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.

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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.

 

 

WW1HA 2013 Symposium speakers: Richard F. Hamilton

Richard Hamilton is a professor emeritus in sociology and political science at the Ohio State University. An Army veteran, he has written more than a dozen books, including three WWI books with fellow WW1HA 2013 Symposium speaker Holger Herwig.

“The Origins of World War I,” published by Cambridge University Press, was praised by the Journal of Military History:

Richard F. Hamilton, Holger H. Herwig, and their distinguished team of nine additional contributors prove triumphantly that indeed there is (more to say about the war). Building on a carefully crafted conference held at Ohio State University in 1999, their book focuses on precisely who, within both the major and several of the minor belligerent states of World War I, took the decisions to go to war, and how and why they reached those decisions.”

Here’s the link to his Symposium page:

http://ww1ha.org/2013symposium/richard-hamilton.html

WW1HA 2013 Symposium speakers: Holger H. Herwig

Holger Herwig is a history professor at the University of Calgary in Calgary, Alberta, Canada. He has written more than a dozen books, including “The First World War: Germany and Austria-Hungary” (Bloomsbury Academic), part of the Modern War series.

He also wrote “The Outbreak Of World War I (Problems in European Civilization Series),” published by Wadsworth Publishing.

Here’s his link:

http://ww1ha.org/2013symposium/holger-herwig.html

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 http://messines1917.blogspot.be

ruins

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Over there, over there

The WW1HA is going to the battlefields again in May.

Come with me.

The tour will begin May 25 in Brussels and go to the fortress city of Liege, where brave little Belgium’s army held up the German advance for 12 days at the beginning of the war.

The group will move on to the Vosges Mountains in Alsace, to visit the Le Linge battlefield and museum, full of artifacts. More than 2 miles of trenches and fortifications are still in place. On to Hartmannswillerkopf and its incredible views — at nearly 1,000 meters above sea level — and memorials. The American Ambulance Services worked here.

Then to Verdun, the St. Mihiel Salient, Belleau Wood, Le Hamel — where American troops fought alongside Australians on July 4, 1918 — and a full day of exploring around Ypres, concluding with the Last Post ceremony at the Menin Gate.

To walk where they walked, to stand on the ground they fought so hard for is incredibly humbling.

To raise a glass to them while chomping frites — the best fries/chips you will ever eat — with the possibility of chocolate croissants for breakfast is incredibly fun.

Come on. I’ll meet you in Brussels and buy you a beer.

http://ww1ha.org/pdf/Battlefield-Tour-2013-Itinerary.pdf

http://www.examiner.com/article/french-world-war-i-trenches-of-le-linge-alsace

http://www.haute-alsacetourisme.com/en/sites-incontournables/hartmannswillerkopf-4.html

http://www.en.verdun-tourisme.com/

http://www.worldwar1.com/dbc/stmihiel.htm

http://www.history.navy.mil/danfs/b4/belleau_wood.htm

http://www.dva.gov.au/commems_oawg/OAWG/war_memorials/overseas_memorials/france/Documents/Battle_Le_Hamel.pdf

http://www.greatwar.co.uk/ypres-salient/battles-ypres-salient.htm

http://www.visitbelgium.com/?page=beer-lovers

 

“Parade’s End”

Location Flanders has lovely photos from the new BBC/HBO miniseries “Parade’s End.”

Flanders House, a New York-based nonprofit that promotes interest in Belgium and Flanders in specific, has this to say:

“Parade’s End (is) a prestigious new BBC/HBO drama series based on the books by Ford Madox Ford and directed by Susanna White. The story is set against the backdrop of WWI and follows Christopher Tietjens, a top civil servant from a background of wealth and privilege, whose marriage flounders almost as soon as it begins. He falls in love with another woman, but he remains honorable for some considerable time to Sylvia who has several affairs. On top of this, Chris is dealing with shell shock and partial memory loss that he endures during the war.”

It stars Benedick Cumberbatch, Rebecca Hall and Stephen Graham.

Here are the photos:

https://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.10151021123802647.418775.243337862646&type=3

And here’s a link to Flanders House: http://www.flandershouse.org/

The War Through the Generations WWI Reading Challenge includes “Parade’s End” on its list of recommended reading — maybe you can be the next reviewer!

http://warthroughthegenerations.wordpress.com/recommended-reading-wwi/

Little Belgium welcomes (some of) the world

The 1920 Olympics, less than two years after the Armistice, were held in Antwerp, to honor Belgium as the country that had suffered the most devastation during the war. (I would have argued for France.)   Countries have to put a lot of money into hosting the Games, so maybe this honor was also a burden.

Of course, Germany, Austria, Hungary, Bulgaria and Turkey were banned from competing.

The opening ceremonies included the first use of the Olympic flag, the first time reciting of the Olympic oath and the first release of doves as a symbol of peace.

Pierre, the Baron de Coubertin, who served as president of the International Olympic Committee, said of the 1920 Games:

“This is what the seventh Olympiad has brought us: general comprehension; the certainty of being henceforward understood by all … These festivals … are above all festivals of human unity. In an incomparable synthesis the effort of muscles and of mind, mutual help and competition, lofty patriotism and intelligent cosmopolitanism, the personal interest in the champion and the abnegation of the team-member, are bound in a sheaf for a common task.”

Belgium contributed 336 athletes, including 10 women, and won 42 medals, including 16 golds. Here’s the Belgian team, marching into the stadium:

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Image

The procession of the athletes of Belgium