June 2006

Access Archives

TRENCH REPORT: Back from the Western Front. Beginning with this issue, the Trip-Wire will feature a number of images and reports on my first visit to the battlefields in three years. However, I must give tidings of two important cultural trends which became evident during our first few days in Paris. One is slightly gratifying, the other I find slightly ominous. First, the baseball cap has totally routed the beret. While the American ball caps are so prevelant they quickly become unnoticed, we did not spot a single beret during two weeks in France. No wonder our culture is felt to be so threatening by Europeans. Second--I missed the significance of this on its earlier pass through the States--but it's clear the next "BIG THING" heading back to our shores is Cow Art. Imagine your community invaded by hundreds of inscrutable, life-size ceramic cows with decorative schemes reflecting the entire post-Warhol history of art. It has a distinct "Easter Island" feeling to it. Here is specimen of what's coming our way. MH

This Month's Internet Feature
WWI's Influence on Today's Air Tactics and Doctrine

  • Boelke's Dicta
  • Douhet's Command of the Air Today
  • Control of the Air: Billy Mitchell [pdf file]
  • Aerial Targeting
  • A USAF F-15 Pilot on Air Tactics from the Great War On
  • RAF Squadron 54 Rules of Air Fighting

    The Real Deal

    Almost a Different World
    Smokers Were Everywhere in WWI

    Memorable Event

    Brusilov Offensive Opens

    General Alexei Brusilov

    June 4, 1916

    Click on Image for More Information

    New at the Websites of the Great War Society and Our Friends
    Click on Title to Access

    At Great War Society Sites At the WFA-USA

    Among the US Army officers who worked on the relief effort following the 1906 San Francisco Earthquake and Fire was Signal Corps Captain William Mitchell. (photo)

  • Charles Péguy: Socialist, Dreyfusard, Catholic Apologist, Epigrammist, Opponent of Jaurès, KIA at Opening of the Battle of the Marne, Villeroy, Sept 5, 1914.


    Verdun and Somme
    90th Commemorative Events

    Comprehensive Double Calendar

    Scheduled Throughout 2006 (link)
    WFA-USA Florida Gulf Chapter Seminar

    Hilton Garden Inn, Tampa North

    August 16 (link)
    WFA-USA New York/New England Chapter Seminar

    Hartford, Connecticut
    November 11th
    Armistice Day and the Great War Society

    An International View of the Great War With our Friends Jean- Pierre & Cecile Mouraux
    Sonoma, California

    Check back for Details
    November 11th
    Send additions/corrections:
    Email Response

    Media Events

    To mark the 90th anniversary of the Battle of the Somme London's Imperial War Museum is launching an on-line exhibition exploring the longest and most costly land battle in British history. A number of key items from the Museum's extensive First World War collection will be digitized and readily available to the wider public for the first time in this unique on-line display covering the Battle itself, the stories of the people involved and the battlefields today. (link). . .Thanks for all the positive feedback from those of you who saw my recent appearance on the History Channel program World War I Declassified. I agree with you who felt the main script was not too strong, but that we "talking heads" including Bob Doughty, Tom Fleming and Len Shurtleff held our own. . .Read a review by James Bowman on the French Christmas Truce film Joyeux Noel. (link)

    John T. Cornwell, HMS Chester
    Boy 1stCl,Youngest VC Recipient
    Died at Jutland, 2 June 1916

        The 1918 influenza viruses evolved their unique combination of high virulence and high transmissibility in the conditions at the Western Front of World War I. By transporting contagious flu patients into a series of tightly packed groups of susceptible individuals, personnel fostered transmission from people who were completely immobilized by their illness.
         Such conditions must have favored the predator-like variants of the influenza virus; these variants would have a competitive edge because they could ruthlessly exploit a person for their own replication and still get transmitted to large numbers of susceptible individuals. These conditions have not recurred in human populations since then and, accordingly, we have never had any outbreaks of influenza viruses that have been anywhere near as harmful as those that emerged at the Western Front.

    Paul W. Ewald, Evolutionary Biologist
    University of Louisville;
    Author, Plague Time

    The Recent Battlefield Tour Led by Editor Mike Hanlon Was Covered by Paris Newspaper, Le Parisien; Contributor Tony Langley Also Rendezvoused With Us at the Marne Museum in Villeroy
    Contact Mike if you would like information on next year's tour (email)
    Page Two

    Post Your World War I Stumper Here

    Long-time Great War Society member Peter Wood's mother Lilian served as a Volunteer Aid Detachment Nurse in the war. Proud of her service, Peter has been seeking to acquire one of the VAD medallions like Lilian is wearing in the photo on the right. The usual places to find such items, like EBay, have not proven helpful.

    Nurse Lilian Gardner (Wood)
    If you can help with this, please contact Peter Wood directly with your information. (email)


    June 1916:

    The battlefield grows smaller

    The Somme

    June 1916,

    Opening Barrage

    On the first of June the Germans struck at Fort Vaux and a siege of medieval proportions took place, with the attacking forces on the roof and round the ditches, and the French defenders inside. After seven days the garrison surrendered with military honours and the way was now clear to advance along the ridge towards Verdun which was overlooked by the next Fort, Souville.

    Click Here to See a Large
    Battlefield Map of Verdun

    But, at the same time on the Eastern Front, in far away Russia, Russian General Brusilov hit the Austrians very hard in Galicia and their front collapsed. The commanding Austrian General had to ask Falkenhayn for help and the only immediate help he could offer were the three assault divisions waiting behind Fort Vaux.

    Exterior of Ft. Vaux
    Off they went to Russia only to find that the situation was under reasonable control; so they came back. This charade effectively delayed the next leg of the Verdun offensive until the evening of June 22nd. On that day the Germans unleashed their new Green Cross (phosgene) gas, so named after the paint markings on the shells, and flooded the French infantry positions with it. They flooded the road joining Fort Souville through Fleury village to the Ouvrage de Thiaumont, very near to where the Jewish memorial stands today. They flooded the gun positions and early next morning it seemed that they might be successful.

    Attacking at dawn the mass of infantry crossed the Fleury road, swept over Thiaumont and on down that ridge to the Ouvrage of Froidterre. They took Fleury village and reached the edges of Fort Souville. And then they slowed down; the French gas masks were more efficient than the Germans believed they would be, the gas settled in the hollows in the ground, thus not affecting French artillery on higher ground which had now reorganized itself overnight??..and the Germans did not have enough gas to reach neutralize the French defence on the flanks of their attack. After a night of chaos the French had made a remarkable recovery and, under this pressure, the German attack stalled.

    Their depleted ranks returned to the Fleury road, releasing their hold on Froidterre and Souville. (As a matter of interest the Regimental Adjutant of the Prussian Jager Regiment, attacking in the centre of the line at Fleury was Oberleutant Paulus, who, in 26 years time, would lead the German IVth Army to destruction at Stalingrad.)

    The hot summer weather with its long daylight hours had now arrived and the battlefield seemed to contract into an area of about 4000 yards square centering about the vanished village of Fleury. The entire effort of the two armies was to take or to hold this small area massacred daily by artillery fire. The idea of slaughtering the French army at little cost to the Germans was long gone. All that was left now was personal survival in a foul stinking abattoir where a man?s life was worth nothing.
    They became hardened to hardship.

    Life in the trenches was long periods of boredom interspersed with moments of screaming fear. Life was dominated by "Stand To" at dawn and dusk when every man fixed bayonets and stood waiting for the never coming German attack. Life was dominated by the issue of the rum ration, by sentry duty, by the need for sleep and by never, never ending work. It was dominated by the need to be alert for snipers, for incoming mortars called miniewerfers, for incoming artillery, and by the thought of ?when can we be relieved into support positions, into reserve, anywhere out of this lousy place?. It was dominated by bad food, bad teeth, bad sanitary arrangements, lice, and fear.

    Click Here to See a Large
    Battlefield Map of the Somme

    Post delivery was excellent and news from home waited for with baited breath; it made life worth while when the Post corporal arrived. But soon it would all be over.

    The "Big Push" was being talked of and the lads had all seen the guns moving into position ready to destroy the Germans opposite. Their officers, through their NCO's, assured them that the guns would destroy the men and the trenches opposite and all they would have to do was "light their pipes, shoulder their rifles, and they would be able to walk to Berlin".

    There was talk of a great battle raging in Verdun. But this was what they had joined up for. When this lot was over they could all go home and boast that they had helped to end the war. The Germans didn't see things in this manner and for two years had dug busily into the hard chalk of the lovely rolling Somme countryside to make miniature cities underground far beyond the reach of the shelling of the British, and here they lived in reasonable safety and some comfort. Every day they practiced running up the steep stairs and ladders from the depths with their machine guns and setting them up on the parapets ready to beat off the invaders coming across No Mans Land.

    British Artillery at the Somme
    The British guns started firing in earnest on 24th June although the date for the assault had to be extended to July 1st. They fired approximately 1,750,000 shells, most of them shrapnel. The French guns fired a much larger proportion of heavy howitzer shells which the British did not yet have although their total effort had decreased appreciably because of the massive requirements of the Battle of Verdun, still roaring away to the east.

    The gunfire deafened the ears of the lads, and through their periscopes and sneaked looks over the top, they watched the german trenches disappearing in the smoke and shell bursts. Obviously nothing could live in that lot.

    As Saturday July 1st 1916 dawned, it was obviously going to be a glorious and hot day.

    If you would like to visit these fields of memory for a detailed tour, please email Tony Noyes or Christina Holstein to discuss your requirements without obligation.

    Page Three

    Our Interview Series With Notable
    Great War Authors
    This Month Featuring Award Winning Mystery Novelist Jacqueline Winspear

    Best Selling Author and Great War Society Member Jacqueline Winspear
    The fourth in the Trip-Wire's series with contemporary WWI writers, this interview features the author of the award winning Maisie Dobbs mystery novels. Maisie, if you haven't yet met her, served as a VAD Nurse on the Western Front and has found a postwar London career as an investigator and consulting psychologist. Remarkably, her most memorable cases seem to have a tie to the events of 1914-1918.
    Click here to read our interview with Jackie.

    World War I Veteran and Sleuth, Maisie Dobbs

    World War I Headlines
    in the
    21st Century

    Here's your grenade -- you want fries with that?

          Woman in B.C. rest home could be Britain's last living female veteran of the Great War

               President Asked to Intervene in Soledad Cross Conflict [WWI Memorial]

                     Montana Pardons WWI Seditionists

    Visit and Bookmark a New Site Dedicated to WWI in the News (link)

    Railroad Mounted Artillery [Possibly at Verdun]
    By Distinguished French War Artist Victor Tardieu

    Click Here to Visit War in a Different Light

    WWI Veterans Montgomery and Rommel Face-Off at El Alamein
    In Italian!

    By Andrew Melomet

    The second battle of El Alamein was fought between October 23, 1942 and November 4, 1942. General Bernard Montgomery commanded the British Eighth Army and was opposed by Field Marshall Irwin Marshall. Both Montgomery and Rommel were veterans of the First World War. Montgomery had served on the Western Front and was severely wounded in 1914. He then served as a staff officer for the remainder of the war. His Great War experience brought about a determination during the Second World War to win battles at a minimum cost in human life. In this, he was not alone, no wartime commander who had witnessed the horror of the prolonged ineffectual battles of the First World War wished to repeat the experience.

    Rommel joined the German Army in July 1910. By the end of the First World War he was a captain and had been awarded the Pour le Mérite. In 1937, Rommel published Infanterie Greift An: Erlebniss und Erfahrungen (Infantry Attacks, English edition). In his book he drew upon his experiences to provide lessons for infantry commanders. A brilliant tactician, Rommel was well suited to desert warfare.

    The war in North Africa has been the topic of numerous movies: Desert Victory, The Desert Fox, The Desert Rat, Rats of Tobruk, etc. Two movies from Italy are currently available on DVD, The Battle of El Alamein (La Battaglia di El Alamein, 1969) and El Alamein: The Line Of Fire (El Alamein: La Linea Del Fuoco, 2002).

    The Battle Of El Alamein from Marengo Films (www.marengofilms.com) tells the story from the view of an Italian Army Bersaglieri Unit assigned to Rommel's Afrika Corps. Of particular interest is the portrayal of Montgomery by Michael Rennie and Rommel by Robert Hossein. Rennie is probably about a head taller that the real Montgomery and his Montgomery is arrogant and cold-hearted, an almost hissable villain. Rommel is presented in a more sympathetic light and is even seen having a somewhat anachronistic meeting in a rowboat with Admiral Canaris to plot against Hitler. The Italians are presented as brave but foolishly involved in a war seemingly not of their making. The armored fighting vehicles used in the movie are a combination of authentic World War II and postwar vintage. The DVD from Marengo Films is dubbed and offers a non-anamorphic wide-screen presentation that runs 96 minutes. This is the best looking version of The Battle Of El Alamein I have ever seen.

    El Alamein: The Line Of Fire from Wellspring Media (www.geniusproducts.com) also focuses on a group of Italian soldiers stationed on Rommel's right flank during the battle. It takes a more realistic look at the travails of the common front line soldier in the desert-dysentery, lack of water, extreme daytime heart, bone chilling nights, in addition to the constant threat of enemy artillery, snipers, mines, etc. This is a superior production in comparison to The Battle Of El Alamein. It won three Italian Academy Awards and is a very powerful, if eventually predictable film. The DVD offers a 16x9 2.35:1 presentation with a 5.1 sound mix. Filmed in the deserts of Morocco, it looks and sounds superb. There is a certain Rosencrantz & Guildenstern atmosphere to both releases: these Italian soldiers are actors on a larger stage without a clue as to what's going on

    Andrew Melomet, Proprietor of Andy's Nickelodeon will answer your Great War film or video inquiry. He is also soliciting your recommendations for the WWI Filmography he is compiling for our readers. Just click HERE.

    The following are thanked for their contributions to this issue of the Trip Wire:Gary Van Loon Sidney Clark, Christina Holstein, Bob Denison, Bob Ford, Tony Noyes, Esther MacCallum-Stewart, Andy Melomet, Len Shurtleff. Until next month, your editor, Mike Hanlon.

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