The award-winning documentary “Black Jack Pershing: Love and War,” tells the story of World War I General John J. Pershing’s life and the personal tragedy so painful Pershing could never speak of it.
Black Jack Pershing: Love and War – is an important, dynamic, entertaining documentary featuring a man and his life which was pivotal to America’s successful campaigns during World War 1. The story and history as developed by Barney McCoy adds to our understanding of American history accurately and poignantly, and exemplifies the power of filmmaking. -Ron Hull, Nebraska Public Broadcasting
When America entered WWI in April of 1917 its military was hardly prepared for war. There were roughly 220,000 U.S. soldiers and officers. America’s troops initially lacked the training needed to effectively fight a veteran German army that used modern warfare tactics.
Germany’s high-powered artillery, poison gas, machine guns, fortified defensive positions and fighter planes exacted a heavy toll on U.S. troops. The Americans fought German troops with French, British, Canadian, Australian and other allied forces in deadly combat along 400 miles that comprised the Western Front.
General John J. Pershing was appointed by President Woodrow Wilson to command the American Expeditionary Forces in Europe. His nickname was “Black Jack.”
Commanding U.S. troops against overwhelming odds would be the greatest challenge of Pershing’s military career. Twenty months after America joined the fight, Pershing and two million troops helped turn the battle tide. Germany was forced to surrender on November 11, 1918.
November 11th is Armistice Day, also recognized as Veteran’s Day in America. The World War I armistice began on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month in 1918 and marked the end of four years of bitter World War I fighting between Germany and the Allies. Here’s a 100-day multimedia countdown of WWI that takes us up to the 100th anniversary of the armistice.
Wednesday, October 17, 2018-
A soldier’s diary- A Texas farm lad of German descent, Hillie Franz served in the 7th Division and fought the Germans in World War I. While serving in France, he found a nearly unused German ledger book and, in spite of his lack of formal education (Franz’s spelling was often phonetic at best), he decided to record his experiences in the book.
It’s a century-old book that comes alive again in the Library of Congress’ Veterans War Project. Franz saw his first combat during the Meuse-Argonne battle in which more than 1-million U.S. troops forced a German retreat that along with separate French and British offensive drives ended WWI. What Franz’s account lacks in literacy it more than makes up for in capturing the chaos of the infantryman’s life in wartime.
Tuesday, October 16, 2018-
The General and his Fallen Soldiers- General John “Black Jack” Pershing commanded more than 2-million American troops who fought in Europe during World War I. The war is now a century old and claimed the lives of more than 53,000 U.S. soldiers who died in combat. Thousands more died from the flu during the war.
Next month marks the 100th anniversary year of the WWI armistice. On November 11, our country will honor the American men and women who died serving in the Great War. As Armistice Day approaches, this video illustrates General Pershing’s insistence during and after WWI that his American soldiers who died would never be forgotten.
Monday, October 15, 2018-
The draft and America in World War I- On this date 100 years ago more than 1-million American troops were fighting the Germans in the Battle of the Meuse-Argonne. Another 1-million U.S. soldiers were serving elsewhere in Europe. The soldiers’ service was largely the result of a historic effort to enlist millions of American troops in just 18 months time. To this day, I’m still amazed at our country’s ability to expand its military during WWI in an effort that helped our allies end the war against Germany.
As historian Jon T. Hoffman noted recently, ” By the time the United States entered the war in 1917, the combatants were waging war on a scale never before seen in history. The experience defined a generation and cast a long shadow across the twentieth century.”
A part of that legacy was America’s ability to go from a largely constabulary U.S. military numbering 220,000 soldiers and officers at the beginning of the war to a combat-seasoned military of more than 4-million at the end of 1918.
To do this President Woodrow Wilson ordered nearly 400,000 National Guardsmen
into federal service when the U.S. first declared war on Germany in April 1917. American men though were not volunteering in the numbers needed to raise, train, and deploy an army quickly after the United States declared war on Germany. Not enough though to fill the escalating demand for American troops to fight with French and British allies in Europe.
Initially, President Woodrow Wilson and Congress had hoped 1 million men would volunteer for the army. By May only about 73,000 men had signed up to serve in the military. Other more drastic measures were needed and Congress stepped into the picture. The Selective Service Act of 1917 became law. It was America’s first conscription of soldiers since the days of the Civil War.
Under guidelines set down by the Selective Service Act, all men, ages 21-to-30 were required to register for potential military service. In August 1918, as American troops in Europe were actively engaged in combat against Germany, Congress debated a proposal to expand the Selective Service age range for all men ages 18-to-45. Secretary of War Newton D. Baker went before Congress to testify saying, “There are two ways of fighting this war. One is to make every possible effort and win it soon, and the other is to proceed in a somewhat more leisurely fashion and win it late.” Two weeks later, Congress amended the Selective Service Act making all men between the ages of 18 and 45 subject to the draft. (66, 40 Stat. 955)
There were actually three Selective Service registrations during WWI.
June 5, 1917, was for all men between the ages of 21 and 30.
June 5, 1918, registered those who attained age 21 after June 5, 1917.
September 12, 1918, was for all men ages 18 through 45.
By the end of World War I, some two million men volunteered for various branches of the armed services, and some 2.8 million had been drafted. This meant more than half of the almost 4.8 million Americans who served in the armed forces were drafted. Due to efforts to instill a patriotic attitude, the World War I draft had been a huge success.
After the signing of the November 11, 1918 armistice, the activities of the Selective Service System quickly waned. In March 1919, all local, district, and medical advisory boards were closed. In May 1919, the last state headquarters closed operations. By July of that year, the Provost Marshal General was relieved from duty, thereby finally terminating the activities of the Selective Service System of World War I.
The U.S. reinstated the draft leading up to World War II. The military draft remained from the Cold War’s beginning in 1948 through the Vietnam War before it was ended as part of the Nixon administration’s effort to end the war in 1973. Today, American men are still legally required to register with the Selective Service within 30 days of their 18th birthday. All men, ages 18-to- 25 must be registered despite the fact that a draft hasn’t occurred in over 45 years.
Sunday, October 14, 2018-
American air power in the Meuse-Argonne- On this date 100 years ago the American Expeditionary Forces were locked in a bitter 47-day battle with dug-in German positions between France’s Argonne Forest and Meuse River.
The Battle of the Meuse-Argonne was the most important American military contribution to the Allied effort during the Great War. It was also the largest, costliest military operation in American history. More than a million American soldiers, sailors, airmen, and marines, fought with 135,000 French soldiers in the battle.
As historian Richard S. Faulkner noted in this detailed history of the battle, “Although the First Army had committed to this battle long before most of its doughboys had mastered the skills required to fight a mass industrialized war, the Americans persevered and gradually ground down the German units opposing them. Unfortunately, this approach came at a high price: 26,277 men killed and another 95,786 wounded as the American Expeditionary Forces (AEF) learned how to wage a modern war against a skilled opponent.”
Poorly trained American recruits, logistical breakdowns, cold, wet weather conditions, dense, broken terrain, severely hampered the American doughboys and their infantry units who fought on the ground during the battle. Eventually, the U.S. and French troops routed the Germans after 47 days of fighting and helped force Germany’s surrender on November 11, 1918.
The Meuse-Argonne also posed challenges and problems for America’s fledgling air squadrons. General Billy Mitchell, regarded as the father of the U.S. Air Force, initially hoped to rule the skies above the Meuse-Argonne battlefield and provide air support to the American and French troops fighting the Germans on the ground below.
At the battle’s start on September 26, 1918, the French reassigned many of its the pilots expected to fly with American pilots. This meant 75 percent of Mitchell’s planes were flown by American pilots – many of them novices with little, if any, combat experience.
Mechanical problems grounded another 20 percent of Mitchell’s planes, leaving just 670 trusted aircraft for the battle. Throughout the campaign, poor weather and rugged terrain further hampered air operations. American air observers had just 10 days of weather clear enough to accurately spot or target German troops during the 47-day Meuse-Argonne battle. “This meant,” wrote Faulkner “Mitchell’s decision to focus most of the American air operations against targets in the enemy’s rear area met with only limited success and drew the ire of many American soldiers. Although the airmen had some success in air interdiction, they could not prevent German air attacks on American ground forces.”
American pilots did play a role in America’s largest battle. In 10 missions flown between September 12 and 29, 1918 over the St. Mihiel and Meuse-Argonne sectors, 2nd Lieutenant Frank Luke Jr. shot down 14 German observation balloons and four enemy airplanes.
Because German observation balloons were heavily defended, thus dangerous to destroy, Luke’s accomplishments were no mean feat. On his last mission, Luke shot down three balloons near Dun-sur-Meuse, France before he was wounded and his plane forced down behind enemy lines. After landing, Luke reportedly used his pistol to hold off German troops who tried to take him prisoner before dying from his wound. For his skills and bravery, Luke became the first American aviator to win the Congressional Medal of Honor.
Captain Eddie Rickenbacker, commander of the 94th Aero Squadron, shot down five German balloons and 10 airplanes during his flights over the Meuse-Argonne. His twenty-six total kills in WWI made him the highest-scoring American ace of the war.
The United States Army did not begin operating an independent air service until April 1918, beginning with just three squadrons for use in the front lines of Europe. By the time of the November 1918, armistice, 45 American squadrons, consisting of 740 planes, were operating. A total of 7,726 officers and 70,769 men served in the U.S. Army air service.
Saturday, October 13, 2018-
Part 2- World War I: The Commanders – Who are the men who led an estimated 65 million soldiers in battle on land and sea in World War I? In part 2 we profile the last four of the eight World War I generals who played a key role in the fighting along Europe’s Western Front and who played key roles in the outcome of the war that would have a major influence on 20th-century history.
General John J. “Black Jack” Pershing rose to global view as commander of the American Expeditionary Forces (AEF) in World War I. While Europe entered one of the world’s most deadly wars in 1914, the United States didn’t join the conflict until 1917 when Pershing and his command staff sailed for France and were immediately challenged by the sheer logistics of recruiting, training, transporting and sending into combat what would ultimately be a fighting force of more than 2-million troops in Europe.
General Pershing also faced growing demands by allies France and Britain to “amalgamate” or lend American soldiers to the European allies who were exhausted after from three years of costly fighting on the Western Front. Knowing American troops needed all the time they could get to train for combat against the veteran German army, Pershing refused to place his Doughboys under the command of America’s allies until faced with the do-or-die German Spring Offensive of 1918. That summer, Pershing placed all of America’s fighting resources at the disposal of French Marshal Ferdinand Foch until the Allies stopped the German advance and began their own war-ending offensive.
The AEF participated in numerous important battles such as the Battle of Cantigny, the Meuse-Argonne Offensive, and the Battle of St. Mihiel. Pershing was criticized for operational and logistic errors that initially resulted in high casualty rates for the American troops fighting in Europe. Some historians have noted though that French, British and German troops suffered similar casualty rates when they first entered combat in 1914.
After 42 days of bitter fighting in the Battle of the Meuse-Argonne, Pershing’s troops succeeded in cutting the Germans’ lines at Sedan, France on November 6, 1918. Five days later, on November 11, 1918, World War I ended through the combined efforts of the AEF and the European allies. General Pershing and his men were celebrated as heroes who bolstered the spirits of European allies, helped turned the battle tide against Germany, and ushered America onto a global stage as a newly established superpower.
After the war, Congress promoted Pershing to the rank of “General of the Armies of the United States.” He and George Washington are the only two people who have received this honor. In 1921, Pershing and several of the Allied commanders from WWI gathered in Kansas City to dedicate the WWI monument. Watch it on the video below.
Douglas Haig was Commander in Chief of the British Expeditionary Force (BEF) from late 1915, when he replaced John French, until the end of the war in 1918. Field Marshal Haig is remembered as the general who led the British forces in the 1917 Battle of the Somme and Battle of Passchendaele one year later. Both battles resulted in heavy casualties for the British army.
Most historians agree Haig’s contributions to the Allied victory over Germany is undeniable, but even a century after the war he has remained a subject of controversy. The Canadian War Museum comments, “His epic but costly offensives at the Somme (1916) and Passchendaele (1917) have become nearly synonymous with the carnage and futility of First World War battles.”
Conversely, Haig led the BEF during the final Hundred Days Offensive of WWI when it decisively crossed the Canal du Nord and broke through the Hindenburg line capturing 195,000 German prisoners. This campaign contributed to the war’s end on November 11th, 1918 and is considered by some historians to be one of the greatest victories by a British-led army.
While some held Haig responsible for the worst human loses in British history, others emphasized that he was above all a man of his time and that Britain’s high casualties during WWI simply reflected the military reality of the time.
When Paul von Hindenburg was recalled to military service and named commander of the German Eighth Army in August 1914, he faced the advancing Russian First and Second armies on World War I’s Eastern Front who held an overwhelming numerical superiority. After defeating Russia’s Second Army in the Battle of Tannenberg and its First Army in the Battle of the Masurian Lakes, Hindenburg pushed the Russians out of East Prussia. The defeat struck a blow to Russian morale and may have been a key factor that sparked the Russian Revolution of 1917.
In August 1916 Hindenburg was named Germany’s Chief of the General Staff. His popularity in Germany rose to the point of a personality cult. German Kaiser Wilhelm II increasingly delegated his power to the German high command, allowing Hindenburg and deputy Erich Ludendorff to dominate German military policymaking for the rest of the war. When von Hindenburg called the entire German corps from the Western Front to confront the advancing Russians along the war’s Eastern Front weakened German positions in France.
After Germany’s 1918 defeat in WWI, Hindenburg retired from the military. In 1925, due in part to Hindenburg’s status as a war hero, he was elected Germany’s president. The BBC noted that Hindenburg’s deflationist policies aggravated Germany’s post-war economic difficulties. Domestic unrest mounted and gave rise to the Nazis party in Germany.
Hindenburg was re-elected president in 1932, even as many of his supporters thought the Nazis as a useful – albeit unpleasant – group, worth accommodating. Adolf Hitler insisted on becoming German chancellor in any government in which the Nazi party participated but Hindenburg refused to appoint him. In late 1932, an agreement was reached to form a German government with Hitler as chancellor. Hitler quickly secured almost unlimited political power through terror and manipulations. Hitler was publicly respectful to Hindenburg, who remained in office until his death in August of 1934.
Marshal of France Ferdinand Fochplayed a crucial role in checking the Germans at the beginning of World War I. In September 1914, he was the key actor in the German defeat at the First Battle of Marne. It effectively ended all German hopes of a quick military victory on the Western Front.
After the failed offensive at Ypres in 1915 and huge casualties in the Battle of the Somme one year later, Foch was dismissed but returned as Chief of the French General Staff in 1917.
On March 21, 1918, the British front in Picardy collapsed under the impact of Germany’s Spring Offensive. By March 24, British commander Field Marshal Douglas Haig was thinking about his embarkation ports in France, and French commander General Philippe Pétain was thinking about defending Paris. The Encyclopedia Britannica noted “The severance of the two armies (French and British) had begun. The Germans, who quickly perceived the situation, were already crying victory.”
By early May 1918, Foch was made commander in chief of all Allied armies on the Western and Italian fronts. It included the rapidly growing American Expeditionary Forces who were now pouring thousands of U.S. troops into the war on a daily basis. In 1918, Foch was appointed Commander in Chief of the Allied Armies.
After repulsing the 1918 German Spring Offensive, Foch co-created the so-called Hundred Days Offensive, a combined attack by American, French and British Commonwealth troops that forced a German surrender in November of 1918.
Friday, October 12, 2018-
Part 1- World War I: The Commanders – Who are the men who led an estimated 65 million soldiers in battle on land and sea in World War I? In part 1 we profile four of the eight World War I generals who played a key role in the fighting along Europe’s Western Front and who played key roles in the outcome of the war that would have a major influence on 20th-century history.
German General Erich Ludendorff drew broad acclaim as a key commander in Germany’s 1914 victory over the Russians at Tannenberg on the Eastern Front. Many historians say the Russian defeat helped spark the Russian Revolution and Russia’s withdrawal from the war in March 1917.
On the Western Front, Ludendorff was less successful. The German defeat in the First Battle of Marne made a mockery of Ludendorff’s “Schlieffen Plan” which called for a quick German victory in the west but instead turned into a stalled offensive.
On the other hand, Ludendorff, his staff and field officers developed the first modern defensive warfare doctrine for the era of machine guns and artillery.
Author Williamson Murray noted that Ludendorff’s “new doctrine rested on the concept of holding frontline positions lightly with machine gunners, with successively stronger defensive positions echeloned in depth. By now artillery was the great killer on the Western Front, so Ludendorff concentrated German reserves and defensive positions in rear areas, out of range of all but the heaviest Allied guns.”
In 1917, Ludendorff ordered unrestricted submarine warfare against Britain in a failed effort to break the Allied naval blockade of Germany. Ludendorff’s unrestricted submarine warfare, which included the sinking of the passenger ship “Lusitania” only provoked America’s entry into the war.
In March 1918, Ludendorff launched a full-scale “Spring Offensive” on the Western Front in an attempt to defeat French and British and force an Allied surrender before more American troops could arrive in France and give the Allies a numerical troop advantage in the war. After driving to within 60 miles of Paris, the German offensive met Allied resistance, ran low on supplies and soon found themselves in defensive positions.
“Thus it was foreseeable that the enemy, assisted by the Americans who are eager to fight, would achieve a great victory, a very large, important breakthrough. Then the army in the west would lose its last foothold and flood back over the Rhine in complete dissolution, carrying with it the revolution to Germany. He (Ludendorff) had never shied away from demanding the utmost of his troops. But now that it had become clear to him that the continuation of the war served no purpose, he was of the opinion that it should be ended as quickly as possible, in order to avoid unnecessarily sacrificing the bravest ones, who are still loyal and able to fight.”
On October 26, 1918, Ludendorff resigned two weeks before Germany’s official surrender in WWI.
Australian General John Monash was an important Allied commander and architect of the Battle of Amiens which opened the final phase of World War I.
An engineer by education, Monash led the Australian 4th Brigade during the 1915-16 Gallipoli campaign in Turkey. While the Allies failed to force open a strategic naval sea route to Russia in the Mediterranean, Monash was appointed commander of the newly formed Australian 3rd Division in France.
Following the success at the Battle of Messines in 1917, he was promoted to lieutenant general. Shortly afterward, Monash replaced General William Birdwood as commander of the Australian Corps and led his troops in a series of combat victories in the final phase of the war.
“To begin with, while mathematics had never featured large in the studies pursued by most Generals, for Monash the discipline has been the foundation stone of his engineering career, which is as well, because this logistical exercise is an enormous one, as his pen continues to fly. In this case, he must organise 8000 men, 5000 tons of artillery ammunition – borne in 3000 wagon trips – to move together with several dozen tanks and all come together at much the same place, at much the same time, all without the enemy being aware that anything is different from usual.”
From August 8th until the Australian Corps left the battleline in October, the Australian Corps saw almost continuous combat as it helped the spearhead of British Expeditionary Force’s advance to victory in the war. In contrast to most of his Allied and Central Powers’ command counterparts, Monash was also effective in developing combat strategies that minimized casualties to the troops he commanded.
Spanish-born Armando Diaz was Italian General and Marshal of Italy in WWI. He was noted for leading Italian troops that halted the Austro-Hungarian offensive in 1917 and later leading a decisive counter-offensive which led to victory over Austro-Hungarian troops.
Initially a major-general under Luigi Cadorna, Diaz was promoted to Italian Corps commander after the disastrous 1917 Battle of Caporetto. Diaz replaced Cadorna as Chief of Staff of the Italian Army and managed to stop the Austro-Hungarian advance along the Piave River.
In June 1918, Diaz led Italian forces to a major victory in the Battle of the Piave River. His victory in the Battle of Vittorio Veneto effectively ended the war’s fighting on the Italian Front.
Philippe Petain of France was considered one of WWI’s greatest generals. Hailed as a national hero, he helped command French troops that turned back the German attack on the 1916 Battle of Verdun. Fought from February 21 to December 18, 1916, the was the largest and longest battle of the First World War on the Western Front between the German and French armies.
The concentration of so much fighting in the Battle of Verdun in such a small area devastated the land, causing miserable conditions for troops on both sides. Author Anthony Clayton wrote: “Rain, combined with the constant tearing up of the ground turned the clay of the area to a wasteland of mud full of human remains. Shell craters filled, becoming so slippery that troops who fell into them or took cover in them could drown. Forests were reduced to tangled piles of wood by constant artillery-fire and eventually obliterated.”
“The man who organized the defenses, strengthened the strongpoints, mobilized almost every cannon in the French Army and stood beside the single supply road, “the sacred way,” watching with compassion in his icy blue eyes as men strode up to the front and stumbled back a few days later—this man became the greatest of heroes, “the champion of France,” as Paul Valery, the poet, was later to hail him.”
A year later, Petain was French Commander in Chief in a short stint in which he helped improve discipline and raise morale among French troops which helped them withstand and fend off Germany’s massive “Spring Offensive” in 1918.
Petain’s glorious achievements in WWI were a dramatic contrast to his trial for treason after the end of World War II. He was sentenced to death for leading so-called Vichy France in WWII and collaborating with the Germans. Because of his age, Petain’s death sentence was commuted to life imprisonment.
In tomorrow’s Part 2 of “World War I: The Commanders,” we will profile America’s John Pershing, Britain’s Douglas Haig, Germany’s Paul Von Hindenburg, and Ferdinand Foch of France.
Thursday, October 11, 2018-
World War I: Theaters of War – Most Americans might be surprised to learn there were many fronts in which WWI combatants fought. Most of America’s fighting in the war took place on the Western Front, but the Great War included several other theaters of war.
Western Front- When the German army charged across the Belgian border in August 1914, Britain and France declared war on Germany. Germans troops quickly drove through Belgium and soon entered France. As the British and French armies fought to stop Germany’s advance a battle stand-off soon ensued. The Germans began digging defensive trenches. When British and French troops failed to break through the German trench lines they began digging their own network of trench lines. Hundreds of miles of trenches soon snaked across France. During WWI, neither side gained more than a few miles of ground along what became known as the Western Front.
Eastern Front- Fighting in Eastern Europe between Russia and Germany and German ally Austria-Hungary created what is called the war’s “Eastern Front.” The Eastern front erupted into fighting when Russia invaded East Prussia in August 1914. Germany soon launched a counter-offensive with hundreds of thousands of its troops and pushed Russia back. The attacks and counter-attacks went back and forth for WWI’s first two years with territory frequently changing hands as land was captured only to be surrendered by both sides along the Eastern Front.
By 1917, the Russian people were weary and demoralized by the huge number of Russian losses of more than 3.3-million military and civilian deaths suffered by the Russian Empire. The Russian government and monarchy were overthrown. The new Bolshevik government signed the treaty of Brest Litovsk with Germany.
With the Russians out of the war, Germany sent some 700,000 troops from the Eastern Front to join the fighting on the Western Front.
Italian Front- Before WWI erupted in 1914, Italy had traditionally aligned itself with Germany and Austria-Hungary. After initially declaring neutrality in the war, Italy, tempted by offers of more land once the war was won, joined the fighting in April 1915 on the side of the Allies.
The Italian front is the name given to the fighting that took place along the Italian/Austrian border. The Italians did advance a short way into Austria with some of the heaviest fighting taking place between 1915 and 1917 along the Isonzo river. After their defeat at the 1917 Battle of Caporetto, the Italians were pushed back. Though the Italians managed to harden their defensives, by late 1917 the Germans and Austrians had driven them back to just 18 miles north of Venice.
Italian casualties at Caporetto totaled almost 700,000: 40,000 killed or wounded, 280,000 captured by the enemy and another 350,000 deserted. In the wake of the battle, violent anti-war protests forced Italian Commander Luigi Cadorna forced to resign. General Armando Diaz commanded a new Italian defensive strategy that lasted until the end of the war and drew in the resources of stronger Allied powers which included U.S. troops.
Gallipoli- The Gallipoli Peninsula is located in southern Turkey. In 1915, British forces, with French navy support, launched an ambitious amphibious assault on the peninsula.
Had they succeeded in capturing the peninsula, Allied naval forces could have sailed through the Dardanelles Strait, into the Sea of Marmara and attacked the Ottoman Empire’s capital of Istanbul.
Turkish troops kept the Allied troops at bay and after months of fighting, the Allies retreated. The entire mission was an Allied failure. More than 50,000 Allied troops were lost with hardly any land gained by the fighting.
Heavy participation of volunteers from Australia and New Zealand (Anzac troops) in the campaign makes it an iconic moment in those nations’ military histories even as the Turkish victory is celebrated in that country.
The War at Sea- Even before hostilities began, Germany and Britain competed in a high stakes naval race for mastery of the seas. Britain had a long tradition of being the master of the seas. Germany knew it was unlikely to win a naval war against Britain’s mighty naval fleet and tended to avoid open naval conflict with Britain on the surface of the ocean.
The 1916 Battle of Jutland was the largest naval battle of the First World War and involved 250 British and German combat ships. It saw the British Navy losing more men and ships but remained a powerful tool while it left the German Navy too diminished to put to sea again while the war lasted. 8,500 sailors, the majority of them British, died in the 36-hour battle.
Britain’s main naval tactic was to keep German ships from leaving their German ports and to block supplies from reaching Germany. Germany’s main naval tactic was to strategically post u-boats in the Atlantic ocean and Allied merchant and naval ships taking supplies, weapons, and troops from America and other countries to Britain and France.
On 7th May 1915, the passenger liner Lusitania was torpedoed by a German submarine. Nearly 1,200 innocent civilians lost their lives of which 128 were American. The Lusitania attack was a major impetus for America’s declaration of war against Germany in April 1917.
The Balkan Front– The spark that ignited World War One was struck in the Balkans. Bosnian-Serb student Gavrilo Princip assassinated Archduke Franz Ferdinand, heir to the throne of Austria-Hungary, and his wife in Sarajevo, Bosnia, lighting a fuse to the powder keg drew 32 countries into the fighting. Even so, the fighting in the Balkans region of Southeast Europe is still not well-known today.
In July 1914 Austria-Hungary declared war against Serbia and started shelling its capital of Belgrade. In late 1914, Austrians troops launched three offensives against the Serbs, forcing a Serb retreat from Belgrade. By the end of 1914, the Serbs counter-attacked and had pushed the Austrians back into their own territory.
In late 1915, Germany convinced Bulgaria to enter the war. The Bulgarian, German, and Austro-Hungarian armies launched a major offensive against the Serbs. The Great Serbian Retreat began. The remnants of the entire Serbian Army, the Serb King and many civilians retreated over the Albanian mountains in the dead of winter. The victorious Central Powers occupied Serbia, but the Serbian Army still existed.
In September 1918, a combined Allied Army of French, British, Greek units and the Serbian Army attacked north from Greece. The Bulgarians were quickly thrown back and sued for peace. The Allies pushed German and Austro-Hungarian troops into a steady retreat until Serbia was liberated in October. The Allies were preparing to invade Hungary when the Armistice was signed on November 11, 1918.
Serbia lost 275,000 soldiers killed and 130,000 wounded. 150,000 civilians were killed in the fighting. Including deaths from famine and disease, the Serbians lost 16% of their population in WWI. Greece lost 26,000 soldiers killed and 21,000 wounded. Casualty figures for Germany, Austria and Bulganian troops fighting in the Balkans were not broken down by which front they occurred in, so remain unknown for fighting in the Balkans.
According to the Centre Européen’s Robert Schuman, the total number of military and civilian casualties in World War I was around 40 million. There were 20 million deaths and 21 million wounded. The total number of deaths includes 9.7 million military personnel and about 10 million civilians.
(Sources: WWI Theaters of War, History on the Net, The Telegraph, Imperial War Museum)
Wednesday, October 10, 2018-
World War I: An old poem and new film bring WWI alive again.
“They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old: Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn. At the going down of the sun and in the morning, We will remember them.”
― Laurence Binyon, poet, author
Those words about the soldiers who died fighting in WWI a century ago form the title of a soon-to-be-released film by Academy Award-winning director Peter Jackson. Jackson directed the Lord of the Rings trilogy. Now he has turned black and white film from the archives of Great Britain’s Imperial War Museum into color and brought new life to the faces of WWI soldiers in his latest the film “They Shall Not Grow Old.”
The film opens In European theaters October 16th. The video below gives us a great sense of the soon-to-be-released film.
No North American release dates for “They Shall Not Grow Old” have been set as of this writing.
It begs the question: “Why have no American movie directors (Steven Spielberg, Clint Eastwood, Martin Scorsese, Francis Ford Coppola, George Lucas, Ridley Scott, Ron Howard, etc) taken a stab at the rich trove of U.S. films that captured American soldiers in battle during WWI?”
The National Archives and Records Administration has thousands of WWI photos like the one above and hundreds of WWI films that could rival Peter Jackson’s film. Imagine what archival films like the one below would look like if colorized with added sound that includes the voices of the men who fought the war?
What a gift that could be for Americans. It could mean reaching millions of Americans with a new opportunity to learn how important WWI was in our nation’s history. Thankfully, the National Archives staff have engaged in a dedicated multiyear effort to restore and digitize films like the one above for Americans to view. They were filmed originally by units from the U.S. Army Signal Corps.
Regrettably, with the 100th anniversary of the WWI armistice next month, the timely opportunity for an American restoration and colorization effort, which typically take years to produce, may have already passed. In the video below, Peter Jackson explains the impetus behind his decision to produce “They Shall Not Grow Old”
Tuesday, October 9, 2018-
World War I: The Forgotten War – Or so say many historians and researchers of the so-called “Great War.” If you ask most Americans what they know about World War I, they probably can’t tell you much about it. WWI was fought a century ago. It has since been overshadowed by World War II, The Korean War, Vietnam War and Gulf Wars I and II.
Thankfully, as America approaches the 100th anniversary of the WWI armistice on November 11th, the media spotlight has turned, however briefly, on our country’s first large-scale war fought on soil other than our own. It’s a new opportunity to learn about something old, yet still important to our country’s history. What was relevant about WWI for America?
More than four million American families sent their sons and daughters to serve in uniform during the Great War
116,516 U.S. soldiers died from combat and disease
200,000 other U.S. soldiers were wounded
America’s casualty rate in WWI was higher than in World War II
More than 350,000 African Americans served in the U.S. military, as did Native Americans and members of other minority groups
For the first time, women joined the ranks of the U.S. armed forces
America emerged as a recognized global economic, political and military superpower after WWI
Perhaps WWI will be a little less “forgotten” after this year’s centennial celebration of the war’s end on 11/11/1918. Then again, read the lament below from WWI veteran Leigh E. Burdick. It was published April 1, 1967, in the Jamestown Post-Journal. It was the 50th anniversary of the U.S. entering “The War to End All Wars.”
“Now the passage of time is erasing more than the veterans. Facts and figures of 50 years ago are hard to come by. You will find some in the public library in old scrap books and probably hundreds of attics. You’ll find some of the most quiet and grey older men in posts of the Legion, FVW, and Disabled War Veterans. And if you want to look carefully through the Veterans Hospitals you can find others for whom the war never ended, even poison gas victims. They don’t use mustard gas these days, although we have nuclear weapons. That’s evolution. It was General MacArthur, who also served in WWI, who said: “Old soldiers never died, they just fade away.” And they are doing that.”- WWI veteran Leigh E. Burdick
Monday, October 8, 2018-
American voices from World War I- Thankfully, the voices of U.S. veterans from several wars are archived for all to hear through the Veterans History Project at the Library of Congress. The voices of two WWI veterans, in particular, caught my ear during my research on the Great War. Arnold and Clara Hoke sat for audio interviews in 1971. Clara served as a nurse during WWI in France, working in a Paris hospital tending to some of the most severely wounded U.S. soldiers. Arnold served with the 42nd Rainbow Division in WWI. He saw heavy combat against German troops in several key American battles on the Western Front.
Arnold and Clara didn’t meet and marry until 1922. They recorded their WWI stories when Clara Hoke was 78 and Arnold Hoke was 79.
Clara Lewandoske Hoke had been a nurse for four years when the U.S. entered World War I. She wasted little time in enlisting in the war effort. As she recalled in her 1971 self-interview, she was assigned to combat field hospitals during the war and a huge hospital facility in Paris. There she spent time working in the “Jaw Ward,” whose facially disfigured patients were a grim reminder of the effects of the war’s high-powered weaponry.
Listen below to Clara’s description of the time WWI U.S. Commander General John J. Pershing came to visit the hospital where she worked and why “Black Jack” Pershing’s visit was so memorable to her.
In 1917, Arnold Hoke arrived in France with the 42nd Rainbow Division. Like many other U.S. soldiers, Hoke experienced trench warfare with little knowledge of what to expect and initially without a weapon. By the spring of 1918, Hoke was promoted to Sergeant and saw combat in the Aisne-Marne Offensives, the Battle of Saint-Mihiel, and the Meuse-Argonne Offensive.
Listen below as Arnold Hoke describes hunkering down in the basement of an abandoned farmhouse during the battle of the Meuse-Argonne, unaware that it had been booby-trapped with explosives by retreating German troops.
Clara Hoke said German air raids and bombing attacks against Paris were fairly routine during her WWI days as a nurse. Listen below as she describes one German bombing attack and anti-aircraft fire that came dangerously close to the hospital ward where she worked in Paris.
Arnold Hoke died in 1971, three months after creating the audio recordings of his WWI memories. His straightforward descriptions of life during WWI included stories of fellow soldiers lost, as well as the randomness of those who lived and those who died. His audio recollections make for memorable lessons on the costs of war.
Listen below as Hoke describes a German artillery attack on his fellow soldiers who were eating dinner in a grove of trees when the enemy shells struck during the battle of the Meuse-Argonne.
Sunday, October 7, 2018-
World War I and America’s emerging Navy- The U.S. Navy began World War I operations shortly after America entered the war in April 1917. Future U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt was Assistant Secretary of the Navy in WWI and later wrote:
“The Navy was known during the war as the “Silent Service.” Little appeared in official dispatches or in the public press regarding the operations of the United States Naval Forces either in Europe or on our own coast. In fact, in only a handful of instances, where a transport was torpedoed or where an enemy submarine was definitely accounted for, was any mention made of our naval work. Generally speaking, the people at home knew only that their Navy was successfully manning the transports and escorting the troops, munitions, and supplies in safety to the shores of France.”
Most of the U.S. Navy’s WWI efforts focused on countering German enemy U-boats in the Atlantic and acting as convoy escorts for American, British, French and Italian ships. By the end of the war, the Navy had provided safe passage for more than 2-million U.S. troops and supplies that sailed to fight the war in France and Italy.
Because America entered WWI late, the U.S. Navy never engaged the German fleet. There were few confirmed American “kills” of German submarines. This doesn’t mean the Navy’s efforts weren’t effective. Navy destroyers were key to escorting U.S. troop and supply ships across the Atlantic. Working with the British and French navy’s, they effectively stymied German subs that earlier succeeded in attacking and sinking thousands of Allied ships in the Atlantic. The German submarines, or U-boats, were a terrifying Allied threat during WWI. They sank 2,600 Allied ships with a combined weight of more than 13 million tons during the war. German sailors who served on the U-boats knew their chances of survival were low. Out of 17,000 men who served, more than 5,100 lost their lives.
On November 17, 1917, two destroyers became the first U.S. Navy ships to sink an enemy submarine. USS Fanning and USS Nicholson were escorting a convoy to France, when a lookout sighted the periscope of German submarine U-58. The U-boat was forced to surface by the Navy ships’ depth charges and was subsequently defeated in a brief surface engagement. At least one shot from the Nicholson struck the u-boat, killing two men and causing heavy damage. The 39 German sailors who abandoned the sinking U-58 and were taken prisoner.
Life on U.S. Navy destroyer escorts was less than comfortable. Author Joseph Husband wrote: “Like maddened switchback cars, the destroyers gyrate in the slightest sea. Grimy with soot of fuel oil, reeking with oil gasses, they reel and plunge at express-train speed. The officers and men on the bridge, half choked with frequent back drafts of gaseous oil smoke, and the reek from the “Charley Noble” (galley smokestack), peer ahead through a blizzard of flying spray. And day and night, rolling, pitching, slamming over, through or under the heavy seas, the destroyers brought in the convoys, meeting them on some square mile of Atlantic, in the reek of fog or the blackness of night, with unerring mathematical precision.”
Four United States Navy ships were lost during World War I, only two by enemy action. Six U.S. merchant ships with armed guards aboard were also destroyed. At war’s end, 431 U.S. Navy personnel died in combat-related duties while serving their country.
Enlistment in the Navy had grown too: The Navy had almost 500,000 officers and enlisted men and women when the war ended. It was also the first U.S armed forces branch to allow enlistment by women in a non-nursing capacity. The first woman to enlist in the U.S. Navy was Loretta Perfectus Walsh on March 17, 1917.
World War I’s so-called “Atlantic Bridge,” supported in part by the U.S. Navy, had succeeded for the Allies. It helped deliver the American troops and supplies used to fight the war and limited the German u-boats abilities to attack and restrict shipping in the Atlantic Ocean. By doing this, The U.S. Navy helped turn the battle tide in favor of the Allies, and forced a German surrender.
Saturday, October 6, 2018-
Chemical killers- World War I ushered in the first use of chemical weapons in modern warfare. By the war’s end in 1918, chemical weapons were being used by both the Germans and Allies. They caused an estimated 1.2-million casualties.
Despite the horrific injuries, gas caused only a small percentage of war deaths. But as Greg Thielmann of the Arms Control Association notes, it left a frightening legacy in the form of a million survivors. Painful lung diseases, many veterans blind for the rest of their lives. In America alone, Tens of thousands of combat veterans from WWI were scarred by their exposure to mustard gas.
Here’s a timeline of chemical weapons use in WWI:
April 22 The German military launches the first large-scale use of chemical weapons in war at Ypres, Belgium. Nearly 170 metric tons of chlorine gas in 5,730 cylinders are buried along a four-mile stretch of the front. In the end more than 1,100 people are killed by the attack and 7,000 are injured.
September 25 The British military uses chemical weapons for the first time against the Germans at the Battle of Loos. They release chlorine gas from cylinders.
December 19 Six days before Christmas, Germans first use phosgene on Allied troops. More than 1,000 British soldiers are injured and 120 die.
July 12 Mustard gas is used for the first time by German forces; it causes more than 2,100 casualties. During the first three weeks of mustard-gas use, Allied casualties equal the previous year’s chemical-weapons casualties.
May U.S. research on mustard gas moves from a lab at American University in Maryland to a site called Edgewood Arsenal run by the newly created Chemical Warfare Service. Soon 10-percent of American artillery shells contain chemical weapons.
June The Allies begin using mustard gas against German troops.
October 13–14 A young Adolf Hitler, an enlisted messenger in the trenches at Werwick near Ypres, is temporarily blinded during a gas attack. Hitler is evacuated to a military hospital in eastern Germany and spends the rest of the war recuperating.
November 11 World War I ends with 1.3 million casualties caused by chemical weapons, including 90,000 to 100,000 fatalities, primarily from phosgene.
Click on the video below to watch U.S. troops in chemical warfare training during WWI.
Chlorine gas, used on the infamous day of April 22, 1915, produces a greenish-yellow cloud that smells of bleach and immediately irritates the eyes, nose, lungs, and throat of those exposed to it. At high enough doses it kills by asphyxiation.
Phosgene, which smells like moldy hay, is also an irritant but six times more deadly than chlorine gas. Phosgene is also a much stealthier weapon: it’s colorless, and soldiers did not at first know they had received a fatal dose. After a day or two, victims’ lungs would fill with fluid, and they would slowly suffocate in an agonizing death. Although the Germans were the first to use phosgene on the battlefield, it became the primary chemical weapon of the Allies. Phosgene was responsible for 85% of chemical-weapons fatalities during World War I.
Mustard gas, a potent blistering agent, was dubbed King of the Battle Gases. Like phosgene, its effects are not immediate. It has a potent smell; some say it reeks of garlic, gasoline, rubber, or dead horses. Hours after exposure a victim’s eyes become bloodshot, begin to water, and become increasingly painful, with some victims suffering temporary blindness. Worse, skin begins to blister, particularly in moist areas, such as the armpits and genitals. As the blisters pop, they often become infected. Mustard gas could also contaminate land where it had been deployed. Exposure sensitized victims; further exposure even at lower doses produced symptoms. Mustard gas caused the highest number of casualties from chemical weapons—upward of 120,000 by some estimates—but it caused few direct deaths because the open air of the battlefield kept concentrations below the lethal threshold.
Friday, October 5, 2018-
The Newspaper Headlines- During World War I newspapers remained the primary source of information for Americans back home and on the Western Front in Europe. Author Michaela Smith wrote:
“To the average World War I American, newspapers were the Twitter, Tumblr, Instagram, and Buzzfeed of Americans today. Newspapers from small and large towns alike across the country offered a way for people to access, escape, and later remember the events of the war. There are, of course, still newspapers in circulation today, but we don’t depend on them to stay connected and up to date in the same way Americans in the 20th Century did. For the average American reader during the WWI era, newspapers were the best and most reliable option for up to date information. “
Here are some of the headlines and news stories involving U.S. troops serving in Europe during World War I.
Battle of Belleau Wood- The first large-scale battle fought by American soldiers in World War I took place in France in June of 1918. It was a place called Belleau Wood.
In late May German troops had stormed across the Western Front in a powerful attack and were just 45 miles from Paris. U.S. forces under General John J. “Black Jack” Pershing arrived to try and stop the German advance.
General Pershing ordered a counter-offensive on June 6th to drive the Germans out of Belleau Wood. In one of the most historic battles in U.S. Marine Corps history, Marines and U.S. Army soldiers led the attack through an open field against four German divisions concealed in dense woods across the field’s far side. By the end of the first day, the Marines had suffered more than 1,000 casualties.
The video below from the documentary “Black Jack Pershing: Love and War,” illustrates what happened in the battle and what it meant for U.S. troops trying to prove themselves in World War I.
Wednesday, October 3, 2018-
A romance sparked by war: General Pershing and French-Romanian artist Micheline Resco- Two important “history moments” surfaced during my five years of research on the documentary “Black Jack Pershing: Love and War.” It involved the romantic relationship between U.S. WWI Commander John J. Pershing and portrait artist Micheline Resco.
The two met in 1917 when Pershing arrived in France to lead U.S. troops in WWI. Resco was commissioned by the French government to paint Pershing’s portrait. Before long, budding romance swirled between the two. Petite and soft-spoken, Resco was 34-years younger than Pershing. Neither spoke the other’s language well, but confidential letters I found while researching the documentary revealed a blossoming romance. At the Jesuit Archives in St. Louis I found some of the love letters Pershing wrote Micheline in Paris during WWI. Like this one:
The translation goes like this:
August 29, 1917
Since I haven’t had the pleasure to see you today, I’m worried that you’re suffering, which weighs on me regularly. Please accept, mademoiselle, my respectful compliments and all the best wishes toward your swift recovery.
Inside the envelope of Pershing’s letter to Resco, I found rose petals the General tucked into his now 100-year-old love letter.
A year later while searching through some 400 boxes of Pershing’s personal records at the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C., I found some of Resco’s love letters to General Pershing.
In a folded letter Resco had written to Pershing in late summer of 1917, Micheline wrapped lilac petals and candid photos of herself.
Here is a photo of Micheline Resco’s love letter to General Pershing that the flower petals and photos were enclosed with.
It was to be the beginning of 30 years of letters between Pershing and his lover Micheline who insisted on staying hidden out of sight deep in the background of Pershing’s public life both during and after WWI.
After the war, the two visited privately between Pershing’s home in America and Resco’s in France when their schedules allowed. They also wrote frequently. Often they used coded telegraphs to disguise their romantic relationship. This was especially the case as the threat of World War II loomed in the late 1930’s. By then, Pershing was nearing the age of 80.
Another “history moment” I encountered dismissed any doubt I may have had over the love Pershing and Resco shared for each other. At the Jesuit Archives, I found the license for the couple’s secret 1946 marriage. A Catholic priest married the couple in Pershing’s apartment at Walter Reed Hospital in Washington, D.C, 11-days shy of Pershing’s 86th birthday.
Pershing died in 1948 as his 88th birthday drew near. Before he died, Pershing asked his grown son Warren that a letter he composed years earlier be delivered to Micheline Resco. Among other words that Pershing had written, it read:
What a beautiful love has been ours. As my companion in life, you will be with me through eternity. So, do not weep, be brave. Say not good-bye, but say good night. In all the future, the lingering fragrance of your kisses shall be fresh on my lips.
After his death, Pershing also left behind a small locket. Pershing’s granddaughter-in-law Sandra Pershing shared it with me in 2016 when I interviewed her for the documentary in New York City. The locket held two photos. One was of his son Warren. The other of Pershing’s wife Micheline.
A romance that blossomed into a love had survived a world war. It was a love that also endured through the lives of General John Pershing and portrait artist Micheline Resco.
Tuesday, October 2, 2018-
The President and the General: President Woodrow Wilson appointed General John J. Pershing to be the Commander of the American Expeditionary Forces in Europe during World War I.
With support from President Wilson, and under pressure from French and British Allied commanders to use U.S. troops to fill gaps in the Allied French and British armies, General Pershing declared that American troops would fight only under the U.S. flag, and only when they were trained and ready.
By June of 1918, 650,000 U.S. soldiers were on European soil. France and Britain’s prime ministers met with Pershing and demanded he give them more American troops to fill their depleted ranks.
According to historical accounts of the meeting, Pershing slammed his fist on the table and said, “I’m not going to do it.” British Prime Minister Lloyd George replied: “I will go over your head and refer this to the president.” Pershing retorted: “Refer this to the president, be damned. I know exactly what he’ll do. He will refer it back to me and I will give you the answer that I’m giving you now.”
With the full backing of President Wilson and Secretary of War, Newton D. Baker, Pershing retained full command of the more than 2-million U.S. troops who fought in WWI. Ultimately, the American soldiers helped turn the battle tide against Germany in favor of the Allies.
Monday, October 1, 2018-
Supplying America’s fighting troops in World War I- Supply support for the more than 2-million U.S troops who fought in Europe during the war was paramount to the Allied victory. America’s task was made more challenging by the fact it didn’t enter the war until April 1917, almost three years after Germany, France, and Britain began fighting on Europe’s Western Front. Thus America had to create its own independent supply chain which included shipping supplies across the Atlantic ocean.
Accomplishing this task depended on the U.S. Army’s Services of Supply in the rear combat areas of the war. It included deepwater shipping ports, railroads, supply depots, schools, maintenance facilities, bakeries, clothing repair shops, timber mills, replacement depots, ice plants, and a wide variety of other activities. The AEF initiated support techniques that would last well into the Cold War including forward maintenance, field cooking, graves registration (mortuary affairs), host nation support, motor transport, and morale services. Click on the video below to see some of the American supply support services in action during WWI.
US Supply Activities Near the Front Lines WWI from CoJMC on Vimeo.
To accomplish this extraordinary wartime task, General John J. Pershing, commander of the American Expeditionary Forces in Europe, established nine massive supply bases in France, Belgium, Italy, and Great Britain. General Pershing issued orders that a 90-day reserve of all types of supplies would be stockpiled at the bases to minimize the impact German submarine attacks might have on supply ships sailing from America across the Atlantic to Europe. After U.S. units entered combat along the Western Front, more than 900 miles of railroad tracks were built for trains to move supplies from French ports on the Atlantic coast to the troops fighting on the front lines.
The work of the logisticians in the U.S. Army’s Services of Supply enabled the success of the AEF and contributed to the emergence of the American Army as a modern fighting force that endures to this day.
America’s Ultimate Sacrifice-Battle of the Meuse Argonne: The 47-day battle unfolded on French soil between September 29 – November 11, 1918. It was one of the largest, bloodiest battles in U.S. history. It also helped bring an end to four years of bitter fighting in World War I. Almost two decades after the end of the war, WWI General John J. Pershing returned to dedicate the American memorial at the former battleground. In one of the greatest American military speeches of all time, the 76-year-old Pershing eloquently described the vital role U.S. troops played in the battle of the Meuse-Argonne. To hear Pershing’s speech watch the video below.
Saturday, September 29, 2018-
Alvin York- Reluctant hero: Sergeant Alvin York, who grew up as one of eleven children on a rural Tennessee farm, was one of the most decorated U.S. Army soldiers of World War I. He received the Congressional Medal of Honor for leading an attack on a German machine gun nest during the Battle of the Meuse-Argonne in France in the fall of 1918. York single-handedly took out 35 German machine guns, killed 25 enemy soldiers, and captured 132 prisoner soldiers who had pinned down his patrol unit.
On June 5, 1917, at the age of 29, Alvin York registered for the draft as U.S. men between ages 21 and 31 years of age were required to do. York requested “conscientious objector status” which was denied by the military.
During WWI, conscientious objector status did not exempt draftees from military duty. Such individuals were given assignments that did not conflict with their anti-war principles. At the time York wrote in his diary:
“I’m a believin’ that this here life we’re living is something the Lord done give us, and we got to be a-living it as best we can — and I’m figuring that killing other folks is no part of what he was intending us to be a-doing here.”
Eventually, York was persuaded that his religious beliefs were not incompatible with military service. He joined the U.S. Army’s 82nd Division as an infantry private and went to France in 1918.
In October 1918, as a newly-promoted corporal, York was one of a group of seventeen soldiers assigned to infiltrate German lines and silence a machine gun position. After the American patrol captured a large group of enemy soldiers, German small arms fire killed six Americans and wounded three.
York attacked the machine gun position, dispatching several German soldiers with his rifle before running out of ammunition. Six German soldiers charged him with bayonets, and York drew his pistol and killed them all. The German officer responsible for the machine gun position emptied his pistol while firing at York but every shot missed. The German officer surrendered with his men. York and his unit returned to their command post with more than 130 prisoners. York would later write:
“I figured them guns was killin’ hundreds, maybe thousands, and there weren’t nothin’ anybody could do, but to stop them guns. And that’s what I done.”
York’s feat made him a national hero and an international celebrity. A film about York’s WWI exploits was the highest-grossing American film of 1941. It also launched the career of actor Gary Cooper who won an Academy Award for his portrayal of York. Click on the video below from the National Film Registry at the Library of Congress to see a snippet of the film.
(Sources: Ron Owens, Medal of Honor: Historical Facts and Figures, Capozzola, 2008, pp. 67–9, Lee, 1985, 18–20, Lee, 1985, 25–6, Corp. Murray Savage, and Pvts. Maryan E. Dymowski, Ralph E. Weiler, Fred Waring, William Wine and Walter E. Swanson, Sgt. Early, Corp. William S. Cutting (aka Otis B. Merrithew), and Pvt. Mario Muzzi, Pvts. Joseph Kornacki, Percy Beardsley, Feodor Sok, Thomas G. Johnson, Michael A. Saccina, Patrick Donohue, and George W. Wills, Sergeant York Patriotic Foundation: “Sgt. Alvin C. York’s Diary: October 8, 1918”)
Friday, September 28, 2018-
The Battle of the Meuse-Argonne: 47 days of hell- 100 years ago in France, American troops under command of General John J. Pershing fought one of the largest battles in U.S. history. It was part of the Allied push that would force Germany’s surrender and an end to World War I. More than one million American soldiers made the final assault in the German-held Meuse-Argonne region.
Author Richard O’Connor described the Meuse-Argonne battlefield: “Hardly a worse place to fight an offensive battle could have been found. A single theme with a thousand dissonances dominates all the eyewitness accounts of the fighting. The damnable difficulty of campaigning in that country- the shell-pocked terrain, the mined roads, the mud and rain, the difficulty of hauling guns over abandoned trenches and brush-covered shell holes, the broken bridges, the embankments sideslipping into swamps, the all but hopeless tangles of trucks, caissons, staff cars, and tractor-drawn guns trying to make their way frontward over rutted roads. The rolling kitchens that didn’t roll, the lack of food, shelter, and dry clothing for days on end, the eternal buck-passing and the brass-hat stupidities. And there was no escape from this sodden hell except death, a wound, or certifiable shell shock. The cordon of military police behind the front line, on Pershing’s orders, were ruthlessly efficient about herding stragglers back to the front.”
The video below was filmed by the U.S. Army Signal Corps 100 years ago. It shows the fighting in the Meuse-Argonne by members of the U.S. Army’s 28th Division.
Thursday, September 27, 2018-
The Battle of the Meuse-Argonne: Beginning of the end- On September 26, 1918, more than one million American soldiers prepared to assault the German-held Meuse-Argonne region of France. Their commander, General John J. Pershing, believed in the superiority of American “guts” over barbed wire, machine guns, massed artillery, and poison gas. It was a belief that would be put to a bitter test.
As author Edward G. Lengel wrote: “In thirty-six hours, Pershing said, the American Doughboys would crack the German defenses and open the road to Berlin. Six weeks later, after savage fighting across swamps, forests, towns, and rugged hills, the battle finally ended with the signing of the armistice that concluded the First World War.”
The Meuse-Argonne had fallen, at the cost of more than 120,000 American casualties, including 26,000 dead. In the bloodiest battle the country had ever seen, an entire generation of young Americans had been transformed forever.” The video below was shot by the U.S. Army Signal Corps during the Meuse-Argonne battle 100 years ago. It shows some of the devastation and combat scenes involving U.S. soldiers from the 77th Division during the final American fight of WWI.
Wednesday, September 26, 2018-
Capturing the War- World War I marked the first time photography was an assigned official function of the U.S military. The men of the U.S. Army Signal Corps who performed the task were documenting history as they often risked their own lives in doing so.
In July 1917 the U.S. Army Signal Corps established a Photographic Section responsible for ground and aerial photography at home and abroad. Signalmen began documenting the war aboard the Baltic ocean liner, taking still and motion pictures of American Expeditionary Forces Commander John J. Pershing and his command staff as they sailed from America to France.
The Army controlled all combat photography. Civilian photographers were not permitted to operate within the zone of the American Expeditionary Forces in Europe. A photographic unit served with each division and consisted of one motion-picture operator, one still photographer, and their assistants. Each army and corps headquarters had a photo unit of one officer and six men.
Photographic units also served with such private agencies as the American Red Cross and the Young Men’s Christian Association (YMCA) to document their activities.
Photographic technology had progressed considerably since the first days of the medium in the late 1800’s. A combat photographer in World War I could develop a picture in fifteen minutes using a portable darkroom.
By November of 1918, the Signal Corps had taken approximately 30,000 still pictures and 750,000 feet of motion pictures that were used for training, propaganda, and historical purposes. Wartime censorship kept the public from seeing the most graphic images of war. The Signal Corps’ invaluable photographic collection resides today with the National Archives and Records Administration.
(Sources: National Archives and Records Administration, U.S. Army Center of Military History)
Tuesday, September 25, 2018-
Traffic jam at war- Imagine coordinating a World War I battle with more than a million U.S. soldiers slogging their way through rain, cold and mud against dug-in German defensive positions that rained down artillery and machine gun fire.
For much of the epic 47-day Battle of the Meuse-Argonne in the fall of 1918 those were the challenging conditions facing American troops as they fought in the decisive Allied offensive of the war on French soil.
The film below was shot by the U.S. Army Signal Corps during WWI and hasn’t been seen publicly for the past 100 years. It shows the kind of wartime traffic conditions U.S. troops had to negotiate in the Battle of the Meuse-Argonne.
Monday, September 24, 2018-
WWI boosts fledgling U.S. aircraft industry- The United States did not produce aircraft of its own design for use at the front during World War I. Nevertheless, the war served as an impetus for the infant industry and gave several aircraft companies their start.
Most wartime production revolved around the manufacture of training aircraft, and the British De Havilland DH-4 fighter. During peak production late in 1918, the U.S. aircraft industry employed more than 200,000 people.
Before beginning mass production, the U.S. government decided it would focus its efforts on producing a single European aircraft. The largest contracts for manufacturing the DH-4 went to Dayton-Wright in Dayton, Ohio; Glenn L. Curtiss in Buffalo, New York; Fisher Body in Detroit, Michigan, and Standard Aero in New York. And in spite of their best efforts, compared to the total number of aircraft used in the war, the number of DH-4s produced in the United States and shipped to Europe was small. Most U.S. troops in Europe flew French-made aircraft.
By the end of the war, the aircraft publication Jane’s (1919) listed some 31 aircraft manufacturers in the United States. Only a few contributed significantly to war production. Still, at its peak, wartime employment approached 175,000, and manufacturers were building at the rate of 12,000 or more aircraft per year by the end of the war. But with the war’s end, production shrunk to almost nothing. Only a few manufacturers would survive.
(Sources: Crouch, Tom. The Bishop’s Boys – A Life of Wilbur and Orville Wright. New York: W.W. Norton & Co., 1989, Jane’s All the World’s Aircraft, 1919 . London: Sampson Low, Marston and Co., 1919, Millbrooke, Anne. Aviation History. Englewood, Col.: Jeppesen Sanderson, Inc. 1999, 2000, Pattillo, Donald M. Pushing the Envelope – The American Aircraft Industry. Ann Arbor, Mich.: The University of Michigan Press, 1998. “The Man, His Machines, and the Company He Built.” Vought Heritage Museum)
Sunday, September 23, 2018-
Fighting to a deadly draw- Strategically located along the roads leading to the Channel ports in Belgian Flanders, the Belgian city of Ypres had been the scene of numerous battles since the 16th century. World War I was no different. There were three separate Battles of Ypres involving French and British allied forces in combat against German troops.
In late July of 1917, British forces, including thousands of Australian troops who served as part of the British Empire, planned to seize the railway running behind the German lines in an attempt to advance on the German submarine base at Bruges. This major British offensive heralded the beginning of the Third Battle of Ypres.
As part of the attack plan, 19 massive mines filled with thousands of pounds of explosives were detonated under the German lines at Messines Ridge, causing explosions which could be heard as far away as London (Battle of Messines). Swamp-like conditions, caused by frequent periods of rain, and the strongly fortified German defense lines made an Allied advance impossible.
The following ‘Battle of Passchendaele’, which ended with the capture of Passchendaele village, merely widened the Ypres battle area by five miles, resulting in 400,000 killed, wounded and missing soldiers on the British side alone.
For the first time in the Third Battle of Ypres, German troops used mustard gas instead of chlorine gas. The mustard gas was nicknamed ‘Yperite’ after the city of Ypres. It blistered the skin, eyes, and lungs of those exposed to it, and killed thousands of soldiers in a slow and painful way.
The tragedy for the Allied armies, who suffered so many losses, was that only a few months later almost all of the ground won in the Third Battle of Ypres was regained by the Germans during the Spring Offensive of 1918.
(Sources: History Channel, BNF Gallica, Australian War Memorial, VisitFlanders)
Saturday, September 22, 2018-
Children of World War I- Children were particularly impacted by the war through disruption to home life and to schooling, absent parents, and deaths of family and family friends. While such experiences were common on the Western Front, children often struggled to understand the reasons behind these events, and the impact upon them was sustained in different, and often more emotional, ways.
On Europe’s Western Front, French children were probably most affected by the war. Many lived near or in combat zones. Here, many French children experienced the sudden nature of war: Forced from their homes by invading German soldiers, facing rationing of food and clothing, suspension of school classes, limited supplies of coal and wood with which to say warm. For them, wrote Manon Pignot, a researcher at the Université de Picardie and Institut Universitaire de France, “it was a drastic upending of their universe, now marked by the near-daily sound of cannon fire.”
The large-scale conscription of married men and fathers who died in the fighting led to a great number of children orphaned by the war. Olivier Faron estimated that there were about 1,100,000 French orphans from the Great War.
Pignot wrote: “French children saw the men in their families depart: fathers and brothers, cousins and uncles, neighbors and teachers. These massive departures set the stage for an unusual display: tears shed in public, by both men and women. The upheaval of families was thus emotional.”
Some of the drawings from WWI also show just how much French children were surrounded by death. They also reflected renewed hopes for an end to the fighting when American troops joined the war in 1917. Several middle-school-age boys who attended a school in the Montmartre neighborhood of Paris, created the drawings you see in this posting.
(Sources: 1914-1918 International Encyclopedia of the First World War, Société d’Histoire et d’Archéologie Le Vieux Montmartre, WorldWarOneColorPhotos.com)
Friday, September 21, 2018-
All that Jazz- One of America’s greatest gifts to Europe during World War I was jazz music. It’s a gift that endures today, almost a century after the Great War ended. According to historian Ryan Reft, “For Americans serving on the Western Front in Europe, jazz emerged not only as the favored soundtrack of the war, but also as a burgeoning cultural force for nascent, albeit halting and incomplete, integration.
African-American regimental outfits—such as James Reese Europe’s 369th Regimental Band—came to define and spread the new musical form across continental Europe.
Europe’s band consisted of African-American jazz musicians such as Noble Sissle, but also over a dozen Puerto Rican players recruited by Europe himself from the Caribbean island.
According to the Library of Congress, some of its earliest performances overseas occurred at the health resort Aix-les-Bains. A world-famous destination frequented by the likes of J.P. Morgan, during the war it served as a site for recovering Allied soldiers. Here Europe’s band regaled recovering troops with jazz compositions.
“From the very first afternoon concert, when they opened with ‘Over There’ and the war-weary American soldiers responded by climbing on tables, shouting, waving their caps, and demanding that it be played again and again, the band was a great hit,” writes historian Reid Badger in his biography of Europe.
The band made waves with French citizens, too. On its way to Aix-les-Bains, it entertained a local town. The bandmaster’s baton “came down with a swoop that brought forth a soul-rousing crash,” recounted band member Noble Sissle. “[T]hen, it seemed, the whole audience began to sway. . . . The audience could stand it no longer; the ‘jazz germ’ hit them, and it seemed to find the vital spot, loosening all muscles.”
Samples of the music- Click below to hear Yelping Hound Blues byLouisiana Five and composers Al Nunez and Anton Lada.
Historian Ryan Reft described this scene as it played out across France, pulling in European and American audiences alike. “Troop trains “carrying Allied soldiers from everywhere,” passing the 369th, took in the sounds as “every head came out the window when we struck up a good old Dixie tune,” remembered Sissle. Even German prisoners forgot their incarceration, abandoned their labor and began to “pat their feet to the stirring American tune.” Jazz bands like the 369th played at hospitals, rest camps and numerous other venues.”
An August 1918 performance at the Théâtre des Champs-Élysées in Paris by the 369th so impressed U.S. General Tasker Bliss and his French counterparts that they asked the band to play in the French capital for eight more weeks. Another concert featuring the 369th at the Tuileries Gardens, along with some of the great bands from around Europe, drew 50,000 listeners. “Everywhere we gave a concert it was a riot,” Europe told an interviewer in 1919.
Samples of the music-Click below to hear Junk Man Rag by the Victor Military, Fred van Epps and composer Luckyeth Roberts.
Band member Noble Sissle captured James Reese Europe’s and America’s cultural contribution best: “Who would have thought that [the] little U.S.A. would ever give to the world a rhythm and melodies that, in the midst of such universal sorrow, would cause all students of music to yearn to learn how to play it?“
Thursday, September 20, 2018-
The big picture- The panoramic and large frame photographs below capture the devastation visited on several French cities after the fighting in World War I. Some French and Belgian cities suffered such heavy damage from artillery shelling in the war that they were never rebuilt.
Devastating fighting between Allied troops and Germany troops leveled the French town of Lens in WWI. On the outskirts of Lens, Canadian troops fought their “forgotten battle of WWI” in the Battle of Hill 70. Learn about it in the video below.
The Battle of Amiens (See photo below) was an Allied victory that helped bring an end to World War I. Following the Second Battle of the Marne, the Allies launched an attack in August 1918 with a force of 75,000 men, more than 500 tanks and nearly 2,000 planes.
The Amiens offensive achieved huge gains on the first day, with Allied troops and tanks advancing eight miles and causing 27,000 casualties. Although the German resistance stiffened and the fighting was over after a few days, the battle convinced many in the German high command that victory in the war was unattainable.
The panoramic photo below is of a British artillery company before the company left for WWI combat in France. I converted it into a video so we can get a clearer look at the faces of the young men who went to war, many who never returned home. Music by Chris Zabriski. From the Smithsonian Archives of American Art.
Wednesday, September 19, 2018-
No laughing matter- Political cartoons were used by both sides in World War I to shore up support for their cause while mocking their enemies. Artists such as Clifford Berryman, Rollin Kirby, and Oscar Cesare are well represented in the cartoon drawings. The newspaper clippings below cover Pro-Allies and Pro-Central Power positions and originate mainly from the United States, United Kingdom, France, and Germany.
This cartoon shows the Roman god Mars with a knife through his heart, lying dead upon a spinning planet Earth after the end of WWI. Millions of soldiers and civilians on both sides of the war died. By American cartoonist E.N. Clark. Published in the Buffalo Courier-Express. Library of Congress.
Tuesday, September 18, 2018-
German women in the workforce during World War I- Below: Training women for streetcar service in Berlin, Germany during World War I. Photo: Bain News Service, Library of Congress
In Germany, the expanded presence of women in the workforce during WWI was a significant result of the war. After the first military actions of the war proved indecisive in 1914, German society was mobilized for total war. The need for more soldiers meant the German government called upon women to enter the workforce. German machine shops recruited over 400,000 women, and ammunitions plants recruited 600,000 women.
Even though the number of women who entered Germany’s workforce for the first time didn’t grow substantially during the war, what did change was where women worked. A large portion of the women who entered the armaments and industrial workforces switched from working in the textile and luxury goods industries.
As WWI dragged on, the production of textiles and luxury goods in Germany were reduced or banned in favor of the increased production of war goods. As much as 40 percent of German women who worked in the textile industry in 1914 were relocated to work skilled factory jobs in war-related industries.
(Sources: International Encyclopedia of the First World War, Centenary News, “First World War 1914-18)
Monday, September 17, 2018-
The Battle of Saint-Mihiel, France between September 12 and 16 in 1918 was the first U.S.-led offensive in World War I.
It was also America’s opportunity to prove to our French and British allies that U.S. troops were trained and prepared to play a major role in the war against Germany.
Watch the video below to learn more about the Battle of St. Mihiel.
Sunday, September 16, 2018-
Did you know that World War I ended on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month of 1918? General John J. Pershing led the American Expeditionary Forces during World War I. His nick name was “Black Jack,” and he was honored as the highest-ranking general in the history of the U.S. Army. Click on the video below to learn 11 things you probably do not know about “Black Jack” Pershing.
Saturday, September 15, 2018-
War Gardens- During World War I, Americans were urged to conserve food so more of it could be sent to American and Allied troops fighting the German Army in Europe. Thus, if you’ll pardon the pun, “War Gardens,” and later “Victory Gardens, took root in America.
Charles Lathrop Pack organized the National War Garden Commission a month before America entered the war in April 1917. Pack said the war gardens’ purpose was to “increase the food supply without increasing the “use of land already cultivated, of labor already engaged in agricultural work, of time devoted to other necessary occupations, and of transportation facilities which were already inadequate to the demands made upon them.”
Commission members included representatives from several major U.S. universities and the president of the General Federation of Women’s Clubs. The commission publicized the gardens with pamphlets, printed material for newspaper distribution, and colorful, propagandist posters.
As it urged Americans to grow war gardens, The NWGC claimed: 1. Most of the soldiers fighting in WWI had been farmers before they were inducted into the armed forces. 2. Croplands in Europe had been deserted (farmers to soldiers) or devastated by warfare. 3. Submarines had interfered with international shipping. 4. To make matters worse, 1916 was a year of worldwide crop failures.
The commission (with few hard statistics) estimated the food value of America’s war gardens was $350,000,000 in 1917 and $525,000,000 in 1918. The commission estimated that 3 million new garden plots were planted in 1917 and more than 5.2 million were cultivated in 1918. They generated an estimated 1.45 million quarts of canned fruits and vegetables. Home gardeners had put up 500,000,000 quarts of canned vegetables and fruits in 1917, and 1,450,000,000 quarts in 1918. The Commission offered special thanks to women who joined men in “the production of that other sort of munition – the kind that grows in gardens.”
Following the WWI armistice in November 1918, the “War Garden” became the “Victory Garden.” The wording on the government’s literature and posters changed, but Americans continued to be encouraged by the government to garden and conserve food so that the United States could ship food to the needy citizens of war-torn Europe.
Sources: State Historical Society of North Dakota, Library of Congress, National Archives and Records Administration, Harris and Ewing, The History Channel.
Friday, September 14, 2018-
War Bread- As part of a national conservation drive to save food for the war effort in World War I Americans were asked to use non-wheat bread alternatives called “war bread.” This truck was parked on Fifth Avenue in New York City. Photo: Underwood and Underwood
The photo above shows women cooks of the New York City Food Aid Committee demonstrating how to bake bread, pastries, and other baked goods using wheat substitutes, such as corn and rye. Judging by the looks on the faces of the crowd, some may have been skeptical about the replacements for wheat flour.
After the United States joined the Allies in World War I in April 1917, tightened food regulations altered the pantries, recipes, and diets of Americans on the home front.
To help manage wartime supply, conversation, distribution, and transportation of food, the government created the U.S. Food Administration, helmed by future president Herbert Hoover.
Part of the department’s role was to invent dishes—and reinvent favorite ones—to help Americans integrate alternative ingredients into their meals.
In Oregon, for instance, the loaf locally called “war bread” contained 40 percent wheat substitutes, such as corn, barley, or rice flour; another type, known as “victory bread,” contained 25 percent substitutes.
Those who munched on war bread, readers of the Oregon Evening Herald were told, were “15 per cent more patriotic than the one who eats victory bread.”
One 1918 pamphlet described these alternative breads as “foods that will win the war.” One wheatless meal per family per day, the pamphlet estimated, “would mean a saving of 90,000,000 bushels of wheat, which totals 5,400,000,000 lbs.”
American home bakers were also encouraged by the U.S government to whip up wheat-free pastries and desserts such as Alcazar Cakes made with potato flour, or a wheat-free Lintz Tart—a pastry made without wheat flour with ample dashes of cinnamon and lemon. I have added two of the U.S. Food Administration’s WWI recipes for the pastries below for culinary adventurers.
Sources: National Public Radio, Library of Congress, Underwood and Underwood, Evening Herald, Klamath Falls, Oregon, U.S. Foods Administration, Lauren Young, Gastro Obscura
Thursday, September 13, 2018-
Burying horses after a battle-Conditions were severe for horses at the front during World War I; they were killed by artillery fire, suffered from skin disorders, and were injured by poison gas. Hundreds of thousands of horses died, and many more were treated at veterinary hospitals and sent back to the front. Photo: Bain News Service
The continued resupply of horses was a major issue of the war. One estimate puts the number of horses that served in World War I at around six million, with a large percentage of them dying due to war-related causes. Watch the charge scene from the movie “War Horse” below.
Battle losses of horses were approximately 25 percent of all war-related equine deaths between 1914 and 1916. Disease and exhaustion accounted for the remainder and the Germans specifically targeted horses with gunfire.
Photograph shows a horse-driven ambulance carrying wounded soldiers in the Forest of Laigne, France during World War I. Photo: Bain News Service
Equine casualties were especially high during battles of attrition, such as the 1916 Battle of Verdun between French and German forces. In one day in March, 7,000 horses were killed by long-range shelling on both sides, including 97 killed by a single shot from a French naval gun.
Horses were used extensively for military trains. They were used to pull ambulances, carry supplies and ordnance. At the beginning of the war, the German army depended upon horses to pull its field kitchens, as well as the ammunition wagons for artillery brigades.
The British Royal Corps of Signals used horses to pull cable wagons, and the promptness of messengers and dispatch riders depended on their mounts. Horses often drew artillery and steady animals were crucial to artillery effectiveness.
Animals bolstered morale at the front, due to the soldiers’ affection for them. Some recruitment posters from World War I showcased the partnership between horse and man in attempts to gain more recruits. The horse is the animal most associated with the war, and memorials have been erected to its service, including that War Memorial Park in Romsey, Great Britain, at St. Jude on the Hill, Hampstead, Great Britain which bears the inscription “Most obediently and often most painfully they died – faithful unto death.”
Sources: “1900: The Horse in Transition: The Horse in World War I 1914–1918”. International Museum of the Horse, “The horses that won us the war: How a harrowing reality inspired Michael Morpugo’s classic novel”. Mail Online. Associated Newspapers, Singleton, John (May 1993). “Britain’s military use of horses 1914–1918”. Past & Present: 178–204, Schafer, “Animals, Use of” in The European Powers in the First World War, pp. 52–53
Wednesday, September 12, 2018-
A quiet moment in the German trenches-The Imperial German Army (German: Deutsches Heer) was the name given to the combined land and air forces of the German Empire in World War I. The German Army in 1914 included roughly 25 corps with 700,000 men. Within a week of mobilization some 3.8 million German men were under arms. By August 1916, about 2.85 soldiers were serving on the Western Front with another 1.7 million on the Eastern Front. When the First World War came to an end in November 1918, the German Army had suffered an estimated 5 million casualties, including 1.75-million dead. After the war the Treaty of Versailles restricted the German Army to no more than 100,000 men in size. Photo: Bain News Service, 1917
Tuesday, September 11, 2018-
All that remains-A shattered church in the ruins of Neuvilly, France becomes a temporary shelter for American wounded during the World War I Battle of the Meuse-Argonne in September 1918. Photo: National Archives and Records Administration.
An estimated 1,200 churches in France alone were destroyed in the fighting during WWI. One was the Cambrai Cathedral (see below), a Roman Catholic church located in Cambrai, France. The cathedral is a national monument, and the seat of the Archbishop of Cambrai. It was heavily damaged by German shelling in late 1918.
Cambrai was delivered from German occupation by the Allies after several days of fierce fighting in October 1918. Afterwards, a priest held a thanksgiving service in the Cambrai Cathedral for the deliverance of the town by Allied troops. Also prayers were offered for those who fell during the taking of the town. Civilians who remained in the town cellars, and who came out when the Canadians entered their city, are seen in the front row of the cathedral.
Monday, September 10, 2018-
Sergeant Stubby, America’s original war dog – In 1921, General John J. Pershing, commander of the American Expeditionary Forces in World War I, presided over a ceremony that honored a soldier’s heroism and bravery under fire during the war. Pershing presented the soldier with a gold medal. And so, Sergeant Stubby, a short brindle bull terrier mutt, became the first dog decorated a hero of World War I.
The award, from the Humane Society of America, wasn’t a formal U.S. military commendation, but symbolically recognized Stubby’s unique combat service to America in the war.
According to the National Museum of American History, while training for combat at Yale University in 1917, Private J. Robert Conroy adopted the stray brindle puppy and named him “Stubby” after his short tail;.
The dog became the mascot of the 102nd Infantry, 26th Yankee Division. He learned the bugle calls, the drills, and even a modified dog salute as he put his right paw on his right eyebrow when a salute was executed by his fellow soldiers. Stubby had a positive effect on troop morale, and was allowed to remain in the camp, despite regulations against it for animals.
When the Yankee Division, 102nd Infantry reached the Western Front in France in February of 1918, Stubby soon became accustomed to the loud rifles and heavy artillery fire. His first battle injury came from gas exposure which sent him to a nearby field hospital where he was nursed back to health. The injury left Stubby sensitive to the tiniest trace of gas.
When the Division was attacked in an early morning gas launch, most of the troops were asleep. Stubby recognized the gas and ran through the trench barking and biting at the soldiers, rousing them to sound the gas alarm, saving many from injury.
Stubby also had a talent for locating wounded men between the trenches of the opposing armies; he would listen for the sound of English and then go to the location, barking until paramedics arrived or leading the lost soldiers back to the safety of the trenches.
He even caught a German soldier mapping out the layout of the Allied trenches. The soldier called to Stubby, but he put his ears back and began to bark. As the German ran, Stubby bit him on the legs, causing the soldier to trip and fall. He continued to attack the man until the United States soldiers arrived.
For capturing an enemy spy, Stubby was put in for a promotion to the rank of Sergeant by the commander of the 102nd Infantry. He became the first dog to be given rank in the United States Armed Forces.
Later, Stubby was injured during a grenade attack, leaving him with shrapnel in his chest and leg. He was rushed to a field hospital and later transferred to a Red Cross Recovery Hospital for additional surgery.
When Stubby became well enough to move around at the hospital, he visited wounded soldiers, boosting their morale.
By the end of the war, Stubby had served in 17 battles. He led the American troops in a pass and review parade and later visited with President Woodrow Wilson. He visited the White House twice and met Presidents Harding and Coolidge.
Stubby was awarded several medals for his heroism, including a medal from the French government and one from the Humane Society of America which was presented by General John Pershing, the Commanding General of the United States Armies.
Sgt. Stubby died in 1926 but lives on in two exhibits. His preserved hide and medal jacket are on display in the “Price of Freedom: Americans at War” exhibit at the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of American History in Washington, D.C.
A new sculpture, “Stubby Salutes,” was unveiled this past May in Veterans Memorial Park in Middletown, Connecticut in honor of all service animals. Sgt. Stubby may have been one of America’s first service dogs as well as an American combat veteran.
Sunday, September 9, 2018-
The “Iron harvest”- Between 1914 and 1918 the opposing armies in World War I fired an estimated 1.45 billion shells at each other. It has been estimated that about 66 million contained mustard gas or other toxic chemicals such as phosgene or white phosphorus. Today, 100 years after the war, unexploded shells are still regularly recovered along the Western Front in Belgium and France as local farmers plow their fields and dig up what’s called the “iron harvest” of WWI ordinance.
The World War I casualty rates are still rising today. Every year or two farmers in France and Belgium detonate unexploded WWI shell while plowing their fields. According to Great Britain’s Telegraph newspaper, more people would be killed or wounded were it not for the fact that farmers tend to plow their fields in the same direction which gives buried shells glancing blows that gradually nudge them into line so their noses are less likely to be hit.
There are still other parts of France that are completely uninhabitable because of the contamination left by WWI. These areas of France, about 460 square miles, are known as the ‘Zone Rouge’, or Red Zone. Under French law it is illegal to live, farm, or grow trees in the Red Zones because it is simply unsafe.
According to the Telegraph, in the area around Ypres, Belgium, 358 people have been killed and 535 injured by WWI munitions since the guns fell silent in 1918. Not all the victims are farmers either. In March 2013, seven laborers, policemen and firemen were taken to hospital when a German gas shell exploded during cable-laying work in a village south of Ypres. In October 2007, a man from Loker, Belgium was killed when a shell exploded while he was having a bonfire in his garden.
In 2012 alone, the Belgian military collected 105 tons of munitions, many containing toxic chemicals, and the French police, who run a similar collection service out of a base near Arras, 80 tons. Sometimes, when a long-lost arms cache or depot is discovered, the total is higher still. In 2004, for example, 3,000 German artillery shells were found at a single site in Dadizele, east of Ypres.
More stories on the Iron Harvest from World War I:
When not in battle- The ability for both sides to place so many men in the field for so long is a testament to the power and control the military could exert in World War I but also the strength of belief of those involved in the fighting.
British Library Curator Matthew Shaw wrote: “It is impossible to understand how men volunteered, accepted conscription and continued to fight without taking into account their beliefs about the war. ” Those immediately thrown into heavy action tended to cope less well than novices who were gradually exposed to conflict.
As soldiers spent more time under fire, they tended became hardened to the rigors of the Front. Veteran soldiers learned to pay attention to their environment, taking advantage of cover and working better under fire. In general, older hands did better with managing the intense feeling of terror that inflicted itself on those under fire.
Soldiers also had to cope with long stretches of anxious waiting, or even boredom, as well as responding to or participating in attacks. To counteract this, busy routines were put in place, ensuring that trenches were repaired, men supplied, and all was ready for the long, wakeful nights (daytime was usually too dangerous for major activity). Soldiers broke the restless monotony by writing letters to and reading letters from loved ones, singing, reading up on the latest newspaper reports from back home in America, thinking about post-battle dance routines in their minds.
Soldiers could also comfort themselves with the knowledge of the inefficiency of most First World War weaponry. As Dr. Shaw noted: “Men often resorted to black or gallows humor, as well as a bitter fatalism and superstition, as a means of dealing with everyday reality; doses of rum may also have played their part in steadying nerves.”
Erich Maria Remarque, author of “All Quiet on the Western Front” put it another way: “It’s all rot that they put in the war-news about the good humor of the troops, how they are arranging dances almost before they are out of the front-line. We don’t act like that because we are in a good humor: we are in a good humor because otherwise, we should go to pieces.”
Friday, September 7, 2018-
Canada’s efforts in the Great War- Preparing to go “over the top,” Canadian soldiers fix bayonets to their rifles as they ready themselves to leave their trench and attack across a battlefield in France during World War I. Photo: Library and Archives of Canada
According to the Canadian War Museum, as members of the British Commonwealth, Some 619,636 Canadians enlisted with the Canadian Expeditionary Force during WWI. Approximately 424,000 served overseas. Of these men and women, 59,544 members of the CEF died during the war, 51,748 of them as a result of enemy action.
A recruitment poster from the British Commonwealth during World War I. Photo: Canadian War Museum
The war united most Canadians in a common cause, as was also the case in America. The extremity of Canada’s national effort though nearly tore the country apart.
Few in Canada expected the long four-year struggle (It was 19 months for the U.S.) or heavy death toll. A war fought supposedly for liberal freedoms against Prussian militarism exposed uneasy contradictions, including compulsory military service, broken promises to farmers and organized labor, high inflation, deep social and linguistic divisions, and the suspension of many civil liberties.
Some women received the right to vote, but other Canadians – recent immigrants associated with enemy countries – saw their voting rights rescinded.
Patriotic romanticism reinforced by official propaganda forged a reputation that the Canadians were an army of fearsome lumberjacks, voyageurs, or cowboys, but most had been pre-war laborers, white-collar workers, or farmers.
According to the Canadian War Museum, the Canadians took great pride in differentiating themselves from British troops, even – or perhaps especially – by their well-documented tendency toward indiscipline.
Soldiers of the First Contingent especially were noted for pushing the boundaries of proper military behavior, calling officers by their first names or refusing to salute. By 1917, senior commanders, including Sir Douglas Haig, recognized the Canadians as an effective military force, but their carefully self-cultivated reputation for restlessness, brawling, and indifference to military etiquette continued throughout the war.
The Canadians resented being mistaken for other imperials. They responded to “Canada,” “Canuck,” or just “Tommy” when addressed as such by Allied troops or civilians, and took overseas many of the songs, idioms, and attitudes that had marked their lives in Canada.
While the Canadians wore similar uniforms and carried similar weapons as British troops, they sported unique unit cap badges and shoulder bars that read “CANADA.”
Thursday, September 6, 2018-
Medicine in the War- Doctors and nurses were recruited from civilian hospitals to serve in the United States Army medical corps, while others volunteered with the American Red Cross. Hospitals were established at home and abroad to care for the sick and wounded, and new medical technologies, such as mobile X-Ray machines and motorized ambulances, were used for the first time. Photos: National Archives and Records Administration.
The U.S. Army Ambulance Section in WWI consisted of a headquarters, one horse-drawn and three motor ambulance companies. Their purpose was to transport men from the Battalion Aid Stations to the Field Hospital Section.
If the travel time from collection points to the hospital was too long, leaving a man unattended, the Ambulance Sections set up intermediate points that allowed for a continuance of emergency medical care called Dressing Stations. The section’s four companies possessed 12 horse-drawn and 36 motor ambulances.
By 1918 operational experience proved the motor ambulance to be reliable and effective for evacuating patients from near the front provided roads were not too damaged.
Sources: National Archives and Records Administration, Jaffin, Colonel Jonathan H. Medical support for the American Expeditionary Forces in France during the First World War (Fort Leavenworth 1990), Volume VIII, Field Operations, The Medical Department of the United States Army in the World War (Washington, 1925), Volume XI, Section I, General Surgery, The Medical Department of the United States Army in the World War (Washington, 1925), Bain News Service, Library of Congress
Wednesday, September 5, 2018-
World War I sparks new technology and innovation: The Allies introduced the U.S. military to technological advancements in weapons, medical treatment, communication, and transportation. On the battlefield, American forces fought using airplanes, long-range artillery, gas, motorized ambulances, mobile X-ray equipment, wireless radio, and other modern tools of war.Photos: National Archives and Records Administration.
Tuesday, September 4, 2018-
American factories rev up for World War I – Omaha, Nebraska American Red Cross workers demonstrate a new gauze rolling machine in 1917. American factories were already producing and selling war materials to support France and Britain before it entered WWI. Photo: National Archives and Records Administration.
When the U.S. joined the war against Germany in 1917 the American industrial revolution boomed even more. Between 1914 and 1918, U.S. exports to Europe rose from $1.479 billion dollars to $4.062 billion dollars.
The private sector saw a significant increase in demand for supplies for the American army during the war. Contracts from the Army and Navy, for things like food, clothing, guns, and ammunition, increased rapidly. As a direct result, federal spending in the US also saw a swift increase, from $477 million in 1916 to its peak in 1918 of $8.450 billion.
For people working in the industrial side of the economy, their wages went up around six or seven percent during the war. The increase in wages and the fact that it was now much easier to find work led to an impressive increase in the labor force of America. Overall, U.S. unemployment declined from 7.9 percent to 1.4 percent in this period, in part because workers were drawn into new manufacturing jobs and because the military draft removed from many young men from the civilian labor force. Total labor forces rose from about 40 million in 1916 to 44 million in 1918 and many of the new factory workers were women.
Author David Drury wrote: “While demand for guns had been incredibly high during the war, it soon fell off in 1919. The overall workforce was cut back for the company and women were especially affected. It would not be long before women were again encouraged to work in factories. When wartime factory production rocketed again in World War II, propaganda like Rosie the Riveter was used to spur women into working in factories. This is yet another example of how the First World War forever changed the way industry functioned in the United States.”
Before the war, the U.S. was known for being a debtor country. After the war, America became a net creditor, making around $6.4 billion dollars.
WWI came with many losses in life, but the American economy saw significant improvements for many years to come. Industry and production for wartime efforts contributed greatly to the new and improved American economy during WWI.
(Sources: WartoEndAllWars.com, Central Connecticut State University, David Drury, “Hartford in World War I”)
Monday, September 3, 2018-
And No Bird Sang -Part 2 – Yesterday, I wrote about the incomprehensible destruction of World War I.
After the war’s end in 1918, an extraordinary film was commissioned by the French government to capture the scale of the Great War’s devastation and the shocking extent of the fighting across the Western Front in northern France and Belgium.
The 78-minute film was called “En dirigeable sur les champs de bataille” (“In airship on the battlefield”). It was shot by film-maker Lucien Le Saint in what was said to be a French government effort to obtain reparations from the Germans for the devastation left behind by the war.
The film was shot at the beginning of 1919 with French balloon pilot Jacques Trolley de Prévaux as he flew a few hundred feet above the battleground.
Thanks to the French government, I was able to get portions of the film and have paired them in the video below with a portion of the song ‘The Awakening’ by composer Joseph M Martin.
To me, the song’s lyrics capture the physical and spiritual desolation left behind in the war’s ruins.
“I dreamed a dream, a silent dream of a land not far away.
Where no bird sang, no steeples rang, and teardrops fell like rain.
I dreamed a dream; a silent dream. I dreamed a dream of a land so filled with pride that every song, both weak and strong, withered and died.
I dreamed a dream.
No hallelujah; not one hosanna! No song of love, no lullaby.
And no choir sang to change the world. No pipers played, no dancers twirled.
I dreamed a dream; a silent dream.”
A naval gunnery officer before the war started in 1914, Jacques Trolley de Prévaux had been retrained to fly the dirigibles that had been developed to spot for artillery, detect mines at sea and fight against submarines. For his actions he was awarded the Légion d’honneur and the Croix de guerre.
He joined the French Resistance at the beginning of 1942 and turned down an opportunity to go to London, but decided to stay in France. According to the French government’s Chemins de Mémoire, Trolley de Prévaux felt he would be of more use at home than in London. Secondly, his wife, a Jew of Polish origin and a resistance fighter along with him, was pregnant.
In the spring of 1943, he received the Distinguished Service Order from the British and appointed to become one of the main leaders of the French Resistance. He was arrested by the Gestapo in Marseille in March 1944. Jailed at Montluc Prison, he was executed in August 1944. His wife, Lotka, met with the same fate. Promoted to the rank of Rear Admiral, Trolley de Prévaux was posthumously made a Compagnon de la Libération, or Hero of the Liberation of France.
Sunday, September 2, 2018-
And no bird sang- Part 1- Forests and meadows turned to barren wasteland after 48 months of fighting ended World War in 1918. Where songbirds once sang, the sounds of artillery fire and whizzing machine gun bullets demolished nature, cities, soldiers, and citizens.
One of the deadliest conflicts in world history left 7 million civilians and 10 million military personnel dead. Along the Western Front in Europe thousands of miles, primarily in Belgium and France, were reduced to rubble and ruin by the fighting.
As I conducted research for my documentary on U.S. General John J. Pershing, I was haunted by the thousands of photographs and films from the war that documented the massive destruction.
Saturday, September 1, 2018-
World War I ushered in new combat technology in the form of machine guns, submarines, and high powered artillery. It also gave birth to aerial combat. At the beginning of the Great War, airplanes on both sides were used to provide reconnaissance for the troops fighting on the ground. Soon, German and Allied airplanes were fighting in the air across the Western Front. As they did, new innovations in aircraft design, weaponry, including synchronized machine guns that allowed pilots to fire through their aircraft’s propeller without hitting the blades, and pilot tactical training created a new class of death-defying celebrities: They were called flying aces. Many became popular heroes.\
Some of World War I’s most popular flying aces as described by Wikipedia.Manfred von Richthofen, also known as the “Red Baron”, was a fighter pilot with the German Air Force. He is considered the ace-of-aces of the war, being officially credited with 80 air combat victories.Originally a cavalryman, Richthofen transferred to the Air Service in 1915, becoming one of the first members of fighter squadron Jagdstaffel 2 in 1916. He quickly distinguished himself as a fighter pilot, and during 1917 became leader of Jasta 11 and then the larger fighter wing unit Jagdgeschwader 1, better known as “The Flying Circus” or “Richthofen’s Circus” because of the bright colours of its aircraft, and perhaps also because of the way the unit was transferred from one area of allied air activity to another – moving like a traveling circus, and frequently setting up in tents on improvised airfields. By 1918, Richthofen was regarded as a national hero in Germany, and respected by his enemies.Richthofen was shot down and killed near Vaux-sur-Somme, France in April 1918. There has been considerable discussion and debate regarding the circumstances of his death. He remains one of the most widely known fighter pilots of all time and has been the subject of many books, films, and other media.
William Avery Bishop, AKA Billy Bishop, was a Canadian flying ace who was officially credited with 72 victories, making him the top Canadian and British Empire ace of the war. When WWI broke out in 1914, Bishop was commissioned as an officer but became ill with pneumonia when the regiment was sent overseas.
After recovering, he was transferred to mounted infantry unit where Bishop showed a natural ability with a gun and excelled on the firing range. His seemingly “super-human” eyesight allowed him to put bullets in a target placed so far away others saw only a dot.
In 1915 he transferred to the Royal Flying Corps, joining the 60th Squadron in France in 1917. He soon became highly skilled in aerial combat and shot down a total of 72 enemy aircraft, including 25 in one 10-day period.
Promoted to lieutenant colonel, Bishop was appointed to the staff of the British Air Ministry in August 1918, and in this capacity, he helped to form the Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF) as a separate service. After the war, he joined one of the first commercial aviation companies in Canada, and he eventually became a businessman. In 1936 he was appointed honorary air vice-marshal of the RCAF, and he became honorary air marshal during World War II.
Colonel René Paul Fonck was a French aviator who ended the First World War as the top Allied fighter ace.
When all succeeding aerial conflicts of the 20th and 21st centuries are also considered, Fonck still holds the title of “all-time Allied Ace of Aces.” He received confirmation for 75 victories (72 solo and three shared).Taking into account his probable claims, Fonck’s final tally could conceivably be nearer 100.
Fonck was never wounded and, according to AirAcePilots.com, claimed that only one enemy bullet ever hit his airplane.
He was methodical, detailed, a skilled marksman, and a braggart. He took pride in using the least amount of ammunition necessary to bring down an enemy. He was a fine flier, but his self-promotion won him few close friends.
He didn’t drink or carouse with the other pilots, preferring to plan missions, perform calisthenics, and press his uniforms. In a remark that displayed both his skill and his boastfulness, he once said, “I put my bullets into the target as if by hand.”
He was made an Officer of the Legion of Honor in 1918 and later a Commander of the Legion of Honor after the war, and raised again to the “dignity” of Grand Officer.
Edward (Eddie) Vernon Rickenbacker was an American fighter ace in World War I and Medal of Honor recipient.
With 26 aerial victories, he was America’s most successful fighter ace in the war. In 1917, Rickenbacker enlisted in the United States Army and trained in France with some of the first American troops.
Most men chosen for pilot training had college degrees and Rickenbacker had to struggle to gain permission to fly because of his perceived lack of academic qualifications. Rickenbacker was originally assigned as an engineering officer at the U.S. Air Service’s pursuit training facility where he practiced flying during his free time.
He learned to fly well and was placed in one America’s air combat units, the 94th Aero Squadron, informally known as the “Hat-in-the-Ring” Squadron after its insignia.
On April 29, 1918, Rickenbacker shot down his first plane followed by 25 more enemy “shoot downs” before the war ended on November 11, 1918. Rickenbacker’s 26 victories remained the American record until World War II.
He flew a total of 300 combat hours, reportedly more than any other U.S. pilot in the war.
After WWI, Rickenbacker was also a race car driver and automotive designer, a government consultant in military matters and a pioneer in air transportation, particularly as the longtime head of Eastern Air Lines.
Friday, August 31, 2018-
WWI’s silent killer: Most Americans are surprised to learn that more U.S. soldiers died from the flu during the Great War than from enemy fire in combat.
In late 1918, when thousands of American soldiers arrived in France, they carried a highly contagious strain of flu with them to the unsanitary trenches of the Western Front. The flu infected an estimated 500 million people worldwide—about one-third of the planet’s population—and killed some 675,000 Americans.
In such close quarters, the flu spread wildly. For some, pneumonia followed flu. Many died. American Commander John J. Pershing himself caught the flu and had to take to his bed for several days. Pershing mentioned his brush with flu (he called it the grippe) in his war diary.
The virus affected both sides of the war. Soldiers in the field didn’t know how to recognize or treat it.
The influenza pandemic of 1918-1919 killed more people than the Great War itself with estimates of the dead ranging from 20 to 50 million people. It has been cited as the most devastating epidemic in recorded world history.
According to the History Channel, at the time, there were no effective drugs or vaccines to treat this killer flu strain. Citizens were ordered to wear masks, schools, theaters and businesses were shuttered and bodies piled up in makeshift morgues before the virus ended its deadly global march.
Thursday, August 30, 2018-
World War I was the first war where mass media and propaganda played a significant role in keeping the people at home informed about what was happening on the battlefields. It was also the first war where governments systematically produced propaganda as a way to target the public and shape opinion.
External propaganda to other countries was also an integral part of the war. Words and images were the messaging weapons used by virtually every country that fought in WWI.
According to scholar David Welch, patriotism and nationalism were two of the most important themes played on by the propaganda during WWI. From: Library of Congress
Perhaps nowhere was that more obvious than in WWI posters designed and widely distributed by the governments of the United States, France, Great Britain, and Germany. Their purpose was to build support for the cause or to undermine support for the enemy.
Atrocity propaganda was another form of advertising used during WW!. It focused on and embellished violent acts committed by the German and Austro-Hungarian armies. The Germans and Austro-Hungarian soldiers were depicted as inhumane savages with their barbarity emphasized as a way to provide justification for the war.
In America, the Committee on Public Information was headed by former investigative journalist George Creel. He emphasized the message that America’s involvement in WWI was necessary in achieving the salvation of Europe from the German and enemy forces. In Creel’s book “How We Advertised America,” Creel said the committee was formed to make the Great War a fight that would be a “verdict for mankind.” Creel also referred to the committee as a “vast enterprise in salesmenship” and “the world’s greatest adventure in advertising.”
Learn more about Creel in the American Experience video below.
Creel and the Committee on Public Information used every available form of messaging to get the U.S. government’s message across- printed word, spoken word, motion pictures, and posters. All were designed to justify America’s reasoning to go to war. The CPI’s colorful posters appeared in every store window. With their messages for enlistment and draft registration, buying Liberty Bonds, rationing food, supporting the Red Cross, etc., they caught the attention of millions of Americans.
According to author Jia-Rui Cook, To merge the popular poster art forms of advertising with key messages about the war, the CPI formed a Division of Pictorial Publicity in 1917. George Creel, asked Charles Dana Gibson, one of America’s most famous illustrators, to be his partner in the effort. Gibson, who was president of the Society of Illustrators, reached out to the country’s best illustrators and encouraged them to volunteer their enduring creativity to the war effort.
Wednesday, August 29, 2018-
Historian Frank Vandiver was one of the most widely read biographers of WWI General John J. Pershing. Pershing commanded the American Expeditionary Forces in Europe during the war.
In a 1963 speech to the U.S. Air Force Academy, Vandiver described Pershing’s historic accomplishments as a military leader and the formative importance of Pershing’s experiences at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln in the 1890’s. Some of those experiences would serve Pershing three decades later in WWI. Hee’s what Vandiver said:
“Pershing’s years in Lincoln may have been among the most influential in his life. In retrospect, Lincoln seems an unlikely place to mold a Great Captain. Prairie-locked, stuck off at the tail end of nowhere, the town and the university stood as lonely outposts of culture on the fringes of civilization. But what outposts! Chancellor James Canfield, who presided over the university, proved an “unusually able, farseeing, vigorous man, with a delightful personality;” one of the local attorneys, William Jennings Bryan, boasted fame beyond the prairies; and one of Lt. Pershing’s particular friends was a struggling young lawyer named Charles G. Dawes.
Vandiver continued: “In the company of stimulating friends the new Professor of Military Science made radical changes in the cadet corps of the university. Receiving the full support of Chancellor Canfield and the faculty, Pershing bore down with West Point discipline and worked to build an esprit to replace inertia. Out of all this hard work came a crack drill team–one that set records and took trophies and would be known thereafter as the famed Pershing Rifles. Working with these boys added another chapter in the education for leadership. Later Pershing remembered his problems and cast the value of what he learned:
“The psychology of the citizen as a cadet was that of the citizen soldier. Under training by one who understands him he can be quickly developed into a loyal and efficient fighting man. It would be an excellent thing if every officer in the army could have contact in this way with the youth which forms our citizenship in peace and our armies in war. It would broaden the officer’s outlook and better fit him for his duties. . .” Surrounded by faculty, students, intellectual curiosity, the young officer gave in to temptation, studied law, was graduated with the class of 1893 and was admitted to the bar. But that still did not quench his urge toward academic affairs, and he managed to teach regular college mathematics two hours a day.”
Tuesday, August 28, 2018-
America declares war on Germany. This was the headline in the Lincoln Daily Star (Nebraska) newspaper with word that President Woodrow Wilson would ask Congress to formally declare war against Germany in April of 1917.
Wilson cited Germany’s violation of its pledge to suspend unrestricted submarine warfare in the North Atlantic and the Mediterranean, as well as its attempts to entice Mexico into an alliance against the United States, as his reasons for declaring war. On April 4, 1917, the U.S. Senate voted in support of the measure to declare war on Germany. The House concurred two days later. The United States later declared war on German ally Austria-Hungary on December 7, 1917.
Germany’s resumption of submarine attacks on passenger and merchant ships in 1917 became the primary motivation behind Wilson’s decision to lead the United States into World War I.
According to the U.S. State Department’s Office of the Historian, while Wilson weighed his options regarding the submarine issue, he also had to address the question of Germany’s attempts to cement a secret alliance with Mexico.
On January 19, 1917, British naval intelligence intercepted and decrypted a telegram sent by German Foreign Minister Arthur Zimmermann to the German Ambassador in Mexico City.
The “Zimmermann Telegram” promised the Mexican Government that Germany would help Mexico recover the territory it had ceded to the United States following the Mexican-American War. In return for this assistance, Germany asked for Mexican support in the war.
Initially, the British had not shared the news of the Zimmermann Telegram with U.S. officials because they did not want the Germans to discover that British code breakers had cracked the German code. However, following Germany’s resumption of unrestricted submarine warfare in February, the British decided to use the note to help sway U.S. official and public opinion in favor of joining the war. The British finally forwarded the intercepted telegram to President Wilson on February 24. The U.S. press carried the story the following week.
Despite news of the Zimmermann Telegram, President Wilson hesitated asking for a declaration of war, waiting until March 20 before convening a Cabinet meeting to broach the matter—almost a month after he had first seen the telegram.
Historians continue to debate why Wilson waited until 1917 to declare war on Germany, especially, as noted by the U.S. State Department’s Office of the Historian, “…because of Wilson’s efforts to avoid war in 1915 after the (German) sinking of the British passenger ocean liners Lusitania and Arabic, which led to the deaths of 131 U.S. citizens.
When America went to war with allies France and Britain in April 1917, a massive enlistment effort by the United States resulted in the skyrocketing of America’s standing military. It went from roughly 220,000 soldiers and officers in April 1917, to more than 4-million U.S. troops in November 1918. More than 2-million of those U.S. troops were commanded by General John “Black Jack” Pershing and fighting on European soil when Germany surrendered to the Allies.
Monday, August 27, 2018-
The Generals Meet: From right to left bottom row- French General Augustin Debail, French Commander-in-Chief Joseph Joffre, Mrs. Joffre, American Commander and General John J. Pershing, French General and Supreme Allied Commander Ferdinand Foch. Photo: Bibliothèque nationale de France
During World War I, U.S. General John J. Pershing often had a strained relationship with his French and British counterparts who demanded U.S. troops be placed under their command in combat against Germany. General Pershing refused to allow U.S. troops to serve under anyone but American commanders during most of the Great War.
Pershing did relent in the spring of 1918. He placed American troops under French and British direction to stymie a series of four massive German military offensives. They were code named Michael, Georgette, Gneisenau and Blücher-Yorck. Michael was the main attack. It was designed to divide French and British troops, capture Paris, drive the British into the sea, and defeat the Allies before more American troops could arrive to fight in France.
(Below: Watch a German war film about its WWI spring offensive of 1918) video
Operation Michael began with one of the most intense bombardments of the war. More than 6,600 German artillery guns bombarded 46 miles of British front for five hours, firing more than 3.5 million shells. Next, a total of 67 German divisions flooded in against the British Fifth and Third Armies as well the French Sixth Army. The main blow was directed at the British Fifth Army where attacking German troops had an almost three-to-one advantage.
With a heroic response by French, British and 3rd and 4th Division Australian troops, the Allies blunted the German attack in late March. On April 2, General Pershing sent several thousand fresh American troops into the trenches to fight alongside the British and French. It was the first major deployment of U.S. troops in World War I.
Author Edward Lengel wrote “American Companies B and D (about 120 men each) and the Headquarters Company of the 6th Engineers were at work near Péronne, France when the German offensive began. A few days later, a fleet of trucks arrived at the engineers’ camps. The British front lines had broken wide open. Every available man was needed to help beat back the German assault.
The engineers received British Lee-Enfield rifles and Lewis machine guns to supplement their own Springfields, ate a chicken dinner, and boarded the trucks. Their mood was upbeat despite the desperation of the hour. In a wooded area east of Villers-Bretteneux, France, the engineers dug formidable trenches supplemented by strong points built to withstand enemy assault.”
American patrols made first contact with German infantry on March 27 and 28, exchanging fire that resulted in casualties on both sides. There were no reserves. Just alongside them waited four hundred Canadian railway workers, like the Americans pressed into last-ditch service as combat troops. On March 29, Good Friday, German spotters identified the American trenches and their artillery opened fire in earnest. The engineers stayed safe for the most part in their trenches and dugouts, but German shells obliterated the American field kitchen, killing several men.
The next day, March 30, the Germans attacked.
Lengel noted: “Battle-tested German troops used every means at their disposal to shatter the American lines. But the engineers were ready. Firing rifles and Lewis guns from their well-constructed trenches, they beat back multiple attacks until their ammunition ran low.
As the attacks continued, an officer near Péronne encountered a hulking, grizzled Kentucky engineer hiking toward the lines. He had an Enfield rifle over one shoulder and a Springfield over the other, and bandoleers of ammunition slung over his torso. The muddy helmet cocked on his head was dented by shrapnel.
“Sixth Engineers?” the officer asked.
The man nodded. “Gave us hell this morning,” he said.
“Drive them back?”
The engineer lifted his eyebrows. “Did we?” he asked. “Say, buddy, we used up all our Springfield ammo on ‘em and then started after ‘em with our Lee-Enfields. Sure hope we get reinforcements soon though. Every time they come over we always lose some of the boys, and they ain’t many of us left.”
“Going back up?” the officer persisted, and swiftly regretted it.
“Say, buddy,” the Kentuckian drawled. “Mah daddy is deputy sheriff at Catlettsburg, Kentucky, an’ if he evah thought that a boy of his’n backed away from a German, he’d take me out an’ shoot me hisself.”
Fired by this kind of spirit, the engineers held on until the German attacks faded out. A , heavy British artillery bombardment on April 1 disorganized the Germans further, allowing time for infantry to come up and relieve the now combat-hardened American engineers. The 6th Engineers suffered 28 men killed and 54 wounded in stopping the German assault.
Ultimately, the German Armies were also unable to maintain supply lines to their advancing troops and the great German offensive ground to a halt. It was a key turning point in the war and resulted in terrible losses on both sides. German casualties numbered 240,000 killed, wounded and captured while combined British and French casualties were 250,000 killed, wounded and captured.
In August, with the support of 2 million fresh American troops, the Allies counter attacked and used new artillery techniques and operational methods to drive the Germans into retreat. The Allies 100 Day Offensive resulted in the Germans being driven from all of the ground taken in the Spring Offensive and force the Germans to surrender in November of 1918.
Sources: Commonwealth War Graves Commission, Australian War Memorial, Mental Floss, Das Bundesarchiv, Edward Lengel, Wikiwand
Sunday, August 26, 2018-
Artillery company prepares to embark for France. This photograph of a British artillery company was taken in Great Britain by an unknown photographer in 1916. From the Smithsonian Archives of American Art.
The writing on the back of the photo indicates the company was about to embark for World War I combat duty on the Western Front in France. The video below gives you a more personal view of the British soldiers as they prepared to fight in a war that took the lives of more than 9.7-million soldiers.
The greatest number of casualties and wounds in World War I were inflicted by artillery because of several developments in artillery warfare. Artillery could now fire new high explosive shells, throw them farther and at a higher rate of fire. Because of this, enemies in trenches could constantly be fired upon. The heaviest loss of life for a single day occurred on July 1, 1916, during the Battle of the Somme, when the British Army suffered 57,470 casualties.
According to Encyclopedia Britannica, Sir Winston Churchill once described the battles of the Somme and Verdun, which were typical of trench warfare in their futile and indiscriminate slaughter, as being waged between double or triple walls of cannons fed by mountains of shells. In an open space surrounded by masses of these guns large numbers of infantry divisions collided. They fought in this dangerous position until battered into a state of uselessness. Then they were replaced by other divisions. So many men were lost in the process and shattered beyond recognition that there is a French monument at Verdun to the 150,000 unlocated dead who are assumed to be buried in the vicinity.
Saturday, August 25, 2018-
Clearing the dead. A seldom discussed part of war is the military clearance of the battlefield and burial of those who died in combat. According to author Peter Hodgkinson, during and in the years following World War I, the successes of those efforts resulted in cemeteries that became memorial grounds on the Western and other fronts of the war. Clearing the battlefields wasn’t only driven by military pragmatism. There were also important non-military social and psychological factors involved.
From a military standpoint, identification and burial were matters of accounting and morale. There was also public pressure during and after WWI to ensure recovery, identification and burial. British Reverend E.C. Crosse wrote: “Burials on active service had very great practical importance. In the first place if one had buried a man’s body, one knew for certain that he was dead. Secondly, nothing is more depressing to the living to see unburied dead about them.”
After the Battle of the Somme in France, Fabian Ware, a Lieutenant-Colonel in the British military’s Directorate of Graves Registration & Enquiries, raised his concerns about British military morale and public perception in late June of 1917. “We are on the verge over here of serious trouble about the number of bodies lying out still unburied on the Somme battlefields. The soldiers returning wounded or in leave to England are complaining bitterly about it and the War Office has already received letters on the matter.”
Graves Registration Units became responsible for recording the burial of the dead (and cemeteries), but it was up to the military unit itself to carry out the actual burials of an estimated 9.7-million soldiers who died fighting on both sides of the the Great War.
Clearance and burial were some of the most unpleasant and unpopular tasks of the war. British Private J. McCauley was attached to a burial detail in late 1918. He wrote: “For the first week or two I could scarcely endure the experiences we met with, but I gradually became hardened. Often have I picked up the remains of a fine brave man on a shovel. Just a little heap of bones and maggots to be carried to the common burial place. Numerous bodies were found lying submerged in the water in shell holes and mine craters; bodies that seemed quite whole, but which became like huge masses of white, slimy chalk when we handled them.”
The United States military also had a Graves Registration Service. On August 7, War Department Order 104 authorized the organization of a U.S. Graves Registration Service (GRS). The first GRS units reached France in October 1917. General John J. Pershing, commander of the American Expeditionary Forces in Europe demanded particular attention be paid to recovering, identifying and providing proper burials for the roughly 543,000 Americans who died combat related deaths in WWI. Watch the video below for more details.
Sources: “Clearing the Dead” by Peter Hodgkinson,WWI Resource Centre., National Archives and Records Administration, Imperial War Museum, Painted Rock Productions, LLC
Friday, August 24, 2018-
Americans near the front lines at Rouen, France during World War I. Photo: National Archives and Records Administration.
When America joined the war against Germany in April 1917, the U.S. military had roughly 220,000 soldiers and officers. In one of the most ambitious military feats in U.S. history, more than 2-million U.S. soldiers were recruited, trained, shipped across the Atlantic, and fighting in France and elsewhere in Europe when Germany surrendered in November of 1918.
Thursday, August 23, 2018-
Eugene Jacques Bullard (1895-1961) Bullard was the first African American combat aviator. He was known as the “black swallow of death” for his courage during World War I missions.
In August of 1917 Eugene Jacques Bullard, an American volunteer in the French army, became the first African American military pilot and one of only a few black pilots in World War I.
He was born in Columbus, Georgia, on Oct. 9, 1894, to William Bullard, a former slave, and Josephine Bullard. Eugene described his early youth as unhappy. He made several unsuccessful attempts to run away from home, one of which resulted in his being returned home and beaten by his father.
In 1906, at the age of 11, Bullard ran away for good. For the next six years he wandered the South in search of freedom and settled in France as a prizefighter in 1913.
When WWI started in 1914, he enlisted in the French Foreign Legion and rose to the rank of corporal. For his bravery as an infantryman in combat, Bullard received the Croix de Guerre and other decorations.
During the Battle of Verdun in 1916, Bullard was seriously wounded. He was taken from the battlefield and sent to Lyon to recuperate. While on leave in Paris, Bullard bet a friend $2,000 that despite his color he could enlist in the French flying service. Bullard’s determination paid off. In November 1916 he entered the Aéronautique Militaire as a gunner/observer, but when he reported to gunnery school, he obtained permission to become a pilot.
After completing flight training, Bullard joined the approximately 200 other Americans who flew in the Lafayette Flying Corps, and he flew combat missions from Aug. 27 until Nov. 11, 1917. He later wrote, “… it seemed to me that French democracy influenced the minds of both black and white Americans there and helped us all act like brothers.”
Bullard quickly became known for flying into dangerous situations often with a pet monkey named “Jimmy.” He amassed a distinguished record, flying 30 combat missions, with one confirmed downing of a German plane and another “unconfirmed” German plane downing.
Bullard is said to have had an insignia on his Spad 7 C.1 fighter plane that portrayed a heart with a dagger running through it and the slogan “All Blood Runs Red.”
When the United States entered the war, Bullard, and other American expatriates, applied for transfers to U.S. forces. Despite Bullard’s flight experience, his application was denied.
The United States military pressured France to ground Bullard permanently to uphold the U.S. military’s segregationist racial policy against black pilots. France succumbed and removed Bullard from aviation duty. He returned to his infantry regiment, and he performed non-combatant duties for the remainder of the war.
After the war, Bullard remained in France as an expatriate. Bullard discovered jazz, eventually owning two nightclubs, including “L’Escadrille,” in the Montmartre section of Paris. During this time Bullard rubbed elbows with notables like Langston Hughes, F. Scott Fitzgerald, and Josephine Baker.
Bullard also successfully parlayed his status as a former boxing champion into a popular gymnasium. Bullard’s Athletic Club catered to elite French Parisians and African Americans. Bullard married Marcelle Straumann in 1923. The couple had two daughters, Jacqueline and Lolita, but the marriage ended in divorce in 1931.
Even before World War II officially began in 1939, Bullard became involved in espionage activities against French fifth columnists who supported the Nazis. His nightclubs were popular with German officers, who had no clue that Bullard, fluent in German, was indeed a spy.
When war came he enlisted as a machine gunner in the 51st Infantry Regiment, and was severely wounded by an exploding artillery shell. By the end of World War II, although a national hero in France, Bullard and his daughters moved to New York City. He established a new life, working odd jobs selling perfume and operating the elevator of the RCA building, home to The Today Show. In 1954 Bullard was interviewed for the show.
That same year, he was one of the veterans chosen to light the “Everlasting Flame” at the French Tomb of the Unknown Soldier under the Arc de Triomphe, and in 1959, the French honored him with the Knight of the Legion of Honor.
On Oct. 13, 1961, Eugene Bullard died and was buried with full military honors in his legionnaire’s uniform in the cemetery of the Federation of French War Veterans in Flushing, New York.
In the epilogue to his well-researched book, Eugene Bullard, BlackExpatriate in Jazz-Age Paris, Craig Lloyd described the sad poignancy of Bullard’s situation in the United States: “The contrast between Eugene Bullard’s unrewarding years of toil and trouble early and late in life in the United States and his quarter-century of much-heralded achievement in France illustrates dramatically … the crippling disabilities imposed on the descendants of Americans of African ancestry … .”
Thirty-three years after his death, the Secretary of the Air Force posthumously appointed Bullard a second lieutenant in the United States Air Force in 1994.
National Museum of the U.S. Air Force, Craig Lloyd. “Eugene Bullard (1895-1961).” New Georgia Encyclopedia. 01 October 2014. Web. 30. August 2015. Craig Lloyd, Eugene Bullard: Black Expatriate in Jazz-age Paris (Athens, GA: University of Georgia Press, 2000); P.J. Carisella, James W. Ryan, and Edward W. Brooke, The Black Swallow of Death: The Incredible Story of Eugene Jacques Bullard, The World’s First Black Combat Aviator (Boston: Marlborough House, 1972); William A. Shack, Harlem in Montmartre: A Paris Jazz Story Between the Great Wars (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2001); “Eugene Bullard,” Contemporary Black Biography. Vol. 12 (Detroit: Gale, 1999): Dominick Pisano, “Eugene J. Bullard,” (Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum, 2010); U.S. Department of Defense Films.
Wednesday, August 22, 2018-
Great American author Ernest Hemingway in World War I. During the Great War, Hemingway volunteered to serve in Italy as an ambulance driver with the American Red Cross. In June 1918, while running a mobile canteen dispensing chocolate and cigarettes for soldiers, he was wounded by Austrian mortar fire.
“Then there was a flash, as when a blast-furnace door is swung open, and a roar that started white and went red,” he recalled in a letter home.
Despite his injuries, Hemingway carried a wounded Italian soldier to safety and was injured again by machine-gun fire. For his bravery, he received the Silver Medal of Valor from the Italian government—one of the first Americans so honored.
According to author Thomas Putnam, Hemingway wrote about his experience years later in Men at War, Hemingway wrote: “When you go to war as a boy you have a great illusion of immortality. Other people get killed; not you. . . . Then when you are badly wounded the first time you lose that illusion and you know it can happen to you. After being severely wounded two weeks before my nineteenth birthday I had a bad time until I figured out that nothing could happen to me that had not happened to all men before me. Whatever I had to do men had always done. If they had done it then I could do it too and the best thing was not to worry about it.”
Recuperating for six months in a Milan hospital, Hemingway fell in love with Agnes von Kurowsky, an American Red Cross nurse.
At war’s end, he returned to his home in Oak Park, Illinois, a different man. His experience of travel, combat, and love had broadened his outlook. Yet while his war experience had changed him dramatically, the town he returned to remained very much the same.
Two short stories (written years later) offer insights into his homecoming and his understanding of the dilemmas of the returned war veteran.
In “Soldier’s Home,” Howard Krebs returns home from Europe later than many of his peers. Having missed the victory parades, he is unable to reconnect with those he left behind—especially his mother, who cannot understand how her son has been changed by the war.
“Hemingway’s great war work deals with aftermath,” stated author Tobias Wolff at the Hemingway centennial celebration. “It deals with what happens to the soul in war and how people deal with that afterward. The problem that Hemingway set for himself in stories like ‘Soldier’s Home’ is the difficulty of telling the truth about what one has been through. He knew about his own difficulty in doing that.”
The Sun Also Rises features Jake Barnes, an American World War I veteran whose mysterious combat wounds have caused him to be impotent. Unlike Howard Krebs, who returned stateside after the war, Barnes remains in Europe, joining his compatriots in revels through Paris and Spain. Many regard the novel as Hemingway’s portrait of a generation that has lost its way, restlessly seeking meaning in a postwar world.
Hemingway’s second novel, A Farewell to Arms, is written as a retrospective of the war experience of Frederic Henry, a wounded American soldier, and his doomed love affair with an English nurse, Catherine Barkley.
Author Putnam said Hemingway rewrote the conclusion to A Farewell to Arms many times. Among the gems of the Hemingway Collection are the 44 pages of manuscript containing a score of different endings—which are often used today by visiting English teachers to provide their students with a glimpse of Hemingway the writer at work.
At a Kennedy Library forum, author Justin Kaplan noted the number of delicate changes Hemingway made to the novel’s last paragraphs. When asked once why he did so, Kaplan recounted, Hemingway responded: “I was trying to find the right words.”
After reading an early draft, F. Scott Fitzgerald suggested Hemingway end the book with one of its most memorable passages: “The world breaks everyone and afterward many are strong at the broken places. But those that will not break it kills. It kills the very good and the very gentle and the very brave impartially. If you are none of these you can be sure that it will kill you too but there will be no special hurry.” Scrawled at the bottom of Fitzgerald’s 10-page letter in Hemingway’s hand is his three-word reaction—”Kiss my ass”—leaving no doubt of his dismissal of Fitzgerald’s suggestions.
Tuesday, August 21, 2018-
He was the American doughboy who would be America’s president. Harry Truman was the only American president that saw combat action in World War I. According to author H.W. Crocker III, after two enlistments with the National Guard, Truman returned to the family farm in Missouri in 1911 to help support his family.
That changed in April 1917. When America declared war against Germany, Truman quickly reenlisted in the National Guard in June. Before his unit finished training at Fort Sill, Oklahoma, Truman was recommended for promotion to captain. By April 1918, he was in France attending Advanced Artillery School and graduated with his captain’s promotion. Truman didn’t particularly care for France or the French. Typical was his frustration with the dining habits of French officers: “It takes them so long to serve a meal that I’m always hungrier when I get done than I ever was before.”
Truman saw his first action in August 1918, amid the mud and mire of the Vosges mountain range in Alsace-Lorraine, firing an artillery barrage and being fired on in return. The captain stood his ground. Many of his men did not. He cursed them for it, and won their respect.
September brought Truman to the Argonne Forest and the Meuse-Argonne offensive that would end the war. Truman remembered that the opening barrage, to which his battery contributed, belched out “more noise than human ears could stand. Men serving the guns became deaf for weeks after. I was deaf as a post from the noise. It looked as though every gun in France was turned loose and the sky was red from one end to the other from the artillery flashes.”
The artillery followed the infantry, and at the end of it all, with the armistice in November, only one man in Truman’s battery, Battery D, had been killed in action and only two others had been wounded, all of them while detailed to another command. He had performed exceptionally well. The war was the making of Truman. Decades later he would become America’s 33rd president.
Below: Read a letter Harry Truman wrote his future wife Bess during the Battle of the Meuse-Argonne in October 1918.
Monday, August 20, 2018-
On a cold January night in 1919, U.S. Army Col. Luke Lea and six American soldiers made an illegal crossing into Holland and a brazen visit to a 17th-century Dutch castle. There, German Kaiser Wilhelm II lived in exiled comfort with his wife and entourage. Lea demanded an audience with the deposed WWI ruler. Lea’s intention, he claimed, was to kidnap “Kaiser Bill,” and deliver him to face war-crime charges in Paris, where the allies were holding peace talks.
After learning of the German troop retreat from her district in World War I, a French woman returns to find her home a heap of ruins. During the First World War, specifically at the time of the Battle of Verdun in 1916, many villages in northern France were destroyed by the fighting. Photo: National Archives and Records Administration
According to Reuters, ten months of fighting saw German and French troops being pushed backwards and forwards, and by December 1916 the French had retaken almost all the territory that had been lost. German troops did not come through, but nine villages had been utterly wiped out. An estimated 300,000 French and German soldiers were killed and over 450,000 were injured.
After the Great War, it was decided that the villages should not be rebuilt, and most have remained without any inhabitants. But nonetheless they are still administered by unelected mayors, who are chosen by local authorities after a law was passed in 1919, symbolically maintaining their administrative existence.
See the BBC video below for more on the devastation left behind after WWI ended.
Saturday, August 18, 2018-
German soldiers in France in 1918. Photo: National Archives and Records Administration
In August 1914, Europe’s great powers prepped their armies and navies for a fight, but no one was preparing for a long struggle—both sides were counting on a short, decisive conflict that would end in their favor. “You will be home before the leaves have fallen from the trees,” Kaiser Wilhelm of Germany assured troops leaving for the front in the first week of August 1914. More than four years later, Germany surrendered WWI on November 11, 1918, its economy in shambles and army badly tattered. According to a summary of World War I casualties, complied by the U.S. Public Broadcasting Service, 1,773,700 German soldiers and sailors were among the war dead, 4,216,058 wounded, 1,152,800 prisoners, for a total of 7,142,558 casualties- a sobering 54.6 percent of the 13,000,000 soldiers Germany mobilized for the war. Click here to read more from the German perspective.
Friday, August 17, 2018-
U.S. Army Infantry troops: African-American unit, marching northwest of Verdun, France, in World War I. Because of segregationist policies, most African-American combat troops served, not with white U.S. troops, but with French troops during WWI. Many of the African-American soldiers were later given medals for their battlefield gallantry and valor by the French government. Photo: Library of Congress.
According to Military.com, while still discriminatory, the Army was far more progressive in race relations than the other branches of the military. Blacks could not serve in the Marines, and could only serve limited and menial positions in the Navy and the Coast Guard. By the end of World War I, African Americans served in cavalry, infantry, signal, medical, engineer, and artillery units, as well as serving as chaplains, surveyors, truck drivers, chemists, and intelligence officers.
Although technically eligible for many positions in the Army, very few blacks got the opportunity to serve in combat units. Most were limited to labor battalions. The combat elements of the U.S. Army were kept completely segregated. The four established all-black Regular Army regiments were not used in overseas combat roles but instead were diffused throughout American held territory.
There was such a backlash from the African American community, however, that the War Department finally created the 92nd and 93nd Divisions, both primarily black combat units, in 1917. The video below about the 93rd Division was created by the U.S. Army Signal Corps during WWI.
According to the National Museum of the U.S. Army, In October 1917, 639 African-American men received their commissions as either captain or first or second lieutenant, and were assigned to infantry, artillery, and engineer units with the 92nd Division. This was to be the first and only class to graduate from Fort Des Moines; the War Department shut it down soon after their departure. Future black candidates attended either special training camps in Puerto Rico (from which 433 officers graduated), the Philippines, Hawaii, and Panama, or regular officer training facilities in the United States .
The Army had no written policy on what to do if an officer training camp became integrated, so each camp was allowed to decide for itself the manner in which the integration was executed. Some were completely segregated and others allowed for blacks and whites to train together. Over 700 additional black officers graduated from these camps, bringing the total number to 1,353.
Although African Americans were earning higher positions in the Army, that did not necessarily mean they were getting equal treatment. Black draftees were treated with extreme, racist hostility when they arrived for training. White men refused to salute black officers and black officers were often barred from the officer’s clubs and quarters. The War Department rarely interceded, and discrimination was usually overlooked or sometimes condoned. Because many Southern civilians protested having blacks from other states inhabit nearby training camps, the War Department stipulated that no more than one-fourth of the trainees in any Army camp in the U.S. could be African American.
Even when integrated into fairly progressive camps, black soldiers were often treated badly and sometimes went for long periods without proper clothing. There were also reports of blacks receiving old Civil War uniforms and being forced to sleep outside in pitched tents instead of warmer, sturdier barracks. Some were forced to eat outside in the winter months, while others went without a change of clothes for months at a time.
Not all black soldiers suffered treatment like this, however, as those who were lucky enough to train at newly erected National Army cantonments lived in comfortable barracks and had sanitary latrines, hot food, and plenty of clothes.
Thursday, August 16, 2018-
Lady ambulance drivers decorated for their bravery during WWI air raids assemble to be presented with commendation medals in March of 1918. Photo: National Archives and Records Administration
Author Evangeline Holland summed it up nicely when she wrote: “In the early 1900s, driving an automobile was an act of independence and privilege, and…a woman driving an automobile in the early 1900s exercised her ability to go wherever she wanted when she wanted. This was an undoubtedly terrifying specter in the era of militant suffragist demonstrations, and the resistance towards women stepping outside of their “place” forced women ambulance drivers during WWI to carefully navigate their roles as “helpmeets” (proper femininity) with their “masculine” positions in the thick of the war.”
American Mary Dexter, a volunteer with the British Red Cross wrote vivid and compelling descriptions of her time as an ambulance driver in France during WWI. Wanting to get closer to the Front … Mary Dexter joined the Hackett-Lowther Unit for an initial six-month term. The Hackett-Lowther Unit was a private ambulance and canteen service run by two women and ‘the only’ female unit at the Front. The British would not permit women so close to the front, and they were surprised to drop by the French facility and see women there. See Dexter’s photo below from her time as an ambulance driver.
Author Jennifer Robson wrote: “The ambulance vehicles were difficult to drive and maintain, particularly so in cold or rainy weather. The routes the drivers traveled were exceptionally treacherous and the hours they worked were very long. Worst of all was the suffering of their passengers, to which they were witness day after day, night after night, month after soul-destroying month. Ernest Hemingway, himself a volunteer ambulance driver with the Red Cross, described it simply in a letter to his parents. “The ambulance is no slacker’s job.””
Wednesday, August 15, 2018-
First Lieutenant E. V. [Eddie] Rickenbacker, 94th Aero Squadron, World War I American ace, standing up in his Spad plane. Near Rembercourt, France.
With 26 aerial victories, he was America’s most successful fighter ace in WWI. Rickenbacker was also considered to have received the most awards for valor by an American during the war. Rickenbacker flew a total of 300 combat hours, reportedly more than any other U.S. pilot in the war. His life story may exceed even the imagination of Hollywood.
When Rickenbacker learned of the WWI armistice, he flew an airplane above the western front to observe the ceasefire and the displays of joy and comradeship, as the formerly warring troops crossed the front lines and joined in the celebrations.
Rickenbacker was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross a record eight times. One of these awards was converted in 1930 to the Medal of Honor. He was also awarded the Legion of Honor and the Croix de Guerre by France. After WWI, Rickenbacker was a race car driver and automotive designer, a government consultant in military matters and a pioneer in air transportation, particularly as the longtime head of Eastern Air Lines. Photos: National Archives and Records Administration
In the late 1950s, a film profile on Rickenbacker, named “The Immortal Ace,” was narrated and hosted by Arthur Godfrey. From: PeriscopeFilm.com
After the successful trial use of Harley-Davidson motorcycles by the U.S. Army to hunt down Pancho Villa and his troops during the Mexican Revolution, the government ramped up their use in Europe during World War I. more than 60,000 Harley-Davidson and Indian motorcycles were manufactured for the U.S. military. Photo: National Archives and Records Administration
Pictured above- The Indian Powerplus Big Twin: Leading into World War I, Indian motorcycles dedicated nearly all of its production resources to the war effort.
Author Maxwell Barna noted that the result was 50,000 Indian Powerplus Big Twins, which were both faster and, thanks to a swanky rear suspension, more maneuverable than their Harley counterparts.
Below: The very first American who set foot on German soil in Germany the day after the 11/11/1918 Armistice, was a corporal named Roy Holtz of the U.S. Army. Holtz entered Germany riding a Harley-Davidson motorcycle and sidecar. According to Harley-Davidson archivist Bill Jackson, the first year of military production was 1917 when half of Harley’s production went to the military. By 1918, the vast majority of Harley’s production was going to the military with both Harley and Indian as suppliers. The motorcycles were primarily used for dispatch use, carrier use and troop escort services. Photo: Harley-Davidson
Monday, August 13, 2018-
From all along the battlelines these German prisoners filed into France as the French, British and American troops turned the WWI battle tide against Germany along the Western Front in late 1918.
The situation of WWI prisoners of war s an aspect of the conflict little covered by historical research. However, the number of soldiers imprisoned reached a little over seven million for all the belligerents who fought in the Great War.
Photo: Keystone View Company
Sunday, August 12, 2018-
Wake up America! Civilization calls every man, woman and child!
By: James Montgomery Flagg.
Given the troubled political times America finds itself in today, I thought this WWI poster might be appropriate.
This poster shows a woman dressed in Stars & Stripes, symbolizing America asleep. After two and a half years of neutrality, the United States entered World War I on April 6, 1917. James Montgomery Flagg, who created some of the war’s most indelible images, sounded the alarm for all citizens in this poster which was featured in “Wake Up, America” Day in New York City just thirteen days later on April 19th. Actress Mary Arthur was Flagg’s model for Columbia who is a personification of America and Liberty. She is shown asleep, wearing patriotic stars and stripes and a Phrygian cap–a symbol of freedom since Roman times. While she dozes against a fluted column, another visual reference to Western classical antiquity and civilization, sinister storm clouds gather in the background. (Source: Library of Congress)
Saturday, August 11, 2018-
Soldiers in the U.S. 23rd Infantry gun crew fighting in the Argonne Forest in France during the Battle of the Meuse-Argonne in late 1918. Photo: National Archives and Records Administration.
The Battle of the Meuse-Argonne lasted 47 days and was the pivotal America-led part of the Allies push against German troops that ended the war and forced Germany’s surrender. The Battle of the Meuse-Argonne was the largest battle in American military history with more than 1.2-million Doughboys and 50,000 French troops fighting German troops at its peak in late October and early November of 1918.
The battle cost 28,000 German lives, 26,277 American lives and an unknown number of French lives. It was the largest and bloodiest operation of World War I for the American Expeditionary Forces (AEF), which were commanded by General John J. Pershing. U.S. troop losses were exacerbated by the inexperience of many of the troops and the tactics used during the early phases of the operation.
Friday, August 10, 2018-
Some of the American “Hello Girls” who, according to the Doughboy Center, answered General John J. Pershing’s appeal for bilingual telephone-switchboard operators from the U.S. to serve in France during WWI. Pershing’s “Emergency Appeal” specifically requested women, who worked as switchboard operators for the new Bell Telephone Company, be sworn into the U.S. Army Signal Corps. Pershing stated, “women have the patience and perseverance to do long, arduous detailed work.”
According to NPR, at the height of the fighting, 223 “Hello Girls” connected over 150,000 calls per day. Meanwhile, male Signal Corps soldiers were busy stringing telephone wire for communications from the combat trenches to Pershing’s A.E.F. headquarters at Chaumont, France. It was the first time in the history of warfare that soldiers in the front-lines were connected to the General command. Because they were women, the Department of War denied the “Hello Girls” veteran status — including benefits, medical care, commendations, honorable discharges, military funerals, even the right to wear their uniforms for 60 years until their service was finally recognized during the Carter presidency in 1977. Photo: Harvard University Archives
Thursday, August 9, 2018-
General John “Black Jack” Pershing arrives in France with the first American troops on June 13, 1917.
There were 190 American soldiers and civilians in Pershing’s entourage when it stepped onto French soil at Boulogne-sur-Mer. Pershing commanded the American Expeditionary Forces in Europe during WWI which grew to more than 2-million fighting U.S. troops by the end of the war.
Photo: Imperial War Museum
Wednesday, August 8, 2018-
The deadly aftermath of a battle between U.S. 4th Division troops and dug-in German machine gunners along a sunken road near Arras., France in February 1918.
Photo: National Archives and Records Administration
Tuesday, August 7, 2018-
The first party of American soldier engineers to arrive at the British front in France in early 1918. Near Boisleux-en-Mont, France in the Arras area.
Photo: National Archives and Records Administration
Monday, August 6, 2018-
Photo 1: Some of the African-American soldiers from the 369th “Harlem Hellfighters” Regiment on their return trip home from serving with French troops in WWI. These men were decorated by the French government with the French Croix de Guerre because they distinguished themselves by acts of heroism involving combat with the enemy.
Photo 2: African-American soldiers of the 369th in service with French troops during WWI. Two-point-three million blacks registered [for the draft]” during WWI. Although the Marines would not accept them, and the Navy enlisted few and only in menial positions, large numbers served in the army. Some 375,000 blacks served overall, including “639 men [who] received commissions, a historical first,” author Chad L. Williams writes in his essay “African Americans and World War I.”Photos: National Archives and Records Administration
Sunday, August 5, 2018-
Officers and crew of the German submarine U.58, captured by the U.S.S. Fanning, entering the War Prison Camp at Fort McPherson, Georgia in April 1918.
In late January 1917, Germany announced that its U-boats would engage in unrestricted submarine warfare. On March 17, German submarines sank three American merchant vessels, and the U.S. declared war on Germany in April 1917.
Photo: Mathewson & Winn
Unrestricted submarine warfare in early 1917 was initially very successful, sinking a major part of Britain-bound shipping. With the introduction of escorted convoys, shipping losses declined and in the end the German strategy failed to destroy sufficient Allied shipping. An armistice became effective on 11 November 1918 and all surviving German submarines were surrendered. Of the 360 submarines that had been built, 178 were lost, but more than 11 million tons of shipping had been destroyed.
U-boats in a German harbor. Photo: Library of Congress
Saturday, August 4, 2018-
A shattered church in the ruins of Neuvilly, France becomes a temporary shelter for WWI American wounded in September 1918.
Photo: National Archives and Records Administration
Friday, August 3, 2018-
The devastated coal mining region in the town of Lens in northern France during WWI. An estimated seven-point-five million men lost their lives on the Western Front during World War One. The front was opened when the German army invaded Luxembourg and Belgium in 1914 and then moved into the industrial regions in northern France.
It was in this region that both sides dug vast networks of trenches that ran all the way from the North Sea to the Swiss border with France. This line of tunnels remained unaltered, give or take a mile here and a mile there, for most of the four-year conflict.
Join us for the exclusive Boise, Idaho premiere of showing of “Black Jack Pershing: Love and War” Boise Public Library main branch Saturday, October 20 at 2:00 pm in the Bingham Community Room. General Pershing commanded American troops that helped turn the battle and force a German surrender in World War I.
A free showing of the award-winning film will be followed by a panel discussion on General Pershing and Idaho heroes of the “War to End All Wars.” The event is sponsored by the Idaho World War One Commission. Its mission is to educate Idahoans about our state and nation’s forgotten heroes of this important war. World War I’s 100th Anniversary of the Armistice will take place November 11, 2018 at 11:00 am.
General John J. Pershing, a Missouri native and prominent historical figure in Nebraska, commanded American troops in World War I. He rose to global recognition with an illustrious military career that included the Allied victory in WWI. Drawn from personal papers, archival photographs and film, the award-winning documentary Black Jack Pershing: Love and War tells the story of Pershing’s military career and his personal life, including tragedies seldom examined.
We’re off to see the Wizard. Actually, we’re off to screen “Black Jack Pershing: Love and War” on opening night, 7:45 p.m., Friday, October 12 at the Kansas International Film Festival. Our award-winning documentary on the life of WWI General John J. Pershing brings General Pershing’s life story back to the Kansas City area where Pershing dedicated the WWI Memorial in 1921.
Please join us at 3:20 p.m., Saturday, October 6 in Fremont, Nebraska for the White Light City Film Festival. “Black Jack Pershing: Love and War” is among the films submitted from 13 countries chosen to screen at Eppley Auditorium in the Kimmel Theater at Midland University.
General John J. Pershing, a Missouri native and prominent historical figure in Nebraska, commanded American troops in World War I. He rose to global recognition with an illustrious military career that included the Allied victory in WWI. Drawn from personal papers, archival photographs and film, the award-winning documentary Black Jack Pershing: Love and War tells the story of Pershing’s military career and his personal life, including tragedies seldom examined.
General John J. Pershing, a Missouri native and prominent historical figure in Nebraska, commanded American troops in World War I. He rose to global recognition with an illustrious military career that included the Allied victory in WWI. Drawn from personal papers, archival photographs and film, the award-winning documentary Black Jack Pershing: Love and War tells the story of Pershing’s military career and his personal life, including tragedies seldom examined.
Honored to announce that we’ve been selected to screen “Black Jack Pershing: Love and War” on Saturday, Nov. 3 at the San Francisco Veterans Film Festival. I invite all of our San Francisco and Bay area friends to attend.
My sincere appreciation to all who came to the National World War I Museum and Memorial for the screening of “Black Jack Pershing: Love and War” in Kansas City, Missouri on August 2.
Our audience of roughly 130 asked questions about General Pershing’s promotion over 800 more senior officers to the rank of brigadier general. Thus began his ascension to becoming the commander of U.S. forces in WWI and the highest-ranking active-duty officer in U.S. history.
The audience wanted to know what Pershing might think of today’s military and political scene in America. I told them I didn’t think Pershing would approve. They asked about Pershing’s strategic tactics in WWI that began with large U.S. combat casualties and ended with Germany’s surrender to the Allies in 1918.
I was honored to have retired lieutenant colonel Shawn Faulkner, an outstanding military historian at Fort Leavenworth’s U.S. Army Command and General Staff College, join me in the question-and-answer session after the screening of the documentary. It was a wonderful evening in one of America’s most beautiful war memorials.
Did you know Pershing and the other four Allied commanders came to Kansas City to dedicate the war memorial in 1921? The event may have drawn the largest crowd in Kansas City history.
By the way, the National WWI Museum and Memorial is the largest of its kind in America. There is no current WWI memorial in Washington, D.C. to pay tribute to the 4-million American men and women who served and sacrificed in the Great War.
World War I remains America’s forgotten war, even though more Americans gave their lives during that war than during Korea and Vietnam combined, and even though it profoundly shaped the rest of “the American century.”
More than four million American families sent their sons and daughters to serve in uniform during the Great War. 116,516 U.S. soldiers died from combat and disease. Another 200,000 were wounded, a casualty rate far greater than in World War II. More than 350,000 African Americans served in the U.S. military, as did Native Americans and members of other minority groups. And, for the first time, women joined the ranks of the U.S. armed forces.
Thanks to NWWIMM curator Doran Cart and his fantastic staff for inviting me to screen the Pershing documentary in Kansas City. Thanks to Amy Struthers, interim dean of the UNL College of Journalism and Mass Communications who drove down to Kansas City from Lincoln to attend the screening and meet with CoJMC alumna.
And a very special thanks to Rebecca Richmond and her son Tyler who came to our screening. Becky’s husband Brad was one of the videographers and an enthusiastic supporter of the Pershing documentary project.
Brad passed away this summer after a long battle with cancer. He was a former TV News colleague, a great father and husband, a protector of animals, and a dear friend of mine.
General John “Black Jack” Pershing escorts French General and WWI Supreme Allied Commander Ferdinand Foch on a visit of America that culminates with the last time the allied commanders of WWI would be together for the November, 1921 dedication of the War Memorial in Kansas City, Missouri. See the video below.