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.


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:


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.


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.


Book review: “Planning Armageddon”


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.


A French officer’s photos restored

This post is from Casa de la Imagen, a cultural place in Logroño, Spain.

We has an impresive and unseen collection of 500 stereo negatives taken by a french officer at WWI, who portrayed battles like Somme, Arras or Ypres, and people and weapons of all the Western Front’s armies in high quality images. We had digitalized and restored the entire collection. You could see a small example here, in a special section inside the French Government official website to commemorate the Centenary: http://centenaire.org/fr/tresors-darchives/fonds-prives/archives/les-archives-photographiques-de-la-casa-de-la-imagen

Also, to reveal the 3D virtues of this exceptional images, Casa de la Imagen just made the video you can see here: https://vimeo.com/75787815

In this link you can see the new dedicated to our collection in the most important spanish journal EL PAÍS, the 1th November 2013: http://elpais.com/elpais/2013/11/10/inenglish/1384091378_813043.html?rel=rosEP

Our project is to make a book and exhibition showing the collection commemorating 2014-2018. We just finished the book (in Spanish yet). You can see it here: https://www.wetransfer.com/downloads/29a0ed440c7d35001e23b93077dfb3ea20140705143653/be062824f66e7ce77edc91c78aac3e4a20140705143653/7ac58a

For further information, please feel free to write to info@casadelaimagen.com

This is a basic information about the archive:

The collection was discovered at Tanger in 1999. It was contained in 10 wooden boxes, wherein each contains about 50 glass plates. In total, about 500 plates. All are unseen stereo negatives, made by a Verascope camera, if we believe in the advertising attached in the boxes. Each plate measures 4×10,5 cm, and each frame 4×4,5 cm. The conservation condition is variable, but mainly between good to excellent. The unknown French officer wrote notes between the stereo pairs. All the photos are dated, many are placed and a important portion has commentaries as “25/10/1917 Nettoyage du champs de batailles par les boches”.

The photographer domains the stereo peculiarities, is technically superb and the photographic, military and historic information is very rich.

After a hard investigation, we discovered the author was the captain Pierre Antoine Henri Givord, born at Lyon in 1872 and attached to the Transport de Matériel (le Train) during the Great War. We have his complete military records. The photographer travels between Northern France and Belgium: Ypres, Amiens, Hooglede, Somme…  The dates starts at 1916 and goes until the end of the war, even a familiar part of the collection after the war includes a visit to the post-war front. The officer was in close contact to the other allies armies, including a big amount of british themes photos, like soldiers and curious weapons.

Nowadays, we am working on a complete historic research on each image. The entire collection has been digitized by a full frame camera using a non-aggresive conversion method and restored, achieving high quality images for exhibition and publication purposes.

I can send you more specific info if you wish.
Please feel free to contact me should you have any further questions.

001 Bélica expoThanks, Casa de la Imagen!