Book Review: “War’s Waste”

amputees blogOn Nov. 11, while the rest of the countries involved in WWI hold Remembrance events, the United Sates celebrates Veterans Day. Sometimes there are parades or ceremonies honoring the flag; sometimes the day passes only with the banks and post office being closed and kids getting  day off school.

Caring for veterans is a serious concern for any country. Here Len Shurtleff reviews Beth Linkner’s book about the aftermath of WWI.

War’s Waste: Rehabilitation in World War I America, by Beth Linker, University of Chicago, 304 pages, photos, tables, index, ISBN 978 0 2264 8253, $35.

Review by Len Shurtleff

In post-Civil War America, veterans’ pensions were the largest line item in federal budgets, taking up some 50% of that budget by 1900. By 1915, these pensions had cost $3 billion, more than the cost of the war itself. According to Linker, this created a virtual pork-barrel welfare state for Union veterans of about $3 million annually.

These pensions and an accompanying system of national soldiers’ homes had support from the politically powerful Grand Army of the Republic (GAR), the Union veterans’ organization upon whose patronage Republican politicians depended for votes and campaign funding. Progressive Era reformers saw this as wasteful of public funds and a disincentive to productive work and self-improvement among veterans.

The outbreak of World War I prompted progressive reformers to apply their social gospel and work ethic ideals to veterans’ benefits in an effort to reduce the drain on the public purse. The War Risk Insurance Act of 1914 created a new board to adjudicate claims for war damage or loss that was independent from the corrupt Treasury Pension Bureau.

The system grew in complexity with America’s entry into the war in 1917, adding provisions for mandatory allotments for dependents, life and disability insurance, and mandatory restorative rehabilitation for wounded troops.

The aim became one of rehabilitation; returning wounded men to productive civilian lives, teaching them new skills if necessary and providing amputees with serviceable prostheses.

As a result of this dramatic turnaround in treatment of wounded veterans, the Army Surgeon General’s Office constructed some 149 new hospitals with 100,000 beds with ample facilities for treatment and long-term rehabilitation. Amputee veterans were looked upon not as objects of pity, but as candidates for total rehabilitation and reintegration into civilian life as productive wage earners and husbands and fathers rather than swelling the welfare rolls.

Still, this new effort saved no money. By 1920, the federal government was spending as much on World War I veterans it was on Civil War survivors, and veterans benefits still took up half the federal budget.

By 1935, New Deal recovery programs had, of course, vastly reduced this share as federal budgets expanded mightily.

This system now is a complex mix of war risk insurance, physical rehabilitation and vocational training managed by the Department of Veterans Affairs. The several iterations of the post-World War II GI Bill have added both benefits and costs that dwarf any previous veteran pension scheme dating back to the War of 1812.

Book Review: “German Assault Troops of World War I”

Bundesarchiv_Bild_146-1974-132-26A,_Stoßtrupp

From Len Shurtleff

German Assault Troops of World War I, Thomas Wictor, Schiffer, 2011, 339 pages, bibliography, index, appendices, glossary, illustrations, ISBN 978 0 7643 4036 9. $69.95 hb.

This profusely illustrated coffee table-size book is typical of the quality of Schiffer Military & Maritime publications.  It includes information on the organization, tactics, weapons, equipment, uniforms and orders of battle of the elite stosstruppen who formed the backbone of Ludendorff’s abortive offensives of 1918.  Several primary documents are included to illustrate how German tactics and Allied counter measures were developed.  The author does not attempt to decide which among the several claimants developed shock troop tactics.

Other Schiffer books in this series include volumes on British and French aircraft of the Great War, Italian and Russian aces, the Lafayette Flying Corps, and US Naval Aviation in WWI, as well as any number of volumes on Imperial German uniforms.

A fully illustrated catalogue is available from www.schifferbooks.com.

Book Review: “The Hidden Threat”

German fleet surrendering to the English. First German U-boat near the Towerbridge. London, England, 1918.

German fleet surrendering to the English. First German U-boat near the Towerbridge. London, England, 1918.

The Hidden Threat: The Story of Mines and Minesweeping by the Royal Navy in World War I, by Jim Crossley, Pen & Sword, 2011, 168 pages, charts, diagrams, photos, index, ISBN 978 1 8488 4272 4, $39.95 cloth.

Review by Len Shurtleff

Mines were first (unsuccessfully) employed in naval warfare during the American Revolution. They were far more effective during the American Civil War when mines (or torpedoes as they were then called) sank some 22 vessels. Mines were also used to protect German harbors during the Franco-Prussian War of 1870-71. Traditionally thought of as a defensive weapon employed by the weaker adversary, mines came into their own as an offensive weapon in Japanese hands against Russia in 1904-05. Their use was expanded significantly during World War I, first by Germany and Turkey, then by Great Britain

Employing speedy converted destroyers and armed passenger liners, Germany mined the approaches to British fleet anchorages and ports beginning in August 1914. Russia used mines to defend her main Baltic bases. The Germans developed several classes of mine-laying submarines some of which had enough range to reach American shores. Turkish-laid fields of mines in the narrows off the Dardanelles sank or badly damaged several British and French battleships in 1915.

Faced with the proven effectiveness of this silent weapon, the Royal Navy responded by creating a fleet of small minesweeping trawlers, drifters and paddle steamers manned by fishermen and other reservist crews. By 1916, they had also mounted a major mining campaign of their own along the German coast, in the Dover Straits and English Channel expanding these in 1917 and 1918 to the North Sea between Norway and the northern most Scottish islands. Most of the 70,000 mines in this Northern Barrage aimed at containing German U-boats were laid by the US Navy from converted civilian coastal liners.

Their effectiveness was disappointing. At the most the Northern Barrage sank six U-boats.

Mines laid in the eastern North Sea were far more effective in supporting the British Grand Fleet in pinning the German High Seas Fleet in its bases while the maritime trade blockade gradually eroded Germany’s ability to sustain a war of attrition on the Western Front.

 

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