Book review: A Mad Catastrophe

Austro-Hungarian troops.

Austro-Hungarian troops.

Reviewed by Len Shurtleff, WW1HA president

A Mad Catastrophe: The Outbreak of World War I and the Collapse of the Hapsburg Empire. Geoffrey Wawro, Basic Books, 2014, 472 pages, maps, photos, graphs, ISBN 978 0 4650 2835 1, $29.99. The author teaches at North Texas University and also wrote The Franco-Prussian War (Cambridge, 2005) and The Austro-Prussian War (Cambridge, 2007).

This is an artfully composed and thoroughly researched primer on an often ignored or minimized aspect of the Great War: The key role of the ramshackle Dual Monarchy of Austria-Hungary. Both the short- and long-term causes of its outbreak can be traced to the Habsburg worldview and the Empire’s fissiparous political structure situated astride Central Europe. Barely recognized as a great power, Austria-Hungary’s rudimentary industrial capacity was unequal to supporting a sustained conflict and its army ill-equipped and ill-trained to fight one.

The compromise of 1867, forced upon Austria in the wake of its massive defeat by Prussia, was the source of much of the Dual Monarchy’s weakness. The Hungarians, who, like some other constituent parts of the empire, had their own parliament and ministries, were generally uncooperative in paying taxes to support joint endeavors such as defense, starving the army of recruits and cash for training and modern artillery. In 1900, only one man out of 132 was a soldier compared to one in 65 in France, one in 94 in Germany and one in 98 in Russia. This yielded an army half the size of France or Germany and one-quarter the size of Russia’s.

Moreover, the army clung to outmoded tactics, attacking in massed battalion columns against repeating rifle and machine gun fire. In the years immediately prior to WWI, the Hungarians gave only lip service to the joint monarchy, paying only 34% of the common tax bill. In the opening battles of 1914, Austro-Hungarian arms suffered two million casualties and achieved nothing. Worse still, the army and government lost any sense of cohesion.

Lacking the industrial or financial base to sustain a long war, Austria-Hungary’s fatal decision to enter the war in the first place is exceeded only by its recklessness in mounting a series of futile offensives in 1914 and early 1915. Quick victory was beyond reach. As a result, its army was more than simply decimated, its best troops and officers were dead or captured by the spring of 1915 with no trained replacements available. Thereafter, Austria-Hungary scraped the bottom of the recruit barrel for boys and old men even as a new front opened against former ally Italy. The army was defeated not only by the Russians in Carpathia, but also by the outnumbered Serbs along the Drina River.

Whatever hope Germany had of winning the war was obliterated by the humiliating Austro-Hungarian defeats of 1914. Rather than concentrating its forces against the British and French along the decisive Western Front, Berlin was obliged to again and again come to the rescue in the East, chaining itself to the corpse of a collapsing Habsburg Empire.

Poppies at the Tower

Here are the photos I took at the Tower of London of the art installation “Blood Swept Lands and Sea of Red.” I photographed the workers installing poppies, people watching and the spill of poppies from the Tower onto the moat.

It was very moving to walk around and overhear conversations: My granddad was in the King’s Rifles, my great-uncle was in the Navy, my grandmother always said, and more.

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Over hill, over dale 2014

Lost sonsI’m on my way to London, and then to France. I’ll see the poppies at the Tower, an amazing photo exhibition and, of course, the Great War exhibit at the Imperial War Museum.

And then I’m going back to the Front.

I’ll be blogging from my adventures on the road, so keep an eye out for my updates.

Len’s Bookshelf: September 2014

These titles are recommended by WW1HA President Len Shurtleff:

 Fiction

The Dawn’s Chorus, Martin Richardson, Austin Macauley, 2014, 253 pages, ISBN 978 1 8496 3595 0, $13.95 pb. A wartime love story that opens with the Battle of Mons.

If England Were Invaded, William le Queux. Bodleian Library Oxford, 2014, ISBN 978, 224 pages, ISBN 978 1 8512 4402 7, $15 wraps. Originally published in 1906, this popular novel in the vein of Erskine Childers’ The Riddle of the Sands frightened many Britons at the height of the Anglo-German naval armaments race.

 Nonfiction

The 104th Field Artillery Regiment of the New York National Guard, 1916-1919: From the Mexican Border to the Meuse-Argonne, Pamela A. Bakker, McFarland, 2014, ISBN 978 0 7864 7915 3, $39.95 pb. This regiment was incorporated into the AEF’s 27th Division.

The Huns Have Got My Gramophone: Advertisements from the Great War, Amanda Jane Doran & Andrew McCarthy, Bodleian Library Oxford, 2014, 112 pages, ISBN 978 1 8512 4399 0, $25 hardcover. British merchants wasted no time in using the war to promote their products; these are some of their cleverest efforts.

 Letters and Photographs from the Battle Country, Margaret Hall, Margaret R. Higonnet (ed.), Massachusetts Historical Society, 2014, 248 pages, illustrations, ISBN 978 1 9365 2007 7, $34.95 pb. Margaret Hall was an American Red Cross volunteer working at a canteen just behind the front in 1918. After the Armistice she traveled across France recording scenes of physical destruction and human suffering. The editor is Professor of English and Comparative Literature at the University of Connecticut and has written several other books on women in WWI.

Sowing the Seeds of Victory: American Gardening Programs of World War I, Rose Hayden-Smith, McFarland, 2014, photos, notes, bibliography, index, ISBN 978 0 7864 7020 4, $39.95 hardcover. Examines the War Garden Commission, the U.S. School Garden Army and the Women’s Land Army as well as the Victory Garden program as voluntary efforts to increase wartime food supplies, creating a surplus for food relief to embattled Europe. All were part of a vast empire headed by wartime Food Administrator Herbert Hoover.

Railways of the Great War with Michael Portillo, Colette Hooper, Amberley Publishing, 2014, 160 pages, photos, ISBN 978 0 5930 7412 1, £20 hb. Stories of the railway war in the UK and behind the Western Front. Companion volume to a DVD of the same title, £11 from Amazon.co.uk.

 

For more recommended books, see Len’s Bookshelf at our website:

http://ww1ha.org/lens-bookshelf/

No. 2 Squadron, Royal Flying Corps

Royal Aircraft Factory S.E.5 Single-seat fighter developed in 1916, which with the Sopwith Camel helped regain Allied control of the skies of WWI after the disastrous "Bloody April". It was very highly effective, but had engine problems which limited production during the war. London Science Museum, South Kensington, London, UK. Wayne Hseih

Royal Aircraft Factory S.E.5
Single-seat fighter developed in 1916, which with the Sopwith Camel helped regain Allied control of the skies of WWI after the disastrous “Bloody April”. It was very highly effective, but had engine problems which limited production during the war.
London Science Museum, South Kensington, London, UK. Wayne Hseih

From Derek Bird:
 
On Sunday we marked the centenary of No. 2 Squadron, Royal Flying Corps, leaving Montrose for Farnborough upon mobilisation on 3 August 1914. The Western Front Association wreath commemorating 2 Sqn was dedicated, carried out to the original 1914 airfield by the current squadron commander, and handed over to the pilot of a replica SE5 who then flew it to RAF Leuchars.
 
From there it will be flown south to join more than 80 others that will be crossing the Channel for our events at Amiens and Arras on 13 August. For more info on the commemorations in France, see The Western Front Association webpages. I’ll be there to honour the ground crew of the RFC / RAF in the Great War.
 

Centennial Countdown to the Great War

Battle on the Prussian-Russian border 1914/15 in present-day Lithuania. From the Flickr collection of

Battle on the Prussian-Russian border 1914/15 in present-day Lithuania. Jens-Olaf Walter photo

Are you following this blog by Dennis Cross? This is the clearest explanation of how the dominoes fell in July 1914.

http://centennialcountdown.blogspot.com

He said, then I said, then he said, then I said, etc.

Dennis tells a lot of stories that you might not have connected to the march toward war, including a famous murder trial in France that delayed the country’s attention to the approaching disaster.

Henriette Caillaux, the second wife of former French Premier Joseph Caillaux, was tried this month for the murder of Le Figaro editor Gaston Calmette following the magazine’s publication of private letters between herself and her husband written when both of them were married to others.  She claimed that she had not planned to kill Calmette, only to teach him a lesson, but had been overwhelmed by passion.  She told the court the shooting was an accident: “It is terrible how these revolvers go off when they begin shooting — one can’t stop them!”

 

No kidding, lady.

My thanks to Dennis for this blog post.

“And We Were Young” update

Minolta DSCHere’s the news from “And We Were Young” film animator/director Andy Smetanka:

After two and a half years, I am 93% finished with the animation: just four more Super 8 cartridges to get through (that’s about 12 minutes). Compared to the three hours of footage I’ve already filmed, it hardly seems like anything at all. Three hours of Super 8 animation equals approximately 216,000 individual frames. The film will be between 80 and 90 minutes long.

Mustard gas. Monkey meat. Nerve-shattering bombardments, scything machine gun fire, furious hand-to-hand combat. Urban fighting, woodland fighting, headlong plunges through golden grain fields. If it was in the experience of the average American Doughboy in WWI, it’s in my movie, made entirely out of paper and filmed one frame at a time.

The battles — Cantigny, Belleau Wood, the Meuse-Argonne — are thoroughly filmed at this point. What remains is a good detail of detail work (adding more horses and airplanes, basically) and fleshing out the Transatlantic voyages to and from France. Almost everything I need is already designed and cut out. I just need another month or so to to film it all. It was a good idea (though completely accidental) that I decided not to shoot the film in chronological order; I’ve gotten better as I’ve gone along, and the opening scenes should be much stronger for that.

Next (meaning hopefully by September) comes the “sound phase” of the project begins. I don’t know how long it will take composer Jason Staczek to complete his work, but for me things should start going a whole lot faster with the animation out of the way. Christmas? Not out of the question. My solemn vow is to have some version ready to show at our local (Missoula, Montana) documentary film festival in February.

What is this paper-puppet-and-tissue paper war movie actually going to look like? You can see some scenes here, nestled toward the end of my online demo reel. As you’ll notice, I’ve had some other things keeping me busy these past 2.5 years as well:

https://vimeo.com/86969052

I urge interested persons to get in touch with me at the address below to request a more extensive private peek into the work-in-progress. I would also encourage people interested in supporting this project (which has so far scraped by on a successful 2012 Kickstarter campaign and a small grant from the state film office) to contribute in the coolest way imaginable: by buying a custom-made silhouette cameo. There are two ways to do this: by purchasing the service in my And We Were Young-themed Esty shop linked here, or by contacting me directly at the e-mail address below.

https://www.etsy.com/listing/194201877/be-a-silhouette-character-in-my-animated?

What could be better than the combined satisfaction supporting the most amazing movie ever AND getting to make a personal silhouette appearance in it? But the offer won’t last: when I set down my X-acto knife at the end of August, the window is closed.

andwewereyoungfilm@gmail.com

Book review: “Planning Armageddon”

HMS_Dreadnought_1906_H61017

HMS Dreadnought, 1906

Review by Len Shurtleff

President, World War One Historical Association

Planning Armageddon: British Economic Warfare and the First World War, Nicholas A. Lambert, Harvard, 2012, 651 + xii pages, index, map, abbreviations, notes, ISBN 978 0 674 06149 1. The author won the 2000 Tomlinson Book Prize for his work Sir John Fisher’s Naval Revolution (Cambridge, 1999).

This is the first complete history I have seen to trace the evolution of British economic warfare policy from its inception in the early 1900s to the end of the Great War. It is a massive work, carefully researched and eminently readable. It is the story of how British Admiralty planners convinced their political masters that the use of economic warfare on an unprecedented scale could defeat Germany. This strategy called for Great Britain to use her virtual monopolies international banking, communications and shipping – essential infrastructure underpinning international trade in this first era of globalization – to create a controlled economic implosion. The author argues, not unconvincingly, that historians have consistently underestimated the role of economic warfare in bringing Germany to her knees by 1918.

The fact remains that resort to the economic weapon reflected British military weakness and economic vulnerability. Though the City of London controlled world trade, Britain was a net importer of food, oil and raw materials utterly dependent on imports. By the early 1900s its industrial power had been eclipsed by Germany and America. While the British army was puny, the Royal Navy with its global system of bases was undeniably the strongest in the world as was Britain’s huge, modem merchant fleet. Thus, when war brokeout in August 1914, the UK was able to react immediately, putting into effect a wide range of pre-agreed measures, including blockade, to cut off German international commerce, communications and sources of finance.

Unfortunately, these measured aroused immediate and loud opposition not only from powerful trade and financial interests at home, but also from powerful neutral powers such as America. Britain was obliged to back off. Indeed, as Lambert sees it, US pressure was a key factor in an 18-month delay in imposing full economic sanctions and maritime blockade on Germany.         In fact, German trade continued to grow until early 1916 and the blockade only became fully effective only after America entered the war in April 1917.

The fact that British historians have largely failed to plumb the depths this key element of warfare from 1914 to 1918 is partly the result of official secrecy. Many archives were not opened until the 1960s and contemporary official historians were discouraged from telling the full story by skittish politicians. Winston Churchill, for example, glosses over economic warfare in his published works on World War One. Now that lacuna has been filled.

 

The Hidden World of WWI: Jeff Gusky

French soldiers dining area, underground, Vauquois. Reuse of this photo is forbidden by law.

French soldiers dining area, underground, Vauquois. Reuse of this photo is forbidden by law.

Hidden under the former battlefields of WWI lie hundreds of forgotten rock quarries transformed into underground cities by armies on both sides.

Cloaked in darkness under private land in the beautiful French countryside, these underground cities are bristling with artifacts, sculptures and emotionally charged “graffiti” created by WWI soldiers a century ago. Frozen-in-time, these cities beneath the trenches form a direct human connection to men who lived a century ago. They make hundred years ago seem like yesterday. They are a Hidden World of WWI that is all but unknown, even to the French.

American medical doctor, fine art photographer and explorer Jeffery Gusky was introduced to these underground cities by landowners and dedicated volunteers and their families who fiercely guard the secrets of these spaces with loving care to prevent them from being vandalized and to preserve them for the future.

More about the underground cities

 

 

 

Book review: “The Long Shadow”

abac077From WW1HA President Len Shurtleff:

The Long Shadow: The Legacies of The Great War in the Twentieth Century, David Reynolds, W. W. Norton, 2014, 544 pages, maps, illustrations, index. $32.50 hb. Also available in Kindle and CD. The author is a Cambridge University historian.

This is a monograph that would have pleased scholar-diplomat George Kennan, who labeled The Great War “the seminal tragedy of the 20th century.” Much of the ground plowed here in elegant prose will be familiar to students of WWI. The collapse of the German, Austro-Hungarian, Russian and Ottoman monarchies; the German Revolution of 1918 and 1919; the rise of Fascism and Communism, the twin scourges of the 20th century; major if short-lived expansion of the victorious British and French empires at the expense of the losers; the creation nine states, among them Czechoslovakia, Poland and Yugoslavia, that did not exist prior to the war; the emergence of Japan as an expansive great power, and of the United States as a global power house whose economic and financial might humbled that of Great Britain.

The aftermath of the conflict was hardly peaceful. Fighting broke out in newly independent Finland and along the Baltic coast in Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia. The Soviet Union fought a civil war and reconquered Ukraine even while it invaded Poland in an abortive bid to expand Communism into Central and Western Europe. The Ottoman Sultan was replaced by a Turkish republic, led by Ottoman war hero MustafaKemal Atatürk, which fought a short, bloody war with Greece to regain much territory lost on The Great War. Nationalists from Egypt to Korea took Woodrow Wilson at his word and attempted unsuccessfully to throw off their colonial yokes.

Many of the leaders of World War II — Churchill, Mussolini, Hitler, Roosevelt, DeGaulle — were active participants in WWI and carried their experiences into the next great conflict. Veterans’ movements like The American Legion got their start as a result of The Great War. While the Legion was dedicated to democratic principals; other similar groupings in Europe were not and achieved their ends – particularly in Germany – by paramilitary means. Even the venerable Council on Foreign Relations was the result of Wilson’s inability to field a professional diplomatic corps, and The American Civil Liberties Union had its origins in wartime American patriotic excesses.

In all, while France and Great Britain had won, they felt less secure and were less secure in 1919 than in 1914. France, irreparably scarred by her vast human battle losses, was unable to elicit British and American support for the creation of a Rhineland buffer zone against Germany. The result was the Maginot Line. British finances were crippled by the war and never really recovered until well after 1945. She was obliged to accept naval parity with America and later during WWII to transfer her gold stocks to Fort Knox. Only America and Japan stood up as overall winners. Thus, the whole thing had to be refought all over again as the inimitable Yogi Berra might say.