Pack your little kit, show your grit!

Do your bit! It’s not too late to join up  — on the 2017 trip to the battlefields in France. From Meuse-Argonne.com:

Hello, readers!  Space is still available on the World War 1 Historical Association’s June 2017 Pilgrimage to the Western Front, but the deadline for reserving your seat is December 31, 2016!  So don’t put off your decision-making too long; and please share this post with your friends who might be interested in the tour!!  Details can be found at our website:  http://ww1ha.org/2017-ww1-battlefield-pilgrimage/.

Tour Guide’s Skill Set

This tour is being led by webmaster Randal Gaulke.  Many readers know that Randal has been traveling to the American battlefields of France almost annually since 1986.  In planning the 2017 tour he has been working with Paul Guthrie and John Snow, both directors of the WW1HA, to plan the tour.  Paul has organized / overseen seven tours for the WW1HA and its predecessor organization, and John Snow has traveled to the area frequently, too.  Randal has outlined his experience in an October 8, 2016, blog post that can be accessed here:  http://meuse-argonne.com/?p=1603.)

shb-randy-on-the-map

Randal Gaulke gives a talk in 2007 on the map in the Mont Sec Memorial to U.S. troops in the St. Mihiel Salient. (Blogger’s note: That is Susan in the center of the photo with the suspiciously red hair.)

Endorsement From a 2017 Participant

Through this website, Randal also has the opportunity to help planning trips, including Valerie Young; who is booked on the 2017 tour.  She has written this endorsement:

Randy has been an invaluable resource to me this year in the planning of my personal journey to the Meuse-Argonne to bring to life the grandfather I never knew. His website was my initial introduction to his vast knowledge of the history and geography of the area. His recommendations for books, maps, other websites, and travel insights were tremendously helpful. We then had a lunch meeting where I shared my ideas about an individual journey; his great awareness and input validated my confidence and respect for him, his commitment to the Meuse-Argonne, and his desire to enable others to experience it as he has for so many years.

With Randy’s help, I was able to “follow in the footsteps” that my grandfather took nearly 100 years ago. Randy helped me find a guide/driver and accommodations, and provided important information on specific battlefield monuments and sites related to my grandfather’s infantry unit. His detailed knowledge of the area is essential to anyone planning a trip there. I am now writing about my grandfather’s military journey, and look forward to joining the tour in June 2017.

Making It Personal to the Participant

All of the organizing and presentation of history aside, there comes a time on a tour when a person is just struck by something that resonates with his / her soul–and that is why reading history or exploring Google Earth does NOT provide the same experience as a pilgrimage!

For the webmaster, one such occasion was listening to a Volksbund (German War Graves Association) employee talk about the last (annual) visit of an aging spouse to her husband’s grave at the cemetery.  She knew she would be meeting him again soon.

For two members of the 8th Kuerassier Regiment on the 2005 tour, it was touring Helly Ravine near Fort Douaumont.  Following their visit, they questioned whether reenacting was just playing cowboys and Indians; and they had a new-found understanding of the terrible conditions for the soldiers during the Verdun battle and during the Great War in general.

Additional Information on the Guide

In addition to presenting the events and their significance, the battlefield tour guide must become quite proficient in logistics:  One has to schedule visits, hotels, bus timing, etc.  To do this, one has to know the region and its people and be able to speak the language.  One also needs to be organized, to be financially savvy and to understand how to model / consider risks.

Randal has all of these qualifications.  He has arranged many details  for the second half of the 2007 Western Front Association USA Branch’s tour and other tours.  Randal was the coordinator for the WW1HA’s 2015 Symposium in Lisle, Illinois; which featured eight speakers and almost 100 participants over two days.  Randal’s profession as a high-yield bond analyst and his work as Treasurer of the Great War Association, Chairman of the Finance Committee at his previous church and Treasurer of Troop 56 BSA Millington, NJ has also helped him develop the skills necessary.

Again, it needs to be emphasized that Randal worked with the WW1HA and its directors to plan the trip.

Take Action Today!

Please reserve your space today;  Please tell your friends about this opportunity;  and please contact Randal with any questions:  lavarennes@meuse-argonne.com or 908-451-0252.

 

Advertisements

Blizzard in the Dardenelles

We woke up to heavy snow this morning — halfway through April. Clearing off the car was a challenge, and then there was ice to scrape off the windows. I saw a container garden of daffodils and snowdrops that were frozen solid.

But, to paraphrase another blogger (That’s Nothing Compared to Passchendaele). this snow is nothing compared to Gallipoli. The Dardanelles’ average temperature in November is a tolerable 54 — jacket weather, we would say. But on Nov. 28, 1915, the peninsula was hit with a blizzard.

The Australian, New Zealand and other British troops began landing at Gallipoli on April 25, 1915 — with another monthly average in the 50s — but the summer months were extremely hot and many soldiers developed dysentery and typhoid fever, because of the flies flourishing on the unburied, decomposing dead.

But the weather was hot, then it was warm, then it was cool — and then there was a horrific thunderstorm with rain so heavy that many men drowned in their own trenches.  The next day, the blizzard hit.

Here is one New Zealander’s account, from the Poverty Bay Herald, posted by the National Library of New Zealand: http://paperspast.natlib.govt.nz/cgi-bin/paperspast?a=d&d=PBH19160205.2.39

More accounts and discussions can be found at the Great War Forum: http://1914-1918.invisionzone.com/forums/index.php?showtopic=166263&page=2

Snow at Gallipoli

April 25 is a day of remembrance for Australians and New Zealanders, and it’s also commemorated by the Turks.  Ceremonies around the world are very moving. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=stb0asxF6bM

Put it on your calendar — and hope for better weather.

 

 

 

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.

 

 

WW1HA 2013 Symposium speakers: Nicholas Murray

Nicholas Murray is a graduate of Kings College London and the University of Oxford. He is an associate professor at the U.S. Army Command and Staff College in Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, where he teaches military history. His specialty is the evolution of warfare prior to 1914.

His new book, out this month, is “The Rocky Road to the Great War: The Evolution of Trench Warfare to 1914,” published by Potomac Books.

Here’s his link:

http://ww1ha.org/2013symposium/nicholas-murray.html

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!

Great War Raids

The only thing worse than life in the trenches was having to get out of them. The Imperial War Museum’s collection of podcasts now includes a description of trench raids, by men who took part in crawling across No Man’s Land in the pitch dark to get something out of the other guys’ trench.

http://www.1914.org/podcasts/podcast-15-trench-raids/

When I first started reading about British and Commonwealth forces,  I was puzzled by the reference to Mills bombs. I thought they were mortars.

Doughboys standing around watching someone else light a mortar.

But, no, a Mills bomb is a hand grenade, not unlike the one that showed up in a sewing machine last summer.

http://www2.nbc17.com/news/2011/jun/23/4/goldsboro-couple-finds-live-wwi-grenade-inside-sew-ar-1147170/

For a selection of Mills bombs, click here:

http://www.millsgrenades.co.uk/