100 Years Ago Today: A Chronological Catalogue of the Tragedy of the First World War

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  1. Dhamptastic

    Dhamptastic Here To Help

    12 October 1915.

    Edith Cavell is executed.


    Nursing was one of the first professional inroads early activists for womens' rights made into civil society. For the vast majority of history, nursing was a men's profession. This is distinct from being a medicine woman. Nursing is a science, herbal "experts" are peddling snake oil which is more apt to harm as help. In the Ancient Mediterranean, the analog of modern nurses were the assistants to physicians, all men, who were usually apprenticing to be physicians themselves. Later, as Christianity took over, monks, trained from Greek and Roman texts, served as dedicated doctors and nurses; on the battlefield and in the cities both. Many of the Crusading Orders began as a medical order: for instance the Knights Hospitaller (aka Order of St John, Knights of Rhodes, Knights of Malta) began as an order tasked with caring for pilgrims to the Holy Land; and its military mission emerged as an offshoot of its medical mission; the same evolution occurred with the Teutonic Order and others. Occasionally, Nuns would serve the same function, although mostly in Britain where monastic orders were less established. This is why in Britain, senior nurses are sometimes called "sisters". But it wasn't until the 19th century that nursing was opened to women as a profession. As a result, it is one of the first points at which women commonly enter into the military discussion. It is also somewhat funny that we see male nurses today as an aberration, when someone 300 years ago would be surprised to see a women doing the job.

    It was mentioned to me by a student that it seems as if we, as historians, draw extra attention to these few women and disproportionately allocate them significance. However, women like Florence Nightingale and Dorthea Dix were given lavish attention in their own time, probably more attention than we give them now that we see wider contexts and have more information. Edith Cavell, as we will see, was also given lavish attention. Although not for her profession.


    Cavell was born in 1865, the eldest child of a vicar to a small village and his wife. Her upbringing, deeply religious of the Anglican style, focused on self-sacrifice and charity. The village was not a large or wealthy one, and so the vicar's family lived in poverty. Yet, they were generous to their community. As befitting the child of the clergy, she was well educated and left home to become a governess (a private tutor) to a Belgian family. And then trained as a nurse in London. After working in English hospitals, she returned to Belgium as the matron (like the chief of nursing) for a nursing college formed by one Dr. Antoine Depage. After several years, she began publishing a professional journal from the college. Professional nursing was still new to Belgium, and she became an internationally known figure for her work.

    When war came, she was absent in England but quickly returned to Belgium. When the front lines passed over her school, its nursing operations were taken over by the Red Cross. Without the patronage of the Belgian government, it required NGO funding. Additionally, the Red Cross label allowed them to have access to the sick and wounded that representatives of a belligerent power could not have.

    Almost immediately, Cavell began hiding British soldiers who were trapped behind enemy lines and conducting them to neutral Netherlands, where they could make their way to Britain and rejoin the war.

    As the German boot pressed ever harder on Belgium and occupied France, she opened her efforts to civilians of military age.

    A network was established where refugees--almost exclusively men of military age--and stranded soldiers would find a chateau near Mons, on the French-Belgian border. There, a French prince named Reginald de Croy provided them with forged documents. The de Croy family was a powerful noble house with members in both France and Germany, and were married in with financiers and industrialists on both sides of the Atlantic.

    From there, the refugees or stranded soldiers were sent to Brussels, where they would be sheltered in houses belonging to Edith Cavell and others, including a Belgian architect named Philippe Baucq.


    Baucq would then organize their conveyance to the Dutch border, and provide them with the proper documents to travel through The Netherlands and travel to England; where they would join the war against Germany.

    This was an operation designed to funnel motivated manpower into the armies of the Entente. It has been suggested that Cavell and the others were agents of British Intelligence. However, this is widely dismissed by historians of the intelligence services, as there is no direct evidence of it; only hearsay.

    In total, Cavell admitted to moving 60 British and 15 French soldiers into The Netherlands, in addition to over 100 military age French and Belgian men. This was just her part, not the numbers for the whole operation.

    Apparently, the weak link in the chain was Edith Cavell herself. While the others in the operation seemed to understand the need for secrecy, Cavell flaunted her involvement. Very early on, German occupation authorities figured out that Cavell was involved in some kind of covert operation. She was outspoken not only in her pro-British sentiments (despite working under the auspices of the Red Cross) but of her actual pro-British actions.

    It still took quite a while for the Germans to uncover the extent of the network, and find a suitable member to turn into a double agent. This would be a Frenchmen named Gaston Quien, who after the war would be punished by the French as a collaborator.

    It wasn't until July 1915 that they were ready to sweep in and break it up. Arrests began on 31 July, with Philippe Baucq. Edith Cavell was rounded up on 3 August. In total, some 34 were arrested and put on trial. These included prominent noblewomen Mary De Croy--sister of Reginald--and the Countess Jeanne de Belleville.

    Cavell was interrogated three times by German authorities and each time willingly detailed the operations she was engaged in. On 7 October, the day before her trial, she proudly signed a confession.

    On her 8 October trial, she was not charged with espionage, as is often claimed, but with treason. This charge requires some explanation.

    Under German law--and indeed under international law--the residents of occupied territory are defacto subjects of the occupying power. This assures that the legal structure is there to organize all of the trappings of civilian life (education, policing, medical care, fire fighting, keeping up the roads) which the government traditionally has a monopoly on; and makes the maintenance of such the ethical duty of the occupier. Citizenship is not conferred, of course. Residents of occupied territory were expected to go on with their lives peacefully: not to help their occupiers, but also not to hinder. Therefore, by international law, Belgium was subject to the German Military Code. And therefore, the German penchant for executing hostages in reprisal for francs-tireurs actions was, as a point of fact, legal.

    The German Military Code, in paragraph 58, outlawed actions which aided the enemy as treason, and mandated death as the punishment. It additionally mandated death for a list of additional offenses in paragraph 90, which listed the conveyance of soldiers to the enemy. And paragraph 160 reiterated international law and specified that all laws apply to foreigners as well as Germans.

    Modern observers, as well as those at the time, decry the trial as illegal due to the Geneva Conventions giving protection to medical personnel. And while the Conventions do indeed do that, the 1906 version--as well as the modern version--specifies that the protection is forfeit when medical personnel engage in belligerent action.

    This may be important for the recent shelling of a Doctors Without Borders hospital in Afghanistan, as it was apparently being used as a fighting position by the Taliban (some suggest even with the cooperation of the staff). It wouldn't be the first time.

    This means that the charges, trial, verdict, and execution of Edith Cavell was legal; and, from one perspective, mandated by international law.

    During her trial, Cavell was allowed a defense lawyer and to produce witnesses in her defense. The German legal system is much like the American in its adversarial format and the presumption of innocence. However, the defense did not argue with her guilt. She admitted it, and proudly signed the confession. The witnesses were therefore aimed at an exception to the death penalty. Many, German and Belgian were presented to the court and argued that Cavell's efforts at saving life regardless of nationality warranted an exemption.

    The court, however, confirmed her confession and sentenced her to death.
  2. Dhamptastic

    Dhamptastic Here To Help

    In the following days, representatives from the US and Spain appealed to the German military governor of Brussels, Traugott von Sauberzweig, to grant clemency. Even the German civil administrator of Brussels, Baron von der Lacken, suggested she be pardoned. It was, however, the decision of the military governor.


    Von Sauberzweig suggested that German law did not differentiate between men and women in the application of the death penalty, except in the case of pregnant women because that would execute one of the two people sharing that body without trial. Therefore, he could not commute the sentence on grounds of her sex or gender. He also suggested that if the occupation authority reversed itself and refused to execute a woman, it would set a precedent that women could fight against Germany without fear of punishment.

    The sentence was confirmed on 11 October, to be carried out the next day.

    During her last night, she spoke to Anglican and Lutheran clergy, telling them "Patriotism is not enough. I must have no hatred or bitterness towards anyone." And asked that her family be told that "I am glad to die for my country."

    On 12 October, Cavell and Baucq, the two from their clique which were confirmed to be executed, were conveyed to the Tir Nationale (Nationale Schietbaan) for execution.


    It was a shooting range and training facility for the Belgian Army.

    Waiting there were 16 men in two firing squads. At 7am, their sentences were carried out.

    The stool is where Cavell was placed before being shot.


    Despite being above-board and legal, the execution was met with international outage. Sexist outrage, actually. Cavell was a woman, and you can't execute women as if they were men.


    Her statement, "I must have no hatred or bitterness towards anyone", almost instantly became ironic.

    Cavell became a propaganda lightning rod. Recruitment campaigns were tailored to provoke outrage and hatred of the Hun at her death. A woman. A nurse. A patriot. That Germany would put her to death is proof positive of their animalistic barbarism.

    The story of her death was highly fictionalized to make it more brutal. According to British propaganda, Cavell rejected a blindfold, and then fainted (you know, because that's what women do, right?), and was then shot while unconscious by a German officer.

    Propaganda declared she was charged with espionage, a charge she was innocent of. And she would have been, but she wasn't charged with it. This made her an innocent martyr.

    In reality, Cavell was intensely brave and selfless. She devoted her life to helping others, and undertook her actions to that purpose. She didn't seek death, but once it was coming she didn't shrink away. But she did commit treason, and was executed in accordance with international law. Whether or not such laws and punishments are themselves moral is not a relevant issue.

    Nevertheless, Edith Cavell entered into legend not as how she was, but how British (and French) propagandists made her.


    And even after the war...
  3. Undead Nicole

    Undead Nicole Community Manager Staff Member

    I'd like to take a moment to say congratulations on keeping this thread going for over a year. :) Well done.
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  4. Dhamptastic

    Dhamptastic Here To Help

    I do my best.


    14 October 1915.

    The Suspension of Offensive Action on the Western Front, and Bulgaria Invades Serbia.


    The Autumn Offensive did not go well.


    In Champagne, French troops pushed right up to the last line of German entrenchments but could go no further. They had spent their strength getting to that point, and reserves--mostly cavalry divisions--were insufficient to provide the impetus to overcome the Reserve Stellung. After 3 October, the remainder of the offensive battle in Champagne was dedicated to pushing the French line all the way up to the R-Stellung across the full attacking front. The German defenders were hit hard by French gains in the first days of the offensive and lacked the strength to undertake significant counter-attacks. To launch small local counterattacks, the Germans reduced the manpower on their front to one soldier for every three meters of trench. This was sufficient to hold the ground due to the level of coordination between infantry, machine guns, and artillery. The R-Stellung was studded with reinforced concrete bunkers with overlapping fields of fire. All soldiers had to do between them, basically, was pick off the odd attacker who got through. By reducing the commitment on the line, the Germans were able to gather sufficient reserves to counterattack when their pillboxes were threatened and have local superiority at that moment. It held the line.


    The French attacks in Artois were basically over after the second day. The French continued to mimic attacks to try and keep German attention off of the British, but didn't generally engage in actual attacks. An exception occurred on the last day, in which the French launched one final attack on Vimy Ridge. As with prior attacks, it failed to breech the German second line.

    Fighting in Champagne and Artois would continue sporadically, German counter-attacks and aggressive raiding, until the start of November. But the fighting was essentially over.


    At Loos, fighting focused on the Hohenzollern Redoubt, a short distance north of Loos.


    The British had captured the redoubt at the start of the battle, but had lost it to counter-attack on 3 October. The battle went into a lull after that point, as the British gathered for another try.

    The British 9th and 46th Divisions had deployed opposite and began preparations for their attack, but were spoiled on the 9th of October by a German counter-attack aimed to recapturing more ground lost in the initial attacks. Their attack failed, due a lack of artillery preparation. The Germans advanced right into unbroken wire and lost 3000 men. This pushed the British attack back to 13 October. On that morning, the two divisions went over the top.


    Advancing through a cloud of gas, the 46th Division, like the Germans a few days earlier, ran headlong into unbroken wire. The gas was ineffective due to high winds. The British had inadequately prepared: their artillery barrage was too short and light, and their soldiers were not given grenades. The 46th also took 3000 casualties before falling back. Without support, the 9th Division fell back as well.

    Haig briefly considered resuming the attack, but autumn rains began and put all thought of offensives to rest.


    The Autumn Offensives were costly for all involved.

    The French claimed they took 144,000 casualties in Champagne, although it is difficult to say if that is an accurate number or not. Opposing them, the Germans took 85,000; and their figured have Teutonic precision.

    In Artois, the French got off light. 48,000 casualties. The British took 50,000 casualties, which could not be easily replaced. Manpower was being directed towards the New Army, which would not be arriving in force until winter. Opposite them, the Germans took about 50,000.

    The offensive failed to win significant ground, and was irrelevant to aiding a collapsed Russia which was mostly aided by the Central Powers being too exhausted to pursue them more.


    At the same time, the Germans were crushing Serbia.


    On the 14th, Bulgaria entered the war. Two armies flooded across the border.


    The Bulgarian First Army, under the operational command of von Mackensen's Army Group, aimed itself toward Nis. It would come down on the rear of the Serbian armies in the north.

    The Second Army, an independent command, pushed into Macedonia, which had been won by Bulgaria in the First Balkan War and taken from them in Second Balkan War; which also contained a large number of ethnic Bulgarians.

    Serbia, which for a year had held its own and embarrassed a Great Power time and time again, was falling.
  5. Dhamptastic

    Dhamptastic Here To Help

    17 October 1915.

    The Fall of Serbia: Things Fall Apart.


    The entry of Bulgaria represented a crisis point for the war in the Balkans. The Serbs became hopelessly overwhelmed, and the hopes of an Entente force in Greece being assembled fast enough to be able to affect the outcome of the Central Powers' autumn offensive faded into the sunset.

    The day after the Bulgarians stepped off into their offensive, the British government formally declared war upon Bulgaria. But forces arriving in Greece were still very small. In the two weeks since advance parties landed, the total number of Entente soldiers only came to about two divisions worth.


    This was not, by any means, a significant number. While it is correct to point out that the Bulgarian Second Army, the force nearest to Greece, only possessed two infantry and one cavalry division, and therefore was not significantly larger than the Entente force, to the north were a further four Bulgarian divisions, and even further north was a titanic mass of German and Austrian troops, grinding their way closer. These small numbers of Entente soldiers still marched their way north, to the Greek border with Serbian Macedonia. The British and French needed more manpower in Greece, and needed it quickly. But Greece was a problem.

    On the 5th of October, the government of Greece fell, as parliamentary governments often do. As discussed before, the King--Constantine I--and the Prime Minister--Elefthérios Venizélos--were on opposite sides of the war. Constantine I favored the Germans, due largely to his German wife, but would compromise at neutrality.


    Venizelos was firmly pro-Entente and desired that Greece join the war.


    Their conflict came to a head over Greek mobilization and the arrival of Entente soldiers at Salonika.

    On 5 October, the King invoked his right to dismiss ministers and dissolve parliament. He requested the resignation of his Prime Minister, which was tendered that very evening. And new elections were planned.

    Venizelos would return to his home in Crete, and his party would boycott the election. Civil war was brewing.

    With the King now in possession of a friendly Prime Minister, Greece was not going to be a friendly power. The partial mobilization and Entente expeditionary force were facts which the King had little choice but to live with, however he was not required to do any more.

    Meanwhile, in Serbia, things were not going well.


    The Bulgarian First Army faced the most Serbian resistance as it drove on the Serbian war-time capitol of Nis, and their advance had slowed down. However, the Bulgarian Second Army was faced with what amounted to a token force. Their commander was also a skilled general.


    Georgi Stoyanov Todorov had entered the Bulgarian military before it even existed. In 1877, at the age of 19, he volunteered as a rifleman in the Russian Bulgarian Corps. This was a locally raised contingent which fought with distinction in the Russo-Turkish War. Afterwards, he attended a Russian military academy in St Petersburg, but left before graduating to fight in the Serbo-Bulgarian War of 1885, which saw one battle and the recognition of Bulgaria's unification with Eastern Rumelia. In the Balkan Wars, he commanded a division. In all of the major battles he took part in, his forces were triumphant. Rising from division to army command was not such a major rise, as his army was essentially the size of a corps. He was highly qualified for the job he was given.


    His two infantry and one cavalry division--totaling about 50,000 combat troops--were faced by Serbian Macedonian forces of some 30,000 men. The Serbian forces knew that the British and French were coming, and so played the passive defender, while Todorov was determined to be aggressive. Bulgarian Second Army had one objective, to cut the railway between Salonika and Skopje. But, advancing on a wider front, Todorov also aimed a division at the rail line between Skopje and Nis.


    The Bulgarian 3rd Division drove on this extra objective with speed which was unprecedented in WWI.


    Through torrential rain and driving wind, a battalion of the 3rd Division marched 20 miles through the night, and on 15 October, took a critical town on the rail line. This effectively severed Macedonia from Serbia, and Serbia from the Entente in Salonika.


    After this, the Entente sought Greek entry with even more vigor. The British cast around for territory they had that they could offer the Greeks. The easy answer was Cyprus.


    Cyprus has been an important place since the Bronze Age. It was the center of copper production in the Bronze Age Levant, and had close ties with the Hittites and Egyptians. Cypriot bronze ingots have been found as far away as Spain and the Indus Valley. Like tin producing regions in modern-day Afghanistan, it was too important to be disrupted by conquest. After the Bronze Age collapse, Cyprus became far less important and was conquered by successive empires: Egyptians, Persians, Greeks, Hellenistic Successor States, the Western Romans, the Eastern Romans, Crusaders, the Venetians. Finally, in 1571, the Ottomans conquered it. The defender of Famagusta, Marco Antonio Bragadin, was flayed alive, and then his skin was sewn together and stuffed, and flown as a naval ensign. Brutal, but not unusual for the period. Cyprus remained in Ottoman hands until 1878, when it was given to the British as a protectorate in exchange for a promise that Britain would come to the aid of the Ottoman Empire in the event of a Russian attack.

    In 1914, when the Ottoman Empire joined the war on the side of Germany, Britain formally annexed the island.

    On 16 or 17 October 1915, Britain formally offered Cyprus to Greece if they would declare for the Entente.

    It would have made sense to the British that it would be a good offer. Cyprus had been Greek in culture since Alexander the Great conquered it. For over a thousand years, it passed between Greek-dominated states in the Ptolemys and the Eastern Roman Empire. When the Crusaders captured it from the Byzantines, it remained Greek. When the Venetians took it from the Crusaders, it remained Greek. And it remained Greek under the Turks. In 1915, the people spoke Greek, ate Greek foods, worshiped in Greek churches.

    But Constantine I refused to allow Greece to be drawn into war against Germany.

    Greece refused the offer.

    It would not be repeated.
  6. Dhamptastic

    Dhamptastic Here To Help

    18 October 1915.

    The Third Battle of the Isonzo.


    During the inter-Allied meetings of the summer, Luigi Cadorna, the commander in chief of the Italian Army, readily agreed to the necessity of coordinating offensives in the West to relieve pressure on Russia.


    He was, however, unable to prepare for Italy's part as rapidly as the British and French.

    With the entry of Bulgaria into the war and the impending fall of Serbia, the Italian offensive became even more important. If Italy could draw off some Austrian--or even German--troops from around Serbia's neck, then maybe they could survive the autumn.

    The first two battles of the Isonzo were essentially infantry fights. The Italians made good use of artillery in the Second Battle: having limited assets, they concentrated fire on key positions and on the unprotected Austrian rear. But they lacked significant artillery power. Cadorna concentrated his preparations on procuring enough artillery to make a preparatory bombardment effective. By October, he had gathered 1300 guns in his offensive area. The vast majority were 75mm field guns, which were generally ineffective against entrenchments (as found on the Western Front), and a large number were older and outclassed pieces gathered from the far corners of Italy. But, he did manage to gather some heavy artillery; mainly by taking guns from coastal forts and mounting them in ad hoc mobile carriages.


    Cadorna faced not only foreign pressure to attack, but internal pressure. The Italian military and government were not on speaking terms, and what interchanges which did take place were hostile. The government had, like everyone else, expected a quick campaign and "the war over by Christmas," as the cliche goes. When it did not arrive, something which flummoxed both the military and government, the military did not explain its strategy nor did the government explain its situation. Italy had experienced a complete breakdown of civil-military relations.

    In the Vietnam War, the US also suffered a breakdown, but in the opposite direction. LBJ, his SecDef, Robert McNamara, and the CJCS, Maxwell Taylor, who had been brought out of retirement to be LBJ's man, ran the Vietnam War from the Oval Office, and completely ignored the military and its proper chain of command. Had the military been able to contribute to the discussion, the opening years of the war could have been very different. It is not a healthy civil-military relationship when the President is personally ordering battalions around.

    It is also not healthy when the generals and elected government are not communicating at all.

    Cadorna believed that the country would take a year to produce sufficient heavy artillery, but didn't bother trying to get the government to speed the process. The government, via intermediaries, demanded rapid action and a new offensive and the idea of the larger Italy be realized, but didn't bother asking what they could do to help.

    With 1300 guns, ammunition became an issue as well. Communications between attacking infantry and artillery were practically non-existent, so accurate fire was largely impossible. The guns were given a ration of shells, and given timetables which they were to follow. The artillery would follow their schedule and fire until they ran out of shells for the day, once they were gone they were gone and they wouldn't be able to fire until the next day.

    To try and compensate, artillery was moved closer to the front. The hope was that spotters would be able to be more effective. And timetables were coordinated with infantry timetables so that the artillery didn't simply stop as the infantry attacked.

    The guns opened up on 18 October, in the first general bombardment of the Italian Front, such as it was.



    Cadorna may have figured out that artillery was important, but he had yet to figure out that mass was important in such conditions. His artillery was spread along a 50km front, which would be attacked simultaneously. 338 infantry battalions, assuming full-strength 1000 men per battalion, means 6 men per meter. That sort of seems like a lot, but remember that they're attacking barbed wire and machine guns. They were attacking 137 Austrian battalion, so they outnumbered the defenders not quite 3:1. The math doesn't always mean much, but it's still an indication of a lack of focus on points of maximum effort, schwerpunkts; a failure to appreciate the concentration of mass. This is something that all of the armies on the Western Front understood. While the French may have measured their mass in soldiers per distance (3 per foot in 2nd Champagne, for instance), they, in practice, massed against unit objectives. This made their initial punch overwhelming. The Italians hadn't figured this out. 50km of front to Cadorna meant 50km of front. Individual units concentrated themselves on occasions, but the army objectives were not planned with this level of mass or flexibility in mind.

    When the Italians left their trenches on 21 October, they found unbroken wire and heavy machine gun fire.


    No one had quite figured out how to destroy barbed wire entanglements by artillery fire, and wouldn't for some time yet. Post war artillery manuals prescribe careful direct-fire, aimed so that each explosion is in the middle of the barbed wire entanglement, which would theoretically splay it outward and leave a clean area in the middle. The best that seemed to be done in 1915 was to pound the area with heavy artillery to bring down the wire posts and screw pickets, so men could go over the wire which was now on the ground. Lacking heavy artillery and proper preparation, the Italians failed even at this.

    When Italians went forward with bangalore torpedoes, they created narrow openings which became obvious targets for enemy fire--and therefore chasms of slaughter. They also developed mobile steel shields on wheels which they pushed ahead of them, something German stormtroopers would copy in later years, but the ungainliness of them was a liability.

    That isn't to say that progress wasn't made. Austrian front line trenches were only lightly defended, with each successive line becoming more powerful. With bayonets fixed and shouts of "Savoy!", the Italians did make gains. The Austrians were steadily pushed back in several areas. On the 24th, the summit of Mt Mzrli was taken. And lost. And retaken. And lost. But no breakthrough was able to occur.

    Between San Michele and Manfalcone, Italian forces pushed the Austrians from a stretch around Mont Sei Busi after three days of fighting. But their gains were lost the next day, after which the Austrians called for a truce to allow the Italians to recover their own casualties. Toward the brutal end of the battle, the positions were retaken and held.

    The battle then stagnated due to autumn rains.

    The battle picked up again in early November, the 3rd and 4th, but rapidly trailed off. Unit diaries record plummeting morale.

    Mostly in the first four days and last two days of the fight, the Italians took 67,000 casualties (11,000 dead). Losses were not evenly distributed, for instance one brigade lost 2800 out of 3000. The Austrians, tenacious in defense, took 40,000 casualties.

    Gains were trivial, measured in hundreds of meters.

    The battle was suspended on 4 November.
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  7. Dhamptastic

    Dhamptastic Here To Help

    21 October 1915.

    The Derby Scheme.


    Edward Stanley was the 17th Earl of Derby.


    His father, the 16th Earl, Frederick Stanley, was Governor-General of Canada from 1888 to 1893 and donated a challenge cup for Canada's amateur hockey clubs to compete for. His sons--including Edward--were avid fans of the sport, so he was being a good dad. In 1909, that trophy became a professional trophy. And in 1926, competition for it became limited to the National Hockey League. After many additions and a major redesign in 1948, it has become the most sought after baby-bathing vessel and extra-large snifter in the world. Edward would create his own trophy, donating a challenge award to the French rugby leagues.

    But in 1914, Edward Stanley was a notable Conservative politician, formerly in the House of Commons, but having ascended to the House of Lords with the death of his father. His family was notable in the governorship of Liverpool (he himself had served as Lord Mayor for several years immediately before the war broke out). When war arrived, Derby turned his sights to recruitment. It was he which coined the phrase "Pals Battalions", in his drive to find Kitchener his New Army. He was so successful--recruiting four of the "Pals Battalions" from Liverpool within a matter of days--that Kitchener appointed him Director-General of Recruitment.

    Derby and Kitchener were faced with a problem of titanic proportions. The war was consuming human life at an alarming rate. The BEF had taken over 100% casualties before the close of 1914. Further battles, and secondary fronts opening in Egypt, Mesopotamia, Gallipoli, Salonkia, having to fight in Africa and Asia...were taxing the ability of Britain to put men into uniforms. Just as they were beginning to produce sufficient materiel to fight the war, they were running out of healthy men to use that materiel.

    With 5.5 million men of military age, and 500,000 reaching that age every year, Britain had sufficient manpower. But, unlike the other belligerents in the war, Britain did not have conscription. The tradition of voluntary service ran extremely deep in Britain. Lacking a fully-evolved feudal system, there was a greater degree of mutuality between lord and subject. For instance, the Anglo-Saxon Fyrd was not a European-style peasant force. Rather than serfs forced to fight, it was peopled only by freemen, who were engaging in their civic duty in exchange for the protections of their shire lord. With the Norman Conquest, this became the basis of military companies--business rather than conscripts--and during the Hundred Years War, for instance, ever increasing amounts of money had to be offered in pay and benefits to keep a lord's military company fully stocked with manpower. The very nature of the English military precluded dragging serfs to war. Beginning in the late 13th century, the light infantry component of English armies became increasingly dedicated to the longbow rather than to the lightly armed close-combat infantry of the fyrd. By the time of Agincourt in the early 15th century, the army was almost entirely archers and men at arms, the latter might fight mounted or dismounted depending on the situation. Both of these were skilled professionals, trained over many years. You couldn't pull a farmer off a field and make him longbowman, nor a man at arms. You recruit them while young, pay and feed them well, train them, condition them, and unleash them on the French. This held through the Napoleonic Wars and the 19th Century, when the British stubbornly refused to resort to anything but volunteer recruitment. But Britain was deep in a conflict on a scale the world had not seen since the Warring States Period of Chinese history, and maybe not even then.

    The question on the minds of British leaders was if they could continue to rely on voluntary recruitment and still keep the British armies around the world fully manned.

    Edward Stanley, Lord Derby, aimed to find out.

    The Derby Scheme, as outlined in the middle of October 1915, would conclusively prove it one way or the other.


    Canvassers would proceed from door to door in all British cities, towns, and villages. Each eligible man, between 18 and 41, was required to declare if they were willing to volunteer or not. Canvassers were often discharged veterans, or the fathers of serving soldiers, and would present a letter with the details of the scheme and loudly ask the eligible men if they would volunteer. This was intended to put on major social pressure to volunteer, as family and neighbors would have their attention drawn. No one was allowed to speak for them, not wives or mothers. Often, threats were made. It was a very public spectacle.

    Eligibility was determined by health, family status, and occupation. For examples, if one was disabled, was a single parent, or worked in a war-critical industry, they were not required to declare their willingness or unwillingness.

    If the eligible man declared their willingness to volunteer, their pink card (see 16 August 1915 entry on National Registration) information would be copied on to a blue card, which would be sent to their local recruitment office. The prospective volunteer would be required to show up at the recruitment office within 48 hours. They would be paid a bounty of two shillings and nine pence, inducted into the army for one day to undergo physical examination, passed into the "Army Reserve B", and then be allowed to return home to their normal lives.

    The Army Reserve B was a grouped scheme for calling those volunteers to the colors at a later date. There were 46 groups, determined by age and marital status. And only entire groups would be prospectively called to the colors.

    Men could also opt to join the Navy, with the same system.

    To show that one had volunteered, or was exempt, recruiters handed out khaki and blue brassards to wear on ones arm.

    Khaki for Army.

    Blue for Navy.

    Here is a man wearing one.



    Note that he's also wearing a war service pin.

    In the fury of volunteerism of the early war, women took to attacking men who were not in uniform. The war service pin was issued to prevent this. Men wore it on their lapels to show that they were indeed engaged in the war effort. Men like factory workers, government workers, new volunteers, and returned soldiers wore them to avoid injury.


    If one was not exempt, and did not want to join, but still get the brassard so they weren't hassled, one could appeal to a local board to determine if they should be considered exempt.


    Volunteering was not compulsory, despite all of this pressure.

    Through November and December, the Derby Scheme found the Army 318,000 men who were fit and eligible and who volunteered.

    But, 38% of single men and 54% of married men outright refused.

    The scheme would have continued until the whole country was canvassed, except that the rate of refusal was so high that the government determined that they would not get enough volunteers.

    So the Derby Scheme was suspended.

    And the British government readied itself for conscription.
  8. Dhamptastic

    Dhamptastic Here To Help

    22 October 1915.

    The Bipolarity of Conrad von Hötzendorf and Austrian Hopes of a Separate Peace.


    Psychohistory is problematic. Simply from documents and images, one cannot realistically discover a historical figure's psychological profile or diagnose any malidies.

    But the framework does make for an interesting bloggy posty thing.

    Conrad von Hötzendorf can be seen, in a way, to swing from mania to depression to mania as the war went on...


    Mania Stage...

    During the years and months preceding the assassination of Franz Ferdinand and the ensuing July Crisis, Conrad von Hötzendorf had clamored for war with Serbia. He viewed the Austrian monarchy as waning, and crushing the upstart Serbians would reinvigorate the empire. Serbia was a legitimate threat, and ending that threat would secure the Balkans as an Austrian dominion. It would call Russia to heel, as they were using the upstart Balkan states as avenues to expand their own sphere of influence. And crushing a major military like Serbia would prove to the world that Austria was indeed a Great Power.


    Between January 1913 and June 1914, in fact, Conrad formally asked no less than 25 times for permission to war on Serbia. When war came, he was overjoyed.

    But, in the Spring of 1915, Conrad had suggested that the war was lost.


    Depression Stage...

    In notes to the Foreign Minister of Austria-Hungary, Count Burian (who had succeeded Berchtold to the post), Conrad argued that the war was opening fractures in the monarchy which could not be mended.

    This is Count Burian.

    He warned Burian that an entrance of Italy into the war would be the very end of it all.

    This depressive position was typical of Conrad, who was well known as a pessimist. But it was also probably realistic. WWI was opening fractures in the monarchy which could not be repaired. And Austria was teetering on a precipice, and only needed a nudge to have its war collapse. The k.u.k. Armee had been almost entirely destroyed by the opening months of the war, and the reserve formations took over 100% losses in the winter offensives into the Carpathians. The Serbians were holding their own. The Ottoman Empire was being invaded from four directions. And Germany didn't appear to be winning, either, but trapped in stalemates on both Western and Eastern fronts. Yet, Germany was increasingly circumventing the Austrian General Staff and running the war by diktat.

    Conrad saw, in the near future, the entrance of both Italy and Romania into the war on the side of the Entente, which would stretch Austria well beyond the breaking point.

    However, during the summer and early autumn, the war had almost completely reversed itself.


    Mania Stage...

    A major breakthrough at Gorlice-Tarnow forced the Russian army back to the Pripyat or Pinsk Marshes. The French and British were bleeding themselves dry on the Western front. The Italians were proving to be incompetent. Turkey was holding their own, defeating Entente offensives at Gallipoli and in the Caucasus, keeping the British penned in at Suez, and only losing ground in Mesopotamia. And Bulgaria had agreed to join the war, making the fall of Serbia only a matter of time.

    On 22 October 1915, Conrad sent a memorandum to the Austrian Emperor Franz Joseph.


    He suggested that now was the time to put out peace feelers. Serbia was falling, and with it the reason the war started: Serbia was chastised and would fall. Its economy was ruined, its military in disarray. It was no longer a threat, and Austria could be said to have proven its mettle.

    Conrad saw the Germans bring victory after victory, but at the same time the Austrian army was improving. By the end of 1915, it had made up its numbers: excess plus a reorganization had netted 20 new divisions. There was still a shortage of officers, but the training of junior officers had been shifted to an accelerated course and experienced NCOs were being sent through. This had the side effect of slightly alleviating the biggest problem in the k.u.k. Armee: language. While pre-war German officers tended to only speak German, experienced NCOs tended to speak the native language of the unit they were in, along with German, and perhaps others. The common man of the empire was less parochial than the Germans.

    Austria was in a better position than ever, and if they were to make peace it would have to be now. As time went on, German control of Austrian affairs would only increase.

    Another input to the mania phase was Conrad's personal life.


    Conrad's first wife had died in 1905. They had fallen in love and married in 1886, and had four sons; the eldest of which would be die in 1918 from wounds received in the Romanian Campaign.

    Not two years after his wife's death, Conrad was invited to dinner at the Vienna house of an executive of Lloyds, the insurance company. Another guest was wealthy industrialist Hans von Reininghaus. The Reininghaus fortune was in beer. The family had developed the first steam-powered brewery, and had pioneered refrigeration, and by 1914 was producing refrigeration units for hospitals across Europe. The beer brand Gösser is their gift to the world. It was one of the first beers to be pasteurized and sold in sealed glass bottles, meaning it could be transported outside of its locality and not spoil. Today, it is part of the largest brewing company in Austria.


    Conrad wasn't just interested in the beer, he was interested in Hans's wife.

    Virginia Agujari von Reininghaus, called Gina, was, in 1907, 28 years old and of Italian birth. The two had actually met seven years earlier in Trieste, but now Conrad was "on the market" as it were. She, however, was not, despite no longer loving her husband. Their first re-meeting was in January 1907, and by March he was asking her to leave her husband and marry him. Over the following years, they stole away from time to time to meet.

    But there were ways to accomplish this match.

    First and foremost, Austria was a Catholic monarchy and divorce was not permitted for Catholics in Austria. Gina was firmly Catholic, but offered to covert to Protestantism to be allowed to be divorced. Conrad, however, was firmly atheist--also a social darwinist and proto-fascist, as atheism at the time was intertwined with ideas of racial conflict and the ideas of Nietzsche--and wouldn't be party to religious hokey pokey.

    Another option was for Conrad and Gina to transfer their citizenship from Austria to Hungary. Many military officers did this--for tax and promotion reasons--and Hungary's marriage laws were very simple and divorce was easy. But neither really wanted to be a Hungarian citizen.

    The solution found in a friend of Conrad, Ernst Karasz von Szigetvar, another senior officer in the army. He was Hungarian, a close friend of both, and adopted Gina as a daughter. This allowed her to remain Catholic and an Austrian citizen. It allowed for Conrad to remain an atheist and Austrian. But provided Gina the protections of Hungarian marriage law.

    On 25 August 1915, he husband was informed that she had been granted a divorce. It is unlikely that he cared, since she had been having familiar relations with another man for eight years.

    And on 19 October 1915, Conrad and Gina married.


    Very few accepted the highly unusual nature of the marriage and as far as the Austrian court was concerned Conrad was still single. But he didn't give a damn.


    High on victory and marriage, Conrad was in a mania stage.

    But no one else agreed with his recommendation to make peace.

    The Central Powers were winning, those damn Entente bastards should be the ones begging to be allowed to live.
  9. Dhamptastic

    Dhamptastic Here To Help

    24 October 1915.

    The Murmansk-Petrograd Railway is Begun.



    Russia is not in an ideal geographic position. Despite being astride the two great oceans of the world, before the middle of the 20th century it only had real access to one: the Pacific. This was accomplished in 1860, when the Russian military founded a strategic fort near Chinese Manchuria. It would grow into the chief port in the Russian far east, and became the terminus point for the planned Trans-Siberian Railway; begun in 1890 and finished in 1916. But even if this had been completed, it was not really a connection as the trip was still across an entire continent to get to the settled heart of Russia across a single line railway (meaning like a two lane road, one train going each direction). The vast majority of their trade moved through the Baltic and Black Seas. But these bodies of water were closed by their enemies in 1914.

    At this point, Russia could only count on a single port: Arkhangelsk. The problem was that the sea it is on--the White Sea--freezes solid in winter. And at the time, that rendered it unusable for half of the year.

    The solution was to found a new port. But where? Nothing around Arkhangelsk would be acceptable, as it would be in the same boat. A new Pacific port was useless due to the railroad limitations. Only the Arctic Sea was an option, but how do you not freeze.

    There must have been an "ah-ha!" moment, there are parts of Russia which are still above the Arctic Circle, but which do not freeze so solidly.

    This is the Gulf Stream.

    This is the reason why Europe is temperate despite being at the same latitudes as northern Canada, and why you don't generally need icebreakers on the North Sea (also why the North Sea is so rough in winter).

    As it curves around Norway and around the Kola Peninsula, it has cooled down significantly but is still warmer than the water would be otherwise. And warmer than the White Sea. And this prevents the area from freezing too solidly, period icebreakers weren't great but were still sufficient to the task at the new port. It was (and is) effectively ice free year-round.

    Because they put it at on the Murman Coast, they called...


    It was the last city founded by Tsarist Russia, founded as a rail head in 1915, and chartered as a city in 1916.

    A rail yard, port, and naval base were rapidly constructed.

    And a rail line was begun, called the Murman Railway by the Tsar, the Murmansk-Petrograd Railway by Entente planners in 1919, currently called the Kirov Railway.

    This is a 1943 map of it, and its stops at the time.

    This railway is interesting for two reasons.

    First, it will play a key role in the Russian Civil War and the Allied Intervention on the side of the Whites. Americans and British would fight and die for control of the railways leading from Murmansk and Arkhangelsk. Men would freeze to death through bullet wounds. Wisconsin and Michigan soldiers, paralyzed by the Spanish Flu, would be manning frontier posts and fighting Bolsheviks long after the war in Europe ended.

    Second, its construction was documented by some of the earliest color photography.


    The above photo, and all the below photos, were taken by Sergey Mikhaylovich Prokudin-Gorsky.

    Here is a self-portrait.


    These images were accomplished using a three-tone process pioneered in the US. Prokudin-Gorsky, a chemist, refined the process and made it work better and produce more life-like color.

    The process worked by taking three black and white photos of the same subject, each through a different colored filter: red, green, blue. Each photo was then projected onto a screen through the same colored filter. And the result was a color image.


    Because it's three images, movement is lost. As you see with the plastic-look of flowing water. But it is still a phenomenal process.

    The first color image taken in Russia was when Prokudin-Gorsky photographed Russia's greatest literary figure, Leo Tolstoy.


    Prokudin-Gorsky focused his photographs on depicting life across Russia.

    I highly recomment a trip through Wikiemedia's collection: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/Сергей_Михайлович_Прокудин-Горский

    The weird %'s you may or may not see is because of Cyrillic characters, but the link works.

    Prokudin-Gorsky captured Russia on the cusp of modernity. Medieval life alongside modern industry.

    He worked from a special train car, and in 1915, he was present at the construction of the new Murman Railway.


    The government started the work with contract labor, but the working conditions so far in the north was so inhospitable that most workers deserted their job. So the Tsar brought in 15,000 POWs and 10,000 Chinese coolies.

    The work was hard and conditions harsh, but it wasn't anything like the construction of the Belomorkanal, where 12,000 gulag prisoners were worked to death by Stalin's Russia.

    The men at least lived in good barracks.


    Along the way, they cut ravines and built bridges and stations.

  10. Dhamptastic

    Dhamptastic Here To Help

    27 October 1915.

    The Advance on Baghdad.


    Refer back to 1 June 1915 for additional backstory.

    When the Indian 6th (Poona) Division captured Amara in early June 1915, its commander--who also commanded the larger force with it--Charles Townshend assumed his task was complete.


    The Mesopotamian Campaign was premised on protecting the oil fields in southwestern Iran, and the twin captures of Amara on the Tigris and Nasiriyya on the Euphrates secured the entire Ottoman province of Basra and cut off the avenues of advance for Ottoman attempts to disrupting the oil supply.

    However, here we run into the rivalry between London and New Delhi. The campaign in Mesopotamia was under the authority of the Raj and not the Crown; where London considered the Western Front to be the main priority and Gallipoli (still an active front at this point) a secondary front, New Delhi viewed Mesopotamia as the primary front. The reason for this is: power. The further British India could spread its wings, the more powerful it would become after the war. If they could conquer Mesopotamia, perhaps they could keep it.

    Immediately after the capture of Amara, New Delhi began rattling their sabres for further offensives. The city of Kut, they said, was of vital strategic importance. Between Kut and Nasiriyya ran a canal linking the Tigris and Euphrates. Taking this, Raj officials argued, would secure Basra and the oil supply. Ignore that the southern terminus of the canal, Nasiriyya, was in friendly hands and anyway was not a good avenue of advance. The chief of the Indian Army in Basra, John Nixon, was in dire need of reinforcements, as well. The obvious candidate for everyone at the time was the 28th British Brigade in Aden, however it was needed there. Failing that, Nixon convinced himself that he had sufficient manpower already, and told New Delhi as much.

    Townshend was less than sanguine, asking rhetorically, "Where are we going to stop in Mesopotamia?"

    What concerned Townshend was what should have concerned Nixon. After almost a year of walking around Mesopotamia, some static truths had emerged. Firstly, supplying soldiers was extraordinarily difficult. The poor roads and lack of a rail network meant that all supplies had to come up the rivers. And the riverboats which the Indian Army had in Basra were perfectly fine for mounting weapons on, but were unfit for moving large amounts of cargo. From Amara to Kut was roughly the same river distance as from Basra to Amara, meaning moving on Kut would double the length of his supply line and double the time required to move supplies.


    Another concern was the fact that the Indian Army wasn't just an attacking force, but was also an occupation force. Every village taken required a garrison, every tribe passed by required armed men to watch them. As one advances, one grows weaker. While the enemy grows stronger.

    Townshend possessed roughly 11,000 men and presumed the Ottomans around Kut possessed 6,000. While he was confident this would be sufficient to take Kut, what then? Would he have to advance on Baghdad?

    In reality, Ottoman forces totaled over 10,000 when the British reached Kut in late September.


    The British mounted a frontal attack to fix Ottoman troops in place, while they maneuvered the bulk of their forces in an end-around to outflank the whole Ottoman force.

    The attack, in the early morning hours of 28 September 1915, cost the British 94 killed and over 1000 wounded.


    However, the flanking force caused the Ottomans to pull back from their positions. Their retreat caused some panic and disorganization which resulted in whole units being forced to surrender, but nevertheless the Ottoman force did not rout. Despite taking roughly 50% casualties (5300 of 10,500), mostly captured, the Ottoman defenders withdraw up the Tigris in good order.


    So the British took Kut.

    But the Raj was not satisfied.

    Townshend recommended that the Indian Army now consolidate their positions and prepare for Ottoman counter-offensives. This was rational. Nixon, however, argued that now taking Baghdad was necessary for the security of Basra. The two argued in memoranda. Townshend asserted that he could take Baghdad, but he couldn't hold it without two additional divisions. Given that India did not have two divisions to give them, it had to be in the hands of London.

    Given that the issue regarded the Ottoman Empire, it was handed to the Dardanelles Committee. One member backed Townshend. Another faction (which included the now-disgraced Churchill) backed taking Baghdad. Lord Kitchener suggested a middle line: take Baghdad, then destroy it, and retreat back to defensible positions. This had the virtue of making sense. Any Ottoman advance against Basra had to be based out of Baghdad, and if you make it untenable then you have virtually assured a secure occupation. You can't hold it, because the troops necessary don't exist and by this point Gallipoli was being abandoned: as soon as troops start withdrawing from there, the Ottomans would be able to ship tens of thousands of men to Mesopotamia and take back Baghdad and drive on Basra. The committee, being a committee, could not come to a consensus. And so they chose to do nothing. They did not tell Nixon and the Indian Army yes or no, but gave a soft approval of whatever the local commanders decided.

    And that decision was: capture Baghdad. And pull two Indian divisions out of France in order to reinforce it once it's in friendly hands.

    Those two divisions would be months away and at this point, they had about 9000 combat troops.

    Nixon and Townshend assumed they faced less than 10,000 Ottoman soldiers. But they were wrong.


    Shortly after the capture of Kut, the Ottoman Empire took notice of their war in Mesopotamia.

    The Ottomans had already found a capable local commander in Nureddin Pasha.


    Called "Bearded Nureddin" during the later Turkish War of Independence, he took command in Mesopotamia after Süleyman Askerî Bey committed suicide in April. He had done a good job under difficult circumstances and kept his forces together despite horrendous losses.

    But the total forces available to him were a single infantry division and whatever tribal militias he could coax into fighting for him.

    What the Ottoman military sent were blessings.

    Firstly, Bearded Nureddin received a new infantry division, the Ottoman 51st Division. This was a unit raised among Anatolian Turks, with a large number of veterans among them. The combination of being raised in the core of Turkish lands and having a veteran backbone instantly made the 51st an elite division on the Mesopotamian front. They were markedly better than any forces the Indian Army had yet to face. The division also doubled Ottoman regular strength, and made them heavily outnumber the available combat forces the British Indians could bring.

    Along with this division came a new army commander, to work with Bearded Nureddin: Freiherr Wilhelm Leopold Colmar von der Goltz.


    Called "Goltz Pasha", this pointy-eyed Field Marshal had originally retired from the German Army in 1911 and founded a German version of Boy Scouts. Recalled to active duty in 1914, he was appointed the first military governor of Belgium. In his career, he was Germany's foremost military historian (until after WWI, Goltz was more widely known than Clausewitz outside of Germany) and is the originator of the term "total war", postulating that the French could have won in 1870 had they harnessed their whole nation to fight and predicting that future conflicts would see the militarization of all of society. When he became military governor, he stated, "It is the stern necessity of war that the punishment for hostile acts falls not only on the guilty, but on the innocent as well." The harshness of von der Goltz was later admired by Hitler, who failed to make the connection between the Belgian occupation and von der Goltz attempting to avoid a "people's war".

    But Colmar von der Goltz was not happy in his job, and requested that he be sent to the Ottoman Empire. Earlier in his career, he had spent twelve years as an advisory to the Ottoman Court. He spoke fluent Turkish, the current crop of senior officers in the Turkish Army were his students: the "Goltz Generation", and he was eager to go.

    Appointed aide to Sultan Mehmed V, Colmar von der Goltz found himself in a useless position. The Sultan had little power, and the real power in Turkey, Enver Pasha, was not friendly toward him. Additionally, the commander of the German mission to Turkey, Liman von Sanders, was Colmar as a rival to his position.

    But as the British looked to be advancing on Baghdad, Enver Pasha swallowed his dislike and sent yon pointy-eyed professor to command the Ottoman Sixth Army, which would include Bearded Nureddin's men and the new 51st Division.


    By the end of October, the British were beginning their movement up the Tigris to Baghdad.
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  11. Dhamptastic

    Dhamptastic Here To Help

    28 October 1915.

    A Change of Leadership in France, or: One Mustache to Rule Them All.


    The Third Republic of France was envisioned as a temporary accommodation. After Napoleon III fell, along with his monarchy, as a result of the German invasion in 1870--ironically, a war which France declared against Prussia--the representative bodies of France had no clear majority party, but three significant monarchist factions. The Bonapartists, who had supported Napoleon III as the had his uncle, were much diminished by the end of the Bonaparte and would essentially cease as a party after 1879, when the Bonaparte heir apparent was killed by Zulu warriors while accompanying the second invasion of Zululand during the Anglo-Zulu War. There were two other monarchist factions, the Legitimists, who supported the heirs of the House of Bourbon which had ruled before the 1789 Revolution and briefly after, and the Orleanists, who supported the deposed Orleans heir, whose grandfather ruled France after the Bourbon monarch had been turned out by a revolution in 1830, before falling to revolution himself in 1848. These two came to a compromise in the person of Henri, Count of Chambord. The sticking point was that the Count refused to rule as a constitutional monarch, so the two parties would pay him lip service and hope for his death, and assign Prince Philippe, Count of Paris, who had made himself world famous as a journalist and aide to General McClellan during the American Civil War, as his heir. Prince Philippe was an avowed democrat and was liberal by the standards of the 19th century.

    This is Prince Philippe, circa the 1870s.

    Since they had to wait, they established a temporary republican government to keep the country running until the Count of Chambord died and Prince Philippe could become King Louis-Philippe II.

    The temporary republic would be headed up by a President, who occupied a constitutional post similar to what their future monarch would hold. Because this was to be a monarch it was not a popularly-elected position, lest the people grow too accustomed to electing their President. France wouldn't directly elect a President until 1962, and wouldn't vote at all until Charles de Gaulle unilaterally abolished the Fourth Republic in 1958 (during the four years in between, an electoral college was used). Presidents of the Third and Fourth Republic were chosen by the Parliament.

    The President chose the Council of Ministers, like every cabinet in the world. And those Ministers were answerable to both the President and the Parliament.

    The new constitution was promulgated in 1875. It took two years for the dreams of the monarchists to become impossible. In 1877, a new election was forced which brought Republican control of the government. The President was stripped of most power, which was in turn given to the Prime Minister, and transformed into a symbolic post like the German Presidency today (a reward for long careers in government service), there is a reason you don't know who the President of Germany is (it isn't Angela Merkel, she's the Chancellor), and there was no longer any hope for Prince Philippe as the Count of Chambord would live into the 1880s.


    In June 1914, Rene Vivani was appointed Prime Minister as part of an election in which the radical left was triumphant.


    Vivani was not a member of the radical left, however, he identified as a Socialist but was more of a centrist: a standard European social democrat. But he was popular, affable, and was skilled at speechifying. There were few better choices which could be acceptable to the parliament.

    The President at the time was Raymond Poincare.


    He was an elder statesmen of the center-right, but was hugely popular over his organization of alliances with Russia and his promotion of readiness for war versus Germany.

    Vivani and he got on reasonably well, and the center-left PM supported laws which supported conscription and allocated additional funds to the military.

    When July rolled around and Europe began descending into war, he allowed Poincare to dominate politics and his war cabinet choices. And he sort of faded into the background.

    Despite being second fiddle, Vivani was technically in charge. So as the Autumn Offensive petered out in abject failure, and Bulgaria entered the war on the side of the Central Powers, and as Gallipoli was a failure, and as French troops were in Greece and skirmishing with the Bulgarians, and as Italy had failed to tip the balance, and as Russia was collapsing, and as the Ottoman Empire was fighting strong...all of this fell on his lap. The Bulgarian entrance hit him particularly hard, as his Foreign Minister resigned in disgrace. Which is kind of a shame, because Théophile Delcassé was something of a diplomatic genius.


    Delcassé had kept peace between France and Britain during the Fashoda Incident, and turned that inroad into the Entente Cordiale: France's understanding with Britain. In his roles in the diplomatic corps, he had steered French diplomacy on the principle of "The enemy of my enemy is my friend", and it worked out very well. Colonial disputes with Britain faded away and the French and British militaries became closer and closer. It is largely because of their friendship with France that the British took objection to the German violation of Belgian neutrality. But when he failed to get Bulgaria on board for joining the Entente, he resigned and retired.

    This was a huge loss for the Vivani cabinet.

    A call for a confidence vote was honored, and Vivani came through it well: he lived by 372-9, the 120some abstentions wouldn't have made it much less one-sided (when elected in June 1914, it was 370 to 137, so he gained two supporters in the year he was in office)

    Vivani then tried to form a new cabinet, but ran into enough opposition that it became impossible. The confidence vote was not telling of the real feelings of the parliament, and Vivani resigned on 27 October 1915, announced it on 28 October, and formally left office on the 29th.

    He was quickly replaced by Aristide Briand, who has the most goofy politician mustache of all time. His chin needs a beard, just the mustache makes it humorous. Full beard or clean shaven for that man.


    Briand was a collaborator of Jean Jaurès, and further to the left than Vivani. And he was thrown into a minor crisis between his new Minister of War, General Joseph Gallieni, and his Commander in Chief, Joseph Joffre.


    The two hated each other. And to prevent open warfare within the French military, Briand had to placate Joffre with a promotion to "Generalissimo" and formal operational control of all French armies in all theaters of war.

    But the disputes between these two generals would yet bring down the government.
  12. Dhamptastic

    Dhamptastic Here To Help

    29 October 1915.

    King George V is Injured While Touring the Front.



    George V, the King of Great Britain, was very much the figurehead monarch which exists today. When the Hanoverian King was invited to take the British throne in 1701, it began the process of transferring what little ruling power remained after the end of the House of Stuart from the King to his ministers. But the principle of the neutrality of the monarch in politics began with Victoria. The British monarch still has favorites, and all officeholders swear allegiance before being installed, but by tradition--started by Victoria--the monarch is bound to follow the "advise" of the government. The monarchy retreated from ruling Britain and became a visible position of public leadership, a figurehead, and occasionally a puppet.

    In the tradition of his father and grandmother, George V took his role seriously. He was not an inspiring monarch, but he conspicuously made his presence known.

    From the start of the war, to its end, the King regularly visited the BEF and its French allies. On occasion, he went right up to the front line. But he mostly toured hospitals and rear areas, he was the King after all.

    Because of the propaganda value, he was never far from a photographer. We see this today through the lens of cynicism which encompassed the western world after the second half of the 20th century. Of course he's never far from a camera, it's all propaganda. Yes, yes it is. And that was his job. These aren't the holy pictures of modern political spin. The photos were taken solely for propaganda, but the King's actions were not.


    Look at how short he was compared to Albert I of Belgium.

    In the last weeks of October, he was in the middle of a regular tour.

    On the 23rd, he spoke to the people back home, extolling them to sacrifice further, admitting that the end of the war was not in sight.

    To my people at this grave moment in the struggle between my people and a highly organized enemy, who has transgressed the laws of nations and has changed the ordinances that bind civilised Europe together, I appeal to you. I rejoice in my Empire’s efforts. I feel pride in the voluntary response from my subjects all over the world, who have sacrificed home and fortune and life itself in order that another may not inherit our free Empire, which their ancestors and mine built.

    I ask you to make good these sacrifices. The end is not yet in sight. More men and yet more men are wanted to keep my armies in the field and through them to secure victory and enduring peace. In ancient days the darkest moments even produce in the men of our race the sternest resolve. I ask you men of all classes to come forward voluntarily and take your share in the fight. In freely responding to my appeal you will be giving support to our brothers who for long months have nobly upheld Britain’s past traditions and the glory of her arms.
    As part of his tour, he resolved to put to an end the disputes between Sir John French, commander of the BEF, and the commander of the British First Army, Sir Douglas Haig. The two had been sparring in words since the failure at Loos, each blaming the other.

    As he met with senior officers, he developed a severe dislike of French. He came to believe that the officers and men of the BEF had lost confidence in their commander, and that their commander was unfit.

    He told his private secretary on the 25th:

    The troops here are all right but…several of the most important Generals have entirely lost confidence in [Sir John] and they assured me it was universal and that he must go, otherwise we shall never win this war. This has been my opinion for some time.
    He continued his tour, and on the 28th he stopped to inspect the facilities and men of the Royal Flying Corps.

    It might have looked something like this, although this image is from 1918.

    The King reviewed the men while on horseback. The men began cheering, and this startled the King's horse. The horse reared up and slipped in mud, spilling over and trapping the King underneath. As the horse struggled to stand, it ground the King into the ground.

    George V suffered a fractured pelvis: broken in two places. In great pain, British army doctors rushed him to a field hospital to determine the extend of the injury.

    When Sir John French learned of the King's injury, his foremost concern was the safety of the monarch. If the enemy learned the King was within striking distance, his life could be endangered. With hindsight, one can easily dismiss this idea: Wilhelm II of Germany had specifically forbidden his zeppelins and bombers from dropping bombs in areas which could harm his cousins. The assassination of a monarch is not something a German officer would have ordered himself, and Kaiser Bill would not have. But French didn't have hindsight.

    On the 29th, while being poked and prodded, the King was heavily sedated but was cogent enough to overhear arguments in the hospital about moving the King. French wanted him moved immediately, his doctors wanted to determine his injuries first.

    King George V announced, in a loud voice: "Tell Sir John to go to hell!"


    The broken pelvis would pain the King for the rest of his life. The fall also began a life-long breathing problem, which he compounded by smoking like a chimney. In 1925, the two combined into a diagnosis of COPD. His lung disease would take ten years to kill him.

    The October 1915 visit to the front would be the beginning of the end for both the King and Sir John French.
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  13. Dhamptastic

    Dhamptastic Here To Help

    1 November 1915.

    Food Shortages Grip Petrograd.



    After just over a year of war, the Russian state was beginning to collapse. Its armies were still fighting well, despite losing Poland and a large chunk of territory--as well as over a million soldiers--over the summer of 1915, it retreated in good order and grew stronger as it fell back. But its civil society was weak to start, and cracks were forming. The monarch--Nicholas II, the Supreme Autocrat--took himself out of the picture in the summer when he left his post to take personal command of the armies at the front. This left his wife and, therefore, her priest, Rasputin, in charge of domestic affairs. And they did very little. Russia was run by an absentee landlord.

    This is not to say that no one was working. Its civil society was in full swing, as full a swing as a weak set of institutions could be in, to help Russia win the war.

    Civil society is something which the Western world takes for granted. Dictionary.com's 21st Century Lexicon defines "civil society" as "the aggregate of non-governmental organizations and institutions that manifest interests and will of citizens; individuals and organizations in a society which are independent of the government". It is generally understood to be the product of the Enlightenment, although Aristotle made mention of the community apart from the organized polis which gave society its norms and ethics. But the modern idea comes from Hegel, as the level of society between family and state. Civil society takes the form of chambers of commerce, and social clubs like the Moose Lodge or the VFW, it's your roleplaying club, it's your university student union, it's your Scout troop, your labor union, charities you donate to, your church (assuming no state religion, for instance the Church of England is a component of government in England; as the church was and is a tool of the Russian state), and so on.

    These things have existed for literally the entire life of people alive in the West right now, and we can't conceive of a world without out it. But until 1864, this level of society was strictly outlawed in Russia. Clubs were associated not with civil interest but with conspiracy and assassination. Russians could be arrested and sent to Siberia simply for associating with other Russians outside of prescribed structures, although this mostly fell on the intelligentsia and nobility.

    Alexander II was a reforming Tsar, by far the most liberal (ideologically liberal, not "liberal" on an American bipolar spectrum) ruler Russia has ever had. In 1861, Alexander II ended serfdom, a social order which had declined most everywhere else it existed as the Black Death swept the continent, making the peasantry into legal people rather than property attached to land deeds. Along with it, he established representative institutions for the peasants--the zemstvo--and legalized civil society, to a point. Labor unions were still banned, but intellectual and professional associations were allowed to spring up.

    The zemstvo was adopted as an extension of the Mir--the peasant elder assembly which managed the lives and responsibilities of the peasants--and the Volost--networks of Mirs on a single noble's land--as well as town councils and representatives of the interests of landowners. They were composed as representative bodies to manage the lives of those under their authority: they managed taxation, land allotment, food production to fill taxation requests, roads, and public welfare. Voting was weighted, so that the 1.3% of the population that was noble made up over 70% of zemstvo members.


    As a result of all of this being new, as WWI came, this aspect of Russia was underdeveloped. Where Britain, France, and Germany could rely on non-governmental organizations to aid them in the war effort, Russia had very little to rely on.

    Enter Prince Georgy Lvov. Hipster alert.


    In Russia, "Prince" or "Knyaz" was generally a hereditary title granted to descendants of the Rurikids--the original Varangian (Viking) families which ruled the Rus' principalities--or the Gedyminids--those who ruled the Lithuanian principalities which were absorbed into Russia as it expanded. One could also be declared a prince (a non-hereditary title) by the monarch, as was the case of Prince Potemkin who was the prime minister and lover of Catherine the Great. Prince Lvov was descended from the Varangian ruler of Yaroslavl, and was entitled to the rank by birth. He had risen in the Russian civil service to a point where, during the Russo-Japanese War, he was positioned to oversee all humanitarian aid heading east to the warzone. He was subsequently elected to the Duma.

    In 1914, he was placed in charge of the All-Russian Union of Zemstvos. And then in charge of the "United Committee of the Union of Zemstvos and the Union of Towns", or by the magic of Russian abbreviations: Zemgor.


    Zemgor unified the lower level government--zemstvos--and the emerging civil society. They first focused on providing medical aid and humanitarian comforts to Russian soldiers, but as the shell crisis gripped Russia they turned to raising funds to help ensure the government had enough money and helped manage war loan drives.

    Do you help the glorious army fight the enemy?

    Our cities, villages, and churches wait for the liberation.

    And just as rapidly as the shell shortage hit Russia, food became a major issue.


    The Russian agricultural economy was largely unchanged from hundreds of years before. Peasants who had access to a horse used it to pull a wooden plow, a sokha, to move the earth to plant their seeds. Those who didn't used their wives. Harvesting was done by hand. Land was allocated by the elders at the Mir based on the ability of a family to produce: more children, more land. Taxation was paid in grain, which was sold overseas to fund industrialization. Surpluses were sold on the market.

    As war came, sons were taken off farms. This reduced the ability of the peasant to produce. Grain pcollapsed, so there was little incentive to sell what wasn't taken as tax.

    This drove up the prices of food in the cities, due to scarcity.

    Zemgor turned to helping the food supply. In propaganda, food became the enemy.


    Here, a potato becomes Francis Joseph, a turnip becomes Wilhelm II, mushrooms become Turks.


    Ethnic foods leer at each other.


    "Wilhelm's Menu". The Kaiser is defeated by breakfast, lunch, and dinner.

    Eat less, win the war.

    Zemgor organized food delivery to cities, as best they could. These would be sold in adhoc markets, which the people said sold everything that no one wanted.


    The first harvest of the war was OK, it had been planted with the labor of peacetime. But the second summer saw less planting, and the 1915 harvest was minuscule.

    No amount of organization could help it.

    On 1 November 1915, Petrograd was gripped by its first real food shortage, which devolved into some rioting.


    As the food crisis continued to grip the cities of Russia, faith in the government would falter.

    And the empty promises of Bolshevism would become a viable alternative.
  14. Dhamptastic

    Dhamptastic Here To Help

    2 November 1915.


    A Recent News Item.



    First World War sketches by Winnie the Pooh illustrator discovered in trunk
    E H Shepard documented his time in the trenches through a serious of caricatures which had been locked away for 100 years

    A sketch by E H Shepard Photo: BNPS/Howard Coster

    By Camilla Turner

    6:42PM GMT 30 Oct 2015

    He has delighted generations of children with his charming drawings of Winnie the Pooh, Piglet Eeyore and Tigger.

    Now it has emerged that before he found fame as A A Milne’s illustrator, E H Shepard used his artistic talent to document his time in the trenches during the First World War through a series of humorous caricatures.

    The lost sketches, which were discovered in a trunk that lay untouched for 100 years, depict his experiences in some of the bloodiest battles on the Western Front as a captain in the Royal Garrison Artillery.

    [​IMG]Sketch showing the devastation of Zillebeke village in Belgium with Passchandaele ridge in the background. Dated November 1917 Photo: BNPS

    Many sketches of life in the trenches show Shepard's upbeat humour, poking fun not only at his enemies, but also at the pompousness of his commanders and the other Tommies.

    However, as the war dragged on some drawings take on a more serious tone. One, simply called 'Complete Desolation', captures the stark landscape of the Somme in black and white.

    When his only brother Cyril was killed at the Somme near to where he was stationed, Shepard sent drawings of the grave home to Cyril's widow and to their sister, Ethel.

    [​IMG]Shell types and fuse designs Shepard drew in his pocketbook, 1917 Photo: BNPS

    Shepard was 35 when war broke out and he served from 1916 to 1918 at the Somme, Arras, Ypres and Passchendaele.

    While acting as Captain, he was awarded the Military Cross for his service at the Battle of Passchendaele. By the end of the war, he had achieved the rank of major.

    It was feared that Shepard's original wartime sketches had been lost when archivists at the Shepard Trust, custodians of his work, could not find any from that era.

    [​IMG]Self portrait sketched at some point during Shepard's time on the frontline but signed and dated February 5, 1974 Photo: BNPS

    However, researchers eventually found the trunk which Shepard had filled with all his WWI mementoes including unpublished drawings, watercolours and preparatory sketches.

    The box, untouched since Shepard's return to England in 1919, also contained his personal belongings and included his artist tools and uniform.

    It also included a menu from a hotel in Milan from a meal that Shepard is thought to have shared with American writer Ernest Hemingway whom he met at a military hospital.

    The collection has now been published for the first time in a new book called Shepard's War, written by James Campbell who runs the Shepard Trust and whose mother-in-law is Shepard's granddaughter.

    [​IMG]A watercolour showing the view from Shepard's dugout at the Somme, 1916 Photo: BNPS

    Mr Campbell, from Long Wittenham near Abingdon, Oxfordshire, said that he was approached by researchers who wanted use some of Shepard’s sketches of the trenches for the centenary of the First World War.

    "We found in our own private archive a large box which appeared not to have been opened in almost 100 years"
    James Campbell, who runs the Shepard Trust
    "To our astonishment we found that we didn't seem to have anything from his time in the trenches whatsoever, which was very odd,” he said.

    "Then we found in our own private archive a large box which appeared not to have been opened in almost 100 years.

    "Inside it was the most incredible material from the First World War - not only did it contain all his illustrations, cartoons, paintings and illustrations but also his uniform, his briefcase, his pocketbook and his artist's material.

    "One of the striking things about Shepard's drawings was that he was able to find humour in even the most grim of situations.

    [​IMG]A watercolour of a French biplane that officially had a 'bad landing' but had in fact been shot down by friendly fire. The Somme, 1916 Photo: BNPS

    "He obviously took a pop at the Germans but also sends up everyone else too including the British commanders as well as the standard Tommies, the Irish and the Italians. No-one was safe from his mockery but the humour wasn't malicious.”

    While Shepard was a soldier, he also worked commercially for Punch magazine and other publications.

    In 1926, eight years after First World War had ended, Shepard illustrated his first Winnie the Pooh book after a colleague at Punch recommended him to A.A. Milne.

    He went on to illustrate all four volumes of Milne's Winnie the Pooh stories, as well as Kenneth Grahame's Wind in the Willows.

    Londoner Shepard was made an OBE in 1972 in recognition of his illustrations and died on March 24, 1976, aged 96.

    Shepard's War is published by Michael O'Mara Books and costs £25.
  15. Dhamptastic

    Dhamptastic Here To Help

    3 November 1915.

    The First Practical Self-Powered Airplane Launch From an Aircraft Carrier.


    The SS Viking was a packet steamer operated by the Isle of Man Steam Packet Company.


    It was, for its day, the fastest steamer traveling between England and the Isle of Man in the Irish Sea. Built in 1905, it was heralded by its owners as the finest ship afloat.

    On 23 March 1915, SS Viking was requisitioned by the Royal Navy and converted into a seaplane tender.


    The Royal Navy already had an HMS Viking, so they renamed it the HMS Vindex.

    I don't know where they got the name from. Vindex is a name for several species of dung beetle. A Roman governor of Gaul, who put Emperor Galba on the throne, was named Vindex. And an Irish author and nationalist used Vindex as a pseudonym. None of which make any sense.

    Nevertheless, HMS Vindex was outfitted with a large aft hanger which carried five seaplanes. These would be lowered into the water with a crane and would take off line any other floatplane.

    Significantly, it also was fitted with a 64 foot long flight deck--a "flying-off deck" by 1915 language--which would serve two disassembled wheeled planes in a smaller forward hanger. It would take about ten minutes to reassemble the planes for "flying off".

    Flying a plane off a ship had been proven to be possible five years earlier.


    In 1910, the American aviator Eugene Burton Ely had flown a Curtiss Pusher plane off of a ramp attached to the light cruiser USS Birmingham. After rolling down the 83 foot ramp, it dropped almost straight downward but Ely was able to recover (the wheels skimmed the water) and fly the plane to shore. Ely was a daredevil who held pilot license #17.

    But this was the first time a plane would take off from a flat deck designed for operate planes from.

    This is the ship's mascot, Pincher.


    The conversion to a seaplane tender/aircraft carrier was completed in September 1915, and trials followed. It was assigned to Harwich Force, the Royal Navy force tasked with protecting the English Channel.

    On 3 November, it was time to test the feasibility of a flying-off deck.

    HMS Vindex steamed up to 12 knots and turned into the wind.

    Flight Lieutenant H F Towler flew his Bristol Scout C off the end, using only 46 of the 64 feet.


    The concept was proven.

    And the HMS Vindex was formally purchased on 11 November 1915.


    Just two days later, half a world away, a new naval aviation innovation was tested.

    The USS North Carolina, an armored cruiser, was fitted with a steam catapult. And propelled a Curtiss AB-2 into flight.



    Landing was more of an issue.

    Ely had proven the concept in 1911, landing on a ramp temporarily fitted to the USS Pennsylvania.


    But a plane wouldn't land on a permanent flight deck until 1917.
  16. Dhamptastic

    Dhamptastic Here To Help

    5 November 1915.

    The Nis, the Wartime Capital of Serbia, is Captured, linking Berlin to Constantinople by rail.


    As the Bulgarian First Army pushed into Serbia, they quickly linked with Austrian forces in the northeast corner of Serbia. This juncture became a greater shared front as the offensives developed. The second line of Serbian resistance against the Austrian and German advance began to collapse on 2 November. The Serbians were under great pressure from north, east, and from the south as the Bulgarian Second Army had broken the rail line between Nis and Skopje.

    The Serbian Army was hard up in every way imaginable. At the start of the autumn campaign, they had to reposition their Second Army from the northern front to facing Bulgaria. The weakened force facing the Germans was outmatched, and the four division-strong Second Army was outnumbered and in less than ideal positions versus the Bulgarians.

    Their greatest weakness was in material. While the previous Austrian invasions had tested the Serbians, they hadn't made significant or lasting progress. The autumn invasion rapidly reduced Serbian war stores. Even if the Entente wished to send ever greater support, their best conduit for moving it from the sea to Serbia was lost when the main rail line below Nis was broken.

    At this point, the Serbian Army could only fire one shell for every fifty fired by the Germans and Austrians. On 1 November, they had to destroy stores of war materiel housed in their main arsenal at Kragujevac .


    The Bulgarians were rapidly burning through their war stores as well, but they had allies pushing inexorably closer from the north.


    This collapsing Serbian pocket, wedged against Montenegro and Albania, became all the more untenable on 5 November 1915.

    On that day, elements of the Bulgarian First Army captured Nis, which had been serving as Serbia's wartime capitol. Since Belgrade was on the Austrian border, and under Austrian guns, it was not a practical seat of government for wartime and the government fled once war became inevitable.

    Taking Nis put the Bulgarians over the last significant riverline between Bulgaria and the heart of Kosovo, the middle region of the Kingdom of Serbia, with its center at Pristina.



    Capturing Nis secured the general objective of the German presence on the Serbian front.

    When war arrived, rail lines between Germany and the Ottoman Empire were severed. Serbia was an enemy belligerent and Romania, staying neutral, banned German and Austrian traffic.


    As illustrated by this section of map (from the West Point Atlas's map on the railroads of the Ottoman Empire), the main line the Germans had operated between the two countries ran through Serbia--from Austria to Belgrade, to Nis, to Sofia in Bulgaria.

    On 5 November, this line became entirely controlled by the Central Powers.

    The first trains from Germany arrived in Bulgaria the very next day, which was a godsend to the Bulgarian Army, which was rapidly running out of shells and ammunition.

    The Ottoman Empire had been holding its own, but its resources were similarly stretched to the breaking point. Edward Erickson argues that the Turkish military compensated for lack of material, especially at Gallipoli, by an unmatched control of the physical space of the battlefield. Gallipoli's stalemate lasted so long, instead of being a more rapid British defeat (if not a disaster of epic proportions), due to Turkish shortages of shells and machine guns and a massive commitment of 20 divisions to the Gallipoli peninsula and its Asiatic opposite number (Gallipoli is in Europe, the opposite side of the Dardanelles is in Asia). The Ottoman military welcomed with open arms the influx of artillery shells and several shipments of heavy artillery.

    Nis would be visited by the heads of state of the Central Powers in January of 1916, prompting a pro-Entente Dutch cartoonist to draw a famous cartoon.



    For the Serbs, the fall of Nis meant the entire northern part of their country was, practically, cut off. Whatever positions their military still held instantly became untenable.

    The Serbian armies would move south, hoping to gather in Kosovo in enough strength to break through the Bulgarian Second Army and reach Entente positions in Greece at Salonika.

  17. Dhamptastic

    Dhamptastic Here To Help

    9 November 1915.

    The Indian Corps is withdrawn from the Western Front.



    When the First World War began, the Indian Army was only commissioned to operate within the borders of British India and its allied states. However, the opening battles on the Western Front provided ample evidence to the British General Staff that more soldiers were needed than just the British Army could provide. Therefore, calls were made to the British Empire for troops. This call was not just for combat troops for the Western Front, but for forces to relieve British colonial garrisons so that those garrison troops could be used in the war in Europe. The Indian Army of nine divisions, being the largest standing army in the British Empire, and being basically the same numerical size as the British Army itself, was an obvious source of men. Indian units were sent around the world: taking over garrison posts on far flung Asian enclaves, forming the backbone of field armies in Africa and Mesopotamia, and men were sent to the Western Front.

    Out of the nine infantry divisions and sundry forces from allied Princely States, two infantry and two cavalry divisions were sent to Europe as the "Indian Expeditionary Force A".


    Because their formal name was a mouthful, the 3rd (Lahore) Division and 7th (Meerut) Division were combined into the "Indian Corps" of the BEF. Each division was known by its garrison region--ie: Lahore--rather than its numerical designation to prevent confusion with the British Army's 3rd and 9th Divisions.


    As such, they entered action in October 1914, at the Battle of La Bassée. They then played a key role in the First Battle of Ypres.


    British racial hierarchy dictated that Punjabi and Sikh men were of a warlike race, perfectly suited to taking orders and fighting valorously. In fact, they lived up to the racial stereotype. The two Indian infantry divisions, and especially their Sikh units, were among the best fighters on the Western Front during their stay. But it has little to do with pseudoscientific ideas of race. Indian society was--and is--possessed of a strong vein of social interdependence. A man or woman is born into complex hierarchy. Family, clan, caste, religious group...these are the ties that bound young Punjabi and Sikh men embarking on the First World War. Kinship was strong in each battalion: men were drawn from the came towns and villages, from the same clan groups, from the same religious groups. As a result, their personal sense of self was tied in the collective military unit.

    You can see this in American Civil War units. The best fighting regiments were those drawn from small towns and villages, and frontier cities. The men all knew each other, they were intermarried, they belonged to the same churches. If a soldier in the 2nd Wisconsin, to name specifically a top-tier elite regiment, ran from battle in cowardice everyone at home world know. Their apparent cowardice would be a social death at home.

    Now, everyone has a point at which they can do no more. The French--who, contrary to the cliche have a proud and tough military history--have a phrase, occasionally cried on the battlefield, "sauve qui peut". Every man for himself. Encompassed within this cry is the acceptance that you have done all you can do, honor and duty are satisfied, and now it's time to leave so you can try again later. There is no shame, no cowardice, in running at this point. No man who has been in combat could disagree: there is a breaking point. However, given the social pressures on these young Indian men the breaking point was more difficult to reach.

    Race is a social construct, and so is courage.


    The courage of the men of the Indian Corps was such that they rapidly chewed through their numbers in battle. Neuve Chapelle, Aubers Ridge, Festubert, and Loos filled graveyards with young Punjabi and Sikh men.

    This created problems.

    The Indian Army adopted a similar replacement system to the British Army. Volunteers or conscripts would be trained together in centralized basic training camps and be assigned to units based on the needs of the service. This system ensured that replacements got to the units that needed them. But it threatened to break apart the social fabric of the Indian units. New replacements were often from outside the clan or religious groups of the units in France. On occasion, they didn't even speak the same language. Morale began to sink in the summer of 1915, as veterans became surrounded by replacements who were quite literally a foreign people.

    What the image above shows are slaughtering facilities for the strict religious diets of the men. On the left is the slaughter post marked for Muslims, on the right for Hindus, to ensure they could eat religiously proper meats. As units received replacements, Muslim and Hindu mixed together in even small units, creating great supply difficulties.

    This problem was magnified by the replacement of officers. Traditionally, officers in the Indian Army were British. There were British Indian officers serving in WWI whose family had always been officers in the Indian service, from the 1700s on. These were men who were British and white (maybe with a little color mixed in), but who were born and raised in India. They undertook their educations and training in Britain and then returned home to join the Indian Army. They understood their men, were respected, spoke the languages their men spoke, were often of the same religion. As this class of officer was killed and wounded or otherwise taken out of service--officers "enjoyed" a much higher casualty rate than enlisted men--their replacements often came directly from Britain. These replacement officers often did not speak the language of their men, had little understanding of their soldiers, and were not respected. When your commanding officer jumps out of the trench blowing his whistle and yelling "follow me", you still follow. But you're less apt to go through great lengths for a new guy who you don't think is worth a damn.


    By the autumn of 1915, the Indian Corps was a mere shadow of its former self. Its men no longer had the staying power they once had. By Loos, formerly dependable battalions were falling back with little fight. The social bonds which kept them fighting were gone.

    There was another concern: winter.


    The winter of 1914-1915 was hard on the Indian Corps. It was the first time most of the men had experienced a European winter. And even though winter in France and the Low Countries is mild compared to North America or Eastern Europe, it was utterly arctic compared to what the Indian Corps was accustomed to.

    And, by and large, they lacked any semblance of winter equipment.


    The need of troops in Mesopotamia was a godsend. The British Secretary of State of War, Kitchener, was sympathetic to the Indian fighting man. He knew their falling morale was not their own fault, and didn't want to force them to suffer another winter in the trenches. However, he also didn't want to lose the manpower. But the pleas of the Raj government were persuasive. So, beginning in early November, and ending in December, the 3rd (Lahore) and 7th (Meerut) Divisions were withdrawn from France and replaced by divisions from the New Army. The Indian Corps would relocate to Egypt and then to Mesopotamia and then to Palestine, where they would regain their morale and fighting spirit. Unfortunately, they would be too late to help the growing disaster in the drive for Baghdad.

    The two cavalry divisions would stay. They didn't experience winter in the same way, being mostly held behind the lines, and the British needed additional cavalry in case of breakthrough.


    The cavalry divisions would be withdrawn in early 1918.

    130,000 Indian soldiers served in France. Nearly 9000 were killed in their year on the Western Front.
  18. Dhamptastic

    Dhamptastic Here To Help

    13 November 1915.

    I have begun interning at a local museum and historical society in lieu of employment, but this means that my previous writing schedule for four days a week is no longer valid. I have to figure a new one out. This weekend, I will catch up on WWI. And we have missed some important items.

    But, for now, I submit episode 3 of the previously posted documentary "The First World War. It looks at an as-yet poorly studied aspect of WWI, which I admit I am guilty of neglecting myself.

    "War for Europe meant war for the world."

  19. Dhamptastic

    Dhamptastic Here To Help

    16 November 1915.

    The Fourth Battle of the Isonzo (in progress).


    Editorial Note: I now primarily blame Fallout 4 for disrupting my writing schedule. It is the best disruption of the year, so far, in a year of mostly disappointing disruptions.



    The Third Battle of the Isonzo trailed off in early November 1915, having produced about 100,000 casualties to both sides combined. The Italians had gained very little ground, and their final attacks sputtered out in torrential downpours.

    Luigi Cadorna was convinced of several things. Firstly, that the Italians were a superior force to the hated Austrians, and their Bosniak servants (the prime fighting units facing the Italian army were Bosnians--Serbs, Croats, and Muslims--who, paradoxically, were notoriously unreliable against the Russians). Secondly, that the Italian army deployed against Austria-Hungary was possessed of sufficient men and material to defeat the Austrians, if only they could find the guts, the cran, the indomitable will, to take the offensive with the bayonet. Thirdly, that the Austrians were very nearly broken and one push would be sufficient.


    This was a common conceit in WWI, Cadorna was not alone in it. There was always the idea that ones own forces almost broke the enemy, that one more try was all that was needed. In many cases, it was probably correct. And as we've seen, occasionally that push breaks things open, as at Gorlice-Tarnow. But in more cases, it was a fatally incorrect conceit. The reason for this mostly lies in the lap of intelligence. For the most part, military intelligence lacked the tools by which we, in the modern world, gather information. Aerial reconnaissance was still relatively new and primitive, radio interception only worked if a combination of factors came together: that you stumbled on the right frequency at the right time, that the enemy was broadcasting uncoded, and that your own people knew what they found, trench raids could determine small-scale things like which units were where and their morale. But getting a grasp of the big picture was far more difficult. It is like guessing what picture is on the jigsaw puzzle from looking at three pieces. It most often came down to personal biases and pride telling ones superiors that your own side is strong and the enemy is on his heels.

    Cadorna believed that Italy was in a superior position, despite their losses.

    Combined with the addition of 24 fresh infantry battalions--1000 men in each--on the front, the breakthrough had to be just around the corner.


    But the Austrians, commanded by Svetozar Boroević, were not weak.


    His forces received regular batches of motivated replacements, and besides that the terrain always favored him. And now the weather did too.


    After less than two weeks of rest, Cadorna launched his armies forward on the 10th of November. If the Austrians were nearly broken, only a sharp thrust was needed: right at Görz.

    Up the open slopes of Mrzli, Sabotino, and San Michele, the Italians tried to make progress. Rain and machine gun bullets washed them down.


    Italian soldiers were described by one general as "walking shapes of mud". The reserve troops coming up had walked to the front through oceans of mud, and were already sapped of their strength. Hot meals arrived cold and pooled with muddy water, when they received food. The mud slowed down logistical trains and many units spent days with empty stomachs. Indiscipline became a problem. Malingerers--people faking illness to get out of duty--flooded hospitals, with symptoms doctors couldn't diagnose. When it was announced that those merely sick, and not wounded, would be sent to the front, malingerers began self-mutilating and turned up in hospitals with "million dollar wounds" which appeared suspiciously planned. Wounded soldiers suspected of harming themselves were sent back to the front, making morale drop further. No one wants someone sharing a shell hole with them who is so desperate not to fight that he'd shoot himself.

    The temperature began to drop, the rain turned to snow.

    1916 would be an extraordinarily cold year in the Alps, and the snow falling now, covering thousands of bodies, would not thaw out until 1917.

    In swept the "Bora", the winter wind. Created by high pressure over the Alps and low pressure over the Adriatic, it is an arctic wind that modern meteorologists would dub a "polar vortex apocalypse" to drum up rating.


    Morale continued to plummet. And little progress was made.

    Out of desperation to break through, or perhaps out of spite for putting up resistance, the Italians began shelling Austrian Görz (modern Goritzia) on the 18th. Up to this point, both sides had tried to avoid civilian casualties, but now the gloves came off. Görz was a jewel in the Austrian Balkans: the "Austrian Nice", it possessed an ethnic melting pot which put Italian, German, and Slovenian styles and cultures next door to each other, a cosmopolitan city, it was a favorite of the Austrian nobility and was the refuge of the Bourbon monarchs of France after the 1830 revolution. As war gripped the Karst, it became the place of refuge for civilians displaced by war and fleeing the front lines. Earlier in the year, Austria had suggested that cities in the war zones be declared open cities and be inviolate. Cadorna had rejected the idea, as Austrian attacks on the Italian coast were major propaganda coups.

    And, so, Italy began destroying the city, and the 70% of its residents who were Italian.

    The Austrians made the decision not to abandon the city, because civilian casualties were useful for their own propaganda.

    To quote Vonnegut: So it goes.



    Across the front, the Austrians held most of the high ground and kept it.


    As the weather stayed cold and wet, Italians began taking exposure casualties. Trench foot and frostbite ate away at numbers. On the 23rd, one-last-final-push-because-the-enemy-must-be-broken-now was ordered.

    Mount Mzrli was the objective, and one most tightly held by the Austrians.


    Italian soldiers had to attack barefoot, because their swollen feet couldn't fit into their boots.

    They charged, taking 9000 casualties, and pushed. After three days, they had moved within 40 meters of the top of the mountain. Austrian defenders ran out of ammunition and threw rocks, empty ration containers, the empty shells of grenades, snowballs, even handfuls of their own feces.

    The Italians were spent, however, but Cadorna refused to call a halt. A corps commander ranted to his staff, "Don't you see I need more dead men, lots more, if we're to show the top brass that the action against Mrzli cannot succeed!"

    By the first week of December, the Italians could no longer advance through the deep snow.

    49,000 casualties were spent trying to reach Görz. And the gains could be measured in hundreds of meters.

    The Austrians, barely taxed by the Fourth Battle, lost a mere 25,000.

    In the Autumn Offensives, over 110,000 Italians became casualties.
  20. Dhamptastic

    Dhamptastic Here To Help

    18 November 1915.

    From a Blog I Follow, and Often Get Ideas From, Better Said Than I Could Say.



    The Myth of the Horrible Trenches

    Pictured - German dead in a sunken road. Trench warfare is by its very nature a morbid affair, but the horrors of the First World War, and in particular the Western Front, have been widely over-exaggerated.

    In the late 1920s a spate of World War One memoirs and novels was unleashed on the reading public. Siegfried Sassoon’s Memories of a Fox-Hunting Man, R.C. Sherriff’s play Journey’s End, Richard Alderton’s Death of a Hero, Erich Maria Remarque’s All Quiet on the Western Front, Robert Grave’s Goodbye to All That, Ernest Hemingway’s A Farewell to Arms. Between contrasts of style and personal response, the content and theme of most of these trench novels is largely the same - idealism turned to disillusion, the miseries of trench living, the destructive weight of modern firepower, the obscenity of death on a modern battlefield.

    These works share another characteristic feature, in that their authors tended to be men who came from sheltered, upper-class backgrounds. In no way were the war authors and poets representative of the fighting man of World War One. Indeed, most of them would have been as miserable in the slums of Manchester as they were on the battlefields of France. The squalor they presented of trenches and dug-outs shocked middle class British readers, all while one-third of the British population lived in horrid slums! The description’s of these are little better than those of the trenches:

    ‘Two rooms. In the lower room the brick floor is in holes. Fireplace without grate in bottom. Wooden floor of upper room has large holes admitting numbers of mice. Roof very defective, the rain falling through on to the bed in wet weather.’​

    The social investigator R.H. Sherard’s description of his revulsion to Manchester would hardly be out of place in Sassoon’s chilling trench tale:

    ‘I was entering once again the veritable gloom and disaster of the thing called Armageddon… a dreadful place, a place of horror and desolation which no imagination could have invented. Also it was a place where a man of strong spirit might know himself utterly powerless’. ​

    Had Robert Graves or Siegfried Sassoon spent four years working in a textile factory, undoubtedly their memoirs would have been little different. The European laborer did not lack for poison gas either:

    ‘The chemical men work amid foul odours and in an intense heat - the temperature being as often as high as 120 degrees. They sweat and toil in an atmosphere charged with biting acids, or deadly gases, or dense with particles of lime.‘​

    The average Tommy in the trenches was quite possibly better off than he had been at home, even if his public schoolboy subaltern was wrapped in novel misery. Indeed, most footsoldiers greeted war with a deal of cheerful cynicism. An excellent parallel is the experience of Robert Graves, the future Prime Minister and an officer in the Royal Welch Fusiliers, and Frank Richards, a long-service private in the same regiment. In contrast to Graves’ gloomy narrative, Richard’s memoirs brim with the typical hardiness of a regular soldier. Even Graves was forced to marvel at the ease with which his subordinates accepted their lot, as when some of them confronted the corpse of a friend.

    ‘His comrades joke as they push out of the way to get by. ‘Out of the light, you old bastard! Do you own this bloody trench?’ Or else they shake hands with him familiarly. ‘Put it there, Billy Boy.’ Of course they’re miners and accustomed to death.’​

    Not only is the myth of the Great War’s unique horribleness untrue, so is the myth of the ‘Lost Generation’ killed on its battlefields. Britain lost 702,410 men killed in the war. 512,564 of them died on the Western Front, the theatre that looms largest in the public mind. Yet this is only 50,000 more than Italy lost during World War One, and yet there was no feeling that Italy was a nation drained of its vitality after the end of the conflict; still less France, who lost 1,327,000 dead, or Germany, who lost more still.

    Unlike France, Britain suffered no catastrophic battles on its own soil, and unlike Germany it suffered no harsh economic failure afterwards. Yet there existed into the 1930s - and to this very day - that World War One had fundamentally crippled the British Empire. A fitting contrast to this opinion is America after the end of its civil war in 1865. In proportion to population, America lost more men in its civil war than Britain did in the Great War, yet post-war American history was not characterized by stagnation. Nor was post-1945 Britain, even though Bomber Command suffered as heavy losses as the British officer corps did between 1914 and 1918.

    The writers and poets who emphasized the misery of the trenches failed to understand the underlying causes of the war, many of which undermined their pacifist ideals. They simplified a complex conflict and its war aims into a brutal and meaningless bloodbath characterized by idiot generals launching pointless offensives. It made for good reading, but is hardly an accurate way to understand the First World War. In a way, the greatest toll of the war was the physical destruction it caused, psychological after-effects it created in its wake.
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