square wood called Bois de Belleau. The Marines launched an assault on the wood a week after the action along the Marne. 

Somehow out of all the action that ensued from the German offensive, what the world heard about most was the action at Belleau Wood. A noted correspondent, Floyd Gibbons, was with the Marines and got himself wounded during the battle, so his dramatic account got a lot of coverage back home. Furthermore, recall now that the Marines were not part of the War Department, but of the Navy Department, and there is much anecdotal evidence that the Navy Department, particularly its assistant secretary, Franklin D. Roosevelt, sidestepped Army control of the news flow and trumpeted the Marines' part of the victory before anything was known in the States about the actions of the 3rd Division or the 3rd Brigade of the 2nd Division. The long-term effect of this is that there are more books written about Belleau Wood than about the Meuse-Argonne Offensive,  which was the largest American battle of the war. The two best-known quotes from the war are from Marines at Belleau Wood:

Retreat, hell we just got here.  Capt. Lloyd Williams

Come on ya sons-of-bitches, ya want to live forever?  Gunnery Sgt. Dan Daly

More Than Any Other Service the U.S. Marine Corps Embraces Its World War I Experience

Aisne-Marne Cemetery, Memorial Day 2012

Another aspect of the Marine Corps' strong representation in accounts of the war is that—of all the services—the Marines have done the best job of building upon their First World War experience, and the battle for Belleau Wood is the centerpiece of their effort. The Corps became the Devil Dogs at Belleau Wood, the battle is well represented at the Marine Corps Museum, and all the Corps' publications, and every Memorial Day, there is a huge commemoration at the Aisne-Marne Cemetery at the foot of Belleau Wood, featuring appearances by the U.S. diplomatic community, the commandant, the Marine Corps Band, and the Silent Drill Team.  When I was a U.S. Air Force recruit, I was never told about Billy Mitchell and the St. Mihiel Offensive, which included the greatest American air operation of the war, but, I'm pretty sure every new Marine hears about Belleau Wood very early in his service.

To sum up—The Marines got everywhere on the Western Front because they were attached to the most active division of the AEF.  Their service is probably disproportionately represented in histories of the war, but a part of this is because they have—in the spirit of John MacRae's "In Flanders Fields", taken the "Torch" from their brethren—"The Torch; be yours to hold it high."  Good for the U.S. Marines.

Saturday, November 11, 2017

What Pvt. Clarence Richmond, USMC, Was Up To on the First Armistice Day

Editor's Note:  I thought it was appropriate to recall Veterans, formerly Armistice, Day by honoring a veteran who was serving in France on the day the Armistice was signed.  Pvt. (later Corporal) Clarence Richmond had participated in one of the last actions of the American Expeditionary Force during the war, the crossing of the Meuse River 10–11 November 1918.  This excerpt from his war diary picks up on the morning of the 11th.

Clarence Richmond, USMC
At daylight, we had traveled a little over two miles up the river. The fog still protected us during the early hours of the morning. Along with some others, I began to dig in, behind a terrace that ran along the hillside. This gave us good protection from machine gun fire, which bothered us considerably. The 43rd, however, moved on and helped take a farm house and several other buildings a hundred yards or so ahead of us.

Soon after daylight, a runner swam the cold river and carried a message back to headquarters. We gave him a little cheer after he had made a safe crossing. He was soon lost in the fog.

The ground where I was digging my hole was pretty rocky, which made it hard digging. I had some tea left from the canteen full I had gotten on the afternoon of the 9th. This I warmed over a can of alcohol. After drinking the hot tea, pulled off my shoes and rubbed my feet, putting on a dry pair of socks. Felt much better. I kept well concealed during the morning, and dozed some. Do not know just what all took place. Trench mortars dropped all around us, and machine gun bullets clipped the top of the little ridge right above our heads.

Just up the river from us about a mile and a half or two miles was the town of Mouton. I could see the church steeples.

As noon approached, we became conscious of an unusual quietness all around us. Firing of all kinds had almost entirely ceased. The Germans were not firing even a machine gun, though our artillery continued to send over a shell now and then. The Germans occupied the crest of the ridge along the river, and if they had had sufficient numbers, could easily have cleaned us up. After eleven o'clock, all firing ceased entirely, not a sound any where. Soon everyone was talking about it. No word had reached us yet.

A wounded fellow from our company was discovered, down near the river bank, where he had laid since before daylight. Getting a stretcher, McDermott and I went to him and dressed his wound. He was shot through the hip, and just about unconscious, as a result of his exposure to the cold. We wrapped him in a blanket, and laid him on the stretcher..

While we were getting ready to take our wounded man to the rear, a runner appeared' with the official news that an Armistice had been signed. Most everybody let out a few healthy yells, but I did not. For one reason, didn't feel much like yelling. I had some difficulty getting three more fellows to help me carry the stretcher. The one I did get had to stop every few minutes and rest. I kept urging the necessity of getting the fellow under medical care as soon as possible, for he was badly in need of attention. As we had to go back along the river bank to where we had crossed during the preceding night, I had a good opportunity to see just what we had done, and the hazardness of our undertaking.

It could be seen that the hillside or bluff along the river was lined with machine guns and trench mortars. From their elevated position, they commanded a full sweep of the river, and it was very evident that had there not been a heavy fog during the night, which had made the flares of no avail, we would have suffered greater casualties, if not complete annihilation. Near the small bridge, the bank of the river was strewn with our dead. I counted about twenty-five within a distance of a hundred yards. Several shells had hit directly where we had laid along the bank of the river. Nearly all of one platoon of one of the other companies had been either killed or wounded. All the dead still lay where they had fallen.

Getting our patient across the bridge was our next problem. We had to shift the stretcher to two persons, and the bridge was too narrow for two abreast, also the weight of five persons would make it sink under the water too far. The planks went under a little as we crossed, with just two carrying the stretcher.

Meuse River Site Where Clarence Richmond Crossed the Night of 10 November 1918

On the opposite side of the river, the dead were more numerous. Here we had suffered our greatest casualties. As many as four and five dead could be seen around many single shell holes, and in two or three instances, I saw as many as eight lying around a single shell hole. The sight of all this made me sad, and at the same time breathe a fervent prayer of thanksgiving at being permitted to live through it.

One of my helpers said he was exhausted, so had to get another volunteer to help us. An ambulance soon came along, and we dispatched our patient, and saw him on the way back to the hospital. A dead Major was lying near us, but no one seemed to know who he was.

While we were standing around, some French refugees from a nearby village came along, carrying their scant belongings.

Before we started back to our company, we were given somehow chow at a galley belonging to the 23rd Infantry. We were invited to eat all we wanted, and I for one did not have to be asked the second time. We thanked them for the meal, and started on our way back. We did not hurry any on our way , as there was no necessity for us doing so.

I asked myself the question why had all this loss of life been permitted, when those high in command knew that an armistice was pending. From one standpoint it seemed a needless waste of life, then on the other hand, Germany was not yet decisively beaten, and every blow was needed to make her realize that a victory was not for her. Looking at it from that view point, one had to grant the wisdom of the attack.

Clarence was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross, the Navy Cross, and the French Croix De Guerre for his heroism for the earlier action of 3 October 1918, in the assault on Blanc Mont Ridge His nephew Robin Richmond traveled with me to  both Blanc Mont and the battlefield described in the passage in 2012.  Robin makes his relative's absolutely outstanding war diary available at:

If you would like to read about other interesting veterans of the Great War just type "Remembering a Veteran" in the search box at the upper left hand corner of this page.

Friday, November 10, 2017

100 Years Ago: The Battle of Passchendaele Comes to a Close

A century ago today one of the signature battles of the Great War was concluded in the Ypres Salient. It was the Canadian Corps, commanded by General Arthur Currie, that was placed at the cutting edge of the final action; they were given the job of securing Passchendaele Ridge.

Canadians at Passchendaele: The Artist's View

On 6 November, the Canadians launched their third attack on the ridge. They succeeded in capturing it and the ruins of Passchendaele village from the exhausted German defenders. A fourth assault, which secured the remaining areas of high ground east of the Ypres salient, was carried out on 10 November—the final day of the more than four-month battle.

Canadian Machine Gunners Near Passchendaele: The Real Deal

Nine Victoria Crosses, the British Empire's highest award for military valor, were awarded to Canadians after the fighting. Among the recipients was Winnipeg's Robert Shankland who on 26 October had led his platoon in capturing a series of German gun emplacements—and holding them against repeated enemy counterattacks—on a critical piece of high ground called the Bellevue Spur.

Canadian Memorial at Crest Farm, Passchendaele Village

More than 4,000 Canadians were killed and another 12,000 wounded—almost exactly the casualties predicted by Arthur Currie. These were among the 275,000 casualties (including 70,000 killed) lost overall to the armies under British command at Passchendaele. The Germans suffered another 220,000 killed and wounded. At the end, the point of it all was unclear. In 1918, all the ground gained there by the Allies was evacuated in the face of a looming German assault.

Source:  The Canadian Encyclopedia

Thursday, November 9, 2017

Billy Mitchell – Aviation Pioneer

We have finally begun implementing our new design and overall upgrading for our award-winning Doughboy Center.  All we have completed are our navigational pages and 1 of our 390 articles on the American Expeditionary Forces.  However, it is on one of the most fascinating figures in American Military History, General Billy Mitchell.

Since it was first placed online in 2003, much new material has been produced on Mitchell.  Rather than a single essay on him, this modernized page is more of a portal to the best articles about him on the web.

As our upgrading program proceeds, we will post other articles that have been improved since they first appeared.

See the full Billy Mitchell article at the Doughboy Center here:

Go to our home page to see the new graphics on our navigational pages:

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

An Invitation to Roads to the Great War Readers

In you can't attend and would like to stream the event, here's some information on how to do so from the Centennial Commission.


On Thursday 9 November at 11 a.m. EST the U.S. World War I Centennial Commission @WW1CC will host a ceremonial groundbreaking for America’s World War I Memorial to engage the American people in remembering our veterans from WWI. Watch a live stream of the groundbreaking through Facebook Live at

The ceremony will have distinguished leaders, well-known guest speakers, and music from the U.S. Army’s “Pershing’s Own” Brass Quintet. The groundbreaking shovels will turn soil from the memorial site and from the Meuse-Argonne.

To see the latest renderings and to support the Memorial’s construction, please visit

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

American Journalists in the Great War
Reviewed by Dr. Margaret Spratt

American Journalists in the Great War: 
Rewriting the Rules of Reporting

by Chris Dubbs
University of Nebraska Press, 2017

A good war sells newspapers. In 1914, that was the accepted axiom. The war correspondent was the messenger breaking news in a world that depended on the paper to bring it into the everyday lives of its readers. Telegraph cables that traversed oceans meant that by the advent of the Great War "battlefield action viewed in the morning could be cabled back to America in time for a newspaper's evening edition." Newspaper sales depended on immediacy and excitement. This war produced more and bigger stories than were imaginable at any time before it.

Correspondent Richard Harding Davis
The job of the war reporter was to convey sensational events on all sides of the conflict that usually meant engaging in adventurous exploits with no regard to personal safety. This took a certain kind of person. One veteran reporter described his newly minted colleagues as "men of sporting instincts and jaunty confidence" who were eager to "see a bit of fun." This sounds much like the qualities sought for in young men chosen as pilots in the air corps. Danger didn't seem to be much of a deterrent to the cub reporters who clamored for an overseas assignment. American journalists jumped on ocean liners and headed for Europe within hours of declarations of war. The pursuit of the "big story" was the object, and getting to the front became the ultimate goal of the war correspondent. However, appropriate credentials were essential for traveling in a war zone. If the enemy apprehended a credentialed reporter, he was treated as a prisoner of war; a non-credentialed civilian was shot as a spy.

Two veteran reporters, Richard Harding Davis and Frederick Palmer, made their way to Brussels, the perfect place to cover the beginning of the war but none of the Allies—the French, the British, or the Belgians—were allowing reporters at the front. So with U.S. passports, letters from editors, and travel passes from a local civil or military authority they set out each day for a different location hoping to pick up a good story. Davis hired a luxury auto and adorned it with all the Allied flags he could find. After a day of wandering about in the countryside looking for a Belgian unit or a group of refugees, he would return to Brussels, file his story, and then settle down to a "perfectly served dinner and a luxurious bed." (p. 23) This "free-for-all" period did not last long.

At a time when an automobile could bring a reporter from his hotel room to the battlefield in a few hours, and telegraphs, the wireless, and telephones could transmit his story home the same day, the military on all sides began to realize they had a problem. Banning reporters from the front was important in order to assure secrecy in terms of locations, troop movements, and other classified information. But the stakes were so high for journalists that freelancers took chances and ignored military restrictions on travel. The appetite for news was so insatiable they were willing to risk being arrested. Neither were publishers that concerned over the veracity of this news that came from the front.

A Devastated Louvain

In late August of 1914 two trainloads of American correspondents were deported from occupied Belgium. Richard Harding Davis and a few others had gotten wind of the orders and left on their own, heading for neutral Holland. Along the way, they witnessed an atrocity that transformed their journalistic outlooks. Stopping in the Belgian university town of Louvain, these journalists saw the burning of the city and terrified residents running for their lives and heard shots of a firing squad ring out. The conundrum of the journalist's profession rose to the forefront once again: how does one remain dispassionate and neutral in the face of such human atrocities? Thus began a deluge of articles condemning the Germans for their treatment of civilians in Belgium. An entire subgroup of reporters emerged, those who expressly searched for stories about these atrocities. Davis gave up all pretext of objectivity and his reports "characterized the German army as a heartless, efficient machine of destruction, at war with civilians and civilization itself" (p. 42). He advocated for an end to American neutrality.

Karl von Wiegand, the Berlin correspondent for United Press and the New York World, had a different perspective on the war. Since the beginning of hostilities, he had been writing from inside Germany and had traveled around the Western Front with German officers. In the first week of October 1914, Wiegand traveled with his military escorts from Berlin to Russian Poland. From the vantage point of a hilltop and armed with a pair of binoculars, this reporter watched the third day of the Battle of Wirballen. As hordes of Russians advanced on the German line, he viewed a baffling sight. He wrote, "The men literally went down like dominoes in a row." Machine gun fire stopped all in its wake, causing panic and quick retreat.

Wiegand described this as the biggest story of his journalistic career. "Today I saw a wave of Russian flesh and blood dash against a wall of German steel. The wall stood. The wave broke–was shattered and hurled back. Rivulets of blood trickled back slowly in its wake. Broken bloody bodies, wreckage of the wave, strewed the breakers. Tonight I know why correspondents are not wanted on any of the battle lines. Descriptions and details of battles fought in the year of our Lord 1914 don't make nice reading" (p. 65). His was the first eyewitness account from a reporter at the battlefront in the Great War and the first report on the impact of the machine gun against massed ranks. His account of Wirballen also made Wiegand the favorite journalist of the German high command, and they rewarded him with exclusive interviews that propelled him and the German cause onto the front pages of American newspapers. The Central Powers had learned the advantages of working with the press. It would take a while longer for the Allies to catch on.

Correspondents John Reed and Louise Bryant, 1915

By the time the U.S. entered the war in 1917, attitudes about the usefulness of the war correspondent had evolved. Rather than viewing them, at best, as nuisances, and at worst, as unwitting spies, the military embraced the significance of accurate and sympathetic reporting. As General Pershing noted, "In this war, I consider a trained newspaperman worth a regiment of cavalry" (p. 203). This transformation is at the heart of the narrative of this book.

This book's author, Chris Dubbs, can spin a yarn to rival even the great American journalist Richard Harding Davis. Of special note is the chapter on the Russian Revolution and the lengths to which reporters like John Reed and Louise Bryant went to cover it. He is best when recounting an anecdote, but make no mistake, those anecdotes are evidence to reinforce the major themes of the study.

One veteran reporter noted: there were two types of reporter in the Great War, the "cable man" and the feature writer. Dubbs shows the sensibilities of the feature writer who describes the atmosphere and emotions in order to provide a big picture. On the other hand, Dubbs understands the economy of narrative of the "cable man."

After reading this entertaining volume, one can conclude that recent hyperbole about the relationship of the press and current U.S. politicians is only a new take on an old refrain. When history is researched and written well, we are reminded of the similarities between past events and contemporary issues. This is history at its most accessible and significant.

Dr. Margaret Spratt

Monday, November 6, 2017

100 Years Ago: The October Revolution in Russia Begins

In 1917 the Great War and a dedicated band of professional revolutionaries destroyed the Romanov dynasty and the Russian state. Discontent with the prosecution of the war led to the tsar's abdication, and the Provisional Government that succeeded him tried the impossible—continuing the war with a demoralized army and a population longing for peace at almost any cost. In its eight-month history, the Provisional Government was repeatedly reorganized and suffered a series of debilitating crises, mostly self-inflicted. 

Leon Trotsky, Key Strategist of the Coup

On 6–8 November (October 24–26, O.S.) the Bolsheviks, well prepared and brilliantly led by Leon Trotsky, perfectly executed a coup d'éat, occupying government buildings, bridges, telegraph stations, and other strategic points with only a thousand Red Guards, the Soviets' paramilitary forces, actively involved. Kerensky's government simply dissolved as his ministers were arrested in their offices. The centerpiece of the coup, destined to be its historical symbol, was the capture of the Winter Palace, completed at 2 a.m. on 26 October. 

Red Guards of Petrograd's Vulkan Factory

However, the capture of the Winter Palace was simply "frosting on the cake." The Bolsheviks had de facto taken the reins of power on the first day of the action using small squads of Red Guards, radicalized soldiers and sailors, and technical specialists. The leader of the Provisional Government, Alexander Kerensky, had set off the end game when, out of desperation, he sanctioned the closure of the Bolshevik printing presses including Pravda and Izvestiya and sent word to military units in Reval (now Tallinn), Estonia, the closest reliable forces, to march on the capital. The revolution evolved just as Trotsky desired and prepared his forces. His small squads were ordered to capture control of Petrograd—its main centers of communication and infrastructure, including roads, bridges, the Post Office, and so on. Meanwhile, the Estonian Soviets ensured that the soldiers that Kerensky summoned remained in their barracks. The crew of the cruiser Aurora, fully committed to the revolution, was called on for support and eventually anchored menacingly opposite the Winter Palace, headquarters of the Provisional Government.  Trotsky's forces proceeded to take control the capital and surround the now impotent Provisional Government.  Almost no one realized the coup had decisively succeeded. 

Minor Damage at the Winter Palace, Afterward

Remarkably, there was almost no blood spilled in the takeover. On the evening of 8 November, Lenin was able to announce to the Congress of Soviets: "We shall now take up the formation of the socialist state..." The Congress immediately approved the formation of a new government composed mainly of Bolshevik commissars. The Bolsheviks now controlled the government of Russia but would require several more years to spread their totalitarian regime across the entire nation.

Sunday, November 5, 2017

Doughboy Basics: Was General Pershing the Only Notable General of the AEF?

Something has happened with the AEF that has taken place with most of America's other wars, but in its most extreme form.   The personality and story of U.S. Theater Commanders traditionally seems to suck up most of the oxygen for military biographers.  For instance, most Americans know that Douglas MacArthur was Supreme Commander of the Southwest Pacific Theater in World War II, but a far lesser number know much about his invaluable lieutenant, General Walter Krueger,  who commanded the Sixth Army. For the Great War, there are a few lower level flag officers like Billy Mitchell and Douglas MacArthur that get some continued attention, but more in the context of their broader resumes. 

Below is an image from an issue of  Relevance, the Journal of the Great War Society, we produced in 2011.  It shows six generals who served with GREAT distinction during the war.  These individuals were featured in separate articles in the issue, in which we tried to make the point that there were a larger number of excellent commanders and senior staff in the AEF.  These were just some of the best examples. 

Going counterclockwise from the upper right,  Hunter Liggett saw success as a division,  corps, and army commander during the war.  He was the commander of the First Army during the last phase of the Meuse-Argonne Offensive we featured in the post of 29 October 2017. He, of course, has a huge army base in California named after him.  John Hines rose from major to major general during the war and commanded the III Corps that forced the Meuse River in November 1918. He later succeeded Pershing as chief of staff of the Army.  Fox Conner was the chief of operations of the AEF.  He performed outstandingly but is probably better know for being a champion and mentor for future generals George Marshall, George Patton, and Dwight Eisenhower.  Dennis E. Nolan can very well be called the father of U.S. Army intelligence for the work he did organizing the intelligence section of General Headquarters. He looked like a professor, but he could fight with daring and courage, winning the Distinguished Service Cross in the Argonne Forest.  John Lejeune, USMC, future Marine Corps commandant and namesake of Camp Lejeune, was commander of the 2nd Division—the most active in the AEF—at St. Mihiel, Blanc Mont,  and Meuse-Argonne. Last, Peyton March was promoted from Pershing's chief for the AEF's artillery to chief of staff of the Army, after two months in France. When he arrived back in Washington, the War Department was floundering in the demands of mobilization. As one of the General Staff officers commented: "He took the War Department like a dog takes a cat by the neck and he shook it." Historian E.M. Coffman called March "the greatest unsung American general of the Great War."

There's a much longer list of AEF Generals who deserve more attention from historians and biographers.  Some interesting cases include:

  • Charles Summerall, commander of Vth Corps and future chief of staff
  • James Harbord,  chief of the Services of Supply
  • Charles Dawes, Purchasing chief
  • Mason Patrick,  Air Service chief
  • Malin Craig, chief of staff of a division, corps, army, and future chief of staff
  • Edward Lewis, commander, 30th Division
  • William Haan, commander, 32nd Division
  • Charles Menoher, Commander, 42nd Division
  • Henry Allen, commander, 90th Division
  • Wendell Neville, commander, 4th Brigade (future Marine Corps commandant)
  • Ulysses Grant McAlexander, commander 38th Infantry (Rock of the Marne) and 180th Brigade