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

Sunday, March 18, 2018

Ford's Model T at War

One of Henry Ford's Ambulances at the USAF National Museum

During World War I, the Allies used thousands of Model T cars and trucks because of their low cost and ease of repair. The ambulance version's light weight made it well suited for use on the muddy and shell-torn roads in forward combat areas. If stuck in a hole, a group of soldiers could lift one without much difficulty. By 1 November 1918, 4,362 Model T ambulances had been shipped overseas. 

The light wooden body was mounted on a standard Model T auto chassis. The 4-cylinder engine produced about 20 hp. There was no self-starter; the engine had to be cranked by hand. This vehicle was equipped with an early form of automatic transmission and could carry three litters or four seated patients and two more could sit with the driver. Canvas "pockets" covered the litter handles that stuck out beyond the tailgate. Many American field service and Red Cross volunteer drivers, including writers Ernest Hemingway and Bret Harte and cartoonist Walt Disney, drove Model T ambulances. 

Another Adaption from the Model T Was the Light Delivery Vehicle
Over 5,000 Were Delivered to the AEF
On Display at the National World War I Museum

"Hunka Tin," a poem written as a parody on Rudyard Kipling's "Gunga Din," appeared in the American Field Service Bulletin and was used in Ford dealers' advertising throughout the United States. The final stanza read: 

Yes, Tin, Tin, Tin.
You exasperating puzzle, Hunka Tin.
I've abused you and I've flayed you,
But by Henry Ford who made you,
You are better than a Packard, Hunka Tin. 

In addition to the specimens shown here, which is at the U.S. Air Force National Museum, you can also see an example at the  Walt Disney Family Museum at the Presidio of San Francisco. Disney drove a Model T ambulance in France just after the war ended.

Saturday, March 17, 2018

The Live and Let Live System

[Editors note 1. This is an article I ran across a few years ago. It's very informative, but seems to me that it assume that uniform anti-war, defeat-the-high-command, and solidarity with fellow proletariat of the enemy predominated in the front lines throughout the war.]

The General Staff issued orders and directives to its soldiers at a prodigious rate. Rather than revealing that soldiers were not performing their duties, this demonstrates the desire of the authorities to control the soldiers' behavior. It must be remembered that Britain’s army in the Great War was composed largely of the working classes from the most hierarchical and deferential industrial society in the world... 

Scottish Soldiers, Typical of the British Troops in the Early War

The General Staff and the political powers, who acted to continue the war and command the soldiers, felt the soldier must be considered as an agent. Following this, it can be seen that some soldiers rejected the war outright: M. Ward wrote in December 1915, that he did "not want to see any more fighting or hear any more shells coming over." This rejection has been described by Tony Ashworth in his analysis of how soldiers were able to control and radically alter their situation, reducing the danger within their surroundings. This was accomplished through the "live and let live" policy, described by Edmund Blunden as one of the "soundest elements in trench war." Live and let live was defined as a truce in which enemies stopped fighting by agreement for a period of time. R.J.T. Evans (LC) in a letter dated November 1915 illustrates this when he wrote that whilst in a trench German soldiers called out, "you no shoot, we no shoot." Relieving troops moving into the front line were able to take on the trench and possible truce, and acquaint themselves with the potential hazards in the area. This is illustrated by A.J. Abrahams’s memoir which described such a manoeuvre, when soldiers would enquire about the attitude in the area by asking, "any shit about?"

This exchange of ideas was also enabled by the architecture of the trenches. The transverse structure of the trenches, which was designed to prevent enfilading fire along the whole length of the trench, also acted to group men together along a line. Usually these positions were held by a small group of soldiers from the same section performing a tour of duty. This distribution allowed the soldiers, to some extent, to avoid surveillance by the commanding officer, which facilitated the live and let live principle, as well as encouraging the communication between men of attitudes, actions, and principles.

Some junior officers may have also connived in this policy of sociability and of keeping aggression to a minimum. Live and let live was therefore a refusal of the values and outlook dictated by the military hierarchy and it alleviated the violence and danger in the landscape, altering the "space of death" within it.

From: "Archaeology on the Battlefields: An Ethnography of the Western Front"
Published in Assemblage 11 (2011): 1-14 

French Troops Just Trying to Have a Meal During a Gas Alert

[Editor's note 2. For my two cents worth, I think it might have been more related to practical matters and involved tacit understandings rather than communications between the troops. For instance, if the other side was bombarding your ration parties as your dinner was being brought up and you were going hungry as a result, the opposition was damn well not going to get fed either.]

Friday, March 16, 2018

Remembering a Veteran: Private Louis Ziegra, Yankee Division, AEF

"One of the Bravest Men They Had Ever Seen"

Private Louis Ziegra After the War

By Terrence Finnegan
Excerpted From:  A Delicate Affair on the Western Front: America Learns How to Fight a Modern War in the Woëvre Trenches

Private Louis Ziegra of the 26th Division, 102nd Infantry, battled single-handedly an entire 30-man German patrol on 15 April 1918. Here's an account of the action—

At the regimental line dividing the 101st Infantry and 102nd Infantry, two men dressed in American uniforms speaking perfect English arrived at a 102nd Infantry’s company PC at Marvoisin  purporting to be on a liaison mission from the 101st Infantry requiring sketches of the adjoining sector and the latest password. The officer at the PC declined to accede to the request, but his suspicions were not sufficiently aroused to hold the men. The men departed, passed a company runner, and proceeded north in the direction of the German lines. Something was in the works for that sector.

Later that night, a 30-man Zug (platoon) from  7 Company, Reserve Infantry Regiment 258 (7/258), under command of Leutnant Frederich, conducted a patrol one kilometer into American lines near Xivray on the regimental sector line separating 102nd Infantry to the east and 101st Infantry to the west. Frederich’s Zug also included several Husaren [cavalrymen] that had just been sent to the front as infantry. 7/258 intercepted the Company H rations and mail wagon heading towards Marvoisin. After passing Xivray, the wagon was moving eastward, passing over a stone bridge across the Rupt de Mad. It was a still night with the wagon making the only noise. 

The Action Described Took Place Along the Blue Track

Three men were on the wagon, the driver, the acting company mess-sergeant (actually private) Louis “Louie” R. Ziegra, and a rifleman serving as the guide sitting inside the wagon. They were heading to the front lines to Company H. Private Harry Marvin was looking forward to seeing his best friend Louie as well as receiving rations and mail. As the wagon approached the bridge bullets flew killing both mules. Private Ziegra fired back, killing one of the Husaren with a shot to the head. Stosstruppen jumped on the wagon and grabbed the driver. The driver was hit over the head with a rifle and fell backward into the wagon. The guide in the back took a bullet to the wrist and fell to the floor. Both proceeded to play dead. Then the fight began. Private Ziegra was shot at close range with a Becker-Hollander small-calibre pistol. The bullet entered his chin, missed the jaw bone and exited near the right nostril. Despite the blood spurting from his head, Ziegra didn’t stop pummeling the German Stosstruppen that jumped him. Soon he was overpowered and taken away as a prisoner. Vizefeldwebel Ettighoffer remembered the American violently lashing out with his fists, flooring a German with each blow. Several assailants had bloody noses, a few broken teeth, and black eyes. With the struggle over, the Germans robbed the wagon of mail and rations, and proceeded back to their lines with Private Ziegra. 

Private Marvin: “They had to fight to carry him off and had there been four or five instead of 20 or 30 they never in this world would have taken him.” At the opportune moment both driver and guide sprang up and ran north into the Company H kitchen area where they described the fracas. A patrol quickly went out looking for Louie but found instead rubber waders, a sack of second-class mail, tins of corned beef, and an American and German helmet at a break point through the barbed wire. Iron crosses from the scuffle were awarded to nine Stosstruppen. Gefreiter Stollenwerk was promoted to Unteroffizier and the rest of the raiding party were given leave.

Ziegra's Fellow Soldiers of the 102nd Infantry
Five Days Later They Would Be Targeted in the Famous Raid on Seicheprey

Private Louie Ziegra became a legend among the Germans. He was a 25-year-old second-generation German-American whose father, Richard, bitterly opposed the German militarism of the time. Lieutenant Joseph P. Burke, an American officer captured that Saturday at Seicheprey, reported after returning from Germany in late 1918 that a German officer commented on Private Ziegra, stating that he was considered one of the bravest men they had ever seen. It was said that he had killed or knocked unconscious several of his captors while fighting with bare hands. It became necessary to knock him out with a rifle butt and carry him back to German lines. Not only did Ettighoffer write about the incident, but General der Artillerie von Gallwitz also mentioned Ziegra’s fighting spirit in his postwar memoirs: “An American of the 26th Division, captured at the southern front by Xivray had defended himself mightily and refused all testimony.”

Private Ziegra’s capture made the western village of Marvoisin off limits to all vehicles bringing rations supply. Two weeks later orders were generated stating that Marvoisin was to be abandoned during the evening hours. A stand-to position was established across the Rupt de Mad and along the “Q” trench. 

In his lifetime, Private Ziegra never received recognition for his valor that night. He was awarded a Purple Heart for his wounds in the action. 

Thursday, March 15, 2018

Images of Australians on the Western Front

Most Australians deaths during World War I were on the Western Front, 45,000 out of about 60,000.  However, Gallipoli and the subsequent focus on Anzac Day for commemorative purposes, has led to something of understatement  of that nations contributions in the war's most important theater.  Interestingly, this is not so much the case for their ANZAC partners from New Zealand, whose triumphs at Messines in 1917 and at Le Quesnoy in war's last days are well-acknowledged.  For the Australians, however, even down-under historians—with the exception of Robin Prior and Trevor Wilson—seem to understate their work at the Somme and Passchendaele. 

It's harder to neglect the Aussies work in 1918, though.  In March and April, they plugged the gap at Villers-Bretteneaux,  played a critical role (with the Canadians) in the Battle of Amiens, and (with a little American help) broke the Hindenburg Line at the St. Quentin Canal.  One writer that did just to the Australian  Corps was its commander, the brilliant strategist and tactician, Lt. John Monash, who wrote an excellent memoir, The Australian Victories in France in 1918, available online at:

One of the best things about this work is that it is well mapped and highly illustrated.  Here is a selection of the photos all featuring Australians in action on the Western Front.

Click on Image to Enlarge

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

WWI Atrocity Propaganda and Its Legacy

Report of the Committee Led by Viscount Bryce, 
Assessing "Alleged German Outrages", 1915

By Professor Jo Fox, British Library

Atrocity propaganda focused on the most violent acts committed by the German and Austro-Hungarian armies, emphasising their barbarity and providing justification for the conflict. 

Victims shot, bayoneted to death, killed with knives, arms lopped off, torn off, or broken, legs broken, nose cut off, ears cut off, eyes put out, genital organs cut off, victims stoned, women violated and killed, breasts cut off, persons hanged, victims burnt alive, one child thrown to the pigs, victims clubbed to death with butt ends of rifles or sticks, victims impaled, victims whose skin was cut into strips.

Professor R.A. Reiss, a prominent forensic scientist commissioned by the Serbian prime minister to conduct an enquiry into war crimes, thus categorised the numerous violent acts against civilians perpetrated by the occupying Austro-Hungarian forces in Serbia in 1914. His account bore striking similarities to French and British publications of the same period, notably Le livre rouge des atrocités allemandes and the Bryce Report. In painstaking detail, such reports recorded the crimes of 1914, individual acts of violence against civilians, troops and prisoners of war; looting and pillage; the use of weapons "forbidden by the rules and conventions of war"; the destruction of ancient libraries and cathedrals, and of homes and villages; rape, mutilation, and torture. Vivid illustrations and first-hand testimonies accompanied each description of the "crimes without name", while Liège, Louvain, Dinant, Antwerp, Reims, Arras, and Senlis were transformed into "martyred towns", ravaged by an uncompromising, inhuman enemy whose victims ranged from children to the elderly, from men of God to the injured and helpless. Such images dominated the early propaganda of the Great War, serving as a potent reminder of the justification for war and a vindication of the sacrifice it demanded.

The German Changes Clothes But Always Remains
a German, Remember! Italian Poster

Atrocity propaganda varied, appearing in books, newspapers, pamphlets, sketches, posters, films, lantern slides, and cartoons, and on postcards, plates, cups, and medals. It operated on many levels. Official government reports presented "evidence" that German troops had contravened the Hague Conventions of 1899 and 1907. Eyewitness accounts from victims and perpetrators made for compelling and convincing reading, and, although methods of investigation often fell short of legal standards, the reports appeared to be based on irrefutable facts. That respected experts led these enquiries (Bryce, for example, having served as a British ambassador to the United States, member of the House of Lords, and jurist) further legitimised the allegations.

Postwar Stamps from a French Organization
Dedicated to Remembering German Crimes

While the reports tended to adopt an objective tone, salacious stories were extracted from testimonies to form the basis of sensational newspaper articles, exhibitions (such as that by Louis Raemaekers in London in 1915), or popular books. This created a dynamic, transformative and self-reinforcing propaganda environment. William Le Queux detailed the suffering of the ‘honest, pious inhabitants’ of Belgium, at the mercy of ‘one vast gang of Jack-the-Rippers… frothing with military Nietzschism’ and excited by ‘a primitive barbarism’. Although initially a response to the invasion of Belgium in 1914, atrocity stories drew - as Le Queux’s account suggests - on pre-existing anti-German sentiments. These sentiments were strengthened by wider official and unofficial publicity campaigns that pitted German Kultur against Christian civilization and morality, and created an interpretative framework for subsequent events. The ‘assassination’ of Edith Cavell, the sinking of the Lusitania, the declaration of unrestricted U-Boat warfare, Zeppelin raids, and the use of gas in the trenches all seemed to confirm the fundamental depravity of the German character and bolstered the hierarchy of enemies. Thus German atrocities were afforded a particular prominence, whereas the Turkish slaughter of Armenians passed almost unnoticed. The power of atrocity stories derived in part from their ability to stand either alone, as singular acts of barbarism and moral depravity, or as a series of pre-meditated collective behaviours that condemned a nation. These shocking stories allowed propagandists to justify the war, encourage men to enlist, raise funds for war loans schemes, and shake the United States from its neutrality. The impact of such propaganda was enduring, lasting well into 1918 and beyond.

Depiction of German War Aims, British 1918

The German response

Allegations of atrocities proved difficult to refute. Any attempt to do so attracted further publicity, and explanations offered by the German and Austro-Hungarian authorities seemed only to confirm their guilt. The ‘Manifesto of the 93’, signed by leading German scientists, scholars and artists, including fourteen Nobel Prize winners, refuted charges of war guilt and legitimised the retaliation of German soldiers against illegal franc-tireurs (irregular forces, ‘free-shooters’), asserting that German troops had acted within international law. German propaganda pointed to the hypocrisy of ‘perfidious Albion’ (Great Britain), whose brutal Empire had perpetrated countless atrocities against the suppressed peoples of Ireland, India, Egypt, and Africa, and pointed to Germany’s own record of scholarly endeavour and social welfare.

The German Foreign Ministry’s ‘White Book’ sought to exonerate German troops as the victims of an illegal and unrelenting ‘people’s war’ conducted by Belgian civilians. This strategy proved unsuccessful. The Académie française condemned the Manifesto, while the ‘White Book’, highly selective and deploying unconvincing evidence, seemed to confirm German crimes and was demolished by the Belgian Livre Gris (1916). Attempts by the Austro-Hungarian Government to justify its troops’ actions met with similar criticism: Reiss condemned the ‘tardy excuses of the Austrian officials [which] fall to the ground’. By simply responding to Allied accusations, German and Austro-Hungarian propaganda was purely reactive: it failed to exploit the Allies’ own contraventions of international law, handing to them the moral high ground and ultimately the more convincing explanation for the outbreak of war.


In the inter-war period, investigations into the nature of war propaganda suggested that atrocity stories had been fabricated by the Allies in order to justify the war and to encourage enlistment. Although more recently historians such as John Horne and Alan Kramer have illustrated the importance of the franc-tireur myth to the German military mind-set and highlighted the contravention of international law entailed in the murder of c.6000 Belgian citizens in 1914, for many years doubts about the veracity of Allied claims and the memory of the franc-tireurs remained. 

A True Report of Atrocity from World War II, That Overlooked or
Discounted Because of the Experience in the Earlier War

When German forces once again occupied Belgium in 1940, monuments to civilian resistance in 1914 were destroyed, while researchers sought evidence of the existence of a citizen army in the Belgian and French archives. Liberal democratic propagandists of the Second World War were divided over the memory of the Great War: some invoked the experience of 1914 to demonstrate Germany’s continual threat to a peaceful Europe (Lord Vansittart’s Black Record, 1941, for example), while others pointed to the uniqueness of Nazism. While seeking ‘another Edith Cavell’ for their campaigns, they were limited by the popular memory of ‘false’ 1914 atrocity stories. As a result, they feared exposing themselves to charges of exaggerating Nazi atrocities in Europe from 1941, with the consequence that the plight of the Jews and others was largely ignored and public attention directed elsewhere.


Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Winged Warfare
Reviewed by James M. Gallen

Winged Warfare

by Lt. Col. William A. Bishop
Forgotten Books reprint, 6 September 2012

Billy Bishop in the Cockpit

Historians can research records and artifacts, but only the veterans can write from experience of the sights, sound, smells, and emotions of combat. Winged Warfare is the collected recollections of Billy Bishop, greatest Canadian and second greatest British Empire flying ace of the Great War. When he was 17, Billy's parents sent him to the Royal Military College at Kingston, Ontario, for some military discipline.

This work is Bishop's stream-of-consciousness wartime memories. Like many early aviators, Bishop transferred from another service. In July 1915, after the 15-day crossing on an old cattle boat with 700 seasick horses he became a cavalry officer with the Mississauga Horse of Toronto of the Second Canadian Division in England. His ambitions were elevated when, knee deep in the dank, slimy, boggy mud of the cavalry camp he saw an airplane overhead. He quickly concluded that being an observer in the air was better than commanding a division on the ground. Confiding his ambition to fly to a friend in the Royal Flying Corps was the first step in taking flight. The initial assignment of new aviators was to be an observer who, well, observed. His training included what to observe and what to ignore. Once his observer wing was on his uniform he was off to France with a burning desire to become a pilot. His "machine" would fly over German lines for an hour or more, as he noted and photographed enemy positions. The machine gun he had by his knee went unfired during his four months as an observer.

After a knee injury sidelined him for several months Bishop got his chance to fly. Ground school led to elementary training in the air. He describes his first solo as the greatest day of his life. Although expecting to be assigned to zeppelin hunting over England, he applied for duty at the fighting front.

The 7th of March, 1917, was the day Billy Bishop returned to France for his second tour at war. In his inaugural mission he was assigned to bring up the rear of a formation over German lines. Eighteen days later he would record the first of his 72 kills. After his last five kills, on 19 June 1918, Bishop was sent to England on leave from which he would, to his disappointment, not return to France. He describes the ceremony during which the King invested him into the Order of St. Michael and St. George.

What I like about this book is the detail that can only be described by a veteran who has lived the events recorded in its pages. Bishop's casting as a member of the British Royal Flying Corps and his obvious pride as he looked own on "We Canadians" as they attacked Vimy Ridge and elsewhere all provide insight into an age when Canadians were gaining a grasp of their national identity. The second-by-second narrative of the dogfight seizes the reader's imagination. The intense cold that could stop hemorrhaging can only be intellectually experienced in the first person. The perceived distinction of going up against the Red Baron's squadron, the immense red birds with graceful wings and painted a brilliant scarlet from nose to tail, hints at the romance retained by this form of warfare. Only Bishop could convey his thoughts on downing an enemy aircraft:

While I have no desire to make myself appear as a bloodthirsty person, I must say that to see an enemy going down in flames is a source of great satisfaction. You know his destruction is absolutely certain. The moment you see the fire break out you know that nothing in the world can save the man or men in the doomed aeroplane.

Later he would observe:
The idea of killing was, of course, always against my nature, but for two reasons I did not mind it: one, and the greater one, of course, being that it was another Hun down, and so much for good in the war; secondly, it was paying back for some of the debt I owed the Huns for robbing me of the best friends possible. Then, too, in the air one did not altogether feel the human side of it. As I have said before, it was not like killing a man so much as just bringing down a bird in sport.

Winged Warfare is a short read composed by a warrior, not a professional writer. We read it for its detail and the spirit of its author, not its research and analysis. It pays to open this time capsule from the Great War.

All in all, an extremely good and enlightening read.

James M. Gallen

Monday, March 12, 2018

Backstory: Setting the Stage for an "Irony of Fate"

It would be an irony of fate if my administration had to deal chiefly with foreign affairs.      
Woodrow Wilson, 1913

The Republican Ticket: Taft and Sherman

In June 1912, former president Theodore Roosevelt sought the Republican nomination at the party convention in Chicago. He was infuriated by what he took to be a betrayal of his progressive program by his personally chosen successor, the incumbent William Howard Taft. The delegates chose Taft anyway, with former New York congressman James "Sunny Jim" Sherman as his running mate.

Roosevelt and his supporters bolted, then formed the Progressive Party, popularly known as the Bull Moose Party. [T.R.—"I am as strong as a bull moose."] At their convention in August, California governor Hiram Johnson was selected as T.R.'s running mate. [One of their campaign managers in Contra Costa County, California, would be your editor's great-uncle,  Superintendent of Schools William Hanlon.] 

The Progressives: T.R. and Hiram Johnson
The Democrats were elated by the Republican split, realizing that their opponents' 16-year rule was at an end. The only real suspense was generated around the question of which Democrat would be the next president. Favorite son candidates were put forth from all sections of the country. The strongest appeared to be House Speaker Champ Clark of Missouri, the personal favorite of the influential William Randolph Hearst. Despite widespread support, Clark was unable to gain the necessary two-thirds vote in the early balloting. 

The turning point occurred when the still influential William Jennings Bryan switched his support to New Jersey governor Woodrow Wilson, an advocate of moderate reform. Bryan would later be appointed Wilson's secretary of state as a reward. After 46 ballots, the exhausted delegates finally selected Wilson and Indiana governor Thomas R. Marshall as his running mate. 

Destiny's Ticket: Democrats Wilson and Marshall

Wilson won a lopsided electoral victory in November 1912. His election was nearly assured from the beginning because of the Republican split. Against all his predispositions, he would eventually embrace the role of the nation's war leader, and, later self-designated world shaper.  Fate proved to have a fine sense of irony.

Material from:

Sunday, March 11, 2018

A Roads Classic: "Hurrah for the Next Man Who Dies!"

Click on Image to Expand

When I was the membership chairman of the old Great War Society, we asked our new enlistees what got them interested in the First World War.  I was surprised at how many mentioned the 1938 film The Dawn Patrol with Errol Flynn, Basil Rathbone, and David Niven.

The "show stopper" scene in that movie is not any of the combat sequences but in the mess when the pilots drink a musical toast to the next man who dies. The lyrics used in the movie are an adaptation of a 19th-century poem out of India titled "The Revel" by Bartholomew Dowling. Here are the pilots singing their song:

Click on Image to Expand

Errol Flynn Leads the Singing

We meet ’neath the sounding rafter,
  And the walls around are bare;
They echo our peals of laughter
  It seems that the dead are there.

So,  stand to your glasses, steady!       
  This world is a world of lies.
Here's a toast to the dead already—
  Hurrah for the next man who dies!

Cut off from the land that bore us,
  Betray’d by the land we find,
The good men have gone before us,
  And only the dull left  most behind.

So,  stand to your glasses, steady!       
  This world is a world of lies.
Then here's a toast to the dead already—
  Hurrah for the next man who dies!

Saturday, March 10, 2018

About Those Tommies

  • "Tommy" as a name for British soldiers came from the name in the sample paybook given to new recruits in Wellington's time: Thomas Atkins.

  • The original 1914 British Expeditionary Force was composed of six infantry and one cavalry division, totaling 150,000 men.

  • 5,704,416 Tommies from the United Kingdom (Great Britain & Ireland) eventually served in the war.

Tommies As We Recall Them

  • About 2,670,000 volunteered, of which 1,186,000 had enlisted by 31 December 1914.

  • About 2,770,000 were conscripted.

  • 724,000 Tommies were killed; 2,000,000 were wounded; and 270,000 were POWs,

Tommies Heading Down That "Long, Long Trail A-Winding"

  • Besides the regulars, the British Army overseas was supplemented by "Territorials", volunteer reserves, originally intended for home defense but who could opt for "Imperial Service" overseas.

  • "Pals" battalions were special units of the British Army composed of men who enlisted together in local recruiting drives, with the promise that they would be able to serve alongside their friends, neighbors, and work colleagues ("pals").

  • By one count, there were 643 Pals battalions.

Source: The British Soldier of the First World War, Peter Doyle

Friday, March 9, 2018

100 Years Ago: Gotha Raids on Paris Accelerate

A Gotha Bomber Ready for Take-Off

Between January and September 1918 the German Gotha bombers flew 483 separate sorties over Paris.  March 1918 featured an acceleration in the bomber raids on France's capital. A Gotha raid on Paris on 8 March 1918 resulted in the death of 13 and the injuring of 50 from over 90 bombs dropped. Another raid, on 11 March, caused the death of 34 and injury to another 78 persons.  Ten raids in total were mounted against the city during the peak of the air raids, between 8 March and  1 July.

Damage on Lille Avenue, Paris, from the 29 March Raid

The bomber missions were supplemented in late March with fire from the secret Paris Gun located 75 miles away in the forest north of Laon.  When the first shells landed, the city's air raid sirens where sounded—no one could conceive of an artillery piece that could  fire from behind the enemy's lines, the closest of which was over 50 miles from the city.

Thursday, March 8, 2018

Historic Images of the Meuse-Argonne American Cemetery

I recently received a wealth of wonderful information and imagery from the staff of the American Battle Monuments Commission. I'll be sharing it with our readers throughout the Centennial.  These images tell a story by themselves. I've just included some text and captions as needed.

From the ABMC Website:
Within the Meuse-Argonne American Cemetery and Memorial in France, which covers 130.5 acres, rest the largest number of our military dead in Europe, a total of 14,246. It is located just east of the village of Romagne-sous-Montfaucon, Meuse, France, approximately 26 miles (42 kilometers) northwest of Verdun.  Most of those buried here lost their lives during the Meuse-Argonne Offensive of World War I. The immense array of headstones rises in long regular rows upward beyond a wide central pool to the chapel that crowns the ridge. A beautiful bronze screen separates the chapel foyer from the interior, which is decorated with stained-glass windows portraying American unit insignia; behind the altar are flags of the principal Allied nations. The cemetery required almost two decades to complete.  It was dedicated on Memorial Day, 1937.

Click on Images to Enlarge

Remains of the Fallen Were Gathered from Field Cemeteries

En Route to Romagne

A Ceremony Was Conducted When the Original Coffins Arrived for Interment

General Pershing Inspects the Cemetery in the 1920s

The Completed Temporary Cemetery Which Held 23,000 Burials

An Exhumation from a Temporary Grave
Families Could Choose to Have the Fallen Return Home for Burial
The Temporary Burials Were Also Exhumed for Preparation for Final Burial 

The Final Design with Over 14,000 Burials Took Almost 20 Years to Evolve

Some of the Final Markers with Photos of the Interred Super-Imposed

General Pershing at the Formal Dedication, Memorial Day, 1937

World War II GIs Visiting the Cemetery

Today the Cemetery Is the Site of Frequent Remembrances

Display at the New Visitors Center

From the ABMC Website:
A renovated, 1,600-square-foot center visitor center reopened in November 2016. Through interpretive exhibits that incorporate personal stories, photographs, films, and interactive displays, visitors will gain a better understanding of the critical importance of the Meuse-Argonne Offensive as it fits into the Great War.

Watch the Video  Never to be Forgotten: Soldiers of the Meuse-Argonne and
Listen to General Pershing Here

Images selected from:  American Battle Monuments Commission Archives, Library of Congress, and the Film Never to be Forgotten: Soldiers of the Meuse-Argonne.

Wednesday, March 7, 2018

Weapon of War: The 155mm French Schneider Howitzer

A 155 Deployed in the Field

Sources: Top: Cantigny Museum; Lower: National WWI Museum

Tuesday, March 6, 2018

1914: Fight the Good Fight. . .
Reviewed by Bruce Sloan

1914: Fight the Good Fight, Britain, the Army & 
the Coming of the First World War

by Allan Mallinson
Bantam Press, 2013

The BEF on the Way to France, August 1914

Allan Mallinson spent 35 years in the British Army and is the author of Light Dragoons–a history of four regiments of British Cavalry (one of which he commanded), numerous historical novels, as well as the acclaimed The Making of the British Army. He has written on defense matters for the Times, and has regularly reviewed for the Times and the Spectator. He was a year at the Staff College and was posted to the Directorate of Military Operations, in the branch concerned with war in Europe.

With the author's access to prominent military figures and the War Office papers in the National Archives, this history is researched with exactitude. In my opinion, 1914 stands up very favorably with, and supplements, The Guns of August, with regard to the reasons, the treaties and the bumbling beginnings of the war.

Mallinson takes us through the preparations and mobilization of the BEF and General Sir John French's leadership through the retreat from Mons (which General Haig's I Corps doesn't manage to get to) to the battle at Le Cateau, the Race to the Sea, and to the Marne, where probably the last lance-to-lance cavalry battle was fought on 7 September at Le Montcel.

He relates incidents and decisions leading to and within World War I from Waterloo, the Zulu War and the disaster at Isandlwana (which General Smith-Dorian survived—he thinks because he had a blue jacket), the Boer War, and the Russo-Japanese War.

It was pleasing to find that the author, an infantryman and cavalryman, spends a fair amount of time on the decisions regarding the British Navy and the fledgling Royal Flying Corps and the usefulness of both. The friction between commanders, both British and French, is explored, with the resulting actions and repercussions. He pulls no punches when analyzing their decisions and motivations, and he addresses other analyses when he has subsequent or contrary evidence. (He is not overly friendly to Sir John French.)

All in all, an extremely good and enlightening read.

Bruce Sloan

Monday, March 5, 2018

Impressions of the YMCA at War

A Soldier Enjoying Music at  a YMCA Canteen

By Mark Hauser
From the Hoover Institution Website

In France, YMCA huts provided soldiers with record players and movie theaters; again, soldiers’ responses were more complicated than those anticipated by Y officials. John Wister, a horticulturist from Philadelphia, wrote home to his family that at the Y "they never show anything but the oldest, cheapest and worst. I have seen good American pictures in Bordeaux by going to the French theatres at about 4 francs, but never anything good in the Y yet, but of course tastes differ and some like them.”

YMCA Sponsored Baseball League
Although Army and welfare officials struggled to organize entertainment, YMCA workers were more effective at organizing sports leagues; sports had been an important part of the Y’s services in the United States where officials encouraged men to participate in sports as a form of “muscular Christianity". Birge Clark, a Palo Alto native and former Stanford student who served as the captain of a balloon company during the war, wrote in his diary of the popularity of the Y baseball league, which three times a week attracted ten percent of his company to a nearby French town. Baseball was so popular in Clark’s unit that even though the Y had spent millions of dollars on sporting goods it was unable to supply his soldiers with enough equipment; Clark’s company eventually built their own machine to sand lumber into bats. However, over time athletic programs transformed from mass participation into mass spectatorship, a change welcomed by many soldiers. Independence Day celebrations in 1918 featured huge baseball games designed to showcase the best soldier talent, yet also turned the non-participants into a crowd that watched the games with enthusiasm. Roy Davis, an ambulance driver from Los Gatos, CA, recorded in his diary the experience of attending his first football game alongside thousands of other soldiers, writing “I am willing to frankly admit that I did not know the first thing about football. However, after the ‘kickoff’ at 2:30, the points of the game soon became apparent to me and when things became especially exciting I found myself yelling and waving my arms with as much gusto as some of the one-time-stars of the game.” Winning new fans like Davis was important for football but even more important for a controversial sport like boxing; boxing’s popularity soared after the war in large part because of soldiers’ spectatorship at YMCA and Knights of Columbus-sponsored bouts, and veterans successfully lobbied to legalize the sport in states such as New York where it had previously been banned.

A YMCA Tour of Paris for the Troops

YMCA officials operated “canteens” where soldiers could buy a wide range of goods, including cigarettes, canned fruits, toiletries, chocolate, and even wristwatches. Edwin Gerth, a Knox College student who enlisted in the Army, wrote in letters to his family and his diary of his appreciation for the YMCA, and wished their canteens could be in the trenches where he could have chocolate when he needed it most. Other soldiers like Jacob Emery, a lieutenant and student at Harvard, wrote to his family criticizing the canteens for their limited selection, high prices, and inconvenient hours. The reactions of soldiers like Gerth and Emery highlighted what soldiers perceived as the unfulfilled potential of canteens to provide inexpensive, convenient comforts during times of intense physical and mental strain.

Photos from the Hoover Institution Collection