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.
Armistice Day, World War I: It arrived on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month in 1918. The war ended after 4-years of fighting including an estimated 11,000 lives killed in the last day of fighting. Henry Gunther was among them, the last American soldier to die. And then, it was over.
From the battlefields of France, Belgium and beyond men who were once enemies shook hands, swapped cigarettes, sang songs and danced. From Paris to London, Washington, and New York, armistice celebrations unfolded. The suffering of war replaced by rejoicing. In the video below watch scenes of the WWI armistice countdown and subsequent celebration.The armistice meant both sides of the war agreed to stop fighting. It was a defeat for Germany, but not a surrender. The Allies and Germany agreed to the following:
- Germany would accept blame for the war with reparations paid for all damages
- Occupied lands in Belgium, Luxembourg, and France–plus Alsace-Lorraine would be evacuated by Germany within 14 days
- German forces must also withdraw from Austria-Hungary, Romania, and Turkey
- The Allies would occupy Germany west of the Rhine River
- Germany would surrender 10 battleships, 6 battlecruisers, 8 cruisers, and 160 submarines
- Germany would be stripped of heavy armaments, including 5,000 artillery, 25,000 machine guns, and 2,000 airplanes
- 5,000 locomotives, 150,000 railway cars, and 5,000 trucks would be confiscated from Germany
- The Allied naval blockade would continue
Armistice Day brought relief, celebrations, and joy for millions of people. It also brought a permanent loss of innocence for those countries, including America, and lives, including Americans, who were forever changed by WWI. An estimated 9-million soldiers died in the fighting. Millions more were wounded, gassed and permanently scarred in the war. On 11/11/1918, the bloodiest, most miserable conflict in history until that time was finally over.
World War I, the “war to end all wars” wasn’t. World War II would follow 22-years later. History would revisit mankind with another terrible lesson. Millions of lives again would be lost in battle. “It is not enough to win a war; it is more important to organize the peace.” – Aristotle
Saturday, November 10, 2018 –
World War I: Through the lens of J. Patras – I recently discovered the stunning and candid WWI photographs of Paris, France photographer J. Patras in a collection at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. The vintage images reveal the ravages of war but also the images that tell us more about the personal lives of the men and women who fought the war. Ironically, I could find no photograph of the artist, J. Patras, who took the following photographs.
Friday, November 9, 2018 –
World War I’s silent killer – When American troops sailed to France in late 1918 – a silent killer- a highly contagious strain of flu- came with them across the Atlantic to the trenches of the Great War.
When the H1N1 strain of the flu struck during the Meuse-Argonne battle it was impossible for General John J. Pershing to ignore its effect on the American Expeditionary Forces. He wrote of the flu epidemic’s effect on his troops who were fighting for their lives in the Meuse-Argonne.
“The total number of influenza cases treated in hospitals was nearly 70,000, of whom many developed a grave form of pneumonia. The death rate from influenza rose to 32 percent of cases for the A.E.F.”
Not even Pershing was immune from the virus he called “the grippe.” His diary shows it forced him to bed for several days under doctor’s orders.
At the time of the flu outbreak there were no effective drugs or vaccines to treat the killer strain. Some epidemiologists believe the unsanitary trenches conditions in WWI caused the virus to mutate into a global killer strain that hurt the effectiveness of soldiers fighting on both sides of the war. “When these men went down from the flu, and they didn’t even recognize it, said historian and Pershing author Mitchell Yockelson. “The Medical Corps in some cases didn’t know it was the flu immediately. Didn’t really know how to treat it.”
Dr. Frederick Holmes, an emeritus professor of Medicine at the University of Kansas School of Medicine wrote that the U.S. Army did a better job of keeping their soldiers in the front lines when the flu epidemic hit than the Germans because U.S. base hospitals could be more quickly reached by special ambulance trains. “They had special wards for influenza patients and, with excellent nursing care, were able to return the majority of them to the front after brief periods of convalescence,” wrote Dr. Holmes. “It is not possible to over-estimate the altruism, value, and importance of the thousands of American nurses who cared for sick soldiers and who stemmed the tide of the influenza pandemic.”
How deadly was the flu in 1918? In World War I, the flu killed more Americans than enemy weapons. Worldwide, it killed more people (Estimates run as high as 30-50 million people) than the Great War itself.
Thursday, November 8, 2018 –
The Christmas Truce- One of World War I’s most iconic events unfolded early in the war and stood in stark contrast to four years of deadly combat that killed millions of soldiers fighting on both sides of the Great War. It was the “Christmas Truce” of 1914.
In January 1915, the first eyewitness accounts of the truce began appearing in British newspapers. One of the best told the tale of Britain’s 1st Battalion, North Staffordshire Regiment who agreed to an informal truce with German troops in the Rue du Bois sector of France near the town of Armentieres.
To be sure, there were several “Christmas Truces” involving French, British, Belgian and German soldiers along the Western Front, and German and Russian soldiers along the Eastern Front too. I had not been aware of this. The Armentieres “Christmas Truce” unfolded after both sides agreed to a temporary cease-fire so they could collect and bury their battlefield dead. The truce also allowed German and British soldiers the opportunity to leave the confines of their cold, miserably wet and muddy trenches for a few hours so they could walk across the battlefield without fear of being shot or blasted with artillery.
One of the best-known accounts of this truce was recorded by British Captain Reginald John Armes. It came in a letter Armes sent his wife and is preserved today in England’s Staffordshire Regiment Museum. Here is what Captain Armes wrote his wife:
“I have just been through one of the most extraordinary scenes imaginable. To-night is Xmas Eve and I came up into the trenches this evening for my tour of duty in them. Firing was going on all the time and the enemy’s machine guns were at it hard, firing at us. Then about seven the firing stopped.
I was in my dug-out reading a paper and the mail was being dished out. It was reported that the Germans had lighted their trenches up all along our front. We had been calling to one another for some time Xmas wishes and other things. I went out and they shouted “no shooting” and then somehow the scene became a peaceful one. All our men got out of their trenches and sat on the parapet, the Germans did the same, and they talked to one another in English and broken English. I got on top of the trench and talked German and asked them to sing a German Volkslied, which they did, then our men sang quite well and each side clapped and cheered the other.
I asked a German who sang a solo to sing one of Schumann’s songs, so he sang The Two Grenadiers splendidly. Our men were a good audience and really enjoyed his singing.
Then Pope (?) and I walked across and held a conversation with the German officer in command.
One of his men introduced us properly, he asked my name and then presented me to his officer. I gave the latter permission to bury some German dead who are lying in between us, and we agreed to have no shooting until 12 midnight tomorrow. We talked together, 10 or more Germans gathered round. I was almost in their lines within a yard or so. We saluted each other, he thanked me for permission to bury his dead, and we fixed up how many men were to do it, and that otherwise, both sides must remain in their trenches.
Then we wished one another goodnight and a good night’s rest, and a happy Xmas and parted with a salute. I got back to the trench. The Germans sang Die Wacht Am Rhein it sounded well. Then our men sang quite well Christians Awake, it sounded so well, and with a good night, we all got back into our trenches. It was a curious scene, a lovely moonlit night, the German trenches with small lights on them, and the men on both sides gathered in groups on the parapets.
At times we heard the guns in the distance and an occasional rifle shot. I can hear them now, but about us is absolute quiet. I allowed one or two men to go out and meet a German or two halfway. They exchanged cigars, a smoke and talked. The officer I spoke to hopes we shall do the same on New Year’s Day, I said: “yes, if I am here”. I felt I must sit down and write the story of this Xmas Eve before I went to lie down. Of course, no precautions are relaxed, but I think they mean to play the game. All the same, I think I shall be awake all night so as to be on the safe side. It is weird to think that tomorrow night we shall be at it hard again. If one gets through this show it will be an Xmas time to live in one’s memory. The German who sang had a really fine voice.
Am just off for a walk around the trenches to see all is well. Goodnight.”
You can read dozens more transcribed letters from different variations of the 1914 Christmas Truce, which is curated by journalists Alan Cleaver and Lesley Park.)
Wednesday, November 7, 2018 –
“Black Jack Pershing: Love and War” makes it’s San Antonio premiere tomorrow where General John J. Pershing has quite a historic connection. In February 1917, Maj. Gen. John J. Pershing became commander of the American Expeditionary Forces (AEF) with headquarters at Fort Sam Houston in San Antonio. Pershing immediately began preparing Fort Sam Houston for the coming World War I conflict.
In addition to his military duties, Pershing advised and assisted San Antonio civilian authorities as the city and state of Texas talked increasingly of America’s potential entry into the war. General Pershing spoke to any audience that invited him and educated them on the proper duties of a citizen in wartime. He supported the drafting of all-bodied men and convinced Texas Governor James Ferguson to argue his case for a draft before the Texas congressional delegation. After notification on May 2, 1917, that he would be in charge of the American Expeditionary Forces in Europe, Pershing left for Washington, D. C.
Two months later Pershing arrived in Europe to command U.S. troops in WWI combat against Germany.
Here’s another enduring Pershing legacy that involved San Antonio and Fort Sam Houston: ‘Pershing’s Chinese’ leave mark on history, Fort Sam Houston
In the deeper article link above, you’ll read about Pershing’s efforts after WWI to get Congress to pass legislation allowing Chinese laborers who were loyal to America during the Mexican Pancho Villa Punitive Expedition and during WWI to remain in the U.S., and later to be able to bring their families to America from China.
Writing in the San Antonio Express-News, reporter L.A. Shively noted: “After reaching a peak of 836 individuals in 1900, the Chinese population in Texas declined as a result of the Chinese Exclusion Act signed in 1882. The (federal) law came into being with the intent of preserving jobs for U.S. residents.
Chinese immigration nearly ceased for 60 years, except for in 1917 when Gen. John J. Pershing brought 427 Chinese refugees from Mexico.
Known as “Pershing’s Chinese,” the men had attached themselves to an expeditionary force conducted by the U.S. Army against the paramilitary forces of Mexican insurgent Francisco “Pancho” Villa from 1916 to 1917, explains Edward Brisco in his Master’s thesis titled “Pershing’s Chinese Refugees: An Odyssey of the Southwest.”
“At any truck concentration point, or any sort of military station, one Chinese at least appeared,” writes Brisco. “Pies, doughnuts, candy, tobacco, matches and fruit were stock items that these desert merchants offered for sale. The soldiers bought on sight. There were no competitors. Soap was a dear commodity and none could be found except at a ‘Chinaman’s stand.'”
The Chinese who came to San Antonio with Pershing’s troops had worked in Mexico for centuries as shipbuilders and servants on Spanish trading ships, working in or around Fort Sam Houston during the buildup for World War I. San Antonio Express-New reporter Scott Huddleston wrote:
“This new wave of Chinese immigrants in San Antonio spoke more Spanish than English, with many living in the “Laredito” area in what now is the western part of downtown, expanding the city’s Chinese population to 600 by the early 1940s. Repeal of the exclusionary law in 1943 made it possible for Chinese Texans to ask their family members overseas to join them.”
“All had dreams of permanent residency in America and felt a deep commitment and loyalty to the Army and to San Antonio as their “rescuers” according to Mel Brown, author of “Chinese Heart of Texas.””
Thanks in part to Pershing, San Antonio had the largest Chinese population until the early 1950’s. It still thrives today with many of the descendants of Chinese who arrived with Pershing and his troops more than a century ago.
One of those descendants is 79-year-old Chinese-American Mitchel Wong, founder of the Austin Eye Clinic in Austin, Texas. Wong started the ophthalmology practice in 1969. He was a University of Texas undergraduate.
Wong’s story was chronicled by Qiling Wanga for Reporting Texas in 2016. A century ago, Wong’s grandfather was a baker with Pershing’s troops in Mexico. “When Gen. Pershing went down to chase Pancho Villa, [Dun Wong] baked for Gen. Pershing’s army,” Wong said.
When Dun Wong and his wife Lee Shee settled in San Antonio, he opened several grocery stores. “Our family was one of the first Chinese families with a mom and a dad to settle in Texas. There were a lot of single males that did not have their wives with them. But my grandfather had his wife,” said Wong, who graduated from Baylor Medical School before opening his practice in Austin.
The remarkable Wong family journey to America, citizenship, and legacy came full circle two years ago. The Wong family pledged to donate more than $20 million to UT’s Dell Medical School to create the Mitchel and Shannon Wong Eye Institute.
My thanks to Phil Bakke for inviting me to screen my documentary in San Antonio tomorrow evening.
Race to Sedan, France – After 42 punishing, deadly days of fighting American troops finally gained the upper hand against the Germans in early November 1918 in the Battle of the Meuse-Argonne. There, more than 1.2 million U.S. troops fought the largest American battle ever. It was bigger than the World War II Battle of the Bulge (500,000 U.S. soldiers), or the WWII Normandy Invasion in which 156,000 Americans participated.
By the Meuse-Argonne battle’s end, 26,277 Americans were killed and 95,786 wounded. The final American objective of World War I was the rugged region around French town of Sedan. It was a final furious U.S. push to cut off the entire German 2nd Army and sever the enemy railroads that supplied and transported German troops.
Sedan was also an important objective for the French. It had been the site of a major French defeat by the Germans during the Franco Prussian War. For those reasons, Sedan was targeted for recapture by the Fourth French Army.
American Expeditionary Forces commander, General John J. Pershing wrote about Sedan in his diary on November the 5th and his desire to see General Theodore Dickman’s U.S. Army’s I Corps be the first U.S. troops to free Sedan.
After almost a month-and-a-half of fighting , U.S. troops had finally forced the Germans from the trenches. The doughboys were now chasing them into a hasty retreat back toward the Meuse River and into Germany.
General Dickman would have other Allied competition in the glory race to free Sedan of its 4-year German occupation. 1st Division commander General Charles Summerall also ordered his troops to be the first to recapture Sedan. Soon they crossed into the advance line of Dickman’s I Corps troops. In the ensuing chaos, the U.S. troops opened fire on each other. A furious General Dickman called for General Summerall to be court-martialed. Cooler heads ultimately prevailed. The May 1922 edition of the Saturday Evening Post finishes this post.
Monday, November 5, 2018 –
Why did we call them “Doughboys?” – That’s the nickname given to U.S. soldiers who fought in World War I. Where did the nickname originate? There’s no definitive answer to the doughboys’ moniker that was often applied to the WWI American Expeditionary Forces who fought in Europe.
Here are two theories for the “doughboy” name: Author Paul Dickson’s book “War Slang” cites American journalist H.L. Mencken who said “doughboy” had its origins in the Continental Army soldiers of the late 1700’s who kept the piping on their uniforms white by smearing it with light-colored clay. When the Continental soldiers marched through rain clay on their uniforms turned into “doughy blobs,” thus the doughboy moniker.
Another explanation and one that makes sense to me based on old film and photos I have seen: The dust that covered American soldiers as they marched through dusty terrain covered them with what looked like baking flour. The video below from my documentary “Black Jack Pershing: Love and War” explains.
One variation of this account, according to the Random House Historical Dictionary of American Slang, came from the Mexican-American War. It described the U.S. soldiers being covered in the dust of adobe soil and were called “adobes,” which author Elizabeth Nix wore “morphed into “dobies” and, eventually, “doughboys.””
Which doughboy version is most likely true? I can’t say. I side with author Michael E. Hanlon’s Mexican-American war theory.
He wrote “The Adobe Theory: in a nutshell – in marching over the parched terrain of the deserts of Northern Mexico the infantry stirred up so much dust that they took on the look of the adobe buildings of the region — hence, [after a few phonetic adjustments] doughboys. This theory has possibly the best “fit” to the facts of the campaign in Mexico as known, yet it has no backing from the historical record. It appears to be the product strictly of 20th-century speculation. Nevertheless, it is the favorite theory of doughboy chronicler Laurence Stallings and of this writer as well.”
Sunday, November 4, 2018 –
Kansas City’s World War I Memorial bathed in poppies- A week from today America and dozens of other countries will commemorate the 100th anniversary of World War I’s armistice. On the 11th minute of the 11th hour of the 11th day of November 1918, four years of fighting that claimed the lives of more than nine-million soldiers ended.
In Kansas City, Missouri the iconic World War I Memorial which towers above the city, is being lit with thousands of projected poppies this week in memory of those who died in the Great War.
How did poppies come to represent WWI? According to Smithsonian author Erin Blakemore, after the Second Battle of Ypres in Belgium, Canadian doctor John McCrae noticed red poppies growing near one of Flanders’ Fields’ mass cemeteries where hundreds of thousands of British soldiers died. McCrae wrote a poem, “In Flanders Fields,” in 1915, which was published in Britain. “In Flanders fields the poppies blow,” wrote McCrae, “Between the crosses, row on row.” It went on to become the war’s most popular and most recognized poem in the United States and Great Britain.
The WWI Memorial in Kansas City is notable for many reasons. One historic reason: It was the only place after WWI ended that the Allied commanders would gather with U.S. General John J. Pershing to help dedicate the memorial in 1921. Click on the video below to see the crowds that gathered for the occasion. It reminds us of America’s great sacrifices in the war and how our country honored those who sacrificed their lives in WWI.
Saturday, November 3, 2018 –
World War I sparks medical advances – Or as Mary Merritt Crawford, the only woman doctor at the American Hospital in Paris during WWI put it: “A war benefits medicine more than it benefits anybody else. It’s terrible, of course, but it does.”
It does by necessity and often desperation. World War I brought unparalleled carnage into the 20th century. The new technology of war—heavy artillery, poison gas, long-range cannons, barrage shelling, grenades, and machine guns—caused unprecedented devastation. An estimated 10 million soldiers died in the war. Millions more were injured, many seriously, giving doctors the opportunity and incentive to develop new ways to dramatically improve a soldier’s chances of survival.
Author Ellen Hampton wrote: “They went from amputation as the only solution, to being able to transport soldiers to hospitals, to disinfect their wounds and to operate on them to repair the damage wrought by artillery. Ambulances, antiseptic, and anesthesia, three elements of medicine taken entirely for granted today, emerged from the depths of suffering in the First World War.”
For example, Dr. George Crile and nurse Agatha Hodkins introduced the use of nitrous oxide as a new form of anesthesia for use in surgery for soldiers wounded in combat. The nitrous oxide-oxygen mix put patients into a sleep that allowed surgeries to be performed without leaving them in a state of shock.
Facial reconstructive surgery also took a giant step forward during WWI. Soldiers survived having their jaws and noses shattered by artillery fragments, so surgeons at the American Hospital and Val-de-Grace Hospital in France pioneered new maxillofacial techniques and incorporated dentistry into the treatment of wounded Allied soldiers in France.
On the battlefields of the Western Front, blood transfusions and various medicines were used to care for the wounded. British Captain Oswald Robertson foresaw the need to stockpile blood before combat casualties arrived for treatment. According to the BBC, Robertson established the first blood bank on the Western Front in 1917. He used sodium citrate to prevent the blood from coagulating and becoming unusable. Blood was kept on ice for up to 28 days and then transported to casualty clearing stations for use in life-saving surgery.
Prominent French surgeon Dr. Alexis Carrel realized that the war’s greatest surgical need was a better method to sterilize wounds. He and English chemist Henry D. Dakin developed a system called the Carrel-Dakin solution to irrigate wounds with a sterilizing solution of boric acid and sodium hypochlorite. It saved soldiers’ lives and reduced infection-related amputations. Dakin developed the solution. Carrel developed the apparatus to deliver it.
Delays in treatment often meant the difference between life and death, so innovations in transport changed the nature of medical care during wartime. With the war’s massive casualties, the three-part triage system was elevated into common use. It prioritized the treatment of wounded soldiers for the doctors and nurses who attended them: (1) wounded soldiers requiring minimal care before returning to the front lines, (2) more seriously injured soldiers in need of hospital attention, and (3) soldiers expected to not live despite medical treatment.
Before soldiers reached hospitals where triage took place, there was a multi-step to move them from battlefield to hospital bed. First, injured soldiers were taken by stretcher to a regimental aid post. Then they were transferred into a motorized ambulance that took them to a casualty clearing station. From there wounded and injured soldiers were taken by hospital train to a base hospital.
There were other wartime advances in medicine: Mobile X-ray equipment was used near the battlefield to locate shrapnel and bullets in wounded soldiers so they could be removed. New hygiene methods were used in combat trenches to reduce lice-borne diseases being transmitted to soldiers. Many of the new medical techniques developed during the Great War continued to be improved and called into use again during World War II. Some, like the “Dakin Solution,” is still used in wound care centers today around the world more than 100 years after its use in WWI.
Friday, November 2, 2018 –
World War I in Rotogravure – During World War I, America’s leading newspapers used a new printing process called rotogravure printing. It employed a technique that resulted in high-quality photo illustrations that could be quickly and inexpensively printed by newspapers. For newspapers like the New York Times and New York Herald, the switch to the new printing technique was an immediate hit with advertisers and readers.
According to the Library of Congress, rotogravure produced higher quality halftone reproductions of photos that could be printed using a high-speed roll-on process that used a metal etched cylinder. The metal etchings had recessed cells that held more ink and created prints with high-quality tonal gradations and color depth.
During WWI, the New York Times used rotogravure illustrations to regularly report and graphically document the people, places, and events who were a part of the war efforts abroad and at home.
“These pictorials were important tools for promoting U.S. propaganda and influenced how readers viewed world events,” wrote the Library of Congress. As a result, the rotogravure pictorial sections in newspapers became the most widely read section of the paper and provided a great opportunity to reach new customers.
Thursday, November 1, 2018 –
World War I trivia- Franklin D. Roosevelt may have been the first and only U.S. president to fly a dirigible airship, also known as a blimp or Zeppelin.
During World War I, Roosevelt was President Woodrow Wilson’s Assistant Secretary of the Navy. In 1918, he traveled to Europe to inspect U.S. Navy facilities. During FDR’s trip, he visited a French military base in Paimboeuf, France on August 17th, 1918 and was offered a ride aboard a French-built airship. He gladly accepted.
Here is a photograph showing FDR (wearing the dress hat) aboard what is believed to be the deck of a French dirigible. Photo: FDR Library and Museum
Here is what FDR wrote in his personal diary about his airship experience in France:
“I tried my hand at running the lateral stearing[sic] gear and also the elevating and depressing gear. The sensation is distinctly curious, less noise than an areo.[sic] and far more feeling of drifting at the mercy of the wind.” – FDR diary
According to the Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library and Museum, Allied airships were primarily used for scouting missions and mine clearance during WWI. They were deemed too vulnerable for use for combat on the Western Front. The Germans did use Zeppelins to drop bombs on France and Britain during WWI. They caused civilian fatalities but were most were effective in instilling fear in people.
Kate Argyle, from English Heritage, said: “There was no military advantage. It was all about instilling terror and really that’s what these aerial bombardments did. The Zeppelins would come out of the dark – you couldn’t see them and it was totally random. You didn’t know if you were running towards danger or away from it.”
After the war, the use of airships declined as airplane technology advanced and several high profile airship accidents took place. Among them was the infamous Hindenburg crash in New Jersey in 1937. This may explain why FDR’s trip aboard an airship would be the first and last time any future or sitting U.S. president had an airship experience.
Wednesday, October 31, 2018 –
Tanks, the Devil’s Chariots” in World War I – The earliest renditions of today’s modern, technologically advanced tanks first rumbled into battle during WWI. Those tanks were slow, prone to mechanical failure and hellish to man. They also forever changed land-based combat in war.
Leonardo da Vinci first conceived the tank in 1487 when he wrote; “I can make armored cars, safe and unassailable, which will enter the closed ranks of the enemy with their artillery, and no company of soldiers is so great that it will not break through them. And behind these our infantry will be able to follow quite unharmed and without any opposition.”
More than three centuries later, da Vinci’s concept was put to practice in 1916. The first tanks used in war were called Mark I’s and deployed by the British in a battle near Flers, France. British designers first called them “landships,” but stuck with the nickname “tank” by the crews that built them because they looked like water tanks.
The Author Sean Bryant wrote that the tanks “crawled along at under four miles per hour, picking their way through a landscape of shattered tree stumps and mud. As the dawn broke, a single machine made its way through ranks of soldiers, passed into the churned wasteland between the lines, began to fire, and the age of the tank began.”
Designed and built with the challenges of trench warfare in mind, tanks had the ability to leave the roads. With armor-plated protection, they could tear through barbed wire and roll, while firing guns, across the enemy trench lines.
The 28-foot-long British tanks required a crew of 8 – a commander, driver, 4 gunners and 2 men to shift gears. At each tank’s center sat a loud, hot, inadequately ventilated engine. “Lacking any kind of suspension, just taking a ride in one could be an unpleasant and dangerous experience,” wrote Bryant.
The Germans only produced 20 tanks that saw battle in WWI, but converted dozens of captured British Mark I’s for their use in the war. The French produced the largest number of tanks and had the greatest success with Renault FT tanks that only needed a crew of two.
The FT was the first tank to use a top-mounted turret capable of turning a full 360-degrees The FT is considered by many to have been the truly ‘modern’ tank. It had a layout followed by almost all designs ever since: driver at the front; main armament in a fully rotating turret on top; engine at the rear.
Previous FT models had been “box tanks”, with a single crowded space combining the role of engine room, fighting compartment, ammunition stock and driver’s cabin. The FT had the largest production run of any tank of the war, with over 3700 built, more numerous than all British tanks combined.
When the British attacked German trenches outside Flers, 49 Mark I tanks were launched on the assault alongside infantry divisions. Bryant noted that more than a third of the tanks’ engines failed before they could reach the battle’s starting point. When the attack began more tanks broke, were delayed or became stuck. Final result? Only nine of the tanks reached their goal.
“As the battle raged, wrote Bryant, “the crew of a British aircraft overhead reported, “A tank is walking up the High Street of Flers with the British army cheering behind.” The reputation of the tank was born.”
Battle of Belleau Wood: Leo Bailey’s memories – Sergeant Leo Joseph Bailey was wounded at Belleau Wood in World War I while diving for his dugout during an artillery attack. He spent the next two months recuperating from an artillery shrapnel wound to his right arm in various hospitals. Despite his injury, he later looked back fondly on this period.
In his memoir, found in the Library of Congress, Bailey recalls the Battle of Belleau Wood, or “Belleau Woods,” as he called it. In the video below, I have narrated and added video support to illustrate Bailey’s WWI story.
Monday, October 29, 2018 –
The Red Cross in WWI- When America declared war against Germany in April 1917 the American Red Cross began its historic transformation. According to the American Red Cross, it went from a small organization with limited staff and funds to a massive, globally influential institution.
In the spring of 1917, the fighting in World War I took thousands of lives daily in Europe. Word of the dismal trench conditions in France reached Americans back home and a harrowing reality began to sink in: American combat troops were going to be deployed in Europe in large numbers. Driven by a growing patriotic duty in America, citizens offered help to the Red Cross in greater numbers than ever before.
In May of 1917, President Woodrow Wilson appointed a War Council for the American Red Cross to raise funds, increase the organization’s reach, and plan how to best use financial resources for maximum benefit in the war. In the first year of the war, the Red Cross steadily expanded with membership growing to 22-million, including eight-million volunteers by the end of the year.
Soon, Red Cross members spread across America in thousands of chapters. Each chapter advertised how members could help the Red Cross effort. The most popular means was by knitting goods. The “Home Service” also became a powerful instrument of the Red Cross during World War I. It provided aid to the families of military personnel. This included providing communication between troops and their families, offering financial aid to families who had lost a serviceman and providing information on acquiring government assistance.
According to the International Encyclopedia of the First World War, International Red Cross societies supported their nations’ armies’ medical services during WWI. They brought relief to prisoners of war, sometimes organized their repatriation, and helped their civilian populations.
Despite the universal ideal of an independent, neutral, and impartial Red Cross Movement, the national societies were subordinated to their respective governments. This means that integrated into the war effort, the various International Red Cross societies were also used as a tool for propaganda and the promotion of their countries abroad.
Sunday, October 28, 2018 –
Meuse-Argonne Offensive: Albert Carpenter – A 19-year-old student when he enlisted in the 36th Division of the 142nd Infantry, Albert Carpenter served in the Meuse-Argonne Offensive in France during the final days of World War I.
As a soldier in the trenches along the Hindenberg Line, he experienced the gassings, mud, and bloodshed for which the war is infamous. In a series of short but vivid entries, his diary chronicles a single month, October 1918, which he calls “the most eventful month of [his] life.”
Saturday, October 5 – Got up late made a little coffee. Watched the war activities and cannon roaring at the front. Saw 2000 wounded French soldiers go through in ambulances. Last good night sleep.
Tuesday, October 8 – Will go over the top in 10 minutes. Later, a heavy artillery barrage. Many Boche (German) prisoners taken and machine guns also and many Americans killed. A German counterattack 4 p.m. unsuccessful. 142nd lost heavy.
Wednesday, October 9 – The battle continues. Boche (Germans) burning many towns back of (enemy) lines. Boche lay artillery barrage on relay station, a shell just went over my head and killed Lieutenant (Keith) Lowry. St. Etienne under heavy fire all day.
Friday, October 11 – 142nd casualties still enlarging. Am very weak. Only two good meals since on front. 12 a.m. a gas shell came over. Did not get my gas mask on quick enough. Sent to field hospital. Taken about 20 pills and sent back to lines at 10 p.m.
Monday, October 14 – My Company digs in and prepares for another Battle. Boche (Germans) have good position on Aisne River. Very dark now and then Boche shells would come near. Still raining, sleep in open all night, nearly froze. An awful headache. French artillery close to my (fox) hole.
Saturday, October 19 – Has started to rain again. The river Aisne and Canal Du Nord seem to have made a good stronghold for the (Germans) Boche. We are nearly flanked on the right by the Boches. The French are unable to advance on our right. We may be taken prisoners at any minute. May have to throw my diary away destroy it.
Saturday, October 27, 2018 –
World War I: The Faces – A panoramic photo of Spencer, Massachusett’s WWI veterans has been recovered and restored by Brennan Gauthier whose captivating Portraits of War website has brought alive the images of the men and women who served our country in WWI.
Brennan wrote this about the photo: “This photo comes from a small town in Central Massachusetts, not far from my hometown. I found the photo at an antiques flea market in Palmer, MA. The glass was incredibly dirty, and the photo has considerable moisture and mold damage and was in need of some TLC. The variety of service members is incredible! Of particular interest are the Postal Service member, the Marines, two tankers, and a handful of 26th Division members.”
I decided to turn this photo into the video below to reflect on the individual lives of these men who survived the test of war.
Friday, October 26, 2018 –
World War I: The Faces – The thousands of photographs I’ve reviewed in my research on World War I has left me with one reflection: How young were the faces of the men and women fighting on both sides of the war. How tragic to know millions of those who served died in their youth. How fleeting life can be.
As I gazed the photo below of a British artillery company I decided to turn it into a video to reflect on the individual lives so dramatically changed by a war that was to end all wars. It turns out that war was fleeting too. Photo: Smithsonian Archives of American Art
World War I: Voices from the past – In 1918, Corporal Clarence C. Hope was fighting in the WWI Battle of the Meuse-Argonne when he was separated from his U.S. Army Artillery Brigade and exposed to German poison gas. Click on the video below to watch and hear Hope’s description of his harrowing battle to survive.
Wednesday, October 24, 2018 –
Artillery in World War I and Germany’s Paris Gun- WWI ushered in many technological breakthroughs in the development of artillery. These developments made artillery on both sides of the fighting deadlier, and more accurate. An estimated 1.5-billion artillery shells were reportedly fired on the Western Front during WWI.
Workmen displaying various types and sizes of World War I era artillery shells produced at the Watertown Arsenal in Watertown, Massachusetts. Photo: National Archives and Records Administration
Which piece of artillery was most intimidating? It wasn’t the deadliest artillery, but Germany’s so-called “Paris Gun” may have been the most psychologically intimidating. The German long-range siege gun, of which there were several, were used between March and August 1918 to bomb Paris.
When the guns were first fired, Parisians thought they were being attacked by high-altitude German Zeppelins. This is because the German supergun shells were fired from 81 miles away. The firing from the cannon’s 111-foot long barrel couldn’t be heard.
As military weapons, the Paris Guns had limitations: Relatively speaking, their shell size was small. The gun barrels wore out quickly. Their accuracy was only good enough for city-sized targets. None of this mattered to the German military: Its goal was to use the guns more as a psychological weapon against the morale of Parisians, and less to destroy the city.
Paris Guns, sometimes also called “Big Bertha,” fired 234-pound shells up to a range of 81 miles. On their flight path, Paris Gun shells arched to altitudes of 26 miles- the greatest height reached by man-made projectiles until the V-2 rocket flights 24-years later.
Writer Adam Hochschild described the Paris Gun: “It took about three minutes for each giant shell to cover the distance to the city, climbing to an altitude of 25 miles (40 km) at the top of its trajectory. This was by far the highest point ever reached by a man-made object, so high that gunners, in calculating where the shells would land, had to take into account the rotation of the Earth. For the first time in warfare, deadly projectiles rained down on civilians from the stratosphere.”
Between 320 to 367 Paris Gun shells were fired during their six-month deployment in France. The shells killed 250 Parisians, wounded another 620 residents, and caused considerable property damage in the French capital.
Deadliest Paris Gun strike? : On March 29, 1918, a Paris Gun shell hit the St-Gervais-et-St-Protais Church causing its roof to collapse, killing 91 and injuring 68 worshippers during a Good Friday service.
In August 1918, the Allies 100-day offensive forced German troops into a steady retreat. The massive Paris Guns were taken by rail back to Germany. They would never be captured by the Allies. It’s believed the Germans destroyed all the Paris Guns rather than let their supergun technology fall into the hands of the Allies.
Tuesday, October 23, 2018 –
American letters from World War I- Thankfully, the memories of U.S. veterans from several wars are archived for all to read through the Veterans History Project at the Library of Congress. I wanted to share one touching account recorded by Staff Sgt. Edward J. Bayon who served in the U.S. Army Air Corps in WWI.
After the war, Bayon married a French woman and remained in France with the American Graves Registration Service. The Graves Registration Service (See video below) was tasked with the retrieval, identification, transportation, and burial of the American soldiers and American-allied military personnel who died in the war.
In April 1921, Bayon took on a memorable assignment; To take three barges and float the caskets of hundreds of American soldiers through the rivers and canals of France, Holland, and Belgium. Bayon kept a handwritten journal of his voyage. It was a remarkable trip that revealed the feelings many Europeans had for the deceased U.S. soldiers who died fighting in France and were now making their final journey home. Bayon called his story, “A Thrilling Adventure.” We pick up Bayon’s story here…
“After three barges had been loaded with 952 caskets, I was selected as Chief Convoyer for the trip to Antwerp, Belgium. We left Porte Moselle April 8, 1921 at 4:40 PM towed by horses with a convoyor and poleman or steersman on each barge and the captain and his wife, who cooked our meals, on the leading barge on which I was stationed and which, by the way, was a steam barge but which could not be used until we arrived in the larger canals or rivers. On April 10 we reached Foug and passed through a tunnel which was five kilometers long. At Euville the canal became much larger and we dropped the horses after which the lead barge began towing us with its steam power. On April 11 we stopped for the night at St. Mihiel, where the Americans had fought so gallantly…”
Bayon’s trip through France was uneventful if not scenic as the three coffin laden barges poled their way down the Meuse River, the western border of the Battle of the Meuse-Argonne that three years earlier was the site of America’s largest and final victory before Germany’s surrender in the war.
“We left Montcy at 6:30 on April 19 and were now passing through the beautiful Valley of the Meuse. We reached Dame de Meuse at 4:30 PM where the river makes a long sweeping curve with a trestle bridge at its end halfway around the bend. The current takes the three barges in its grasp & threatens to sweep the entire convoy ashore. With the mate on the last barge working frantically with his pole to keep us in the center of the river.”
On April 21, Bayon and his crew arrived in Belgium where there were no inspections or delays clearing the barges through Belgian Customs. As the barges sailed on Bayon encountered the first real surprise of his adventure.
“April 22 we left Waulsort at 7:30 AM and reach Riviere at 1:30 PM. Up until now not much attention had been paid us but now things began to happen. We had passed unnoticed all through France, the French being inured to War and its terrible results but here the whole town had turned out to meet us with flags and flowers, the Mayor, the Conductor de Ponts et Chausees, school children dressed in their best & the village priest. The Mayor made a short address and flowers and wreaths were placed on the barges which were covered by huge tarpaulins. The word of our passing had gone on ahead and at every village where we had to pass through locks it was a repetition of Riviere. This slowed us down greatly. We reached Namur at 5:30 PM where a beautiful wreath was placed on the leading barge by the Federation National des Combattants de Namur and we tied up here for the night.”
And so it would go during the next four days. Belgium had been devastated by Germany’s four-year occupation and intense fighting that left thousands dead and scores of Belgian cities, towns and villages in rubble before American, French and British troops forced a German retreat and surrender. As the three barges made their way across Belgium word spread that the Americans who died in the fighting were coming. On April 24th Bayon and his crew arrived in Liege, Belgium.
“Bugles sounded the Belgium taps as thousands of people lined the banks and bridges over the canal. At the last lock, before the center of town was reached, a Military band boarded the first barge and played dirges soft & low. Everyone was uncovered and many women were kneeling praying and weeping. It was very impressive. At the quai was the governor of Liege, the American Consul and his wife, the commander of the garrison of Liege and many other persons of distinction. The governor made a speech after which I was pushed up on a box to thank the people for theIr kind reception given our dead, in my poor French. The barges were then literally covered with beautiful wreaths and flowers. The band then played the American and Belgium anthems as we proceeded to the next lock with the cavalry still accompanying us. At this lock a repetition of the reception occurred with school children, boys dressed in blue and girls in white lined along the banks with flags.”
Six days later Boyan, his crew and the three barges reached their final destination in Antwerp, Belgium and an end to a story and journey that profoundly touched the former U.S. Army Staff Sergeant.
“On April 30 we left Vorssilaire at 7:00AM and, after going through that maze of waterways and canals that surround Antwerp, we finally pulled into our quay at 3:30 PM—22 days after we had started from Toule, France—where I turned over the three barges and papers into the care of the officer in charge. As long as I live I will never forget this trip and the kindness, courtesy, and thoughtfulness of the Belgium people and the sympathy they exhibited to our American Dead. – Edward J. Bayon”
Monday, October 22, 2018 –
Top-5 World War I movies-
At least 139 movies, 55 television shows or series, scores of documentaries and hundreds of newsreels have been produced on the Great War. Here’s the oldest, then my five favorite WWI movies:
The oldest WWI movie dates back to 1917. Director Cecille B. DeMille’s “The Little American.” starred Mary Pickford as an American woman who falls in love with a French and German soldier during WWI. That same year America entered the war against Germany with strong public patriotic fervor. Initially, the Chicago Board of Censors blocked screenings of the silent film in the Windy City. It called the film anti-German and likely to cause a riot. After a legal challenge and jury trial, Artcraft Pictures won the right to show the film in Chicago.
Top-5 WWI Movies:
1. “All Quiet on the Western Front” (dir. Lewis Milestone, 1930)
Based on the 1928 novel by Erich Maria Remarque, this influential anti-war film chronicles the disillusionment of a group of young patriotic recruits amidst the horrific reality of combat.
After hearing a professor’s speech about the glory of serving in the German Army several students decide to join the military and “save the Fatherland” in World War I. Soon though, the young men’s patriotic perceptions of war are shattered by their terrible experiences fighting the war. Their war experiences also present a new revelation to the young men: The inability of people back home to comprehend the futility of the war.
In many respects, “All Quiet on the Western Front” was ahead of its time. Writing for IndieWire, authors Emily Buder and Brandon Latham wrote: “The film’s harsh war imagery and unrelenting cinematography eviscerate the romantic notions of war long before the protest films of the ’70s became a mainstay of war counterculture.”
2. “Wings” (dir. William A. Wellman, 1927)
“Wings” is the most famous silent film about WWI ever made. Its director, William Wellman, was a WWI combat pilot hired by Paramount Pictures to make a realistic Holywood film. He did. The film is notable for its sheer realism and technical air combat sequences.
Filmed over seven months at Kelly Field near San Antonio, Texas, “Wings” went on to win the first-ever Academy Award for Best Picture. Hundreds of extras and some 300 pilots were involved in the filming of the movie. Wellman extensively rehearsed and shot the scenes for the Battle of Saint-Mihiel over a 10-day period. It used 3,500 extras as infantrymen on a battlefield that was made for the production on location.
“Wing’s upended the movie and social world in 1927 too. It was the only silent film to win an Academy Award that year, and one of the first Hollywood films to feature nudity and a climactic scene of two men kissing.
3. “Paths of Glory” (dir. Stanley Kubrick, 1957)
“Paths of Glory” is one of Director Stanley Kubrick’s best films in the anti-war genre. It stars Kirk Douglas as French officer Colonel Dax whose men refuse to continue a suicidal attack against German trenches and wind up being charged as cowards in a court-martial. Dax, who was a criminal defense lawyer in civilian life, volunteers to defend the men at their court-martial.
The film exposes viewers to the shell-shocked psychological and physical horrors of war. The anti-war film preceded America’s own Vietnam generation, many who opposed that war. “Paths of Glory” also solidified Douglas’ standing as one of his generation’s premiere action stars.
4. “Gallipoli” (dir. Peter Weir, 1981)
When I saw this film at age 25, I had no idea of Australia’s important role and great sacrifices in WWI. Young Australians who fought in WWI are the subject of Peter Weir’s epic account of that part of WWI that was fought in the Ottoman Empire (modern-day Turkey.)
“Gallipoli” put a spotlight on a young Mel Gibson who had a leading role in the film that so keenly illustrates the shock of war and loss of innocence for thousands of Aussie soldiers who fought in the Anzac battlefield at Gallipoli and took part in the futile attack at the Battle of the Nek in August 1915.
5. “Sergeant York” (dir. Howard Hanks, 1941)
“Sergeant York” is a biographical film about the life of Alvin York. One of WWI’s most decorated American soldiers, York initially sought “conscientious objector” status when he was drafted into the war.
The film was based on the diary of Sergeant Alvin York, who previously turned down several proposals to produce a film on his WWI exploits and fascinating early life as a poor young farmer from rural Tennessee.
Directed by Howard Hawks, “Sergeant York” was the highest-grossing film of the year. It helped launch the career of Gary Cooper too who was cast in the film’s title role and won the Academy Award for Best Actor for his portrayal of York.
Sunday, October 21, 2018 –
General Pershing brings hope on his arrival in France- On June 13, 1917, just more than two months after the United States entered World War I, General John J. Pershing arrived in France with his staff. Arriving in Boulogne on the morning of June 13th, and in Paris that afternoon, Pershing’s advance guard of the American Expeditionary Forces received a hero’s welcome.
Even though thousands of Americans were already serving in Allied uniforms, or as medical volunteers, Pershing’s arrival was symbolic proof positive American troops were now engaged in Europe. It was a welcome sign to America’s allies who had been locked in a two-year stand-off with Germany that had cost millions of lives on both sides in the war.
In Paris, Pershing’s arrival brought thousands of Parisians into the streets, eager to catch a glimpse of the American general who would command U.S. troops fighting the Germans. Cheering crowds of men, women and children tossed flowers to Pershing and his men and rushed by police lines to wish the American newcomers well.
In his diary, Pershing wrote that he was at a loss to meet the high expectations of the French government and people. Later, in Pershing’s memoir of the war, he noted, “It brought home to us as nothing else could have done a full appreciation of the war-weary state of the nation and stirred within us a deep sense of the responsibility resting upon America.”
Pershing’s heralded arrival in France brought with it a mighty, sobering reality for the American commander- The recruitment, training, arming, supply, and deployment of U.S. troops was going to be a huge challenge for America to overcome.
As author Patrick Gregory noted, “The lists he (Pershing) had drawn up on his way across the Atlantic included an initial requirement of just over 2,500 artillery pieces of various calibers,, yet current projections of manufacture in the U.S. fell lamentably short of such a figure: U.S. foundries would be able to produce just 80 cannons in September and 40 more in October.”
There were other monumental tasks on the American military’s to-do list: Deepwater ports had to be prepared in southern France for the troop ships that would soon ferry U.S. troops and tons of supplies across the Atlantic Ocean. Field hospitals, dining canteens, and barracks had to be built for the doughboys in France.
Railroad tracks, 900 miles of them, locomotives and railcars had to be put into place to transport U.S. troops and supplies to the Western Front. More than a dozen lumber mills in France worked around the clock supplying the wood railroad ties that supported the steel tracks the U.S. trains ran on during WWI.
Slowly, but steadily, in the months following Pershing’s arrival, the first 14,000 U.S. troops arrived in France. It was the first stream of American men who would see combat in France and would total more than two-million U.S. combat soldiers who were fighting with America’s allies when the war ended in November 1918.
General Pershing’s War Horse- The heroic deeds and sacrifices of many American soldiers who served in World War I have been widely reported on this blog. Men such as Alvin York, Daniel Daly, and Henry Johnson. Interestingly, horses also became heroes during WWI too. One of them was “Kidron,” the war horse ridden by General John J. Pershing, who led the American Expeditionary Forces.
Kidron, a striking dark bay horse (pictured in the portrait above) with two white hind socks, captured the imagination of the American people. He was ridden by General Pershing in some of his early military campaigns but became famous during World War I when used mainly as a ceremonial animal.
Kidron was seen by millions of Americans in newsreel films and newspaper photos as General Pershing rode him in the WWI victory parade on the Champs in Paris. Later Kidron was Pershing’s mount during the U.S. military’s triumphal parade through the Victory Arch in New York City and the Capitol in Washington, D.C.
Why did Pershing, who served as a cavalry officer in the U.S. Army, name his horse Kidron? I’m not sure. In biblical times Kidron was the name of a turbulent brook that flowed between Jerusalem and the Mount of Olives. Perhaps this bible verse explains Pershing’s reason’s for the name of his beloved horse:
Jeremiah 31:40 – “And the whole valley of the dead bodies, and of the ashes, and all the fields unto the brook of Kidron, unto the corner of the horse gate toward the east, [shall be] holy unto the LORD; it shall not be plucked up, nor thrown down any more forever.”
Unfortunately, most of the horses who served on either side of the fighting in WWI didn’t survive the war. Exact figures are hard to come by, but an estimated 8 million horses died during the four years of war. Horses and mules, powerful and agile, served primarily as transportation for infantry soldiers and for hauling men, supplies, ammunition, and artillery. They were killed by artillery fire, injured by poison gas, exposed to extreme weather, and suffered from skin disorders and disease. In short, their lives were brutal. In 1915, the Aberdeen Daily News estimated the war horse’s average life expectancy on the Western Front was a mere 20 days.
According to author Michelle Harper, “Between 1914 and 1918, the United States sent almost one million horses to the European forces, particularly the British. When America entered the war, another 182,000 horses were taken overseas by the American Expeditionary Forces. Only 200 horses returned to the U.S., and 60,000 were killed outright.”
After the war, the American Humane Association established a welfare service called the “American Red Star Relief.” It helped bring home and cared for the U.S. Army’s surviving war horses and mules. On October 15, 1921, a plaque commissioned by the American Red Star was unveiled in the War Department. It reads:
“This tablet commemorates the service and sufferings of the 243,135 mules and horses employed by the American Expeditionary Forces overseas during the Great World War, which terminated November 11, 1918, and which resulted in the death of 68,682 of those animals. What they suffered is beyond words to describe.”
Click on the video below to learn more about the American Humane Association’s Red Star Team.
What became of General Pershing’s horse “Kidron?” He died at the relatively ripe age of 36 in 1942 at the Front Royal Horse Cemetery in Front Royal, Virginia. His skeletal remains are now part of the research collection of the Division of Mammals in the National Museum of Natural History.
For more on this topic:
Correction: After this story was published I was contacted by William C. Parke who wrote “Pershing did not ride Kidron in either the NY nor the Washington, DC victory parades. To the disappointment of Pershing, Kidron was in quarantine in Newport News, Virginia, for five months after return from France. Your photo of the horse Gen. Pershing rode in NYC parade is evidently not Kidron. Note that Kidron had distinctive high white hair on his rear legs. (Your painting of Pershing just above the parade one shows the white on Kidron’s back legs.)”
Parke should know. Much to my delight, he is the grandson of the WWI officer who gifted Kidron to General Pershing. Click here to read Parke’s fascinating story of his grandfather’s generous gesture to General Pershing of a horse who became a part of World War I history.
Friday, October 19, 2018 –
More soldiers letters from the front – Thanks to the National Archives and Records Administration and volunteer members of the public, thousands of remarkable and moving personal accounts of war are being transcribed to give us a clearer sense of America’s invaluable sacrifices and contributions to the Great War. Click here to search through and see those documents online. I have chosen a few of my favorites below.
French “37” in firing position with U.S. troops from a second-line trench in World War I. Photo: National Archives and Records Administration
Corporal B. E. Williams, 142nd Infantry, Company K, 36th Division, 1918 “The squad I was leading had not gone more than 50 meters when Hinie (German troops) sent over 1 big shell and it bursted in the midst of the squad and knocked out 4 of my men so I only had 6 men in the squad when we started over.
I felt like going to the rear but I fought my way through with only one man left I kept firing all time. There was only 6 squads in the company to cover 500 meters but we was strong and brave men when we reached our objective we had captured almost a battalion of the Bosh (Germans). I was afraid that we would never reach our objective with one man alive but we only had 4 killed and two wounded. All it takes is nerve and the 142 Infantry has it. ‘
Pigeon Message from Major Whittlesey, Commanding Officer of the “Lost Batallion,” 308th Infantry, 77th Division, 1918 The so-called “Lost Battalion” was actually comprised of 554 men in the U.S. Army’s 77th Division that found themselves surrounded by German forces in the Argonne Forest in October 1918. Roughly 197 men were killed in action. Approximately 150 others went missing or were taken prisoner before the 194 remaining men were rescued.
They were led by Major Charles White Whittlesey with orders to attack into the Argonne. Unknown to Whittlesey’s men, the Allied units to their left and right had stalled in their attack on German troops, leaving the 308th surrounded by enemy forces. For the next six days, the men of the “Lost Battalion” suffered heavy losses and fought a fierce battle as American forces tried to rescue them.
Food and water were scarce. Ammunition ran low. Communications were a problem too. Every runner dispatched by Whittlesey to get messages to U.S. troops became lost or ran into German patrols. Carrier pigeons became the only way the 308th could communicate with U.S. headquarters. In the pigeon message below you can read Major Whittlesey’s desperate plea for U.S. units to stop firing on his own dug-in troops.
Despite this, the 77th Division troops held their ground until Allied units were able to break through German lines and open an escape route for Major Whittlesey and his men. Whittlesey was later awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor.
Author Kevin Welker described Whittlesey as a modest and sensitive man who was uncomfortable with the attention he received. “His public speaking was limited to praising the enlisted men with whom he served, the common soldier who received little to no recognition for their uncommon bravery. So dedicated was he to his men of the Lost Battalion that Whittlesey left his sick bed to attend the funeral of a private who served under him.” Welker wrote. Click here to read more of Welker’s account of Major Whittlesey’s “Tragedy of Heroism.”
Corporal W. R. Cox, 132nd Machine Gun Battalion, 36th Division, 1918
“There is no words which will thoroughly explain that feeling or sensation which we all had to contend with while amidst the bursting shells and the pitiful cries of our wounded soldiers and in order to make my story brief, I will conclude by saying the following: I feel confident, that if every living human being on earth could spend a few hours under a heavy barrage fire and could witness the barbarous sights on the battle fields, it would mean Peace and Good will on Earth forever.”
Thursday, October 18, 2018 –
Battle of the Meuse-Argonne- While producing the documentary “Black Jack Pershing: Love and War,” I spent a year researching this epic 47-day American battle that would grow to include more than a million U.S. soldiers who fought in World War I.
19-years after the war’s end, John J. Pershing, who commanded American troops in WWI, dedicated the American Memorial in Montfaucon, France. Pershing’s remarks make up one of the finest military speeches I’ve heard. Click the video below to hear General Pershing’s words describing the Battle of the Meuse-Argonne and the sacrifices of those Americans who fought in it.
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 Foch played 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.
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.
After the Second Battle of the Marne, Ludendorff privately admitted the war was lost for Germany. An October 1, 1918 diary entry by German Officer Albrecht von Thaer noted General Ludendorff’s comments to his command officers:
“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.
Sydney Morning Herald Reporter Peter FitzSimons described Monash’s planning for the Australian WWI attack in the Battle of Amiens on highly fortified German troops:
“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.
A 1964 New York Times article described Petain’s role in the pivotal WWI battle.
“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.”
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
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.
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.
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.
According to the Science History Institute, three substances were responsible for most chemical-weapons injuries and deaths during World War I: chlorine, phosgene, and mustard gas.
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.
(Sources: Library of Congress, Bernard R. McCoy Collection, Hot Off The Presses: Newspapers During WWI, )
Thursday, October 4, 2018-
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.
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.
(Sources: Leo P. Hirrel, “Supporting the Doughboys: US Army Logistics and Personnel During World War I” Ft. Leavenworth: Combat Studies Institute, 2017, National Archives and Records Administration)
Sunday, September 30, 2018-
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.
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)
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)
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 by Louisiana 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)
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:
- Inside the toxic grave of the longest battle in history
- The Fading Battlefields of World War I
- Belgians Share Their Land With War’s Reminders
Saturday, September 8, 2018-
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.”
“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-
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”)
Sunday, September 2, 2018-
Saturday, September 1, 2018-
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-
Thursday, August 30, 2018-
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.
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, Black Expatriate 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.