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

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Blackadder Goes Forth Video
Reviewed by James Patton

Blackadder Goes Forth (Blackadder, Part IV)

Created by Richard Curtis & Ben Elton
Original Broadcast, BBC One, 1989

Rowan Atkinson, Right, Portrays Blackadder in All Four Parts of the Blackadder Series

Rowan Atkinson (b. 1955) is a British comedian, actor, and screenwriter known for somewhat broad, bawdy, humor, often with sight gags, and cold satire. He holds degrees in electrical engineering from Newcastle and Oxford. While at the latter university he became interested in theatrical performance. He even wrote several short scripts, and in 1979 he got a stint as the sole performer and writer of a BBC-3 radio program called The Atkinson People, and a few months later he also had a BBC TV series called Not the Nine O'Clock News, which he also wrote. In all he has appeared in 20 movies and 34 different television productions, some of them series.

He is best known for the silent character Mr. Bean, whom he has played for most of his career, in stand-up comedy, three long-running TV series and two movies. Apart from that, his most familiar movie role would be his appearance as the vicar in Four Weddings and a Funeral, and his most well-known TV roles are that of Edmund Blackadder in the series if the same name and Inspector Fowler in The Thin Blue Line.

In the Blackadder series, which Atkinson also helped to write, the dramatic premise is that, since the Wars of the Roses there has always been a pseudo-noble Edmund Blackadder (and his cloddish but wily servant named Baldrick) on the scene at important events in British history. The Blackadder persona is always snide, conniving, scheming, craven, and a counterpoint to all of the other real historic figures and caricatures, who are depicted as boobs and twits.

In the course of the series it was inevitable that they would get to the Great War experience. These six episodes comprise the season called Blackadder Goes Forth, where Blackadder, always with his batman Private Baldrick, tries a variety of schemes for getting out of the "Big Push": volunteering to be a war artist, organizing a theatrical revue, joining the Royal Flying Corps as an observer, going undercover to catch German spies, killing carrier pigeons to stop getting orders.

Blackadder's foils are the top brass, the fictional General Melchett and the real Sir Douglas Haig, who plays with toy soldiers and discards them when he's tired of them. In the final episode, with the "Big Push" imminent, which according to Blackadder is, on the part of Haig, "another gargantuan effort to move his drinks cabinet six inches closer to Berlin", Blackadder feigns insanity while Baldrick embraces Bolshevism, but at the end of the episode (and the series) everyone falls in for duty and goes over the top (except Melchett and Haig, of course). Blackadder's last line, spoken to Baldrick who has just told him that he has one last "cunning" scheme, is not a wisecrack:

"Well, I'm afraid it'll have to wait. Whatever it was, I'm sure it was better than my plan to get out of this by pretending to be mad. I mean, who would have noticed another madman around here? Good luck, everyone."

The cinematic effect of this scene is startling and powerful. It is in monochrome and slow motion, even the theme music is slowed down and the cast just disappears into the smoke and battle noise, then the last image is of a present-day field of poppies, with birds chirping in the audio.

Blackadder and His Cohorts Preparing to Go Over the Top in the Series' Concluding Scene

This unexpected and abrupt conclusion had a powerful and lasting effect on the audience. In 2005 I sat in the parlor at Talbot House in Poperinghe and listened to five Brits talk about the impact this episode of Blackadder Goes Forth had on them like it had just happened last night rather than in 1989, an experience not unlike that of Americans of a certain age discussing the impact on them of the JFK assassination in 1963.

In the Golden Age of what PBS calls the "Britcom", Blackadder Goes Forth was ranked as the Best Comedy Series of 1989 by the British Academy, in 2000 was slotted at No. 16 on the 100 Greatest British TV Programmes of the 20th century by the British Film Institute, and in 2004, the entire Blackadder series came in second in the BBC's poll to determine Britain's Best Sitcom.

James Patton

Monday, December 11, 2017

100 Years Ago: General Edmund Allenby Enters Jerusalem

100 Years ago tomorrow, Field Marshal Edmund Henry Hynman Allenby entered Jerusalem as its conqueror.  General Allenby was 56 years old when he took command of the Egyptian Expeditionary Force (EEF) in June 1917. Little of his work on the Western Front would suggest he would prove a master of desert warfare. Within days of arriving in Palestine, the new commander of the EEF would dispel any misgivings regarding his capacity for independent command. As Australian Sir Henry George Chauvel, commander of the Desert Mounted Corps (DMC), described the EEF's change in command climate: "Allenby went through the hot, dusty camps of his army like a strong, fresh, reviving wind." He saw his mission as one of clearing Palestine of any Ottoman forces. After organizing his forces, he was ready to mount offensive operations in the fall. 

The Third Battle of Gaza (31 Oct–7 Nov) exhibited Allenby's talent for orchestrating a combined arms operation while concurrently managing the problems of transport, supply, and deception. The battle had not been without lessons. Chauvel's Desert Mounted Corps suffered a number of casualties from German aircraft, revealing the vulnerability of exposed troops in a desert environment. The rough terrain east of Gaza proved difficult for both the mounted units and their supporting logistical assets. Allenby gave little pause and pursued the Turks northward as they retreated toward Junction Station (See map below.) Commanding the skies and bombing and strafing retreating columns almost at will, aircraft from the RFC made the pursuit a harrowing experience for the enemy. By 14 November, Allenby occupied Junction Station and effectively split the Turkish forces in half. 

Map of the Sector

The first step in clearing Palestine was dislodging the Ottoman forces from their Gaza defenses. The stronghold had thus far proved impregnable to British assault and had cost his predecessor, General Archibald Murray, his job. Allenby's plan called for an infantry demonstration in front of Gaza, to include heavy artillery bombardments and naval gun support. Meanwhile, elements from two corps would secretly concentrate opposite the Turkish left at Beersheba, assault the garrison, and capture the water supplies. Once complete, the striking force of some 40,000 troops would roll up the Turkish left flank and intercept any retreating forces from Gaza. 

The Third Battle of Gaza exhibited Allenby's talent for orchestrating a combined arms operation while concurrently managing the problems of transport, supply, and deception. By 5 November, the evacuation of Gaza began in earnest. Allenby gave little pause and pursued the Turks northward as they retreated toward Junction Station. Commanding the skies and bombing and strafing retreating columns almost at will, aircraft from the RFC made the pursuit a harrowing experience for the enemy. By 14 November, Allenby occupied Junction Station and effectively split the Turkish forces in half.

Jerusalem Welcoming Its Conqueror at the Jaffa Gate
(This Depiction Is Grander Than the Actual Event)

With the Turkish Seventh and Eighth Armies isolated from one another, Allenby next set his sights on Jerusalem, which Lloyd George had ordered taken by Christmas. Moving as rapidly as supply lines would allow, the EEF made good progress against a stiffening Turkish defense. Counterattacks increased in number and intensity. As one commentator noted, "The Turkish troops fought with a remarkable gallantry and succeeded at some points in gaining a footing in the outer line of the British defenses." By 8 December the Ottoman lines began to crack and, on the next day, they withdrew northward. On 11 December 1917, Allenby made his formal entry into the city—the first Christian leader to do so since 1187. He was ordered not to make a spectacle of his arrival as the Kaiser had in 1898, but it was a dramatic moment, nevertheless.

German military advisor General Kress von Kressenstein later wrote: "From a purely military point of view, the loss of Jerusalem was of no importance, but the moral effect of its capture, after having been in Turkish hands for 700 years...was a severe blow to the prestige of the Caliphate and of Turkey." Events on the Western Front, however, would slow down Allenby's advance in the spring of 1918. The German offensives on the Western Front would draw off a number of his best units. It would not be until later in the year that he could restart his drive to defeat the Turks, which he would do so brilliantly. 

Sources: Over the Top, July & August 2010

Sunday, December 10, 2017

Doughboy Basics: What Are the Lasting Contributions of the Doughboy Generation to America?

Maybe, in the broadest sense, the great contribution of the Doughboys is what all of America's warriors have given their nation over the centuries—their sacrifices made our America of today possible and successful and the generation of today a standard to live up to.

Some specifics of their experiences are also worth noting, though:

The AEF had a large component of recent immigrants who were assimilated into the mainstream of the nation almost instantly due to their service.

They gave us Armistice Day, which expanded to Veterans Day as the nation fought more wars.

The Doughboys were the principal champions of the WWII Veterans Bill of Rights legislation  that helped future service members (including your editor) gain a better education and first home.

The military experience in World War I prepared the nation to fight and win the Second World War and the Cold War that followed.

The Doughboys, even before the Armistice, decided they wanted to play an active role in postwar America. This played out later in the founding of the American Legion and the sad Veterans March on Washington in the 1930s. Professor Jennifer Keene, discussed this in her 2001 work, Doughboys, the Great War, and the Remaking of America:

Why is World War I important in American history? Quite simply, the Great War generation played a critical role in constructing the modern U.S. Army, turning World War II soldiers into the most privileged veteran generation in American history and determining what mass military service would mean for millions of American men throughout the twentieth century.

Saturday, December 9, 2017

Remembering a Veteran: Nurse & Volunteer in Two World Wars, Ethel Carow Roosevelt Derby

by Keith Muchowski

Ethel and Her Mother Edith at the Turn of the Century

Ethel Derby died 40 years ago tomorrow. If one is unfamiliar with the name, one is not alone; Mrs. Derby shunned the limelight just as tenaciously as her older half-sister Alice Roosevelt Longworth courted it. Ethel Carow Roosevelt Derby had four brothers and was the only girl born to Theodore Roosevelt and his second wife Edith. Ethel was born at Sagamore Hill, her parents’ Oyster Bay Long Island home, on 13 August 1891. Her father at the time was a Civil Service commissioner in the Benjamin Harrison administration. She turned ten one month prior to her father’s becoming president in the wake of the assassination of William McKinley in September 1901. Throughout his presidency there was great public interest in the Roosevelt clan and Ethel came of age as a quartet of prominent young Roosevelt women that included half-sister Alice and cousins Corinne Douglas Robinson and Eleanor Roosevelt. In Washington, Ethel attended the National Cathedral School for Girls, from which she graduated in 1906. She had her coming out in a large but understated White House function, which included a midnight formal dinner in late December 1908, a few months before the end of her father’s term.

Ethel had grown up hearty and something of a tomboy with striking, handsome features. She lived the strenuous life very much like her father and enjoyed climbing trees, playing with the family pets, and horseback riding at Sagamore Hill with her four brothers. Ethel spent the years immediately after her father’s presidency living at Sagamore Hill and visited New York City frequently. Young Ethel met Dr. Richard Derby in late 1912. The two announced their engagement on Valentine's Day 1913 and married at Oyster Bay’s Christ Episcopal Church on 4 April 1913 in a simple but well-attended ceremony of 500 guests, at least 200 of these brought in by train from Manhattan that morning. The couple honeymooned in Europe and 11 months after the wedding a son, Richard Derby, Jr., was born. Baby Richard was Theodore Roosevelt's first grandson.

Wedding Announcement

When war broke out in Europe that summer all of the Roosevelts watched with great concern. Ethel was the first from the clan to serve overseas in the Great War. Dr. and Mrs. Derby left for France in September 1914 and worked through the end of the year at the American Ambulance Hospital, he as a surgeon and she as a nurse. The days were long, the work physically demanding and emotionally taxing, and the living conditions spartan. They were so earnest in their desire to help the wounded that they left their infant son in the care of his grandparents at Sagamore Hill. Most of their patients were injured British troops, and Ethel sometimes took the cases she saw to heart. She once solicited $200 (over $4200 in today's dollars) to secure a prosthetic leg for a young Tommy who had lost a limb fighting the Germans.

Ethel before the Great War
When the two returned in December they kept up in their war efforts. In April 1915 Mrs. Derby became chair of the Committee of American Hostels for Refugees in Paris, an organization whose mission was to assist French and Belgians displaced by the fighting. Dr. Derby was active in the civilian Plattsburg Preparedness Movement with his Roosevelt brothers-in-law. When the United State entered the war in April 1917 Derby joined what became the American Expeditionary Forces. He trained with the Medical Corps at Fort Oglethorpe in Georgia. Shortly after giving birth to the couple’s second child, Ethel joined Major Derby down south. The two rented a house in Chattanooga about ten miles from the base across the state line in Georgia. Ethel was popular and active in the community, working hard, making herself useful, and goodnaturedly putting to use such skills as milking cows, much to the amusement of the locals. The citizenry had good reason to take kindly to Ethel Derby; her grandmother Martha Bulloch Roosevelt had been a Southern belle from Georgia before marrying and moving to New York City in the 1850s. Major Richard Derby soon left for France. This time, however, Ethel did not accompany him. The stress must have been excruciating. Ethel’s husband and four brothers were all fighting in the Great War. Older brother Ted was gassed at Cantigny and later seriously wounded in the knee; baby brother Quentin was an aviator, shot down and killed on Bastille Day 1918. Six months later, heartbroken with the loss of his youngest child, Theodore Roosevelt died in early January 1919. Derby was a surgeon in the Second Infantry Division for over a year, gaining promotion to lieutenant colonel, and earning the Croix de Guerre, French Legion of Honor, and Distinguished Service Medal. He returned to Long Island in 1919 a few weeks after his father-in-law’s death.

Ethel in Her WWII Red Cross Uniform

In the 1920s Ethel and Richard Derby settled into life in Long Island with their growing family. Things could still be difficult. Richard Jr., just eight years old, died of septicemia in October 1922. His father suffered from depression thereafter and never fully recovered. Dr. Derby worked at a local hospital and Ethel grew increasingly active in community service. In 1923 she worked on behalf of Russian refugees exiled in Paris during the Russian Civil War. For well over half a century she volunteered with the American Red Cross, determined to streamline the organization and end the frustrating waste and red tape she had seen in Paris in 1914. She was also a board member of the American Museum of Natural History, which her grandfather had help found and her father had done so much to foster and promote. After her mother’s death in 1948 she helped turn her parents’ Sagamore Hill home into a national historic site. Richard Derby died in 1963. His widow lived another fourteen years. Ethel Roosevelt Derby lived a long and full life of activity and public service in the spirit of her father, Theodore Roosevelt. Born during the presidency of Benjamin Harrison, Mrs. Derby lived to 86 and died on December 10, 1977 during the Jimmy Carter Administration. After her death a family friend told the New York Times for the obituary that Ethel Derby “was T.R.—but completely feminine.”

Keith Muchowski, a librarian and professor at New York City College of Technology (CUNY) in Brooklyn NY, writes occasionally for Roads to the Great War. He blogs at

Friday, December 8, 2017

Douglas MacArthur's Footlocker

Contributed by Steve Miller

Regular contributor Steve Miller is a documentarian of World War One locales, including museums.  Here we have a revealing composite of photos Steve took at the General Douglas MacArthur Memorial in Norfolk, Virginia. It shows a blowup of the general's identity card with photo and the contents of his footlocker. The locker contains some interesting items: a uniform with Sam Browne belt; sewing kit; personal file of 83rd Brigade of the 42nd Division that MacArthur served in and commanded briefly; a razor set; a cigarette case presented to the general by his troops; identity card; Catholic and Jewish prayer books; first issue of Stars and Stripes newspaper; the pamphlets "Use of Mines in Trench Warfare," "Bayonet Training," and "Infantry Drill Regulations;" books: Minor Tactics, Richard Harding Davis's novel Captain Macklin's Memoirs, The Cavalry, and two volumes of Napoleon's writings.

Thursday, December 7, 2017

A German Magazine Documents the Ottoman Army

The Berliner Illustrirte Zeitung, often abbreviated BIZ, was a weekly illustrated magazine published in Berlin from 1892 to 1945. BIZ's WWI archives are one the best sources of photographs of the Ottoman Army during the war. It was the first mass-market German magazine and pioneered the format of the illustrated news magazine with the photo-essay, a specialized staff, a production unit for pictures, and a vast photo library. With other news magazines like the Münchner Illustrierte Presse and Vu in France, it also pioneered the use of candid photographs taken with the new smaller cameras. BIZ was published on Thursdays but bore the date of the following Sunday.  

Mortar Position, Dardanelles

General Liman von Sanders, Senior German Officer

Turkish Supply Column at Rest

Turkish Artillery Firing, Casualties to the Rear

Observation Position

Anti-Aircraft Position

Searchlight Position, Dardanelles

Stretcher Column, Turkish Officer, Arab Bearers

German General August von Mackensen on a Visit to Constantinople

A German Officer Camel-Mounted

Non-Turkish Ottoman Troops in a New Firing Trench

Turkish Officers Conducting a Class in Medina

These photos are from the collection of Contributing Editor Tony Langley of Antwerp, Belgium (formerly New Jersey, USA). Comments are from Wikipedia

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

100 Years Ago: The Great Halifax Tragedy (A Roads Classic)

One hundred years ago today, by most measures, the greatest non-nuclear explosion in history occurred in Halifax, Nova Scotia. The approximate casualty estimate was 2,000 killed and 9,000 wounded and blinded. More Nova Scotians died in the Halifax explosion than were killed in World War One. Out of 60,000 inhabitants, 25,000 were left homeless. So many people suffered eye injuries that the science of treating damaged eyes was advanced significantly by the newly established Canadian National Institute for the Blind. Halifax would become known as a center for caring for the blind. That story within a story is one worth recounting.

The Damage at Halifax

“City in danger. Explosion. Conflagration.” The alarm was sent by telegram to areas surrounding Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada, on the morning of 6 December 1917. Relief expeditions organized from Nova Scotia, Boston, Toronto, and Montreal did not know the cause of the explosion, or the extent of the damage. Had the Germans invaded? Was the city destroyed? Reports of casualties varied from 50 to 50,000 people. 

In the fourth year of the First World War, Halifax was a seaport of 47,000 people, a base from which Canadian troops were sent overseas. Warships gathered in Halifax Harbor to be refitted and supplied before sailing in convoys to Europe. For this reason, Halifax was a prime target for the Germans, and many believed that they had attacked. However, the explosion was caused by an accidental collision between two vessels.

The Mont Blanc Explodes
At 08:48 hrs a French freighter, the Mont Blanc, collided with the Imo, a Belgian relief ship, as a result of navigational error in Halifax Harbor. The Mont Blanc carried 3,121 tons of picric acid, 200 tons of trinitrotoluene, 35 tons of benzol, and 10 tons of gun cotton. The benzol drums ignited, with flames and smoke rising 2,000 feet into the sky. Women and men went to their windows, and children walking to school stopped on the street to watch the blazing fire. After 17 minutes the ship blew up with a force that launched the hull over 10,00 feet into the air, destroying everything within a 2.5 km radius and shattering every window in the city. The force of the explosion was estimated at three kilotons. A great number of the spectators—especially those watching what they thought was another ship fire from behind glass windows in their homes on the hill overlooking the harbor — received shards of glass in their eyes. Thus, an extra tragic dimension was added to the disaster—its huge number of ophthalmic injuries. 

Finding the injured was the initial challenge. George H Cox, an eye, ear, nose, and throat (EENT) specialist from New Glasgow, a town 100 km away, joined the relief expedition. Eleven Nova Scotian doctors with nurses and volunteers reached Halifax that evening to find the city in ruins. “We had to make our way along streets and tracks blocked and covered with debris of all sorts...every here and there dead men on piles of black stuff. The whole area was darkened by smoke or lit up by flames from the burning debris.”

In the ruins Dr. Cox and his colleagues discovered that an inordinate number of penetrating eye injuries occurred. The severity and the overwhelming number of eye injuries sustained that day made it impossible for lengthy eye‐saving procedures to be performed. Enucleation,  the removal of the eye that leaves the eye muscles and remaining orbital contents intact, was often the only option. Twelve ophthalmologists treated 592 people with eye injuries and performed 249 enucleations. Sixteen people had both eyes enucleated. Most of the eye injuries were caused by shards of shattered glass. 

The Halifax explosion sparked an outpouring of community support for survivors who were blind or partially sighted and served as a catalyst for the formation of one of Canada’s oldest charities, the Canadian National Institute for the Blind

Sources: Mostly excerpted from "The Halifax disaster (1917): eye injuries and their care," British Journal of Ophthamology, June 2007; "Halifax: December 6, 1917" by Andrew Melomet, St. Mihiel Trip-Wire, April 2010 .


Tuesday, December 5, 2017

Curse of the Narrows The Halifax Disaster of 1917
Reviewed by James M. Gallen

Curse of the Narrows: The Halifax Disaster of 1917

by Laura M. MacDonald
Walker Publishing Company, Inc., 2005

The trenches, barbed wire and no-man's-land were Over There, but on 6 December 1917 the Great War reached Canada. Laura M. Mac Donald tells how that came about in Curse of the Narrows The Halifax Disaster of 1917. Halifax, Nova Scotia, is a major port on Canada's Atlantic Coast whose prosperity has ebbed and flowed with the tides of commerce and war. The withdrawal of the Royal Navy in 1906 brought an ebb, but the war and the return of the Royal Navy activity came surging back. Soldiers, sailors, and commercial freighters crowded the streets, businesses, and the harbor as men, foodstuffs, munitions, and manufactured goods passed through on their way to aid Britannia. By 1917 Halifax was at high tide. Business bustled on both the Halifax and Dartmouth sides of the harbor.

The French vessel Mont Blanc had been loaded with high explosives in Brooklyn. The ship's carpenters had been ordered to line every inch of the hold with wood and to use copper nails that would not spark when struck. Stevedores wearing canvas slippers loaded the cargo that, with a storm or shift, could have destroyed everything within reach. Mont Blanc with its volatile cargo was ordered to proceed to Halifax to join a North Atlantic convoy.

Mont Blanc spent the night of 5–6 December outside the submarine nets of Halifax Harbor. A late coal delivery had kept the Belgian relief ship Imo (which should have already left for New York) in harbor overnight. The morning of the 6th, the pilots arrived and Imo and Mont Blanc began moving toward their rendezvous with history. As Mont Blanc was approaching the harbor, Imo began to move toward its exit. They were about three-quarters of a mile apart when Pilot Francis Mackay aboard Mont Blanc noticed Imo proceeding at an unusually fast pace within the harbor. As they closed, a collision became inevitable. Although impact with the TNT hold was avoided, a gash in the no. 1 hold sent Mont Blanc drifting toward Pier 6 in Dartmouth, one of the most populated areas along the northern stretch of wharves.

Memorial to the Dead of the Halifax Explosion at St.  Paul's Church

As the pilot and crew endeavored to minimize damage, the citizens watched as black and white smoke rose from Mont Blanc. Recognizing that nothing could prevent the impending explosion, the captain gave the order to abandon ship. The crew's warnings went unheeded as they paddled to shore and assembled under spruce trees, except for one crewman who did not stop running. Flames gave way to a series of explosions until 9:04:34  a.m., when Mont Blanc erupted in the largest, man-made, non-nuclear explosion in history. The heat evaporated water in the harbor, the tsunami threw ships inland and it and the air blast flattened blocks of the city, observers were blinded by the fireball, the sound was heard hundreds of miles away and communications to the outside world were largely cut. The following day Halifax was hit with minus-20 degrees Fahrenheit and a blizzard with gale force winds.

After an interlude about explosions, the focus of Curse of the Narrows shifts to the resulting damage to property, injuries, and the immense relief efforts that followed. Over 2,000 were dead or missing, over 6,000 injured, 9,000 rendered homeless with 41 fully and 249 partially blinded. Temporary hospitals were set up, naval vessels brought supplies and provided medical services, and physicians were dispatched from Montreal and Ottawa. A relief train from Boston fought the weather to bring supplies and medical personnel. Boston's generosity to Halifax was repaid when Halifax sent physicians to aid Boston during the Spanish flu epidemic and continues to this day as the official Boston Christmas Tree on the Boston Common is a gift from the people of Halifax.

Author Laura M. MacDonald had the advantage of many recorded interviews and testimonies taken during investigations from which to draw the facts of the case and the human-interest stories related to the explosion. She followed individuals and families who lived through or died in the tragedy. Perhaps the most touching story and photo is that of 18-month-old Annie Liggins who was found under a stove the day after. Originally misidentified as Olive Henneberry she was later nicknamed "Ashpan Annie."

The story of the Halifax explosion is a tragic disaster that should be known by anyone interested in North American involvement in the Great War. Curse of the Narrows is an excellent source from which to learn about the explosion and the human lives that it unalterably changed.

James M. Gallen

Photo of St. Paul's from Steve Miller

Monday, December 4, 2017

The Same Gun Fired the British Commonwealth's First Shots - In Both World Wars

Australia was the first Commonwealth nation to fire shots in both World War I and World War II. What's even more interesting is that both times they were fired by the same gun at the same fort for the same purpose, that is, artillery at Fort  Queenscliff, Point Nepean, attempting to prevent German merchant vessels from escaping through Port Phillip Heads, Melbourne Harbor. On 5 August this 6-inch gun at the fort fired on the German vessel SS Pfalz, which was later converted to an Australian troopship. On 4 September 1939 another battery fired on what they thought was another German ship. That turned out to be mistaken, but it was still the Commonwealth's first shot fired in anger in WWII.

Source: The Geelong Advertiser

Sunday, December 3, 2017

Doughboy Basics: What Did the Doughboys Contribute to the Allied War Effort?

Let me form this posting around several blanket statements.

1.  America Did Not Win the War Single-Handed, but Its Entry Probably Prevented a German Victory.

The second part of this statement might seem controversial, but consider the following facts. Even with America on board, by the end of 1917, the Central Powers (discounting the food shortages on their home front briefly) appeared to be winning the World War. Russia and Rumania had been defeated and Italy required major reinforcement by its Allies to stay in the war. Salonika was a manpower-draining sore. Lloyd George—after Passchendaele—had no wish to provide replacement forces for a new offensive for General Haig's Army. Pétain's French Army was incapable of large offensive operations.  

This would have been the state of affairs whether or not America was in the war.  But, absent the U.S. involvement, Germany would have had a good chance of winning the war with a highly advantageous negotiated settlement. Its optimal strategy would have been to go on the defensive in the west and use the men who were not needed to garrison the newly won territories in the east to restore its agricultural and food distribution systems. The Allies (absent the American reinforcements) simply would not have had the offensive power to push the German Army out of Belgium and France. Maybe fighting would have continued into 1918, even 1919, but at some point a settlement would have been reached. Germany would have held on to all its occupied territory in both the east and west and we would be living in a different world today (maybe better,  who knows?). But in any case, this strategy was not available, because they HAD gotten the Americans involved by fatally opting for unrestricted U-boat warfare a year earlier. This discussion continues in Point 3 below. 

2.  The AEF and U.S. Navy Did Provide Almost Immediate Critical Support for the Allies in Several Areas:  (This Was Before the AEF Was Substantial Enough to Fight)

     a. An expanded port-warehousing-railroad infrastructure benefiting all the     
         Allied Powers

     b.  Medical and nursing personnel for the French and British forces

     c.  Sufficient escort ships to make the convoy system viable

    d.  Boosted Allied morale, especially for the French, rejuvenating both the 
         citizenry and soldiery for the brutal 1918 campaign

3. The Threat of Millions of Americans Arriving on the Western Front Forced the Germans to Launch Their Spring Offensives, Which Gave the Allies an Opportunity for Victory

We made the point above that at the end of 1917, the Central Powers appeared to be winning the war. However, as with all the major combatants, they were simply running out of men. Toward the end of 1917, Hindenburg and Ludendorff saw that—despite the promises of the German admirals—there was no stopping the flow of U.S. troops  across the Atlantic. Millions would be arriving by mid-1918 and millions more in 1919. At some time in the future, their forces in the west would simply be swamped.  As 1918 opened, they had the choice to negotiate for a settlement, which by that time would have involved considerable concessions, given the Allies strengthening hand with the Yanks arriving, or throw the dice for a chance to win a much more advantageous position in post-combat negotiations.  They chose the latter and eventually lost the war.

4. When the AEF Was Ready to Fight, Pershing's Forces Fought in Ten Major Battles, Six of Which—Had the Allies Lost—Could Have Changed the Outcome of the War.

     a.  The Defense of the Marne River Line in May and June 1918

     b.  The Defense Against German Champagne-Marne Offensive of July 1918

     c.  The Offensive Phase of the Second Battle of the Marne, 
          July–September 1918

     d.  The St. Mihiel Offensive, September 1918

     e.  The Breaking of the Hindenburg Line, September 1918

     f.  The Meuse-Argonne Offensive, September–November 1918

Saturday, December 2, 2017

The Last World War I Panzer

Mephisto, Then and Now

The British Army was the first to use tanks, deploying them at the Battle of the Somme in 1916. The Allied forces used tanks in even larger numbers in 1917. The potential of this new weapon was realized perhaps too late by the German Army. In late 1917 the Germans produced 20 A7V Sturmpanzerwagens, which were deployed in combat the following year. Crewed with 18 men, the cumbersome war machines clambered into action in April 1918. The German tanks were engaged in actions at such places as Villers-Bretonneux, a small French village that was recaptured by Australian soldiers at the cost of 1,200 lives. The A7Vs were involved in the first tank-versus-tank action. 

The A7V Sturmpanzerwagen known as Mephisto (shown above) was immobilized in an area close to Villers-Bretonneux called Monument Wood. In July 1918 a detachment of soldiers from the 26th Battalion, mainly comprised of Queenslanders, helped recover the abandoned tank and drag it back to the Allied lines. It was sent to Australia as a war trophy, arriving at Norman Wharf in June 1919, where it was towed by two Brisbane City Council steamrollers to the Queensland Museum, then located in Fortitude Valley. It remained at the Queensland Museum for 70 years. After a 2-year loan spell at the Australian War Memorial in Canberra, Mephisto is at present in the process of being returned to Brisbane.*  Mephisto remains the sole surviving A7V tank in the world.

Sources: Queensland Museum and Reader Charles Bogart

* Clarification added 2 December 2017

Friday, December 1, 2017

Between Sedan and Dreyfus: The French Officer Corps and Politics

General Boulange in His Prime
The defeat of the French Second Empire at German hands led to the creation of the Third Republic, a governmental system that placed power within the legislature and was plagued by ministerial instability and bureaucratic ineffectiveness. Most French officers, disproportionately Catholic, rural, and conservative, disliked and distrusted the anticlerical and pro-Parisian leanings of the government. The Third Republic, in their eyes, was a bastard child of the bloody Paris Commune and would, in all likelihood, last not much longer than the four years of the Second Republic (1848–1852). Then France could go back to a more authoritarian, conservative, and effective government that would support the army and promote traditional French values.

Joffre, 1889
The Third Republic was also rife with scandals, political intrigue, and persistent rumors of military-led coups. General George Boulanger's political movement of the late 1880s was the most famous but far from the only one of its kind. Boulanger combined right-wing authoritarianism and left-wing populism to build a movement that terrified the French government into a series of extreme measures that included ordering government employees to vote against the general and, eventually, exiling Boulanger himself. The threat only ended in 1891 when a love-sick Boulanger shot himself on the grave of his mistress, who had recently died of consumption.

Thus, French officers in the late 19th century often felt that they had more to fear from fellow French than they did from the Germans. Officers had to learn how to play the system and curry favor with politicians in order to survive the turmoil and intrigue of the Third Republic. Some, like Joseph Joffre and Maurice Sarrail, developed ways (albeit very different ways) to deal with political realities. Others, like Paul-Marie Pau, had promotions denied to them on the basis of their politics. In 1907 then prime minister Georges Clemenceau had to intervene personally to give Ferdinand Foch command of the French War College; a report shown to Clemenceau had accused Foch of giving higher grades to Catholics, and Foch had a Jesuit brother, but Clemenceau decided to back Foch anyway.

Foch Before the War
When French officers weren't worrying about politics in Paris, they were looking overseas. The way to make a career in the late nineteenth-century French Army was by distinguishing oneself in the empire. After the Franco-Prussian War, France looked to Indochina, Madagascar, Senegal, and, above all, Algeria, to recover lost glory. The Germans, for their part, did all they could to encourage French imperial interests, both to turn French attention away from the continent and in the hopes that imperial endeavors would keep France and Britain in constant conflict.

Virtually all of France's best known and best regarded generals had made their names in the colonies. Joffre, Hubert Lyautey, Charles Mangin, Joseph Gallieni, and countless others became French heroes for their work extending French influence to the corners of the globe. Given enormous powers, they learned to manage resources over tremendous distances, conquer problems of logistics, and balance military responsibilities with economic and political ones. To many of them, most notably Lyautey, the prospect of a war with Germany was infinitely less important than the expansion and solidification of the empire.

Source:  Over the Top, March 2007

Thursday, November 30, 2017

OVER THE TOP: Magazine of the World War I Centennial

A Message from Mike Hanlon,  Editor/Publisher of Roads to the Great War


One of the ways we raise funds to support all our publications at, including your free Roads to the Great War is to sell annual compilations on CD of all 12 issues of our  monthly subscription magazine Over the Top, with special features added. For our 2017 compilation, we are including a guide to all the battlefields of the American Expeditionary Forces in the war. Please consider a purchase to help support all our efforts, including the free materials you have access to at the Roads, our monthly newsletter, the St. Mihiel Trip-Wire, and our WWI websites including our award-winning Doughboy Center.

And an Additional Special Offer:

If you purchase our 2017 disk and also identify yourself as a reader of Roads to the Great War, you can purchase our popular WWI musical CD (usually $27) at a $10 discount. Either of these CDs will make a swell Christmas gift for the First World War enthusiast in your life. Here's some information on our products and how to order them—

Our 2017 Compilation CD: $32

2017 Covers

To Order

Musical Disk Special Offer: $17 if you buy the 2017 Disk, 

$27 if purchased alone

Play List

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

U.S. Monument to the Victims of the Tuscania and the Otranto Sinkings

This American First World War Monument is located on a 429 feet (131 meters) high cliff near the southern most point of  the Oa Peninsula on the Isle of Islay.  It was dedicated  in 1920 by the American Red Cross, and was designed by architect Robert Walker. The monument commemorates the loss of two troop ships in 1918, the Tuscania and the Otranto and the location overlooks the very spot where the Tuscania sank. The monument is built in the shape of a lighthouse and is visible from many areas on Islay.  

The Tuscania, a passenger liner, was on its way from New Jersey to the coast of France with 2,000 American soldiers and a crew of more than 300. At Halifax, Nova Scotia, they joined a convoy and entered the British waters between Islay and Northern Ireland on the 5th of February. The convoy was followed by a UB-77 German submarine which torpedoed the Tuscania. The direct hit on the Tuscania resulted in heavy damage, and she sank after a few hours, seven miles off the Islay coast near the Oa peninsula. An estimated 230 lives were lost in this tragedy.

Eight months later, on 6 October 1918, another tragedy occurred only a few miles from the place where the Tuscania sank. The HMS Otranto was carrying troops from New York to Glasgow when it collided with the steamship HMS Kashmir during a heavy storm. This tragedy took place not far from Machir Bay on Islay's west coast. Over 400 lives were lost, both British crew members and U.S. servicemen. 

The monument has two plaques. A large one on the east side of the monument, which looks like an entrance door, contains the following text:

Sacred to the immortal memory of those American Soldiers and Sailors who gave their lives for their country in the wrecks of the transports Tuscania (February 5th 1918) and Otranto (October 6th 1918). The monument was erected by the American Red Cross near the spot where so many of the victims of the disasters sleep in everlasting peace.

On Fame's Eternal camping ground
Their silent tents are spread
While Glory keeps with solemn round
The bivouac of the dead

This smaller plaque on the seaside in front of the monument reads:

A Tribute from Woodrow Wilson, President of the United States of America. To the memory of his fellow citizens who gave their lives for their country in nearby waters, 1918.

Source: Islay Tourism Website

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Our 1918 Centennial Recommended Reading List

Recommended Centennial Books

The Great War in 1918

Germany's Last Gamble: The Five Ludendorff Offensives

The German Offensives of 1918:
The Last Desperate Gamble

 by Ian Passingham

American Expeditionary 
Force's Battles in WWI

American Armies & Battlefields in Europe
from the ABMC

Turmoil in Russia: 
Revolution, Civil War, Intervention

Russia in Flames, War, Revolution: Civil War 1914–1921
by Laura Engelstein

The British Army's Final 
100-Day Campaign

Hundred Days: The Campaign That Ended World War I
by Nick Lloyd

Monday, November 27, 2017

Remembering a Veteran: Lt. Edouard Izac, USN, MOH

Naval Academy graduate and naval officer Edouard Izac’s remarkable odyssey began on 31 May 1918 when a German submarine torpedoed his ship, the USS President Lincoln, as it sailed near the coast of France. Most of the crew managed to escape, but Izac was captured and taken aboard the U-boat for the journey back to Germany. Unbeknownst to his captors, Izac was the son of German-speaking immigrants, and he used his knowledge of the language to collect vital information on German submarine operations.

Determined to get this intelligence to the Allies, Izac later made several failed escape attempts, including once diving out the window of a moving train. He finally pulled off a successful jailbreak in October 1918, when he scaled the barbed wire fence of his prison camp, stopping along the way to draw fire from the guards to allow other prisoners to flee. Izac spent the next several days sneaking through hostile territory and living off the land before swimming the Rhine River into the safety of neutral Switzerland. Though his information ultimately proved of little use so late in the war, he was awarded the Medal of Honor in 1920. Izak became a journalist in San Diego after the war and went on to serve several term as the district's congressman. At the time of his death in 1990, he was the last surviving Medal of Honor recipient from World War I.

Medal of Honor Citation: 

When the USS President Lincoln was attacked and sunk by the German submarine U-90, on 21 May 1918, Lt. Izac was captured and held as a prisoner on board the U-90 until the return of the submarine to Germany, when he was confined in the prison camp. During his stay on the U-90 he obtained information of the movements of German submarines, which was so important that he determined to escape, with a view to making this information available to the U.S. and Allied naval authorities. In attempting to carry out this plan, he jumped through the window of a rapidly moving train at the imminent risk of death, not only from the nature of the act itself but from the fire of the armed German soldiers who were guarding him. Having been recaptured and re-confined, Lt. Izac made a second and successful attempt to escape, breaking his way through barbed-wire fences and deliberately drawing the fire of the armed guards in the hope of permitting others to escape during the confusion. He made his way through the mountains of southwestern Germany, having only raw vegetables for food, and at the end, swam the River Rhine during the night in the immediate vicinity of German sentries.

Sources:  History Magazine Website; Home of Heroes

Sunday, November 26, 2017

Doughboy Basics: What Are the True Casualty Statistics for the AEF

For at least the last 10 years, in my publications and public talks about the American Expeditionary Forces in that Great War, I've made the point that the statics of American killed in the war  in official sources are understated, subject to misinterpretation, and used by some historians to downplay the contribution of U.S. forces to the final outcome..  When I say "official sources" there are three Federal agencies that  publish these numbers:  the Department of Veterans Affairs, the Congressional Research Service,  and the Defense Casualty Analysis System of the Department of Defense.  They all agree on the numbers for the First World War, and they array the numbers in a  fashion similar to the format as they use for all of the nation's wars, although sometimes with different notations. Below is the VA's version of the numbers with reference points for my ensuing discussion in brackets [ ].

World War I (1917-1918) [4]

  • Total U.S. Service Members (Worldwide): 4,734,991 [2]
  • Battle Deaths: 53,402   [3]
  • Other Deaths in Service (Non-Theater)  [1]: 63,114  [3]
  • Non-mortal Woundings: 204,002 

 [1]  "Non-Theater" is simply an error. Nearly 30,000 of this number were in the combat zones. About 82,000 to 83,000 of the Americans deployed overseas died in or en route to the European  or Russian Theaters in WWI.  My estimate is derived from the American Battle Monument Commission's records of how many individuals are buried or remembered as missing in their European cemeteries (35,429) vs. the number that families chose to have returned home for burial (46,000 to 47,000).  This latter figure is my own rough estimate, since there is no authoritative list of all the Americans, who died in the war.  (But help is on the way to pin down all these numbers more precisely and to develop a master ROLL OF HONOR listing all the American fallen in the war. More on this below.)

[2]  This grand total of those in uniform does not make clear how many of these men were deployed to the war's fighting zones. This contributes to some misinterpretations about where the wartime deaths occurred. For instance, a major confusion over American deaths in the war revolves around the Spanish Influenza Pandemic. A significant source of WWI casualties was the military training establishment stateside, where over 2 million men were still training for deployment overseas when the  Armistice occurred.  These camps would be the largest source of the 46,000 American military killed by the Spanish Influenza during the war.  And a question which follows is the extent of the flu casualties at home vs. on the battlefields.  It's only by anecdotal evidence and accounts that one can infer that the larger share of these deaths were stateside rather than overseas.

[3] These categories suggest that  the first number includes all the people that were killed fighting and that the "Other Deaths" were all due to non-combat issues, such as illness, accident, or suicide. This breakdown works for the men in the camps back home, since there was no combat involved, but it does not allow for cases such as these for the troops who saw combat.:

a.  A wounded man is successfully treated for his wounds, but develops an infection in the hospital and dies afterward. (battle or other?)

b. A soldier is gassed (71,345 Doughboys were gassed) and later develops flu (which attacked respiratory systems) and dies.  (battle or other?)

c.  After the front moves on, an engineer clearing the battlefield is killed "accidentally" by a previously unexploded shell.  (battle or other?)

[4]  These significance of these 1917-1918 dates are expanded upon in one of the accompanying notes:  "Includes air service. Battle deaths and wounds not mortal include casualties suffered by American forces in northern Russia to August 25, 1919, and in Siberia to April 1, 1920. Other deaths cover the period from April 1, 1917, to December 31, 1918."   In plain words, these compilations ceased counting any deaths (except for the men in Russia) after 31 December 1918.  This, of course,  excludes counting anyone who died of their wounds or war connected illness afterward.

Temporary Cemetery for U.S. 147th Infantry

These figures–by my understanding–leaves out  anyone who died of wounds after the cut-off date. Recall, the hero of Little Round Top, Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain, died of his war wounds in 1914, 49 years after the end of the Civil War.  Surely there were a significant (maybe huge) number of soldiers who died of wounds after leaving the service for both the Civil War and Great War. Maybe tracking down comprehensive data about such cases is simply impossible.  However, the accounting problem for the First World War has an error compounding factor. It has a sub-category of war wounded that exists for NO OTHER American wars — Gas Casualties. See [3]a above.  Fully 1/3 of the "Non-Mortal Woundings Category (71,345 of 204,002) suffered from gassing and survived past the 31 December 1918 statistical cut-off date.  Interestingly, only 1,462 deaths from gassing during the war were reported by the AEF's Surgeon General.

I am convinced after reading or being informed of dozens of cases of WWI veterans, who were gassed and later died premature deaths due to respiratory illness, that this is an ignored category of major losses that is unrecognized and, therefore, not included in casualty summaries.  The most famous such case is baseball great Christy Mathewson, who was gassed in a drill during the war and contracted tuberculosis and died after his return home.  I know such evidence is anecdotal and there are lots of potential statistical fallacies I can fall into, but I believe these numbers to be significant.

So, what is then answer to the question raised at the opening, "What Are the True Casualty Statistics for the AEF?"

My answer is that they cannot be finally determined exactly, but what has been presented as the final word on the matter needs a lot qualification.

1.  Forget about the Battle Deaths vs Other Deaths division. The distinction is foggy at best, and for the Great War, is further complicated by the singular use of gas as a weapon and by the Spanish Influenza.

2.  For historical clarity the more important distinction is Overseas vs. At Home.  The lives of the men who died stateside were just a precious as those who died on the Western Front.   It is important, however, to accurately report the degree of sacrifice of the AEF and the intensity of the fighting and adversity they faced.  I recall a documentary "talking head" saying something very close to: "Well the Americans didn't make much of a dent militarily in the war, they only lost 53,000 men, versus the millions of the other combatants."  (Forgive my imperfect memory, but I think I represent his point accurately.)  My response to him would be: "Well  professor, actually they lost over 80,000 men, mostly in the last six months of the  war when it was at its most desperate. And, by the way, they lost another 30,000+ back home who were getting ready to go Over There to fight but weren't needed.

3.  The postwar deaths from war-related causes, are by now probably undiscoverable, but should not be ignored. Possibly this is a structural issue in the way that America reports deaths in all its war. But, my instincts—for whatever they're worth tell me this could be an especially significant figure for the Doughboys.

To redo the table above in my style:

World War I (1917-1918) 

Total U.S. Service Members (Worldwide): 4,734,991
Deaths in War Theaters: 82,000-83,000 est. *
Deaths in Continental U.S.: 33,000-36,000 est.*
Non-mortal Woundings 204,002 


* Deaths due to service-connected wounds, illness, injury 
after 31 December 1918  not included in most cases 

Note:  The photo at the top of the page is of your editor at the grave of Nurse Helen Fairchild at the U.S. Somme Cemetery, Bony, France.

Postscript:  Help Is On the Way

San Antonio based author and World War One historian Scott R. Schoner is completing a 20-year project that will honor the men and women of the American Expeditionary Forces (A.E.F.) who made the ultimate sacrifice for our country. This listing of the  80,000+/- overseas war dead will span 3 volumes, and will be the first comprehensive record of its kind ever published. Previously prepared typewritten lists by the U.S. Army following the war were never published, and these lists also omit the sacrifices of the nearly 3,000 U.S. Marines who died in service in the 4th Marine Brigade, fighting alongside their Army compatriots. Schoner’s work will finally publish the names, units and dates of death of all known fatalities of the A.E.F.

With the centennial upon us, Scott is trying to get this work into print, and has launched a Kickstarter campaign to get some funding help.  Below is a link.  Please consider making a contribution to make this invaluable work available to research facilities and the American Public.