Pictorial countdown: 100-days to the 100th anniversary of the WWI armistice

November 11th is Armistice Day, also recognized as Veteran’s Day in America. The WWI 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.

Armistice Day in France 1918
American troops in Paris formed impromptu parades on the streets of Paris on Armistice Day in 1918. Here they are completely surrounded by French civilians who celebrated an end to WWI that claimed the lives of millions of soldiers and civilians. Photo: Library of Congress

November 11, 2018, is the 100th anniversary of the WWI armistice. The following 100-day World War I pictorial countdown will take us up to the 100th anniversary of the Great War’s armistice. 

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.

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Harry Truman, age 33 after enlisting in WWI and his National Guard enlistment papers. Photo: National Archives and Records Administration and Truman Library

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.

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Future president Harry Truman was a captain in Battery D, 129th Field Artillery in WWI. He commanded a notoriously undisciplined artillery battery. “Give ’em hell Harry” got his start busting miscreants, promoting high performers, and surprising even himself with his success at managing and training a difficult lot of men: “Can you imagine me being a hardboiled captain of a tough Irish battery?” he wrote his girlfriend (and future wife), Bess Wallace. Photo: National Archives and Records Administration

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.

Truman Letter to Bess

 

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.

Click here to read Mitchell Yockelson’s amazing story “The bizarre tale of a kidnapping attempt, the German kaiser and a beloved ashtray” in the Washington Post. 

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The group that attempted to kidnap Kaiser Wilhem II, at Fort Oglethorpe in Georgia in 1919. (Tennessee State Library and Archives)

Sunday, August 19, 2018-

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 AdministrationWWILearning of German retreat from her district French woman returns to find her home a heap of ruins

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

WWIGermanSoldiersinFrance

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. WWI U.S. Army Infantry troops, African American unit, marching northwest of Verdun, France, in World War I

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.”

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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.  

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“In the Soldier’s Service” is a fine book based on letters Dexter wrote her mother from France. Here’s one example:

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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.

Eddie Rickenbacker

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.

Eddie Rickenbacker and crew

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 

94th AERO SQUADRON EDDIE RICKENBACKER PROFILE AMERICA’S #1 WORLD WAR I ACE from CoJMC on Vimeo.

Tuesday, August 14, 2018-

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

WWI Motorcycle Man Harley Davidson

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.

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  

German POWs in France

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. 

WakeUpAmerica

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.

US Infantry In The Argonne Forest

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.”

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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.

EditedPershing Imperial War Museum

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

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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  

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 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.

Harlem Hellcats 369th

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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

Captured German Sub U58 crew

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.

UboatsLOCU-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

A shattered church in the ruins of Neuvilly becomes a temporary shelter for American wounded September 1918 NARA (2)

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. 

Lens France the devastated coal mining region of northern France LOC

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. 

Photo: Library of Congress

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