December 2, 1918: State of the Union Address

 

GENTLEMEN OF THE CONGRESS:

The year that has elapsed since I last stood before you to fulfil my constitutional duty to give to the Congress from time to time information on the state of the Union has been so crowded with great events, great processes, and great results that I cannot hope to give you an adequate picture of its transactions or of the far-reaching changes which have been wrought of our nation and of the world. You have yourselves witnessed these things, as I have. it is too soon to assess them; and we who stand in the midst of them and are part of them are less qualified than men of another generation will be to say what they mean, or even what they have been. But some great outstanding facts are unmistakable and constitute, in a sense, part of the public business with which it is our duty to deal. To state them is to set the stage for the legislative and executive action which must grow out of them and which we have yet to shape and determine.

A year ago we had sent 145,918 men overseas. Since then we have sent 1,950,513, an average of 162,542 each month, the number in fact rising, in May last, to 245,951, in June to 278,76o, in July to 307,182, and continuing to reach similar figures in August and September,in August 289,57o and in September 257,438. No such movement of troops ever took place before, across three thousand miles of sea, followed by adequate equipment and supplies, and carried safely through extraordinary dangers of attack,-dangers which were alike strange and infinitely difficult to guard against. In all this movement only seven hundred and fifty-eight men were lost by enemy attack,six hundred and thirty of whom were upon a single English transport which was sunk near the Orkney Islands.

I need not tell you what lay back of this great movement of men and material. It is not invidious to say that back of it lay a supporting organization of the industries of the country and of all its productive activities more complete, more thorough in method and effective in result, more spirited and unanimous in purpose and effort than any other great belligerent had been able to effect. We profited greatly by the experience of the nations which had already been engaged for nearly three years in the exigent and exacting business, their every resource and every executive proficiency taxed to the utmost. We were their pupils. But we learned quickly and acted with a promptness and a readiness of cooperation that justify our great pride that we were able to serve the world with unparalleled energy and quick accomplishment.

But it is not the physical scale and executive efficiency of preparation, supply, equipment and despatch that I would dwell upon, but the mettle and quality of the officers and men we sent over and of the sailors who kept the seas, and the spirit of the nation that stood behind them. No soldiers or sailors ever proved themselves more quickly ready for the test of battle or acquitted themselves with more splendid courage and achievement when put to the test. Those of us who played some part in directing the great processes by which the war was pushed irresistibly forward to the final triumph may now forget all that and delight our thoughts with the story of what our men did. Their officers understood the grim and exacting task they had undertaken and performed it with an audacity, efficiency, and unhesitating courage that touch the story of convoy and battle with imperishable distinction at every turn, whether the enterprise were great or small, -from their great chiefs, Pershing and Sims, down to the youngest lieutenant; and their men were worthy of them,-such men as hardly need to be commanded, and go to their terrible adventure blithely and with the quick intelligence of those who know just what it is they would accomplish. I am proud to be the fellowcountryman of men of such stuff and valor. Those of us who stayed at home did our duty; the war could not have been won or the gallant men who fought it given their opportunity to win it otherwise; but for many a long day we shall think ourselves “accurs’d we were not there, and hold our manhoods cheap while any speaks that fought” with these at St. Mihiel or Thierry. The memory of those days of triumphant battle will go with these fortunate men to their graves; and each will have his favorite memory. “Old men forget; yet all shall be forgot, but hell remember with advantages what feats he did that day!”

What we all thank God for with deepest gratitude is that our men went in force into the line of battle just at the critical moment when the whole fate of the world seemed to hang in the balance and threw their fresh strength into the ranks of freedom in time to turn the whole tide and sweep of the fateful struggle,-turn it once for all, so that thenceforth it was back, back, back for their enemies, always back, never again forward! After that it was only a scant four months before the commanders of the Central Empires knew themselves beaten; and now their very empires are in liquidation!

And throughout it all how fine the spirit of the nation was: what unity of purpose, what untiring zeal! What elevation of purpose ran through all its splendid display of strength, its untiring accomplishment! I have said that those of us who stayed at home to do the work of organization and supply will always wish that we had been with the men whom we sustained by our labor; but we can never be ashamed. It has been an inspiring thing to be here in the midst of fine men who had turned aside from every private interest of their own and devoted the whole of their trained capacity to the tasks that supplied the sinews of the whole great undertaking! The patriotism, the unselfishness, the thoroughgoing devotion and distinguished capacity that marked their toilsome labors, day after day, month after month, have made them fit mates and comrades of the men in the trenches and on the sea. And not the men here in Washington only. They have but directed the vast achievement. Throughout innumerable factories, upon innumerable farms, in the depths of coal mines and iron mines and copper mines, wherever the stuffs of industry were to be obtained and prepared, in the shipyards, on the railways, at the docks, on the sea, in every labor that was needed to sustain the battle lines, men have vied with each other to do their part and do it well. They can look any man-at-arms in the face, and say, We also strove to win and gave the best that was in us to make our fleets and armies sure of their triumph!

And what shall we say of the women,-of their instant intelligence, quickening every task that they touched; their capacity for organization and cooperation, which gave their action discipline and enhanced the effectiveness of everything they attempted; their aptitude at tasks to which they had. never before set their hands; their utter selfsacrifice alike in what they did and in what they gave? Their contribution to the great result is beyond appraisal. They have added a new lustre to the annals of American womanhood.

The least tribute we can pay them is to make them the equals of men in political rights as they have proved themselves their equals in every field of practical work they have entered, whether for themselves or for their country. These great days of completed achievement would be sadly marred were we to omit that act of justice. Besides the immense practical services they have rendered the women of the country have been the moving spirits in the systematic economies by which our people have voluntarily assisted to supply the suffering peoples of the world and the armies upon every front with food and everything else that we had that might serve the common cause. The details of such a story can never be fully written, but we carry them at our hearts and thank God that we can say that we are the kinsmen of such.

And now we are sure of the great triumph for which every sacrifice was made. It has come, come in its completeness, and with the pride and inspiration of these days of achievement quick within us, we turn to the tasks of peace again,-a peace secure against the violence of irresponsible monarchs and ambitious military coteries and made ready for a new order, for new foundations of justice and fair dealing.

We are about to give order and organization to this peace not only for ourselves but for the other peoples of the world as well, so far as they will suffer us to serve them. It is international justice that we seek, not domestic safety merely. Our thoughts have dwelt of late upon Europe, upon Asia, upon the near and the far East, very little upon the acts of peace and accommodation that wait to be performed at our own doors. While we are adjusting our relations with the rest of the world is it not of capital importance that we should clear away all grounds of misunderstanding with our immediate neighbors and give proof of the friendship we really feel? I hope that the members of the Senate will permit me to speak once more of the unratified treaty of friendship and adjustment with the Republic of Colombia. I very earnestly urge upon them an early and favorable action upon that vital matter. I believe that they will feel, with me, that the stage of affairs is now set for such action as will be not only just but generous and in the spirit of the new age upon which we have so happily entered.

So far as our domestic affairs are concerned the problem of our return to peace is a problem of economic and industrial readjustment. That problem is less serious for us than it may turn out too he for the nations which have suffered the disarrangements and the losses of war longer than we. Our people, moreover, do not wait to be coached and led. They know their own business, are quick and resourceful at every readjustment, definite in purpose, and self-reliant in action. Any leading strings we might seek to put them in would speedily become hopelessly tangled because they would pay no attention to them and go their own way. All that we can do as their legislative and executive servants is to mediate the process of change here, there, and elsewhere as we may. I have heard much counsel as to the plans that should be formed and personally conducted to a happy consummation, but from no quarter have I seen any general scheme of “reconstruction” emerge which I thought it likely we could force our spirited business men and self-reliant laborers to accept with due pliancy and obedience.

While the war lasted we set up many agencies by which to direct the industries of the country in the services it was necessary for them to render, by which to make sure of an abundant supply of the materials needed, by which to check undertakings that could for the time be dispensed with and stimulate those that were most serviceable in war, by which to gain for the purchasing departments of the Government a certain control over the prices of essential articles and materials, by which to restrain trade with alien enemies, make the most of the available shipping, and systematize financial transactions, both public and private, so that there would be no unnecessary conflict or confusion,-by which, in short, to put every material energy of the country in harness to draw -the common load and make of us one team in the accomplishment of a great task. But the moment we knew the armistice to have been signed we took the harness off. Raw materials upon which the Government had kept its hand for fear there should not be enough for the industries that supplied the armies have been released and put into the general market again. Great industrial plants whose whole output and machinery had been taken over for the uses of the Government have been set free to return to the uses to which they were put before the war. It has not been possible to remove so readily or so quickly the control of foodstuffs and of shipping, because the world has still to be fed from our granaries and the ships are still needed to send supplies to our men overseas and to bring the men back as fast as the disturbed conditions on the other side of the water permit; but even there restraints are being relaxed as much as possible and more and more as the weeks go by

Never before have there been agencies in existence in this country which knew so much of the field of supply, of labor, and of industry as the War Industries Board, the War Trade Board, the Labor Department, the Food Administration, and the Fuel Administration have known since their labors became thoroughly systematized; and they have not been isolated agencies; they have been directed by men who represented the permanent Departments of the Government and so have been the centres of unified and cooperative action. It has been the policy of the Executive, therefore, since the armistice was assured (which is in effect a complete submission of the enemy) to put the knowledge of these bodies at the disposal of the business men of the country and to offer their intelligent mediation at every point and in every matter where it was desired. It is surprising how fast the process of return to a peace footing has moved in the three weeks since the fighting stopped. It promises to outrun any inquiry that may be instituted and any aid that may be offered. It will not be easy to direct it any better than it will direct itself. The American business man is of quick initiative.

The ordinary and normal processes of private initiative will not, however, provide immediate employment for all of the men of our returning armies. Those who are of trained capacity, those who are skilled workmen, those who have acquired familiarity with established businesses, those who are ready and willing to go to the farms, all those whose aptitudes are known or will be sought out by employers will find no difficulty, it is safe to say, in finding place and employment. But there will be others who will be at a loss where to gain a livelihood unless pains are taken to guide them and put them in the way of work. There will be a large floating residuum of labor which should not be left wholly to shift for itself. It seems to me important, therefore, that the development of public works of every sort should be promptly resumed, in order that opportunities should be created for unskilled labor in particular, and that plans should be made for such developments of our unused lands and our natural resources as we have hitherto lacked stirnulation to undertake.

I particularly direct your attention to the very practical plans which the Secretary of the Interior has developed in his annual report and before your Committees for the reclamation of arid, swamp, and cutover lands which might, if the States were willing and able to cooperate, redeem some three hundred million acres of land for cultivation. There are said to be fifteen or twenty million acres of land in the West, at present arid, for whose reclamation water is available, if properly conserved. There are about two hundred and thirty million acres from which the forests have been cut but which have never yet been cleared for the plow and which lie waste and desolate. These lie scattered all over the Union. And there are nearly eighty million acres of land that lie under swamps or subject to periodical overflow or too wet for anything but grazing, which it is perfectly feasible to drain and protect and redeem. The Congress can at once direct thousands of the returning soldiers to the reclamation of the arid lands which it has already undertaken, if it will but enlarge the plans and appropriations which it has entrusted to the Department of the Interior. It is possible in dealing with our unused land to effect a great rural and agricultural development which will afford the best sort of opportunity to men who want to help themselves’ and the Secretary of the Interior has thought the possible methods out in a way which is worthy of your most friendly attention.

I have spoken of the control which must yet for a while, perhaps for a long long while, be exercised over shipping because of the priority of service to which our forces overseas are entitled and which should also be accorded the shipments which are to save recently liberated peoples from starvation and many devasted regions from permanent ruin. May I not say a special word about the needs of Belgium and northern France? No sums of money paid by way of indemnity will serve of themselves to save them from hopeless disadvantage for years to come. Something more must be done than merely find the money. If they had money and raw materials in abundance to-morrow they could not resume their place in the industry of the world to-morrow,-the very important place they held before the flame of war swept across them. Many of their factories are razed to the ground. Much of their machinery is destroyed or has been taken away. Their people are scattered and many of their best workmen are dead. Their markets will be taken by others, if they are not in some special way assisted to rebuild their factories and replace their lost instruments of manufacture. They should not be left to the vicissitudes of the sharp competition for materials and for industrial facilities which is now to set in. I hope, therefore, that the Congress will not be unwilling, if it should become necessary, to grant to some such agency as the War Trade Board the right to establish priorities of export and supply for the benefit of these people whom we have been so happy to assist in saving from the German terror and whom we must not now thoughtlessly leave to shift for themselves in a pitiless competitive market.

For the steadying, and facilitation of our own domestic business readjustments nothing is more important than the immediate determination of the taxes that are to be levied for 1918, 1919, and 1920. As much of the burden of taxation must be lifted from business as sound methods of financing the Government will permit, and those who conduct the great essential industries of the country must be told as exactly as possible what obligations to the Government they will be expected to meet in the years immediately ahead of them. It will be of serious consequence to the country to delay removing all uncertainties in this matter a single day longer than the right processes of debate justify. It is idle to talk of successful and confident business reconstruction before those uncertainties are resolved.

If the war had continued it would have been necessary to raise at least eight billion dollars by taxation payable in the year 1919; but the war has ended and I agree with the Secretary of the Treasury that it will be safe to reduce the amount to six billions. An immediate rapid decline in the expenses of the Government is not to be looked for. Contracts made for war supplies will, indeed, be rapidly cancelled and liquidated, but their immediate liquidation will make heavy drains on the Treasury for the months just ahead of us. The maintenance of our forces on the other side of the sea is still necessary. A considerable proportion of those forces must remain in Europe during the period of occupation, and those which are brought home will be transported and demobilized at heavy expense for months to come. The interest on our war debt must of course be paid and provision made for the retirement of the obligations of the Government which represent it. But these demands will of course fall much below what a continuation of military operations would have entailed and six billions should suffice to supply a sound foundation for the financial operations of the year.

I entirely concur with the Secretary of the Treasury in recommending that the two billions needed in addition to the four billions provided by existing law be obtained from the profits which have accrued and shall accrue from war contracts and distinctively war business, but that these taxes be confined to the war profits accruing in 1918, or in 1919 from business originating in war contracts. I urge your acceptance of his recommendation that provision be made now, not subsequently, that the taxes to be paid in 192o should be reduced from six to four billions. Any arrangements less definite than these would add elements of doubt and confusion to the critical period of industrial readjustment through which the country must now immediately pass, and which no true friend of the nation’s essential business interests can afford to be responsible for creating or prolonging. Clearly determined conditions, clearly and simply charted, are indispensable to the economic revival and rapid industrial development which may confidently be expected if we act now andsweep all interrogation points away.

I take it for granted that the Congress will carry out the naval programme which was undertaken before we entered the war. The Secretary of the Navy has submitted to your Committees for authorization that part of the programme which covers the building plans of the next three years. These plans have been prepared along the lines and in accordance with the policy which the Congress established, not under the exceptional conditions of the war, but with the intention of adhering to a definite method of development for the navy. I earnestly recommend the uninterrupted pursuit of that policy. It would clearly be unwise for us to attempt to adjust our programmes to a future world policy as yet undetermined.

The question which causes me the greatest concern is the question of the policy to be adopted towards the railroads. I frankly turn to you for counsel upon it. I have no confident judgment of my own. I do not see how any thoughtful man can have who knows anything of the complexity of the problem. It is a problem which must be studied, studied immediately, and studied without bias or prejudice. Nothing can be gained by becoming partisans of any particular plan of settlement.

It was necessary that the administration of the railways should be taken over by the Government so long as the war lasted. It would have been impossible otherwise to establish and carry through under a single direction the necessary priorities of shipment. It would have been impossible otherwise to combine maximum production at the factories and mines and farms with the maximum possible car supply to take the products to the ports and markets; impossible to route troop shipments and freight shipments without regard to the advantage or-disadvantage of the roads employed; impossible to subordinate, when necessary, all questions of convenience to the public necessity; impossible to give the necessary financial support to the roads from the public treasury. But all these necessities have now been served, and the question is, What is best for the railroads and for the public in the future?

Exceptional circumstances and exceptional methods of administration were not needed to convince us that the railroads were not equal to the immense tasks of transportation imposed upon them by the rapid and continuous development of the industries of the country. We knew that already. And we knew that they were unequal to it partly because their full cooperation was rendered impossible by law and their competition made obligatory, so that it has been impossible to assign to them severally the traffic which could best be carried by their respective lines in the interest of expedition and national economy.

We may hope, I believe, for the formal conclusion of the war by treaty by the time Spring has come. The twentyone months to which the present control of the railways is limited after formal proclamation of peace shall have been made will run at the farthest, I take it for granted, only to the January of 1921. The full equipment of the railways which the federal administration had planned could not be completed within any such period. The present law does not permit the use of the revenues of the several roads for the execution of such plans except by formal contract with their directors, some of whom will consent while some will not, and therefore does not afford sufficient authority to undertake improvements upon the scale upon which it would be necessary to undertake them. Every approach to this difficult subject-matter of decision brings us face to face, therefore, with this unanswered question: What is it right that we should do with the railroads, in the interest of the public and in fairness to their owners?

Let me say at once that I have no answer ready. The only thing that is perfectly clear to me is that it is not fair either to the public or to the owners of the railroads to leave the question unanswered and that it will presently become my duty to relinquish control of the roads, even before the expiration of the statutory period, unless there should appear some clear prospect in the meantime of a legislative solution. Their release would at least produce one element of a solution, namely certainty and a quick stimulation of private initiative.

I believe that it will be serviceable for me to set forth as explicitly as possible the alternative courses that lie open to our choice. We can simply release the roads and go back to the old conditions of private management, unrestricted competition, and multiform regulation by both state and federal authorities; or we can go to the opposite extreme and establish complete government control, accompanied, if necessary, by actual government ownership; or we can adopt an intermediate course of modified private control, under a more unified and affirmative public regulation and under such alterations of the law as will permit wasteful competition to be avoided and a considerable degree of unification of administration to be effected, as, for example, by regional corporations under which the railways of definable areas would be in effect combined in single systems.

The one conclusion that I am ready to state with confidence is that it would be a disservice alike to the country and to the owners of the railroads to return to the old conditions unmodified. Those are conditions of restraint without development. There is nothing affirmative or helpful about them. What the country chiefly needs is that all its means of transportation should be developed, its railways, its waterways, its highways, and its countryside roads. Some new element of policy, therefore, is absolutely necessary—necessary for the service of the public, necessary for the release of credit to those who are administering the railways, necessary for the protection of their security holders. The old policy may be changed much or little, but surely it cannot wisely be left as it was. I hope that the Con will have a complete and impartial study of the whole problem instituted at once and prosecuted as rapidly as possible. I stand ready and anxious to release the roads from the present control and I must do so at a very early date if by waiting until the statutory limit of time is reached I shall be merely prolonging the period of doubt and uncertainty which is hurtful to every interest concerned.

I welcome this occasion to announce to the Congress my purpose to join in Paris the representatives of the governments with which we have been associated in the war against the Central Empires for the purpose of discussing with them the main features of the treaty of peace. I realize the great inconveniences that will attend my leaving the country, particularly at this time, but the conclusion that it was my paramount duty to go has been forced upon me by considerations which I hope will seem as conclusive to you as they have seemed to me.

The Allied governments have accepted the bases of peace which I outlined to the Congress on the eighth of January last, as the Central Empires also have, and very reasonably desire my personal counsel in their interpretation and application, and it is highly desirable that I should give it in order that the sincere desire of our Government to contribute without selfish purpose of any kind to settlements that will be of common benefit to all the nations concerned may be made fully manifest. The peace settlements which are now to be agreed upon are of transcendent importance both to us and to the rest of the world, and I know of no business or interest which should take precedence of them. The gallant men of our armed forces on land and sea have consciously fought for the ideals which they knew to be the ideals of their country; I have sought to express those ideals; they have accepted my statements of them as the substance of their own thought and purpose, as the associated governments have accepted them; I owe it to them to see to it, so far as in me lies, that no false or mistaken interpretation is put upon them, and no possible effort omitted to realize them. It is now my duty to play my full part in making good what they offered their life’s blood to obtain. I can think of no call to service which could transcend this.

I shall be in close touch with you and with affairs on this side the water, and you will know all that I do. At my request, the French and English governments have absolutely removed the censorship of cable news which until within a fortnight they had maintained and there is now no censorship whatever exercised at this end except upon attempted trade communications with enemy countries. It has been necessary to keep an open wire constantly available between Paris and the Department of State and another between France and the Department of War. In order that this might be done with the least possible interference with the other uses of the cables, I have temporarily taken over the control of both cables in order that they may be used as a single system. I did so at the advice of the most experienced cable officials, and I hope that the results will justify my hope that the news of the next few months may pass with the utmost freedom and with the least possible delay from each side of the sea to the other.

May I not hope, Gentlemen of the Congress, that in the delicate tasks I shall have to perform on the other side of the sea, in my efforts truly and faithfully to interpret the principles and purposes of the country we love, I may have the encouragement and the added strength of your united support? I realize the magnitude and difficulty of the duty I am undertaking; I am poignantly aware of its grave responsibilities. I am the servant of the nation. I can have no private thought or purpose of my own in performing such an errand. I go to give the best that is in me to the common settlements which I must now assist in arriving at in conference with the other working heads of the associated governments. I shall count upon your friendly countenance and encouragement. I shall not be inaccessible. The cables and the wireless will render me available for any counsel or service you may desire of me, and I shall be happy in the thought that I am constantly in touch with the weighty matters of domestic policy with which we shall have to deal. I shall make my absence as brief as possible and shall hope to return with the happy assurance that it has been possible to translate into action the great ideals for which America has striven.

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Veteran’s Day: Why We Remember

 

When You Go Home, Tell Them Of Us And Say, For Your Tomorrow, We Gave Our Today

Inscription on the memorial to the dead of the British 2nd Infantry Division at Kohima.

World War I was a ghastly conflict with tens of millions of men slaughtered in all the horrors that war in the industrial age was capable of mustering.  After the War which ended on the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month, Veterans Day was set aside on November 11 to honor those men who had fought with courage for their country.  In our country Veteran’s Day eventually came to honor all those who had served in the military.  As Lincoln said at Gettysburg, “It is all together fitting and proper that we do this.”  Why it is important that we do that I will leave to Father Francis P. Duffy who served as a chaplain with the Fighting 69th in France in World War I.  You may read prior posts about him here and here.  Father Duffy was a man of faith and courage, so much courage that it was proposed that he be nominated for the Medal of Honor until he laughed at the idea.  His leadership skills were so valued that General Douglas MacArthur even briefly considered placing him, a chaplain, in command of the 69th, which would have been a first in American military history.  When the 69th got back to New York after the War Father Duffy wrote about its reception and why it was important to honor the men who had served, and, especially, the silent victors who remained in graves in France: (more…)

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October 8, 1918: The Epic Stand of The “Lost” Battalion

Maj. Prinz: You Americans, you always have so much of everything. No matter. Eventually you have to surrender.

Lt. Leak: I don’t think so.

Maj. Prinz: Are you officers so callous? You’re surrounded. You have no chance of relief. Every night you send out patrols, and every night we kill them. We can hear the cries of your wounded Lieutenant. There is no dishonor in surrender.

Lt. Leak: Maybe for you, but my guys are different.

Maj. Prinz: What do you mean?

Lt. Leak: What you’re up against Major, is a bunch of Mick, Pollack, Dago, and Jew boy gangsters from New York City. They’ll never surrender. Never.

The Lost Battalion (2001)

 

 

During the Meuse-Argonne offensive there was a great deal of courage displayed by the American troops as they battered their way through determined German defenses in extremely rugged terrain.  None were braver than the men of of the 77th Division, the Statue of Liberty Division, who became known to history as the Lost Battalion.  The men of the Division were mostly from New York City.  On their left shoulders they wore a patch depicting the Statue of Liberty.  During World War I the Division was commonly referred to as the Metropolitan Division.

 

The commander of the First Battalion, 308th Regiment was Charles White Whittlesey.  A New York City lawyer, Whittlesey was a socialist and a pacifist.  He was also a patriot, and that patriotism caused him to take officer’s training at Plattsburg in 1916, and in 1917 to join the Army.  He found himself the commander of the First Battalion at the beginning of the Meuse-Argonne Offensive due to the heavy losses the officers of the Battalion had sustained.

By the end of September the Meuse-Argonne Offensive had stalled.  Alarmed, AEF commander General John Pershing ordered a renewal of the Offensive on October 2, with the following statement in his order that the attacks go forward “without regard of losses and without regard to the exposed conditions of the flanks. …”.  Whittlesey received the news glumly.  Two of his companies earlier in the offensive had been briefly surrounded by the Germans for a few hours, and he did not like the idea of advancing without securing the flanks of his battalion.  His men had already sustained severe losses and numbered around 400 men, half strength.  They had received replacements, primarily Midwesterners, some of whom had, incredibly, received no basic training.  Whittlesy was still suffering from untreated exposure to gas at the start of the offensive.  Whittlesy’s doubts about the condition of his battalion and its inability to participate in the attack on October 2, were passed up through his Brigade to the 77th Division commander, Major General Robert Alexander, who ordered the attack to be made.  When Whittlesey receive the news he saluted his regimental commander and said, “All right. I’ll attack, but whether you’ll hear from me again I don’t know.”

Whittlesey’s battalion was to attack in tandem with the Second Battalion of the 308th, led by Captain George McMurtry, Jr.  Their combined force consisted of approximately 800 men.  Their objective was to seize the high ground beyond the Charlevaux Brook, Hill.  Two companies, one from each of the battalions, were left behind to attack hill 205.  On a day of completely unsuccessful Allied attacks in the Argonne, Whittlesey and McMurtry, amazingly, broke through enemies lines and seized their objective.  Whittlesey had the men dig in, passed the news of their success back to the 77th by messengers, and waited for support from the Division.

Neither of the attacking units on the flanks of the first and second 308th had broken through.  When news reached the 77th Headquarters, the 3rd Battalion, 307th was ordered to reinforce the first and second 308th.  The four reinforcing companies marched through the night in pitch darkness, but only one company of 97 men,  Company K, 3rd Battalion, 307th, reached Whittlesey and McMurtry.  The force under Whittlesey now numbered about 545 men, including C and D companies of the 306th Machine Gun Battalion which had been attached to the original attacking force.

On the morning of October 3, Whittlesey sent out patrols to make contact with the units he thought were on his flank.  These patrols came under heavy German fire, and by noon on Ocober 3, Whittelsey realized his force was surrounded and cut off from Allied lines.  Whittlesey”s order to his company commanders did not mince words:  “Our mission is to hold this position at all costs. No falling back. Have this understood by every man in your command.”

By pigeon Whittlesey informed the 77th Division of his predicament.  There was nothing the Division could do with all of its units lacking the strength to mount a successful breakthrough.  The surrounded Americans ate the last of the rations they carried and hunkered down as best they could as heavy German mortar fire and grenades raked their position and they beat off forays by German riflemen.  The two companies of the first and second battalions outside of the pocket tried to break through, but were driven back by heavy German fire.  By nightfall Whittlesey informed Division that one-third of his men were killed or wounded and all medical supplies were exhausted.  He pled for artillery support and for ammunition  and rations to be dropped by air.

On October 4 they received artillery support but it landed on them for several hours.  Whittlesey used his last pigeon, Cher Ami, to fly back to 77th Division Headquarters and finally have the friendly fire barrage ended, several hours after it started.

On October 5 American planes tried to drop ammunition and rations, but they all fell among the surrounding German units.  By now the newspapers in the States were filled with stories of the heroic Lost Battalion.  (The American surrounded troops hated this name, a newspaper man’s creation, stating that they always knew where they were and so did everyone else.)  General Pershing ordered that “the Lost Battalion” be rescued, come what may by the 77th.  A relief effort, personally led by a Brigadier General failed to break through.

On October 6, the Germans, supported by flamethrowers, made a two hour assault that the Americans beat off while suffering serious losses.

On October 7 Whittlesey received a surrender demand from the Germans:  “The suffering of your wounded man can be heared over here in the German lines and we are appealing to your human sentiments. A withe Flag shown by one of your man will tell us that you agree with these conditions.”  Whittlsey did not bother responding to the demand. Captain McMurtry noted that this was a good sign and that the Germans were more worried than they were.  The news spread among the men who were fed up and angry and in no mood for a surrender.  One of the soldiers yelled out, “You Heinie bastards, come and get us!”  His resolve was echoed by a chorus of obscenities directed towards the surrounding Germans by other Americans.  The Germans replied by making one last heavy attack that was beaten off by the hungry, exhausted Americans, many of them bearing wounds from earlier attacks.

That day a relief force led by the First Division staged a breakthrough, and the Germans surrounding the no longer “lost” battalions withdrew.  Relieving troops from the 77th Division reached the no longer surrounded Americans at 7:00 PM, the Germans withdrawing after sunset.

The next day Whittlesey and his men walked out, the 190 who were still able to. Of the remaining men, 193 were seriously wounded, 107 were dead and 63 were missing.  They had inflicted some 600 casualties on their adversaries.  Five men of the force earned Medals of Honor, including Whittlesey, who was promoted to Lieutenant Colonel and McMurtry, a veteran of the Rough Riders, who was promoted to Major. 31 of the men earned Distinguished Service Crosses.  A survivor’s association formed after the War and had annual meetings until 1968.  They are all gone now, and it is up to living Americans to remember them, and to live up to the high standard they set.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Published in: on October 8, 2021 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on October 8, 1918: The Epic Stand of The “Lost” Battalion  
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August 26, 1918: Theodore Roosevelt Speech in Springfield Illinois

 

In spite of his grief over the death of his son Quentin, and his own failing health, Theodore Roosevelt did not retire from public life.  On August 26, 1918 he gave a barn-burner of a speech in Springfield, Illinois:

 

 

The two great needs of the moment are to insist upon thorough-going and absolute Americanism throughout this land, and to speed up the war; and secondarily to these needs come the needs of beginning even now to make ready, to prepare for the tasks that are to come after the war, the task of preparing so that never again shall war find us helpless, and the task of preparing for the social and industrial problems which this earth-shaking conflict of giants will leave in its ruinous wake.

To insist upon thorough-going, 100 per cent. Americanism among all our people is merely another way. of saying that we insist upon being a nation proud of our national past and confident of our future as the greatest of the nations of mankind: for if we permit our people to be split into a score of different nationalities, each speaking a different language and each paying its real soul homage to some national ideal overseas, we shall not be a nation at all, but merely a polyglot boarding house; and nobody feels much loyalty to a polyglot boarding house or is proud to belong to it. Moreover, there is no such thing as a divided loyalty. Any kind of alloy in the loyalty makes the loyalty completely valueless. At this time the man of German origin who says he is loyal to “Germanism,” to “Deutschtum,” although not to Germany, to ” Deutschland,” is disloyal to America. Germanism is incompatible with Americanism. The slightest loyalty to Germany is disloyalty to the United States. We can tolerate no half-way attitude, no fifty-fifty loyalty. The man must be an American and nothing else, or he is not an American at all.

If a man is loyal to any other flag, whether a foreign flag or the red flag of anarchy, or the black flag of Germanized socialism, he is disloyal to the American flag; and we must have but one language, the language of the Declaration of Independence, and of Washington’s Farewell Address, and of Lincoln’s Gettysburg Speech, the English language.

We are not internationalists. We are American nationalists. We intend to do justice to all other nations. But in the last four years the professed internationalists like the profound pacifists have played the game of brutal German autocracy, the game of the militaristic and capitalistic tyranny which now absolutely rules the Prussianized Germany of the Hohenzollerns. Professional internationalism stands towards patriotism exactly as free love stands toward a clean and honorable and duty-performing family life. And American pacifism has been the tool and ally of German militarism, and has represented, and always will represent, deep disloyalty to our beloved country.

Having said this, with all the emphasis at my command, I wish with no less emphasis to say that the equally important other side of Americanism is the imperative duty of treating all men who show that they are in very truth Americans as on an entire equality of right and privilege, with no more regard to their birthplace, or the birthplace of their parents than to their creed. In this crisis, since once our people grew fully awake, the Americans of German blood have in the immense majority of cases shown themselves as absolutely and aggressively and single-minded American as the citizens of any other stock or as the citizens who like most of us are of mixed stock. The German government and the-German newspapers have reluctantly recognized this and they are more bitter against the Americans of German blood than against any other Americans. The leading papers of Germany have contained bitter denunciations of them; and recently in the captured report of a»German Inspector General which spoke of the American prisoners, the General especially dwelt on the fact that the soldiers of foreign parentage felt and behaved precisely like the soldiers of native parentage, and that this applied especially to the soldiers of German parentage. Among the feats of especial gallantry chronicled of our men at the front a full proportion are to be credited to men whose names show that they are in whole or in part of German blood. We Americans all stand shoulder to shoulder in war and in peace; and woe to the men who would try to divide us. No man can serve two masters. No man can serve both the United States and Germany. If he is loyal to one side he must be hostile to the other. If he is a loyal American he must be against Germany and all her works.

For the moment the pacifists and internationalists and pro-Germans dare not be noisy. But let our people beware of them as soon as the peace negotiations begin and from that time onward. They have worked together in the past and they will work together in the future, the pro-Germans furnishing the most powerful and most sinister element of the combination while the pacifists and the internationalists prance in the foreground and furnish the rhetoric. Let our people remember that for the two and a half years before we entered the war the pacifists clamorously insisted that if we kept unprepared we would avoid war. Well, we tried the experiment. We kept completely unprepared. Even after we broke off diplomatic relations with Germany we refused to make the slightest preparation. And nevertheless we drifted into the war. Pacifism and unpreparedness never keep a nation out of war. They invite war; and they insure that if war comes it shall be costly; and long drawn out and bloody. If when the great war broke out four years ago, or even if when the Lusitania was sunk three years and a quarter ago, we had begun with all our energy to prepare, we would very possibly never have had to go to war at all, and if forced to go to war we would have conquered peace ninety days after our entry into the conflict.

Let us remember this when the peace comes. Don’t trust the pacifists; they are the enemies of righteousness. Don’t trust the internationalists; they are the enemies of nationalism and Americanism. Both of these groups appeal to all weaklings, illusionists, materialists, lukewarm Americans and faddists of all the types that vitiate nationalism. Their leaders are plausible, makebelieve humanitarians, who crave a notoriety that flatters their own egotism, who often mislead amiable and well-meaning, but short-sighted persons, who care for their own worthless carcasses too much to go anywhere near the front when fighting comes, but who in times of inert and slothful thinking, when war seems a remote possibility, can gain a reputation by windy schemes which imply not the smallest self-sacrifice or service among those who advocate them, and which therefore appeal to all exponents of intellectual vagary, sentimental instability and eccentricity, and that sham altruism which seeks the cheap glory of words that betray deeds. All these elements combined may, when the people as a whole are not fully awake, betray this country into a course of folly for which when the hour of stern trial comes our bravest men will pay with blood and our bravest women with tears. For those illusionists do not pay with their own bodies for the dreadful errors into which they have led a nation. They strut through their time of triumph in the hours of ease; and when the hours of trial come they scatter instantly and let the nationalists, the old-fashioned patriots, the men and women who believe in the virile fighting virtues, accept the burden and carry the load, meet the dangers and make the sacrifies, and give themselves to and for the country. Nations are made, defended, and preserved, not by the illusionists but by the men and women who practice the homely virtues in time of peace, and who in time of righteous war are ready to die, or to send those they love best to die, for a shining ideal.

When peace comes let us accept any reasonable proposal, whether calling for a league of nations or for any other machinery, which we can in good faith act upon, and which does really offer some chance of lessening the number of future wars and diminishing their area. But let us never forget that any promise that such a league or other piece of machinery will definitely do away with war is either sheer nonsense or rank hypocrisy. When the test comes any strong and brutal nation will treat any such agreement as a scrap of paper, precisely as Germany treated the Hague conventions and the treaties guaranteeing the neutrality of Belgium, unless well-behaved nations possess both the will and the power to enforce the observance of the agreement. Therefore let us treat any peace treaties and agreements never as substitutes for but merely as supplementary to the duty of preparing our own strength for our own defense. And let us make this duty the duty of all the people, as it should be in a democracy, where universal suffrage should rest on universal service. Let us rest our strength on an army which shall consist not of a special caste, but of the people themselves; on an army produced by the universal obligatory training of all our young men sometime between the ages of 19 and 21.

This is for the future. Our immediate duty is to win the war. We must speed up the war to the limit. We must try to finish it at the earliest possible moment, but be resolved to finish it, no matter how long it takes. We must insist on the peace of complete and overwhelming victory. We must remember that a huge army put in the field at one time will accomplish what the same number of men put into the field in driblets can never accomplish. We have a much larger population and much greater natural resources than Germany or than France and England combined. Therefore, by next spring we should have thousands of our own field guns, and scores of thousands of our own airplanes at the front, and an enormous ship tonnage in which to ferry across the ocean so many troops that by April we may have four million trained fighting men at the front, not counting non-combatants and reserves. The age limits for the draft should be greatly increased and the exemptions greatly diminished. All of this, of course, should have been done six months ago — indeed a year ago. But it is not too late now. It is the eleventh hour, but not the twelfth. We must quit making this a ” leisurely war.” Our gallant fighting men at the front have shown the most splendid military qualities, and have won for themselves and for this nation the highest honor. Therefore we who stay at home must back them up by deeds, not merely by applause. They are entitled to such backing; and such backing means great quantities of ships, guns and airplanes, and millions of trained men. It is a good thing, an admirable thing, to back up the Red Cross and the Y. M. C. A., and all kindred bodies; to pay taxes cheerfully and buy Liberty bonds and thrift stamps; to save food and grow food, and to work with all our might with head and hand at useful industry. All these things will help the fighting men to win the war. But it is the fighting men at the front who will win the war. Therefore back up the fighting men; and the only way to back them up is to do the things of which I have spoken above.

So much for the vital, the immediate, the imperative needs. They are the needs that must at all hazards be met forthwith. But there are other paramount needs which we must also consider.

This terrible war, with all its dreadful and lamentable accompaniments, may nevertheless do a lasting good to this nation; for it may scourge us out of the wallow of materialism, made only worse by a mawkish or vicious sham sentimentality, into which we were tending to sink. The finest, the bravest, the best of our young men have sprung eagerly forward to face death for the sake of a high ideal; and thereby they have brought home to us the great truth that life consists of more than easy-going pleasure, and more than hard, conscienceless, brutal striving after purely material success; that while we must rightly care for the body and the things of the body, such care leads nowhere unless we also have thought for our own souls and for the souls of our brothers. When these gallant boys, on the golden crest of life, gladly face death for the sake of an ideal, shall not we who stay behind, who have not been found worthy of the grand adventure, shall not we in our turn try to shape our lives so as to make this country the ideal which in our hearts we acknowledge, and the actual workaday business of our world, come a little nearer together, correspond in practice a little more closely? Let us resolve to make this country a better place to live in for these men, and for the women who sent these men to battle and for the children who are to come after them.

When peace comes, and even before peace comes, let us weigh and ponder the mighty spiritual forces called into being by this war and turn them to the social and industrial betterment of this nation. Abraham Lincoln, with his usual homely commonsense and unerring instinct for the truth, made our people remember that the do’lar has its place, an essential place, but that the man stands above the dollar. Of late years we have worshiped the dollar overmuch, and have been snugly content with sleek service to Mammon, heedless of the ominous fact that overdevotion to dollars is almost equally damaging to those who have too many and to those who have too few; for when success is treated as tested and measured, not by the achievement of a self-respecting, hardworking, happy family life, and the performance of duty to oneself and to others with pleasure as a proper accompaniment of the duty; but merely by the mass of dollars amassed — why, the result is that the successful greedy ones develop a mean arrogance, and the unsuccessful greedy ones a mean envy; and envy and arrogance are equally unlovely sides of the same evil shield.

At present the best blood in this country, from all the homes of this country, is being spilled by our sons and brothers for principle and for justice and for humanity and for love of country, because our sons and brothers have placed love of a great cause above the dollar. Let us see that the position is not reversed for a long time to come! The other day I read the statement that there were a hundred thousand undernourished children in New York City. If we had a like number of undernourished soldiers, what a cry would go up! Yet these children are the citizens of the future, and the industrial arm is of just as much importance as the military. We must realize this, and act on our realization, or some day our republic will rock to its foundation.

In achieving this purpose we must be equally on our guard against the American Romanoffs, the reactionaries of industry and politics, and against the American Bolshevists who appeal to the basest passions of envy and class hatred, and who strive for disorder and anarchy. The history of Russia during the last 18 months teaches our country exactly what to avoid. And one of the lessons it teaches is that the most sordid corruptionist may do no more harm to the nation than the conscienceless demagogue or the fanatical and impracticable visionary.

We must take the rule of justice and fair play as our guide in dealing alike with capital and with labor, with the business man and the working man. Our theory should be cooperation among individuals, and control by the government with the purpose of helping the business succeed, but of seeing that the success implies service to the public and a fair division of profits among all concerned. During war time there should be no profiteering, no unusual and abnormal profits; but there must be legitimate profits or the business can not go on, and unless it goes on the public can not be served nor the wage earners receive their wages. If there are no profits we can not raise the taxes necessary to provide money for the war. The workingmen likewise should have their right of collective action, including collective bargaining, insured; and in a very real sense they should be made partners in the business, with a share in the profits and, at least along certain lines, a share in the control; and provision should be made for their honorable security in old age, and for their insurance against disease, accident and involuntary unemployment. There must be the fullest recognition, in honor and in material reward, of the skillful, conscientious, intelligent, hard-working man — I mean a recognition which he will accept as such, not merely a recognition which outsiders think sufficient. But there must be no limiting of production, no limiting of output, and no deadening insistence on reducing the efficiency of the skillful and hardworking to the plane of the shiftless or inefficient.

The foundation of our permanent civilization rests on the farmer; and by farmer I mean not the man who owns land which others till, but the man who himself tills or helps till the ground part of which at least he himself owns. A cardinal feature of our national policy should be the insuring of his rights to this man; and this not only for his sake, but for the sake of all of us.

Normally, he must be the owner of the ground he and his sons and his hired man till; and the hired man must have conditions shaped so that if he is hardworking, thrifty and energetic he shall have the means and the opportunity himself to purchase farming land on which to dwell and to bring up his family. We ought now to formulate, and we ought long ago to have formulated, an American agricultural policy; and the national agricultural department should be completely reorganized and its activities made far more productive than at present, especially in view of the large sum of money now allotted it. Normally, in farming regions, where the land is agricultural land, tenancy should be recognized only as a transitional and temporary phase, and normally the working farmer should himself be the landowner; and legislation to secure this should at once be enacted. In different sections of the country there are different needs, and therefore different methods of meeting the needs will be necessary; nor do I now intend to define them; for the remedies may be cumulative, and may include progressive taxation of land holdings in excess of a quarter section or at most a half section, the rights of tenants to compensation for all improvements or indeed a certain property right to the land itself, and real, not nominal, provision by the government for loaning money to those who need it in order to buy themselves a freehold. There must be improved methods of farm financing with emphasis on the getting and spending more money on the farms that are worth while. The high roads must be developed. Drastic action should be taken to stop the purchase of agricultural land for speculative purchasers; where necessary this should go to the length of giving full title to the occupant for use only, and limiting his power of alienating the land. System of marketing must be developed, so as to do away with the hold-up methods that in so many places still obtain. The producer must get more, and the consumer pay less, than at present; and both these ends can be and have been attained by proper legislation.

We ought to do these and the many other things necessary now, when it is possible to do them without causing too great distress to those in possession of long undisputed privileges which by time have grown to possess much of the character of rights. Nine-tenths of wisdom is being wise in time. In this country tenant farming and the individual ownership of extensive tracts of agricultural land are growing at the expense of the homestead holders. Let us take whatever steps — conservative, if possible, radical, if necessary — are needed to remedy the situation; for if left unremedied the result may be something unpleasantly near revolution a half century hence; and in such case the wrongs will be remedied only by action which causes other wrongs to innocent people and works deep demoralization to those benefited; whereas at present by the exercise of forethought and resolution we may escape both kinds of evil.

There are certain things the state can do and must do for the farmer. But most things the farmer can do for himself by association with his fellow farmers, and such independence of unnecessary state action is healthy in itself and is consonant with the rugged self-reliance characteristic of that most typical of American citizen, the American who dwells in the open country and tills the soil with his own hands. There must be cooperation on a large scale among farmers, in marketing their products so as to get them as nearly as possible direct to the consumer, and in purchasing at least all of their needed goods that can be standardized; and gradually in other ways also. Whatever can be done by such cooperation rather than by the state should be done: but where such cooperation proves inadequate to achieve the end, whether in shipping, storing or marketing, the state must itself assume the task.

Any such cooperative association should deal with the work that peculiarly affects farmers. Therefore it should most emphatically not be turned into a political party; and a political party which goes into politics as such is just as much a political party even although it chooses to call itself by some name with non-partisan in it. Any party which represents purely a class of our citizens inevitably works mischief. It is just as bad to have public servants who represent nobody but farmers as to have public servants who do not represent farmers. Our public servants are in honor bound to represent all of us, and not merely a few of us; and unless they represent all of us, and work sincerely and wisely for the permanent benefit of all of us, then they do not really and permanently represent any of us. Individually some of us are farmers, others workingmen, others business people, others doctors or lawyers or writers, or clergymen; but in addition we are all of us Americans first and foremost; and in government our common interest as decent citizens comes ahead of the separate interest of any of us. It is wise and it may be necessary that we shall individually belong to any one of various unions or associations or leagues or corporations; but there is one union to which all of us belong and to which our first allegiance is always due, and that union is the United States.

If Roosevelt had lived he almost certainly would have been the Republican nominee for President in 1920 and likely would have won.  This speech indicated that the course he would have charted would have been quite different from that followed by Harding and Coolidge.  One of the more interesting might have beens in American history.

Published in: on August 26, 2021 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on August 26, 1918: Theodore Roosevelt Speech in Springfield Illinois  
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August 4, 1914: Great Britain Declares War on Germany

Camille_Pissarro_007

Like many others, I often summon up in my memory the impression of those July days.  The world on the verge of its catastrophe was very brilliant.  Nations and Empires crowned with princes and potentates rose majestically on every side, lapped in the accumulated treasures of the long peace.  All were fitted and fastened—it seemed securely—into an immense cantilever.  The two mighty Europeans systems faced each other glittering and clanking in their panoply, but with a tranquil gaze.  A polite, discreet, pacific, and on the whole sincere diplomacy spread its web of connections over both.  A sentence in a dispatch, an observation by an ambassador, a cryptic phrase in a Parliament seemed sufficient to adjust from day to day the balance of the prodigious structure.  Words counted, and even whispers.  A nod could be made to tell.  Were we after all to achieve world security and universal peace by a marvelous system of combinations in equipoise and of armaments in equation, of checks and counter-checks on violent action ever more complex and more delicate?  Would Europe this marshaled, thus grouped, thus related, unite into one universal and glorious organism capable of receiving and enjoying in undreamed of abundance the bounty which nature and science stood hand in hand to give?  The old world in its sunset was fair to see.

Winston Churchill, The World Crisis

How quickly worlds can be shattered.  In this year of grace 2021 let us hope that future historians will not be putting down similar words about out age.  I doubt, in part, if they will, because the optimism that characterized Europe prior to the Great War is completely foreign to our time.  However, future historians dwelling upon the blindness of current leaders as we slide into another Great War, well, that would not surprise me at all.  Let us pray that my fears do not come to fruition. (more…)

Published in: on August 4, 2021 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on August 4, 1914: Great Britain Declares War on Germany  
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Dark Lamps

A friend came to see me on one of the evenings of the last week — he thinks it was on Monday, August 3rd. We were standing at a window of my room in the Foreign Office. It was getting dusk, and the lamps were being lit in the space below on which we were looking. My friend recalls that I remarked on this with the words: “The lamps are going out all over Europe, we shall not see them lit again in our life-time.”

Sir Edward Grey, British Foreign Secretary in 1914

Published in: on August 3, 2021 at 5:30 am  Comments (2)  
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Anzac Day: The Gallipoli Campaign

I was ruined for the time being in 1915 over the Dardanelles, and a supreme enterprise was cast away, through my trying to carry out a major and cardinal operation of war from a subordinate position. Men are ill- advised to try such ventures. This lesson had sunk into my nature.

Winston Churchill

Today is Anzac Day, in Australia and New Zealand.   It commemorates the landing of the New Zealand and Australian troops at Gallipoli in World War I.  Although the effort to take the Dardanelles was ultimately unsuccessful, the Anzac troops demonstrated great courage and tenacity, and the ordeal the troops underwent in this campaign has a vast meaning to the peoples of New Zealand and Australia.

This year I thought we would focus on taking a closer look at the Gallipoli Campaign.  It was the project chiefly of Winston Churchill, then First Lord of the Admiralty.  Churchill was an idea man.  He constantly came up with ideas that ranged from insane to brilliant.  The Gallipoli idea I think was on the surface brilliant.  Seize the Dardanelles, the opening of the sea corridor between the Mediterranean and the Black Sea, take Constantinople, ferry Russian troops over the Black Sea by the Royal Navy to knock out Turkey from the War and then launch a war winning campaign up the Balkans to drive the Austro-Hungarian Empire out of the War and then defeat a surrounded Germany.  It had the hallmark that would always remain Churchill’s goal in the realm of grand strategy: a short cut to victory.  Rather than slug it out against Imperial Germany in bloody trench warfare where, in Churchill’s grim phrase, brave men matched their bodies against machine guns, take an easier and quicker path to victory by defeating the weaker allies of Germany.  Small wonder that Churchill convinced the British war cabinet to back this bold gamble.

This brilliant idea also had drawbacks that tend to suddenly appear when a high concept plan is attempted to be implemented in this Vale of Tears.

  1. Geography-The rough terrain of Gallipoli offered superb defensive ground for the Turks.
  2. Mines-In a narrow sea passage like the Dardanelles heavy use of mines could negate the sea power of the Royal Navy.
  3. Logistics-Keeping a large invasion force supplied would require a maximum effort, limiting the number of troops that could be landed and supported.
  4. New type of warfare-This type of amphibious operation seems commonplace now.  It was not in 1915.  There was much to learn in a short period, and many mistakes to make.
  5. Johnny Turk-The average illiterate peasant Turkish soldier was almost totally ignorant of the outside world and had little but hate for the Young Turk politicians of Constantinople.  He had a great love for his religion and his country however, and he knew how to handle his weapons.  If commanded to hold a position he would hold it or die trying.  A superb soldier in defense.

Summing up the British implementation of the Gallipoli plan the phrase too little and too late recur.  Not enough forces were allotted,  and operations seemed to proceed in slow motion giving the Turks maximum opportunity to thwart the effort.

So the troops deployed, were left to endure a Golgotha of insufficient rations, appalling weather, millions of flies, some of the worst terrain on Earth over which to attempt to attack, all while fighting a valiant and tenacious foe.  By January 1916 the British had enough and withdrew.  The Butcher Bill was appalling:

British Empire:

198,340 (31,389 killed
9,708 missing and POWs
78,749 wounded
78,494 evacuated sick

France:

9,000 killed & missing
18,000 wounded
20,000 evacuated sick

Australia:

7,594 killed
18,500 wounded

New Zealand:

3,431 killed
4,140 wounded

The casualties for the sparsely populated countries of Australia and New Zealand sparked a moment in their new national histories that would never be forgotten, as they took pride in the courage and determination of their troops in a losing effort, which would ultimately end in victory in the War overall.

Published in: on April 25, 2021 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on Anzac Day: The Gallipoli Campaign  
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Dawn Patrol

Captain “Scotty” Scott:  And you’re the one that gapped to Brand

about sending green kids up to get killed.

Combat maneuvers. Ground-school.

He doesn’t know.

What chance would he have up there?

Major “Court” Courtney:  He’ll have as much chance as the others.

There can’t be any exceptions.

Do you think I want to do this?

Those are the orders.

Captain “Scotty” Scott:  Oh, I know it’s orders, Court.

Give me three days, two days.

Then I can get him up in the air…

…and teach him a few basic tricks.

At least he’ll have a fighting chance.

He doesn’t know anything.

Court, he can’t even do a half-loop

and roll out.

Do you hear that? He can’t even roll out.

What good’s he gonna be up there?

Do you think he’s gonna bring down

any Boche plane? No.

They’ll slaughter him, Court.

Give me just a few days.

Major “Court” Courtney: I said every man goes into the air

at dawn.

– I’m sorry, Scott-o, but there it is.

One of the great war films, Dawn Patrol (1938) tells the grim tale of a Royal Flying Corps squadron on the Western Front.  World War One began a scant eleven years after Kitty Hawk, and the technology for heavier than air flight was still very much in the experimental stage.  It was quite hazardous just flying, let alone engaging in combat.  As a result, fighter pilots in 1917 had an average life expectancy of 40-60 hours of flight time.  That figure is deceptive, since the pilots who survived and became veterans had a huge advantage over rookie pilots fresh from flight school who had little chance and were often shot down during their first three missions.  Yesterday was the anniversary of the death in 1918 of Captain Manfred von Richthofen, the Red Baron, the highest scoring Ace of World War I, who survived an amazing two years flying on the Western Front and had 80 confirmed kills. and probably amassed a total of one hundred.  Rookies against veteran pilots like Richthofen was simple murder with the outcome all but certain.

The film follows three commanders of 59 squadron in 1915, portrayed by Basil Rathbone, Errol Flynn and David Niven.  At the beginning of the film Major Brand, Rathbone, is in command, constantly battling with his two top pilots, Captain “Court” Courtney, Flynn, and Lieutenant “Scotty” Scott, who view Brand as an unfeeling martinet who sends new pilots to their deaths with hardly a thought, not realizing that Brand is haunted by their deaths, he calls himself a butcher, and has tried repeatedly and unsuccessfully to get more training time for the new pilots.  Brand is ultimately promoted to Lieutenant Colonel, Courtney is promoted to Major and takes over the Squadron, while Scott is promoted to Captain.  Courtney now finds himself doing precisely what Brand was doing, sending new pilots to their deaths while pleading unsuccessfully for more time.  One of the new pilots who is killed on his first mission is Donnie Scott, the brother of Courtney’s friend “Scotty” Scott, who pleads unsuccessfully with Major Courtney for an opportunity to spend a few days teaching his brother combat flying so that he will have some sort of chance.  Courtney, to save the life of his heartbroken friend Scott, takes on a suicide mission himself and perishes.  At the end of the film Scott is the new commander of the Squadron and we see him prepping newly arrived rookie pilots for their first mission, as the War continues on its terrible way.

Rathbone was a combat veteran of World War I, the medals on his film uniform being actual medals he won in combat.  Niven would go on to serve in combat in World War II, rising to the rank of Lieutenant Colonel.  Flynn would volunteer for service in World War II but be rejected for his ill health.  Flynn was unfairly mocked as a draft dodger.

Published in: on April 23, 2021 at 4:12 pm  Comments Off on Dawn Patrol  
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March 1, 1917: The Zimmerman Telegram Story Breaks

On February 20, 1917 British intelligence revealed to the US ambassador to Great Britain the contents of the Zimmerman telegram, go here to read about the telegram.  The Brits disclosed to the Americans the code breaking that they engaged in to read the message.  When the telegram was disclosed to the public, in order to protect British code breaking, it was alleged that British agents had stolen a copy of the telegram in Mexico.  The contents of the message was so fantastic that many Americans thought it was likely a fake produced by the British, which was the line taken by the mighty Hearst empire.  President Wilson was  faced with a dilemma as to whether to disclose that the British had decoded the message, and risk the ability of the British to read German messages, or to let the erroneous charges that the telegram was a fake remain unanswered. His dilemma would be shortly resolved by an unlikely source.

Published in: on March 1, 2021 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on March 1, 1917: The Zimmerman Telegram Story Breaks  
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Forgotten Hero of World War I

 

Dale Price at Dyspeptic Mutterings has a great post on General Hunter Liggett, one of the bright lights of our involvement in World War I:

 

The fighting in Korea is usually referred to as “the Forgotten War,” a reference to how little of an impression it has made on the American historical consciousness. Outside of M*A*S*H*, the cultural markers of that War are non-existent.

But I would argue that America’s involvement in the First World War has made even less of an impression. It resonated at the time, but the wrangles over Versailles, the League of Nations and repayment of loans issued by America soured the nation quickly.

It became the war America wanted to forget–and it must be admitted that our nation did a pretty good job of it.

The only Americans from the conflict who pierce the cloud of willful forgetting are Sergeant Alvin York, General John Pershing and, most poignantly, the Unknown Soldier. 

Which is truly unfortunate, since it was, in terms of actual casualties per day of combat, America’s bloodiest war.

In April 1917, the United States brought into modern, mechanized warfare a first class navy, the Browning automatic rifle, the Springfield M1903 and a flood-tide of enthusiastic fighting men.

To say that America was criminally-unprepared to fight in the Great War is an understatement. 

And her officer corps’ experience consisted of frontier policing, brief fighting in the Spanish-American War and the bloody counter-insurgency in the Philippines. The Army War College, an effort to systematically train officers along European General Staff lines, was not quite 16 years old when the War began.

And the process of promoting Army officers by merit instead of seniority was not quite 30 years old.

In the aftermath of the declaration of war on the Central Powers, America had to engage in a crash mobilization program, expanding an army from the low five figures to over four million by the end of the War.

 

 

Pershing became America’s Generalissimo, which was helpful from the standpoint of administration and a steely determination to forge an American fighting force. But amongst his flaws were playing favorites, micromanagement, and being an at best indifferent tactician.

This would lead to a crisis in America’s bloodiest campaign, the Meuse-Argonne Offensive. Pershing, retaining command of the First Army as well as being the overall American commander, was flatly-overwhelmed by the task. Small gains and large casualties were the result of the American assault on the formidable terrain. Exhausted, Pershing kicked himself upstairs and appointed Hunter Liggett to replace him.

Liggett was not a favorite of Pershing’s, but the latter was smart enough to recognize the merits of the stocky, unassuming veteran. Despite some initial continuing micromanagement by Pershing, Liggett was able to reorganize and refit the exhausted First Army. He also ordered the air arm of the AEF to provide more close support and air cover for American attacks. After a two week breather, he out-generaled the German commander by turning a flank in the strength of the German lines. From that day forward, the American armies were continually on the move, breaking out of the Argonne. At the time of the Armistice, American troops were a day’s march away from cutting the major German rail line supplying the Kaiser’s forces being rolled up by British and Commonwealth forces to the west. 

Go here to read the rest.  The completely undeserved oblivion that has swallowed General Liggett calls to mind General Sherman’s acerbic observation of military fame:

I think I understand what military fame is; to be killed on the field of battle and have your name misspelled in the newspapers.

Published in: on October 30, 2020 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on Forgotten Hero of World War I  
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