June 2007

Access Archives

TRENCH REPORT: Greetings. I am just back from leading another successful Western Front expedition for Valor Tours. Below you will find the first of several photo spreads we will be sharing with Trip-Wire readers. Note that two of our regular columnists, Tony Langley and Christina Holstein, were able to join us and share their knowledge. I believe they both had a good time, and I can attest that our group found them highly informed and great travelling companions. Valor Tours has asked me to announce that we will be mounting another Western Front recon mission in 2008. We will be traveling 20-31 May to allow us to join in the Memorial Day ceremonies at one [or more] of the American cemeteries in France. Let me know if you would like a brochure when it is ready. (email). . .Another matter: I am about to enter the "Wonderland" of Windows Vista. When I purchased my new Dell Computer on-line it was the only operating system they were offering for a desktop. I, in all innocence, said: "Sure, why not." Ever since then I have been besieged with admonishments about what a horrible experience this is going to be -- problems installing my old, reliable applications being the scariest. My hope is that this will not interfere at all in the publishing schedule for the Trip-Wire and Over the Top. We shall see. Keep your fingers crossed. The boxes are sitting around my work station, and I guess the time has come to open them up. MH

This Month's Internet Focus:
Not All Biplanes & Triplanes---
Notable WWI Monoplanes

The Real Deal

Dead German Soldiers at Guillemont

New at Our Own & Our Friends' Great War Websites

Click on Title to Access
At Scuttlebutt & Small Chow
  • Going In: The Grueling Night March to Soissons by Pvt Louis C. Linn, USMC

    At Great War Society Sites
    At the WFA-USA

  • I found this at Funtrivia.com:
      Q: Australia's commitment to the First World War was 624,964 troops, which was 6.8% of her population at the time. What was the percentage of battle casualties to troops in the field?

      A: 64.8 %, the highest percentage from all of the British Commonwealth countries: UK - 47.1%, Canada - 49.7%, New Zealand - 58.6%, South Africa - 13.6%, and India - 9.1%.

    Infantryman - An animal of weird habits, whose peculiarities have only just been discovered. It displays a strange aversion to light, and lives in holes in the earth during the day, coming out at night to seek whom it might devour. In colour it assimilates itself to the ground in which it lives.

    Wipers Times

    Looking for information on French soldiers who died during the Great War or who served in WWI aeronautical forces? The French government has made these records available online, without charge: www.memoiredeshommes.sga.defense.gouv.fr/. The site is searchable in English and also includes those who died in subsequent wars as well as hostages and resistance fighters executed by the Nazis at Mont Valerien.

              Rasputin with Tsar and Tsaritsa
    Contemporary Cartoon, c. 1916


    90th Anniversary
    Palestine Campaign
    International Conference

    September 3-6, 2007
    Tel-Hai Academic College in Upper Galilee, Israel (email for details)
    What We Fought
    Each Other For

    18th National Seminar

    September 7-9, 2007
    Naval War College Newport, RI  (Full Program)
    T. E. Lawrence: A Symposium

    The Huntington Library,
    October 5-6, 2007
    San Marino, CA (email for info.)
    International Society for First World War Studies
    International Conference

    October 18-20, 2007
    Georgetown University, Wash., D.C. (link)
    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

    Battle of Messines
    Opens Flanders Campaign

    June 7, 1917

    Click on Image for More Information

    Media and Events

    New Monument at Cantigny

    In honor of the first American victory of World War I, the Cantigny First Division Foundation, with the help of the 28th Infantry Association and the village of Cantigny, France, are constructing a monument to the 28th Infantry Regiment, U.S. First Division, AEF, in Cantigny. [See photos below.] The base is to be dedicated July 8, 2007 as part of the first phase, and a statue of a 28th Infantry American soldier is to be erected and dedicated in 2008 as part of the second phase. The monument's purpose is more than merely to commemorate an American army unit and its attack that day. It is also a way of remembering the Great War and all who fought and suffered hardship and sacrifice for the survival of democracy

    German Machine Gun Post on Apremont Road,
    St. Mihiel Sector
    Dr. Jennifer Keene will present a free lecture The True Sons of Freedom: African American Soldiers in World War I at the National WWI Museum at Liberty Memorial on Wednesday, June 6 at 7 p.m. The lecture, which is part of the "Liberty for All" series, takes place in the J.C. Nichols Auditorium.
    Special Photo Essay
    2007 Western Front Tour

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

    Page Two

    Gone West

    Percy Dwight Wilson, a 106-year-old veteran of the First World War, died early May 9th at Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre in Toronto, leaving only one surviving Canadian veteran of the Great War. (link)


    They tell you that you are fighting for the Fatherland. Have you ever thought why you are fighting?

    You are fighting to glorify Hindenburg, to enrich Krupp. You are struggling for the Kaiser, the Junkers, and the militarists....

    They promise you victory and peace. You poor fools! It was promised your comrades for more than three years. They have indeed found peace, deep in the grave, but victory did not come! . . .

    It is for the Fatherland.... But what is your Fatherland? Is it the Crown Prince, who offered up 600,000 men at Verdun? Is it Hindenburg, who with Ludendorff is many kilometers behind the front lines making more plans to give the English more cannon fodder? Is it Krupp for whom each year of war means millions of marks? Is it the Prussian Junkers who still cry over your dead bodies for more annexations?

    No, none of these is the Fatherland. You are the Fatherland.... The whole power of the Western world stands behind England and France and America! An army of ten million is being prepared; soon it will come into the battle. Have you thought of that, Michel?

    British Propaganda Leaflet Dropped into German Trenches
    Found at the World War I Document Archive

    The Lion monument at Valbois

    By Christina Holstein

    German Lion
    Four years ago the mayor of the tiny hamlet of Valbois near St. Mihiel in the Meuse region of eastern France appealed for donations to restore a handsome but dilapidated lion monument that dated from 1916. Erected at the side of the road between the towns of St. Mihiel and Vigneulles, the lion was the central monument in a cemetery dedicated to Bavarian troops. Although the plinth was made of stone, the lion itself was of concrete and over the years it had weathered so badly that the right front paw had fallen off and the hind legs were crumbling away. Fearing an accident, the mayor put a fence around the monument to prevent access and at the same time began to look for means of restoring the lion before it became too damaged to remain in place. Now, thanks to private donations, help from regional and national authorities and the French Ministry of Defence, a new lion will take the place of the old one. Too damaged to restore, the old lion will be taken down and replaced by a copy to be carved in stone by a local sculptor from the Meuse region. Great care has been taken to use contemporary photographs to ensure that the replacement will be a true copy of the original. If all goes well, the new lion will be in place by the summer.

    American Eagle
    Thiacourt U.S. Cemetery
    The town of St. Mihiel [namesake of the St. Mihiel Trip-Wire also] gave its name to the St. Mihiel Salient, a deep westward-facing bulge in the German lines to the south of Verdun that had existed since September 1914. The German positions on the hills forming the northeastern and southern flanks of the Salient were well developed and backed by a series of strong positions to which the Germans could retire if attacked. An extensive light railway system served the camps, hospitals, supply and ammunition dumps in the area. On 12 September 1918, the Salient was attacked by a combined Franco-American force numbering over 500,000 men and backed up by almost 1500 aeroplanes and about 400 tanks. While French troops took St. Mihiel itself, American forces driving into the Salient from the southern and northeastern flanks met at the town of Vigneulles and, less than 24 hours after the start of the offensive, closed the 'pocket', taking more than 15,000 prisoners, 450 guns and over 200 square miles of territory. Among the American officers taking part in the offensive were George Patton and Douglas McArthur. The offensive's meticulous plans were drawn up by another American to become famous in WWII, George Marshall

    Vision of War

    The Republic calls to us
    Let us win or let us die.
    A Frenchman must live for Her
    For Her a Frenchman must die.
    Click Here to Visit War in a Different Light

    1917 on The Western Front


    French Mutinies Continue/
    British Take the Offensive

    Looking for ninety years through the mists of time, the state of unrest within the French army can only be assumed. Of the 103 divisions in France, not all had suffered in the Chemin des Dames debacle, but the majority had been decimated elsewhere through the three previous bloody years. General Petain could not have known at the beginning of June the state of mind of his men. He therefore decided that he must visit every division to ascertain the problems and to decide upon a way forward. While commencing this vast and intensely personalized imposition, the mutinies continued.

    It became clear that:

  • Junior NCOs believed that their reports from the front line were ignored by higher authority. Petain acknowledged this and instructed that junior ranks be given the right to make their comments and advice to senior officers without let or hindrance, although once these reports had been made that was then to be the end of the matter. This was accepted by the junior ranks as being a vast improvement on all previous occasions when advice had been ignored and (probably) on many occasions led to very unreasonable casualties.

  • There were only a few leave arrangements, which were scattered at best, unequally throughout the various units. Petain organised a proper leave roster and allowed up to 20% of the French army to go on leave commencing at that time.

  • There were no formal arrangements for troops to come out of the line and be rested (rest and recuperation). Petain gave instruction for organised, properly managed rest camps out of gunshot, with regular rotas of troops.

  • There was no such thing as an Army Catering Corps, the cooking being left to the weakest and worst soldiers of the platoons, companies, etc. Thus it might be said that cooking was awful. Petain instructed the equivalent of the Army Catering Corps to be set up with officers/ men from appropriate units being sent away on cooking courses.

    Finally, Petain visited every unit and after explaining the above he called upon the colonels of the regiments or appropriate senior officers to immediately nominate such ringleaders as they were aware of and to carry out appropriate punishment. He gave his word that such events had his overall blessing, and the senior officers took this as being approval to carry out executions of such trouble makers as they were aware of. This led to many summary executions, which cannot be quantified in any sense but did have the overall effect of "clearing the air" within the affected units.

  • Petain's final promise was that the French army would not be driven into any future actions without absolutely clear knowledge and intent of those actions. Because he was a soldier's soldier, the French army believed this and did indeed carry out small specific actions during the rest of 1917 with a very reasonable degree of success.

    However, Petain acknowledged privately that the French army could not be used for any major assaults that year or even possibly into 1918.

    Lt. Gen. Sir Hubert Plumer
    2nd Army Commander at Messines
    Meanwhile, to the north, at Messines Ridge just south of Ypres, the Chief of Staff of 2nd Army made the following comment to a press meeting (!): "Gentlemen, tomorrow we may not change history but we will certainly change geography." At 3:10 am on 7 June the British blew nineteen hude mines all along the Messines Ridge (see photo Page One) and "blew the Germans off the ridge." This event lasted some twenty minutes, although many of the mines had been being dug for up to two years, and it enabled the British attackers to effectively walk over the ridge from one side to the other. This gave them the advantage of the view over German lines for many miles and, more to the point, into the rear gun positions of the Ypres Salient. Unfortunately, there then occurred a six-week pause, while the British made vast preparations for the commencement of "Third Ypres", which itself gave the Germans time to prepare for that particular onslaught. Haig had been previously informed at a conference in London that British convoy losses caused by German U-boats operating out of Bruges and Zeebrugge were coming close to strangling the UK, and it would be necessary to destroy these two bases---hence the perceived need to break out northward of the Salient to effect this destruction.

    Consequently, great and frantic efforts were now called upon to commence preparations for a massive breakout from the Salient through the lovely summer months of 1917.

    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

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    Page Three

    Two Important New Works on the AEF
    Reviewed by Len Shurtleff

    The AEF Way of War: The American Army and Combat in World War I, Mark Ethan Grotelueschen, Cambridge, 2007, 387 + x pages, maps, index, maps, photos, bibliography, ISBN 0 521 86434 8, $75 cloth. The author is an assistant professor of history at the U.S. Air Force Academy.

    There remains a dearth of critical analysis on the operational performance of the American Expeditionary forces in World War I. This book and another recently authored by Robert Ferrell (See below) help fill this gap.

    Though America's belligerency was brief, barely ninrteen months, it was arguably decisive in particularly in terms of industrial power and finance. Contemporary Entente political and military and military leaders (Clemenceau and Haig among them) were, nonetheless, disparaging, even contemptuous of the AEF's effectiveness as a fighting force and the skill of its officers. Beginning in the 1960s, American historians began seriously to question the view, asserted effectively by General Pershing among others, that the AEF was a powerful, efficient combat force. Little work, however, has appeared contrasting American prewar doctrine to the refinement and evolution of AEF battle tactics during the summer and fall of 1918. And little detailed operational analysis has been published on the AEF's major battles: Aisne-Marne, St. Mihiel and the Meuse-Argonne. In making his examination, the author concentrates on the operational experiences of three divisions heavily involved in combat: the 26th New England National Guard, the 2nd Regular Army and the 77th National Army (draftee) Division.

    Though the publisher does not assert it, this work constitutes a ground-breaking fresh and detailed look at the operational record of a force that came to number two million men overseas with two million more in training in America before the war was over in November 1918.

    America's Deadliest Battle: Meuse-Argonne, 1918, Robert H. Ferrell, Kansas, 2007, 195 + xii pages, photos, maps, index, bibliography, ISBN 978 070061 499 8, $29.95 cloth.

    The author, a distinguished professor emeritus of history at the University of Indiana, has produced many books on American history, including Woodrow Wilson and World War I, Five Days in October: The Lost Battalion of World War I, and Peace in Their Time: the Origins of the Kellogg-Briand Pact.

    This is the best recent study of the AEF's controversial Meuse-Argonne offensive, American largest effort of World War One. Actually more of a campaign than a single battle, this action extended over forty-seven days from September 26, 1918 until the end of the war, including a two-week lull for reorganization and command reshuffle. It involved some 1.2 million troops with 26,000 of them killed and 95 thousand wounded.

    Ferrell begins the story with a review of American preparations for war. He finds these deficient largely because of the lack of aggressive political leadership from Wilson and his Secretary of War, Newton Baker to mobilize American business and industry. What Ferrell does not take into account is the fact that by 1917, American industry was operating at well over ninety of capacity to fill Entente orders and that the traditional source of excess labor for American industrial expansion - European immigration - had dried up as a result of the war. Unlike in 1940 and 1941, America did not have the excess industrial capacity and labor necessary for a rapid and massive economic expansion. Whatever the causes, the result was devastating in terms of shipping available to transport hundreds of thousands of ill-trained Doughboys to Europe along with the motor vehicles, mules and horses needed for their transport to and supply at the front. American industry also fumbled technically and failed to produce the artillery and aircraft need to fight a modern war, and army trainers---steeped in the lore of past conflicts---failed to impart the infantry and artillery skills necessary for survival on the Western Front. Indeed, far too many soldiers arrived in the trenches uninstructed even in the loading and firing of their rifles. Though Pershing instituted impressive local training programs in France, these came too late to meet the emergency created by the dangerous German offensives in the spring of 1918.

    Moving on to the Meuse-Argonne itself, Ferrell describes and analyzes the improvisation and confusion of the opening days typified by heavy casualties, faulty use of artillery, poor infantry tactics and clogged supply lines. Senior leadership in the AEF was uneven. Pershing, frustrated and embarrassed by lack of progress, fired many divisional commanders. These commanders, in turn, relieved brigade, regimental and battalion commanders deemed less than aggressive in pushing their troops forward in costly frontal assaults. Ferrell uses a full chapter in recapping his 2004 book on the failure of the 35th Missouri-Kansas National Guard Division before moving on to more successful efforts to end the artillery enfilade and the occupation of the Kriemhilde Stellung in mid-October. Though he recognizes that Foch assigned the green AEF perhaps the toughest sectors of the German line (they were entrenched in the broken, hilly Argonne Forest virtually undisturbed for four years), Ferrell sensibly places most of the blame for these failures on faulty tactics and poor leadership.

    The author then goes on to analyze the reorganization of the AEF into two separate armies, as Pershing mandated, in mid-October 1918. This allowed time to rest and reinforce units skeletonized by the earlier fighting, to reorganize artillery deployment and tactics, and to order the general use of mustard and phosgene gas. Junior officers were also busy retraining their men to use infiltration and other innovative tactics against German machine gun nests. The troops that fought the breakthrough phase of the battle from November first were far better prepared, led and supported than their September 1918 comrades.

    In all this is an excellent survey of the Meuse-Argonne campaign for the general reader. It lacks the tactical detail of Paul Braim's 1987 work but is stronger and better organized in its analysis. Ferrell provides excellent maps (often lacking in works of this kind) drawn largely from the official U. S. Army history, American Armies and Battlefields in Europe (GPO, 1938). Some may consider him overly harsh in his judgments of American leadership shortcomings. Many historians -- while recognizing the AEF's shortcomings -- hew to the view that it was just short of miraculous that America was able to send two million men to Europe in fewer than eighteen months. That being said, the only weakness is the author's hasty attempt at a survey analysis of the postwar world following what he views as the hollow victory of 1918.

    World War I Headlines
    in the
    21st Century

    Dogfight Trophy of 1918 Returned

        Diver Wins Right to Explore Wreck of the Lusitania

          Sassoon's Military Cross Goes on Display

              After 88 Years---Ban on German Golfers Lifted

    The Lost Films of Mitchell & Kenyon

    By Andrew Melomet

    In the early years of the 20th century, two pioneer filmmakers based in Blackburn, England---Sagar Mitchell and James Kenyon---were hired by touring showmen to film local people at work and play. The films were shot across the north of England, Scotland, Ireland and Wales. These were the days before purpose-built cinemas so the scenes of ordinary people were then screened at nearby fairgrounds, town halls and neighborhood theatres allowing the populace to see themselves on the screen. Workers, school children, sports fans and vacationers were the stars of "local films for local people."

    In 1994, Mitchell & Kenyon's original shop in Blackburn, Lancashire was demolished, but over 800 original nitrate negatives were discovered in three sealed metal barrels in the basement and turned over to the British Film Institute, where they were restored by the National Film and Television Archive. The discovery and restoration of this "time capsule" serves as a unique window on the world of Edwardian society. Trolley cars, crowded streets, soccer matches, temperance parades, workers leaving the factories, seaside promenades are all on display.

    Newspapers from the time both here in the United States and in Great Britain cover the local social gatherings of parades, street celebrations, demonstrations and religious processions but these films allow us to see what they were really like, the clothes and costumes, the banners, the police and the reaction of the onlookers. The scenes of factory workers reveal the large number of women and children in the workforce. And everyone is wearing a hat or a cap or a shawl. It's an extremely rare person without a head covering.

    Pendlebury Colliery

    According to the Manchester Guardian, in 1900 Lancashire employed 600,000 men, women and children in its cotton-spinning and weaving factories and another 100,000 in the cloth finishing trades. A film shot at a factory gate at closing time could capture thousands of workers. And that's a lot of potential paying customers for a local film!

    The clarity of the films is startling. You can see the weave of the clothing fabrics, the different caps, hats and shawls worn, and the different styles of footwear. The films display a transition in technology as horse-drawn vehicles give way to motorized trams and trolley buses and the occasional motorcar. The pace of life is slower, and it's interesting to watch how comfortably pedestrians deal with horse-drawn vehicles in the streets. One film features emigrants leaving Liverpool bound for New York aboard a Cunard vessel. My own maternal grandmother emigrated to America aboard the Lusitania, and I wonder if anyone today watching this film can see their grandparents departing.

    Maids on a Cunard Liner

    The section on the Boer War includes a procession of a Torpedo Destroyer Flotilla moving up the Manchester Ship Canal in 1901. They certainly look fierce as they parade past the cameras. Leading military figures of the day are also in the section: Lord Roberts and General Robert Baden-Powell, founder of the Boy Scouts. There's a short called "A Sneaky Boer" filmed on location---in the Lancashire countryside!

    What the films cannot tell you is how many of these people lived in poor health and poverty. The Boer War had found the British Army rejecting four out of ten young men because they weren't physically fit to be soldiers. These men had bad teeth, weak hearts, poor sight and hearing, and other physical deformities. And they were too short. In 1901 the minimum height requirement for the infantry had to be reduced to just 5 feet from the previous 5 feet 3 inches. In his 1895 novel The Time Machine, H.G. Wells transformed the descendents of these workers into the Morlocks, the underground workers of the far future who maintained ancient machines and fed on the Eloi, the upper-world descendents of the ruling classes.

    Anyone with knowledge of 20th-century history watching these films cannot feel a sense of inevitable sadness. Those young boys mugging for the cameras---how many of them will be slaughtered in the coming Great War? Those young women getting their degrees---how many of them will be widowed?

    Halifax vs. Salford Football Match

    The DVD from Milestone Film & Video ($29.95) covers a range of subjects: Youth and Education, The Anglo-Boer War, Workers, High Days and Holidays, and People and Places. The original musical score was written and performed by In the Nursery, a musical project that specializes in new scores for classic silent films. Special features include an audio commentary by Dr. Vanessa Toulmin of the National Fairground Archive, University of Sheffield, an interview with Dr. Toulmin, an audio essay written by film historian Tom Gunning of the University of Chicago, additional shorts by Mitchell and Kenyon, and a fascinating featurette on the restoration of the films.

    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: Donna Cunningham, Diane Rooney, Tony Langley, Christina Holstein, Tony Noyes, Andy Melomet, Kimball Worcester, and Len Shurtleff; Steve Miller, out Western Front photographer; and the WWI Document Archive. 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