Category Archives: France

Naval Competition in the Pacific, 1914

From German Raiders of the South Seas, by Robin Bromby (Highgate, 2012), Kindle Loc. 226-281:

Apart from the East Asiatic Squadron, the Germans had maintained a small fleet to keep peace and show the flag around the islands of the South Pacific, and to patrol the Chinese rivers. This fleet included the survey ship Planet (which was at Yap in the Carolines at this time) and two gunboats of considerable vintage. One of these gunboats had already finished her tour of duty and was on her way back to Germany. The other, the Cormoran, had been in dry dock at Tsingtao undergoing a refit (and would also later be scuttled along with the Austrian cruiser). This refit, incidentally, involved the dismantling of the ship’s engines, which supports the claim that the Germans in China were taken by surprise by the timing of war. This is even further borne out by the fact that just two months previously, the commander of the British China Squadron itself, Vice-Admiral Sir Martyn Jerram, had paid a courtesy call at Tsingtao.

Cormoran’s crew, enjoying a long shore leave, had been joined by the crews of the Yangtze River gunboats Otter, Vaterland and Tsingtao who had been instructed in July to disarm and abandon their vessels and travel overland to the German colony.

The capture of the Rjasan solved the problem for the Germans of what to do with these surplus crews. The commander of the disabled Cormoran, Korvettenkapitan Adalbert Zuckschwerdt, had decided in von Müller’s absence to mount guns on the luxury liner Prinz Eitel Friedrich and man the ship with some of his surplus sailors. Now, with the Emden’s prize, he had two auxiliary cruisers at his disposal.

The Rjasan had been a member of the Russian Volunteer Fleet and had clearly been designed to be converted to an auxiliary cruiser. Von Müller decided she could well fit this role in the cause of Imperial Germany, with Zuckschwerdt and his men to be her crew. The former Russian ship was moored alongside the disabled Cormoran. The first task was to clean her up, Russian standards of cleanliness at sea being far removed from Teutonic hygiene requirements. On shore, meanwhile, frantic preparations were being made for the defence of Tsingtao itself. The harbour was mined and gun emplacements set up along the waterfront. Small ships were being loaded ready to act as colliers to the German fleet.

Within two days they had the Rjasan ready to sail. She was now re-named Cormoran in place of the shell of a ship still lying at the dock. The main problem for Zuckschwerdt was fuel capacity. The question of coaling the surface raiders is a recurring one throughout this book: not only were commanders constantly concerned where the next supply of coal was coming from, but, when coal was available, getting it aboard ship was a backbreaking and filthy job. Away from ports there was inevitably no crane to help, only the crew working with shovels and buckets. Raiders of World War I, while charged with sinking Allied shipping in order to starve Britain of supplies, eyed many possible victims with the single thought of how much coal they might be carrying. As will be seen later, German colonies were justified in Berlin on the sole grounds of their potential as coaling stations for the Imperial Navy.

In the case of the newly re-named Cormoran the solution to the problem of limited fuel capacity was to move the crew on to the deck and use the ship’s accommodation as extra coal bunkers. By this means Zuckschwerdt gave his ship an additional 16,000 kilometre range. He sailed out of Tsingtao on 10 August 1914. Four months later he and his crew were to be interned by the Americans at Guam, but a great deal would happen to the Cormoran before then.

Meanwhile the might of the British Empire was preparing to expel Germany once and for all from the Pacific. She had not been wanted there in the first place. To the British and Germans the Pacific was a sideshow at a time of momentous events on the European continent. Indeed, many histories of World War I scarcely mention the events taking place so far away from London, Paris, Berlin and St Petersburg. The Germans and the British knew that the question of naval supremacy would be settled in the North Sea and the Atlantic Ocean. The wider questions of strategy and planning will be dealt with in the next chapter, but it is clear from contemporary accounts that the people of Australia and New Zealand had a considerable fear of a German presence in the Pacific Ocean. There had been a number of Russian ‘scares’ in the late nineteenth century and, particularly in New Zealand, defensive installations had been undertaken at some harbours in anticipation of the Tsar’s warships suddenly appearing on the horizon. Australia was not quite so hysterical: in 1909 the Australian government noted that the term ‘defended port’ was an empty one, those ports so designated (Sydney, Adelaide, Newcastle, Port Phillip, for example) either had no guns, or if they did, had no trained gunnery officers, searchlights for night firing or supplies for the crews.

But by the outbreak of war, the scare was really on in both countries. On 10 August, the New Zealand Herald reported the Australians were worried about ‘the great naval base of Simpsonhafen (now Rabaul) in Kaiser Wilhelm land (now part of Papua New Guinea) which had allegedly been built at a cost of ‘thousands of pounds’. The newspaper which, despite hostilities, was still printing daily summaries of local shipping movements, warned that the German naval base had been built under the guise of mercantile expansion within striking distance of the Torres Strait, where all the shipping routes between Australia and the Far East converged. It reported that the wharf at Simpsonhafen was 300 metres long with spacious warehouses worth £40,000; if these had existed, this imaginary wharf would have been longer than any other in Australasia and equal to the needs of a city of 100,000 people. The report of this ‘great naval base’ would have been news to the Imperial German Navy, too.

At the outbreak of war, the East Asiatic Squadron faced a superior British and Allied presence and the squadron commander, Vice-Admiral Maximilian Count von Spee, knew that only too well. Apart from the Russian fleet at Vladivostok and the two French cruisers, Dupleix and Montcalm, there was the British China squadron based at Weihaiwei and Hong Kong, the East Indies station at Colombo, and the Australian squadron.

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German Ships in the Pacific, August 1914

From German Raiders of the South Seas, by Robin Bromby (Highgate, 2012), Kindle Loc. 52-108:

ON 31 JULY 1914 as the shadows of war rolled in, the German cruiser SMS Emden slipped its moorings at the port of Tsingtao in northern China. The previous day had seen Austria-Hungary declare war on Serbia following the murder of Archduke Franz Ferdinand. Germany followed with declarations against France and Russia, and Britain and its empire would join in on 4 August.

Emden’s captain, Karl von Müller, was anxious to avoid being bottled up in the harbour by the British naval squadron should war be declared. The Royal Navy was based not far away at Weihaiwei — the British territory on the North China coast which had been leased in 1898 for a coaling station (and would be returned to China in 1930). Although the Germans in China were aware that war was threatening, the timing of its declaration seems to have caught them by surprise; the main force of the East Asiatic Squadron was away on a three-month cruise of the Pacific to show the flag along the impressive string of German territories that spread as far as Samoa.

In 1884, the Emperor had proclaimed his sovereignty over the northern part of New Guinea. In 1897 the murder of two German missionaries in China had provided the pretext for the Germans to seize Kiaochow and extract a ninety-nine year lease on the bay at Tsingtao along with extensive railway and mining concessions in Shantung province from the beleaguered Chinese government. Kiaochow, while a German colony, was administered by the Reichsmarineamt and the governor of the territory was not a ministry official from Berlin but the commanding naval officer. Following the murder of the missionaries, Germany had sent a naval force and forced the weak Chinese government to accede to a 99-year lease on the territory; moreover, Germany was given the right to construct two railway lines into Chinese territory and have the rights to any minerals over a 30km-wide corridor through which those lines would run. The German victory set off another round of territorial claims for pieces of China: the Russians took over Port Arthur, France demand Kwangchow and Britain both expanded its land area at Hong Kong with a 99-year lease over what would be known as the New Territories and also took control at Weihaiwei in the north of China.

Meanwhile, in 1899 the Germans bought Marshall and Caroline Islands (now separately the countries of Palau and Federated States of Micronesia) from Spain and then Western Samoa was wrung from the British to complete the new and what would be a short-lived German empire in the east.

Nevertheless, the imperatives of the European situation were such that Germany could give only scant attention to its Pacific possessions. This may explain why the German fleet was scattered at the beginning of August. The armoured cruisers Scharnhorst and Gneisenau, each of 11,832 tons and launched in 1907 and 1908 respectively, were on the flag-showing cruise and the Emden was in Tsingtao, along with the armed merchant cruiser Prinz Eitel Friedrich and several colliers. The light cruiser Nurnberg was steaming from North America and due to meet up with Scharnhorst and Gneisenau at Apia in Samoa, while the other light cruiser, Leipzig, was en route to Mexico.

([Photo caption:] When the Nürnberg was ordered to rejoin the East Asiatic Squadron at the outbreak of war, one of her first jobs was to cut the cable at Fanning Island, a relay station for the vital Pacific cable. On 7 September 1914 the cruiser landed a party of sailors, the Germans smashing the operating room, dynamiting the generating plant, dredging up the cable and cutting it. [Paul Schmalenbach Collection])

Impressive though it was, Germany’s naval squadron in the Pacific was dwarfed in size there by the country’s merchant fleet operating in that vast ocean. At this time, Germany was second only to Britain in merchant tonnage there. In the Pacific the presence of the German territories as well as the normal international trade meant that German merchant ships were frequent visitors to British empire ports; many of the supplies needed by the German settlers in New Guinea came from Australia, and it was the German shipping companies which provided the transport for those supplies. The merchant ships, at least those with radios, could keep in contact with Berlin. In the early years of the twentieth century the Germans installed a network of wireless stations to link their possessions and their ships, the main stations being at Yap, New Guinea and Samoa. In 1908 all German merchant captains had received instructions that in time of war they were to head immediately for a German possession or a neutral port. In February 1914 all German ships equipped with wireless were told to listen to German stations at 0700, 1300 and 2310 each day.

On 3 August 1914, literally the eve of war, there were many German merchant ships around the coast of Australia. The Seydlitz, a Norddeutscher-Lloyd (NDL) mail steamer, was berthed at Sydney’s Circular Quay. Also in Sydney that night were other NDL steamers: the Elsass at what was then the NDL wharf, the Melbourne at Garden Island and the Osnabruck at Woolloomooloo. The Sumatra had arrived from Hamburg the previous day, while the Germania was just in from the Caroline Islands. The Stolberg was docked at Fremantle and the Scharzfels and the Iserlohn had berthed at Adelaide, with the Cannstadt tieing up at Brisbane. The Pommern was at sea between Brisbane and Sydney.

From 3 August the Port of Sydney was closed at night. Three minutes after midnight on the previous day, at the other main port in New South Wales, Newcastle, the collier Luneberg had slipped out of that harbour with empty holds while the captain on the Ulm was so anxious to leave Newcastle he left two-thirds of his cargo on the wharf. The Australian authorities had already instructed the Navy to examine all ships entering or leaving defended ports.

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1918-11-11: End of the Shooting War

From Hundred Days: The Campaign That Ended World War I, by Nick Lloyd (Basic Books, 2014), Kindle Loc. 5198-5212:

Behind the lines, the news rarely provoked outright celebration. When the battery commander, Major F. J. Rice, got up that morning and was on his way to the regimental mess for breakfast, one of his men told him that ‘it was all over sir’. Orders had come in that hostilities would cease at 11 a.m. ‘All the officers took it very calmly,’ he recalled. After breakfast they managed to get their hands on a bottle of port and shared it with their NCOs. When they saw one of the sergeants walking across the gun park, they shouted out the news. The man merely halted, saluted, and said ‘very good, sir’, before continuing on, seemingly as unconcerned as ever.

The American First-Lieutenant Clair Groover of 313th Infantry Regiment – the junior officer who had survived the assault on Montfaucon – remembered how the quietness that followed the Armistice ‘got to you’. ‘It was so unreal, that it disturbed you emotionally,’ he admitted. ‘Some of the hardest officers wept. It was so unusual that you would walk around without being shot at.’ Within moments he noticed German soldiers getting up out of their positions and moving out into the open. One of them came over and told him, with tears in his eyes, that his brother had been killed the day before and that he would like permission to locate and bury the body. Groover agreed. That night ‘all the troops along the line were treated to the greatest display of fireworks ever set off. Both sides were setting off their entire pyrotechnic supply of rockets, Very candles, red, blue, green, were sparkling in the air. The first few scared you and you would flatten out on the ground, forgetting that it was all over. That night there were camp fires all along the lines.’ That was it; it was over. ‘It was the end of the shooting war.’

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1918: Quick Collapse on All Fronts

From Hundred Days: The Campaign That Ended World War I, by Nick Lloyd (Basic Books, 2014), Kindle Loc. 4440-4447, 4754-4770:

For so long the various theatres of war in Europe, Italy and the Middle East had seemed frozen and immobile; stalemated and deadlocked. And then in late autumn, with surprising suddenness, the thaw finally set in. By 30 September, Bulgaria had signed an armistice, which opened up the southern flank of the Central Powers. Austro-Hungary was already on the verge of capitulation, and it took only a limited offensive by the Italian Army in the final week of October – the Battle of Vittorio Veneto – to push it over the edge. In the Middle East, the Ottoman Empire was now entering its final death throes. What remained of the Turkish Army in Palestine had been routed at the Battle of Megiddo in late September, and over the following month General Sir Edmund Allenby’s troops pushed north, mercilessly harassing the retreating Turkish columns. Aleppo fell on 26 October and within days an armistice was signed on the island of Mudros – thus bringing the war in the Middle East to a victorious conclusion.

By the first week of November the German Army was in full retreat across the Western Front. From the air ‘we saw all the roads crowded with columns of men marching back,’ wrote one German pilot. Endless lines of weary troops splashed and shuffled their way eastwards, bowed down with their equipment, looking over their shoulders in fear, half expecting to see Allied aircraft or cavalry squadrons ready to scatter them again. It was an awful sight: the faces of young boys overshadowed by the steel helmets that were too big for them, or hobbling along in boots that had been worn away long ago; old veterans who had seen too many battles marching along with glassy eyes and a grim acceptance of death or wounding. It was by now a motley army; the exact opposite of the legions of proud feldgrau that had marched across Europe in the summer of 1914 on their way to enact Count von Schlieffen’s great war plan. The German Army had reached its end; worn down by four years of merciless slaughter and pounded into dust by the brutal Allied artillery bombardments. Some still believed in victory, in some divine intervention – a catastrophic outbreak of flu in Paris or London; a devastating fallout between the English and Americans perhaps – but most realized there was little they could do. How could they defeat the endless power of the Allied guns or their swarms of tanks? How many Americans would they have to kill before they too gave in? And in any case, was it really worth fighting and dying for any more? Did anyone really care whether Alsace-Lorraine was French or German?

Casualties were nothing short of catastrophic. Fritz von Lossberg estimated that by the time the German Army reached the Antwerp–Meuse Line it had lost over 400,000 men and 6,000 guns. Other authorities put it higher, and it is possible that between 18 July and 11 November the Army suffered 420,000 dead and wounded with another 385,000 men being taken prisoner. Such a magnitude of loss was simply unsustainable, and when this was combined with the thousands of casualties from Germany’s spring offensives earlier in the year – perhaps as high as a million – it meant that her army was bleeding to death.

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1918: Respect for German Gunners

From Hundred Days: The Campaign That Ended World War I, by Nick Lloyd (Basic Books, 2014), Kindle Loc. 2481-2488, 4523-4538:

Whatever the Americans thought about the British or the French, they soon acquired a healthy respect for the Germans: for their ability as soldiers; for their ruthlessness; for their professionalism wherever they fought. Within days of reaching the front with his division, Captain Grady saw a German plane fly low over the lines and drop a note addressed to their Commanding Officer. ‘Goodbye 42nd Division,’ it read, ‘hello 77th’. ‘Jerry sure is there with the humour,’ wrote Grady. For Frank Holden, his respect and admiration for the German soldier was summed up in his experience at Boucanville with 82nd Division. It was commonly said that the location of their battalion headquarters was well-known to the Germans, and that they could probably shell it any time they wanted. The divisional staff would joke about the time when three large shells – huge 210mm rounds – landed in a direct line near to the battalion headquarters; two shells behind, one in front. But no matter what the Germans did, they never moved their headquarters, simply because ‘we thought if we did then the Germans would drop a 210 on us just to show us that they knew that we had moved’.

For every group of cowed, shivering soldiers, there were others in the German Army who would not give in; those who were disputing their progress every day, inch by inch: the spine of the German defence, her machine-gunners. These men were both feared and respected. ‘The gunners were brave men,’ wrote T. H. Holmes, a Private with 56th (London) Division, ‘because firing the gun meant revealing the position of it, and up would come a tank and invariably shoot the post to pieces, and then trample it flat. I saw a ghastly mass of crushed heads and limbs tangled up with twisted iron. They said some of these machine-gunners were chained to their weapons.’ Another British soldier, a member of the Machine-Gun Corps, recorded in his memoirs how these men repeatedly occupied the best positions with the most deadly fields of fire, and consequently always proved extremely dangerous. Like many soldiers, he soon became used to the sight of machine-gunners crushed beneath tanks. Although it was not true that these men were chained to their weapons – the strap that the gunners wore was often mistaken for some kind of restraint – their courage was legendary. On one occasion, a Canadian, R. H. Camp, came across a gunner who had fired off all his ammunition. There was nothing particularly unusual about this, but Camp was amazed by what happened next. ‘He stood up in his hole and started taking his gun to pieces and he was throwing the pieces at us, anything he could get a hold of. We knew then of course that he was out of ammunition and we up and rushed him.’ Just as the Canadians were about to get to grips with him, their officer ran up shouting. ‘Don’t stick him boys! Don’t stick him.’ He got out a piece of paper, scribbled something on it, and then put it in the German’s pocket. ‘Don’t touch this man, he’s brave.’ He then told the German to make his way back to the rear. The note was a signed declaration of the machine-gunner’s courage and a guarantee that he would not be harmed.

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1918: The Americans

From Hundred Days: The Campaign That Ended World War I, by Nick Lloyd (Basic Books, 2014), Kindle Loc. 2489-2509:

At first glance the doughboys looked little different from their British and French associates. They wore a version of the British tin helmet and used the small pattern box respirator. They ate bully beef. They fired French or British weapons, often Lee Enfields, Lewis guns or Chauchats, and threw Mills bombs. They went into action alongside French tanks – Renaults or Schneiders – flew French or British aircraft – Spads or Sopwith Camels – and grew to love the French 75mm field gun, the legendary soixante-quinze. But in other respects the Americans were remarkably different. While both British and French Armies recruited mainly from remarkably cohesive home societies (excepting, of course, their colonial contingents), Pershing’s men were drawn from the full spectrum of US society, and included many recent immigrants from Europe, Russia and Latin America, as well as Native Americans. A considerable number of black Americans also went to France, and although they were not permitted to serve alongside white soldiers and continued to suffer horrific racial prejudice, they did yeoman service on the lines of transport in France, helping to unload equipment and supplies, and doing the menial jobs without which Pershing’s army could not have survived.

The Americans were different in other ways too. They were much richer than their cousins in other armies. They could draw $30 a month, about ten times the pay of a French private, thus gaining the eternal jealousy of the poilus, who looked upon the arrival of the Americans with concern and insecurity. And in another odd, but still tangible way, the Americans differed from their British and French counterparts. They were big; physically big. Numerous commentators at the time noticed the physical presence of the first US soldiers, tall, well-built troops with high morale and an instinctive, almost cocky pride; the kind of soldiers that had not been seen on the Western Front since 1916, when Britain’s New Armies had entered the fray. For their commander, this was the key point. Pershing was confident that American valour – her aggressive frontier spirit – would be the answer to the stalemate in the west. When he had first travelled to France and met British and French commanders, Pershing had quickly come to the conclusion that their methods would never win the war. They were stuck in their ways, he would tell his subordinates, and obsessed with limited, artillery-heavy trench attacks. He wanted his troops to be trained, first and foremost, as individual soldiers and riflemen, able to think for themselves on the battlefield and engage the enemy on their own terms.

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1918: The Role of Gas

From Hundred Days: The Campaign That Ended World War I, by Nick Lloyd (Basic Books, 2014), Kindle Loc. 2110-2134, 2146-2157:

Following up the German armies was never easy or without cost. As well as advancing in the face of shelling, booby-traps, and machine-gun and sniper fire, the Allied armies had to operate in a terrifying and dangerous chemical environment. Although shell and machine-gun fire accounted for the majority of casualties, gas evoked a fear that was unlike any other weapon and had a significant effect on how the war was fought. It had evolved much since the first chlorine gas had been released near Ypres in 1915, maturing into a weapon that was used with a remarkable degree of ingenuity and inventiveness. By 1918 all sides had incorporated gas into their battle tactics, with both front and rear sectors regularly being deluged with gas, which poisoned the ground and caused a constant trickle of casualties. Gas shells, containing either mustard or phosgene, would often be fired alongside high explosive, in the hope that during a bombardment – with its noise and chaos – the arrival of quieter gas shells would be missed. If any soldiers survived the bombardment, then a silent, deadly killer would still await them. Gas also offered a useful and effective method of counter-battery fire. Because it was very difficult to score a direct hit on enemy gun positions, gas shells were frequently employed to force gunners to don their respirators, which often impeded their accuracy and slowed their reactions.

For the Allies, the main problem was dealing with mustard gas – ‘the king of the war gases’ – which was used in increasing amounts by German artillery. As the retreat gathered momentum, German gunners fired thousands of these shells at their pursuers, using it as an area denial weapon, through which the Allies could not advance, or at least not without difficulty. As the historian Tim Cook has shown, ‘German gunners simply blocked out map grids and fired shells to saturate the whole sector, thereby eliminating that area from the front.’ Ever since its introduction in the summer of 1917, mustard gas had become notorious for its effectiveness at causing casualties because of its persistence and the lack of a foolproof countermeasure. The German chemical industry produced vast amounts of this effective and unpleasant chemical compound, while the Allies could only manufacture limited amounts by the summer of 1918. Mustard gas may not have been immediately fatal (particularly if there was only minor contact), but it caused a variety of painful wounds, including lung damage (if inhaled), blisters and burns on the skin, and conjunctivitis in the eyes. The shells would explode with a dull thud or pop, leading some inexperienced soldiers to mistake its arrival for that of a ‘dud’ shell. The liquid contents would then leak out, rapidly vaporize and form terrifying yellow clouds. Because it could go through wool and cotton, there was precious little protection from its symptoms, particularly if the liquid splashed you, and it lay there, settling in shell holes and trenches, often remaining active for weeks. It is little wonder that unless dealt with quickly the fear of mustard gas had a devastating effect on unit morale. All soldiers could do was put on their gas masks and try to get out of the affected area as soon as possible. Unfortunately, this was sometimes easier said than done because German gunners had an annoying habit of creeping their gas barrages forward at the same rate as a man could walk. If you were particularly unfortunate, you could be exposed for hours.

The Americans – who began their own offensive in September – would also encounter the horror of mustard gas. Indeed, Pershing’s forces were particularly susceptible to gas attacks as they lacked the sophisticated and well-worn anti-gas doctrine of the British and French. Whereas the Allies had been gradually improving their protective measures since 1915 (and were well aware of how deadly chemical weapons could be), there was a lack of appreciation in the US Army of how easily gas could cause casualties. Gas accounted for 27 per cent of American losses in the Great War, a frighteningly high figure that, in part, explained the speed with which large US divisions were worn out at the front.17 One American officer, Frank Holden, a Battalion Gas Officer, experienced a gas bombardment that September. It was a terrifying few hours that revealed not only how inventive gas tactics were becoming, but also how difficult they were to combat. Holden knew that the Germans often fired tear gas (or what was known as Blue Cross gas) into areas where troops had concentrated, causing intense choking, sneezing and coughing. After Blue Cross had been deployed, German gunners would then deluge the target area with more deadly agents, many men often finding it impossible to keep their respirators on if they needed to sneeze or vomit. Holden’s battalion had marched into the village of Norroy when they came under a barrage of ‘sneezing gas’ (most probably Blue Cross). He immediately ordered all gas masks to be worn.

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1918: Canadian and Australian Shock Troops

From Hundred Days: The Campaign That Ended World War I, by Nick Lloyd (Basic Books, 2014), Kindle 872-892:

The spearhead of the attack was entrusted to two of the most powerful and experienced corps in the BEF: the Canadian and Australian Corps. Both were large, well-equipped and battle-hardened formations with a growing reputation for professionalism, ruthlessness and above all success. It had been the Canadian Corps that had taken Vimy Ridge in April 1917, successfully storming one of the most formidable positions on the Western Front in little over three hours. Although the Australians never enjoyed success on the scale of Vimy, they prided themselves on their effectiveness and aggression, specializing in large trench raids that they called – somewhat misleadingly – ‘peaceful penetration’. The Australians had also recently conducted the Battle of Hamel on 4 July, a beautifully crafted combined ‘all-arms’ operation that took just over ninety minutes to overrun the village of Le Hamel and surrounding woodland with minimal casualties. These formations, as was rapidly becoming clear, were the ‘shock armies’ of the BEF. They were also semi-independent formations with powerful political support back home. Haig could not boss the Canadians or Australians around in the way that he was used to doing with British divisions.

As well as containing large numbers of well-rested, highly motivated and well-equipped troops, the Dominion corps were led by two of the most promising commanders in the British Empire: Sir Arthur Currie and Sir John Monash. In many ways they were typical of their homelands, being men who could only have found success and fame in the freer air of the Dominions. There was no way Arthur Currie, a teacher and failed financier, would have risen to Lieutenant-General had he joined the regular British Army. Likewise, the Australian, Sir John Monash, came from a family of Polish Jews and he had originally been a civil engineer when he joined the North Melbourne Militia before the war. Both men possessed fierce, inquisitive minds, eagerly devouring military knowledge because they knew the lives of their men depended on it. They understood and valued firepower and logistics and also recognized the importance of patience and preparation. Currie’s motto was a characteristic ‘neglect nothing’, while Monash described his theory of war as how ‘to advance under the maximum possible protection of the maximum possible array of mechanical resources, in the form of guns, machine-guns, tanks, mortars and aeroplanes’. The theory of war that emerged from the Dominion corps may not have been subtle; it may not have been as innovative as the tactical changes ushered in by the German Army, but it worked. And it worked at a tolerable cost in lives.

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1918: Influenza on the Western Front

From Hundred Days: The Campaign That Ended World War I, by Nick Lloyd (Basic Books, 2014), Kindle Loc. 650-667:

As well as the thousands of broken and bloodied men that came from the front, there was a frightening surge in cases of influenza across Western Europe. This was the first wave of the great ‘Spanish flu’ pandemic that wreaked such havoc and caused such fear, with up to fifty million people dying worldwide before the end of 1919. Influenza had always been present, but the number of admissions suddenly surged up during the last summer of the war. In the UK there had been somewhere between 2,000 and 3,000 cases each month during the spring, but over 30,000 were registered in June alone. This epidemic took the form of the so-called ‘three day fever’, which was extremely infectious, and, as the British Medical History noted, would strike suddenly ‘so that barrack rooms which the day before had been full of bustle and life would now be converted wholesale into one great sick room’. Patients would experience a high fever, often up to 103 degrees Fahrenheit, before gradually returning to health within a short time. This strain was particularly virulent in the German Army. In the two months of June and July 1918, over half a million soldiers would contract the disease, most of whom were treated in specialized ‘flu infirmaries’ behind the lines. The illness usually began with chills and general malaise, before a fever took hold for 48–72 hours. This ‘lighter’ type of flu was usually not fatal – patients would generally recover within eight or ten days – and had died down by the late summer, and should not be confused with the much more lethal and dangerous strain that emerged over the winter of 1918 and into the following year.

This second strain of influenza was the killer. As the year progressed, Allied and German doctors began to notice new, more terrifying symptoms in their influenza cases. They would soon become familiar with a list of complaints that included bodily weakness and a throbbing headache, chest pains and a hacking cough. Usually blood-stained froth would be brought up and the patient would then show the usually fatal signs of cyanosis – the blue discoloration of the face that meant death was only hours away.

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New Arab Kingdoms after 1919

From Lawrence in Arabia: War, Deceit, Imperial Folly and the Making of the Modern Middle East, by Scott Anderson (Doubleday, 2013), Kindle Loc. 10019-10072:

It’s hard to imagine that any of this [alternative history] could possibly have produced a sadder history than what has actually transpired over the past century, a catalog of war, religious strife, and brutal dictatorships that has haunted not just the Middle East but the entire world. That sad history began from almost the moment the negotiators in Paris packed their bags and declared their mission complete, leaving in their wake “a porcelain peace.”

Denied Lawrence’s assistance in the autumn of 1919, a desperate Faisal was forced to accept the few crumbs of compromise the French were willing to throw his way in Syria. When Faisal returned to Damascus, however, he found himself denounced as a traitor for selling the nation out to the European imperialists. Harnessing this popular rage, Faisal renounced his deal with the French and in March 1920 staged something of a palace coup by declaring himself king of Syria. That act, in conjunction with the San Remo conference the following month at which Great Britain and France formalized their partition of the region—Britain taking Iraq and a “greater” Palestine that included a broad swath east of the Jordan River, or Transjordan, France the rest of Syria—set Faisal on a collision course with the French. That collision came in July; after a brief and one-sided battle on the outskirts of Damascus, the French ousted Faisal and cast him into exile. By the close of 1920, the French at last had much of their Syrie intégrale (with the exception of the British mandate in Palestine and Transjordan), but they now faced a populace seething with rage. They also now confronted an external threat; in the deserts of Transjordan, Faisal’s brother Abdullah was massing his followers with the intention of marching on Damascus.

But whatever problems the French had at the end of 1920 were dwarfed by those of the British. In Palestine, tensions between Zionist immigrants and the resident Arab population had escalated into bloodshed. In Arabia, ibn-Saud was once again pushing to oust King Hussein. The worst crisis point was in Iraq. The previous year, Lawrence had predicted full-scale revolt against British rule there by March 1920 “if we don’t mend our ways,” but he had been off by two months; by the time the May rebellion in Iraq was put down, some one thousand British and nine thousand natives were dead. As Lawrence would explain in his 1929 letter to William Yale, at Paris, Great Britain and France had taken the discredited Sykes-Picot Agreement and fashioned something even worse; how much worse was evidenced by the myriad fires that had spread across the region almost immediately.

To combat these crises, in December 1920 Lloyd George turned to a man who had become something of a pariah in British ruling circles, former first lord of the admiralty, Winston Churchill. One of Churchill’s first acts upon assuming the position of Colonial Office secretary was to enlist the help of another recent outcast, former lieutenant colonel T. E. Lawrence.

At least initially, Lawrence had little interest in rejoining the fray. Immersed in writing his memoirs, and undoubtedly still smarting over his shabby treatment by Lloyd George’s government the previous year, he told Churchill he was too busy and that he had left politics behind. He only relented when the new colonial secretary assured him that he would have a virtually free hand in helping fundamentally reshape the British portion of the Middle Eastern chessboard at the upcoming Cairo Conference. As a result, the Cairo deliberations were little more than a formality, with Lawrence and Churchill having worked out ahead of time, as Lawrence told a biographer, “not only [the] questions the Conference would consider, but decisions they would reach.”

Iraq was now to be consolidated and recognized as an Arab kingdom, with Faisal placed on the throne. In Arabia, the British upheld Hussein’s claim to rule in the Hejaz, while simultaneously upholding ibn-Saud’s authority in the Arabian interior. Surely the most novel idea to come out of Cairo was the plan designed to stay Abdullah from attacking the French in Syria. At the close of the conference, Lawrence journeyed to Abdullah’s base camp in Amman and convinced the truculent Arab leader to first try to establish a government in the Transjordan region of Britain’s Palestine mandate. To Lawrence’s great surprise—and perhaps to Abdullah’s as well—this most indolent of Hussein’s four sons actually proved to be a remarkably good administrator; in the near future, Transjordan was to be officially detached from the rest of Palestine and made an independent Arab kingdom—today’s Jordan—with Abdullah as its ruler. By the time Lawrence returned to England in the autumn of 1921, his one-year service to the Colonial Office nearly over, he had quite literally become the unseen kingmaker of the Middle East.

But if all this brought a measure of stability to the center of the old Ottoman Empire map, it did little to improve matters to the north and south. There, the situation remained uncertain and bloody for some time to come.

In Anatolia, the former Turkish general Mustafa Kemal, the hero of Gallipoli, had refused to accept the dismemberment of Turkey as outlined by the Allies. Over a four-year period, he led his army of Turkish nationalists into battle against all those who would claim a piece of the Turkish heartland, before finally establishing the modern-day borders of Turkey in 1923. France’s turn in this round robin of war came in the autumn of 1921 when Kemal, soon to become better known as Ataturk, turned his attention to the French troops occupying the Cilicia region. Quickly routed, the French armies in Cilicia beat a hasty retreat back into Syria under the leadership of their commander, the unlucky Édouard Brémond.

At the same time, a bewildering arc of war extended from the Caucasus all the way to Afghanistan as various nationalist groups, Russian Reds and Whites, and remnants of the Young Turks battled for primacy, forming and reforming alliances with such dizzying regularity as to defy both logic and comprehension. Among the prominent aspirants in this crucible were both Enver and Djemal Pasha, and it was no more surprising than anything else going on in the region that Djemal Pasha should turn up in Kabul in the winter of 1921 as a military advisor to the king of Afghanistan.

And then, far to the south, it was King Hussein’s turn. With the British having long since tired of his mercurial rule and refusal to accept the political realities of the Middle East—in 1921, Lawrence had spent a maddening two months in Jeddah futilely trying to get Hussein to accept the Cairo Conference accords—he was all but defenseless when ibn-Saud and his Wahhabist warriors finally closed on Mecca in late 1924. Hustled to the coast and then onto a British destroyer, Hussein was first taken to exile in Cyprus, before finally joining his son Abdullah in his new capital of Amman, Jordan. The deposed king, who had once dreamt of a pan-Arab nation extending from Mecca to Baghdad, died there in 1931 at the age of seventy-six.

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