Category Archive 'WWI'
07 Oct 2016

The War Lover

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Marx had asked “Is Achilles possible with gunpowder and lead?” Jünger has answered, “That was my problem.”

06 Oct 2016

Luger with Kittens

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“In Treue Fest” (“Firm in Fidelity”) on belt-buckle is the motto of Bavaria.

Hat tip to Karen L. Myers.

17 Sep 2016

An Old-School Feldmarschall

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Gottlieb Ferdinand Albert Alexis Graf von Häßler (1836-1919)

“Our civilization must build its temple on mountains of corpses, an ocean of tears, and the groans of innumerable dying men.”

–stated in an address to his troops.

The Literary Digest History of the World War profiles him thusly:

You can just imagine how much Allied propagandists during the Great War must have loved that one!

When the war began the Crown Prince was entrusted with nominal command of the army which invaded France by crossing Luxemburg and reaching France at Longwy. It was his command that made the long and fruitless assault on Verdun in 1916.

Only in a titular sense was he the director of these assaults. The operations were in reality under control of Marshal von Haesler, one of the oldest commanders in the German army, if not the oldest, his age variously stated at from sixty-eight to seventy-nine, reference books not agreeing as to the date of his birth. He was old enough, however, to have been in the war against Denmark in 1864.

Haesler’s rotund form and the severity of his facial expression combined to make him one of the “figures” in militarist Germany. “The old guardian of the Moselle,” Germans often called him. It was Haesler’s business to advise the Crown Prince.

All agreed that the Crown Prince needed him and that he took the advice offered. Gossip said Haesler was the most abstemious war-horse in the empire. For fifty years he had risen every morning at five to drink a glass of milk and swallow two raw eggs. At two in the afternoon he ate a small piece of steak and a cup of broth. Characteristic of him was an anecdote that included Prince Henry, the Kaiser’s brother. At an annual maneuver Prince Henry had been asked to come to Haesler at eight in the evening. “When he arrived, he had to wait until nine, and then found that he and all Haesler’s guests were to sit down to a glass of water and an apple. ‘This,’ said the old man, ‘is set before you as a practical lesson in war conditions, when absolute necessities only can be obtained and appetites, like baggage, must be restricted.” ‘His Highness alone,” added the General, “having a special claim, may eat two apples and drink two glasses of water.’

In his capacity of inspector, Haesler for years was the terror of German soldiers. If he was to inspect a garrison at some place, such as Morhange, he would board a train that did not stop there, and then, just before getting to Morhange, would have the train halted under an emergency signal he had ordered. Fined as he would be for having stopped a train, he would pay the conductor the regular amount of a hundred marks and then rush off to the barracks. On returning to Berlin he would insist on repayment of his hundred marks, turning the administration upside down until he got the money. Haesler was known to think a long time before spending a mark. In the war he sometimes wore a suit of clothes that he had bought thirty years before and a hat that his father wore in another century. Candor was his least liked trait and Emperor William had as much reason as any one to be aware of it.

Soldiers, according to Haesler, should eat very little. Eating he regarded as a bad habit. ‘March a lot, eat a little, and shoot all the time,’ was his motto. He made his own corps a model of efficiency, knowing none of the caste distinctions common among Prussians, and yet maintaining an admirable discipline. His personal ascendancy was absolute, a circumstance the more remarkable because of deformity and invalidism. Once in the saddle he seemed a part of the horse. He was indulgent to men in the ranks, but severe with his staff. Thus he reversed an order usual among Prussian military magnates, being considerate to inferiors, grim to equals, and merciless to superiors, not excepting the Emperor himself, whose “conceptions” he sometimes openly laughed at in conference with the general staff. Not many years before the war, he once ordered maneuvers near the town of Siereck, where many lines of trenches had been dug, and a blue corps was on the defensive theoretically for a whole week living on dry bread. On going his rounds, Haesler saw an improvised table, made from a plank and four sticks, around which several officers sat on boxes, eating sausage. ‘Do you gentlemen think you are in a lady’s boudoir?” roared Haesler, as he forced his horse against and over the table. ‘The Sixteenth Army Corps is not a school of domestic manners,’ he added; ‘it is an institution that teaches trench life.’ Not daring to offer an apology, the offending officers, when the old man disappeared over the brow of a hill, were said to have vented their feelings in a single untranslatable word: ‘Heligkreuzkanonenbombengranathageldonnerwetter-elementnocheinmal!’

Between this old man and the one-time heir to the imperial throne there long existed warm affection. Alone among marshals, Haesler took seriously the conception attributed to the Crown Prince that Verdun was the true German objective in 1914. Stories were current of the fury with which he had received the decision of the General Staff in August, 1914, to make the rush toward Paris through Belgium. The road to Paris, he believed, lay through Verdun. On the basis of a common purpose before Verdun he and the young Prince were in firm alliance. The long and futile drive of 1916 was believed to be an expression of the very soul of Haesler. The grimness of the fray, its implacable continuity, its steady hail of projectiles, its stern unyielding advance, its disdain of all cost as well as the enthusiasm of the attack — these manifested the mood of Haesler in war. In great contrast as a man to the Crown Prince who was gentle, smiling, boyish, and gay, Haesler’s devotion to the Prince illustrated the familiar attraction of opposites. Haesler never read a book, except the manual, and his favorite relaxation was the society of horses.

Graf von Häßler with Kaiser Wilhelm

20 Aug 2016

Attacked by the Red Baron


Rittmeister Manfred Albrecht Freiherr von Richthofen, 1892-1918.

Futility Closet:

What it was like to be attacked by Germany’s Red Baron:

Richthofen dove down out of the sun and took Dunn by surprise. The first notice I had of the attack was when I heard Dunn from his seat behind me shout something at me, and at the same time a spray of bullets went over my shoulder from behind and splintered the dashboard almost in front of my face.

I kicked over the rudder and dived instantly, and just got a glance at the red machine passing under me to the rear. I did not know it was Richthofen’s. … I endeavoured to get my forward machine gun on the red plane, but Richthofen was too wise a pilot, and his machine was too speedy for mine. He zoomed up again and was on my tail in less than half a minute. Another burst of lead came over my shoulder, and the glass faces of the instruments on the dashboard popped up in my face. I dived again, but he followed my every move. …

Another burst of lead from behind, and the bullets spattered on the breech of my own machine gun, cutting the cartridge belt. At the same time, my engine stopped, and I knew that the fuel tanks had been hit. There were more clouds below me at about six thousand feet. I dove for them and tried to pull up in them as soon as I reached them. No luck! My elevators didn’t answer the stick. …

I was busy with the useless controls all the time and going down at a frightful speed, but the red machine seemed to be able to keep itself poised just above and behind me all the time, and its machine guns were working every minute. I found later that bullets had gone through both of my sleeves and both of my boot legs but in all of the firing, not one of them touched me, although they came uncomfortably close. I managed to flatten out somehow in the landing and piled up with an awful crash. As I hit the ground, the red machine swooped over me, but I don’t remember him firing on me when I was on the ground.

Hat tip to Vanderleun.

11 Jul 2016

Arguing the Lee-Enfield’s Superiority

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When I was younger, you could find barrels of them in gun stores selling for $35. Nobody wanted them. Their ungainly full-length stocks seemed to have been fashioned from old telephone poles and there is this great big hunk of crude iron dividing the stock into two parts just above the trigger. They have a huge, ugly monstrosity of a magazine hanging out the bottom, and though it is removable, it is not actually intended to be changed or removed, which makes the whole thing a kind of material self-contradiction.

All in all, they look to have been made by subterranean morlocks, a species with no previous acquaintance with firearms, to be as cheap, crude, and inexpensive as possible. The US Springfield is in comparison beautiful. To the American eye, these things simply do not look like a rifle is supposed to look. You cannot make a fine-looking sporter out of one of them whatever you do. And, finally, they fire a rimmed cartridge which has nothing especially positive going for it and which is decidedly inferior to the .30-06. There was just plain never any reason you’d want to own one.

Time, though, has a way of changing things.

Back then, most American shooters turned up their noses at Model 1911 .45 Automatics. Americans liked revolvers. The military .45 was considered loose, sloppy, and intrinsically inaccurate compared to a Smith & Wesson sixgun that functioned like a fine watch. Time went by, Jeff Cooper evangelized, custom gunsmiths accurized them, and target shooters started winning matches with them. As WWII receded into history, the handgun that the marines used to break Banzai charges at Bloody Ridge on Guadalcanal began suddenly to seem bathed in glory. Everybody wanted one.

The same sort of thing has been happening more recently to the old SMLE. It used to be part of the untouchable category, along with Mosins, Arisakas, and Mannlicher Carcanos, of surplus clunkers useless for making into sporters that nobody particularly wanted to own. Now, it is becoming widely regarded as “the best fighting rifle” (the Springfield being described as “the best target rifle” and the Mauser 98 as “the best hunting rifle”) of the Great War.

Bloke-in-the-Range’s video is amateurishly produced, to say the least. (It breaks in the middle because his camera suddenly runs out of battery power.) But I think it is actually, nonetheless, well worth watching, because he makes the best case for the SMLE that I have yet heard.

I picked one up recently at a local farm auction. Now I’m equipped for the Apocalypse. I’ve got myself a modern rapid-fire assault rifle, 1917-style.

02 Jun 2016

New Edition of “Storm of Steel”

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Ernst Jünger (1895-1998)

Karl Marlantes (Y ’67), who served as an officer in the Marine Corps, received the Navy Cross, and wrote perhaps the best Vietnam War novel, is pretty much the ideal choice to write the introduction for the new Penguin Classics edition of Ernst Jünger’s WWI memoir Storm of Steel.

[L]ike Jünger, who observed the stream of colored flares, I can appreciate that, borrowing a phrase from Yeats, there is a terrible beauty about war, even though I’m not a born warrior. I remember watching enemy tracers seeming to float into the night sky over Laos, seeking to down one of our airplanes, in much the same way I’d watch fireworks. I remember even being enthralled, late in my tour when I’d been transferred to an air ob­server squadron, by green tracers flying by both windows of our OV-10 as we dived firing, head to head with an NVA antiaircraft gun. Jünger sees the beauty—it’s everywhere in his memoir—and perhaps you will see it too. This doesn’t need to change how you judge war; coral snakes and tsunamis are beautiful too.

Jünger writes about many things other than combat, but all take us into the trenches as he saw them. He writes about fear and panic. He writes about nature—about having to live outside, just like a wild animal, in all of nature’s cruelty and beauty. He writes about the code of honor and manliness that engenders mutual respect be­tween soldiers on opposite sides of the battle, as when he encoun­tered a young British officer just before Christmas during a poignant temporary truce that unfortunately went bad:

    We did, though, say much to one another that betokened an almost sportsmanlike admiration for the other, and I’m sure we should have liked to exchange mementoes.

At another point he writes:

    Throughout the war, it was always my endeavour to view my opponent without animus, and to form an opinion of him as a man on the basis of the courage he showed.

And he writes about the understated and often gallows humor that goes hand in hand with the code of honor and manliness. I remember in Vietnam a kid waiting to be medevaced, gasping for air because he’d taken a bullet through one lung, saying, “You know, sir, it ruined my whole day.” Jünger often uses such humor:

    We suffered many casualties from the over-familiarity engendered by daily encounters with gunpowder. My dugout was somewhat changed as well . . . the British had fumigated it with a few hand-grenades. We were so abundantly graced with trench mortars . . .

In another scene, Jünger describes a fierce skirmish with Indi­an soldiers from the First Hariana Lancers:

    With only twenty men we had seen off a detachment several times larger, and attacking us from more than one side, and in spite of the fact that we had orders to withdraw if we were outnumbered. It was precisely an engagement like this that I’d been dreaming of during the longueurs of positional warfare.

I’d have been dreaming of my high school girlfriends.

“These short expeditions,” Jünger writes, “where a man takes his life in his hands, were a good means of testing our mettle and interrupting the monotony of trench life. There’s nothing worse for a soldier than boredom.” I would say homesickness, hunger, hypothermia, getting gassed, gangrene, and trench foot, not to mention getting killed or maimed, would all be worse than boredom. But Jünger was different.

Read the whole thing.

01 Jun 2016

100 Years Ago: The Battle of Jutland

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May 31 — June 1, 1916

22 May 2016

Tolkien’s Webley

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The Webley Mk V [Correction: Mark VI -thanks to Hammond Aikes] of 2nd Lieutenant J.R.R. Tolkien.

According to the Imperial War Museum,

Tolkien was an Oxford University student in 1914 but was commissioned into the Lancashire Fusiliers soon after taking his degree in 1915. He joined the 11th Battalion of his regiment in France in June 1916, shortly before the Battle of the Somme. During the battle Tolkien served as the battalion signals officer. In late October 1916 he contracted trench fever and was sent back to England in early November. He spent most of the rest of the war convalescing. It was at this time that he began to write early versions of his Middle Earth stories. Debate continues regarding the extent to which Tolkien’s war experiences influenced his literary work.


11 Nov 2015

Armistice Day, Later Known as Veterans Day, also known as Martinmas

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—this post is repeated annually—

WWI came to an end by an armistice arranged to occur at the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month of 1918. The date and time, selected at a point in history when mens’ memories ran much longer, represented a compliment to St. Martin, patron saint of soldiers, and thus a tribute to the fighting men of both sides. The feast day of St. Martin, the Martinmas, had been for centuries a major landmark in the European calendar, a date on which leases expired, rents came due; and represented, in Northern Europe, a seasonal turning point after which cold weather and snow might be normally expected.

It fell about the Martinmas-time, when the snow lay on the borders…
—-Old Song.

From Robert Chambers, The Book of Days, 1869:

St. Martin, the son of a Roman military tribune, was born at Sabaria, in Hungary, about 316. From his earliest infancy, he was remarkable for mildness of disposition; yet he was obliged to become a soldier, a profession most uncongenial to his natural character. After several years’ service, he retired into solitude, from whence he was withdrawn, by being elected bishop of Tours, in the year 374.

The zeal and piety he displayed in this office were most exemplary. He converted the whole of his diocese to Christianity, overthrowing the ancient pagan temples, and erecting churches in their stead. From the great success of his pious endeavours, Martin has been styled the Apostle of the Gauls; and, being the first confessor to whom the Latin Church offered public prayers, he is distinguished as the father of that church. In remembrance of his original profession, he is also frequently denominated the Soldier Saint.

The principal legend, connected with St. Martin, forms the subject of our illustration, which represents the saint, when a soldier, dividing his cloak with a poor naked beggar, whom he found perishing with cold at the gate of Amiens. This cloak, being most miraculously preserved, long formed one of the holiest and most valued relics of France; when war was declared, it was carried before the French monarchs, as a sacred banner, and never failed to assure a certain victory. The oratory in which this cloak or cape—in French, chape—was preserved, acquired, in consequence, the name of chapelle, the person intrusted with its care being termed chapelain: and thus, according to Collin de Plancy, our English words chapel and chaplain are derived.

The canons of St. Martin of Tours and St. Gratian had a lawsuit, for sixty years, about a sleeve of this cloak, each claiming it as their property. The Count Larochefoucalt, at last, put an end to the proceedings, by sacrilegiously committing the contested relic to the flames. …

The festival of St. Martin, happening at that season when the new wines of the year are drawn from the lees and tasted, when cattle are killed for winter food, and fat geese are in their prime, is held as a feast-day over most parts of Christendom. On the ancient clog almanacs, the day is marked by the figure of a goose; our bird of Michaelmas being, on the continent, sacrificed at Martinmas. In Scotland and the north of England, a fat ox is called a mart, clearly from Martinmas, the usual time when beeves are killed for winter use. In ‘Tusser’s Husbandry, we read:

When Easter comes, who knows not then,
That veal and bacon is the man?
And Martilmass beef doth bear good tack,
When country folic do dainties lack.’

Barnaby Googe’s translation of Neogeorgus, shews us how Martinmas was kept in Germany, towards the latter part of the fifteenth century

‘To belly chear, yet once again,
Doth Martin more incline,
Whom all the people worshippeth With roasted geese and wine.
Both all the day long, and the night, Now each man open makes
His vessels all, and of the must, Oft times, the last he takes,
Which holy Martin afterwards Alloweth to be wine,
Therefore they him, unto the skies, Extol with praise divine.’

A genial saint, like Martin, might naturally be expected to become popular in England; and there are no less than seven churches in London and Westminster, alone, dedicated to him. There is certainly more than a resemblance between the Vinalia of the Romans, and the Martinalia of the medieval period.

Indeed, an old ecclesiastical calendar, quoted by Brand, expressly states under 11th November: ‘The Vinalia, a feast of the ancients, removed to this day. Bacchus in the figure of Martin.’ And thus, probably, it happened, that the beggars were taken from St. Martin, and placed under the protection of St. Giles; while the former became the patron saint of publicans, tavern-keepers, and other ‘dispensers of good eating and drinking. In the hall of the Vintners’ Company of London, paintings and statues of St. Martin and Bacchus reign amicably together side by side.

On the inauguration, as lord mayor, of Sir Samuel Dashwood, an honoured vintner, in 1702, the company had a grand processional pageant, the most conspicuous figure in which was their patron saint, Martin, arrayed, cap-à-pie, in a magnificent suit of polished armour; wearing a costly scarlet cloak, and mounted on a richly plumed and caparisoned white charger: two esquires, in rich liveries, walking at each side. Twenty satyrs danced before him, beating tambours, and preceded by ten halberdiers, with rural music. Ten Roman lictors, wearing silver helmets, and carrying axes and fasces, gave an air of classical dignity to the procession, and, with the satyrs, sustained the bacchanalian idea of the affair.

A multitude of beggars, ‘howling most lamentably,’ followed the warlike saint, till the procession stopped in St. Paul’s Churchyard. Then Martin, or his representative at least, drawing his sword, cut his rich scarlet cloak in many pieces, which he distributed among the beggars. This ceremony being duly and gravely performed, the lamentable howlings ceased, and the procession resumed its course to Guildhall, where Queen Anne graciously condescended to dine with the new lord mayor.

14 Sep 2015

Shooting the Chauchat

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Lot 3767: “Fusil Mitrailleur Modele 1915 CSRG”, better known as the Chauchat

James D. Julia is selling a Chauchat in the course of their October 5-7 Firearms Auction and has released today another of the highly informative Forgotten Weapons videos devoted to this famous, but widely despised, particular weapon of WWI.

Wikipedia article.

17:48 video

27 Apr 2015

Gallipoli, Then and Now

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The hillside at Suvla Bay where British troops landed in August, 1915.

Historic WWI photos superimposed over current photos. HuffPo

24 Jan 2015

Ships’ Dazzle Camouflage WWI

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The Battle of Jutland must have looked like all the admirals had recently dropped acid.


Modern art, wartime strategy and perceptual psychology converged during World War I giving rise to dazzle camouflage. The only color visual records of dazzle camouflage from the period are paint-scheme drawings made by the Admiralty and modernist marine paintings. The picture by Group of 7 artist Arthur Lismer of HMS Olympic in dazzle is not a fauvist hallucination, but a true record of the ship’s appearance just after the Armistice. The modernist painter Edward Wadsworth (British, 1889-1949) supervised the application of dazzle camouflage at the Liverpool naval shipbuilding yards during World War I. He painted the image above and others, and also made wood block prints depicting ships in dazzle. After the war, he also painted abstract compositions based on dazzle patterns.

Arthur Lismer, Olympic With Returned Soldiers, Halifax, 1918, Canadian War Museum

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