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.

 

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Book Review: “The Hidden Threat”

German fleet surrendering to the English. First German U-boat near the Towerbridge. London, England, 1918.

German fleet surrendering to the English. First German U-boat near the Towerbridge. London, England, 1918.

The Hidden Threat: The Story of Mines and Minesweeping by the Royal Navy in World War I, by Jim Crossley, Pen & Sword, 2011, 168 pages, charts, diagrams, photos, index, ISBN 978 1 8488 4272 4, $39.95 cloth.

Review by Len Shurtleff

Mines were first (unsuccessfully) employed in naval warfare during the American Revolution. They were far more effective during the American Civil War when mines (or torpedoes as they were then called) sank some 22 vessels. Mines were also used to protect German harbors during the Franco-Prussian War of 1870-71. Traditionally thought of as a defensive weapon employed by the weaker adversary, mines came into their own as an offensive weapon in Japanese hands against Russia in 1904-05. Their use was expanded significantly during World War I, first by Germany and Turkey, then by Great Britain

Employing speedy converted destroyers and armed passenger liners, Germany mined the approaches to British fleet anchorages and ports beginning in August 1914. Russia used mines to defend her main Baltic bases. The Germans developed several classes of mine-laying submarines some of which had enough range to reach American shores. Turkish-laid fields of mines in the narrows off the Dardanelles sank or badly damaged several British and French battleships in 1915.

Faced with the proven effectiveness of this silent weapon, the Royal Navy responded by creating a fleet of small minesweeping trawlers, drifters and paddle steamers manned by fishermen and other reservist crews. By 1916, they had also mounted a major mining campaign of their own along the German coast, in the Dover Straits and English Channel expanding these in 1917 and 1918 to the North Sea between Norway and the northern most Scottish islands. Most of the 70,000 mines in this Northern Barrage aimed at containing German U-boats were laid by the US Navy from converted civilian coastal liners.

Their effectiveness was disappointing. At the most the Northern Barrage sank six U-boats.

Mines laid in the eastern North Sea were far more effective in supporting the British Grand Fleet in pinning the German High Seas Fleet in its bases while the maritime trade blockade gradually eroded Germany’s ability to sustain a war of attrition on the Western Front.

 

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

Poelcapelle

Here’s an awesome post from Jonathan Vernon, blogging as That’s Nothing Compared to Passchendaele. His grandfather was a machine gunner in World War I, and this post is based on his recollections of this particular battle in Third Ypres — what we know as Passchendaele.

http://machineguncorps.com/2012/06/26/poelcapelle-october-1917/

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!

Speaking of tanks

Look at this thing. It’s enormous — see the little people on top?

It’s a Russian Lebendenko. Here’s a great description of the tank and its development:

http://www.landships.freeservers.com/lebedenko_info.htm

Here’s a website in Russian (I assume) that has a nice diagram of the tank:

http://www.aviarmor.net/tww2/tanks/ussr/lebedenko.htm

A tank here and there

George Sipple, blogging as Great War Fiction, has an interesting post about newly re-released films of London, made in 1924, that include views of the World War I tank that was displayed outside the British Museum.

http://greatwarfiction.wordpress.com/2012/08/21/a-tank-outside-the-british-museum/

Apparently, it was a tourist attraction — just the size of it would have intrigued me. The only WWI tank I’ve ever seen is Deborah, which is about the size of my Taurus. Deborah, or D51, was hit by German artillery at Flesquieres during the Battle of Cambrai on Nov. 20, 1917. The tank reportedly was dragged into a convenient shell hole and buried. It was found more or less intact in November 1998.

Blogger That Scouse Bastard has an interesting post about his visit to Flesquieres and the Cambrai area. He has great pictures of Deborah and more, including the Tank Corps Memorial at Pozieres.

http://www.thatscousebastard.com/D51_Deborah/

Here’s Deborah’s official site, with details about the tank, the battle and how Deborah was recovered.

http://www.tank-cambrai.com/english/home.php

Image

Tanks parade in London after the war. National Library of Scotland.

War dog of the day — updated

WW1HA member John Snow writes, “Just for the record, this attentive pooch is sitting on the barrel of a British 6 inch 26 cwt howitzer, model 1915. This model was mainstay of British medium artillery during the Great War, reportedly firing over 22 million rounds on the Western Front between deployment in late 1915 and the end of the war. Its one downside was its weight. Moving this gun required a large team of horses, a steam traction engine, or a heavy truck. With modifications to the carriage, it remained on active service as the standard British medium howitzer until 1945.”