June 2009

Access Archives

TRENCH REPORT: I think I promised our readers some photographs from the recent battlefield tour I led to the Western Front. We will have to roll that over until next month, we are still gathering photos from our participants, and I am off shortly to help lead a tour group to Normandy for the 65th anniversary of the invasion -- a busy summer for your editor. Some fall events are looming, however, and I hope you will keep them in mind when you read the announcements below, particularly the combined WFA-USA and Great War Society at the National World War I Museum, and my own tour to the Gallipoli battlefields.     MH

This Month's Internet Feature
Latin America and the Great War

  • Latin America in WWI
  • Battle of Coronel
  • Woodrow Foreign Policy in the New World
  • Brazil Goes To War
  • Caribbean participants in the First World War

    The Real Deal

    Memorial Day 2009, Troy, Michigan
    Polar Bear Memorial
    Learn More About
    Over the Top

    Online magazine of the
    First World War

    Next Issue: The U.S. Marines Study Gallipoli

    New at Our Own & Our Friends' Great War Websites

    Click on Title or Icon to Access

    Recommended by Our Members (In this case, your editor)
  • The Accrington Pals
    Owner Andrew Jackson does a superb job of honoring the Pals battalions and their tragic experience on the First Day at the Somme.

    At Great War Society Sites
    Recently, TGWS President Dana Lombardy asked that the organizational Website reflect some of the unique and influential aspects of the Great War to help stimulate curiosity among potential members. The result is a rotating slideshow on the homepage demonstrating why the war was the First World War, First Tank War, First Submarine War and First Air War. Just click on the rotating slides to learn more At the WFA-USA

  • The Meuse-Argonne Offensive was clearly the worst battle of the Great War in terms of killed in action for the American Expeditionary Force. How does it stand with respect to other comparable U.S. battles?

    1. Battle of Normandy, June 6 - September 1, 1944

    2. Meuse-Argonne Offensive, September 26 - November 11, 1918

    3. Battle of the Bulge, December 16, 1944 - January 25, 1945

    4. Battle of Okinawa, April 1 - June 23, 1945

    5. Several contenders for the next spot, so, with casualty figures being inherently imprecise, we will pass here.

    Table on Which Versailles Treaty Was Signed
  • Raoul Lufbery
    Legendary Ace of the Lafayette Escadrille
    and US Air Service, by Leroy Baldridge

    Western Front U.S.A. &
    The Great War Society
    Combined 2009 Annual Seminar,
    September 11 - 13, 2009
    National World War I Museum
    Kansas City, Missouri

    The and compelling theme for the seminar combines the original seminar ideas for both organizations: "Technology, Treaties and the War: From 'Tin Hats' to Tanks and 'Top Hats' to Territories." Registration forms, fees and further information will be forthcoming. Check back here or at the organizations' Websites for details. (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
    Upcoming Events at the National World War I Museum

    Kansas City, Missouri
    Regularly Updated
    Send additions/corrections:
    Email Response

    Memorable Event

    Treaty of Versailles Signed

    Treaty Being Delivered to Palace of Versailles for Signing

    June 28, 1919

    Five Years to the Day after the Assassination of the Archduke

    Click on the Image to Read An Eye-Witness Account of the Signing of the Treaty

    Media & Events

    Cambridge Conference Scheduled: The First Word War - Music, Literature and Memory, July 11-12, 2009, Recital on the 12th. Email: Kate Kennedy at kma23@cam.ac.uk for information

    On Saturday, July 4th, Independence Day, Rin Tin Tin, "the world's most famous German Shepherd" will make a personal appearance at the The National World War One Museum, 100 W. 26th Street, Kansas City, MO 64108-4616. Rin Tin Tin X, the direct descendant of the original Hollywood canine star, discovered and trained by WWI Doughboy Lee Duncan will meet his fans from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. A selection of films featuring his acting ancestors will be shown free in the J.C. Nichols Auditorium throughout the day. Email for further information: info@theworldwar.org

    A Trip-Wire Return Engagement

    God Almighty gave us Ten Commandments and we broke those. Now we have Wilson who gives us fourteen.

    Georges Clemenceau

    Page Two

    Gone West

    Longtime Great War Society member and United States maritime captain Virgil J. Roberts, a true gentleman, passed away on August 30th, 2008. Virgil was born in Portland, Oregon, on November 7th, 1925. After graduating from Benson Tech he joined the Merchant Marine at age 17. After serving his country, including U.S. Naval service, in the Second World War, he traveled the world. In 1969 he moved to Marin and worked in the shipping profession where he was also an engineer. Virgil then joined the Golden Gate Bridge District where he was Asst. Ferry Operations Superintendent, and so much more.

    After retiring from the ferries, Capt. Roberts was active in several professional organizations including the Naval League and the Jeremiah O'Brien chapter of the Merchant Marines. Capt. Roberts loved sailing and was a longtime member of the Sausalito Yacht Club. Virgil also loved politics, animals, and history. He was a member of many historical societies, including The Great War Society, and was a Civil War and WWI historian. Virgil will be greatly missed by all who knew him especially his wife, DeVonna, and his Boston Terrier, Billy.

    TGWS Treasurer Bob Denison noted, "I really liked Virgil. He was a delight to talk to as he always had a decisive opinion and his interests were expansive. I remember once when I presented something on Denmark in the Great War, Virgil described the nautical problems of shipping in the straits, Skaggerak and Kattegat, and the Baltic. It added an element totally unique to this interesting story." The Captain shall return to the Sea.

    Adapted from the Marin Independent Journal

    German Torpedo Boat on the High Seas

    By Noted German Naval Illustrator W. (Willi) Stoewer
    Click Here to Visit the Website of Our Contributing Editor Tony Langley
    War in a Different Light

    Subscribe to Our Online Magazine

    Page Three

    2009 World War I Tours Led by
    Trip-Wire Editor Mike Hanlon

    Click on image to request a brochure from greatwar@earthlink.net

    Correspondence Received

    From Trip-Wire reader Joan Coleman. Gladys Leigh, the tragic war bride mentioned in the first headline, was Joan's grandmother's sister.

    Two for the Road

    Summertime Suggestions from Len Shurtleff

    Your summertime reading list should include these near-classic World War One histories looking at the French and British armies:

    Verdun 1916, Malcolm Brown, Tempus, 2003, 285 pages, index, sources, photos, maps, chronology, ISBN 0 7524 2599 4, $24 paperback. Imperial War Historian and prolific author Malcolm Brown published this book in 1999. It has not been out of print since then.

    The author refers repeatedly to Alistair Horn's The Price of Glory, a classic history of the battle first published in 1962. Brown's work, equally well crafted, is less concerned with details of the battle and more heavily into the writings of veterans of both sides. He successfully attempts to impart the flavor and feel of the battle. This is not to say that Brown glosses over the tactical details. Far from it. His descriptions of French ill-preparedness, the stripping of Verdun forts of much of their artillery, and of the devastating fall of Fort Douaumont* early in the campaign on February 27, 1916, contain all the elements of good historical writing, as does his analysis of confused German tactical and strategic goals and the French more measured reaction to Falkenhayn's attritional warfare aimed at bleeding the French army to death. Ironically, both sides suffered about equal casualties.

    Far more rational in Brown's view was Petain's sturdy defense which included the Noria system whereby French divisions were rotated through the Verdun cauldron until nearly every one of them had fought there. This contrasted starkly with Falkenhayn's policy of feeding replacements into German divisions while keeping them in the line and quickly exhausting the survivors. In the end, of course, Falkenhayn's perceived failure at Verdun sparked the successful attempt by Hindenburg and Ludendorff to remove him as Chief of Staff in late 1916. After that, the battle slowly petered out as the French -- now commanded by the mercurial Robert Nivelle -- regained nearly all the ground won by the German Fifty Army in the early weeks of battle. The unfortunate consequence of Neville ascension was, of course, his further elevation in December 1916 to replace Joffre as commander-in-chief and his authorship of the disastrous Chemin des Dames offensive of spring 1917.

    The Killing Ground: The British Army, the Western Front & the Emergence of Modern War, 1900-1918. Tim Travers, Pen & Sword Military Classics, 2003, 309 + xxiii pages, appendices, photos, maps, bibliography, abbreviations, index, ISBN 0 85052 964 6, $25.99 paperback. The author has a PhD. from Yale and is recently retired from a distinguished career University of Calgary.

    First published in 1987, Traver's book never seems dated. It is largely an examination of the ever-controversial command of Sir Douglas Haig, but it also provides cogent analysis of the tiny professional Edwardian army and the new, vastly larger British volunteer force that emerged in 1916. Part One of the book looks at the army's prewar command and the "old boy" promotion network, rivalries between the home and Indian Armies, army reaction to extreme changes in weapons and tactics and its overdependence (like all armies of the era) on frontal attack.

    Part Two looks at Haig as a man of this time, his career at the Staff College, his personality and personal limitations, his view of the role of commander-in-chief and the development of a "group think" mentality at GHG. In short, Haig's style of command is put under a microscope. Part Three is a case study of command and control during the Somme Campaign of 1916 looking, again, at Haig's style of command with its strengths and shortcomings. Part Four examines the official history of the Somme, planning for Third Ypres (Passendaele) and offers a brief examination of command and control in the BEF as it had evolved by the time of the powerful German spring offensives of 1918.

    In all, Travers acknowledges the strong learning curve of 1914-1918, and concludes that Haig, with all his shortcomings, was an architect of victory. For some this is a too generous judgment; for others it will have validity as a balanced appreciation of Haig and BEF performance in general.

    *Those wishing more detail on Douaumont should read Christina Holstein's 2002 work Fort Douaumont: Verdun in the Battleground Europe series from Pen & Sword Books ISBN 978 0 8085 2899 2.

    World War I Headlines
    in the
    21st Century

    British and Australian World War I Dead To Be Recovered from Mass Grave

        Audio Interview on the Women's Land Army

           Soldier's Letters Give First-Hand Look at Spanish Flu Pandemic

              New Film on Tsar's Last Days Planned

                 Trench Names, A New WWI Poem Found at the New Yorker [which, I'm sure you know was founded by the original editor of Stars and Stripes, Harold Ross, who used to mooch smokes off of my dad when they were both employed by Hearst's San Francisco Call a long, long time ago. MH]

    The Film Version of
    Riddle of the Sands
    One of Our Past Favorites from the Nickelodeon

    Reviewed by Andrew Melomet
    (June 2005)

    Erskine Childers (1870-1922) was born on June 25, 1870, in London and grew up in Ireland. He met and married his wife, Molly Osgood, while visiting the United States in 1903. In 1914 Childers, who was devoted to Irish Home Rule, used his yacht Asgard to run guns for the Irish Volunteers. He served in the British Royal Naval Air Service in the First World War flying seaplane reconnaissance of the German coast. A major in 1919 with the Distinguished Service Cross, he returned to Ireland, where he became an Irish citizen. A member of the Irish Republican Army, Childers was in unauthorized possession of an automatic pistol when he was arrested and quickly court-martialed. He was shot by firing squad while his appeal was still pending. Prior to his execution, he shook hands with the inexperienced members of the firing squad telling them, "Come closer lads, it will be easier for you." His son Erskine Hamilton Childers eventually became President of Ireland in 1973. He was only 17 years old when his father was executed in 1922, and he entered Irish politics in the 1930s. He held his office for less than a year-and-a-half, before dying suddenly of a heart attack on November 17, 1974.

    Erskine Childer's only novel The Riddle of the Sands was published in 1903 and has never gone out of print. It's considered one of the prototypical espionage stories. The novel was published in the United States in 1915 and was re-issued here in 1940, prior to America's entry in World War II. As a military theoretician, Childers also wrote on the folly of relying on cavalry as an effective fighting force against machine guns.

    The 1979 movie version directed by Tony Maylam and starring Michael York, Simon MacCorkindale and Jenny Agutter details the adventures of two Englishmen who, while yachting in the North Sea near the Frisian Islands, uncover a German plan to invade England by sea. Davies (Simon MacCorkindale), sailing around the northwest coast of Germany in his 30-foot yacht Dulcibella (actually a converted lifeboat), has his suspicions aroused and sends for his college friend Carruthers of the Foreign Office (Michael York). They uncover an evil Hun plot conceived by a renegade British Naval Officer Dollman (Alan Badel) witnessing the final rehearsal of an invasion of Britain staged for Kaiser Wilhelm II. Jenny Agutter plays Dollman's lovely daughter, Clara. The cinematography by Christopher Challis was composed for a widescreen and suffers in the home video releases on VHS from the VidAmerica label and Bennett Marine Video. But you can still appreciate how exciting the sailing sequences were. The direction is somewhat uneven. Some of the classic and best-remembered scenes of the novel flow smoothly, butothers don't seem to translate as well. Maylam was a novice feature film director at this stage of his career. People seem to do and say the right things of the early-Edwardian era. Davies and Carruthers were friends at Oxford but still address each other by their surnames, like Watson and Holmes. Their relationship echoes that of Mole and Water Rat in The Wind in the Willows. There's something very English about messing around in boats. There's a good non-ironic tone to this classic story with no smirking or winking towards the modern audience. The Riddle of the Sands is currently available on DVD from DD Home Entertainment in the UK. This is a 4:3 letterbox release but not widescreen. There's also a German mini-series, Das Rätsel der Sandbank, out on DVD, but unfortunately it does not have English subtitles.

    Click here to download the 2004-2008 Index for the Nickelodeon
    with Updates on Availability of Films and Videos in the U.S.
    Check the Archives for 2009's reviews.

    Bert Taylor's account of the Somme was found at the New Zealand Defense Forces Website. Thanks to each and every one of you who has contributed material for this issue. 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