”Honor the Past; Deserve the Present“

Topic Summaries

Sequential

General

Biographical


The Black Tom Munitions Depot Explosion

Contributor:  Skylar Nelson

The Circle of Flags at Liberty State Park, Jersey City, New Jersey, Site of the Black Tom Explosion

[Photo Courtesy of C. Karnoutsos,
New Jersey City University Digital Project:
"Jersey City: Past and Present"
]

Until the late 1800s there was a Black Tom Island about a mile off the Jersey City shore in New York Harbor. A causeway eventually connected Black Tom Island and the Jersey City shore, and in the early 1900s landfilling enlarged the site to accommodate warehouses of the National Dock and Storage Company. The Lehigh Valley Railroad Company owned the warehouses and dock and railroad facilities at the depot, from which a variety of cargo was shipped to ports around the world.

With the outbreak of the World War, munitions manufactured in the northeast were transported by railroad to the Black Tom depot for trans-Atlantic shipment. Black Tom became the largest munitions depot in the United States, selling to the belligerents, though British command of the seas soon blocked Central Powers access to American ports. The result was Central Powers resentment that the neutral United States was effectively abetting the Allied cause.

About nine months before the United States declared war on Germany, an act of apparent German sabotage took place at the Black Tom munitions depot. Early on Sunday morning, July 30, 1916, small fires ignited shrapnel shells stored in railroad cars, warehouses, and barges at the site. More than 1,000 tons of TNT produced the fierce explosions that followed, breaking windows as far as twenty-five miles away; the explosions were heard as far away as Connecticut and Maryland.1 Shrapnel struck the clock on the Jersey Journal building, freezing the time at 2:12 a.m. Only about one mile away from the Black Tom explosions, rivets popped on the Statue of Liberty's uplifted right arm; even with repairs the arm and hand-grasped torch have to this day remained closed to visitors. The explosions killed at least six people, as an unknown number of immigrants who lived on barges in New York Harbor also perished.2. Hundreds of others were wounded. Damage estimates at the time were about $20 million, an amount that would equate to almost $500 million today.3

Michael Kristoff, an 1899 Slovakian immigrant from the Austrian Empire became a suspect in the ensuing investigation, but his guilt was never determined. He enlisted in the U. S. Army during the war and died in 1928.

Black Tom was only one of many examples of apparent sabotage in the United States. For example, on January 18, 1915, six months before the Black Tom explosion, a fire destroyed (without loss of lives) much of John A. Roebling's Sons Company in Trenton, New Jersey. The company made anti-submarine netting, artillery chains, and armaments. On January 11, 1917, six months following the Black Tom explosion, a fire broke out at Canadian Car and Foundry, an ammunition plant in Kingsland (today Lyndhurst), New Jersey, detonating thousands of shells, which had been shipped to Kingsland from east coast factories.4 On April 10, 1917, four days following the U. S. declaration of war on Germany, a fire at the Hercules Powder Company in Eddystone, Pennsylvania, killed over one hundred employees, mostly women and children.

In 1921, three years following the Armistice, the Treaty of Berlin, which formally ended the state of war between Germany and the United States, provided for the creation of the Mixed Claims Commission, through which settlement of U. S. claims against Germany might be made. The Black Tom and Kingsland cases would be the most prominent brought before the commission. The commission's charge was to decide whether the explosions were due to accident or sabotage. In 1939 the Commission concluded that the German government had authorized sabotage and ruled that Germany would have to pay $50 million dollars in restitution to Black Tom and other claimants5, but WWII, which began in Europe that year, interrupted any possible settlement of the issue.

About eight months before the December 7, 1941, Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, President Franklin Roosevelt's Secretary of War Henry Stimson appointed John McCloy, one of the U. S. attorneys who litigated the Mixed Claims Commission case in 1939, as Assistant Secretary of War. Following the U. S. declaration of war against Japan, McCloy was in attendance in the Oval Office during a discussion of the internment of Japanese-Americans. FDR, who had been Assistant Secretary of the Navy during WWI, commented that internment was necessary to avoid an event such as had taken place at the Black Tom munitions depot a quarter century earlier.6 FDR's Executive Order 9066, issued on February 19, 1942, began the Japanese internment program.

Settlement in the Mixed Claims Commission suits finally came in 1953, eight years following the end of WWII, when the Federal Republic of Germany agreed to a payment of $95 million for a number of war claims, including those arising from the Black Tom munitions depot explosion. The Federal Republic of Germany made its final payment in 1979.7

Today, the site of the Black Tom munitions depot explosions is at Liberty State Park in Jersey City, New Jersey. Markers and flags are dedicated to the memory of the event.


  1. cia.gov/library/center-for-the-study-of-intelligence; njcu.edu/programs/jchistory
  2. George Mason University's History News Network, "Chad Millman Talks About His New Book Detonators…," July 23, 2006: hnn.us
  3. Gilbert King, "Past Imperfect: Sabotage in New York Harbor," November 1, 2011: smithsonianmag.com
  4. lyndhursthistoricalsociety.org
  5. cia.gov/library/center-for-the-study-of-intelligence
  6. “‘The Detonators’: A Nearly Forgotten New York Attack,” National Public Radio transcript, July 27, 2006: npr.org
  7. cia.gov/library/center-for-the-study-of-intelligence

Return to Table of Contents



Assassination

Contributors:  Stephanie Ball, Gus Conwell

[Image Courtesy of Library of Congress]

The 1878 Treaty of Berlin granted Austria administrative control over Bosnia and Herzegovina, which, until then, had been controlled by the Ottoman Empire. Those areas were populated mainly by Serbs, Croats, and Muslims, Serbs being the largest group. Many Bosnian Serbs looked forward to the day when Bosnia might be united with their neighbor Serbia.

When the Austro-Hungarian Empire annexed Bosnia and Herzegovina in 1908, South Slavs ("Yugoslavs")—Croats, Serbs, and Slovaks—protested what amounted to the replacement of one imperial power, the Ottoman Empire, by another, the Austro-Hungarian Empire. The annexation stood in the way of a pan-Slavic goal, voiced most noticeably in Serbia, which was to create a "Greater Serbia," the expansion of Serbia's borders to include all South Slavs on the Balkan Peninsula. Serbia saw its leadership in the pan-Slavic movement as paralleling the leadership role played by Prussia in the unification of Germany and by Sardinia and Piedmont in the unification of Italy.1

On June 25, 1914, Franz Ferdinand, heir to the throne of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and Inspector General of the army, arrived in Bosnia-Herzegovina to inspect Austrian troops and oversee a demonstration of Austrian military maneuvers. Three days later a four-car motorcade that included Ferdinand and his wife Sophie in the back seat of an open car, made its way through the streets of Sarjevo, the capital of Bosnia-Herzegovina, en route to City Hall for an official reception. Generally jubilant crowds lined the motorcade route, but in the crowds were several Bosnian Serb members of a radical Serbian nationalist organization known as the Black Hand, which had conspired to assassinate the archduke, an act that would demonstrate the degree of resentment some Serbs had for Austrian control in the Balkans.

Serbian resentment toward Austro-Hungarian imperial control may have been aggravated by the date of Ferdinand's visit. Though June 28 was the tenth anniversary of the imperial couple's marriage, it was also the date when, in 1389, invading Ottomans defeated the Serbs in the Battle of Kosovo, an event which brought Serbian provinces under Ottoman control. Centuries of foreign rule came to an end when Serbia gained full independence from the Ottomans in 1878, but Serbian nationalists since that date dreamed of eliminating all foreign control over Serbian people in the Balkan Peninsula; for Serbian nationalists June 28 symbolized the beginning of foreign oppression, and the new oppressor was the Austro-Hungarian Empire.

As the archduke's motorcade proceeded through Sarajevo, one of the conspirators, Nedjelko Cabrinovic, threw a bomb at the car bearing Ferdinand and Sophie. The bomb missed its mark, exploding under a following car and injuring a number of people, one of the car's passengers, for example, who was taken to a hospital.2 The would-be assassin was arrested and, in spite of the violence, the motorcade proceeded to the city hall for the official reception. The archduke was shaken and voiced his anger at the burgomaster that such an event could have happened, but the reception took place as planned.

Following the reception Ferdinand asked to be taken to the hospital to visit those who were injured. On that drive the chauffeur took a wrong turn and was backing up when one of the conspirators, Gavrilo Princip, stepped into the street and, only a few feet away from the car, shot both Ferdinand (in the neck) and Sophie (in the stomach) with a pistol. While police apprehended Princip, the chauffeur sped to the governor's residence, where both Ferdinand and Sophie were pronounced dead upon arrival.3 The next day the embalmed bodies in their caskets were placed on a train for Vienna.4

Besides Princip and Cabrinovic, others were soon implicated in the crime, and their trial took place in October 1914. Princip and Cabrinovic, each nineteen-year-old Bosnian Serbs, were minors and could not be sentenced to death; they and a third Bosnian Serb conspirator, nineteen-year-old Trifko Grabez, all received twenty-year prison sentences but died in prison of tuberculosis—Cabrinovic in January 1916, Grabez in February 1916, and Princip in April 1918. Fourteen others were found guilty and received sentences ranging from three years in prison to death by hanging.


  1. Jere King, The First World War: A Volume in Documentary History of Western Civilization (New York: Walker and Company, 1972), p. xvii-xviii.
  2. S. L. A. Marshall, World War I (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1964), p. 12; John Keegan, The First World War (New York: Vintage Books, 2000), p. 49.
  3. Robert Donia, Sarajevo: A Biography (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2006), p. 123: "http://books.google.com"
  4. Ibid.

Return to Table of Contents

"July Crisis," Ultimatum, and War

Contributor:  Gus Conwell

[Image Courtesy of Library of Congress]

How would Vienna respond to the assassination of Franz Ferdinand? Influential political and military figures in Austria had long expressed their anger at anti-Austrian agitation in independent Serbia. For them the assassination provided an opportunity to act, and their confidence to act was emboldened on July 8, 1914, when Kaiser Wilhelm II of Germany offered the Austro-Hungarian government what was later referred to as a "blank check," its support however Vienna chose to proceed with Serbia.

Existing treaties and agreements meant that any attack on Serbia would run the risk of bringing Russia to Serbia's defense, and France was bound to come to the support of Russia if Russia were to be at war with either the Austro-Hungarian Empire or Germany; Britain would go to the defense of France if France were at war with Germany.

If Vienna were to declare war on Serbia, what would prevent other nations from fulfilling their treaty obligations? How might a general, even global, war be avoided? Thus began the July Crisis.

Emboldened with the support of Germany, the Austro-Hungarian Empire's Foreign Minister Count Leopold von Berchtold composed an ultimatum which he expected the Kingdom of Serbia would reject, a rejection which would thus give the Austro-Hungarian government the excuse that it had no recourse but to declare war on Serbia. Vienna expected a quick and limited war, thus ending at last all anti-Austrian agitation in Serbia.

The ultimatum was made up of ten demands. In sum, the Serbian government would have to suppress anti-Austrian publications, dissolve anti-Austrian organizations, replace anti-Austrian government officials and military personnel, and allow Austrian officials to enter Serbia to conduct their own investigation into the assassination.1

At 6:00 p.m. on July 23, about three weeks following Archduke Franz Ferdinand's assassination in Sarajevo, Bosnia, Baron Giesl von Gieslingen, the Austro-Hungarian Empire's ambassador to Serbia, delivered the ultimatum to the Serbian foreign minister's office in Belgrade, and demanded a response within forty-eight hours. Time was of the essence. If, as Vienna expected, Serbia would not comply with the ultimatum, then a quick military campaign against Serbia would be necessary in order to avoid also having to fight Russia, which Vienna expected to come to Serbia's defense.2

News of the ultimatum spread an alarm across Europe. While Serbia was determining how to respond to the ultimatum, Winston Churchill, England's First Lord of the Admiralty, considered the ultimatum "the most insolent document of its kind ever devised."3 British Foreign Secretary Sir Edward Grey commented, "Any nation that accepted conditions like that would really cease to count as an independent nation."4

At 5:58 p.m. on July 25, just two minutes before the 48-hour time limit had elapsed, Serbian Prime Minister Nicola Pasic delivered Serbia's response to Austro-Hungarian Ambassador von Gieslingen who, following instructions from Vienna, immediately boarded a train from Belgrade to bring news of Serbia's response to Vienna.

Serbia's response fell short of unconditional acceptance. The Serbian government was willing to comply with all the ultimatum's demands, except for those allowing an Austrian investigation on Serbian soil.

The [Serbian] Government considers it its duty as a matter of course to begin an investigation against all those persons who have participated in the outrage of June 28th and who are in its territory. As far as the cooperation in this investigation of specially delegated officials of the [Austro-Hungarian] Government is concerned, this cannot be accepted, as this is a violation of the constitution and of criminal procedure. Yet in some cases the result of the investigation might be communicated to the Austro-Hungarian officials.6

Though Serbia proposed that the issue be submitted to the International Tribunal at the Hague,7 Austria judged Serbia's conditional response unsatisfactory and on July 28, one month following the assassination in Sarajevo, Bosnia, declared war on Serbia.

In only two more weeks, a system of alliances brought other European nations and their imperial subjects into a conflict so broad in geographical scope that it was called the Great War, the World War.


  1. Laurence Lafore, The Long Fuse: An Interpretation of the Origins of World War I (Philadelphia and New York: J. B. Lippincott Company, 1965), p. 226.
  2. "July 23, 1914: Austria Issues Ultimatum to Serbia": http://www.history.com.
  3. Mary Soames, ed., Winston and Clementine: The Personal Letters of the Churchills (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2001), p. 95: http://books.google.com.
  4. David Fromkin, Europe's Last Summer: Who Started the Great War in 1914? (New York: First Vintage Books, 2005), p. 188: http://books.google.com.
  5. B. H. Liddell Hart, The Real War: 1914-1918 (Boston: Little, Brown, and Company, 1930), p. 26.
  6. "The Serbian Response to the Austro-Hungarian Ultimatum": http://wwi.lib.byu.edu.
  7. Jere King, The First World War: A Volume in Documentary History of Western Civilization (New York: Walker and Company, 1972), p. xxx; S. L. A. Marshall, The American Heritage History of World War I (New York: Dell Publishing Co., Inc., 1964), p. 41.

Return to Table of Contents

Alliances

Contributor:  Webster Rasmussen

What caused World War I was not violence in the Balkans. The assassination brought about what might otherwise have been a localized conflict, one that did not really concern the great powers of the world. What made this conflict into a "world war" was a web of alliances. This meant that when one or two of the great European powers had a stake in something, suddenly they all did, if not by alliance, then certainly because of rivalry. So when the powder keg that was the Balkans blew, a web of nations sprang into action.

Return to Table of Contents

War Begins

Contributor:  Toby Elder

Allied Powers and Central Powers

[Image Courtesy of Department of History,
United States Military Academy]

As a result of Austria-Hungary's war declaration, Russia began mobilization. Austria-Hungary's ally Germany declared war on Russia following Russia's announcement of mobilization. Austria-Hungary followed suit five days later. Meanwhile, Germany declared war on France when France began mobilization. When neutral Belgium refused to comply with Germany's ultimatum to allow its troops to march through Belgium en route to France, Germany invaded Belgium, to which Britain responded with a declaration of war on Germany. Eight days later Britain declared war on Austria-Hungary. On the following day France declared war on Austria-Hungary. In two weeks, all the major powers of Europe were at war.

As the war began the Allied Powers were France, Britain, and Russia. Japan became a member of the Allied Powers in August 1914; Italy joined in April 1915. The United States entered on the side of the Allied Powers in April 1917. When the war began the Central Powers were Germany and Austria-Hungary. The Ottoman Empire joined the Central Powers in October 1914; Bulgaria joined in October 1915.

Return to Table of Contents

Battles of Tannenberg and Masurian Lakes

Contributor:  Cori Calabi

In August 1914 the Russian First Army, under the command of General Pavel Rennenkampf, and the Russian Second Army, under the command of General Aleksandr Samsonov, invaded the German Empire's East Prussia region (which is today northeast Poland), which was defended by the German Eighth Army, commanded by General Maximilian Prittwitz.

Fearing that his army would be encircled by Samsonov, Prittwitz advised General Helmuth von Moltke, chief of the German General Staff, "I may be obliged to retreat behind the Vistula [River]."1 Von Moltke's response was to reinforce the German Eighth Army with two corps taken from the German forces invading France,2 and replace Prittwitz and his chief of staff with Generals Erich Ludendorff, who just days earlier had captured the Belgian city of Liège, and Paul von Hidenburg, who was called to duty from retirement. The new German commanders immediately began an offensive against the invading Russian armies.

Hindenburg, Kaiser Wilhelm, Ludendorff

[Photo Courtesy of Library of Congress]

By late August Ludendorff and Hindenburg encircled Samsonov's army near Uzdowo, about twenty miles from Tannenberg. The four-day battle, which came to be known as the Battle of Tannenberg, ended on August 31. One of Ludendorff's staff officers suggested giving the battle the name Tannenberg in order to put the stamp of victory on the location of an old German defeat. It was at Tannenberg in 1410 that the Grand Duchy of Lithuania and the Kingdom of Poland had defeated the Teutonic Knights.

Several factors contributed to the German victory in the so-called Battle of Tannenberg. The two Russian armies, separated by the Masurian Lakes, were not able to communicate and thus coordinate with each other effectively. Uncoded Russian radio communications were intercepted. Though both German and Russian aviators were able to spot and report on their enemy's positions, Samsonov ignored his pilots' information, while Hindenburg went so far as to conclude, "Without the airmen no Tannenberg."3 This early WWI battle may also have demonstrated that the airplane could be used for more than reconnaissance purposes alone. Alphonse Poirée, a French pilot who, with his airplane, was in Russia when the war began, volunteered his services to Samsonov, and, having hand-deployed a 42 mm explosive, may therefore have been the first aviator in history to bomb an enemy position.4


German poster, 1914,
illustrating victory at Tannenberg

[Image Courtesy of
Imperial War Museum, London]

Of the 150,000 men in Samsonov's army, nearly 100,000 were taken prisoner; 50,000 were dead or wounded. German casualties numbered only 15,000.5 The magnitude of the disaster caused Samsonov to commit suicide. As a testimony to the awful toll of WWI battles, the number of casualties that drove Samsonov to take his own life was smaller than casualty figures already suffered on the Western Front, and smaller than would take place in campaigns yet to be waged in the war.6

One week following the Battle of Tannenberg, the Russians suffered another humiliating defeat in the Battle of Masurian Lakes, where 125,000 Russian soldiers were killed, wounded, or taken prisoner. German casualties numbered only 10,000.7 Rennenkampf was forced back into Russia by mid-September.

In less than a month of their invasion of East Prussia, the Russians had been pushed back onto Russian soil. Three-fourths of the invading Russian soldiers had been killed, wounded, or captured.8

Though the Russian offensive into East Prussia ended in failure, its initial success, which caused von Moltke to reassign two corps of German soldiers from the Western Front to East Prussia, contributed to the German failure to advance on Paris.9 Ironically, by September 1914 the Germans had achieved the opposite of what the Schlieffen Plan was designed to accomplish in the first weeks of the war. France was not defeated and the Western Front was the scene of stalemate; in the east the Russian armies, unexpectedly quick to mobilize and take the offensive on German soil, had forced a much larger commitment of German soldiers than was thought necessary to protect Germany's eastern frontier.

In 1927 Germany's President Paul von Hindenburg, the victorious general at the Battle of Tannenberg thirteen years earlier, dedicated a memorial in Hohenstein (then in German East Prussia, today in Olsztynek, Poland) honoring the German victory at Tannenberg. When Hindenburg died in 1934, he and his wife (she had died in 1921) were interred there. As Soviet troops neared the Tannenberg memorial during WWII, German soldiers removed the Hindenburgs' remains; they were eventually interred in Marburg, Germany. Beginning in 1949 the Polish government began the complete dismantling of the memorial. The site today is a public park.


  1. H. P. Willmott, Historical Atlas of World War I (New York: Henry Holt and Company, 1994), p. 28.
  2. Spencer Tucker, ed., World War I: A Student Encyclopedia (Santa Barbara, California: ABC-CLIO, Inc., 2006), p. 1918.
  3. Lee Kennett, The First Air War, 1914-1918 (New York: The Free Press, 1991), p. 31.
  4. Ibid.
  5. History of World War I (3 Vols; New York: Marshall Cavendish Corporation, 2002), Vol. I, p. 157.
  6. John Keegan, The First World War (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1999), p. 149.
  7. History of World War I, Vol. I, p. 157.
  8. Russell Freedman, The War to End All Wars: World War I (Boston: Clarion Books, 2010), p. 44.
  9. B. H. Liddell Hart, The Real War: 1914-1918 (Boston: Little, Brown and Company, 1964), p. 71.

Return to Table of Contents

Treaty of London

In the Treaty of London, signed secretly by Italy, Britain, France, and Russia on April 26, 1915, Italy joined the Allies in return for significant territorial compensation should the war end in an Allied victory. Italy would gain Trentino, the majority of whose population was ethnic Italian1, Istria, Trieste, Cisalpine Tyrol, Dalmatia, Valona in Albania, and a share of German and Ottoman territories.

Italy declared war on Austria on May 26, 1915, and on Germany on August 27, 1916.

Return to Table of Contents

Lusitania

Contributor:  Michael McKee

In February 1915 Germany announced that it would sink any Allied ship entering the waters around the British Isles, and anyone traveling on the ships of neutral nations would also be at risk. U. S. protests over the so-called "war zone" failed to modify German policy.

In 1915 German u-boats torpedoed six ships carrying passengers of neutral nations. In the Irish Sea in late March a u-boat attack on the British passenger ship Falaba took the lives of 111 passengers, one an American. About one month later the Gulfight, a U. S. merchant vessel, was torpedoed off the coast of Sicily; the ship did not sink, but two Americans were among the thirty-two who died.

Neither of those attacks would compare in magnitude to the loss of lives when the British passenger liner Lusitania was torpedoed off the southern coast of Ireland.

The RMS Lusitania, which had made its maiden voyage from Liverpool, England, to New York in September 1907, was on its 212th crossing of the Atlantic when, on May 7, 1915, a German u-boat sank it, taking the lives of 1,198, passengers and crew members. One hundred twenty-eight Americans perished in the sinking. Only about one third of the passengers and crewmembers survived, as the Lusitania sank in only eighteen minutes.

News of the sinking brought outrage in the United States. The lives of innocent Americans, citizens of a country not at war in1915, were lost as a result of sailing on a passenger ship. The German cruelty seemed inexcusable. Former president Theodore Roosevelt saw the sinking as "not merely piracy, but piracy on a vaster scale of murder than old time pirates ever practiced…. It seems inconceivable that we can refrain from taking action. . . ." In his neutrality proclamation nine months earlier Wilson had asked Americans not to take sides, to remain neutral in thought and in action. What would become of neutrality now?

Publicly, Wilson seemed long suffering when he stated shortly after the Lusitania sinking, "There is such a thing as a man being too proud to fight. There is such a thing as a nation being so right that it does not need to convince others by force." In official dispatches to Germany, however, Wilson implied consequences if Germany would not recognize America's right to freedom of the seas. As neutrals, Americans should have the freedom to travel anywhere, even into the war zone, and even on non-combatant ships of nations at war. Fearing that Wilson's uncompromising stance would result in war with Germany, William Jennings Bryan resigned as Secretary of State in June, one month after the Lusitania sinking.

Return to Table of Contents

Arabic and Sussex

Contributor:  Horacio Lopes-Segura

Just 103 days after the Lusitania sinking, the British passenger ship Arabic was torpedoed and sunk off the coast of southern Ireland. Three Americans were among the forty passengers who were killed.

In an effort to calm the renewed saber-rattling in the United States the German government issued the "Arabic Pledge." "Liners will not be sunk by our submarines without warning and without safety of the lives of non-combatants, provided that the liners do not try to escape or offer resistance."

In March 1916 a German u-boat torpedoed and sank the French passenger ship Sussex in the English Channel. Several Americans were injured in the attack and the U. S. government protested the apparent violation of the Arabic Pledge. President Wilson warned Germany that if its submarine policy did not change the United States would sever diplomatic relations. In the "Sussex Pledge," the German government, aware of the potential catastrophe of having another major industrial power as its enemy, made guarantees that u-boats would leave merchant and passenger vessels alone.

The so-called Arabic and Sussex pledges reflected Germany's hope the United States would not enter the war. Failure to adhere to those pledges could lead to an end in diplomatic relations between the two countries.

Return to Table of Contents

Gallipoli Campaign

Contributor:  Dustin Briggs

[Map Courtesy of Australian War Memorial]

Stalemate on the Western Front prompted Winston Churchill, Britain's First Lord of the Admiralty, to promote a naval strategy he believed would hasten an Allied victory in the war. Churchill proposed a naval attack on the Ottoman capital at Constantinople (which would be renamed Istanbul in 1930). He proposed that a combined British and French fleet enter the Dardanelles Strait and bombard the forts guarding the thirty-mile-long passage, then sail into the Sea of Marmara to bombard Constantinople and knock Turkey out of the war.

With control of the Dardanelles Strait, and the Bosporus Strait linking the Sea of Marmara with the Black Sea, Allied shipping could bring much-needed military supplies to Russia, whose ability to wage war in the east had suffered crippling setbacks as a result of horrendous losses to the Germans in the Battles of Tannenberg

[Map Courtesy of Australian War Memorial]

(August 1914) and Masurian Lakes (September 1914). Without access to the Mediterranean Sea, Russian imports fell by 95%; imports and exports could only take place at Archangel—which, on the White Sea, was ice-bound for half the year—and Vladivostok on the Sea of Japan, eight thousand miles from the fighting on the Eastern Front.1 Defeating the Turks and opening a supply route to Russia would compromise the ability of Germany and the Austro-Hungarian Empire to continue the war on both fronts. Grand Admiral Alfred von Tirpitz, Secretary of State of the German Imperial Naval Office, understood what was at stake. "Should the Dardanelles fall," he wrote during the Gallipoli campaign, "then the world war has been decided against us."2 The Allies also expected that defeating the Turks would encourage Bulgaria, Greece, and Romania to enter the war on the Allied side.3

Churchill convinced Lord Horatio Kitchener, the British Secretary of State for War, and other members of the British War Council, to approve the Gallipoli plan in January 1915. Under the command of British Admiral Sir Sackville Carden, an Anglo-French fleet was assembled and based at the Aegean islands of Lemmos, Mudros, and Tenedos. Naval bombardment of Turkish fortresses overlooking the Dardanelles Strait began on February 19, 1915, though with nominal effect, and weather conditions forced temporary interruptions in the attack. Carden was nevertheless confident in success. He noted in a cable to Churchill on March 4 that he expected to reach Constantinople within two weeks. On March 18 the Anglo-French fleet again entered the Dardanelles Strait. Historian John Keegan would write, "Even in the long history of the Dardanelles, such an armada had never been seen there before."4 But the size and fire power of the fleet was overmatched by Turkish artillery and mines, which Allied trawlers, under heavy fire from shore batteries, were not able to clear, especially at the one-mile-wide Narrows where the mines were concentrated. Three battleships were sunk and two others were incapacitated by mines and Turkish artillery. Seven hundred sailors lost their lives.

ANZACs on Gallipoli Peninsula, May 29, 1915

Vice-Admiral Sir John de Robeck, who had replaced ailing Carden as commander of the Anglo-French fleet, decided that the Strait could not be forced by naval action alone. An amphibious landing would be necessary to silence the Turkish guns protecting the Dardanelles Strait. General Sir Ian Hamilton commanded the 70,000 men of the Mediterranean Expeditionary Force—British, ANZAC (Australian and New Zealand Army Corps), and French—which was assembled in Egypt. Hamilton's strategy was to land forces on the Gallipoli Peninsula and destroy the Turkish artillery positions. British troops would land on Cape Helles on the southern tip of the Gallipoli peninsula; ANZACs would land on the western side of the peninsula, about ten miles to the north, at Gaba Tepe.

The Gallipoli Peninsula landings began on April 25, 1915, with British and French troops establishing beachheads at five locations at Cape Helles and with ANZAC troops landing at Gaba Tepe. ANZACs went ashore at a place that came to be called Anzac Cove, about one mile north of their intended beach, and they had to climb cliffs before advancing against enemy positions. They were never able to take Chunuk Bair, high ground defended by the Turks. Counterattacks were skillfully conducted by Lieutenant Colonel Mustafa Kemal.

To the south at Cape Helles, the Turks pinned British forces to the beaches, and casualties were heavy. The Turks withdrew northwards to a line extending east and west from a point about one mile south of the village Krithia. Three assaults on this Turkish line from late April to early June 1915 all ended in failure, in part because the Turks held high ground positions, and the Turks mounted several counterattacks.

In sum, the Allied forces remained largely pinned down where they had come ashore. Contrary to all intentions, a deadlock in the trenches characterized the Gallipoli Campaign, as it had already characterized the Western Front.

In an attempt to end the stalemate, Hamilton proposed another landing on the Gallipoli Peninsula's west coast, behind Turkish lines at Suvla Bay, about five miles north of Anzac Cove. ANZACs there and at Anzac Cove were to advance against Turkish positions in the hills immediately inland while British troops at Cape Helles were to commence a diversionary attack and advance northward, linking up with the ANZACs. Under the command of Lieutenant General Sir Frederick Stopford, the Suvla Bay landing went unopposed on August 6, but Stopford failed to advance his forces inland. Turkish forces counterattacked and British troops from Cape Helles failed to advance northwards.

Mustafa Kemal

[Photograph Courtesy of
Imperial War Museum, London]

Following the failure of the August offensive, Hamilton's requests for additional forces were denied, and he was relieved of command on October 15, 1915. One day later his replacement, General Charles Monro, recommended evacuating the Gallipoli Peninsula. Churchill, whose reputation suffered as a result of the Gallipoli failure, later commented of Monro, "He came, he saw, he capitulated."5 Under cover of night, withdrawal began in early December 1915; the last of the Allied troops departed from Cape Helles on January 9, 1916. Remarkably, no lives were lost in the evacuation.

Some 28,000 Britons, 10,000 ANZACs, 10,000 French, and 1,500 Indians lost their lives, as did 66,000 Turks.6 British General Sir William Robertson, who replaced Lieutenant General Sir Archibald Murray as Chief of the Imperial General Staff during the Gallipoli Campaign evacuation, judged the Gallipoli campaign "A wonderful example of gallantry and endurance by men and a calamitous display of mismanagement by authority."7 The Allied failure at Gallipoli meant the stalemate would continue on the Western Front and Russia would almost certainly face more military losses on the Eastern Front.

There were repercussions at home. In November 1915 Churchill, an early advocate of the Gallipoli campaign, resigned from his position as First Lord of the Admiralty, and Kitchener offered to resign, though Prime Minister Asquith refused to accept it. The next month David Lloyd George replaced Asquith as prime minister. Meanwhile, Mustafa Kemal, a hero of Turkish defense on the Gallipoli Peninsula, enjoyed increasing popularity; in 1924 he became the first president of the Republic of Turkey. Ten years later Turkey's parliament bestowed on him the title Ataturk, "Father of the Turks."

In 1934 President Kemal unveiled a monument at Anzac Cove, inscribed with his words of comfort to nations that had been former enemies.

Those heroes that shed their blood and lost their lives—You are now living in the soil of a friendly country. Therefore rest in peace. There is no difference between the Johnnies and the Mehmets to us where they lie side by side here in this country of ours. You, the mothers, who sent their sons from faraway countries, wipe away your tears; your sons are now lying in our bosom and are in peace. After having lost their lives on this land, they have become our sons as well.


  1. Barbara Tuchman, The Guns of August (New York: Ballantine Books, 1994), p. 161.
  2. Alfred von Tirpitz, My Memoirs (2 Vols, New York: Dodd, Mead and Company, 1919), II, p. 369: books.google.com.
  3. National Archives, UK, "Battles: The Gallipoli Campaign": nationalarchives.gov.uk.
  4. John Keegan, The First World War (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1999), p. 238.
  5. Quoted in Lloyd Clark, World War I: An Illustrated History (London: Bounty Books, 2004), p. 66.
  6. National Archives, UK, "Battles: The Gallipoli Campaign": nationalarchives.gov.uk.
  7. Quoted in S. L. A. Marshall, World War I (np: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1987), p. 193.

Return to Table of Contents

Battle of Jutland

Contributor:  Christopher Stanton

From May 31 to June 1, 1916, British and German fleets fought the most significant naval battle of the war. In the Battle of Jutland, about sixty-five miles to the west of Denmark's Jutland Peninsula, Admiral Sir John Jellicoe's British fleet suffered greater losses than did the German High Seas Fleet. A dozen German ships were sunk and about 2,500 German sailors were killed. The Royal Navy lost fourteen ships and about 6,100 men were killed. But Admiral Reinhardt von Scheer, not wanting to lose any more ships, elected to withdraw from battle and return the German High Seas Fleet to his North Sea Ports.

Both Germany and Britain claimed victory, Germany for inflicting more damage, and Britain for maintaining its control of the North Sea.

So crucial to Great Britain was maintaining naval superiority that had the German fleet won an indisputable victory at Jutland, the island nation Great Britain would have been left largely unprotected, and British defeat in the war would have seemed all the more likely. Winston Churchill, then First Lord of the Admiralty, assessed Great Britain's situation when he commented, "Sir John Jelllicoe was the only man on either side who could lose the war in an afternoon."

After Jutland, Germany's naval activity was based almost entirely on its u-boats, and German strategy involving the u-boat, a strategy that was the consequence of Jutland, would inevitably bring the United States into the Great War.

Return to Table of Contents

The Battle of Verdun

Contributors:  Faith Cramer, Kyle DeLima

Fort Douaumont, Verdun

[Photo Courtesy of Michael St. Maur Sheil,
Western Front Photography]

German Chief of Staff Erich von Falkenhayn claimed in his memoirs, written after the war, that he had proposed a concentrated German attack on Verdun, including the numerous fortresses in the immediate area, believing that the French would defend at all costs their historically significant fortress city. Falkenhayn's goal, as he claimed in his memoirs, was not necessarily a breakthrough, but a siege that would "bleed France white." The French army would be so decimated that France would have to capitulate.

Under the command of Crown Prince Wilhelm, heir to the throne of Germany, the Battle of Verdun began on February 21, 1916, with a punishing ten-hour artillery bombardment along an eight-mile front.

Early German successes in capturing several Verdun area forts—Fort Douaumont to the east of Verdun on February 25, for example—may have been unwittingly facilitated by French commander-in-chief Joseph Joffre's decision, made before the Verdun siege began, to remove many of Verdun's guns in order to augment French artillery power in other areas.

Liouville, part of Verdun fortifications,

[Photo Courtesy of Michael St. Maur Sheil,
Western Front Photography]

On the day Fort Douaumont fell Joffre gave command of Verdun to General Henri-Philippe Pétain, replacing General Fernand de Langle de Cary. Pétain would boldly—and memorably— promise, "Ils ne passeront pas!" ["They shall not pass!"]. Over the ensuing months Petain realized that the defense of Verdun required safeguarding and improving Verdun's only source of supplies for its 500,000 French soldiers, a narrow road, later referred to as La Voie Sacrée [the Sacred Way], and a parallel railroad, both connecting Verdun with Bar-le-Duc, about forty-five miles to the southwest. Pétain also regularly furloughed front-lines divisions, replacing them with new ones. In this manner, about 75% of all French soldiers would eventually participate in the Battle of Verdun.

On May 1, 1916, Pétain was promoted to command the Army Group Centre, which included Verdun. General Robert Nivelle was Pétain's replacement as commander of Verdun's defense.

By June the siege of Verdun had become a battle of attrition, neither side giving ground, and casualty figures strained the confidence and commitment of both sides. June marked the fourth month of the siege of Verdun (the siege would go on for six more months) and Falkenhayn's position as Chief of Staff was already in jeopardy.1

Ouvrage de Thiaumont, Verdun

[Photo Courtesy of Michael St. Maur Sheil,
Western Front Photography]

The German assault upon Verdun was undermined when, from June-August 1916, the successful Russian Brusilov Offensive against the Austrians necessitated the reassignment of German troops from Verdun to the Eastern Front. Likewise, the July 1916 Battle of the Somme—a Franco-British offensive against German forces at the Somme River, about 125 miles northwest of Verdun—required the withdrawal of some German artillery from the assault on Verdun.2 German Chancellor Theobald von Bethmann-Hollweg had meanwhile become increasingly critical of Falkenhayn's failure to capture Verdun and on August 28 Kaiser Wilhelm II replaced Falkenhayn with a new Chief of the General Staff, Paul von Hindenburg. Falkenhayn was given command of Central Powers units fighting against the Romanians, who had entered the war that month.

Meanwhile, command of the Verdun defense had passed to General Charles Mangin, who became a national hero when, on October 24,

Pile of human bones, Verdun

[Photo Courtesy of Library of Congress]

the French recaptured Fort Douaumont (which had fallen on February 25) and, on November 2, recaptured Fort Vaux (which had fallen on June 7). By the third week of December the French had retaken most of the ground which had been lost to the Germans since the battle began in February.3

The ten-month Battle of Verdun ended with both the French and German positions back to where they had started, and France and Germany had each suffered more than one-half million casualties; some 350,000 French and 350,000 Germans were killed, the highest density of deaths per square yard of any battle fought during WWI.4 Falkenhayn had failed to force French capitulation and, ironically, the number of deaths the Germans had suffered in trying to bring about French collapse lead to Falkenhayn's reassignment and German abandonment of the Verdun sector. The Battle of Verdun came to symbolize the horrible toll that trench warfare would take in the Great War. Remarkably, the scars of that battle have never disappeared. Twenty-six million artillery bombardments5 over a ten-month period had stripped the Verdun area of its trees and re-contoured the land with countless craters of all sizes, a transformation of the landscape still evident today, nearly a century later. The bones of heretofore undiscovered soldiers surface from-time-to-time, and are added to the bone piles of the 130,000 other unidentified French and German soldiers in the Douaumont Ossuary memorial.6



  1. John Keegan, The First World War (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1999), p. 286.
  2. Donald Murphy, Turning Points in World History: World War I (San Diego, California: Greenhaven Press, Inc., 2002), p. 90.
  3. Tom and Sara Pendergast, World War I Almanac (New York City: Gale Group, 2002), p. 51.
  4. Murphy, p. 90.
  5. http://www.verdun-douaumont.com/en/index.html.
  6. Ibid.

Return to Table of Contents

Resumption of Unrestricted Submarine Warfare

With a stalemate in Europe German strategy changed. Believing that resuming unrestricted submarine warfare could result in British collapse, Field Marshall Paul von Hindenburg and General Erich von Ludendorff convinced the German Chancellor Theobald von Bethmann-Hollweg to abandon earlier pledges not to attack merchant and passenger vessels. Germany gambled that it could bring Britain to its knees before the United States could mobilize and deploy its troops in Europe.

Germany therefore announced that, effective February 1, 1917, it would resume a policy of unrestricted submarine warfare. Due in part to the convoy system, which had just been put into effect, the effectiveness of u-boat attacks declined, and by the time the U. S. declared war and was able to deploy the AEF in Europe Britain was still in the war.

On February 3, 1917, the U. S. merchant ship Housatonic was sunk, and though no lives were lost President Wilson severed diplomatic relations with Germany that day.

Return to Table of Contents

President Wilson Announces End to Diplomatic Relations with Germany

On January 31, 1917, the German Ambassador Count von Bernstorff advised Secretary of State Robert Lansing that, effective the next day, Germany would resume unrestricted submarine warfare. All ships could be attacked in the war zone. Three days later, on February 3, the day the U. S. merchant ship Housatonic was torpedoed and sunk, President Wilson severed diplomatic relations with Germany.

Return to Table of Contents

Armed Neutrality

Following the February 1 German resumption of unrestricted submarine warfare, following the diplomatic break with Germany two days later, and a day after the loss of two American lives in the u-boat torpedoing of the British passenger ship Laconia, Wilson took steps he hoped would protect Americans on the high seas. On February 26 Wilson asked Congress for authority to arm merchant ships. In the House of Representatives the Armed Ship Bill passed with little opposition (403-13), but in the Senate "a little group of willful men," as Wilson described them, filibustered the bill. Eight days after the close of the congressional session, and acting on executive authority, Wilson ordered the arming of merchant vessels that would enter the war zone.

Return to Table of Contents

Zimmermann Telegram

Contributor:  Alec Wittschiebe

In January 1917 British intelligence deciphered a coded telegram sent from German Foreign Minister Arthur Zimmermann to Germany's Minister to Mexico. The telegram proposed that if Mexico were to ally with Germany, Germany would help return territory to Mexico that Mexico ceded to the United States following the Mexican War. That territory included Texas, New Mexico, and Arizona. British intelligence handed over the deciphered telegram to President Wilson, and, once the story was published in American newspapers on March 1, the American public became outraged at the German attempt to foment war between Mexico and the United States. The Zimmermann Telegram contributed significantly to growing anti-German public feelings in the United States, particularly since the safety of neutral Americans had been threatened by Germany's February 1 resumption of unrestricted submarine warfare.

Return to Table of Contents

March Revolution

In March 1917 Czar Nicholas II abdicated, and the Duma, or Russian parliament, took control of the country. Strikes, mutinies in the military, and political instability continued, but to the outside world it appeared, at least for the moment, that Russia, once the only absolutist member of the Allied Powers, was now on the verge of becoming a democratic state like all the others.

Return to Table of Contents

On-Going U-Boat Attacks

In late February the British passenger ship Laconia, en route to Liverpool from New York City, was torpedoed and sunk off the Irish coast. Among the twelve who lost their lives were two American passengers. That event was a factor in President Wilson's decision to seek congressional legislation to arm American merchant vessels. In March, several American merchant vessels were torpedoed and sunk. The German attacks on those vessels—the Algonquin, City of Memphis, Vigilancia, Illinois, and Healdton—convinced President Wilson that American neutrality was not possible.

Return to Table of Contents

Wilson's War Message

Contributors:  Sarah McMaster,  Max Parriott,  Elena Sakopoulos

President Wilson Delivering War Message To Congress
Color Film Copy Transparency

[Image Courtesy of Library of Congress]

Despite the defensive steps Wilson had taken in arming American merchant vessels, there could be no guaranteed safety for Americans at sea following the German government's announcement that, beginning on February 1, 1917, it would resume unrestricted submarine warfare. One day before Wilson went before Congress asking for authority to arm U. S. merchant vessels, two more American lives were lost in the sinking of a British passenger ship. Then, in March, American vulnerability resulting from unrestricted submarine warfare became increasingly evident when five American vessels were attacked with the loss of more American lives. Wilson called for a special session of Congress.

German violation of U. S. neutrality and the Zimmermann Telegram, which outraged the American public, prompted Wilson to ask Congress for a declaration of war against Germany. In his war message to a joint session of Congress on April 2, President Wilson described Germany's submarine policy as "warfare against mankind." The United States would enter the war because "The world must be made safe for democracy."

The joint congressional resolution declaring a state of war against Germany passed on April 6. The vote was 82-6 in the Senate and 373-50 in the House of Representatives. The resolution was signed by President Wilson that day.

A joint congressional resolution declaring a state of war against the Austro-Hungarian Empire passed on December 7 with one dissenting vote. The resolution was signed by President Wilson that day.

Because the United States went to war as an "associated power," a member of the Allied and Associated Powers, the United States was therefore able to restrict the scope of its involvement in the Great War. Like the Allied Powers, the United States was at war with Germany and the Austro-Hungarian Empire; unlike other Allied Powers the United States was not at war with the Kingdom of Bulgaria and the Ottoman Empire.

Return to Table of Contents

Status of Army and Navy in April 1917

When Wilson's war declaration passed Congress on April 6, 1917, the U. S. Army, numbering only 200,000 men, was small and ill-equipped.

In August 1916 Congress authorized construction of 157 warships— battleships, cruisers, destroyers, submarines, and gunboats, for example. As a result, the Navy would be better prepared for war than was the Army when the U. S. entered the Great War in April 1917. At that time the navy, with fourteen dreadnoughts, 250 destroyers, 36 submarines and 80,000 sailors, was among the best navies in the world.

Return to Table of Contents

War Industries Board

Contributors:  Horacio Lopez-Segura,  Forrest Minter

A major responsibility of the Council of National Defense, established in August 1916, was to coordinate industrial production, but after the U. S. declaration of war in April 1917, congressional criticism of the CND's inefficiency in wartime prompted President Wilson to create the more powerful War Industries Board (WIB), and Wilson appointed Bernard Baruch, a Wall Street financier, to direct it.

The primary mission of the War Industries Board, which went into operation in late July 1917, was to facilitate government war purchases. The WIB had power to prioritize goals in production, set prices of materials the government needed to purchase, standardize industrial procedures, and—though the WIB never exercised this power—take-over and operate industries if necessary. The goals of the WIB were to increase production, convert industrial plants to war production, decrease waste, and facilitate the production of war materials necessary for the U. S. war effort.

When the war ended, President Wilson disbanded the WIB by executive order on January 1, 1919.

Return to Table of Contents

Committee on Public Information

Contributors:  Faith Cramer, Campbell Smith

One week after signing the declaration of war against Germany, Wilson followed the advice of the Secretaries of State, War, and Navy, establishing, by executive order, the Committee on Public Information (CPI), a government agency responsible for releasing information on the progress of the war. The CPI would educate the American public about the war and forge solid American support for the war effort. The committee used newspapers, radio, movie-making, posters, and public speeches as means of garnering support for the war and hatred for the enemy.

The CPI was chaired by George Creel, a Kansas City, Missouri, newspaper reporter and muckraking journalist whose writings, for example, exposed the abuses of child labor. Creel also authored a pro-Wilson tract during the 1916 presidential campaign. The CPI, later also referred to as the Creel Committee, included Secretary of State Robert Lansing, Secretary of War Newton Baker, and Secretary of the Navy Josephus Daniels.

The CPI used a variety of means to unify Americans behind the war effort. Millions of "red, white and blue" pamphlets promoted the Allied mission to defeat the Central Powers. The CPI's Division of News released thousands of press releases. Film celebrities—Theda Bara, Charlie Chaplin, Douglas Fairbanks, and Mary Pickford, for example—made public appearances encouraging Americans to buy War Bonds. Hollywood studios cooperated by producing such propagandistic films as "The Kaiser, the Beast of Berlin" and "To Hell With the Kaiser." The so-called "Four Minute Men," some 75,000 volunteers selected in communities across the country by prominent citizens in their communities, gave brief speeches encouraging Americans to enlist and buy war bonds. Illustrators were hired to paint posters depicting the enemy as uncivilized and brutal or encouraging Americans to buy war bonds, contribute to the Red Cross, and enlist. Perhaps the CPI's most lasting single image is James Montgomery Flagg's "I Want You for the U. S. Army" recruiting poster.

Though clearly propagandistic, the Committee on Public Information played a key role in promoting patriotism and unifying American public opinion against the perceived injustice and supposed cruelty of the Central Powers. Nine months after the Armistice President Wilson issued an executive order disbanding the CPI.

Return to Table of Contents

Pershing and the First American Soldiers Arrive in France

Contributor:  Rachel White

Magazine Illustration,
Americans Arrive in France

[Image Courtesy of
World War One Historical Association]

When the United States declared war on Germany in April 1917, the U. S. Army numbered only about 125,000 men. By the time the war ended in November 1918, about four million men had served in the U. S. Army, another 800,000 in the Coast Guard, Marines, and Navy. Of the four million in the U. S. Army, half, known as the American Expeditionary Force (AEF), were deployed to France under the command of General John J. Pershing. At two million men, the American Expeditionary Force was comparable in size to the British army (1.8 million) and French army (2.2 million) fighting in France.1

Prior to World War I the United States had never sent soldiers abroad to defend foreign soil. The vanguard of those two million men—General John Pershing and about two hundred soldiers and civilian staff members—arrived at Boulogne-sur-Mer, France, on June 13, 1917. They were the first American soldiers ever to be sent to continental Europe. A week earlier they had been the first to land in England. On June 26, 1917, about two weeks after arriving in France, Pershing greeted about 14,000 men of the First Division as they disembarked at Saint-Nazaire, France.

Gerneral John Pershing and Staff at Tomb of Lafayette

[Photo Courtesy of Library of Congress]

To welcome the arrival of this first sizable group of the AEF in France, a parade took place in Paris on July 4, Pershing and a battalion of the First Division's 16th Infantry Regiment participating. On that day Pershing and his staff visited the tomb of the Marquis de Lafayette, the French aristocrat whose voluntary service in General George Washington's Continental Army heralded the Franco-American Alliance during the American War of Independence. Pershing spoke of the American mission to "battle and to vanquish for the liberty of the world."2 Lt. Col. Charles Stanton, a Quartermaster officer who was fluent in French, delivered a speech implying an American obligation to repay an old debt when he proudly proclaimed, "Lafayette, nous voilà" ["Lafayette, we are here"].


  1. Hew Strachan, The First World War (New York City: Viking, 2003), p. 310.
  2. Heywood Brown, The A. E. F. with General Pershing and the American Forces (New York: D. Appleton and Company, 1919), p. 35: http://archive.org.

Return to Table of Contents



"Teddies" become "Doughboys"

Shouts of "Vive les Teddies" welcomed the American soldiers who had come to help save France, but Pershing did not like the sobriquet, and an American correspondent's proposal that they be called "Sammies" did not gain support among American soldiers.1 Among the proposals resulting from First Division Commander Major General William Sibert's call for suggestions were "Yank," "Yankee," "Johnny Yank," and "Doughboy." The suggestion of "doughboy" took hold, a name of uncertain meaning, one theory being that the name came from one soldier who facetiously asked another if the caked white mud on his boots was the result of walking in dough.2


  1. Heywood Brown, The A. E. F. with General Pershing and the American Forces (New York: D. Appleton and Company, 1919), p. 35: http://archive.org.
  2. Ibid., pp. 39-40.

Return to Table of Contents



First American Combat and First American Combat Deaths

Contributor:  Violet Elder

Following four months of training on French soil, units of the First Division took up a position near Nancy, France. There on October 21, 1917, Cpl. Robert Bralet of the Sixth Artillery fired a 75mm gun at a German position. That was the first shot fired by an American in the Great War.

On the night of November 2-3, 1917, a German raid on an American trench position near Bathelémont-les-Bauzemont resulted in the deaths of three American soldiers of Company F, 16th Infantry, First Division. Pvt. Thomas Enright of Pittsburg, Pennsylvania, Cpl. James Gresham of Evansville, Indiana, and Pvt. Merle Hay of Glidden, Iowa, were the first Americans to die in combat in the Great War. They were buried on November 4 where they were killed, and, in their memory, the French government later erected a monument at the site. In 1921, three years after the war ended, they were disinterred and brought to the United States for burial in their hometowns. Enright was buried at St. Mary Cemetery in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

Burial of First Three American Doughboys Killed in Action

[Photo Courtesy of State Historical Society of Iowa]

Gresham was buried in Locust Hill Cemetery in Evansville, Indiana. Hay was buried in West Lawn Cemetery, later renamed Merle Hay Memorial Cemetery, in Glidden, Iowa.

By November 1918 when the war ended, about 116,000 Americans had given their lives. Their sacrifice and the commitment of the 4.7 million Americans who served in the Armed Forces in those years helped bring the war to an end. American participation in the war arguably doomed the Central Powers. The British military historian John Keegan proposes, "Rare are the times in a great war when the fortunes of one side or the other are transformed by the sudden accretion of a disequilibrating reinforcement. . . . President Wilson's decision to declare war on Germany and its allies had brought such an accretion to the Allied side."*



  1. * John Keegan, The First World War (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1999), p. 373.

Return to Table of Contents



Fourteen Points

Contributors:  Jaime Echeverria, Lucas Immer, Sarah McMaster

In an address before a joint session of Congress on January 8, 1918, President Woodrow Wilson announced his "Fourteen Points," a set of proposals that he believed would prepare the way for peace and then maintain international peace once the Great War came to an end. The document was the product of Wilson's collaboration with his personal White House advisor Edward House and a group of about one hundred foreign policy academicians who took the name "The Inquiry." The Fourteen Points called for

  1. "open covenants, openly arrived at." In other words, Wilson hoped to outlaw secretly held international negotiations
  2. freedom of the seas whether in peace or in war
  3. removal of economic barriers among nations
  4. reduction of armaments
  5. reconsideration of colonial possessions, giving deference to the national aspirations of colonial peoples
  6. returning Russian territories seized during the war and international acceptance of the new Russian government
  7. restoration of Belgium as an independent nation
  8. returning the provinces of Alsace and Lorraine to France
  9. relocating the Italo-Austrian border with deference to Italians living in Austrian-claimed territory
  10. Partition of the Austro-Hungarian Empire allowing the empire's multiple nationalities "autonomous development"
  11. Relocating boundaries in the Balkan Peninsula with deference to the region's nationalities
  12. Dissolution of the Ottoman empire and the granting of autonomy to its subject peoples with Turkey ruling Turks alone and freedom of navigation through the Dardanelles Strait guaranteed to all nations
  13. Creation of an independent Poland with access to the North Sea
  14. "a general association of nations"

Wilson's speech was hailed in the United States for having articulated war aims that seemed motivated by a sense of morality and fairness. His Fourteen Points, as Wilson saw it, was intended to bring "peace without victory." But the realities of a brutal war—one in which England, France, and Italy had already been engaged for nearly four years by the time Wilson gave his address—made his proposals seem idealistic, even unrealistic, and therefore challenging for the Allied Nations to embrace. French Premier Georges Clemenceau is supposed to have commented, "God gave us His Ten Commandments and we broke them. Wilson gave us his Fourteen Points—we shall see."

Besides looking ahead to a lasting peace, Wilson may have had additional ambitions in announcing his Fourteen Points. Point 6 may have been intended to keep Russia in the war, engaging the Central Powers on the Eastern Front, and thus forcing Germany to maintain a two-front war. In any case, by the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk, Bolshevik Russia capitulated to Germany two months following Wilson's Fourteen Points address.

Points 10 and 12 may have been intended to de-stabilize the Austro-Hungarian and Ottoman empires, encouraging nationalistic disruptions while the war was in progress.

Return to Table of Contents



Battle of Cantigny

Contributor:  Campbell Smith

The first American advance upon an enemy position in WWI took place about seventy-five miles north of Paris. In the Battle of Cantigny the Americans liberated the German-held French town on May 28, 1918, and continued to hold the town despite German efforts that day and the next to retake it.

News of the AEF victory buoyed Allied morale, and for Germany, it was the first clear evidence that, after nearly a year of their training in France, American soldiers had not only arrived but would make a difference in the progress of the war on the Western Front.

Return to Table of Contents



Battle of Chateau-Thierry

Contributor:  Katie Artigas

By May 28, 1918, the German Spring Offensive had brought German forces to the Marne River in the vicinity of Chateau-Thierry, which was defended by French forces trying to prevent a German crossing of the river and resultant advance upon Paris, only about forty-five miles to the west.

To reinforce French forces, the U. S. 2nd and 3rd Divisions reached the vicinity of Chateau-Thierry on June 1 and by June 3 saw action against German forces. The 3rd Division defended bridges across the Marne River and, with French assistance, repulsed German attacks. To the west of Chateau-Thierry, between Vaux and Belleau, the 2nd Division, to which were attached the 5th and 6th Marine Regiments, repulsed German attacks.

The successful defense of the Marne set the stage for an Allied counter-offensive that began almost immediately at Belleau Wood, about five miles southeast of Chateau-Thierry.

Return to Table of Contents



Battle of Belleau Wood

Contributor:  Katie Artigas

The twenty-day Battle of Belleau Wood, which began on June 6, 1918, was the first major World War I battle fought by Americans, mostly Marines. It was part of the Allied effort to turn back the German Spring offensive that had brought German troops to within forty miles of Paris.

Belleau Wood is about forty miles east of Paris and about six miles northwest of Chateau-Thierry. American forces included the Army's 2nd and 3rd Divisions; the 5th and 6th Marine Regiments were attached to the Army's 2nd Division.

The cost of capturing Belleau Wood was high. Six assaults on Bellow Woods were required to drive the Germans out. About 1,800 Marines gave their lives before a Marines battalion commander could communicate to headquarters, "Woods now U. S. Marine Corps entirely."1 The risk involved in assaulting Belleau Wood had been forecast by a French soldier who, while retreating with fellow French soldiers through American lines, recommended that the Americans retreat as well. Marine Captain Lloyd Williams famously responded, "Retreat? Hell, we just got here!"2

The twenty-day Battle of Belleau Wood not only terminated the German offensive in the region, but heralded a wide-scale Allied counter-attack that ended the German Spring Offensive. The U. S. Marines, meanwhile, had earned the nickname "Devil Dogs," or Devil Hounds, supposedly translated from the German "Teufelhunden" description of the Marines' fighting spirit which had driven the Germans from Belleau Wood.3 Marine Corps recruitment posters quickly utilized the moniker and canine imagery.


  1. Quoted in History of World War I (3 Vols; Tarrytown, New York: Marshall Cavendish Corporation, 2002), II, p. 433.
  2. John Keegan, An Illustrated History of the First World War (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2001), p. 375.
  3. Peter Bosco, World War I (New York: Facts on File, 2003), p. 93.
Return to Table of Contents



St. Mihiel Offensive

Contributor:  Forrest Minter

Taking place September 12-15, 1918, the Battle of St. Mihiel was an American and French attack on a German salient about twenty miles south of Verdun. About 216,000 American and 48,000 French soldiers took part. It was the first time in the war U. S. forces acted as an independent unit under American commanders.

German and Austrian troops, numbering about 75,000, were concentrated in and around the town of St. Mihiel, located near the western-most rim of the St. Mihiel salient. General John Pershing hoped the campaign would ultimately succeed in capturing Metz, an important railroad hub, while cutting railroad access to Verdun. Being thus closer to the Rhine River, American units would then be in position to begin offensives into Germany.

The American attack, carried out along a 12-mile front, proved successful in part because it took place while the Germans, who had anticipated the American attack, had, the day before, begun to abandon the salient in order to reposition at the heavily fortified Hindenburg Line. Because the German forces were in retreat, their artillery could not be effective against the advancing American and French forces.

American artillery fire began at 1:00 a. m. on September 12. The infantry began its attack four hours later, supported by the greatest number of airplanes yet used in a combat mission. Under the command of Colonel William Mitchell, some 1,500 planes—American, French, and British—machine-gunned German trenches and bombed retreating German soldiers, and engaged some 500 German planes in aerial combat.

In less than 48 hours the Americans counted some 15,000 German prisoners.

The initial American success was, however, undermined by over-extended supply lines over muddy terrain and the resultant inability to provide ammunition supplies to the American artillery and food supplies to the infantry. The muddy landscape also neutralized the potential effectiveness of tanks. General George S. Patton, who appreciated the effectiveness of British tanks during the Battle of Cambrai, had prepared three tank brigades to support the infantry in the Battle of St. Mihiel.

The American and French advance eliminated the St. Mihiel salient, 200 square miles of France, which the Germans had occupied for four years.

Believing Metz was not well defended, Colonel Douglas MacArthur wanted to continue the eastward advance. Despite concurrence by Colonel George C. Marshall, the First Army's chief of operations, French Marshal Ferdinand Foch, supreme commander of the Allied armies, vetoed the proposal. Because Foch did not want his plans for the Meuse-Argonne Offensive to be postponed, an opportunity for a major military success may have been missed. "Without doubt," Pershing wrote, "continuation of the advance would have carried us well beyond the Hindenburg line and possibly into Metz."*

Following the elimination of the St. Mihiel salient, Americans were repositioned north of Verdun between the Meuse River and the Argonne Forest. The Battle of the Meuse-Argonne would follow.


  1. *Quoted in Alvin M. Josephy, Jr., ed., The American Heritage History of World War I (American Heritage Publishing Co., Inc., 1964), p. 333.

Return to Table of Contents



Meuse-Argonne Offensive

Contributor:  Forrest Minter

The Meuse-Argonne Offensive, also known as the Battle of the Argonne Forest, was part of a coordinated Allied offensive—the Grand Offensive—and for the AEF it was the largest and most complex military operation in the Great War. It began along a thirty-mile front north and northwest of Verdun on September 26, 1918; it ended with the Armistice on November 11, 1918.

The purpose of the "Grand Offensive," planned by French Field Marshal Ferdinand Foch, the supreme commander of Allied armies, was to push German troops out of France and Belgium. British, French, and Belgian forces were to advance through Flanders; to their right, British and French forces would attack the Hindenburg Line. The southern-most offensive would be carried out by the U. S. First Army under General John Pershing and, on the First Army's left, the French Fourth Army under Henri Gouraud. The Americans were to advance through the Argonne Forest and the open space flanked by the Meuse River, and in the process breach portions of the Hindenburg Line.

The Meuse-Argonne Offensive began less than two weeks after the successful Allied attack on the St. Mihiel Salient. About two-thirds of the doughboys who had been engaged in that assault were moved about sixty miles to be in position for the Meuse-Argonne Offensive. Colonel George C. Marshall directed the redeployment of those ten AEF divisions (of about 28,000 men each). Besides infantry and artillery units, the Meuse-Argonne Offensive would utilize about three hundred tanks under the command of General Hunter Liggett and Lieutenant Colonel George Patton, and about five hundred airplanes under the command of General William Mitchell

An objective in the Meuse-Argonne Offensive was Sedan, about thirty-five miles distant. As a railroad center, the Germans would have to hold Sedan if they were to continue supplying German forces in France and in Flanders. Allied capture of the railroad line at Sedan would likely force the Germans to evacuate areas in France and Belgium which they had held since the war began in 1914.

Following a 2,700-gun, three-hour artillery barrage, the Meuse-Argonne Offensive began at 5:30 a.m. on September 26, 1918. By the end of the day the Americans had advanced about five miles along the Meuse River and two miles through the Argonne Forest. By noon the next day the Americans had seized the strategic German command and observation post atop Montfaucon. By the end of the month about 10,000 Germans had been taken prisoner.

Despite the success of the offensive in its first few days, numerous factors contributed to unexpectedly heavy casualties. Difficult terrain caused bottleneck traffic jams, and congestion behind the front lines; the influenza epidemic decimated the ranks; fog, rain, and mud slowed movement and complicated logistical support—building of roads over mud and shell holes and the delivery of food and medical supplies, for example. General Pershing brought the offensive to a temporary halt on October 1in part to address mounting logistical issues.

Among the adjustments Pershing made following October 1 was, as group commander, giving command of the First Army to General Hunter Liggett and forming the Second Army under the command of Lieutenant General Robert Bullard. The Second Army's objective would be Metz, the capital of the Lorraine region. Nearly a half-century earlier France had ceded Alsace and Lorraine to Germany in the peace settlement ending the Franco-Prussian War.

The American advance resumed on October 4; by mid-October Americans had breached parts of the Hindenburg Line. By the end of the month the Americans had advanced about ten miles from their positions on the day the offensive began. The French Fourth Army had meanwhile advanced about twice as far. French Premier Georges Clemenceau, frustrated with the apparently dilatory American advance, encouraged Foch to replace Pershing. Foch, aware of the difficult terrain and challenges of the Argonne Forest, did not concur.

In the meantime, while the Grand Offensive was producing a German retreat from the Meuse-Argonne region of France, the Central Powers alliance was disintegrating. Between September 30 and November 3, Bulgaria, Turkey, and Austria-Hungary capitulated. By November 5, American and French forces had Sedan under siege.

On November 7 the German army's Chief of Staff Paul von Hindenburg communicated by telegram with Foch to arrange a date, time, and place to begin negotiations for an armistice. The next day Foch presented the terms of the armistice to German negotiators. On November 9 Kaiser Wilhelm II abdicated and fled to Holland, while a republic was declared in Berlin. Following directions from the new German chancellor Friedrich Ebert, and despite protesting the severity of terms, the German representatives signed the Armistice agreement at about 5:10 a.m. on November 11, 1918, with the actual cease-fire to go into effect at 11:00 a.m. that day.

In the seven-week Meuse-Argonne Offensive 26,000 doughboys were killed, twenty-five percent of all American combat deaths in WWI; 96,000 had been wounded.

Return to Table of Contents



The Lost Battalion

Contributor:  Elena Sakopoulos

In October 1918, during the Meuse-Argonne Offensive, the77th "Statue of Liberty" Division engaged German forces near Charlevaux, France. A group of 554 men from the 77th Division found themselves unexpectedly surrounded by German forces in a ravine of the Charlevaux Valley and, under relentless German attack between October 3 and October 8, 1918, bravely fighting on for their survival. For Division headquarters to the rear, the location of these isolated men was initially unclear and American war correspondents covering the Meuse-Argonne Offensive referred to them as "the Lost Battalion." In fact, two battalions were involved, the ranking commander being Major Charles Whittlesey of the 308th Infantry; second in command was Captain George McMurtry.

These 554 men had advanced farther than fellow American units on their right flank and the French units on their left. Not only were their flanks thus unprotected, but they had advanced ahead of the American line behind them by about two-thirds of a mile. Surrounded by German forces, Whittlesey dispatched three carrier pigeons which successfully delivered messages to regimental headquarters calling for supplies, food, and artillery fire against the surrounding enemy.1 On October 5, with the situation even more desperate, Whittlesey dispatched two of his remaining three carrier pigeons with messages pleading for food and relief.2

In the forest environment neither the French nor the Americans could accurately ascertain their location, and as a result supplies dropped from American planes fell into enemy hands. The situation was made increasingly desperate when, on October 5, the Lost Battalion suffered additional casualties as a result of one and one-half hours of American artillery fire which fell on Whittlesey's position. Some of Whittlesey's men who had escaped the American shelling were captured by the Germans.3 Whittlesey dispatched his last remaining carrier pigeon, this one named Cher Ami, with a message not only trying to define his position, but pleading for artillery fire to cease. The American barrage ended in the late afternoon. An official account of the Lost Battalion claims that American shelling had ceased before Cher Ami arrived at headquarters.4 Though shot in the breast and blinded in one eye, Cher Ami had delivered Whittlesey's message still dangling from a leg badly damaged by German fire.

From noon until nightfall on October 6 all available aircraft of the 50th Aerosquadron attempted to drop food, ammunition, and medical supplies on the Lost Battalion. None of the efforts was successful, as all the air-dropped supplies landed in German positions. Three airplanes were shot down.5 The two-man crew of one of them was observer 2nd Lt. Erwin Bleckley and pilot 1st Lt. Harold Goettler. They had bravely flown their de Havilland DH-4 low over the Lost Battalion's approximate position and were hit by German machine gun fire. They crash-landed behind American lines; Goettler was found dead in the aircraft and Bleckley died while being taken to a hospital, but their map with hastily added hand-written notes, gave Division headquarters the Lost Battalion's position.

On October 7 an American POW walked into Whittlesey's position carrying a white flag and a written German proposal that the Americans surrender. Whittlesey would not surrender, and the next day an American relief force arrived and the Germans retreated.

Of the 554 men who made up the "Lost Battalion," 216 were killed, 144 were wounded badly enough to have to be taken out on stretchers, and only 194 were able to walk away with their rescuers.

Helping to save the Lost Battalion capped Cher Ami's very successful career, as this carrier pigeon had already delivered a dozen messages in the American sector at Verdun. Cher Ami was awarded the French Croix de Guerre with Palm, and is the most famous of the 600 carrier pigeons the U. S. Army Signal Corps used in France during WWI. Cher Ami was returned to the United States, but in June 1919 died as a result of his wounds. His preserved body is on display in the Smithsonian Museum of American History.

Charles Whittlesey's experience following the Lost Battalion episode was a mix of unsolicited fame and apparent depression. Curiously, an official account of the Lost Battalion experience includes the following:

"It is believed my many that Major Whittlesey was censured and that steps were initiated to try him by court-martial for "losing" his way and allowing his command to be cut off. This belief cannot be substantiated from the records."6

One month after the war ended Medals of Honor were awarded to Major Whittlesey, Captain McMurtry, and to Captain Nelson Holderman, the only other officer who survived the ordeal, and to two enlisted men, and, posthumously, to American aviators Lt. Erwin Bleckley and 1st Lt. Harold Goettler, who perished when German anti-aircraft fire shot them down as they were trying to pinpoint the Lost Battalion's Charleveaux Valley location. They were two of only four American aviators during WWI to earn the Medal of Honor. The other two were Eddie Rickenbacker and Frank Luke. Others in the Lost Battalion received the Distinguished Service Cross.

After the war Whittlesey returned to his New York City law practice, but, celebrated as a war hero, much of his time was reluctantly spent giving speeches and attending patriotic events. Though he played himself (and many others played themselves) in the 1919 movie "The Lost Battalion," he otherwise wanted to avoid public attention. In November 1921 only days after serving as one of the pallbearers for the internment of the Unknown Soldier at Arlington National Cemetery, Whittlesey went missing on a ship that had left New York City bound for Havana, Cuba. He had left sealed envelopes in his cabin, one addressed to the ship's captain indicating that he had jumped overboard.7 Several theories attempt to explain his suicide, for example, depression from the war experience, a sense of guilt for some of his command decisions, a sense of guilt for those who died under his command, and an inability to adjust to his role as a war hero.


  1. Edward G. Lengel, To Conquer Hell: The Meuse-Argonne, 1918 (New York: Henry Holt and Company, 2008), p. 230.
  2. Ibid., p. 231.
  3. The Operation of the So-Called “Lost Battalion,” Oct. 2nd to Oct. 8th, 1918, (Historical Section, Army War College, August 1928), p. 5: http://research.archives.gov.
  4. Ibid., p. 6.
  5. Ibid., p. 7.
  6. Ibid., p. 9.
  7. Lengel, p. 434.

Return to Table of Contents



Armistice

Contributor:  Charles Bertoli

The Central Powers alliance began to unravel in late September 1918 when Bulgaria agreed to an armistice. In late October Turkey followed, as did the Austrian Empire on November 3. Meanwhile, by the second week of October, the German government had expressed its interest in an armistice if the armistice provisions were to reflect the spirit of President Woodrow Wilson's Fourteen Points, which the American president had announced in January 1918. Both Britain and France took issue with several of Wilson's "points," a ban on blockades and opposition to punishing reparations, for example. As for Wilson, he would not negotiate with Germany until a new government was in place.

On November 7, amid revolutionary activity in many German cities General Paul von Hindenburg requested by telegram a meeting with Allied supreme commander Ferdinand Foch. Chancellor Max von Baden appointed Matthias Erzberger as Germany's representative. Erzberger was a German statesman who had supported the war until 1917, when he began advocating a negotiated end to the conflict. Negotiations for an armistice began on November 7 in Marshal Foch's railway car in a forest near Compiègne, France.

During the three days of negotiations the German Kaiser abdicated and fled to the Netherlands. On November 9 a republic was declared in Berlin. The new German Chancellor, Friedrich Ebert, instructed Erzberger to complete negotiations for the armistice. Erzberger and Foch were the principal signatories on the Armistice agreement, signed shortly after 5:00 a.m. on November 11. The Armistice was to go into effect that day at 11:00 a.m. Paris time. At long last, after more than four years of war, the guns finally fell silent at the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month in 1918.

By the terms of the Armistice, Germany was to evacuate occupied French land within two weeks. Allied forces would occupy the left bank of the Rhine River, a region known as the Rhineland, as well as towns on the east bank of the Rhine—Coblenz, Cologne, and Mainz.

Looking ahead— Two years after signing the Armistice agreement with Ferdinand Foch, Erzberger served as chairman of the Armistice Commission and in 1919 became finance minister of the new German government and endorsed the Treaty of Versailles. Right-wing resentment in Germany over the terms of the Versailles Treaty led to Erzberger's assassination in 1921.

Return to Table of Contents



Army of Occupation

In accordance with the armistice terms of November 11, 1918, Germany had fifteen days to evacuate France, the provinces of Alsace and Lorraine—which France had lost to the German Empire as a result of French defeat in the Franco-Prussian War of 1870—and Belgium and Luxembourg—neutral countries which Germany had invaded at the beginning of the Great War. On the heels of German evacuation, the Allied Powers would occupy Luxembourg and the left bank of the Rhine River. The U. S. Third Army, organized on November 15, 1918, under the command of Major General Joseph Dickman, was assigned the American share of Allied occupation duties. Allied occupation forces entered Germany in the first week of December 1918.

About 250,000 Army of Occupation doughboys were deployed to the Rhineland area of Germany, another 50,000 to Luxembourg, with Third Army Headquarters at Mayen, about eighteen miles west of Coblenz. A key responsibility of the American occupation forces in Germany was to safeguard the bridges across the Rhine River at Coblenz, Engers (about five miles to the north of Coblenz) and at Remagen (about twenty miles north of Coblenz) so that German forces could not use those bridges to re-invade France should Germany refuse to sign the peace treaty then being composed in Paris. The British and French armies had similar responsibilities in their own occupation areas. The Belgian occupation army was stationed in Aachen. In addition to securing bridges across the Rhine, occupation forces took possession of German war materials, such as machine guns, rifles, aircraft, and military vehicles.

On April 20, 1919, Lieutenant General Hunter Liggett took over command of the Third Army from Major General Dickman. Reflecting the uncertainties of the peace negotiations then in progress, Marshal Ferdinand Foch, the General-in-Chief of the Allied Armies, sent orders to Liggett to march on Berlin and Weimar should Germany refuse to sign the Versailles peace treaty.

Following the signing of the Versailles Treaty on June 28, 1919, the U. S. occupation forces were reduced to a single regiment, and the remaining 6,800 men were re-designated American Forces in Germany (AFG). The last American occupation forces remained in Germany three more years. Because of the U. S. Senate's objections to the League of Nations clauses in the Treaty of Versailles, the U. S. did not ratify the treaty, and the U. S. technically remained at war until late August 1921, when the U. S. signed separate peace treaties with Germany, Austria, and Hungary. The AFG's occupation duties finally came to an end in January 1923, when the remaining 1000 American doughboys returned to the United States, some with German wives. In all, about 1,200 doughboys married German women during the occupation period.1 The military policy forbidding fraternizing with the enemy went apparently unenforced.2

Among those who served in the Army of Occupation were George Clark, who became head coach of the Detroit Lions, Medal of War recipient William Donovan, who later served as Director of the Office of Strategic Services (OSS), predecessor of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), and former President Theodore Roosevelt's sons Kermit and Theodore Roosevelt, Jr.

Reflecting its WWI "Army of Occupation" experience, the shoulder patch still worn by the Third Army displays an "A" inside the letter "O," a design the Third Army adopted in December 1918.


  1. Peter Bosco, World War I (New York City: Facts on File, Inc., 2003), p. 133.
  2. Kathryn C. Weigel, "WWI Occupation of Germany Captures Author's Interest," Fort Lee Traveller, October 20, 2011 http://www.ftleetraveller.com.

Return to Table of Contents



Treaty of St. Germain-en-Laye

The Treaty of St. Germain-en-Laye, signed by the victorious Allied nations and Austria on September 10, 1919, formally dissolved the Austro-Hungarian Empire and recognized the independence of Hungary, Czechoslovakia, Poland, and the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats, and Slovenes (renamed Yugoslavia in 1929), which was created from the former Austro-Hungarian provinces of Bosnia-Herzegovina, Dalmatia, and Slovenia.

Some three million Sudeten Germans were included in the new Czechoslovakia, a source of irritation to Adolf Hitler, who would address the matter in the 1938 Munich Conference.

For Italy, the Treaty of St. Germain-en-Laye only partially fulfilled the promises made in the Treaty of London, ceding to Italy areas that had been under Austrian control—the South Tyrol, Trentino, Trieste, Istria, Friuli, and some of the Dalmatian islands. Contrary to the promises made in the Treaty of London, Italy was not awarded Fiume and control of Albania. Post-war Italian nationalists would point out this apparent injustice.

Return to Table of Contents



Ambulance Service

Contributor:  Horacio Lopez-Segura

Prior to American entry into WWI, Americans who wanted to help England, France, and Italy could volunteer for ambulance duty. Volunteers served in the American Field Service (AFS), the Norton-Harjes American Ambulance Corps, and the American Red Cross. The AFS actively recruited college students to become ambulance drivers. The Norton-Harjes American Ambulance Corps was founded in 1914 by Richard and Eliot Norton, sons of Harvard professor Charles Eliot Norton, and Henry Harjes, a partner in a Paris-based investment company.

Many notable authors joined one of the ambulance services. Examples include John Dos Passos, Ernest Hemingway, W. Somerset Maugham, and Robert Service. Their later writings reflect their wartime experiences.

Following U. S. entry into WWI the American Field Service and the Norton-Harjes Ambulance Corps came under the direction of the U. S. Army's Ambulance Corps.

Return to Table of Contents



Armistice Day Becomes Veterans Day

The Great War, as WWI was once known, began in August 1914—the United States entering it in April 1917—and came to an end with an armistice, which, signed at about 5:00 a.m. on November 11, 1918, was to take effect six hours later. Memorably, hostilities ceased at the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month in 1918.

Nearly five million Americans served in the Armed Forces in WWI; of those, 116,000 gave their lives. The Treaty of Versailles, signed on June 28, 1919, formally concluded the Great War. Five months later President Woodrow Wilson commemorated the first anniversary of the November 11 Armistice "with pride in the heroism of those who died in the country's service," noting "the opportunity [the war] has given America to show her sympathy with peace and justice in the councils of the nations. . . ."

By 1926, when twenty-seven of the forty-eight states were observing November 11 as a legal holiday, Congress passed a resolution requesting the U. S. President "to issue a proclamation . . . inviting the people of the United States to observe the day in schools an churches, or other suitable places. . . ." On May 13, 1938, Congress made Armistice Day a legal holiday. On June 1, 1954, nine years following the end of WWII and one year following the end of the Korean War, Congress redesignated Armistice Day as Veterans Day, a day to honor American veterans of all wars.

Return to Table of Contents

African-American Baseball during WWI

Contributor:  Skylar Nelson

John Donaldson

[Photo Courtesy of Negro Leagues Baseball Museum]

Until major league baseball was integrated in the mid-twentieth century, racial segregation in American society was reflected in the game of baseball. Beginning in the late 1800s black players had formed their own teams and played each other. When the United States entered the Great War in April 1917 many professional baseball players, white and black, were either drafted or enlisted, almost all black Americans becoming members of the segregated 92nd and 93rd divisions.

John Donaldson was a pitcher for the Kansas City All Nations, an interracial team, when he was drafted in 1917. When the draft took many of his teammates the team was disbanded for the duration of the war.1 Donaldson served as a private in the 164th Depot Brigade at Camp Funston, Kansas. Following the war he rejoined the All Nations, whose owner, James Wilkinson, renamed the team the Kansas City Monarchs, a name Donaldson suggested. The Monarchs were charter members of the Negro National League which began in 1920.2 Donaldson played for the Monarchs until his retirement in 1934. Donaldson died in 1970.

Dave Malarcher

[Photo Courtesy of Negro Leagues Baseball Museum]

Outfielder Jimmie Lyons and infielder Dave Malarcher both played for the Indianapolis ABCs when they were drafted in 1918 and served in the 809th Pioneer Infantry in France. After the war Malarcher joined the Chicago American Giants and Lyons joined the St. Louis Giants. Malarcher's last season playing baseball was in 1934. He died in 1982. Lyons's last season was with the American Giants in 1925; he died in 1963.

Spotswood Poles

[Photo Courtesy of Negro Leagues Baseball Museum]

Spotswood Poles was an outfielder for the New York Lincoln Giants when, following the U. S. declaration of war, he joined the Army. Sgt. Poles earned five battle stars and a Purple Heart during his service in the 93rd Division's 369th Infantry Regiment, the celebrated Harlem Hellfighters.

When Poles was discharged in 1919 he rejoined the Lincoln Giants, and ended up playing for several other teams that year—the Hilldale Daisies of Darby, Pennsylvania, the Hellfighters (as player and manager), and the Atlantic City Bacharach Giants. Poles returned to the Lincoln Giants in 1920, playing for them until his retirement in 1923. Poles died in 1962 and is buried at Arlington National Cemetery (Section 42, Site 2324).3


Wilbur Rogan

[Photo Courtesy of Negro Leagues Baseball Museum]

Between 1912 and 1914 Wilbur Rogan had served in the all black 24th Infantry Regiment, stationed in the Philippines and then the all-black 25th Infantry Regiment stationed in Hawaii, where he played outfield and pitched for the regiment's Wreckers baseball team. Furloughed for several months in 1917, Rogan played for the Los Angeles White Sox, the Kansas City Giants, and the Kansas City All Nations, before returning to duty. In 1918 the 25th Infantry Regiment was moved to Camp Stephen D. Little in Nogales, Arizona. Rogan was discharged in 1920 and went on to play for the Kansas City Monarchs until his retirement in 1938. Rogan died in 1967.

Lewis Santop

[Photo Courtesy of Negro Leagues Baseball Museum]

Lewis Santop Lofton, who usually went by Lewis Santop, was a catcher for the Hilldale Daisies when he was drafted in July 1918. When Santop failed his physical exam—doctors noted that his arm appeared to have been broken in the past and twisted—he was reclassified, later entering the Navy in November 1918. He was stationed at Naval Air Detachment in Newport News, Virginia, just before the Armistice.

With the end of the war Santop was discharged and returned to the Hilldale Daisies, whose fans, noting his homerun-hitting reputation, nicknamed him Big Bertha, after the long-range German WWI artillery piece. Santop's last season playing baseball was in 1926. He died in 1942 at Philadelphia naval hospital and was buried at Philadelphia National Cemetery.

Two black baseball players gave their lives in the war. Pearl Webster, a catcher and outfielder for the Hilldale Daisies, was drafted and served as a corporal in the 807th Pioneer Infantry. Webster contracted the Spanish Flu and died in France five days following the Armistice. Norman Triplett, a pitcher and center fielder for the Hilldale Daisies was a private first class in the 803rd Pioneer Infantry in France. He died in France—cause unknown—in October 1918.

The participation of black baseball players in the U. S. military in WWI does not appear to have advanced the prospect of racially integrated baseball following the war. Instead, a formal Negro National League was created in 1920, one year after the Treaty of Versailles was signed formally ending the war between Germany and the Allied Powers. Integrating major league baseball—and all professional sports—did not begin until after World War II, when Jackie Robinson was signed in 1947 to play with the Brooklyn Dodgers.


  1. Andy Hewitt, "A Midwestern Pastime: A Look at Race, John Donaldson, and Baseball in the Midwest," p. 5: johndonaldson.braveheart.com.
  2. http://mlb.mlb.com/mlb/history/mlb_negro_leagues_teams.jsp#kcm.
  3. http://www.arlingtoncemetery.mil/History/Sports/Sports.aspx

Return to Table of Contents


Major League Baseball During WWI

Contributors:  Skylar Nelson, Harrison Reilly

The U. S. entered the World War in April 1917, the same month the 1917 baseball season began, and when the first draft law was enacted one month later, many professional baseball players enlisted or were drafted.  Baseball owners were, however, subject to criticism from those who felt that it was unpatriotic to allow some men to play baseball while others went off to war.

The war had its most obvious impact on the 1918 season.  As prescribed by the War Department, Provost Marshall General Enoch Crowder, who directed the military draft, announced in May 1918 that, effective July 1, 1918, draft-eligible men employed in "non-essential" occupations must be employed in war-related industries or enlist or be subject to the draft.  That "work or fight" rule would go into effect on September 1, thus requiring a shortened baseball season, 128 games instead of 152. Some players were employed in defense industries, playing for their company teams, though some fellow workers derided them as "slackers."1

Given the War Department's 1918 "work or fight" rule, the 1919 baseball season might have been cancelled had not the war ended in 1918.  The attitude of the Army, that baseball and baseball fans could wait, was reflected in a Stars and Stripes headline reading, "Secretary of War Can See But One League—France." The article noted that "baseball looks to be doomed until Germany is whipped."2

Team owners nervously watched some of their star players leave for the war.  By the winter of 1917 twelve Red Sox players had joined the Army or the Navy, causing Red Sox owner Harry Frazee to write the Commandant of the Boston Navy Yard asking for the release of Red Sox players from the Navy Reserve.  Frazee proposed that the Red Sox could hold exhibition games donating gate money to the Naval Relief Fund.  When the commandant refused the offer, Frazee appealed to Assistant Secretary of the Navy Franklin D. Roosevelt, who, in turn, appealed to the Commandant.  "In view of the President's statement that he hopes that professional baseball may be continued during the war, I feel that we have a good deal of reason for helping Mr. Frazee."3 The press investigated the story, suggesting that players then in uniform might be able to return to baseball in the 1918 season.  The uproar that resulted caused embarrassment to the players involved, and none returned to his team.  Harry Frazee's fears meanwhile proved unnecessary; even without the players who had left for war, the Red Sox won the American League championship and defeated the Chicago Cubs four games to two in the 1918 World Series.

America's patriotic spirit was demonstrated unexpectedly in game one of the 1918 World Series at Chicago's Comiskey Park. In what proved to be a historically eventful seventh inning stretch, the band played "The Star Spangled Banner," and a few spectators immediately sang along; but before the anthem was finished, thousands of fans were joining in the singing.  The anthem ended with an ovation from the nearly twenty thousand fans in attendance.  Singing "The Star Spangled Banner" took place in each of the remaining games, and a tradition was born.  By-the-way, the winning pitcher in game one of the 1918 World Series was George Herman "Babe" Ruth, who allowed six hits in a 1-0 shutout.

World War I may have facilitated the making of Babe Ruth into one of the greatest baseball players of all time. When the Boston Red Sox lost a number of key players to the war, players from other teams were acquired to take their places, and pitcher Babe Ruth was assigned to the outfield when he was not slated to pitch. Ruth, who had registered for the draft but was not called to duty, went 13-7 with a 2.22 ERA, but more impressively, in 317 times at bat, he had 66 RBI, hit a league leading 11 home runs, tying Tilly Walker of the Philadelphia Athletics (who had 414 at bats), and sported a .300 batting average. After hitting 29 home runs with a .322 batting average in 1919, the value of Ruth as a full-time batter, rather than as a part-time pitcher and part-time batter, was obvious to everyone. In a transaction that remains controversial to this day, the Boston Red Sox sold Ruth to the New York Yankees in 1920, and the Yankees played him in the outfield. Ruth went to bat 458 times in the 1920 season, his first with the Yankees, hitting a record 54 home runs with a .376 batting average. For the third consecutive year, and his first with the Yankees, Ruth was the American League home run champion. Remarkably, Ruth would be the American League home run champion twelve times in the fourteen seasons from 1918 to 1931. The pitcher who had become the "sultan of swat" retired from baseball in 1935.

Two hundred twenty-seven major leagues players served in the military during WWI4, five of them dying in the service of their country. Eddie Grant, who had retired from baseball following the 1915 season with the New York Giants (he was the team captain) and was a lawyer when he enlisted in the Army in 1917, was commissioned a captain (Company H, 307th Infantry Regiment, 77th Division). He was killed in action in the Meuse-Argonne Offensive while part of a rescue operation attempting to reach the Lost Battalion.  Alex Burr, who played one day in the outfield for the New York Yankees in the 1914 season, enlisted in the Army and died ten days before the Armistice in a plane crash in France while serving in the Army Air Service.  Robert Troy, who pitched one game for the Detroit Tigers in 1912, was killed in action in the Meuse-Argonne Offensive.  Ralph Sharman, who played thirteen games with the Philadelphia Athletics before being drafted at the end of the 1917 season, drowned at Camp Sheridan, Alabama, while swimming in the Alabama River. Larry Chappell played last with the Boston Braves, and at the end of the 1917 season he enlisted in the Army.  Three days before the Armistice ended the war, Chappell died in France at age 28, a victim of the influenza pandemic.

Branch Rickey, vice president and general manager of the St. Louis Cardinals when the U. S. entered WWI, enlisted in the army and was commissioned a major, commanding a chemical warfare unit that included some of baseball's most famous players. His unit included George Sisler, pitcher and first-baseman for the St. Louis Browns who had enlisted in the Army and was commissioned a second lieutenant, Ty Cobb, outfielder for the Detroit Tigers who enlisted in the Army and was commissioned a captain, and Christy Mathewson, a New York Giants pitcher who had retired in 1916 and then managed the Cincinnati Reds, before enlisting in the Army, being commissioned as a captain. 

In a badly managed gas mask training exercise in France, Mathewson and Cobb were exposed to poison gas. Both men survived the deadly and chaotic incident (eight men died), but Mathewson's lungs were so badly damaged that he contracted tuberculosis. Mathewson, who had won 373 games in a seventeen-year career, including three consecutive 30-win seasons, returned from the war as a coach for the New York Giants and then as president of the Boston Braves, but he was increasingly debilitated by the tuberculosis he contracted from his exposure to poison gas. He died from the disease at age 47 in 1925.

Following the war Rickey returned to baseball, in both managerial and executive positions. Sisler returned to the game, his fifteen-year career, which ended in 1930, producing a .340 batting average.  He remains one of only three players to bat over .400 more than once, and he held the record for most hits in a single season with 257 until 2004 when Ichiro Suzuki, outfielder for the Seattle Mariners, broke the record with 262 hits.  Cobb led the American League in batting (.382) when he enlisted in October 1918.  He returned to the game, retiring in 1928 with a 24-year career .362 batting average. Three times he had a season batting average over .400. Remarkably, in his last season (1928) he hit .323 (114 hits in 353 at-bats).

Grover Cleveland Alexander, pitcher for the Philadelphia Phillies, was drafted into the Army, served in an artillery unit, and returned from the war suffering from shell-shock, deafness in one ear, a damaged right shoulder, the result of repetitious pulling of the howitzer firing lanyard, bouts of epilepsy that were worse than ever before, and a growing dependency on alcohol.  Following the war, he pitched for the Chicago Cubs and then the St. Louis Cardinals, retiring from baseball in 1930. His twenty-year career is highlighted by a 2.56 career ERA and more than 2000 strikeouts.  It is a testament to his athleticism that half his 373 career wins came after the war, notwithstanding his injuries and the alcoholism that resulted from his wartime experience.

The sensitive question of whether professional baseball should be played in wartime came up again when the United States entered WWII following the December 7, 1941, Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. Baseball commissioner Kenesaw Landis, who remembered the debate over baseball in WWI, wrote to President Franklin D. Roosevelt offering to suspend baseball during the war.  In what has become known as the "Green Light Letter," President Roosevelt emphasized the recreational benefit that baseball provided millions of fans, a recreational benefit especially welcome in wartime.  Though players of enlistment age would be expected to serve in the military, the April-October baseball season during the war years, 1942-1945, remained unchanged. As was the case in WWI, many premier young players went off to war. Among them during WWII were Joe DiMaggio of the New York Yankees, Bob Feller of the Cleveland Indians, Hank Greenberg of the Detroit Tigers, Stan Musial of the St. Louis Cardinals, and Ted Williams of the Boston Red Sox.


  1. Geoffrey Ward, ed., Baseball, An Illustrated History (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1994), p. 131.
  2. "Khaki or Overalls for Ball Players," Stars and Stripes (Paris edition), 26 July 1918, p. 6, col. 1.
  3. Franklin D. Roosevelt, Letter to Captain William R. Rush, 24 January 1918 National Archives,
    www.archives.gov/northwest/boston/featured document/red-sox-nation.html.
  4. Ward, p. 131.

Return to Table of Contents

“The Caisson Song”

Contributor:  Violet Elder

While stationed in the Philippines in 1908, field artillery First Lieutenant Edmund L. "Snitz" Gruber wrote the music for a song he entitled “Caisson Song,” and he and two fellow officers wrote the lyrics. A caisson, a two-wheeled cart attached to a horse-drawn field artillery piece, typically carried ammunition and other supplies.

Over hill, over dale,
We will hit the dusty trail,
And those Caissons go rolling along.
Up and down, in and out,
Counter march and left about,
And those Caissons go rolling along,
For it's high high he,
In the Field Artillery,
Shout out your number loud and strong,
For wher-e’er we go,
You will always know,
That those Caissons go rolling along.

Six-Horse Team with Caisson and Limber, 1938

[Photo Courtesy of Library of Congress]

Little did Gruber and his assistant lyricists know how popular—and how quickly popular—that song would become. Robert Danford, a lieutenant when he helped write the song's lyrics, later recalled how the music was composed: “A guitar was produced and tuned and—in what seemed to us a few moments—as if suddenly inspired, Snitz fingered the melody of the now famous song.” Danford recalled that “Its popularity was instantaneous, and almost in no time all six of the regiments then composing the U. S. Field Artillery adopted it.”1

For Edmund Gruber, “The Caisson Song” would eventually add to the legacy of the Gruber lineage, as he was related to the Austrian composer Franz Gruber who, in 1818, had composed the immortal music “Silent Night” (“Stille Nacht”). But the growing popularity of “The Caisson Song” somehow out-paced the public knowledge of the song's composer, and for a number of years the increasingly popular melody seemed to have come out of the distant rather than recent past, composer in any case unknown.

Thus, the U. S. Secretary of the Navy Josephus Daniels and Lt. George Friedlander (306th FA, Army) felt no legal hesitation when in 1917 they asked the celebrated band leader and composer John Philip Sousa to transform the popular melody “Caisson Song” into a march for the Army's field artillery units. As far as they knew the music was an old traditional American song with no known composer.2 Sousa’s stirring march, “U. S. Field Artillery,” was the result, a hit during WWI.

Gruber eventually emerged as the original composer and years of litigation followed in the courts as Gruber unsuccessfully attempted to win royalties from Sousa’s march, music by then so long in the public domain that it was being used in radio commercials.

During his military career Gruber would compose a number of additional songs, but none proved as memorable as “The Caisson Song.”

While still in active service, Brigadier General Edmund Gruber died from natural causes at age 61 in 1941. He is buried at Arlington National Cemetery.

In 1948 the Army sponsored a contest for an official song. None of the entries qualified as a winner, and four years later Secretary of the Army Frank Pace reopened the competition. This time there was a winner—“The Army’s Always There,” composed by the popular American song writer Sam Stept—but the melody, which seemed too similar to a then popular English song, lost the Army's support. In 1956 Secretary of the Army Wilbur Brucker proposed that the Army consider what was still one of the most popular tunes in its repertoire, Gruber's melody “Caisson Song.” With new lyrics by Harold Arberg, and re-titled “The Army Goes Rolling Along,” the Army had at last decided upon its official song, soon to be popularly known as “The Army Song.”

First to fight for the right,
And to build the Nation’s might,
And The Army Goes Rolling Along
Proud of all we have done,
Fighting till the battle’s won,
And the Army Goes Rolling Along.

Refrain

Then it's Hi! Hi! Hey!
The Army's on its way.
Count off the cadence loud and strong
For where e’er we go,
You will always know
That The Army Goes Rolling Along.
Valley Forge, Custer's ranks,
San Juan Hill and Patton's tanks,
And the Army went rolling along
Minute men, from the start,
Always fighting from the heart,
And the Army keeps rolling along.
[Refrain]

Men in rags, men who froze,
Still that Army met its foes,
And the Army went rolling along.
Faith in God, then we're right,
And we'll fight with all our might,
As the Army keeps rolling along.
[Refrain]

In accounting for how Gruber’s music, a hit during World War I, was selected in 1956 as the official Army song, former Secretary of the Army Frank Pace recalled in 1972, “whenever I walked into a dinner and they played the ‘Halls of Montezuma’ everybody jumped up and down and shouted and I said, ‘By gosh, we've got to have an Army song that will move people the way that song does.’” He recalled how even the most famous song writers of the day, including Lerner and Lowe, “came up with zip . . . nothing.” The Army selected “The Caisson Song” because, as Pace concluded, it had “come out of a great heart and sense of spirit.”3


  1. http://bands.army.mil/music/soldierssong.asp.
  2. Frederick Fennell, “The Sousa March: A Personal View,” Library of Congress: Performing Arts Encyclopedia, October 23, 2007: http://lcweb2.loc.gov.
  3. Jerry Hess, “Oral History Interview with Frank Pace, Jr.,” (transcript of tape-recorded interview, 25 February 1972, Washington, D. C.), p. 132: http://www.trumanlibrary.org.

Return to Table of Contents

Convoy System

Just six days after Congress voted in favor of a declaration of war against Germany, and ten weeks before the arrival in France of the first American soldiers, U. S. Rear Admiral William Sims spoke in London with British First Sea Lord Admiral Sir John Jellicoe. Jellicoe advised Sims that if German u-boat success at sinking Allied ships were to continue, it would not be possible to continue the war.

Sims, who a month after his visit with Jellicoe was promoted to Vice-Admiral in command of all U. S. naval forces in Europe, advocated a convoy system to counter the on-going threat of u-boat attacks. Merchant ships and troop transports would be escorted by naval vessels—cruisers, destroyers, and torpedo boats, for example.

Return to Table of Contents



Depth Charges

Contributor:  Paul Sargent

During WWI the German navy relied on its submarines—u-boats—to harass Allied navies and commercial shipping.

U-boats proved difficult to sight, and even when they surfaced, artillery fire was lucky to hit the small target. Only occasionally could a u-boat be successfully rammed. British Admiral Sir Charles Malden, a Grand Fleet staff officer, commented to Admiral Sir John Jellicoe in 1915, "Wouldn't it have been fine if they had a mine that when dropped overboard, exploded when it reached the depth at which the submarines were lying."*

The "mine" that resulted from Malden's comment was a 100 pound 3-foot-long steel drum accommodating about 300 pounds of TNT. The 400 pound device would be pushed over the side of the attacking vessel. The device's pressure-sensitive firing mechanism would activate at a prescribed depth.

Because the underwater explosion posed a potential danger to the attacking vessel on the surface above, "throwers" were developed in 1918, capable of launching the depth charge a distance of about 75 yards. A depth charge explosion at 25 feet from a u-boat would destroy the u-boat; at 50 feet the u-boat would be crippled and, even if not crippled, the crew would suffer deafness and sometimes shell-shock.


  1. *Quoted in Douglas Botting, ed., The U-Boats (Alexandria, Virginia: Time-Life Books, 1979), p. 70.

Return to Table of Contents



The Harlem Hellfighters

Contributors:  Stephanie Ball, Valentina Sainato

Following the Civil War the segregated U. S. Army had four black regiments, the 9th and 10th Cavalry Regiments and 24th and 25th Infantry Regiments. Those four regiments of "buffalo soldiers," all commanded by white officers, were in service when the U. S. entered the Great War in April 1917, but racial prejudice prevented those regiments from being shipped to Europe for combat. Racial prejudice in the military reflected white American racial attitudes of the time, and blacks in the military were always segregated and almost always assigned to menial duties or heavy labor in support of white troops. White soldiers often refused to salute black officers and black officers were denied admission to officers' clubs. The experience of black enlisted men was far worse.

When the U. S. entered the Great War, blacks who were drafted or enlisted initially saw no opportunity to go into combat until the War Department created two all-black divisions, the 92nd and the 93rd. Those divisions had some black officers, though white officers dominated the command structure. From those two divisions, one regiment, the 369th Infantry Regiment, later known as "the Harlem Hellfighters," is perhaps best remembered.

The history of the 369th Infantry Regiment began in 1913 when the New York state legislature called for the creation of an African-American National Guard regiment. That volunteer regiment, the 15th New York National Guard Infantry Regiment, was not actually organized, however, until 1916. When the U. S. entered the Great War a year later the 15th New York, with both black and white officers, was federalized and its troops trained at Camp Wadsworth in Spartanburg, South Carolina. During training the regiment was subjected to racial harassment from white soldiers and white residents in the surrounding area.

In December 1917, the 15th Infantry was attached to the 185th Infantry Brigade. One month later the 185th Infantry Brigade was assigned to the 93rd Division, and the 15th Infantry Regiment was re-designated as the 369th Infantry Regiment. All the enlisted men and some of the officers were black.

Anxious to have Americans contributing to the fighting on the Western Front, France pressured General Pershing to commit U. S. troops. In early April 1918 Pershing released the four regiments of the 93rd Division to be further trained and then commanded by French officers in the French army's 161st Division. Those African-American doughboys were trained to use French weapons and they wore French helmets. With French colonial soldiers from Africa already fighting alongside the French on the Western Front, French soldiers, unlike white American soldiers, readily accepted African Americans as worthy fellow soldiers. The 369th, which saw action in, for example, Chateau-Thierry and Belleau Wood, earned the nickname "the Harlem Hellfighters," and the French helmet became the official patch of the unit. When the war ended, the 369th's 191 days in combat went on record as a longer period in combat than was experienced by any other U. S. military unit in WWI, and for "gallantry in action" the French government awarded the Croix de Guerre to 171 officers and men of the 369th Infantry Regiment.

The 369th Regiment's assignment to the French 161st Division ended one month after the Armistice, and the unit, demobilized at Camp Upton in Yaphank, New York, in February 1919, was returned to the New York National Guard.

Nearly 400,000 African-Americans had served in WWI, mostly in the Army, some in the Navy. None was permitted to enlist in the Marines. Of the 400,000, about half were sent to France, but only about 40,000 of those saw combat. All African-Americans who served in uniform had reason to take pride in their military service. Despite racial discrimination in their own country and in the military itself, they had demonstrated their patriotism and their faith in a nation that would hopefully turn away from racial discrimination.

Return to Table of Contents



Gold Star Mothers

Contributor:  Helena Pennington

When the U. S. entered the Great War in 1917, 23-year-old George Seibold of Washington, D. C., enlisted as an airman, receiving training in Canada since the United States did not have a pilot training program in place at that time. Lt. Seibold was eventually assigned to a British aero squadron in France. Seibold's mother Grace meanwhile volunteered in Washington, D. C., area hospitals to aid injured and emotionally traumatized doughboys who had returned from Europe.

In October 1918 the Seibold family received official notice that Lt. George Seibold had been killed in combat. In an effort to avoid depression, George's mother Grace decided to rededicate herself to her hospital work, and comforting grieving mothers who had lost their sons in the war. In January 1929 she helped form the American Gold Star Mothers, incorporated in the District of Columbia. The organization was dedicated to (1) comforting mothers who lost their sons in war and (2) caring for veterans whose conditions required their confinement to hospitals

The gold star of the Gold Star Mothers derives from a decision made by President Woodrow Wilson in May 1918, that service flags—flown from, for example, homes, businesses, and churches—should have one blue star for each member serving in the war and one gold star for each member who died in the war.

About 116,000 U. S. military personnel died in WWI and most of them were buried in Europe. In 1919 the War Department advised next-of-kin that eight cemeteries would soon be built in France, Belgium, and England for Americans buried there during the war, and families of those veterans had the option of leaving the body in Europe for burial in one of the new cemeteries or returning the body for burial in the United States. Ultimately, about 33,000 American WWI veterans remained for burial in Europe.

In the decade following the war mothers and widows of veterans buried in Europe lobbied Congress for assistance in providing a means for them to visit their sons' or husbands' graves. In 1929 Congress finally passed a measure providing for two-week pilgrimages under the direction of the Army Quartermaster Corps. About 6,700 women participated in the pilgrimages, which took place between 1930 and 1933. Sadly, American segregation attitudes of the time were reflected in this government-sponsored program. African-American gold star mothers and widows traveled on separate ships and trains, and were accommodated separately.

Today, Gold Star Mothers embraces (a) mothers who have lost their sons or daughters in any war and (b) husbands and wives who have lost their spouses in any war.

As designated by President Franklin Roosevelt in June 1936, the last Sunday in September is observed as Gold Star Mother's Day.



Henry Ford's "Peace Ship" Diplomacy

Contributor:  Chase Moniz

In November 1915, American pacifists Jane Addams and Louis Lochner met with U. S. automaker Henry Ford—who earlier in the year had spoken publicly about his opposition to war—to discuss whether the neutral United States might join with other neutral countries to mediate an end to the Great War, which was then fifteen months in progress. Addams was then serving as president of the American Women's Peace Party and had served as chairman of the International Congress of Women, a three-day conference which took place at The Hague in Holland seven months earlier. Ford saw promise in The Hague resolutions, which called for a permanently sitting peace commission comprised of neutral nations.

Ford, Addams, Lochner, and Rosika Schwimmer, a Hungarian pacifist visiting the United States, decided to appeal to President Woodrow Wilson—as had Addams following the Hague conference—to take up the cause of mediating an end to the war. At a meeting with Wilson on November 22, 1915, Ford advised the President that he had, at his own expense, already chartered a ship (the Scandinavian-American passenger liner Oskar II) to transport U. S. delegates to a peace conference of neutral nations at The Hague in Holland, and he hoped Wilson would appoint the delegates. As had been the case with Addams, Wilson declined giving support to Ford's effort at independent diplomacy, a rejection that prompted Ford to comment to Lochner as the two exited the White House, "He's a small man."1 Ford then announced that he would take it upon himself to organize a peace mission. On November 24, 1915, Ford confidently predicted, "We are going to get the boys out of the trenches by Christmas." He then sent telegrams to political and business leaders and anti-war advocates whom he hoped would agree to serve as peace delegates.

With only a month to achieve what seemed an unlikely goal, American newspapers ran stories generally belittling Ford's "Peace Ship" diplomacy as idealistic, unrealistic, and amateurish.2 When the Oskar II departed Hoboken, New Jersey, on December 4, 1915, eighty-three delegates were on board, thirty of whom were college students.3 Secretarial staff and newspaper reporters and photographers accounted for an almost equal number of additional passengers. Among the few nationally recognizable delegate names were Governor Louis Hanna of North Dakota and Samuel McClure, publisher of McClure's Magazine. Illness kept Jane Addams from joining the delegation.

Three days into a voyage meant to bring about peace in Europe, the delegates were alarmed to learn that President Wilson had spoken before Congress earlier that day on the topic of preparedness, calling for an increase in the size of the Army. A day later an on-board newspaper reporter wrote an account of a meeting of the delegates during which one of them proposed, despite Wilson's potentially disruptive stance on preparedness, "Who knows but that we ourselves may bring those diplomats and rulers and statesmen around their table, face to face, to talk things over quietly a little sooner than they would have done if Henry Ford had not brought us upon this ship?"4

Oskar II arrived first at Christiana (renamed Oslo in 1925) Norway, on December 18, 1915, where Ford, at least ostensibly ill from a cold, boarded another ship for a return to the United States. Oskar II then continued to Stockholm, Sweden, and then to Copenhagen, Denmark, boarding peace delegates at each location. From Copenhagen, Denmark, the delegates boarded a train for The Hague in Holland. With delegates representing Denmark, Holland, Norway, Sweden, and the United States in attendance, the conference convened in January 1916, but to the dismay of Schwimmer and Lochner, who directed the conference, the absence of Ford in the proceedings caused some European participants to abandon further attendance.5 No representatives of the belligerent nations attended.

On January 11, 1916, most of the American delegates departed Holland for a return to the United States. The remaining delegates designated Stockholm, Sweden, as the permanent site for the Neutral Conference for Continuous Mediation. That body, with representatives from Denmark, the Netherlands, Norway, Sweden, Switzerland, and the United States, held meetings throughout the war.6

Ford terminated his financial support for the American delegates early in 1917,7 and when the United States entered the Great War in April 1917 Ford converted his automobile factories for the production of war materials—airplane engines, tanks, and trucks, for example. His transition from anti-war advocate to war supporter was not unique among the Peace Ship participants. Many of the college delegates joined the military when the U. S. entered the war. One was William Draper, who had been chairman of the student delegation at The Hague and later became a U. S. Army general.8

On the fiftieth anniversary of Ford's peach ship journey, 79-year-old Louis Lochner, one of the peace delegates of 1915, commented, "Well, the peace ship was a stunt but the welfare of humanity was in our thoughts. We felt that somebody ought to do something to end the war, and we did our best." As for long-term effects, he added, "Maybe it all came to nothing in the end, but who knows? Perhaps the Neutral Conference for Continuous Mediation germinated the idea which grew long after into the United Nations."9

Though appeals to the warring nations had failed to bring about the desired mediation, the Neutral Conference for Continuous Mediation arguably served as a forerunner of Wilson's League of Nations and, later, the United Nations.


  1. Peter Collier and David Horowitz, The Fords: An American Epic (New York: Summit Books, 1987), p. 74.
  2. John McCool, "1916: Giving Peace a Chance, Sort of," This Week in KU History, January 31, 2007: http://www.kuhistory.com.
  3. Ibid.
  4. "Peace Ship Jarred by Wilson Message," New York Times, December 9, 1915: http://query.nytimes.com.
  5. McCool, "1916: Giving Peace a Chance, Sort of."
  6. Melvin Holli, The Wizard of Washington: Emil Hurja, Franklin Roosevelt, and the Birth of Public Opinion Polling (New York City: Palgrave, 2002), p. 32: http://books.google.com.
  7. Steven Watts, The People's Tycoon: Henry Ford and the American Century (New York City: Vintage Books, 2005), p. 235: http://books.google.com.
  8. Jerry Ness, "Oral History Interview with General William H. Draper Jr.," Washington, D. C., 11 January 1972, ts, Harry S. Truman Library and Museum: http://www.trumanlibrary.org; "50 Years Ago Ford Launched 'Peace Ship'," Ludington Daily News, 5 December 1965, page 4, col. 6: http://news.google.com/newspapers.
  9. "50 Years Ago Ford Launched 'Peace Ship'," Ludington Daily News, page 4, col. 6.

Return to Table of Contents



Hindenburg Line

Known to the Germans as the Siegfried Line, the Hindenburg Line was a series of defensive positions, altogether about 100 miles long, established in northeastern France near the Belgian border by Field Marshal Paul von Hindenburg and General Erich Ludendorff in the winter of 1916-1917 across a salient of the German front. The Hindenburg Line was fortified with concrete bunkers, tunnels, machine guns, anti-tank trenches, and barbed wire.

Between February and May 1917 German forces on the salient were ordered back to the Hindenburg Line, a decision that reduced the length of the German defensive line by about thirty miles and therefore allowed a large number of German forces to be assigned elsewhere.

In the November-December 1917 Battle of Cambrai, British forces temporarily broke through the Hindenburg Line; by October 5, 1918, Americans had broken the Line in the Meuse-Argonne Offensive, which had begun on September 26, 1918.

Return to Table of Contents



Influenza Pandemic

Contributor:  Valentina Sainato

From 1918, the last year of the Great War, through 1919, an influenza pandemic spread throughout much of the world and took more lives than were lost in the Great War. In fact, two to three times as many people died from the influenza pandemic as died in combat. The total number of deaths (military and civilian) in WWI is about 16 million. Somewhere between 30 and 50 million people died worldwide from the disease. Sometimes referred to as the Spanish Flu, though its geographical origins are unknown, the influenza epidemic of 1918 was the world's deadliest pandemic since the Great Plague of the fourteenth century. About half of those who died from influenza were between twenty and forty years of age, a statistic that remains puzzling since people in that age bracket might otherwise be considered best able to combat disease.

Three apparent waves of the pandemic struck in the two years the influenza pandemic took place, the second wave taking the most lives. A number of factors may explain the rapid spreading of the disease. The crowded conditions on troop ships, followed by dense deployment of military personnel in unsanitary trenches, and the soldiers' weakened physical conditions resulting from substandard diet and exhaustion, and possibly exposure to poison gases, may have facilitated the spreading of the disease. Military personnel returning home may have brought this especially virulent strain of influenza with them, thus transmitting the disease to other geographical areas.

By the end of 1919 the pandemic had passed. About 700,000 Americans died from the flu, a number ten times greater than the number of American military personnel who died as a result of enemy fire.

Return to Table of Contents



Italy at War: The Isonzo and the Dolomites

Treaty of London

In the Treaty of London, signed secretly by Italy, Britain, France, and Russia on April 26, 1915, Italy joined the Allies in return for significant territorial compensation should the war end in an Allied victory. Italy would gain Trentino, the majority of whose population was ethnic Italian1, Istria, Trieste, Cisalpine Tyrol, Dalmatia, Valona in Albania, and a share of German and Ottoman territories.

Italy declared war on Austria on May 26, 1915, and on Germany on August 27, 1916.

Battles of the Isonzo

At the time of WWI, the Italian-Austrian border in northeastern Italy was located slightly west of the 55-mile-long Isonzo River, which flows into the Adriatic. On this front the Italians and Austro-Hungarians fought each other in twelve Battles of the Isonzo, the twelfth battle sometimes called the Battle of Caporetto. Under the command of General Luigi Cadorna, the Italian goal was to break through Austro-Hungarian lines, capture Gorizia and Trieste, and then advance toward Vienna. The first eleven Battles of the Isonzo ended in stalemate and horrific loss of life, not unlike the bloodshed and stalemate that characterized fighting on the Western Front. In the Battle of Caporetto (October-November 1917), the last of the Battles of the Isonzo, the Italians were thrown into retreat, establishing a defensive line along the Piave River, about eighteen miles from Venice. Battle lines remained there when, a year later, WWI came to an end.

Dolomite Front

Contributor:  Sarah Gamble

[Photo Courtesy of Sarah Gamble]

Following the May 26, 1915, Italian declaration of war against the Austro-Hungarian Empire, Austrian troops established defensible positions in the peaks, cliffs, and rocky faces of the Alpine Mountains Dolomite Range. The Austrians abandoned Cortina d'Ampezzo to fortify themselves nearby on several Alpine mountains—Lagazuoi, Col di Lana, Marmolada, and Sief, for example—and in the Valparola Pass, at Tre Sassi Fort, for example. This area of the Alps in the Dolomite Range became the Dolomite Front during the war. Here, the Italian Alpini brigade, trained for mountain warfare conditions, faced off against their similarly trained Austrian Kaiserjager ("Emperor's Huntsmen") opponents.

The realities of geography and fierce winter climate, which limited human movement, meant that the Austrians could defend themselves and prohibit an Italian advance, even if Italian numbers were greater.2 Though Italian artillery fire from Cinque Torri, peaks held by the Italians, badly damaged Tre Sassi Fort, forcing the Austrians to evacuate it in July 1915, the Italians were not able to advance into Valparola Pass.

For the Italians, the disadvantage of fighting uphill against firmly entrenched and strategically well-selected Austrian positions meant heavy Italian casualties, forcing the Italians to engage in tunneling operations for their own protection and to reach the enemy. Both sides dug trenches where they could, and they cut trenches, caves, and tunnels elsewhere out of rock. For both sides the purpose of some of the tunneling was to approach enemy positions and plant and detonate explosives. That was how the Italians were able to gain possession of Col di Lana. An Italian officer described the importance of Col di Lana when he observed, "whichever side holds it not only effectually blocks the enemy's advance, but also has an invaluable sally-port from which to launch his own."3 A three-month tunneling operation, which began in mid-January 1916, allowed the Italians to plant dynamite right under the Austrian position, blowing up a portion of Col di Lana's summit. An unknown number of Austrian lives were lost and Col di Lana was in Italian hands.4

[Photo Courtesy of Sarah Gamble]

The Austrians succeeded in repulsing Italian assaults on nearby Mount Sief. Here, avalanches, a common enemy for both sides on the Dolomite Front, played a role in the Italian failure to take the mountain. Some 60,000 deaths on the Dolomite Front were due to avalanches. Paolo Monelli—a journalist before the war, a member of the Alpine Brigade during the war, and a celebrated journalist and author after the war—described the danger of avalanches when he recalled how "entire platoons were hit, smothered, buried without a trace, without a cry, with no other sound than the one made by the gigantic white mass itself."5

[Photo Courtesy of Sarah Gamble]

On the Dolomite Front, as on the Isonzo, the war dragged on with neither advance nor retreat; the Dolomite Front was stalemated trench warfare, in this case trench warfare in the Alps, and the stalemate was not broken until the Austrian victory in the Battle of Caporetto (twelfth Battle of the Isonzo), which forced the Italians to abandon their Alpine offensive. The Dolomite Range, the scene of so much human slaughter, became silent in the remaining year of the Great War.6

Today, nearly a century since the war ended, many remarkably well-preserved trenches and tunnels in the Dolomite Range can be explored, and helmets, ammunition, weaponry, and even human remains are sometimes revealed in the melting ice of spring.

Treaty of St. Germain-en-Laye

The Treaty of St. Germain-en-Laye, signed by the victorious Allied nations and Austria on September 10, 1919, formally dissolved the Austro-Hungarian Empire and recognized the independence of Hungary, Czechoslovakia, Poland, and the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats, and Slovenes (renamed Yugoslavia in 1929), which was created from the former Austro-Hungarian provinces of Bosnia-Herzegovina, Dalmatia, and Slovenia.

Some three million Sudeten Germans were included in the new Czechoslovakia, a source of irritation to Adolf Hitler, who would address the matter in the 1938 Munich Conference.

For Italy, the Treaty of St. Germain-en-Laye only partially fulfilled the promises made in the Treaty of London, ceding to Italy areas that had been under Austrian control—the South Tyrol, Trentino, Trieste, Istria, Friuli, and some of the Dalmatian islands. Contrary to the promises made in the Treaty of London, Italy was not awarded Fiume and control of Albania. Post-war Italian nationalists would point out this apparent injustice.


  1. Spencer Tucker, ed., The Encyclopedia of World War I, A Political, Social, and Military History (5 Vols., Santa Barbara, California: ABC-CLIO, 2005), Vol. IV, p. 1181.
  2. S. L. A. Marshall, The American Heritage History of World War I (American Heritage Publishing Co., Inc., 1964), p. 108.
  3. Francis Reynolds, ed., World's War Events (3 Vols; New York: P. F. Collier & Son Company, 1919), Vol. II, p. 56.
  4. Ibid., pp. 63-65.
  5. "Paolo Monelli," Obituary (New York Times, November 20, 1984): nytimes.com; Richard Galli, "Avalanche": worldwar1.com.
  6. Richard Galli, "Tre Cime di Lavaredo": worldwar1.com.

Return to Table of Contents

Lafayette Escadrille

In April 1916, one year before U. S. entry into the Great War, two Americans organized an air squadron made up of volunteer American pilots who wanted to help the French cause. The two organizers were Dr. Edmund Gros, then serving as director of the volunteer American Ambulance Service in France, and Norman Prince, an American pilot who went to France to help organize the squadron. Originally named the Escadrille Americaine and later the Lafayette Escadrille, the squadron's name was that of the aristocrat who had volunteered his services to help General George Washington during the American Revolution. Nearly three hundred American pilots volunteered in the squadron during the war, shooting down some two hundred German planes. In January 1918, some nine months after the U. S. declaration of war, the Lafayette Escadrille became the U. S. Army's 103rd Pursuit Squadron.

Return to Table of Contents



Memorial Day

[Image Courtesy of National Archives]

Even before the Civil War had ended in 1865, civilians in the north and south were decorating the graves of soldiers and sailors who had died in combat. Three years following the end of the war, on May 5, 1868, the Union veterans organization Grand Army of the Republic (GAR), proclaimed a national "Decoration Day." The GAR commander, General John Logan, advised the GAR membership, that May 30, two and on-half weeks hence, "is designated for the purpose of strewing with flowers, or otherwise decorating the graves of comrades who died in defense of their country during the late rebellion. …"

On that May 30 a Decoration Day ceremony took place at Arlington National Cemetery, attendees placing flowers at the graves of both Union and Confederate soldiers.

Annual May 30 Decoration Day events took place in a growing number of places in the following years, but the GAR's role in the origins of the event caused southern states to honor the Confederate dead on days other than May 30. In 1873 New York became the first state to designate Decoration Day as a formal holiday. By 1890 all the northern states had set aside May 30 as either Decoration Day or Memorial Day, the latter name soon gaining preference. During World War I Memorial Day was, apparently, celebrated even amidst the fighting in France. With the approach of Memorial Day, 1918, the following was reported in The Stars and Stripes newspaper:

"The French will join with the Americans in the observation of Memorial Day, long set aside in the American calendar for the decoration of those graves where our soldiers and sailors are buried. At many a post in the A.E.F. there will be reverent ceremonies, reminiscent of the old-fashioned Decoration Day observances back home."*

World War I was a turning point for southern states which, up to then, had refused to honor a May 30 Memorial Day. Following WWI, when Memorial Day came to honor Americans who had died in any war, southern states accepted May 30 as Memorial Day, even though many southern states additionally set aside a Confederate Memorial Day to honor Confederate soldiers and sailors who had died in the Civil War.

The 1971 National Holiday Act sets aside the last Monday in May as Memorial Day, a national holiday.



*"French Will Join in Memorial Day," The Stars and Stripes (Paris, France), 24 May 1918, p. 2, col. 3.

Return to Table of Contents


Munitions for War: Bethlehem Steel Corporation's Bethlehem Loading Company and Belcoville

Contributors:  Harrison Reilly, Campbell Smith

The ordnance department of Bethlehem Steel Corporation decided, c1910, to find a suitable munitions proving ground site within a 250-mile radius of the company's headquarters in Bethlehem, New Jersey. By the time the U. S. entered WWI in April 1917, Bethlehem Steel had acquired about 6,000 acres in Weymouth Township, Atlantic County, New Jersey, but, instead of using the land as a proving ground, the company's Bethlehem Loading Company decided to build a large munitions plant and facilities for the loading of high explosive shells.

Expecting that private industry did not have sufficient capital to complete construction in time for the war effort, the U. S. government, in an apparently unique role, partnered with Bethlehem Steel in order to finance the building of the munitions plant. The partnership expedited construction so that by 1918 munitions were being manufactured at the site.

The Bethlehem Loading Company munitions plant was one of fourteen U. S. munitions plants, all on the east coast, operating during WWI. Of those fourteen munitions plants, three included villages for their employees and families. Bethlehem Loading Company's Belcoville was one of those company towns (its name derived from Bethlehem Loading Company). Belcoville, which accommodated more than 400 families in houses of various sizes and 3000 single employees in dormitories, also included, for example, various stores, a school, a firehouse, post office, bank, restaurants, barber shop, YMCA and YWCA, and a bowling alley.

After the war the Mays Landing Water Company purchased Belcoville from the Bethlehem Loading Company and then rented the houses to its employees. In 1938 the company sold half the houses at a public auction on condition that the purchasers remove the houses from the site. Today about 100 houses remain, and almost all are privately owned. Of the public buildings only the firehouse, school, and Post Office remain.

The Belcoville Post Office is on both the New Jersey Register of Historic Places and the National Register of Historic Places.

Return to Table of Contents



“Pack Up Your Troubles in Your Old Kit Bag”

Contributor:  Violet Elder

American Record Featuring the Song

[Photo Courtesy of Library of Congress]

In 1915, two brothers, pianist Felix Powell and actor George Powell, both employed in British music hall productions, collaborated in composing a song that would inspire British soldiers going off to fight in the Great War, which was then in its second year. Entitled "Pack Up Your Troubles in Your Old Kit Bag"—music by Felix Powell with lyrics written by George Powell, who used the pseudonym "George Asaf"—the song became one of the most memorable songs produced in England during WWI and arguably one of the most memorable songs produced by any nation during WWI, and it was sung on both sides of the conflict. Shortly after its publication in England and two years before the American declaration of war, "Pack Up Your Troubles in Your Old Kit Bag" sheet music was available for purchase in the United States through Chappell & Co., Ltd., in New York City. A hit song in the United States and with American doughboys, the music was even sung by German soldiers following the Armistice in November 1918.1

Though "Pack Up Your Troubles" was an immediate hit, neither the composer nor the lyricist had thought the song worth publishing. As Felix later recalled, "I played the tune over to George. He, without hesitation, pronounced it piffle. Having mutually agreed it was rubbish, it was consigned to a drawer labeled 'Duds,'" but when the Powell brothers entered the song "as a joke" into a marching song competition, it won first prize. Felix recalled how that news "gave George and me the best laugh of our lives. . . . We were as amused as we were delighted to hear thousands of troops singing it en route for the docks."2 Perhaps the words of the chorus served to ease the transition soldiers knew they would have to experience, leaving the security of home and facing the uncertainties that lay ahead.

Pack up your troubles in your old kit-bag,
And smile, smile, smile,
While you've a lucifer to light your fag,
Smile, boys, that's the style.
What's the use of worrying?
It never was worth while, so
Pack up your troubles in your old kit-bag,
And smile, smile, smile.

The song's celebrated composer enlisted in the army and used his musical talents to entertain the troops at the front; George was a pacifist, and a conscientious objector.

Though the song added significantly to the brothers' income, Felix eventually felt an emotional burden from making so much money while so many of his countrymen, singing his song, were marching off to war and dying in combat. According to Felix's grandson Aubrey Powell, Felix "was singing and encouraging them to fight with this song, and I think it got to him. By all accounts he had a kind of nervous breakdown in the trenches. He found it unbearable." Aubrey concludes, "I think the song, and the proceeds of the song, haunted him."3

Following the war the Powell brothers opened the Lureland theater in Peacehaven, England, but financial reverses eventually took their toll, and despite Felix's concerted efforts, he never again succeeded in composing a hit song, royalties from which would have paid his mounting debts.4 At sixty-four years of age, Felix committed suicide on February 10, 1942.

World War II, in its third year at that time, renewed the popularity of "Pack Up Your Troubles," and, ironically, royalties from the music allowed Felix's widow to pay off the debts that had made her husband so tragically despondent.5

George Powell died in 1951.


  1. Gerard Gilbert, "Chapter and Verse: The Surprising Story of the Song 'Pack Up Your Troubles in Your Old Kit Bag'," The
    Independent
    (London: November 4, 2010): http://www.independent.co.uk/arts.
  2. Ibid.
  3. Ibid.
  4. Jim Mulligan, "The Collected Interviews of Jim Mulligan," 2006: jimmulligan.co.uk/Interviews.
  5. "Chapter and Verse."

Return to Table of Contents


Preparedness

Contirbutors:  Horacio Lopez-Segura, Forrest Minter, Harrison Reilly

In May 1916 Congress passed the National Defense Act, a measure designed to put the United States on the path to “preparedness,” in case the Great War, then nearly two years running, should one day include the United States. The National Defense Act was, in retrospect, a remarkably modest measure considering that the European nations then at war each had millions of men in uniform.

When the Great War broke out in 1914, the number of men serving in the United States armed forces was meager in number and unprepared for the kind of combat then taking place in Europe. Concern about the absence of American “preparedness” increased following the May 1915 sinking of the British liner RMS Lusitania. The Navy League of the United States, founded in 1902 with the encouragement of then President Theodore Roosevelt, and other groups lobbied Congress to vote additional military spending, arguing that American neutrality depended on a strong military. Some who advocated preparedness believed that the United States would inevitably have to intervene as an ally of England and France. 1 Preparedness was opposed by pacifists, women’s groups, and pro-German Americans who felt certain the United States would never ally with Germany.

Encouraged by preparedness advocates—including former president Theodore Roosevelt, former Secretary of War Henry Stimson, and Army Chief of Staff General Leonard Wood—the War Department created a volunteer training camp at Plattsburg Barracks in Plattsburg, New York, in the summer of 1915. Regular army officers trained about 1,300 civilian volunteers for military service. All paid $30 for the four-week experience, which included the cost of a volunteer’s uniform. “The Plattsburg Idea” proved popular and in the summer of 1916 a number of additional Plattsburgs were training some 16,000 men as future Army officers.

President Wilson had been initially opposed to preparedness, believing that any military buildup could be interpreted as preparation for war. Former Secretary of State Bryan and Senator Robert La Follette of Wisconsin argued that preparedness was actually backed by warmongers and those who would be sure to profit if the United States should enter the war.

But with Republicans seeing the country’s lack of preparedness as a potential campaign issue in the November 1916 election, Wilson took steps to modify his opposition to preparedness.2

By late summer 1915, Wilson had begun to support what he called “reasonable preparedness.”3 On December 7, 1915, Wilson presented to Congress a plan to expand the Army and Navy. In January 1916 Wilson went on a speaking tour of the country arguing that military preparedness would make the United States powerful enough that no foreign power would risk attacking the country. Several cities held preparedness parades, Wilson marching in the Washington, D.C. Preparedness Parade, which took place on June 14, 1916.

Meanwhile, on March 7, 1916, Wilson appointed Newton Baker as Secretary of War. While mayor of Cleveland, Ohio, Baker had opposed preparedness, but he, too, saw reason to change his mind. In May 1916 Congress passed the National Defense Act of 1916, which provided for an increase in the size of the Regular Army to 175,000 men, 223,000 over a five-year period. The National Guard would be increased from about 100,000 to 450,000 men. A Reserved Officers Training Corps (ROTC) program was inaugurated on college and university campuses.

With President Wilson, Secretary of War Baker, and Secretary of the Navy Josephus Daniels encouraging passage, Congress passed in August 1916 the Navy Act of 1916, the so-called “Big Navy Act,” which, providing for a ten-year ship construction program to include battleships, destroyers, and submarines, would make the United States Navy second to none. As a result of the August 1916 “Big Navy Act,” the U. S. Navy was better prepared for war than was the Army. With fourteen dreadnoughts, 250 destroyers, 36 submarines, and 80,000 sailors, the U. S. Navy was among the best navies in the world.

The Wilson Administration’s steps toward preparedness meant that by the time the United States entered the Great War in April 1917 the regular army numbered 137,000 men, and 181,000 men were in the National Guard.4 Each of the major powers then at war had millions of men in uniform. Not only was the United States unprepared in terms of the number of men in uniform; the country was also industrially unprepared.

At least until the spring of 1918, military training did not include machine guns, artillery, aircraft, and tanks. Remarkably, most doughboys arrived in France as yet untrained in the use of machine guns, grenades, and cannon.5 Training in the use of those weapons would take place in France just before deployment to the front.


  1. Samuel Eliot Morison, The Oxford History of the American People (New York: Oxford University Press, 1965), p. 853.
  2. Daniel Boorstin and Brooks Kelley, A History of the United States (Needham, MA: Prentice Hall, 1996), pp. 552-553.
  3. David Kennedy, Over Here: The First World War and American Society (New York: Oxford University Press, 2004), p.32.
  4. Edward Lengel, To Conquer Hell: The Meuse-Argonne, 1918 (New York: Henry Holt and Company, 2008), p. 18.
  5. Ibid., p. 34.

Return to Table of Contents



"Razzle Dazzle"

Contributor:  Christopher Rusiewicz

Allied ships—troop transports and naval vessels—were camouflaged during WWI. The camouflage technique was called "razzle dazzle" or "dazzle," a then novel style of camouflage intended to confuse the enemy enough that their shelling or torpedoing would miss the intended target.

"Razzle dazzle" was a camouflage of painted stripes and geometric patterns originally proposed by Norman Wilkinson, a British artist and naval officer. Though the effectiveness of this camouflage technique in WWI is debatable, the intent was to confound the enemy's ability to determine accurately a ship's direction, speed, and distance.

Rangefinders required the operator to align two images of the intended target. Ships camouflaged in "razzle dazzle" supposedly made that task more challenging since the rangefinder's operator, who had to align a divided image of his target, in this case had to align two images with differently shaped patterns or lines. U-boats fired torpedoes in a direction ahead of the Allied vessel, with calculations of the torpedo's contact based on the Allied ship's assumed speed and distance, both presumably more difficult to calculate if the ship were painted in "razzle dazzle" camouflage.

A ship masked in "razzle dazzle" was, according to those who promoted the camouflage technique, more likely to escape from disaster than if it were not.

Return to Table of Contents



Red Cross Christmas

Contributor:  Georgia McClain

In December 1917, seven months following the United States declaration of war on Germany, the American Red Cross began what became, for the next quarter-century, an annual Christmas Roll Call, where Americans were encouraged to donate at least one dollar to become a Red Cross member. The campaign proved a resounding success. Where about 500,000 Americans were members of the Red Cross when the U. S. entered WWI in April 1917, membership rose to about 31 million in November 1918 when the war ended.

The Red Cross Christmas Roll Calls and the Red Cross War Fund drives of 1917 and 1918, raised hundreds of millions of dollars in support of the many services the Red Cross provided during the war. Among the critically important services were the building and volunteer staffing of base hospitals and canteens in Europe.

Return to Table of Contents



The Red Poppy / Flanders Poppy

During the spring seasons of WWI, vast amounts of red poppies—arguably unprecedented amounts of red poppies—appeared along the Western Front in northern France and Belgium, perhaps because artillery fire, which so violently tortured the landscape, had brought to the surface additional poppy seeds, which otherwise would have remained buried and dormant. In the spring of 1915, the Canadian doctor Maj. John McCrae immortalized the red poppy in a poem he was moved to write on the day following the death of a friend, Lt. Alexis Helmer, in a battle near Ypres, in a Belgian region called Flanders. That poem, "In Flanders Fields," was first published in the British magazine Punch on December 8, 1915, becoming instantly popular and remaining to this day one of the most enduring poems of the war. On January 28, 1918, McCrae—by then Lt. Col. John McCrae—died of pneumonia and meningitis in Boulogne, France. He was buried at Wimereux Cemetery, about three miles from Boulogne. In the United States and elsewhere the red poppy, sometimes called the Flanders Poppy, quickly became a symbol of remembrance, still used by, for example, the American Legion and the Veterans of Foreign Wars.

Return to Table of Contents



The Schlieffen Plan

Contirbutor:  Andrew Abdalla

In 1905 Alfred von Schlieffen, Chief of Staff of the German Army, devised a military strategy, later known as the Schlieffen Plan, which would be implemented should Germany ever find itself simultaneously at war with France and Russia. In the event of such a war, and believing Russia would require six weeks to mobilize its forces against Germany, Schlieffen argued that Germany's ultimate victory would depend on first defeating France and then turning the German armies against Russia before that six-week period had elapsed. In order to avoid France's heavy fortifications on the German-French border, Schlieffen proposed that German troops invade France via Belgium and the Netherlands. If the French were defeated according to plan, Britain, which had guaranteed Belgian neutrality, would either not respond to the German action or not have enough time to do anything about it.

In 1906 Helmuth von Moltke replaced the retiring Schlieffen (Schlieffen would die in 1912) as Chief of Staff of the German Army. By 1914 he had modified the Schlieffen Plan so that the German invasion of France would go through Belgium, but not also through the Netherlands. He hoped that the German violation of only one country's neutrality might prevent Britain from declaring war. When Germany invaded Belgium in August 1914, Britain, honoring its 1839 commitment to defend Belgian neutrality, declared war on Germany.

The advance of the German army was impeded by von Moltke's decision to eliminate the Netherlands and use only Belgium as a gateway to France and by the brave defense of the Belgian army and the British Expeditionary Force (BEF) which had been sent to France.

As anticipated in the Schlieffen Plan, French troops meanwhile advanced on Germany through Alsace-Lorraine. Schlieffen's plan was to impede the French advance while German forces would move rapidly through Belgium and into northern France, and then in a wide, counter-clockwise arc approach and then defeat the trapped French armies from the rear.

German confidence in a quick victory was dampened by the speedy deployment of the British Expeditionary Force in France, Belgium's resistance to the German invasion, and German difficulties maintaining supply lines to its armies. The success of the German invasion may also have been compromised by von Moltke's decision to reduce the number of German troops Schlieffen had originally determined would be necessary for victory. Nevertheless, German troops invaded northeastern France and with both French and British forces in retreat to the Marne River, Paris, only thirty miles distant from German lines, seemed likely to fall.

French General Joseph Joffre, Chief of the General Staff, and Sir John French, Commander in Chief of the BEF, began a counteroffensive on September 5, 1914. Thus began the five-day First Battle of the Marne (September 5-10, 1914). The timely arrival of 6,000 French troops, brought to the front from Paris in taxi cabs, may have helped prevent a German victory. German forces retreated and established trench lines that would protract the war.

The German offensive had failed, the six-week mark passed, and Germany was forced to wage the two-front war that the Schlieffen Plan was meant to avoid. On the Western Front a four-year-long war of attrition had begun.

Return to Table of Contents



Signal Corps "Hello Girls"

General John Pershing wanted women to volunteer for the U. S. Army Signal Corps to work telephone switchboards in France and England. Women who were at least twenty-five years of age, single, and fluent in French were eligible. Thousands volunteered, including some who were underage, and eventually about three hundred were accepted. They had to buy their own uniforms, but they were sworn in at the rank of lieutenant.

In March 1918 the first group of Signal Corps women arrived in France. They and those who followed were stationed in various places in France and England. Because of the American custom of answering the telephone with the word "hello," they soon were nicknamed the "Hello Girls." The largest telephone exchange was at Tours, which employed thirty-five women. Others worked at Pershing's headquarters and others had assignments where they moved with the troops. This would be the first time in history that soldiers in the field would be communicating with their commanders behind the lines. When the war ended some operators were assigned to the Army of Occupation in Germany, and some had duties associated with the peace treaty deliberations taking place at Versailles.

During WWI Army nurses and Signal Corps volunteers were the only women wearing Army uniforms, but when the war ended the U. S. government did not recognize Signal Corps service as being part of the U. S. Army. The government argument was that they were civilians who had been employed on a temporary basis by the Army. Despite being sworn into the Army, despite being required to wear an Army uniform, and despite having to follow Army regulations, the women of the Signal Corps were not recognized as Army veterans until 1978, sixty years after the war had ended. The seventy WWI "Hello Girls" who were still alive received honorable discharges, veterans' benefits, and WWI Victory Medals.

Return to Table of Contents



Tomb of the Unknown Soldier

Among the thousands of Americans buried in France during and immediately after World War I, hundreds were unidentifiable and were therefore buried in unmarked graves.

On March 4, 1921, three years and four months following the end of the Great War, as WWI was then known, Congress passed a resolution providing for the burial in Arlington National Cemetery of one of America's unidentified WWI soldiers. In compliance with procedure outlined by the War Department, the remains of four unknown American soldiers were brought to Châlons-sur-Marne, where the honor of selecting one of them as America's "Unknown Soldier" was given to Sgt. Edward Younger, a decorated American who had been wounded in action. The casket bearing this unknown soldier was brought to the United States on board the USS Olympia, a Navy cruiser which, during the 1898 Spanish American War, had been Admiral George Dewey's flagship at the Battle of Manila Bay. The Olympia arrived at the Washington, D. C., Navy Yard on November 9, 1921. The casket containing the "Unknown Soldier" was then taken by horse-drawn caisson from the Navy Yard to the Capital, where it lay in state in the Capitol rotunda for two days, until Armistice Day, November 11, when the casket was taken to Arlington National Cemetery and, following a ceremony held at the recently completed Memorial Amphitheater and officiated by President Warren G. Harding, was placed in a marble sarcophagus. In 1926, five years following the burial of the Unknown Soldier, Congress appropriated $50,000 for completion of a tomb to mark the grave site. The tomb, designed by Thomas Hudson Jones and completed in 1932, bears the solemn inscription, "Here Rests In Honored Glory An American Soldier Known But To God."

The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, as it unofficially came to be called, marked the burial spot of a single unknown American until 1958 when two plaza-level marble slabs were emplaced at the foot of the monument, marking the crypts of unknown soldiers from wars subsequent to WWI. One marks the burial site of an unknown WWII soldier, the other an unidentified soldier of the Korean War. A third slab, which had been emplaced in 1984, once marked the burial site of an unknown soldier from the Vietnam War, until the advent of DNA testing made possible his identification in 1998. That serviceman was then buried at Jefferson Barracks National Cemetery near St. Louis, Missouri, while a new slab replacing the original was installed bearing the inscription, "Honoring and Keeping Faith with America's Missing Servicemen." Today, what was once known as the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier is referred to as the Tomb of the Unknowns.

The Tomb of the Unknowns, hallowed ground and the most visited burial site in the country, reminds us that every life has great and irreplaceable value.

Return to Table of Contents



Typhus and Trench Fever in World War I

Contributor:  Timothy Krausz

Washington Times, National Edition, May 4, 1919

[Image Courtesy of Library of Congress]

During the Great War, soldiers on both sides had common enemies at the frontlines. Those enemies included typhus and its relative, trench fever. In Serbia, a typhus epidemic decimated the civilian population and the country's army; on the Western Front trench fever incapacitated large numbers of soldiers on both sides.

In November 1914, about four months into the war, typhus struck with unprecedented deadliness in Serbia. This was not the first typhus outbreak in history, and not the first during a war. A typhus epidemic was first recorded in the Spanish siege of Granada in 1489.1 The Serbian outbreak was, however, the worst in history, producing a record mortality rate among those infected of 70% at its peak.2

The disease Rickettsia Prowazeki, or typhus, is a bacterium transmitted from human-to-human through the vector of the common body louse Pediculus humanus. Symptoms include high fever, headaches, chills, numbness, body pains, prostration, delirium, and in extreme cases, coma and cardiac arrest, likely leading to death.3 In fact, its name is derived from the Greek word for "stupor," due to the delirium infected individuals experience.

Although the disease would spread from Serbia to adjacent Balkan countries, it was first reported among Serbian civilian refugees displaced by the initial Austrian invasion in 1914, and the Serbs would suffer the most.

That lice, commonly called "cooties," were somehow to blame for typhus was known at the time. "If there is any typhus about, the 'cooties' spread it," one writer reported shortly after the war. "Under modern conditions, typhus is almost wholly a war disease. When large numbers of soldiers carrying typhus-bearing 'cooties' travel through a country and are quartered with the population, conditions are ideal for a typhus epidemic. This was just what happened in Serbia late in 1914."4 The lice were a nuisance even without the threat of typhus, as they cost soldiers considerable time removing them from their bodies.5 But the threat of typhus made their removal essential because adults suffered the effects of typhus more than did the young.6

The bacterium enters the human host when he scratches or rubs the lice on his skin. This opens the skin just enough for the bacteria, which is found in the excreta or crushed bodies of infected lice, to enter the host. During an eight- to twelve-day latent period—an asymptomatic period between exposure to disease and the first symptoms—the bacteria multiply in the host's stomach. Lice become infected when they bite an infected host. The lice, too, will die from typhus. Regular bathing and changes of clothing help prevent the spread of the disease, but on the frontlines, both of these otherwise common practices were seldom possible.

Ironically, the same outbreak of typhus that was decimating Serbian soldiers and the Serbian civilian population also served to help the Serbs. The Austrians, who had mounted three deadly, though repulsed, invasions of Serbia in 1914, chose to postpone a fourth invasion because they were fearful of contracting typhus during the Serbian typhus epidemic. Austria and Germany even took the precaution of initiating a program of heavy delousing among their troops.7

Ten months passed before Serbia was invaded again in October 1915—this time not only by Austrian, but also by German and Bulgarian forces. Serbia's ability to repel invasion was by then critically weakened by the loss of manpower in the previous year of fighting and the crippling typhus epidemic which, from January to June 1915, had claimed about 150,000 civilian and military lives.7

British "trenchman belt," not military issue,
advertised as deterring body vermin

[Photograph Courtesy of Imperial War Museum, London]

In some respects, the human cost of the war was greater for the Kingdom of Serbia than it was for any other nation that participated in WWI. Combat, famine, and disease, especially typhus, had taken a terrible toll. About 700,000 civilians and 300,000 military personnel were dead, twenty-five percent of Serbia's population—and nearly 60% of the male population. Only 100,000 Serbian soldiers remained of an army that was, at its peak, more than four times larger. More than 25% of Serbia's military personnel died in the war. To put the human loss in perspective, France, where almost all the Western Front fighting took place, was next in terms of percentage of loss, with about 17% of its military killed.

For unknown reasons typhus did not strike significantly on the Western Front, though trench fever, a relative of typhus, became a comparable threat. Never before medically recorded, this disease became obvious in 1914, the first year of the war, when it reached epidemic proportions on the Western Front, eventually affecting about one million soldiers.8 British Major J. H. P. Graham was the first to note the characteristics of the disease in 1915, but he could not identify the vector. It was not until August 1918 that an American research team in France identified the common body louse as the transmitting agent for trench fever, as it was already known to be the vector for typhus.9

Trench fever—Rickettsia Quintana, or Bartonella Quintana—received the name of Quintana due to the cyclical five day periods of sickness, remission, and recurrence. The disease is known for its short symptomatic periods but numerous relapses. Symptoms included a sudden onset of fever, headache, sore muscles and joints, characteristic shin pains, and outbreaks of skin lesions on one's chest and back. Unlike typhus, few actually died from trench fever. Nonetheless, 80% of soldiers fighting on the Western Front were unfit for duty for three-month periods, the typical length of the disease's cycle.10

Because the disease was believed to be new at the time, lice were not yet suspected as the vector, so no one knew how to stop the disease from spreading. Soldiers commonly removed lice as part of their hygiene, but any effective impact on the spread of trench fever would have required coordinated and comprehensive delousing programs. The doctors and medics on the Western Front did their best to treat the soldiers' symptoms, but they were unable to prevent or cure the disease.

New technologies indicate that the Western Front in WWI was not the world's first outbreak of trench fever. Modern DNA techniques indicate that in 1812 Napoleon's Grand Army suffered trench fever at Vilnius, Lithuania. Bartonella Quintana is evident in a human tooth which was found in Roaix, France, and is dated to c2000 B.C.E.11

By causing the Austrians to delay an invasion of Serbia, typhus impacted the course of the war in the Balkan Peninsula, just as on the Western Front trench fever affected the course of the war by incapacitating one million soldiers who otherwise would have been in the fight. To what extent did trench fever and typhus affect the course or the outcome of the war? Though that question may remain unmeasureable, perhaps an ultimately greater question may be whether bacteria are variables in man's effort to control the earth, or whether humans are variables in bacteria's effort to control the earth.


  1. R L Atenstaedt, "Trench Fever: The British Medical Response in the Great War," The Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine (20 March 2013): ncbi.nlm.nih.gov.
  2. David W. Tschanz, "Typhus Fever on the Eastern Front," MSU Entomology Group (27 November 2012): entomology.montana.edu.
  3. "Typhus," PubMed Health, National Center for Biotechnology Information (27 Nov. 2012): ncbi.nlm.nih.com.
  4. Homer Folks, "War, Best Friend of Disease," Harper's Monthly Magazine (New York: Harper & Brothers, 1920): 455-456: books.google.com.
  5. Winston Groom, A Storm in Flanders: the Ypres Salient, 1914-1918: Tragedy and Triumph on the Western Front (New York: Atlantic Monthly Press, 2002), p.175.
  6. Tschanz.
  7. Spencer Tucker, ed., The Encyclopedia of World War I (5 Vols; Santa Barbara, California: ABC-CLIO, Inc., 2005), Vol. IV, p. 1079.
  8. M. G. Miller, "Of Lice and Men: Trench Fever and Trench Life in the AIF," The World War I Document Archive (27 Nov. 2012): gwpda.org.
  9. Atenstaedt.
  10. Miller.
  11. Alfred Scott Lea, "Trench Fever," Medscape (March 20, 2013): emedicine.medscape.com.

Return to Table of Contents


U. S. Intervention at Murmansk and Archangel

Contributor:  Lucas Immer

U. S. intervention in Russia also took place at Murmansk and Archangel.

When Tsar Nicholas II of Russia abdicated in March 1917 a provisional government under the leadership of Alexander Kerensky continued the Russian war effort. The US entered the war in April and, along with other Allied powers, shipped military supplies to Archangel on the White Sea and Murmansk on the Barents Sea in order to bolster the Russian war effort.

In those north Russian ports Allied supplies accumulated just as the Bolsheviks seized power and began negotiations with Germany to bring to an end the war on the Eastern Front. To prevent those supplies from falling into German hands and in hopes of assisting the evacuation of the Czech Legion from Russia, Allied forces landed at Archangel. U. S. forces arrived in September 1918, (at about the same time U. S. forces were landing at Vladivostok) and were placed under British command.

The American North Russian Expeditionary Force (ANREF), some 5,000 doughboys mostly from Michigan and other mid-western states, was made up of the 339th Infantry Regiment, the 1st Battalion of the 310th Engineers, the 337th Ambulance Company, and the 337th Field Hospital of the Army's 85th Division. By the time the ANREF arrived at Archangel in September 1918, Russia had already left the war, having signed the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk six months earlier. The Great War itself would last only two months more, ending with the Armistice on November 11, 1918.

Russia's war with the Central Powers had ended, but the Russian Civil War had begun, a conflict between the Bolshevik Reds and the White Russians who remained loyal to the deposed czar. In what appeared to be an effort to reestablish the Eastern Front by enlisting Whites and the Czech Legion, the Allied forces in north Russia were soon aiding the White armies in the Russian Civil War.

When the Great War ended with the Armistice of November 11, 1918, the Allies were without justification for remaining on Russian soil, but all Allied forces did not depart Russia until June 1920. American forces were still deployed in Russia as late as June 1919, seven months after the Great War had come to an end. The nine-month-long North Russian campaign cost some 250 American lives either in combat or due to disease.

As a result of their north Russian experience the American North Russian Expeditionary Force named themselves "The Polar Bears."

Return to Table of Contents



The Czech Legion and U. S. Intervention at Vladivostok

Contributor:  Lucas Immer

The Czech Legion, which fought in concert with the Russian army against the Central Powers, was made up of ethnic Czechs living in Russia and Czech and Slovak prisoners-of-war and deserters from the Austro-Hungarian army. About 50,000-strong, the Czech Legion supported Czechs in the Austrian Empire who had long dreamed of independence.

The Czech Legion's role fighting the Central Powers came to an end when, a few months after the Bolsheviks came to power in Russia in November 1917, the new Bolshevik government signed the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk with Germany, formally ending war on the Eastern Front.

Though the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk took Russia out of the war, the Czech Legion hoped it could continue fighting the Central Powers on the Western Front. The only apparent way for the Czech Legion to exit Russia and get to the Western Front was to travel across Russia to the Siberian port of Vladivostok. That route would require some 5,000 miles of transportation on the Trans-Siberian Railway. The Czech Legion hoped it could then be transported by ship from Vladivostok to France.

Unsympathetic with the Bolshevik government which had quit the Great War, the Czech Legion sided with the pro-czar Whites against the Bolshevik Reds in the Russian Civil War which followed the Bolshevik seizure of power. The July 16, 1918, Bolshevik execution of Czar Nicholas and his family in the Ural city of Yekaterinburg may have been prompted by the imminent arrival of the Czech Legion as it traveled eastward on the Trans-Siberian Railway en route to Vladivostok.

President Woodrow Wilson ordered the U. S. military to occupy Vladivostok as a way to rescue the Czech Legion from possible annihilation by the Bolsheviks and as a way to safeguard and then retrieve massive amounts of military supplies the Allies had shipped there. Portions of the Czech Legion had already reached Vladivostok by the time U. S., British, and Japanese forces arrived to assist in their evacuation.

Under the command of Major General William Graves, 8,000 American soldiers, designated AEF Siberia, arrived in Vladivostok in August and early September 1918 (at about the same time U. S. forces were landing at Archangel and Murmansk), six months after Russia had signed the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk and only about two months before the Great War ended with the Armistice on November 11, 1918. Though Graves was under orders not to become embroiled in the fighting between the Reds and the Whites, conflict with the Reds did take place, and by the time the last U. S. forces departed Vladivostok by late spring 1920, some twenty months after their arrival, about 350 Americans had died either in combat or due to disease.

By late fall 1922 Bolsheviks gained control of Vladivostok. Most of the evacuated Czech Legion formed the army of the newly independent Czechoslovakia.

Return to Table of Contents



"The Mother Half of Humanity": The Women's Peace Party and the Great War

Contributor:  Valentina Sainato

With the beginning of the Great War in Europe, and two and one-half years before the United States entered the conflict, American social worker and suffragist Jane Addams called for the convening of a woman's peace conference. The two-day conference would take place on January 9-10, 1915, in the ballroom of the Willard Hotel in Washington, D. C.

MS Noordam

[Photo Courtesy of Library of Congress]

The 3000 delegates in attendance organized the Women's Peace Party (WPP); Jane Addams was elected the WPP chairman. Arguing that "the mother half of humanity" had an obligation to end the war, WPP resolutions opposed militarism in the United States and favored international reduction in armaments and the formation of a body of neutral nations which would pursue "continuous mediation" as a means of ending the war.1

Three months later, Aletta Jacobs, a Dutch suffragist and anti-war advocate, invited the Woman's Peace Party to attend a three-day International Congress of Women, to convene on April 28 in The Hague in the Netherlands. Forty-seven women from various American peace organizations, most of the women being members of the WPP, accepted the invitation, and paid their own expenses, departing on April 13, 1915, on the Holland-America ship MS Noordam, bound for Rotterdam, Holland, where the International Congress of Women would take place in The Hague, with Jane Addams serving as chairperson. About 1,300 delegates from ten belligerent and neutral European countries and Canada and the United States were in attendance.

American Peace Delegates aboard MS Noordam
Jane Addams is standing directly behind banner, second from left

[Photo Courtesy of Library of Congress]

The three-day conference, which founded the International Committee of Women for Permanent Peace, later renamed the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom (WILPF), produced twenty resolutions, for example proposing international disarmament, freedom of the seas, and "continuous mediation" of international disputes by a commission of neutral countries made up of Denmark, Holland, Norway, Spain, Sweden, and Switzerland. The Congress selected thirty delegates to visit fourteen European capitals in May and June 1915.

Meanwhile, the Dutch pacifist and suffragist Aletta Jacobs, who was visiting the United States, and American pacifists Carrie Catt, Emily Balch, and Jane Addams met with Secretary of State Robert Lansing, presidential advisor Edward House, and President Woodrow Wilson to discuss the International Congress of Women proposal for a "League of Neutral Countries" to mediate the war. According to Aletta Jacobs, Wilson indicated that he could not endorse the women's proposal because his own attitude toward peace could change daily, depending on the international situation.2 The May 1915 sinking of the Lusitania may also have sunk any possible interest Wilson had had in the idea of mediation at that time.

Though Wilson was unwilling to support the WPP and WILPF mediation proposals, automobile magnate Henry Ford offered to finance American attendance at another Hague peace conference [See our "Feature Story" for January 2012]. That conference, held in January 1916, led to the creation of the Neutral Conference for Continuous Mediation, which met in Stockholm, Sweden, in 1916 and 1917.

When the United States went to war in April 1917, the WPP remained pacifist, but supported Wilson's Fourteen Points, including Point Fourteen's proposal to create "a general association of nations," which WPP members may not have seen as too different from the "continuous mediation" goals they had proposed three years earlier. The WPP endorsed the "general association of nations," formally named the League of Nations, but condemned the decision not to include Germany when the League was formed in 1919.

The Nobel Peace Prize was awarded to Jane Addams in 1931 and to Emily Balch in 1946. Both had been among the U. S. delegates to the first meeting of the International Congress of Women in April 1915. The Women's International League for Peace and Freedom (WILPF), which they helped organize at that conference, remains active today, with headquarters in Geneva, Switzerland.


  1. Jane Addams, Peace and Bread in Time of War (Boston: G.K. Hall & Co., 1960), p. 6: http://media.pfeiffer.edu.
  2. Aletta Jacobs, letter to Jane Addams, 15 September 1915, quoted in John Chambers, ed., The Eagle and the Dove: The American Peace Movement and United States Foreign Policy (Syracuse, New York: Syracuse University Press, 1991), p. 67: http://books.google.com.

Return to Table of Contents



Women in Uniform in WWI

Contributor:  Sarah McMaster

Women pointing at something

Yeomen F, U.S. Navy

[Photo Courtesy of Indiana Veterans of WWI]

Both the U. S. Army Nurse Corps and the U. S. Navy Nurse Corps were organized in the early1900s, prior to the outbreak of WWI. Women who were not eligible to be nurses found that the Naval Reserve Act of 1916 gave them an opportunity to serve in the Navy, Marines, and Coast Guard in a capacity other than as a nurse. In an apparently unintended oversight, the language of the 1916 measure did not appear to bar women from enlistment in the Navy Reserve. Recruitment was open to "all persons who may be capable of performing special useful service for coastal defense."1

Consequently, one month prior to U. S. entry into WWI naval district commanders received instructions indicating that women could be recruited as "radio operators, stenographers, nurses, messengers, chauffeurs, etc., and in many other capacities in the industrial line." As a result women joining the Navy could be yeoman (with the added designation "F" for female); they were no longer limited to service as nurses. The Marines and Coast Guard followed suit. Women Marines were referred to as Marinettes, those in the Coast Guard as Yeomanettes.

About 13,000 women joined the Navy, Marines, and Coast Guard. Almost all were assigned clerical duties in the continental United States; some had clerical assignments at U. S. naval bases outside the U. S.—Hawaii and the Panama Canal Zone, for example. About 17,000 women joined the Army; almost all were nurses. About 300 women who were bilingual in English and French served as telephone operators in the Army's Signal Corps. When the war ended, and despite not completing the originally prescribed four-year period of service, women in uniform were discharged, and Congress revised the Naval Reserve Act to specify recruitment was thereafter limited to males.

While a total of about 30,000 women served in uniform in the Great War, thousands of other women volunteered to work overseas with the Red Cross, Salvation Army, and YMCA and YWCA. On the home front thousands more worked in factories, farms, and stores in positions that men would have held had no war taken place.

The roles played by women in WWI helped bring about a constitutional amendment guaranteeing at long last that women had the right to vote. President Wilson was encouraging ratification of the 19th Amendment when he wrote to the U. S. Senate in September 1918, still two months before the end of the war, "Are we alone to ask and take the utmost that our women can give, service and sacrifice of every kind, and still say we do not see what title that gives them to stand by our sides in the guidance of the affairs of their nations and ours? We have made partners of the women in this war; shall we admit them only to a partnership of suffering and sacrifice and toll and not to be a partnership of privilege and right?"2


  1. National Archives: http://www.archives.gov.
  2. National Women's History Museum: http://www.nwhm.org.

Return to Table of Contents



Zeppelins

Contributor:  Andrew Abdalla

During the American Civil War Count Ferdinand von Zeppelin, a Prussian army officer, witnessed Union troops using tethered balloons for observation, and while serving in the Franco-Prussian War he noted that the French used balloons to transport people and mail. Because balloons were at the mercy of the winds, he wondered if a means of propulsion and steering could be applied to lighter-than-air aircraft. Zeppelin would not be the first person to find a way to propel and maneuver lighter-than-air aircraft, but he would become a leader in the new technology.

Following years of planning, Zeppelin constructed his first "dirigible" (the name dirigible comes from the Latin word for "to direct" or "to steer") in 1910. With an aluminum alloy frame covered in fabric and hydrogen-filled compartments providing lift, his first dirigible, which measured 420' in length and 38' in diameter, was powered by two internal combustion propeller engines. Constantly improving his designs, Zeppelin formed a company to develop his airships for use in commercial transportation. Over the next few years these "zeppelins" measured about 500' in length and, and with three 500-horsepower engines each, could achieve 50 mile per hour speeds.

Zeppelin understood the military potential of his airships and by the time the Great War began the German navy and army had purchased a total of ten zeppelins which they intended to use as bombers. Zeppelin had died eight months before the war began and leadership of zeppelin construction was taken over by Hugo Eckener, who had been an associate of Zeppelin since 1906. Though a civilian, Eckener trained zeppelin flight crews during the war.

Zeppelins could fly at altitudes safe from enemy fire, above maximum airplane altitudes; the speed, range, and payload capacity suggested that they would be formidable weapons of war. Indeed, zeppelins dropped about 3,000 pounds of bombs on London on May 31, 1915, and more bombing raids of London and Paris followed. At their cruising altitudes zeppelin engines could not be heard from the ground; Allied propaganda referred to these terrifying silent weapons as "baby killers."

The initial military advantages of the zeppelins were negated, however, as the English and French produced airplanes which (1) were capable of reaching greater altitudes and (2) were armed with phosphorus ammunition designed to ignite the hydrogen-filled zeppelins.

The Treaty of Versailles required that all remaining zeppelins be turned over to the Allies. Eckener convinced the U. S. government to employ his company in the building of a new zeppelin for the U. S. Navy, and Eckener personally piloted the delivery of the new zeppelin, which would be named "Los Angeles." The airship could carry thirty passengers, sleeping accommodations included. The "Los Angeles" career of about 300 flights ended in 1932 when it was retired from service.

The future of zeppelin transportation seemed promising since these aircraft could carry heavy payloads and travel thousands of miles without refueling at cruising speeds of about seventy miles per hour. The Graf Zeppelin, for example, which was in service under Eckener's command from 1928-1937, made 590 flights and traveled more than one million miles without a single passenger injury. In aviation history the Graf Zeppelin made the first trans-Atlantic passenger flight, the first around the world passenger flight, and was first to fly scheduled trans-Atlantic passenger service. Nearly 13,000 passengers crossed the Atlantic Ocean on the Graf Zeppelin's 144 trans-Atlantic flights. The spire capping New York City's Empire State Building (the Empire State Building was completed in 1931) was intended to provide docking for zeppelins, though concerns about safety cancelled plans to use it.

Perhaps the best-remembered of the zeppelins, though its career was only one year long, was the 804' Hindenburg, commissioned in 1936. The Hindenburg made ten round-trip trans-Atlantic flights and carried over 1,000 passengers when, during its landing procedure at Lakehurst, New Jersey, on May 6, 1937, it exploded and crashed in flames. Thirty-five of the ninety-seven Hindenburg passengers lost their lives; a ground crew worker was also killed.

The Lakehurst disaster ended the once promising possibilities of world-wide zeppelin transportation. Had Eckener been able to replace hydrogen with the helium he wanted for the Hindenburg, the Lakehurst disaster would not have happened, and the story of zeppelin transportation thereafter might have been different.

Return to Table of Contents



Evangeline Booth, the Salvation Army, and the "Doughnut Girls"

Contributor:  Violet Elder

[Image Courtesy of Library of Congress]

In 1865, William Booth, a Methodist minister since 1852, and his wife Catherine founded in London, England, The Christian Mission, an evangelical organization which, thirteen years later, became the Salvation Army. Instead of preaching from a pulpit, The Christian Mission's strategy was to bring God's word and acts of Christian charity directly to the poor and homeless.

The Booths founded The Christian Mission in the same year they became parents of their seventh child, Eveline Cory Booth. The Booths would call her Eva, reflecting their admiration for Eva (Evangeline) St. Clare, the loving Christian heroine in the American novel Uncle Tom's Cabin, by Harriet Beecher Stowe (published in book form in 1852). The Booths would have eight children; remarkably, all would become active in the Salvation Army.

In 1896 William Booth appointed Eva to lead the Salvation Army in Canada, and eight years later Eva, who would choose to go by the name Evangeline, became the National Commander of the United States Salvation Army.

Following American entry into the Great War in April 1917, Booth sent about 250 Salvation Army women to France to staff infirmaries, hostels, and canteens, some of which were located adjacent to the front lines.1 When American Salvation Army canteens added doughnuts to their menus, enthusiastic American soldiers cheerfully referred to those who served them as the "Doughnut Girls." The hospitality of the Doughnut Girls and the selfless relief work of other U. S. Salvation Army volunteers in France, did more than any other Salvation Army program to bolster the organization's reputation in the United States.2 In 1919, the war-time humanitarian work of the Salvation Army inspired President Woodrow Wilson to award Evangeline Booth the Distinguished Service Medal. The Distinguished Service Medal, authorized by Congress a year earlier, honors any person for exceptionally meritorious wartime service.

Evangeline Booth, who became a U. S. citizen in 1923, remained the Commander of the United States Salvation Army until 1934, when she returned to London to serve as General of the world-wide organization of the Salvation Army.

Following her retirement in 1939 Booth returned to the United States, living in Hartsdale, New York. She died of arteriosclerosis at age 84 in 1950, and is buried in Kensico Cemetery, in Valhalla, New York. Though Evangeline Booth had never married she had adopted four children, one, Pearl, becoming an officer in the Salvation Army.


  1. Spencer Tucker, ed., World War I Encyclopedia (5 Vols; Santa Barbara, California: ABC-CLIO, Inc., 2005), IV, p. 104
  2. "Evangeline Cory," The Salvation Army International Heritage Centre, 2003, 29 March 2011, http://www.salvationarmy.org/heritage.

Return to Table of Contents



George M. Cohan

Contributor:  Violet Elder

George M. Cohan's 1904 song "The Yankee Doodle Boy" claimed he was "a real-life nephew of my Uncle Sam, born on the 4th of July." But it was on July 3, and not July 4, that the great American song writer, vaudevillian, playwright, dancer, actor, and Broadway director and producer George M. Cohan was born in 1878 in Providence, Rhode Island, to vaudevillians Jeremiah and Helen Cohan.

George grew up to be an entertainer, too, in his childhood years playing the violin. By the time he was eleven years of age, George was acting on stage with his parents and older sister Josephine, the family entertainers becoming known as "the Four Cohans." By his late teens George was writing songs and skits and the Cohans later rewrote some of those skits as musicals.

In 1899 21-year-old Gerorge Cohan married Ethel Levey, a vaudeville singer and comedienne. Their daughter Georgette was born in 1900. Four years into the marriage George wrote the dialogue and music for his musical "Little Johnny Jones," which became his first hit. George produced and directed the musical and starred in the title role, with his wife Ethel in the role of his love interest. Among the musical's hit songs, and famous ever-after, were "Yankee Doodle Boy" and "Give My Regards to Broadway."

George and Ethel divorced in 1907, and a few months later George married chorus girl Agnes Nolan. They would have three children. In 1917, as the United States entered the Great War, Cohan wrote the stirring march "Over There." With lyrics that reflected the mood and resolve of the country, "Over There" was an instant hit and famous ever-after, easily becoming the signature music for the American doughboy of World War I. Enjoying great popularity in the war years, Cohan owned and operated several theaters on Broadway.

By the late 1920s Cohan's once unprecedented popularity may have waned, but his career would still bring curtain calls. In 1932 Cohan starred in the Paramount Pictures musical "The Phantom President."

Though the film, co-starring Claudette Colbert and Jimmy Durante, with music by Richard Rogers and Lorenz Hart, was not commercially successful, it allows present-day researchers an opportunity to see Cohan and his style of performance.

By an act of Congress dated June 29, 1936, President Franklin Roosevelt presented Cohan a gold medal for "Over There" and for another patriotic song "It's a Grand Old Flag," which he had composed in 1905. One year after receiving the award Cohan portrayed FDR in "I'd Rather Be Right" (1937), written by playwright Moss Hart with songs by Richard Rogers and Lorenz Hart, and produced by Sam Harris. Cohan played the role of President Franklin Roosevelt.

Hit songs included "Have You Met Miss Jones?" and "Off the Record." Critics and FDR himself applauded the musical, which became a Broadway hit before going on a national tour.

During WWII James Cagney, once a vaudevillian himself, won the Academy Award for Best Actor for his portrayal of George M. Cohan in the 1942 Warner Brothers film "Yankee Doodle Dandy." Cohan saw the film just weeks before his death from stomach cancer on November 5, 1942. According to a New York Times obituary, "It was his [Cohan's] unfulfilled ambition to give American another "Over There" for this war, a war thus far without a song to match it."*

In 1959 a bronze statue of George M. Cohan was erected in New York City's Times Square.


  1. *http://www.nytimes.com/learning/general/onthisday/bday/0703.html.

Return to Table of Contents



James Reese Europe

Contributor:  Daniel Gonzalez

James Reese Europe was born in Mobile, Alabama, in 1881. His father was a former slave, his mother a free-born African American. When James was ten years of age his family moved to Washington, D. C., where he and his sister took violin and piano lessons from the assistant director of the Marine Corps band. At age twenty-two James moved to New York City, finding employment as a nightclub pianist.

In 1910 this talented and increasingly popular musician, whose musical style was a blend of ragtime and jazz, organized and became president of the Clef Club, an employment agency for African American musicians. On May 2, 1912, the Clef Club Orchestra made history as the first jazz group and the first African-American musical group ever to perform at Carnegie Hall. A year later Europe formed the Tempo Club, which employed black musicians to play at dancing venues.

In September 1916 (seven months before the U. S. entered the Great War) Europe enlisted as a private in the 15th New York Infantry, an African American National Guard regiment, and, following officers training, he was commissioned as a lieutenant. When the U. S. entered the Great War in April 1917 the 15th New York Infantry became part of the African American 369th Infantry, later known as the Harlem Hellfighters. Europe organized and led the 369th regimental band.

When General John Pershing assigned the 369th Infantry to a French division, Lt. Europe led a machine gun company in combat. Europe thus became the first black officer to lead doughboys in combat in WWI. While in a hospital recuperating from exposure to gas, Europe wrote the lyrics for "On Patrol in No Man's Land," based on his combat experience. He later wrote "All of No Man's Land Is Ours," a song about an African American soldier's return to the United States after the war.

In the summer of 1918 Europe and his 369th U.S. Infantry "Hell Fighters" Band were removed from combat in order to tour France entertaining U. S. and French soldiers and civilian audiences. While in France the band recorded its music at Pathé Brothers.

When the war ended Reese and his Hellfighters band planned a music-performing tour of the United States. In Boston, Europe and his drummer Herbert Wright had a disagreement during which Wright fatally stabbed Europe in the neck with a pen-knife. The next day's New York Times noted the death of a man who had "won fame for 'jazz' music."* New York City gave an official funeral for Reese, a procession from Harlem south on New York City's west side to St. Mark's Episcopal Church. Europe was buried at Arlington National Cemetery.

Europe's musical and military career had helped bring dignity to African Americans during a time of bigotry and racial prejudice; his musical career had also broadened American acceptance of jazz music, a musical style that would become increasingly popular in the 1920s.



*http://query.nytimes.com

Return to Table of Contents



General John J. Pershing

John J. Pershing, the oldest of six children, was born on September 13, 1860, near Laclede, Missouri. His childhood and teenage years were spent there, working on his father's farm and attending school. After graduation from secondary school he became a school teacher and then attended and graduated from North Missouri Normal School (today Truman State University) in Kirksville, Missouri. At age twenty-two he was admitted to the U. S. Military Academy at West Point. He was elected president of his senior class and graduated 30th in a class of 77.

Pershing was assigned both teaching and field responsibilities in the thirty years following his graduation and before U. S. entry into the Great War. He served with the 6th Cavalry in campaigns against the Apache in Arizona and New Mexico and against the Sioux in the Dakotas. He taught military tactics at the University of Nebraska and several years later at West Point. In between those two teaching assignments he was assigned to the 10th Cavalry, a "Buffalo Soldier" regiment. That experience led to his nickname, applied to him later, "Black Jack." In the Spanish-American War he commanded a black regiment in Cuba and after the war he participated in a campaign to suppress the Philippine Insurrection. In 1916 and 1917 Pershing led the Punitive Expedition into Mexico in search of Pancho Villa.

When the U.S. entered the Great War President Woodrow Wilson appointed Pershing commander of the American Expeditionary Force (AEF). The appointment might otherwise have gone to General Frederick Funston, but Funston died of a heart attack three months before the war began.

Pershing had to build and train an army for the war in Europe. As training proceeded in the U. S. and in France, Pershing found himself in disagreement with French Marshal Henri Pétain and British Field Marshal Sir Douglas Haig, both of whom called for the immediate engagement of U. S. troops under French and British command. Pershing withheld American doughboys from immediate combat, continued their training, and then placed them in combat as American units with American commanders.

When the war ended Pershing returned to the United States as the war's greatest American hero. In 1919 Congress honored Pershing for his service in the Great War by appointing him to the new rank of General of the Armies of the United States. Two years later he was appointed Chief of Staff of the Army.

Pershing retired from active duty at age 64 in 1924. He spent much of his time writing My Experience in the World War (1931), which won the Pulitzer Prize for History in 1932.

Pershing died on July 15, 1948, at age 88 at Walter Reed Army Hospital in Washington, D. C.

Return to Table of Contents



Eddie Rickenbacker

Contributor:  Elena Sakopoulos

Eddie Rickenbacker, who would become the most famous U. S. flying ace of WWI, was born in Columbus, Ohio, on October 8, 1890, the child of Swiss immigrants who had met and married in Columbus, Ohio. When his father died, eleven-year-old Eddie left school and found employment in various jobs as he tried to help support his family. Because he was fascinated by cars and other machines he took a correspondence course in engineering when he was 16. He became an auto mechanic and then an auto salesman, and while he was still selling cars, he raced in the Indianapolis 500 to promote his sales.

When the U. S. entered the Great War Rickenbacker enlisted in the Army. His knowledge of automobiles and his reputation as a race car driver landed him a job as a driver for General John Pershing in France. Rickenbacker was able to pursue his hope of becoming a pilot, thanks to the intercession of General William Mitchell, head of the Army's Air Service. Rickenbacker had convinced his superiors that despite his age—he was two years older than the age limit of 25—he would be able to make the transition to flying. His pilot training began in Tours, France. He flew his first mission in early April 1918.

By late September 1918 Captain Rickenbacker became the commander of the 94th Aero Pursuit Squadron, which sported the now famous "hat in the ring" insignia. Piloting Nieuport 28s and Spad XIIIs, Rickenbacker downed 22 German planes and four German observation balloons in the half-year remaining in the war between his first combat mission in April and the Armistice on November 11. Perhaps the greatest flying ace of the war, Rickenbacker earned a Medal of Honor, an unprecedented seven distinguished service crosses, a World War I victory medal, a Legion of Honor award, and a Croix de Guerre.

After the war Rickenbacker founded the Rickenbacker Automobile Company. When competition from the major automobile manufacturers led to his company's bankruptcy in 1925, Rickenbacker paid off the company debt himself. Two years later he purchased the Indianapolis Speedway and operated it until 1945. During WWII, meanwhile, Secretary of War Henry Stimson recruited Rickenbacker to fly special missions assessing U. S. bases in Europe and in the Pacific.

After WWII Rickenbacker continued leading Eastern Airlines, which he had purchased in 1938. Eastern enjoyed a period of great financial success until a downturn in the company's profits led to Rickenbacker's retirement in 1963.

Eddie Rickenbacker died of heart failure in Zurich, Switzerland, on July 23, 1973.

Return to Table of Contents



John Philip Sousa and the Great War

Contributor:  Violet Elder

John Philp Sousa, c1917

[Photograph Courtesy of Library of Congress]

Following the U. S. declaration of war in 1917 the American composer John Alden Carpenter sent a telegram to his friend John Philip Sousa, America's foremost bandmaster and march composer, inquiring whether he might be willing to help develop the Navy band program at the Naval Training Center in Great Lakes, Illinois, about forty miles north of Chicago. In an illustrious musical career that began when, at thirteen years of age, he joined the Marine Corps Band, Sousa was, by the time of the Great War, famous around the world. Sousa was sixty-two years of age in 1917, and had composed an unprecedented number of immensely popular marches, for example, "The Gladiator" (1886), "Semper Fidelis" (1888), "The Washington Post" (1889), "The Liberty Bell" (1893), and "Stars and Stripes Forever" (1896). Sousa's resume included twelve years as the Marine Corps bandmaster, and, over the years, leadership of several other bands, for example "The President's Own" for Presidents Hayes, Garfield, Arthur, Cleveland, and Benjamin Harrison, and the Sousa Band, formed in 1892, which was actively performing when the United States went to war in 1917.

In response to the Navy's need for musical assistance, Sousa traveled to the Great Lakes Naval Station to meet with Captain William Moffett, the base commandant, to discuss a unique United States Navy job description. Moffett offered Sousa a commission as lieutenant in the Navy Reserve, serving as the Great Lakes Naval Station Director of Music. "I won't fail you," Sousa assured Moffett. "I'll join. I'm past sixty-two, but you'll find me a healthy fellow."1 The Navy commission greatly pleased Sousa, as he had regretted not having received a Marine Corps officer's commission in the years he had served as the Marine Corps bandmaster.2

Sousa in Navy uniform, 1917

[Photograph Courtesy of Library of Congress]

Lt. Sousa essentially volunteered his services, donating all but one dollar of his annual salary to the Sailors' and Marines' Relief Fund.3 Though he was permitted to fulfill his previously booked responsibilities as conductor of his own Sousa Band, he spent most of his time fulfilling his Navy responsibilities, organizing some 1,500 musicians into regimental and fleet bands and an elite 350-member "Bluejacket Band," which went on tours to promote recruitment in the armed forces and to raise money for Liberty Bonds and the Red Cross. Having attended a performance of the Bluejacket Band, President Wilson may have spoken for the nation when he declared it "the greatest demonstration of American spirit that is possible to conceive and certainly . . . the greatest band in the world."4 Sousa's efforts raised about twenty-one million dollars.5

Sousa and the Bluejacket Band were in Toronto, Canada, assisting the Canadian government with its Victory Loan campaign, when the Armistice was announced on November 11, 1918. "Never was there such a night!" Sousa recalled. "Not a soul in the city slept." For Sousa the post-war euphoria was only slightly dampened by a bout with the Spanish Flu and an abscess in his right ear; "but," as he rejoiced, "what were pains and pangs and abscesses to the frantic delight of knowing the war was over?"6

American participation in the war inspired Sousa to compose both marches—for example, "Sabre and Spurs," and "Solid Men to the Front"— and songs—for example, "We Are Coming," "When the Boys Come Sailing Home," and "In Flanders Fields the Poppies Grow." Canadian Army doctor Lt. Col. John McCrae, the author of the poem "In Flanders Fields," had sent Sousa a manuscript copy of the poem and an accompanying request that the poem might be set to music. McCrae would never hear the music Sousa created for his poem, dying in Boulogne, France, of pneumonia and meningitis ten months before the war's end. For Sousa, McCrae's request became "a priceless memory" of the war. "I was deeply touched by the beauty of the verses," Sousa recalled, "and I should be happy if the music which I made for them may serve, however slightly, to keep that message sounding in the hearts of all lovers of human liberty."7 In the two years following the war Sousa composed additional patriotic marches inspired by the war—"Bullets and Bayonets," "Comrades of the Legion," and "Who's Who in Navy Blue."

Sousa was relieved from active duty in January 1919, and promoted to the rank of lieutenant commander thirteen months later.8 Though no longer in the Navy, Sousa continued to conduct his own Sousa Band still proudly wearing his Navy uniform until his death in 1932. The last music he rehearsed with his band remains his most famous, "The Stars and Stripes Forever," which, in 1987, Congress designated "the national march" of the United States.9 Sousa is buried at the Congressional Cemetery in Washington, D. C.


  1. John Philip Sousa, Marching Along: Recollections of Men, Women, and Music (Westerville, Ohio: Integrity Press, 1994), p. 310.
  2. Paul Bierley, The Incredible Band of John Philip Sousa (University of Illinois, 2006), p. 31: books.google.com.
  3. United States Navy Band, Washington, D. C: navyband.navy.mil.
  4. Navy Band, Great Lakes, Illinois: navy.mil/nstc/navyband.
  5. Sousa, p. 314; navyband.navy.mil; Paul E. Bierley, John Philip Sousa: American Phenomenon (Miami, Florida: Warner Bros. Publications, 2001), p. 78: books.google.com.
  6. Sousa, p. 319.
  7. Ibid., p. 321.
  8. Ibid., p. 320.
  9. uscode.house.gov.

Return to Table of Contents


Sergeant Alvin Cullum York

Contributor:  Cori Calabi

Alvin Cullum York was born on December 13, 1887, in Pall Mall, Tennessee, and grew up in poverty in a subsistence farming family. When his father died in 1911, York, then twenty-four years of age, became the head of the family, supporting his eight younger brothers and sisters, since his two older brothers were already married and supporting their own families. York worked in railroad construction and logging, and, he admitted, drank, gambled, and got into fights.

Sgt. Alvin York, LOC

Sergeant Alvin Cullum York

Note Medal of Honor and
Croix de Guerre over Left Pocket

[Photo Courtesy of Library of Congress]

York's mother, a devout Methodist, eventually turned Alvin's attention to salvation. 1 By his late teens, York was attending church regularly. At age twenty-seven York attended a Church of Christ in Christian Union revival meeting, an experience that would put York on a life-changing path. The denomination forbade drinking, dancing, and movies, and it was pacifist. York committed himself to the denomination and hence to pacifism and abstinence from the drinking and rowdy behavior that had marked his earlier years.

Following the U. S. declaration of war against Germany in April 1917, York registered for the draft, but next to the draft card's question, "Do you claim exemption from draft (specify grounds)?" York wrote, "Yes, Don't Want to Fight". The draft board did not recognize the Church of Christ in Christian Union as a legitimate Christian denomination, 2 and York was drafted in November 1917. At that point York struggled between his sense of duty to his country and his commitment to pacifism. York later recalled,

My religion and my experience . . . told me not to go to war, and the memory of my ancestors . . . told me to get my gun and go fight. I didn't know what to do. . . . .   I was a heap bothered. It is a most awful thing when the wishes of your God and your country . . . get mixed up and go against each other. One moment I would make up my mind to follow God, and the next I would hesitate and almost make up my mind to follow Uncle Sam . . . .   I wanted to follow both but I couldn't. 3

York was stationed at Camp Gordon in Atlanta, Georgia, where two officers tried to help York out of his conundrum by citing passages in the Bible. York eventually concurred with them that war was sometimes necessary to establish peace, and the verse "Blessed are the peacemakers" (Book of Matthew, Chapter 5, Verse 9) could be read in that way. York also saw in a Bible verse how he could be justified serving in the defense of his country.

Then whosoever heareth the sound of the trumpet, and taketh not warning; if the sword come and take him away, his blood shall be upon his own head. He heard the sound of the trumpet, and took not warning; his blood shall be upon him. But if the watchman see the sword come, and blow not the trumpet, and the people be not warned; if the sword come, and take any person from among them . . . his blood will I require at the watchman's hand" (Book of Ezekiel, Chapter 33, Verses 4-6).

Company G, 328th Infantry, 82nd Division, of which York was a member, arrived in France in April 1918. About six months later events took place which would make York one of the most famous veterans of the war. On the morning of October 8, Cpl. York and sixteen other Americans were ordered to advance upon a German machine gun position. Six Americans were killed and three wounded when they came under fire. With seven men guarding German prisoners, York advanced alone upon the German position, killing some twenty-five German soldiers and taking others as prisoners. York later explained how a German officer they had taken prisoner played a key role in the American capture of additional German soldiers.

I . . . told [the German officer] if he didn't make them stop firing I would take off his head next. And he knew I meant it. He told me if I didn't kill him, and if I stopped shooting the others in the trench, he would make them surrender. He blew a little whistle and they came down and began to gather around and throw down their guns and belts. 4

York and the seven remaining Americans led their captives back to the American lines. Whenever York encountered any Germans along the way he "told the major to blow his whistle or [he] would take his head off and theirs too." Remarkably, York and the seven other Americans arrived at the American lines at Varennes with 132 German prisoners. 5

York's unprecedented achievement brought about his promotion from corporal to sergeant. He was awarded the Medal of Honor on December 31, 1919. His other decorations included the World War I Victory Medal, the Distinguished Service Cross, the French Légion d'Honneur, the French Croix de Guerre with Palm, the Italian Croce di Guerra, and the Montenegrin War Medal.

Following the war York married Gracie Williams, whom he had met before going off to war, and they tried to live a quiet life at home in Pall Mall. But York was a famous war hero, and he was frequently asked for interviews, endorsements, and public appearances. Though he wanted refuge from the public, he also understood that anonymity would be impossible. "I knew that I had changed," he wrote. "I knew I wasn't like I used to be. The big outside world I had been in and the things I had fought through had touched me up inside a powerful lot . . . .   I was sort of restless and full of dreams and wanted to be doing something and I didn't understand." 6

York felt that what he had experienced in the war had placed a burden on his heart. God had protected him from harm so that he could go on and do something meaningful for others. "Before the war I felt the mountains isolated us and kept us together as a God-fearing, God-loving people. They did that, too, but they did more than that. They kept out many of the good and worthwhile things like good roads, schools, libraries, up-to-date homes and modern farming methods." York resolved to do something to help the disadvantaged people in the Cumberland Plateau area where he had grown up by improving educational opportunities. York led a fund-raising campaign to establish a school in his home county of Fentress, Tennessee. That school, located in Jamestown, Tennessee, opened its doors in 1929. Due in part to financial demands brought on by the Depression, the state of Tennessee took over operation of the school in 1937. The York Institute has served as a public high school since that time.

York also hoped to establish a bible school. An opportunity to build one arose when Warner Brothers Pictures proposed making a film about his life. York was initially uninterested, not wanting to glorify his wartime experience or violate his church's view that movies are sinful, but Jesse Lasky, who was then working for Warner Brothers Pictures, convinced York to give his consent, suggesting that the money York would make from the movie could be used to build the bible school he had first dreamed of twenty years earlier. The contract stipulated that York would receive a payment of $50,000 and 2% of the receipts. 7Gary Cooper was York's personal choice to portray him.

The movie "Sergeant York," a Warner Brothers film co-produced by Jesse Lasky and Hal Wallace, premiered at New York City's Astor Theater on July 2, 1941, and Gary Cooper, Alvin York, and Colonel George Buxton, commander of the 82nd Division, were among the guests of honor. For his portrayal of York in the movie, Gary Cooper won the 1942 Academy Award for Best Actor. The film, now considered a Hollywood classic, also won the Academy Award for Best Film Editing, and was nominated in nine other categories, for example, Best Picture, Best Director, Best Supporting Actor, Best Supporting Actress, and Best Original Screenplay. "Sergeant York", playing in movie theaters when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor, inspired countless young men to enlist. Proceeds from the film, helped York open his bible school, but it remained in operation only until the 1950s, when it closed its doors forever. The building still stands, but it has remained abandoned. 8

While the movie was in production, war raged in Europe and Asia. York, who had been a fervent pacifist and was still very religious, believed Hitler was the personification of evil and agreed that the United States should enact a peacetime draft in the event the United States were to go to war.

Following the Pearl Harbor attack, York tried to reenlist, and though he was rejected because of his age (he was 54), and being overweight, he was given the honorary rank of colonel in the Army Signal Corps and toured the country supporting bond drives and visiting military training camps.

Throughout his adult life York faced periodic monetary difficulties, for example in financing his educational projects, and managing his family's expenses. In 1951 Speaker of the House Sam Rayburn (D, TX) and Congressman Joe Evins (D, TN) addressed this famous American patriot's debt crisis by establishing the York Relief Fund, which raised $100,000 to settle York's taxes and gave York an additional $30,000 for his family's use. 9

York had a stroke nearly ten years before he died that caused his health to decline rapidly and confined him to his bed for the remaining part of his life. York died of a cerebral hemorrhage on September 2, 1964, and was buried with full military honors at the Wolf River Cemetery in Pall Mall, Tennessee. Gracie died in 1984 and is buried beside her husband.


  1. John Perry, Sergeant York (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, Inc., 2010), p. 5.
  2. Michael Birdwell, "Sergeant Alvin York," The Great War Society: www.wsorldwar1.com.
  3. Judith Bronte, "The Christian", Sergeant York Patriotic Foundation: www.sgtyork.org.
  4. Alvin York, Diary of Sgt. York, 1917 - 1919 (Pall Mall, Tennessee: York Patriotic Foundation, 2011), p. 27.
  5. Ibid., pp. 28-29.
  6. Bronte, "The Christian."
  7. David Welky, The Moguls and the Dictators: Hollywood and the Coming of World War II (Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 2008), p. 256: http://books.google.com.
  8. Birdwell, "Sergeant Alvin York."
  9. Ibid.

Return to Table of Contents