Memorial Day 2013

More than any other modern war ’14-’18 lives in the memory as the ultimate example of a mismatch between what was at stake and the price that was paid. It is the war of the ‘lost generation’, sacrificed for a cause which, in hindsight, is difficult to pinpoint.”

Sophie De Schaepdrijver, Belgian historian and Associate Professor of History at Pennsylvania State University, quoted on



The Great War on the Eastern Front

Here’s a bit of news from WW1HA President George Thompson:

I am writing to inform you of a program on April 13, 2013 that may be of interest to you. It is: The Great War on the Eastern Front: Three Perspectives. This event features three distinguished historians who will offer three perspectives, from the Russian, Austro-Hungarian and German points of view, on the war on the Eastern Front from 1914 to 1917.
Bruce Menning, author of Bayonets before Bullets: The Imperial Russian Army, 1861-1914; Graydon Tunstall, author of Planning for War against Russian and Serbia, Austro-Hungarian and German Military Strategies,1871-1914 and Blood on the Snow; and D. Scott Stephenson, author of The Final Battle: Soldiers of the Western Front in the German Revolution of 1918 will examine the other major front of the war.
This event, sponsored by the National World War I Museum at Liberty Memorial and the World War One Historical Association, will be on Saturday April 13, 2013 from 1:00-2:30 p. m. in the J.C. Nichols the National World War I museum at Liberty Memorial in the J. C. Nichols Auditorium.
 The event is free to the public.
Russian army at Daugavpils fortress, in Latvia.
A Russian field camp taken by Germans.
Here’s a gallery of photos from the Eastern Front, posted by Jens-Olaf:

Happy Hannukah!

Here are photos of soldiers celebrating with their menorahs.. These photos are from the collection of  the Center for Jewish History in New York City. These are German and Austrian soldiers celebrating together.

co the Leo Baeck Institute at the Center for Jewish History

Here are German soldiers marking the holiday in Poland.

Hannukah 1916

And here are American soldiers, celebrating in 1917 at the Little White House, Camp Gordon, Georgia.


World War I National Seminar report

Here, in chronological order, are the notes I posted to Facebook on the talks presented at the seminar Sept. 8-9 at the Marine Corps Career Colleges in Quantico, Va.:

Friday: I’m at the World War One Historical Association’s national seminar at Quantico. Just heard Graydon (Jack) Tunstall’s talk on the Carpathian Winter War — the Carpathian Mountains are in the Czech Republic, Poland, Ukraine, and Romania. I may have left out a few countries. During WWI, they were fought over by the Russians and the Austro-Hungarians. Jack’s book “Blood on the Snow: The Carpathian Winter War of 1915” is going to the top of my pile! — at Marine Corps Base Quantico.
Very interesting talk by Laurence Lyons on George Owen Squier and the development of American tactical radio. To be honest, I was afraid the topic would be too technical for me, but the speaker did a great job of explaining how wireless telephonic communication was invented and kept the human element in focus, too. His book is “Mixed Signals on the Western Front: How the Slow Adoption of Wireless Restricted British Strategy and Operations in World War I.” That is a lo-o-ong subtitle. But wireless communcation would have saved many, many lives on the Somme. Add it to the pile!
“The Myths of Belleau Wood,” presented by J. Mark Miller of the USMC Library: The importance of Belleau Wood was the impression it gave the Germans: that the Americans were there to fight. Morale was everything in the summer of 1918 and Belleau Wood gave the Allies a tremendous boost. (I’m paraphrasing.) Marines of today don’t want to let those guys down.
I wrote a post about our third talk, but my friend’s computer ate it. Marine archivist James Glincher gave a presentation on early Marine aviation that focused on five pilots who fought in the war. The best detail was the alligator that pilots training in Louisiana made their mascot — and, yes, they did give it a ride. War gator!
Marine college history professor Edward Erickson speaks on Mustafa Kemal, the Ottoman Empire army officer who stopped the ANZACs at Gallipoli on April 25-27, 1915, later the first president of the Republic of Turkey. (You might know him as Ataturk.) He was an excellent fighter and commander, and a hard drinkin’ gambler and womanizer, and an obnoxious loudmouth when it came to criticizing his superiors. This actually is a little over my head — my reading is too Euro-centric. (Stirling Rasmussen, a Facebook friend, added: “He also overthrew the Ottoman leadership, banned polygamy, changed the written form of Turkish from an Arabic to a Latin script that is so phonetically matched to the language that once learned, all could read, and set up what eventually became a democratic government. Oh, and he kicked the Greeks out of Turkey after the end of the war. To me, he was one of the great men of the 20th century.”)
Kevin Seldon, a former Marine and now a history teacher, presented a selection from his slideshow about the Battle of Belleau Wood told through the experiences of the men who fought there: face after face of those who were killed, gravely wounded or witnesses to terrible combat. In 2002, Seldon met and talked with the last survivor of the battle, then 105 years old.
Saturday. Last night Scott Stephenson, a professor of military history at the Army, gave a lively talk about the final days of the war and the poor guys who had to tell the Kaiser that he didn’t have the troops to march into the homeland and defeat the revolutionaries. And by the way, you just abdicated. Stephenson’s book is “The Final Battle: Soldiers of the Western Front in the German Revolution of 1918”; it won the 2011 WW1HA Tomlinson Prize for best book in English about the Great War.
Richard DiNardo, professor of national security at the Marine college, gave a lively talk on the German/Austro-Hungarian/Bulgarian attack on Serbia in 1915. Of course the Serbs were beaten back — Serbia suffered more than 70 percent casualties in the war. The Germans and Austro-Hungarians were set on getting a path through Serbia to get supplies to Turkey. The Serbs rereated, the attack was concluded — and Germany and Austria-Hungary began the squabbling that eventaully destroyed their alliance. DiNardo’s latest book is “Breakthrough: The Gorlice-Tarnow Campaign, 1915.” Top of the book pile!
Bradley Meyer is the dean of academics at the USMC school of advanced warfare. Here’s the best I can summarize of his fascinating talk. The Germans used stormtroopers to attack as fast and as far as they could, with covering fire from machine guns in their own lines. Then more troops moved forward to exploit the gaps the stormtroops created. A blitzkrieg is a combination of breaking through the enemy’s defenses and operational exploitation to surround and destroy enemy units. All the Germans needed to achieve blitzkrieg in WWI was motorization for more speed. (Facebook friend Philip Meluch added: “The operative word is “achieve”. The issue for the Germans was being able to sustain their breakthoughs. The Allies in the final year tailored their offensives to the means available.”)
Patrick Mooney of the National Museum of the Marine Corps speaking: We just suffered 83 percent casualties as the 1/5, 4th Marine Brigade, trying to capture Blanc Mont Ridge on Oct. 4, 1918. There’s a very beautiful monument on Blanc Mont to the Marines and the 2nd Infantry Division.
Geoffrey Rossano has written several books on Naval aviation including “Stalking the U-Boat: US Naval Aviation of World War.” He’s speaking about U.S. Naval aviators who served with the British in the WWI. Many interesting photos of airfields, planes and rosters.
Nic Galvan Gunnery Sgt has us all tasked with taking Hill 142. First we were the major, and now we’re Capt. Hamilton and our Marines are lying in a wheatfield getting their packs shot off their backs. He keeps barking, What are you gonna do, SIR? Well, we do eventually win the war, so I guess things will work OK (at least for some of us).
And that, sadly, was that — until next year!

“The war is lost!”

On this date in 1916, the Kingdom of Romania declared war on Germany and Austria. Its troops had already been mobilized. They crossed the border and began a headlong advance into Transylvania.

Kaiser Wilhelm panicked: “The war is lost!”

Then the Central Powers counterattacked — any Allied hope failed that the Germans might have been otherwise engaged in the Battle of the Somme while the Austro-Hungarians had their hands full with the Russians with the Brusilov Offensive.

Despite many setbacks, including the fall of Bucharest to the Germans in December, the Romanians fought on. In the spring of 1917, the Romanian Army had grown to 400,000 men, plus its air force.

But its great ally, Russia, became less and less effective as the country deteriorated. When the Revolution began. Romania was left isolated and surrounded. It signed an armistice with the Central Powers on Dec. 7, 1917.

Here’s news footage of the Romanian army versus the Austro-Hungarians.

Fort Luserna

Kerry Dwyer is a Brit living in France with her family. One of the things she blogs about is her walking tours — she calls them ramblings, I would call them hikes. On an innocent vacation to the Alps, she came upon the remains of the Austrian Fort Luserna, which played a grim role in World War I.

Kelly writes: “I find the history of wars very disturbing. It was not something that I expected of this holiday although maybe (I) should have given the location.”

From an account posted at, with an English translation by Jim Haugh:

“At the start of the Italian/Austrian war most Austrian units were already fighting on the Russian front. As a result, the Austrian border with Italy was protected mostly by volunteers who were not even part of a regular army unit. Soldiers ages ranged from 16 to 80.  …  They were often armed with older rifles and equipment and logistics so terrible that many times soldiers wives would bring food to the men in the trenches. ”

Here’s an account of the fighting in this part of the Front, with many interesting photos of the Austrians’ secret weapon.

Here’s Kerry’s description of her walking tour of this part of Italy, with photos of the ruins of Fort Luserna:





The dominos begin to fall

This is the date in 1914 when Europe got the big shove that eventually costs millions of lives: Serbian activist Gavril Princip assassinated the Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria and killed his wife, Sophie.


Archduke Franz Ferdinand and family. LOC


Gavril Princip is arrested.


Serbian civilians at an American Red Cross station in 1917. U.S. National Archives.

“A Farewell to Arms”

Are you reading along with the War Through the Generations’ Hemingway read-along?

The readers are up to Chapter 10, but you can jump right into the discussion:

I reread it a couple of summers ago. I rarely read anything a second time, but I appreciated it much more than the first time I read it. But my introduction to Hemingway was “The Old Man and the Sea,” which caused me to loathe him, and finding out that I liked his work at all was a pleasant revelation.

How about you? You’ve read it? You’re reading it? You wouldn’t read it if the alternative were fighting the Battle of Caporetto?

Caporetto, which began in late October 1917, was a stunning defeat for the Italians. The faltering Austro-Hungarians were under the command of the Germans, who attacked in greater force than expected and caught the Italians off-guard. For most of the battle the Italian infantry had no artillery support. Some Italian units held their positions, but eventually the entire army had to retreat. They lost more than 300,000 men, 90 percent of them prisoners. (What did the Austro-Hungarians do with that many prisoners all at once?)

Hemingway’s description of the retreat makes for the clearest, vividest scenes in the novel.

Here’s a link that presents the battle in detail:


Austrian troops preparing to attack.


Italian troops in their trenches.

I’m getting caught up on my webreading, after a couple of weeks of frantically editing the ww1ha magazine, Camaraderie. I found a question at Imagineatime’s post that I’d like to answer:
“How were you taught about the events leading WWI? What about the war itself? ”
This is what I was taught. The U.S. Civil War lasted approximately 75 years. Then we kicked the Germans out of France. Then the Japanese attacked us while we were innocently holding a luau; there was terrible fighting in Asia. Also, D-Day. Then we kicked the Germans out of France. The End.


Happy Easter! (yes. this is real, and just as awkward now as it probably was then.)

I don’t doubt also that the Hungarian water throwing ritual might have taken place on unsuspecting victims (due to the lack of pretty girls this ritual is usually reserved for.)

People have a tendency to simplify and overlook the reasons for The Great War. Yet the subject has been studied immensely since that August of 1914. In his book, Europe’s Last Summer, David Fromkin seeks to explain just what happened that fateful summer in the months preceeding the war.


An abrubt conclusion to a long and tumultuous beginning…

Though undoubtedly scholarly and well-written, Fromkin takes a point of view rather new to me as a student of WWI. His primary argument, which is delivered with excellent sources, is that Germany and Chief of Staff, von Moltke, in particular is responsible for truly initiating the war…

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