May & June 2008

Access Archives

TRENCH REPORT: It's finally caught up with me. My battlefield tours and my publishing efforts have begun to overlap and collapse on top of me. Later this month I'll be leading a group of 22 Western Front explorers (2/3 of whom are Trip-Wire subscribers) on a twelve-day expedition. I've concluded I won't be able to focus on turning out another edition of the newsletter while looking after the travelers. So this is our first two-month edition in over five years of publication. The next issue will be coming on the 1st of July. However, you don't need to go "cold turkey". Remember all of our past issues are available for reading. Just click on "Access Archives" at the top of the latest page.  MH

This Month's Internet Feature
Flamethrowers (Flammenwerfers)

  • How Flamethrowers Work

  • Flamethrower: Weapon of War

  • Flamethrower Construction and Chemistry

  • Photos of Flamethrowers in WWI [and Gas]

  • Book: German Flamethrower Pioneers of WWI[Commercial site]

    The Real Deal

    Surgery at BEF Veterinary Hospital, Calais

    New at Our Own & Our Friends' Great War Websites

    Click on Title or Icon to Access

    Check Out the Initial 2008 Covers For
    Over the Top

    On-line magazine of the
    First World War
    A Great Gallipoli Site At Great War Society Sites At the WFA-USA

    Captured German Tank
    Last month marked the 90th anniversary of the first tank vs. tank action in history. On April 24, 1918 a German AV7 destroyed two female British Mark IVs but later received his comeuppance from some of their brothers.

    All that is needed to understand World War I in its philosophical and historical meaning is to examine barbed wire--a single strand will do--and to meditate on who made it, what it is for, why it is like it is.

    James Dickey, Interview

  • Ambiguous Image from German Magazine Lustige Blätter
    Is the flirtation innocent or is business being negotiated?
    Is the boy a younger brother or a Gypsy "business agent?"


    WFA-USA National Seminar
    Carlisle Barracks, PA

    America's Great War -
    America's Great Warriors

    September 12-14 2008  (information)
    Western Front Association
    U.S. Branch Chapter Meetings

    Check for Your Region
    Regularly Updated
    Great War Society Monthly Chapter Meetings

    Berkeley, San Francisco and Palo Alto, CA
    Regularly Updated
    Send additions/corrections:
    Email Response

    Memorable Event

    The Yanks To the Front

    On the Attack at Cantigny &
    Blocking the Road To Paris
    At Château-Thierry

    May 28-31, 1918

    Click on Image To Learn More

    Media & Events

    War Poetry Contest:
    Seventh year. Fifteen cash prizes totaling $5,000. Top prize $2,000. Submit 1-3 unpublished poems on the theme of war, up to 500 lines in all. Winning entries published online. More information: (link)

    Red Baron Film
    German war hero the Red Baron has been celebrated in a new film, which premiered in Berlin in April to a mixed reception. (link)

    Where is this canal?
    I'm stumped. Provider of correct answer will receive a postcard from my world famous Western Front postcard collection. The troops on the right are British, by the way. (email)

    Under the Menin Gate, Ypres

    Fire Brigade Buglers Who Sound Last Post at the Menin Gate Every Evening With
    GWS Treasurer Bob Denison (Yes, Bob Really Is 6'-7")

    Want to Visit the Battlefields?
    Click Here for News on Travel Opportunities

    Page Two
    Gone West

    Yakup Satar, last Turkish WWI veteran, died on 2 April. Born in the Crimea, Satar was the son of a Tatar tribal chief. He signed up in 1915 with the Ottoman Army, worked with the Germans, notably on gas weapons, and was captured in 1917 in what is now Iraq.

    Click Here to See the Worldwide List of Surviving WWI Veterans

    A Forgotten Battlefield

    By Christina Holstein

    In France the area between the eastern side of the St. Mihiel Salient and the Vosges Mountains is largely overlooked by battlefield visitors, and its rolling hills and quiet villages do not feature in many guidebooks. However, it is an area that saw fierce action in the early weeks of 1914, and although superseded in popular imagination by the later 'great names' of the Western Front, the battles fought there set the stage for later events and were the scene of great casualties and destruction. In Nomeny, for example, a little town on the salty River Seille, where four French infantry regiments barred the road to Nancy, losing 1000 men as they did so, the town was plundered and burned by the Bavarians. A poignant memorial by the river commemorates the 73 civilian victims of the dreadful event, the youngest being a little boy of three. Just across the bridge, the town war memorial--which features a dramatic statue of a soldier clasping the French flag as he falls--lists another 58 men. It is hard to imagine today the effect of such losses on such a small place. Did it ever revive?

    A. Nomeny War Memorial
    B. Nomeny Civilian Memorial
    C. Grand Couronné
    D. Manhoué

    That was 20th August 1914. Similar events occurred in a number of other nearby villages, and the fighting continued into September as the Germans pushed on toward the city of Nancy. The range of hills to the north of Nancy is known as the Grand Couronné, and on them the French stopped the advancing Germans. The main monument to the fighting is to be found at Ste. Genevieve, a tiny hilltop place, obviously entirely rebuilt, with views that stretch for miles in all directions. It had to be held by the French and it was. In those days, Ste. Genevieve was in France, but the border with German-occupied Lorraine was only a few miles away. At Manhoué, a traditional village that cannot have changed much over the years, stands a memorial to the first two Great War Frenchmen to fall on the soil of German-occupied Lorraine. On 7 August 1914, the 26th Infantry, a local French regiment, pushed across the border into Manhoué and in an exchange of fire Soldiers Chretien and Ganayre were killed. The high-spirited inscription on the monument commemorating the event refers to them as 'the first two lads" of the 26th Infantry to fall on the soil of Lorraine. It is an unusual word to use on a monument. Were they the wild boys of the regiment, always ready for a scrap, determined to be first on occupied soil? The regimental history does not mention the event but their monument stands just a few feet inside the old border and it is easy to imagine them racing toward it, yelling and cheering, their bright red trousers making them a perfect target for any German guns in the area.

    Uniforms of the Early War Period From British and German Magazines

    Click Here to Visit War in a Different Light

    Carl Skidmore's Family Learns of His Death

    Private Carl Beard Skidmore, USMC, 74th Company, 6th Regiment, 2nd Division was part of the initial assault on 1 November 1918 in the Argonne as the 1st Battalion led the line of battalions against the Germans. He was severely wounded in the abdomen and thigh and died later that day while being treated at Mobile Hospital #2.

    Before the family was notified of his death they received a Christmas coupon that was postmarked November 18th. The Christmas coupon topic was discussed in many of the letters sent from Carl's mother beginning at least on October 15th. "Have you sent the coupon that we have got to have to send you a Xmas box? If we don't have the label from you we can't send you one. The Gen(eral) of the Marines are supposed to give each of his men a coupon the same as the men in the Army."

    But shortly after receiving the long awaited coupon, they received notification that he had died on November 1. Because of the overlapping dates they now held out hope that it was a mistake. On December 16th Carl's father, Morris W. Skidmore, wrote to the officer who censored the letter from Carl with the Christmas coupon in the hope that he was simply missing in action and was still alive. Carl's mother had written to him on November 4th and November 14th believing he was still alive. Obviously, the card postmarked November 18th reinforced their belief that he was still alive.

    The Skidmore family continued writing the authorities hoping of finding Carl was either missing in action or somehow lost in the system. At the end of January, however, they received this letter from Marine Corps Headquarters:


    Your communication of December 16th addressed to the Navy Department has been referred to this office.

    In reply, you are informed that our records show that Private Carl B. Skidmore died from wounds received in action on November 1st. This information was derived from an official cable received from abroad, and is, without doubt, authentic.

    It is believed that the reason that you received his Christmas coupon, is because these coupons were, in a great many cases, made out by the boys prior to November.

    I sincerely trust that the knowledge that your son nobly and unselfishly gave his life in the services of his country will comfort you to a great extent in your great sorrow.

    C A Kitchan
    Captain, Assistant Adjutant & Inspector

    Carl's Final Resting Place, Jefferson, New York (L)
    Temporary Grave in France (R)

    Contributed by Frank H. Skidmore, Jr.

    1918 on The Western Front
    By Tony Noyes


    Operation Blücher-Yorck

    Ludendorff's third hammerblow fell in early morning May 27th along the hills of the Chemin des Dames. It rejoiced in the name of the Blücher-Yorck offensive, and at its maximum it spread a distance of 50 miles east to west and with a 25 mile north to south penetration, reaching Belleau Wood and Château-Thierry. The Germans had been forced off the Chemin des Dames during operations between Apriland October 1917, when they relinquished the Fort of Malmaison. They retreated across the Aillette River to the next range of hills, whence the offensive came on that early morning, heralded by a five-hour, wonderfully orchestrated artillery barrage designed by Colonel Brüchmuller. It was believed that the sound of millions and millions of mating frogs (!) in the river had drowned the noise of some of the preparations.

    In the preceding battles of the Somme and the Lys many British units had been decimated. The five British divisions moved to the Marne sector had all previously been in action, and were badly in need of a rest and refit, which was offered to them in the sylvan landscape of the Chemin des Dames. Unfortunately, the French general, Duchêne, under whose command they came, was an irascible, evil-tempered man who could not be told anything by anybody. He insisted that the British lines be held along the razorback ridge with little reserve or artillery that could be reasonably used. The opening barrage broke the French territorial division on the British left, and the Germans were able to turn the British left flank. The result was that the British lines unpeeled from the left, and the divisions were forced to retreat back to the Aisne River, where few men escaped. The two units just south of the river were able to escape and formed a new eastern flank to the north of Rheims, living to fight another day.

    This particular battle of the Aisne lasted until June 6th, by which time the Germans were halted "on the road to Paris" at Belleau Wood by the U.S. Marines of the 2nd U.S. Division and at Château-Thierry by the 3rd U.S. Division. Their stories will be told next month.

    The Allies suffered 127,000 killed, wounded, and captured in this latest German assault including 35,000 British. The cumulative losses for the British since March totaled 170,000 and it forced Lloyd-George, the British prime minister, to recognize that a large proportion of the reserve army still sitting in the UK had to be released to Field Marshal Haig, despite Lloyd George's distrust of the man. As of 1st June, four American divisions had been in France since the end of 1917, and another 15 had now arrived, almost all of which were in desperate need of training and acclimation. By the Armistice there would be 42, although not all would see action.

    If you are travelling to Europe and would like to visit these fields of memory for a detailed tour, please contact experienced guides Tony Noyes or Christina Holstein at Verdun Tours

    Subscribe to Our New On-Line Magazine

    Page Three

    Borrowed Soldiers:
    American Under British Command, 1918
    By Mitchell A. Yockelson

    Reviewed by Len Shurtleff

    This is a superbly crafted analysis of the campaigns of the United States II Corps, the 27th and 30th Divisions, in Flanders at Mount Kemmel and then along the Somme. It was these divisions that, despite suffering heavy casualties, broke through the Hindenburg Line along the St. Quentin Canal between Vandhuille and Bellicourt in late September 1918. Fighting under command of the Lt. General Sir John Monash's Australian and New Zealand (ANZAC) Corps, the two divisions continued to advance in attacks along the Selle River that extended into October 1918.

    Originally created to coordinate several divisions assigned to the British for training, II Corps was reduced in mid-1918 to an administrative headquarters overseeing only two AEF divisions, the 27th and 30th. Its commanding officer, Major General George W. Read, sensibly ceded tactical command to the British. He had neither the personal expertise nor the staff to exercise tactical control. Despite some misunderstandings, under this arrangement II Corps troops were better led, better armed and better fed than the run- of-the-mill AEF formation. The men were armed with British SMLE rifles and Lewis guns, supported entirely by BEF artillery, fed by the British commissary and often tended by the Royal Medical Corps. Some soldiers even wore British uniforms when their American ones wore out.

    Several other things are unique about these two divisions. Both were National Guard units topped off with draftees before theirdeployment overseas that began in February 1918. The 27th Division was made up of New York state Guardsmen, the 30th (Old Hickory Division) of Guardsmen from Tennessee, North and South Carolina. Once deployed to Europe, they were neither reinforced with artillery nor were their losses replaced with fresh troops. Thus, unlike other National Guard divisions, they never lost their regional character. Also, as alluded to above, these were the only divisions entirely trained, armed and supplied by the British. Finally, the 27th Division was the only AEF division to be commanded from start to finish by a career National Guard officer, Major General John F. O'Ryan, a New York lawyer and long-service graduate of the Command and General Staff College who was well respected by his professional army peers. While Yockelson does not minimize the frictions inevitable between Americans and British soldiers, he does emphasize the largely positive aspects of the amalgamation.

    King George V and Commanding General Edward Lewis Inspecting Troops of the 30th Division

    As one might expect, II Corps performance in battle was sometimes spotty, though their discipline was strong. Plagued with a steep learning curve and a shortage of trained officers and NCOs, poor battlefield communications and confusion over conflicting tactical doctrines pressed on them by British trainers and American staff officers, they sometimes failed. Nonetheless, the author rates their performance as equal that of the best AEF divisions, the 1st, 2nd and 26th, particularly in action against a stubborn and expert defense mounted by the Germans at the Hindenburg Line along the St. Quentin Canal in the final 100 days battles of 1918.

    Those who travel to the Western Front will recall seeing monuments to the II Corps near Vierstraat Belgium and at Bellicourt, France. Many of the two divisions' dead are buried at the Somme American Cemetery at Bony. Others, whose bodies were never identified, are memorialized at the Flanders Field American Cemetery in Belgium. In one respect, these are monuments to coalition warfare marking successful cooperation and collaboration that cemented the Anglo-American alliance through two world wars and beyond.

    Borrowed Soldiers: American Under British Command, 1918, Michell A. Yockelson, Oklahoma, 2008, 308 + xx pages, photos, maps, appendices, ISBN 978 0 8061 3919 7, $29.95 cloth. The author is an archivist at the National Archives, a history instructor at Annapolis, and a frequent speaker at Western Front Association seminars.

    World War I Headlines
    in the
    21st Century

    New Book on Russo-Polish War of 1920

       Muslim Graves Desecrated in WWI Cemetery

          Zeppelins Over London Coming Again -- For Tourists

              Last Canadian Veteran, John Babcock, Honored in Spokane, WA

    Prime Ministers at ANZAC Bridge Sydney

    Company K

    By Andrew Melomet

    When we think of movies about the American military involvement in Europe during World War One we tend to think about big-budget Hollywood productions, The Big Parade, What Price Glory, The Fighting 69th and Sergeant York. So it takes a certain amount of chutzpah to write, produce and direct a low-budget independent feature based on Company K, the classic American antiwar novel by William March. Yet the multi-talented Robert Clem achieves his goal of giving us a very adept adaptation in his production of Company K, newly released on DVD from Indican Pictures.

    Company K, written by William March (born William Edward Campbell in Mobile, Alabama in 1893) is an episodic memoir of 123 chapters, each focusing on a different individual. March was wounded in combat and received the French Croix de Guerre, the Distinguished Service Cross and the Navy Cross for his actions during the St. Mihiel offensive and the attack on Blanc Mont in October 1918. He never recovered psychologically from the stress of combat and suffered a nervous breakdown later in life. He wrote that "As a result of the war, I shall never be well again, so long as I live." First published in 1933, Company K is highly regarded and considered the American equivalent of Erich Maria Remarque's All Quiet on the Western Front and Robert Grave's Goodbye to All That.

    Clem was faced with developing a narrative structure from an episodic, fragmentary and occasionally surreal source, finding a core of protagonists to carry the story and re-enacting combat on the Western Front on the budget of an American independent feature film. Fortunately, he was able to utilize a cadre of a talented cast, primarily New York City stage and television actors and an existing World War One battlefield reconstructed in Newville, Pennsylvania by the re-enactor members of the Great War Association. Having access to authentic weapons and equipment eased the budget strain considerably. And it also helped having re-enactors as extras. He occasionally uses documentary footage from the National Archives. But it's rare to see more than a dozen actors on the screen in this production. The combat is intensive and personal and the war is frightening and boring on the most basic levels.

    William March (Campbell)

    In Clem's screenplay, Private Joe Delany strongly portrayed by Ari Fliakos is the main protagonist and a stand-in for William March, himself. Primarily through his eyes we experience the horrors of war. Hand-to-hand combat and the shooting of prisoners, bad orders from inexperienced officers, good leadership from sergeants, combat's posttraumatic stress, condescending civilians--it's all here.

    On a personal note, I really enjoyed the effectiveness of locations that I was familiar with--Cold Spring and the Old Rhinebeck Aerodrome in New York state and interiors shot in Hoboken, New Jersey.

    The DVD includes deleted scenes and an insightful director's commentary with information on the cast, locations and the travails of a 14-month shoot of a low-budget independent production of a masterpiece of American literature. Company K is definitely worth seeing.

    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: Len Shurtleff, Frank Skidmore, Tony Langley, Christina Holstein, Tony Noyes, Andrew Melomet, Bob Denison and Kimball Worcester. Until next month, your editor, Mike Hanlon.
    (Or send it to a friend)
    (Or send us a comment on the TRIP-WIRE)

    For further information on the events of 1914-1918 and membership information visit the Directory Pages of:

  •      The Great War Society

  •      The Western Front Association, U.S. Branch

  •      Over the Front -- League of WWI Aviation Historians