February 2012

Access Archives

February 1912
The Haldane Mission

Lord Haldane

The Haldane Mission was a diplomatic visit to Berlin undertaken by the British secretary of state for war, Lord Richard Burdon Haldane. During the mission, which lasted from 8 to 11 February 1912, British ruling circles sought to explore possibilities for a British-German agreement that would recognize British naval superiority. If Germany would cease to compete with Britain in building up naval armaments, the British government was prepared to satisfy some of Germany's colonial demands in Africa. The Germans sought to conclude a separate British-German agreement pledging each side to neutrality should the other find itself involved in a war; such an agreement would have amounted to Great Britain's withdrawal from the Entente. No agreement was reached, however. Lord Haldane's negotiations with the German imperial chancellor, Theobold von Bethmann-Hollweg, underlined the profound differences between Great Britain and Germany and led to an intensification of their naval rivalry. From the Free Dictionary
TRENCH REPORT: All quiet on the Western Front. (Other than the fact that I've spent every day since New Years Day working on the new WW1HA Journal and website.) More on these projects next month. MH

New at Our Own & Our Friends' Great War Websites

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News About the Organizational Website(s)

All the former websites of the WFA-USA and TGWS are being consolidated at the new site of the World War One Historical Association where you can download a mail-in membership registration form:
We have implemented a PayPal registration feature for those who wish to pay online. The larger consolidation process will take several months, but all critical information will always be accessible at their new addresses (URLs). For those pages being moved to the new site we will also provide email contacts for those who may have questions. Below is a list of our scheduled activities with contacts:

  • San Francisco Bay Area Chapters (website)
    The Bay Area three chapters have meeting on one or more Saturdays every month. See the schedule on the above website or contact Sal Compagno at:
    email: sal00@mindspring.com

  • New England/New York Chapter Seminar (website)
    New England Air Museum
    Windsor Locks, CT - 10 March 2012
    Contact: Guy Cavallaro
    email: Ph1m2h3@aol.com
    tel: 845-485-8217

  • Florida-Gulf Chapter Seminar (program in pdf format)
    War on the Eastern Fronts
    Tampa: 16-17 March 2012
    Contact: Len Shurtleff
    email: lshurtleff@aol.com
    tel: 352-379-3200

  • WW1HA National Seminar
    USMC University, Quantico
    7-8 Sept. 2012
    Contact: Carol Vandenbruhl
    email: cvandenbruhl@netscape.net
    tel: 248-471-2366

  • Next Issue of
    Over the Top

    Online magazine of the
    First World War
    All of our back issues with many special extra features on CDs can now be purchased through PayPal.

    (downloadable flyer)

    Flags of the Central Powers

    From Top-Left, Clockwise: Austria-Hungary, Germany, Bulgaria, Ottoman Empire
    We are redesigning our Events Calendar. See left column for World War One Association Activities. Please keep sending us announcements, they will be included when we unveil the new calendar.
    Send additions/corrections for our 2012 schedule:
    Email Response

    This Month's Internet Feature


    One of the most feared weapons of war, ignited flame devices were used as early as 1914 in the Argonne sector, and flamethrowers of the modern type were used by the German Army around Verdun in 1915.

  • Introductory Article

  • How Flamethrowers Work

  • Short YouTube Video on WWI Flamethrowers

  • The Terror of the Flame Projector (1916 illustrated articles)

  • British Flamethrowers at the Somme

  • The Battle at Fismette, When U.S. Forces Faced German Flamethrowers

    The 2nd Division of the AEF, which was almost half filled with U.S. Marines and their officers was an incubator for future commandants of the Marine Corps. The list includes Lemuel C. Shepherd, Jr. and Clifton B. Cates, both seriously wounded as junior officers, and Thomas Holcomb, Wendell C. Neville, and John A. Lejeune, who held more senior commands.

    Origin of Lenin's "Sealed Train"

    23 March 1917
    Prominent revolutionaries here wish to return to Russia via Germany, since they are afraid to go via France because of U-boats.

    Baron Romberg, German Ambassador in Bern, Switzerland
    Cable to Ministry of Foreign Affairs

  • Page Two


    Nelson LaClair's Children

    (Late Breaking Story!)

    From St. Mihiel to New Hampshire

    Just as we were going to press, a wonderful story broke in the Concord Monitor. French battlefield guide Thierry Maquet was recently leading a group over the St. Mihiel battlefield where the 26th "Yankee" Division of the AEF had been fighting on 12 September 1918. There he discovered an American dog tag belonging to Pvt. Nelson LaClair of the 103rd Infantry (26th Division). When his preliminary research showed Thierry that Pvt. LaClair had survived the war, he proceeded to track the former National Guardsman back to New England, and to his American Legion post in New Hampshire, who helped him contact the family. In the photo above are two of Nelson's five (of 10) surviving children, Francis LaClair (left) and his sister, Mary Annette Cleveland, who are thrilled about reconnecting with their family's heritage. Read the story "Back from the Battlefield" here: (link)

    Comments on the Film War Horse from Trip-Wire Reader and Author Jacqueline Winspear

    To the Editor and Readers of the Trip-Wire

    I had already read War Horse by Michael Morpugo years ago, and thought it excellent, as the story seemed to be pitch perfect for the age range it was intended for--children/young adult. Morpugo wrote the book for younger readers to give a sense of what war is all about, and chose to do it through the story of a horse who was enlisted. Of those requisitioned for battle duties during the 1914-18 war, almost 500,000 from Britain alone were killed, one for every two men lost in the combined British and Commonwealth armies. It was an edgy book with a grand tale well told--and without being sappy.

    Horse "Puppets" from the Stage Production
    Two years ago I went to see the stage production in London, and I was just amazed. Within seconds you forgot the horses were really very sophisticated puppets, and you believed them to be real--again, every aspect of the production was pitch perfect. Audience attention never faltered, and the play gave a sense of the cost of the Great War and never slipped into gratuitous emotional string pulling. The lighter moments were not so light as to be flippant and distracting, which happened in the movie. I had great hopes for the film, but I have to say I was so very disappointed.

    Much was lost in the film in order to gain the greater audience offered by a PG13 designation--one hardly had a sense that this was a war that cost the lives of some ten million men (Historian Niall Ferguson puts combined military and civilian losses at approximately 18 million). There were several potentially very poignant moments that were spoiled by overwrought emotion in dialogue, cinematography, and musical sound-track. One of the most significant scenes--when the British soldier met a German in no-mans-land to free the horse entangled in barbed wire--was diminished by the addition of humor--after German called for another wire cutter, about half a dozen came flying over the parapet. This slapstick to elicit laughs from the audience was a real waste of a pivotal point in the story.

    For those unfamiliar with the book and, especially, the stage production, the film will be touching and perhaps heart-wrenching. A few early reviewers thought Steven Spielberg had rushed the film production, to meet the deadline for release to be an Oscar contender. If that's so, it's a shame, though to be fair, Spielberg cannot tell a bad story. Years ago I asked a friend if she'd enjoyed the movie adaptation of The Horse Whisperer, which had just been released; at that point I had yet to see it. She was thoughtful then said, "You know, it was a good movie -- but it could have been a great movie." I feel the same way about War Horse -- especially as I am both a horse-lover and deeply interested in the social history of the Great War. It was a good movie -- but it could have been a really great movie.

    This is a photo I took at the Lochnagar Crater during one of my visits to the battlefields of the Western Front. As you know the crater is generally festooned with poppies and wreaths left by visitors. This wreath was dedicated to the horses and animals who gave their lives in the Great War, and to the Royal Veterinary Corps who cared for them. That was another thing about the movie--a cameo appearance by members of the Corps would have been nice. After all, if my memory serves me well, they were in the book. For those interested to read about a real equine hero of the war, I can recommend Warrior, by General Jack Seely. It has recently been published in a new edition, and tells the story of "The horse the Germans could not kill." It's a pretty amazing story about a brave--and morale boosting--war horse. And though it means skipping over a war or two, there is always that true American war horse heroine, Reckless, whose courage under fire led to the mare being promoted to staff sergeant after the Korean War. (link)]

    Jackie Winspear

    [Readers are probably aware that Jackie is the author of the best-selling series of WWI mysteries featuring that V.A.D. nurse turned sleuth, Maisie Dobbs. I would be interested in publishing a contrary discussion of War Horse, if you would like to send it to me. (link)]

    Answer: It is near the sites of several of the notable victories of Australian forces in France.

    On 21 March 1918, after massing forces for one last offensive on the Western Front, the German Army staged a stunning breakthrough of the British lines in the St. Quentin area near Péronne, France. Their intention was to drive a wedge between the British Empire and French forces on the Western Front and capture key ports. The British were forced back across the old Somme battlefields of 1916. To the south, French divisions also fell back and reinforcements were rushed in. The Australian Corps, north of the German breakthrough, was ordered south to assist British and Canadian forces. Over the next month the 2nd, 3rd, 4th, and 5th Australian Divisions fought at a number of locations in the area of the Ancre and Somme rivers. One of the key battles was by the 5th Division at Villers-Bretonneux on 24-25 April 1918.

    Villers-Bretonneux was a key position, sitting on a plateau overlooking the lower area of the Somme, Avre, and Noye rivers. On 4 April, the Germans reached Monument Wood, on the edge of Villers- Bretonneux. Among those facing the enemy were Australians of the 9th Brigade. When it looked as if the shattered village might fall, troops of its 36th Battalion charged and the Germans at Monument Wood retreated. The line in this sector was then secured for the time being.

    On 17-18 April, after battles elsewhere, the Germans again began focussing on Villers-Bretonneux. German artillery lobbed mustard gas shells into the woods and gullies behind the township, inflicting over 1,000 casualties on Australian and British forces. Over the next few days, British divisions took over this sector but at dawn on 24 April the Germans again attacked strongly and in spite of intense fighting, Villers-Bretonneux fell. That day, British and German tank crews engaged in the first ever tank duel -- one of the German tanks, Mephisto, was later captured and is a prized exhibit at the Queensland Museum, a unique tangible link to this historic battle. British commanders planned an immediate counterattack as they needed to recapture Villers-Bretonneux before the Germans could complete their defensive works. The 13th and 15th Brigades, making up two-thirds of the 5th Australian Division, were given the task. The brigade commanders, Brigadier Generals William Glasgow and Harold "Pompey" Elliott, ordered to attack the village frontally in daylight, refused. It most likely would have failed and the casualty count would have been high. As Glasgow declared, "If God Almighty gave the order, we couldn't do it by daylight."

    Many doubted the counterattack could succeed. One infantryman wrote that it was "an almost impossible proposition." The Australian official historian, Charles Bean, who was nearby, scrawled in his diary: "I don't believe they have a chance." The 13th Brigade assembled for the main assault to start at 10 P.M., earlier than Glasgow wanted. The Germans spotted his troops assembling and began firing from the heights. As the Australians advanced, they came under heavy machine-gun fire from woodlands. Sergeant Charlie Stokes, 51st Battalion, urged his platoon commander, Lieutenant C.W.K. Sadlier, to deviate from the plan and enter the wood to disable the machine-guns. They destroyed six machine-gun posts in quick succession, enabling the advance to continue. For their initiative, leadership and gallantry, Stokes was awarded the Distinguished Conduct Medal and Sadlier the Victoria Cross. On the other side of Villers-Bretonneux, to the north, the 15th Brigade also advanced.

    Villers-Bretonneux After the April Battles

    The troops pushed hard to move past the village and, in a classic pincer movement, link up with the 13th Brigade to encircle the village and trap German troops holding it. In the darkness and confusion of battle, the 13th Brigade was not able to reach its final objective, pulling back slightly to consolidate. This meant the village was not completely encircled and some German troops managed to escape. After daylight, the Australians pushed on and filled the gap, encircling and liberating the village. It never again, during World War I, fell into enemy hands.

    The capture of Villers-Bretonneux with such speed and finesse astounded troops on both sides. It was another shattering blow to the Germans, whose last great offensive faltered. A British observer described it as "perhaps the greatest individual feat of the war" up to that time. The cost to Australia was some 2,500 men killed or wounded. On 4 July the Australian Corps with a little American help would capture the village of Hamel, just north of Villers-Bretonneux in General Monash's tactical masterpiece. And in August, they would launch their component of the successful Battle of Amiens from the sector.

    Australian Soldiers and a British Tank, 8 August 1918

    At the conclusion of the First World War, the Australian Government approved the erection of a National Memorial at Villers- Bretonneux to commemorate the deeds of the Australian Imperial Forces on the Western Front.

    Owing principally to the financial situation during the depression years, the construction of the memorial was delayed. The memorial was eventually dedicated on 8 August 1938 by King George VI of England, in the presence of the Queen, the president of France, Monsieur Albert Le Brun, Australia's deputy prime minister Sir Earl Page and General Lord Birdwood, commander of pperations at Gallipoli. The Memorial consists of a great central tower flanked by wing walls carrying panels commemorating the 10,772 Australian casualties who died in France and who have no known grave.

    The Villers-Bretonneux area again became a battlefield during the Second World War and the memorial was extensively damaged. The two stone pavilions situated at the end of each wing of the structure were hit by shellfire and some of their columns were broken. The walls, inscribed with the names of fallen Australian soldiers were very pitted and some obliterated. (From the Australian Office of War Graves)

    World War I Headlines
    in the 21st Century

    Sebastian Faulks Remembers How His WWI Novel Birdsong Was Inspired. (New BBC movie coming!)

           Mark IV Replica Tank from War Horse Goes to Bovington

              Review of The Great Silence By Juliet Nicolson

                 Irish to Join Together in Remembering the Somme

                     A Forgotten Red Cross Rescue Mission


    Apparently every artist and illustrator in Imperial Germany except Adolf Hitler felt compelled to produce a portrait of the sombre field marshal. Here is a selection from Tony Langley's collection.

    Click Here to Read a Contemporary Article Skeptical of the Hindenburg "Cult"

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    Page Three

    Access to In-Depth Articles
    From the Papers of the Chicago Literary Club

    Click on the image to download the 27-page PDF document.

    The Real Deal

    Lifeboat from the Torpedoed USS Covington, July 1918

    USS Covington, a 16,339-gross-ton transport, was built at Danzig, Germany, in 1908 as the passenger liner Cincinnati. When World War I broke out in August 1914 the German-flag ship took refuge in U.S. waters and was seized at Boston, Massachusetts, when the United States entered the conflict in April 1917. She was later turned over to the Navy, renamed Covington, and placed in commission in late July.

    In the evening of 1 July 1918, while en route back to the U.S. on the return leg of her sixth trooping voyage, USS Covington was torpedoed by the German submarine U-86. She floated through the night and was taken in tow by tugs sent out from Brest but sank on the afternoon of 2 July. (From the U.S. Navy Historical Center)

    The Habsburg Monarchy
    by Robin Okey

    Reviewed by Len Shurtleff

    This scholarly history traces the course of the Habsburg monarchy in Austria and Hungary from 1765 to its demise in 1918. The first chapters of the book deal with the dynastic empire from 1785 through the revolutionary upheavals of 1848-49 to the Compromise of 1867. The second section covers the dual constitutional monarchy of Austria-Hungary from the Compromise 1867 to dissolution in 1918.

    The author describes in some detail the cultural, social, political, and economic developments leading to the creation of the Dual Monarchy following the domestic political upheavals of 1848 and military defeats (at the hands of France and Germany) in 1859 and 1866. The industry of the polyglot monarchy expanded substantially after 1867 as did agricultural production. The constitutional monarchy led steady expansion of the franchise and creation of national parliaments in many of the constituent kingdoms.

    However, as Austria-Hungary entered the 20th century, earlier calls for linguistic and cultural autonomy were transformed into pressure for national independence among the various Slavic peoples increasingly resentful of German-Austrian or Magyar domination.

    Indeed, the author finds the impetus for the Austro-Hungarian decision for war in 1914 in domestic politics, principally the fear of Slavic nationalism and certain fatalism on the part of the monarchy's ruling elites. The war, however, did not lead immediately to dissolution. Though Austrian chief of staff Conrad made several major strategic and tactical errors in 1914 and 1915, the Habsburg system proved remarkably efficient and resilient until 1916. Initially, industrial, raw material and agricultural production increased. Eventually, however, the Allied blockade and massive battle casualties eroded the monarchy's ability to sustain war.

    (Left: Otto von Habsburg, shown with his great great uncle, Emperor Franz Josef, was the last Crown Prince of Austria- Hungary. He died in July 2011.)

    By the end of 1915, the Dual Monarchy had lost over two million men dead or permanently disabled and was obliged to accept German military domination. Within 18 months of the death of Emperor Franz Joseph in 1916, the Austro-Hungarian Dual Monarchy had ceased to exist destroyed by the dual afflictions of fissiparous nationalism and military defeat. The fact that this experiment in multinational politics failed to develop into a democratic federation is hardly surprising since no such political entity exists to this day.

    The Habsburg Monarchy: From Enlightenment to Eclipse, Robin Okey, St. Martin's, 2001, ISBN 978-0312233754.

    Thanks to each and every one of you who has contributed material for this issue. Until next month, your editor, Mike Hanlon.
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    For further information on the events of 1914-1918 and membership information visit the Directory Pages of:

  •      The World War One Historical Association

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