Wed 18 Aug, 2004 06:29 pm
In June, 90 years ago, the Archduke Franz Ferdinand decided to tour the military installations of the Austrian Empire. He was the brother of the Habsburg Emperor, Franz Josef, the last emperor of Austria, who reigned for nearly 70 years. Ferdinand had married a commoner, Sophie, with whom he was very much in love. The rest of the most powerful of European families considered this a morganatic marriage, and Sophie was snubbed, and frequently prohibited from attending official functions in Vienna and elsewhere.
But in Ferdinand's capacity as Commander in Chief of the Austro-Hungarian armed forces, Sophie was assured that she would be shown the deepest respect when she took these tours with him. Ferdinand had decided to visit Sarajevo, the capital of Bosnia-Herzogovina, which Austria had annexed in 1908, much to the enraged frustration of Serbian nationalists. Ferdinand decided to visit on the anniversary of the 1389 defeat of the Serbs by the Turks in Kosovo, an act which further enraged the Serbs. The Serbs were waiting for him, and although his driver managed to escape two earlier attempts, when he turned into an unknown street, and decided to turn the car around, one of those Serbs, Gavrilo Princep, jumped onto the running board, and shot the Archduke and Sophie to death.
Thereafter, the Austrians put the screws to the Serbs. Historians have since learned that the German Imperial War Minister encouraged the Austrians to believe that the German Empire would back their play, as it was almost certain that war with Serbia would bring Russia in on the Serbian side. The Serbs agreed to every demand, no matter how humiliating, until the Austrians told them that suspects would be tried in Serbia by an Austrian court. The Serbs pleaded on this single point, and the international community, when it bothered to pay any attention, scolded the Austrians as well. But the Austrians pushed it far enough, and the Great War began.
Without subscribing to any of the inevitability schools of thought, i would just point out some of the profound effects of this war, other than the obvious ones of millions dead and Belgium and France ravaged. This war created Czechoslovakia, which, following the lines of what had traditionally been Bohemia, left a substantial number of "Sudeten" Germans in that territory, which Hitler would one day use as a causus belli. Poland was reborn, and the city of Danzig (Gdansk) was made a free city; the "Polish corridor," the strip of Polish territory between Danzig and Germany, would provide the stage upon which Hitler would stage his pretext for war with Poland, and the outbreak of the Second World War in Europe. The Kingdom of Yugoslavia was created, and modern readers won't need to be reminded of how lovingly the Slovenes, Croatians, Bosnias, Serbs, Macedonians and Albanian Kosovars regard one another. What the Tsar Nicholas I had described as "the Sick Old Man of Europe"--the Osmanli Turkish Empire--collapsed, and Syria, the Lebanon, Palestine, Jordan, Saudia Arabia and Iraq were created from the wreckage. Japan had long before the war entered into an agreement with the English to "watch their backs" in the Pacific, and lived up to their engagements at the outset by sending a cruiser to the Pacific coast of Canada to protect them from a German cruiser known to be operating off the coast of the United States. They also seized all the German island territory in the Pacific, and began down their road to empire. Italy had switched sides early in the war, and as an Ally, were left a free hand for their comic opera attempts at empire building in Africa after the war. Little Canada, with about seven million inhabitants, provided more than 600,000 troops, of whom more than 66,000 were killed, and more than 172,000 maimed--as a proportion, these were the highest casualties of the war. Had the United States had similar numbers, we would have fielded eight and a half million troops, rather than the three million we eventually sent to Europe, and rather than the 57,000+ Americans who were killed (absolutely and not just comparatively fewer than Canadian combat deaths), we would have lost nearly 800,000. For Australia and New Zealand, it signalled their military "coming out," with real manpower commitments rather than the selected few units which had fought in the Boer War. South Africa fielded an army to help deal with Paul von Lettow-Vorbeck, who took fewer than 5,000 Germans and about 10,000 Askaris (black African troops--some white Africans have never forgiven him for arming blacks and using them to kill white soldiers) and ran the English ragged until two weeks after the war, surrendering finally on November 25, 1918, after he received reliable information that the German Empire had surrendered. He had tied up well over ten times his number, and large numbers of troops from the subcontinent--those whom we would consider Indians and Pakistanis--were shipped to Africa in the vain attempt to protect the ports and railroads from this German military genius. The political landscape of Africa was forever altered.
In so many ways, and in so many places, the Great War had a profound effect on so many peoples. What are your thoughts on this horrendous debacle for humanity, which began ninety years ago?
Your title alludes to Tuchman's well-known study. Those who haven't read the book, should put it near the top of their "history" reading list. Some folks have been critical of Tuchman, but I still find her an enjoyable read with some fine insights. There are probably books that will have greater academic acceptance, but few of those will carry the general reader so completely away.
For me the Great War continued after a brief recess until at least 1945. The stalemate in the trenches should have taught the world to avoid static trench warfare. Direct assaults on positions secured by interlocking fields of machinegun fire isn't glorious, its murder. Modern artillery and aerial bombardment can make for a very heavy butcher's bill. The French '75 had been around for awhile, but in the Great War it became a standard that every army in the world envied and copied.
The Great War, Part I, also destroyed whatever was left of the idea that war is glorious. Cavalry horses dying with their guts shot out is a far cry from the dashing Hussars one sometimes associates with the Napoleonic era. Even then artillery made mincemeat of the bravest troops all lined up with flags waving and drums beating the cadence as line upon line walked into musket range. The use of lethal and incapacitating gas was not nearly so effective as it was frightening, and we've had to live with that sort of tactical use of chemicals ever since. Unrestricted submarine warfare and introduction of armored vehicles later became more sophisticated.
GUNS OF AUGUST
germany's support of austria was during my early schoolyears described as NIBELUNGENTREUE; e.i. that once words of support had been given, there must be no backing off. well, i guess the world is still suffering from the results. the article attached is in german; i think it might still be of interest. apparently the german government had promised to back austria in its military action as early as july 5, 1914. (a little side story : when the german chancellor dr. adenauer was told after the first german government was formed following ww II, that the austrians were going to demand reparations, he apparently replied : "they want reparations ? i'll send them hitler's bones" - "ich werde ihnen hitlers knochen schicken". apparently he developed good relations with the austrian government after all. he was a crafty fox ! ) >>>NIBELUNGENTREUE
I totally agree about Tuchman, and this was her most fascinating book.
They certainly don't learn. At Sedan, in the Franco-Prussian War, the French slaughtered the Prussians in fine style with the mitrailleuse, but when the Krupp guns came up and began pounding them, and their officer corps collapsed, the French lost--so apparently none of the German officers noticed the effect of that primitive machine gun.
In 1914, when the Germans drove on Liege, waves of Prussian grunts, in classic dense line formation, were mown down literally day after day until the Krupp der Dicke Bertha mortars arrived to demolish the Belgian forts. Right through the war, idiots repeated those kinds of orders, and the infantry spread out only a little.
In his single volume history of the war for American Heritage, S. L. A. Marshall states his belief that Falkenhayn, in 1915, launched the incredible slaughter of Verdun in the despairing and deluded belief that the slaughter would bring his superiors to their senses. Marshall bases this claim on Falkenhayn's correspondence and personal papers, in which Marshall says he had already come to the conclusion that attacks failed on both sides because the troops were stacked up on too narrow a front, to take advantage of a "softening-up" bombardment which tipped the attackers hand without doing significant damage to the main line of defense, and leaving no room to exploit a breakthrough if one were actually accomplished. As this is exactly what Falkenhayn did in the assault on Verdun, Marshall, referring to other documents of Falkenhayn's, states that he knowingly caused a pointless slaughter.
The Canadians, however, demonstrated that somebody was paying attention. After taking and holding Vimy ridge, and having fought the beginning of the war under English generals, they got a Canadian commander, and a completely Canadian staff. The services of support and artillery were transferred back to the Canadian Army, and they planned to take Lens.
The town was dominated by Hill 70. The Canadians began a scattered shelling of the position, with quite a few shots "going long." The Germans didn't notice that only guns of a specific calibre were "going long" on any given day: the Canadian were registering targets on the far side of Hill 70. When the Canadians launched their assault, everyone went over the top after the last routine patrols returned, in the darkness just before dawn. There were no whistles, bugles, no one spoke. The were in the advanced German trenches before the Germans knew anyone was coming. The were fighting it out hand-to-hand with German machine gun crews in the main line before those crews fired a single round.
The Canadians pushed the Germans off Hill 70 in under three hours. They then worked like devils to "turn the trenches around", putting up revetments, and bringing sand bags to the reverse slope from the captured trenches. With no preliminary barrage, German command didn't know the attack had been made until the Canadians were in possession of Hill 70, and routed German troops came pouring through Lens and out the other side. It was late afternoon before any counterattack was launched (the Canadians had been in possession for about eight hours by then), and it was a few uncooridnated battalions which the machine gunners easily dealt with.
The next day and the days following, as the Germans threw larger and larger formations at the Canadian position, their artillery, with a huge stockpile of ammunition (no opening barrage), began plastering all of the crossroads, communications trenches, and assembly points on the far side of Lens, which they had been registering for weeks in a seemingly random barrage. The Germans finally gave up and contracted their lines. German bombardments were so heavy, that all telegraph and telephone wires were cut, and the Canadians kept in touch with their artillery by sending runners through the barrages in no-man's land. Their courage, and resourcefulness and particularly their intelligent planning and execution, goes unnoticed, though--hell, they're just a bunch a hosers from the Great White North, eh? Not genuine heroes like Colonel Blimp.
Didn't the assassins attempt suicide, but failed? I seem to recall their attempt to do themselves in was rather ludicrous.
I dunno, Miss Lettybettyhettygetty, i've never looked into their fate "post-assassination." Perhaps someone wiser will look in and answer your question.
Damn, Set. You were LBHG's last hope.
My dad was in WWI, but the only thing I recall him talking about was Russell Hicks. WOW! How did I remember that.
I was raised by my grandparents, and my grandfather was a veteran of the Great War. He almost never talked about it. He would sometimes just smile and say, "Oh, i was wounded for every day of the week." Being a liddly, i thought that must have been about the worst week anybody ever went through.
Set, I can remember as a wee thing, seeing a Kaiser helmet rolling around under our front steps. I recall having told this to Walter and Msolga long ago on a War Songs thread.
Russell Hicks (I)
Edward Russell Hicks
Tall, distinguished-looking character actor who appeared in almost 300 films in his more than 40-year career (although his first known screen appearance was in 1915, he has screenwriting credits as early as 1913, so it's possible his screen debut was earlier than credited). His cultured bearing, grandfatherly appearance and soothing, resonant voice were perfect for the many military officers, attorneys, judges and business executives that he excelled at playing. He was especially memorable in an atypical role as the oily, fast-talking phony-stock salesman J. Frothington Waterbury in W.C. Fields' classic Bank Dick, The (1940). Hicks made his last film in 1956, and died the next year.
There is a plaza in downtown St Johns Newfoundland dedicated to the 1st Newfoundland Regiment. On the early morning of July 1 1916, the opening day of the Battle of Somme, this regiment was order to advance over a quarter mile of open field and size and intact German line. Their support regiment, a British army unit quickly concluded that the order was suicidal and refused to advance but the Newfoundlanders were "colonial" troops and felt they had something to prove. They took the trenches but of the 1000 men, 150 survived. The Germans quickly repaired their lines.
I've passed (again) those front lines a couple of days ago.
And of course I've passed those ten-thousands of war graves along the Route national.
Why, why did all these brave men have to die - just for gaining one meter within a fortnight, re-gained that the other hill for the third time (and loosing it again the other week) ... ?
My grandfather who was Polish was in the Austrian Army in 1916. Since he spoke Russian he was in charge of the Russian POW work details, a job he enjoyed very much. Plus it kept him out of the line fighting in the mountains of Italy.
Anctually i am not interested in WW1, it was not a war, it was a massacre.
fields of blood, death bodies, and also dead horses. and boring machinegun fire.
or maybe it was a REAL war------ War, is hell.
Sherman. What a succinct general he was. Scorched earth policy.
GUNS OF AUGUST
BIG BERTA was named by the german soldiers after the wife of the mr. krupp, the owner of the krupp werke. it saw limited action in ww I . one of the restrictions was that it was only good for 1.000 salvos, i believe thereafter a rather time consuming change of the barrel was required. since "big berta" cost 1 mio marks to manufacture , the cost was 500 marks to amortize the gun plus 1.000 marks for each projectile per salvo - a considerable amount of money for the german army. perhaps i'll dig up some more on "big berta" by sunday - i do remember my dad, who was a vetaran of ww I talking about berta (note that the gun was considered a female !). here are some pix from a german archive (more pix are available by clicking on BILDERGALERIE at the end of the website). DIE DICKE BERTA
just saw walter's entry. yes, what terrible wars mankind went through - but i doubt that mankind will learn by past mistakes. i still have some of the postcards that my dad mailed from france during 1916-1918 to his parents. what is somewhat astonishing is, how relatively cheerful he sounded as a young soldier - and how dispirited he was when ww II started and my brother was called up. hbg
Hamburger, that name actually translates as "Fat Bertha," doesn't it?
I recommend to those with an interest in the "behind the scenes" of history Mr. William Manchester's The Guns of Krupp.