On the Meuse-Argonne battlefield

The Allies, including the Americans, attacked on the Meuse-Argonne in France on Sept. 26, 1918, and fought on there till the end of the war.

One of the most famous incidents of the battle was the losing of the Lost Battalion (not a battalion and not lost, as Clive Harris, Battle Honours guide, likes to shout).

Here’s a good link about that aspect of the battle.

http://www.homeofheroes.com/wings/part1/3_lostbattalion.html

And here’s the memorial:

Lost Battalion

(OK, this is a serious story of perseverance, etc., but isn’t it amusing that there’s a memorial to the Lost Battalion marked with an arrow?)

Here is the monument to honor the American capture of the high ground at Montfaucon, about six miles from the Meuse-Argonne American Cemetery. The monument has 264 steps up to a 360-degree observation platform.

Montfaucon memorial

The memorial towers over the ruins of the church — all that is left of the village.

Ruins at Montfaucon

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Welcome to Hartmannswillerkopf

Hartsmann_20 Hartsmann_14 Hartsmann_16 Hartsmann_15 Hartsmann_24 Hartsmann_25 Hartsmann_26 Hartmanns_cross1 Hartsmann_28Like Le Linge, Hartmannswillerkopf is high ground that the Germans held and the French attacked right under their noses — and under their guns. But the Germans had another advantage besides position:

Logistics.

German supplies were less than 5K away, French more than 20.

The fighting here was intense from the start of the war into 1915, when each side realized the other wasn’t going anywhere and the real action was elsewhere. The French launched major offensives at Artois and Champagne

Visiting Le Linge battlefield

Le Linge ridge was the scene of some of the fiercest fighting in Alsace, which the French were determined to take back at all costs, while the Germans were fighting for ground that had been their homeland since the 1870s.

Ill-fated French ridge.jpgLooking at the French lines from Le Linge ridge. If the French had fallen back to that ridge in the distance, they could have held this part of Alsace, but the government decreed that every inch of France was sacred, so they had to continue their attack up the slopes.

Le Linge German concrete work.jpgGerman fortifications on the Le Linge battlefield.

Germans over the top in LeLinge.jpgSteps for clambering out of the trench to attack the French.

Le Linge battlefieldMap of the battlefield at the memorial.

Le Linge request for respect.jpgA reminder, mostly for schoolkids, that this ground still holds the remains of many soldiers and must be treated as a cemetery.

Le Linge German soldier remains.jpgThe remains of an unknown German soldier, killed in 1915, were found here in 2010. The ground is uneven because of shell holes.

Remains found along Le Linge road,jpgThis soldier’s remains, found here along the French lines, were identified. He was buried in a French cemetery.

Le Linge barbed wireSAM_0431French barbed wire to defend against the Germans. The French had to attack the Le Linge ridge up a hill that was nearly vertical and blocked by their own, as well as German, wire like this.

German cemetery at Hohrod.jpgGerman cemetery at Hohrod, down from Le Linge ridge. Jewish soldiers’ graves are marked with tombstones, not crosses. They are often found with stones on their top edges, signifying that someone has come to visit the graves.

Observation post turned Hohrod vemetery entrance.jpgThe entrance to the cemetery was once a bunker that served as an observation post.

Le Linge looking back at French linesLast view of Le Linge. All is peaceful. Ninety-nine years ago, these farms and villages were nothing but smoking rubble.

America loses its first soldiers

The first three Americans fighting for the U.S. who were killed in combat died in a German trench raid Nov. 3, 1917. Corporal James Gresham and Privates Thomas Enright and Merle D. Hay were members of the 1st Division, assigned to a quiet sector in Lorraine, east of Nancy, alongside the French, who were to train them in trench warfare. A patrol of Germans crossed No Man’s Land to get a look at the Americans everyone had heard so much about, and in resulting hand-to-hand fighting, 12 men were taken prisoner and Gresham, Enright and Hay killed.

The French buried them on the battlefield, though their remains were returned home in 1921. The large cross erected Nov. 3, 1918, to honor them was destroyed by the Germans in 1940 and, after WWII, replaced with a solid slab. A poster nearby describes the three young men and the early actions of the U.S. in the war.

American soldiers killed

Poster re Americans who died for France

Brave little Belgium and the Forts of the Frontiers

The 2013 WWI Battlefields Tour reached Liege, Belgium, last night, and today we toured the one fort  — of the 12 the Germans encountered in August 1914 — that has been preserved, the Fortress of Loncin.

The Schlieffen Plan, conceived by the German military leader whose name it has, called for the German Army to sweep through Belgium, get around behind Paris and force France to surrender — in time to turn and face the Russians, who presumably would take longer to mobilize. However, as the Germans prepared to launch it when the war was declared, they discovered three limitations:

1) They couldn’t easily fight through the Ardennes Forest — and remember, speed was essential;

2) They didn’t want to anger the neutral Dutch, because they would need the port of Rotterdam to fight the British,

3) Albert, King of the Belgians, said: We are a neutral country, but we will defend ourselves against any invader and we will never surrender.

The Germans were so unimpressed by his defiance that although they had only  a narrow corridor through which to attack, they gave themselves until Aug. 10 to conquer Brussels. “Chocolate soldiers,” that’s what they called the Belgians. Instead, they finally took Brussels in October, and by then the Schlieffen plan had crumbled.

Liege was one of the cities in their way. It was attacked on Aug. 6 and taken by the Germans while several of its forts continued to hold out. Loncin was under continuous bombardment for three days while its garrison of 550 troops went on fighting. Finally, at 5:20 p.m. on Aug. 15, the Germans hit the fort with 25 shells from Big Bertha. One of them hit the powder room and most of the fort exploded, killing more than 80 percent of the garrison. Most of them still lay under the ruins, and the site is considered a grave. The Germans kept the fort until the end of the war, walling off the interior where the worst damage occurred.  The fort, in ruins, has been well-preserved, and you can walk around inside much of it. Then you come out on top, and you can see the horrific devastation.

The Belgians are very proud of Loncin. It never did surrender; its commanding officer was pulled out of the wreckage and taken prisoner while he was unconscious.

 

Most people think of Big Bertha as the Paris gun, the massive artillery piece that shelled Paris from 70 miles away and could only be moved by railway. In fact, Big Bertha was a mortar that fired 42-cm. shells. Loncin was the first time it had been used in combat.

I took lots of photos. Tomorrow we’re traveling to the Vosges Mountains and the southernmost end of the Western Front. I’ll post some Liege photos tomorrow night.

 

 

Meet our sponsor: The University Press of Kansas

Of course we are delighted that the University Press has decided to sponsor the 2013 WW1HA Symposium, but I’m particularly pleased because the Press has published an important book by one of our members.

It’s “Blood on the Snow: The Carpathian Winter War of 1915,” by Graydon Tunstall. The Carpathian Winter War was an engagement between Austria-Hungary and Russia in the Carpathian Mountains.

The Carpathian Mountains stretch across seven countries, from the Czech Republic, across Poland, Slovakia, Ukraine and Hungary, and down to Romania and the tip of Serbia. The worst of the terrible fighting was at Fortress Przemysl, in what’s now Poland. The Russians laid siege to the fortress, trapping 130,000 Austro-Hungarian soldiers. It was a crushing defeat for Austria-Hungary.

Here’s an account of the fighting, but if you want to know all about the battles, you can add Tunstall’s book to the pile on your nightstand. Add extra blankets to ward off anxiety that you will freeze along with the troops.

http://www.austro-hungarian-army.co.uk/przemysl.html

WW1HA 2013 Symposium

Tomorrow is the last day to register for the symposium for $195. After tomorrow, registration goes up to $245.

The Marriott Hotel in Kansas City, Mo., which is within spittin’ distance of the National World War Museum at Liberty Memorial, has a block of rooms reserved for people attending the symposium with a special price of $119 per night. The deadline for serving a room at this rate is Oct. 18.

“Spittin’ distance” is not a very elegant expression, but my grandmother used to say that, so it is contemporaneous to WWI.

Here’s a link to the museum:

http://theworldwar.org/

Museum inside

“The Bonus Army”

An Off-Broadway theater is producing the musical “The Bonus Army,” about the 1932 march on Washington by unemployed WWI veterans and their supporters. Congress had voted the war veterans a cash bonus to be paid in 1945 — that would have been funny timing — and the marchers wanted their bonus certificates paid immediately.

The show was first produced in 1976. Here’s the link:

http://judson.org/BonusArmy

And here’s a link to a documentary about the Bonus Army, produced by the Disabled American Veterans.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IiMuzkpT8Xs

WW1HA 2013 Symposium speakers:

Martha Hanna is a history professor at the University of Colorado, Boulder. Her book “Your Death Would Be Mine: Paul and Marie Pireaud in the Great War,” a collection of letters between a French soldier and his wife, has won multiple awards.

Booklist wrote: “[Paul and Marie Pireaud’s] letters are a remarkable source for observing World War I from the vantage point of the French peasantry, for analyzing the impact of the conflict on rural France, and for resurrecting the human face of war. Drawing on hundreds of letters, Hanna offers a fascinating look at one peasant couple separated and in love, compelled to carry on their marriage by correspondence. ”

Here is Hanna’s page at the WW1HA website:

http://ww1ha.org/2013symposium/martha-hanna.html