June 2013        

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Hello, it's good to be back. We have completed our redesign, and if you have not heard yet, we have added a sister site, a blog titled Roads to the Great War. Overall, we are going to be presenting much more high-quality material on the events of 1914-1918. One important addition regards our wholehearted support for the upcoming centennial, especially by groups here in America. An important consideration in our thinking has been to build our readership. The last statistics we have indicated we have about 16,000 unique visitors a month, but in the Internet world, that's a pretty small audience. We hope you will recommend both the Trip-Wire and Roads to your friends, family and social sites.

There is a lot of information below on our new approach, so I won't dwell on it here. However, I do need to be up front about one thing, especially with our longtime loyal regulars. Although the Trip-Wire will continue to be free to the subscribers, it is most certainly not free to produce. Consequently we are going to be adding more commercial links like this one that I'm sure you have seen before.

My intentions are that these will always be directly related to the First World War, be of highest quality, and that the ads will be visibly unobtrusive. I understand some readers may not be comfortable with this and if wish to stop your subscription on account of this just let me know. (email). Also, you might check out our new portal page for all our projects at: worldwar1.com.    MH


Western Front Association East Coast Branch has announced their Spring 2013 Symposium: Saturday 1 June at the Fifth Regiment Armory, Baltimore. Download pdf flyer
WW1HA Southwest Chapter Meeting: All-Day 8 June 2013, Fairfield Inn in Schertz, TX (exit 175 on I-35); programs include: Pacifism and the Great War, a Doughboy Chaplain, AEF Air Service. Contact Mike Kihntopf for details: kihnt@swbell.net


Our friend Ted Huscher, centennial coordinator for the League of WWI Aviation Historians (OvertheFront.com), has shared breaking news that the League is scheduling its 2014 Seminar to correspond with the WWI Dawn Patrol Fly-In at the US Air Force Museum in Dayton, OH, 24-28 September. When Ted is ready, we will feature the League's centennial program in our new Centennial Section below.

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The imperial narrative of the grand nation. . .becomes its double-edged sword. In day-to-day politics, its celebration reminds the people of their strength and unity. Even more important for external imperial relations, narrative becomes the badge of legitimacy as lead nation. But the imperial narrative also makes the grand nation vulnerable to symbolic attack, a weak strategic position because the empire must maintain not only its material interests but also the perfect integrity of the tabernacle—and as a symbolic edifice, the imperial narrative is brittle and relatively easy to attack. Moreover, if it is attacked successfully, regaining lost authority requires disproportionate effort so great as to risk being self-defeating. Even empires that are truly decadent and surely should know better—for whom even the smallest shock might unleash an historical avalanche—have put defense of the narrative above reality. Both Austria-Hungary and the Ottomans did just that in 1914.

Michael Vlahos, Professor of Strategy, U.S. Naval War College

Rescuer & Rescued by Sergio Lugo

From: The Sphere, 26 May 1917

Franco-Russian Alliance, 1894

During the Franco-Prussian War of 1870, none other than Karl Marx predicted: "If Alsace and Lorraine are taken, France will later make war on Germany in conjunction with Russia." The diplomatic instrument to make this possible came about 20 years later. At the urging of the military staffs of the two nations an agreement was negotiated during 1892 and ratified in 1894. The immediate result was that Germany started planning for a two-front war. Long-term: the March to the Great War had begun.

The Franco-Russian Alliance of 1894 (Succinct summary by George Kennan)

Franco-Russian Dual Alliance (Further details)

The Franco-Russian Alliance Military Convention - August 18, 1892

Literary Digest, 1897: "Fear of a European War Grows"

Comments by Historian Robert Massie

Summary Chart of Pre-WWI Alliance Treaties (Use full-screen mode)

Portugal's National WWI Monument, Lisbon

The story of the Portuguese Expeditionary Corps (CEP) in the Great War is a sad one. Deployed in May 1917 near Armentieres, the 20,000 men of its two divisions spent a miserable year in the trenches, as the troops—already puzzled by the rationale behind their deployment—grew increasingly demoralized. Farce turned to tragedy on 9 April 1918 when the CEP became the focal point for the second of Ludendorff's spring offensives, Operation Georgette. In a few hours the CEP was shattered, taking 500 dead and losing 6,500 prisoners.

Our New Blog Is Ready. Click on Icon to Visit

As mentioned above, we now a sister-site for the Trip-Wire, our Blog, Roads to the Great War. We hope you subscribe to both, since there will be minimal overlapping between the two. The reasons we have gone two formats are: a) we wanted to fully support the national effort to commemorate the World War I centennial, and b) we have built up a tremendous group of supporters, who have great material that deserves to be shared with our readers.

Perhaps, though, it would be helpful to sort out the two presentations, so you will know what to expect in each. The Trip-Wire will continue to be published monthly and will contain the news, announcements, and the historical, biographical and technical articles as in the past, with the major addition of a full page dedicated to the WWI centennial. To Roads to the Great War, which will have daily postings, we have transferred our features on the war's literature, arts and imagery, but much expanded. Further we are adding the opinions and personal recollections of Great War experts and a commentary feature for you, the readers. We hope you will subscribe to both sites. (Separate subscription lists, alas, are necessary at this time.)

Organizations & Resources


The St. Mihiel Trip-Wire with this issue takes on the mission to fully support America's programs commemorating its effort in the First World War. I have been concerned for some time that—because of the nation's late entry into hostilities—the American public would feel unconnected as the battles of the Marne, Gallipoli, Verdun, and the Somme were remembered in their anniversary years. I'm happy to write, however, a number of organizations and individuals have stepped up, starting with the excellent recent conference organized by the National WWI Museum.

On the left, you will see the icons and hyperlinks for the organizations and resources that are already active in supporting the centennial. We will feature these connections (and add to them) in each issue of the Trip-Wire. In this section, each issue, we will be highlighting their special projects and on-going activities as they unfold. This month we feature the World War 1 Centennial Network and the projects of the U.S. Army Center for Military History and the Department of Defense. MH

The World War 1 Centennial Network

Paul Cora
WW1 Centennial

Paul Cora, chairman of the East Coast Chapter of the Western Front Association has been in the forefront of centennial preparations here in the U.S. With his parent UK-based organization's backing, he has begun organizing a critical mass of people and organizations who will be helping "America Remember." Known as the World War 1 Centennial Network, their website (hyperlink in the left column) has the most up-to-date schedule of centennial events, related news, and media "happenings" available. Tapping into all these news feeds is a real challenge that we have wrestled with at the Trip-Wire for years. A big commendation is due to the Network and they are just getting started boosting public awareness of the centennial. Visit the Network's page and subscribe for its regular updates if you wish to keep abreast of the unfolding excitement.

An Outstanding Survey and Introduction to the War

The Authors

American readers will be happy to learn that the Departments of Defense and of the Army have already stepped up big with their support of the centennial, and more is coming. Col. Robert Dalessandro, chief historian of the U.S. Army (and a World War 1 author), and Dr. Erin Mahan, chief historian of the Office of Secretary of Defense, have collaborated on the perfect volume to give to those friends and family of yours, who are so puzzled as to why you find the Great War so damn interesting.

The Great War: A World War I Historical Collection has it all. Details about all the great issues, battles, weaponry, diplomacy, and personalities from the run-up to war to the eve of the Second World War. Supplementing the informative text are maps, chronologies, and the highest quality collection of illustrations I have ever seen in one WWI volume. This book will also be especially good for acquainting young people with the pleasures of history and reacquainting them with their heritage. It is highly visual without stinting on historical narrative.

A few matters to clarify: The "Historical Collection" mentioned in the title pertains to a nifty set of replicas of WWI posters, trench and tank drawings, cigarette cards, field orders and such, placed in a separate pocket to provide a hands-on approach to learning history. Also, although the authors are U.S. military historians, this work does not include a comprehensive history of the American war effort. The AEF is not neglected; naturally, it occupies a good share of the 187-page, large-format volume. The U.S. Army Historical Center, however, has defined another mission to do justice for the U.S. military effort in the war. Their Commemorations Office will be producing newly researched monographs on all the American battles of the war. More on that effort in future issues of the Trip-Wire.

Typical Chapter Opening

Let me close with one final detail. Col. Dalessandro has informed me that The Great War: A World War I Historical Collection has been selected by the new National Centennial Commemoration Commission as the work they will be distributing to support the Commission's programs. Congratulations to the authors.










29 May 1913
The Riotous Premiere of the Rite of Spring

"Modernism" is one of those peculiar words that can be used in one sense, and sometimes with an almost opposite connotation. In one usage, "modernism" is about progress, creative change, science, and focusing on the essential things. In another, however, "modernism" signifies a hostility toward the established order, change for change's sake, demolishing traditions and institutions without offering viable alternatives—a form of nihilism.

It was a modernistic work of the second sort that debuted in Paris on 29 May 1913 and triggered a riot. The Rite of Spring was an avant garde ballet created by two of the 20th century's greatest artists, composer Igor Stravinsky and choreographer/dancer Vaslav Nijinsky (see article below) for the Ballets Russe. With dissonant music, weird costumes (see above), indescribably odd dancing, and ending with a human sacrifice, it was designed to shock, and shock it did. Soon after the opening curtain catcalls started from the traditionalists in the audience, enthusiasts for the unconventional responded in kind and their confrontations became violent. The "riot" as it became known is remembered as an seminal event in cultural history, when modernism became openly threatening, and yet, somehow started to gain legitimacy.

But what does all this have to do with the Great War? There are two schools of thought on this. Music commentator Ivan Hewett, for example, views it in this low-decibel way, as a sort of premonition and embodiment of worse to come: "Perhaps the riot was a sign of disquiet, a feeling that the world had lost its moorings, and that barbarism was about to be let loose in the streets. Given that the First World War would soon break out, that feeling wasnít so wide of the mark."

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Professor Modris Ecksteins of the University of Toronto, argues more broadly in his 1989 work The Rites of Spring: The Great War and the Birth of the Modern Age (highly recommended) that modernism— its most famous expression being the ballet and the riot it set off—and the war are tightly bound together. He suggests they have common roots in the irrational and destructive impulses (my words ) of man. After the riot, he believes, creating art noticeably shifted in intent from being an expression of reason, having moral purpose, to being a "provocation and event." The war, with its catastrophic losses "having resolved nothing," accelerated this trend; it was a "psychological turning point" for Europeans and the West. Modernism [in our second sense], as a whole became the prevailing sensibility in the arts, and—well—everywhere else.

If you are skeptical about that last point, let me suggest this. On YouTube there are several good presentations of the ballet with the original costuming. Take a look at one and compare it to the attitudes and language of the characters in your favorite cable TV show, say, Walking Dead or Game of Thrones. I think you may end up wondering what all the mayhem in Paris was about. Viewed one hundred years later, Rite of Spring seems not very shocking at all. Centennial revivals are uniformly receiving rave reviews, as well. Our sensibilities, indeed, have become more modern, and the Great War likely had much to do with this.

Flyer for 2014 "Opening Moves" Trip Now Available
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Lost WWI Memorial Discovered at Clearwater, Florida, Theater

West Liberty, Kentucky, Restores Its Doughboy (Slide Show)
Let Us Help Announce Your Local WWI Events & Discoveries!
(Email the Editor)

The Medieval Headgear of WWI Tank Crews

The Importance of Fake Tree Observation Posts Rediscovered (Great Images)

The Lost Villages of France Remembered

Finding Douglas Haig at Edinburgh Castle (Book Review)

Another installment of our new feature, "What Did Houdini Do During the Great War?", that focuses on unknown or unlikely participants in the war. Trust us, when we researched Harry Houdini, we found he did a lot of interesting war-connected work and a new Trip-Wire feature was born.

Vaslav Nijinsky (1890[?]-1950)
Dancer, Choreographer

By Asst. Editor Kimball Worcester

Nijinsky at 18

The legendary Russian dancer epitomized the shocking modernity of the 20th century in the decade preceding the guns of August 1914 before sinking into irremediable schizophrenia in the 1920s. Nijinsky's sensual fire and unprecedented talent blazed through Russia, Europe, South America, and the United States. He revitalized ballet both as an extraordinary male dancer and as a choreographer. His career was short but profound, and he is remembered for truly important milestones in the history of ballet: Le Sacre du printemps (Rite of Spring, see article above), Petrushka, L'Après-midi d'un faune, Schéhérazade, and Le Spectre de la rose.

In June 1914 Nijinsky and his new Hungarian wife, Romola, were living in Vienna, where their daughter Kyra was born on the 18th of that month. With the outbreak of war some weeks later, the family was interned as non-combatant prisoners of war (in effect, enemy aliens) in Budapest, at the house of Kyra's mother. Nijinsky's Russian citizenship kept them there for two years.

Playbill from Tulsa,
OK, 11 Dec. 1916

In the meantime, Nijinsky's former impresario, Serge Diaghilev, was in the United States, trying to arrange the dancer's extrication from Budapest so he could tour the then neutral U.S. Such prominent international figures as King Alfonso XIII of Spain, Queen Alexandra of Great Britain, and Pope Benedict XV are said to have interceded on Nijinsky's behalf. By 1916 a prisoner exchange was arranged through the United States, and Nijinsky, his wife, and daughter were released to join Diaghilev and the Ballets Russes in the States.

The tour was not a success. Nijinsky and Diaghilev could not resurrect their previous partnership (which had been severed upon Nijinsky's marriage in September 1913), and American audiences were as yet insufficiently "modern" to withstand the force and genius of Nijinsky's dance and choreography. The horrors of the Great War and of Nijinsky's enforced peregrinations during it have been cited as just some of the contributors to his mental descent. He ultimately spent the last 30-odd years of his life largely in institutions. Nijinsky died in 1950 in London.

Joseph Stillwell (1893-1946)
Army Officer

One of many notable U.S. generals of the Second World War who performed admirably with the AEF, but whose later deeds overshadow their accomplishments in the Great War was Joseph Stillwell, who had the alternate nicknames, "Vinegar Joe" for his acerbic outspokenness, and "Uncle Joe" given for his consideration of men under his command.

Lt. Col. Joseph Stillwell with French Officers in Verdun

By the time America entered the Great War, Stillwell was already a rising star in the Army having served in the Philippines and as an instructor at West Point. His specialty was intelligence, and he found a niche as the G-2 (Intelligence staff chief) off the 4th Corps of General Pershing's brand new First American Army. The corps performed successfully in its single major operation at St. Mihiel, its 1st Division (attacking from the south) meeting the U.S. 26th Division (attacking from the west) to close off the salient on the second day of the operation. Stillwell was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross for his work at St. Mihiel.

Between the wars, Stillwell became the leading Army specialist on China, serving three tours there. When war came he was sent to the Pacific, where he commanded masterfully in Burma and became commander of the China-Burma-India theatre, but was relieved when he fell out with Generalissimo Chiang Kai-shek. Subsequently, he was given command of the U.S. Tenth Army in the last days of the Okinawa campaign and would have led the Tenth Army in the invasion of Japan had it been necessary. Stillwell died from stomach cancer in 1946, still on active duty.

What Happened at Fromelles?

On 19 July 1916 the Australian 5th Division, which had arrived on the Western Front from Egypt only ten days previously, was ordered to attack German positions at Fromelles in Artois, between the Somme and Flanders sectors, partly in order to prevent the enemy from reinforcing their lines on the Somme, where the British had launched a major offensive on 1 July. At Fromelles every advantage lay with the Germans. They held the higher ground and had been established there for 18 months. They could observe the preparations for the attack and discern their enemy's intentions.

The 5th Divisionís attack was made on a narrow front in broad daylight and under heavy artillery and machine gun fire. Fighting with extraordinary courage, the Diggers broke into part of the German line and held it for a time. However, the Germans, counterattacking from the flanks, prevented any further Australian success and withdrawal became inevitable. In 27 hours of incessant fighting the 5th Division lost 5,533 men killed, wounded, or captured—a quarter of its strength, and were driven back to their own start line.

Diggers Preparing for the Assault at Fromelles
Three of These Men Were Wounded in the Battle; the Others Perished

Until recently the Battle of Fromelles has been little known to most Australians—even though it was the first time Australians fought on the Western Front—and was probably the bloodiest single day in Australiaís military history. But 94 years after the battle 250 of the Australian and British soldiers who died at Fromelles were re-buried in a new war cemetery—the first new Commonwealth war cemetery created in over 50 years.

The final act of the Battle of Fromelles concluded in our lifetimes. The story actually begins in the aftermath of the 1916 battle, when many hundreds of bodies of soldiers were not collected and identified. Later, in 1919 and 1921, officials of the Commonwealth War Graves Commission searched the area for the remains of unburied and unidentified soldiers. Most of those whose bodies were recovered, but who could not be identified, were buried in a mass grave at VC Corner Australian Cemetery and Memorial, and several other nearby cemeteries. Of those who had died at Fromelles 1294 remained unidentified, and about 900 of these were buried in known graves. Where were the rest?

German Train Removing Bodies from the Fromelles Battlefield

The CWGC had stopped searching, as the inhabitants of the area needed to be able to resume their lives, without constant disruption to their fields as searches were carried out. In the 1990s Melbourne schoolteacher and military historian Lambis Englezos began searching for the missing remains. He discovered photographs such as the one above showing that the Germans had gathered many bodies and taken them somewhere via a railway track. He found aerial photos showing what seemed to be large trenches in the nearby Pheasant Wood and German documents detailing that the Germans had buried a large number of "English" soldiers there. Later photos showed the trenches had been filled in. In 2003 he convinced the military to test these trenches, and both remains and Australian military artifacts were discovered.

Finally a full archaeological dig was carried out, and the remains of 250 Australian and British soldiers were identified, together with 6200 items of clothing and personal belongings. Over 2000 family members of Australians who had died at Fromelles but never been identified now provided DNA samples, and these were used to identify and name 94 of the men from Pheasant Wood. The Commonwealth War Graves Commission now planned a new cemetery on land donated by Madame Demessiet, the French landowner on whose land the graves had been found. In 2010 the men were finally buried in the beautiful new Fromelles Pheasant Wood War Cemetery.

Pheasant Wood Cemetery and the Village of Fromelles

Compiled from Australian and Commonwealth War Graves Web sites

Dealing with Cooties

The Doughboys called them "cooties," the Poilu talked of "totos," and for Tommy Atkins they were "coddlers" or "chats." The German Army had to face the common enemy as well. Their generic name for the body louse was—-not surprisingly—-"laus," although they surely had more colorful appellations for the critters. Here a unit of German "Frontschwein" are experimenting with creative solutions for eliminating their tormentors using hammers, pistols, and bayonets. Of course, trying to sleep or stand guard with tiny creatures crawling about one's body was never as amusing as the episode portrayed here.

One estimate was that 97% of the men in the trenches were infested with lice. Most of the armies treated infestations as a frontline problem, providing delousing stations for the troops when they rotated to the rear. Surely, however, the cooties found their way to the rear areas. Typhus transmitted by scratching louse bites and introducing the feces of the insect into the human bloodstream killed millions in the war. It was only late in the war that the connection was also made between debilitating trench fever and cooties. We featured an article on how the Doughboy's battled Mr. Cootie in our May 2011 issue. Today with the help of insecticide-resistant lice, trench fever is making something of a comeback among the homeless.

Battle of Heligoland Bight

Where: Heligoland Bight, a bay which forms the southern part of the German Bight, itself a bay of the North Sea, located at the mouth of the Elbe river and the German naval base at Wilhelmshaven.

When: 28 August 1914

Royal Navy Units Participating: Harwich Force, supported by the 1st Light Cruiser Squadron and 1st Battle Cruiser Squadron.

Opposing Forces: Light cruisers and destroyers of the German coastal patrol.

Memorable As: An early "Punch in the Nose" to Germany's Navy, whose losses included three light cruisers, a destroyer, and a torpedo boat, that constrained German naval aggressiveness and strategic thinking.

The Story:
The battle was fought in a confusion of fog and haze on 28 August 1914, when a British attack led by Commodore Reginald Tyrwhitt was mounted on German coastal patrols—using the force of destroyers and submarines based at Harwich. The raid was covered by heavier forces, including Vice Admiral David Beatty's powerful "Cruiser Force A," the 1st Battle Cruiser Squadron and the 1st Light Cruiser Squadron, but the operation was marred by poor staff work. Beatty was only sent out at the last minute, and the main attackers did not even know he was coming.

Battle Cruiser HMS Lion Opens Fire

When action was joined, Tyrwhitt suffered gun problems with his new flagship, the light cruiser Arethusa, which was hit by a shell from a German cruiser. More German cruisers appeared to drive off the British destroyers. The day was saved by Beatty, reinforced by two more battle cruisers to make five in all.

The battle was a clear British victory. Germany had lost the three light cruisers SMS Mainz, Cöln, and Ariadne and the destroyer V-187 sunk; light cruiser Frauenlob had been severely damaged. The light cruisers SMS Strassburg and Stettin had also been damaged. German casualties were 1,242 with 712 men killed, including Rear Admiral Maass, and 336 prisoners of war. The Royal Navy had lost no ships and 35 men killed, with 40 wounded. Arethusa and two damaged British destroyers had to be towed home, however. The British made much of their victory, but within the Admiralty there was frustration. A better-planned operation could have done so much better.

Kaiser Wilhelm was aghast at the German losses and placed restrictions on exposing the fleet to action that, in turn, infuriated Admiral Tirpitz and began their mutual alienation.

Source: www.bbc.co.uk.

Thanks to each and every one of you who has contributed material for this issue. Until July, your editor, Mike Hanlon.
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Content © Michael E. Hanlon