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Before He was “Old Blood and Guts”

I seem to recall a Bill Mauldin cartoon featuring the iconic GIs Willie and Joe making comments as General George Patton passes by.

Willie says, “there goes old blood and guts” and Joe says, “yeah, our blood and his guts.”

I could not find the cartoon I remembered but this one illustrates Mauldin's contempt for Patton and his petty rules for combat soldiers like Willie and Joe.

I could not find the cartoon I remembered but this one illustrates Mauldin’s contempt for Patton and his petty rules for combat soldiers like Willie and Joe.

George Patton is certainly a legend but there was a time when he was relatively unknown-a time well before he became “old blood and guts.”

Life Magazine, July 7th, 1941

Life Magazine, July 7th, 1941

I found the above issue of Life Magazine featuring Patton on the cover at the 100 Mile Rummage Sale along the Mississippi river boundary between MN and WI.

The gal wanted $10.00 but she took $8.00.

Finding Life Magazines from the WW2 years at $10.00 a copy is indeed something rare and this example is in excellent condition.

It’s dated July 7th, 1941 exactly five months prior to the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor which brought the US into WW2.

The issue is titled “Defense Issue” and “U.S. Arms” clearly indicating that sooner or later the US would be in the war. The feature article is written in such a way to convey the message and to reassure Americans we were prepared.

The cover features Patton in the turret of a light tank (misidentified in the article as a medium tank). The tank appears to be a M3 or M2A2 Stuart named for Jeb Stuart the legendary Confederate cavalry commander (would not be pc today to name a tank after a Confederate).

Jeb Stuart. At the start of WW2 American tanks were named after Civil War Generals. The "Stuart" was a light tank while the "Lee\Grants and Shermans were medium tanks. Later a tank destroyer was named after Confederate General "Stone Wall Jackson."

Jeb Stuart. At the start of WW2 American tanks were named after Civil War Generals. The “Stuart” was a light tank while the “Lee\Grants and Sherman’s were medium tanks. Later a tank destroyer was named after Confederate General “Stone Wall Jackson.”

At the time Patton was the commander of the 2nd Armored Division which according to the article featured 385 tanks and 1900 other vehicles. Patton is quoted in the article titled “Armored Force” as saying the 2nd Armored Division is “the strongest force ever devised by man.”

The article goes on to say that the point of the US armored forces (1st, 2nd, 3rd and 4th Armored Divisions) is to be a match for the German Panzer Divisions which at the time had just invaded Soviet Russia.

The creation of the armored divisions was only about a year old; no doubt spurred on by the German successes in Poland, the Low Countries, France and the Balkans where blitzkrieg warfare led by the panzers paved the way for victory after victory.

The article goes on to detail a mock war-game between the US 1st Armored and 2nd Armored Division modeled after the German crossing of the Meuse River the previous year.

The article is a 18 page spread of the war-game featuring the tanks, scout cars, armored cars, infantry, airplanes, and artillery; all designed to impress the reader with American power.

The article isn’t so much about Patton as it is bragging about the tank component of the newly formed armored divisions. Below is a YouTube video featuring a war-game with Stuart M2A2 tanks from 1938.

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The British have got Tanks!

“A wounded man from the 7th Company approached us from the right and gasped a few heavily charged words. ‘The British have got tanks!’ A cold shiver ran down my spine; the effect of this information on the morale of my men was plain to see. they. who had just been pouring scorn on the British, saying that they would all be tearing their trousers on our barbed wire, suddenly looked disconcerted. All of a sudden there was a muffled shout from a neighboring sentry post. Everyone, rushed to the parapet and then we saw, looming out of the swirling fog, a dreadful colossus heading straight for us. Every single one of us could almost hear his heart beating in his chest! However, we were seized only momentarily by leaden indecision. With weapons tucked into our cheeks we fired shot after shot at the enemy. Unfortunately, this affected them not in the slightest. Slowly, but unstoppably, they drew closer. Firing also began left and right of us. As I pulled myself up to look over the parapet, I could see a whole chain of these steel monsters advancing toward our trenches. The tank to our front was barely a hundred metres away by now. The light machine gun had fired off its last belt of ammunition without visible effect. What was to be done?” Second Lieutenant A. Saucke, 84th Infantry Regiment, quoted in Peter Hart, The Great War. page 370-71

The British (and French) of WW1 took the development of tanks seriously once it was obvious the Western Front was bogged down in trench warfare. Tanks were thought to be at least part of the solution with the idea being once the trench lines were pierced the attacking army would be free to maneuver once again.

Although the British introduced their MK I tank at the Battle of the Somme in 1916 they were not all that successful given a considerable breakdown rate and the terribly muddy ground the tanks were expected to cross.

Undeterred, the British continued to improve on the MK I and by 1917 in the Battle of Cambrai they had considerable success as illustrated above by the quote from the panicked German officer.

Cambrai made it clear that the tank was a weapon to be reckoned with.

When the US entered the war in April, 1917 our army was tiny and under equipped having zero tanks.

At first this didn’t matter much since most of the American Divisions didn’t arrive in France until the Spring of 1918 and then had to be trained on the spot. By then tanks were common in the British and French armies.

American forces for the most part were equipped by the French as they shared sectors of the front with the French. A few American tank units were formed being equipped with the excellent FT-17 a tank of French design that had a fully rotating turret.

French FT17

French FT17 in the WW1 Museum in Kansas City, MO

The fact that we used French tanks makes the below postcard interesting and worthy of some speculation.

American Tank in Action Brit MkI.jpg

The caption states, “American Tank in Action” and indeed the soldiers standing around the tank are Americans in their famous campaign hats.

The tank however is one the British marks probably a MK I or MK II “female” given the absence of the 6pdr (57mm) cannon on the male Marks.

I think there is a clue on the reverse side of the postcard.

American Tank in Action reverse.jpg

The post mark is dated Nov 25, 1918 and the correspondence reads:

“First to let you know I am transferred to another co (company) arrive soon Co. No.3 replacement camp, Camp Shelby Miss.” The card is to Miss Nina Flora from Sam Flora probably Nina’s brother.

The Great War ended on November 11th, 1918, fourteen days before the card was sent. Sam is in a replacement camp either to be an actual replacement or to be released from service. Camp Shelby would either serve as a training facility as a replacement center or where men were processed out given the postwar date.

I surmise that at that some point early British Mk1 tanks were sent stateside to familiarize American troops with the concept of tanks. Sam simply picked up a postcard, wrote his message to his sister and that was that. The point being the tank is British not American.

The second card is also interesting given that it also features a WW1 tank..

Whippet Tank frontWhippet reverse

The front of the card features a British tank known as the Whippet.

The Whippet was designed to supplement the larger and slower Marks. The idea was that the Whippet Battalions would act as mechanized cavalry exploiting the holes the heavier tanks made in the trench lines.

As can be seen from the postcard the Whippet was an unusual looking tank but it did feature 4 heavy machine guns and when used in some of the final offensives of the war proved to be effective.

The caption reads “Whippet Tank in Action Troops Digging in-France.

The soldiers appear to be British and as far as I know American troops never operated with Whippets. This is speculation but given the peaceful nature of the postcard I’d say the scene represents a training session as the infantry had to learn how to cooperate with the tanks,

Unfortunately, the postmark is covered by a 1c stamp but I do think there is a clue as to when it was mailed.

The correspondence reads:

“Dear Mrs. Hacket, Miss Warme said you could get the strawberry plant any time you wish. Love Friend Mrs. Johnson.

My speculation is that Mrs. Johnson has a Mr. Johnson and Mr. Johnson brought some postcards back from training or sent Mrs. Johnson a pack of unused cards and she utilized this one to send a friend to discuss a strawberry plant. In other words I doubt Mrs. Johnson or Mrs. Hackett had any interest in a British Whippet tank and the card was simply handy and maybe even postwar.

I picked the cards up in an antique shop in Lacrosse, WI. The cards cost more than I like to spend but the subject matter forced my hand. The cards are both published for the Chicago Daily News. J. G. Kavanaugh and both marked War Postal Card Department. Both were mailed to Wisconsin cities, Mauston and Stanly respectively.

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Who was Lincoln’s Lion?

Interesting American Civil War story

The Casemate Blog

La Salle native and 1965 graduate of La Salle-Peru Township High School, James Huffstodt of Tallahassee, Fla., is the author of a recently released biography of one of Illinois’s most heroic Civil War generals who was also a personal protégé of President Abraham Lincoln.

“Lincoln’s Bold Lion: The Life and Times of Brigadier General Martin Davis Hardin (1837-1923) by James Huffstodt is published by Casemate Publisher of Philadelphia and Oxford, England. The 440-page hardback, with a 16-page photo section, will be printed in ten languages.

“History was my passion from a very early age,” Huffstodt said. “My interest in the Civil War grew from listening to my maternal grandmother, Celia Baker Sykes of Utica (1876-1965), tell about her father’s experiences as a soldier in that war. Private Martin Baker of Utica served in Co. K, 11th Illinois Volunteer Infantry Regiment, raided by General W.H.L. Wallace of Ottawa. Baker was seriously…

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Grossvater, ist sie? (Grandfather, is this you?)

Gravelotte-St. Privat was the largest battle in the Franco-Prussian War (1870-71).

It involved nearly 200,000 Germans and just over 100,000 French.  It was fought August 18, 1870.

The battle was fought fives years after the conclusion of the American Civil War and in that time advances in weaponry had made the old style Napoleonic tactics even more obsolete than they had been in the American Civil War.

The French for example had the excellent Chassepot rifle that outgunned the German Dreyse or “needle gun” as it was called. They also had the mitrailleuse, an early machine gun. The Germans are the other hand had all steel Krupp breech-loading artillery compared to older style French cannon.

mitrailleuse...one of the first machine guns. In 1870 they were deployed like artillery batteries.

mitrailleuse…one of the first machine guns. In 1870 they were deployed like artillery batteries.

The Germans suffered over 5,000 killed and over 14,000 wounded; the French much less given their defensive positions and superior rifles and machine guns.

Serving in the 3rd Army Corps, 5th Infantry Division, 9th Brigade, 5th Brandenburg Regiment (or 48th Prussian Infantry Regiment) was a 24 year private from Kustrin in Prussian Pomerania.

Prussian Infantryman, 1870-71

Prussian Infantryman, 1870-71

His full name was Friedrich August Heinrich Roeder (spelled Roder with an umlaut over the “o”).

He was severely wounded in the battle.

I came by this information via a long shot when I asked my German friend and historian\researcher\battlefield guide  Robin Schafer if it were possible that I had a relative in the Franco-Prussian War.

I had been spinning my wheels trying to get information on my Roeder side of the family.

Through Ancestry.com City of Milwaukee records I was able trace my great-grandfather to a Pomeranian-Prussian birth in September, 1866. His Milwaukee census name was Frederick Roeder.

Frederick arrived in the US according to Milwaukee County censuses in 1875 making him around 9-10 years old at this time of arrival. Ancestry was not able to provide me with a ship’s name nor the names of Frederick’s parents.

Most censuses show Frederick employed as a stone cutter or marble worker from 1885 until his death in 1920.

In 2000 53% of Wisconsin residents claimed some German ancestry.

In 2000 53% of Wisconsin residents claimed some German ancestry.

I had a great deal of information on Frederick drawn from the City of Milwaukee censuses and residential directories but nothing from his time in Germany despite that at one time I had paid Ancestry for the access to the European/German records.

I had two clues that I could give Rob as to Frederick’s possible parents from Prussian Pomerania.

The first was an early Milwaukee residential census (1885) that showed a young Frederick (a stonecutter) living in a Milwaukee two family house still common on Milwaukee’s north side (little Germany in 1885). In the same two family was one August Roeder listed as a laborer. (a residential census in 1885 would only show a head-of household and no one else)

This particular August appears in that single record and then disappears although I often speculated it was Frederick’s father or perhaps an uncle. It was not uncommon for a father or uncle to come to the US first, get settled with a job and then send for the rest of the family.

The other major clue that I had was my father remembered his grand-father’s name as August and not Frederick. This puzzled me.

Great-Grandfather Frederick died 7 years before my father was born so my father never knew either of his grand-parents on the Roeder side. My dad  told me in the 1960s and well into the 90’s he always thought his grand-father’s name was August because that’s what he heard as a child from his father and uncles. He also told me he believed we were of Prussian extraction.

When I showed my evidence to the contrary regarding his great-grandfather he merely shrugged and said he remembered August and we both ended up wondering where the name August came from. On the other hand many an early Milwaukee Census does list Prussia and in one case Pomerania as the Roeder place of origin. So, in one case I had paper evidence and in the other oral history.

With that scant information Rob put in a request to the German Genealogy Society (in Germany) to look for a pair-a father named August and a son named Frederick and the year being 1866 or there about.

Much to Rob’s surprise and mine a reply came back within an hour.

A father named August and a son named Frederick were found in the Village of Kustrin, a city that is half in Poland and half in Germany today. In 1866 it would have been in the Prussian Pomerania

http://www.vfdgkuestrins.de/texts/kk-back.html The village in 1915. My dad told me that his uncles did not want to serve in WW1 because they did not want to fight their "cousins." Whether that was figurative or literal I do not know but I do know from Rob that the surname "Roder" is quite common in the region even today. Perhaps family legend has merit.

http://www.vfdgkuestrins.de/texts/kk-back.html
The village in 1915. My dad told me that his uncles did not want to serve in WW1 because they did not want to fight their “cousins.” Whether that was figurative or literal I do not know but I do know from Rob that the surname “Roder” is quite common in the region even today. Perhaps family legend has merit.

Source: The term "Prussia" is a little misleading. Many German States were "Prussian" including Pomerania. http://www.atsnotes.com/other/germany-1870.JPG

Source: The term “Prussia” is a little misleading. Many German States were “Prussian” including Pomerania. http://www.atsnotes.com/other/germany-1870.JPG

This is the actual file below sent by who is perhaps a long-lost cousin. (My comments in parenthesis and italics)

337.

Friedrich August Röder (Roder with an umlaut is common in the German and I have copies of Milwaukee censuses where our surname is spelled Roder although the Roeder is far more common. I do believe the custom was to drop the umlaut and add an “e” to produce an Anglicized version of Roeder.)

* 21. Juli 1846 in Schlochau (in Poland today)
+ —–*
Steinhauer (this is a great clue since a Steinhauer is a stone worker. It was common to pass down a trade from father to son)

(21. Juli zur Zeit Steinhauer in Küstrin (GStArch Berlin M8/1633d) (employed as a stone worker in July in Kustrin)

oo 5. Januar 1866 in Küstrin, Friedenskirche (I believe this is a marriage reference, January 5, 1866 in Kustrin to the lady below. Friedenskirche means Church of Peace.)

Maria Schliesske

* 13. August 1842 in Küstrin
+ 22. September 1866 in Küstrin*
(obiit quam primum natus fuit) (death obit)

  1. Friedrich Heinrich
    * 22. September 1866 (my grandfather Friedrich listed his birthday consistently as September, 1866 in the census. His mother Maria apparently died in child-birth.)
  • Auswanderer (Staatsarchiv Stettin – G 123/333) (Auswanderer means left country“ another important fact)
  • Geburtsdaten (ev. Kirchenbücher Prechlau und Küstrin, StaSt – KB 22/455) (reference to date of birth and town names)

A bit more research on Rob’s part turned up the fact Friedrich August’s full name was Friedrich August Heinrich Roder according to the archive in Stettin. (Stettin is now Szczecin, Poland)

From there Rob found one August Heinrich Roder in the 5th Brandenburg Regiment (48th Prussian) garrisoned in Kustrin. Rob believes these individuals to be the same.

I asked Rob if it was common for Germans to use a middle name rather than a first name and he said yes. I’ve been over a number of German records and the names Friedrich, Heinrich and August are indeed common so it makes sense to flip them around a little to avoid confusion especially in an army unit or in early Milwaukee that had a sizable German immigrant community.

Is the information conclusive? No. I cannot say with certainty that it is. Ancestry has not given me any further German links that make sense at this time for me pursue. A search for Maria also turned up zero.

But having said all that I think the circumstantial evidence is strong and lines up with what I do know from the Milwaukee census and my father’s memories.

The August who disappears in 1885 from the Milwaukee records is listed as a laborer. Rob’s speculation is he was severely disabled by his wound at Gravelotte-St. Privat and could no longer work in his trade and so left the country for the greener grass of the US where he may have known someone in Milwaukee.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Juliusz_Kossak Prussian Heavy Cavalry on a death ride. Heavy cavalry on both sides still wore body armor and would not have been out of place at Waterloo in 1815.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Juliusz_Kossak
Prussian Heavy Cavalry on a death ride. Heavy cavalry on both sides still wore body armor and would not have been out-of-place at Waterloo in 1815.

I would further speculate that he never remarried which explains the absence of sibling evidence for Frederick. (Given August’s relative youth and the customs of the time I do find that odd.)

I would also guess August died fairly young perhaps finally of the wounds he suffered many years before in 1870 doing his part in the formation of modern Germany.

The killing power of repeating type rifles, machine guns and quick firing artillery made the Napoleonic tactics of 1815 impractical. It would take the bloodbath that was WW1 to fully change things.

The killing power of repeating type rifles, machine guns and quick-firing artillery made the Napoleonic tactics of 1815 impractical. It would take the bloodbath that was WW1 to fully change things.

Rob Schafer my friend who helped me is a German Military Historian. As such he is quite able to track down German soldiers who served from 1848 to 1945. Rob has access to countless regimental histories, official archives and other records unavailable anywhere else. Not only that Rob speaks fluent English and translates from the German to the English for his English-speaking clients. He is also a gentleman of the first order!

Rob’s website with much more information can be found at Gott mit uns.

Rob once said that German history was my history as well. It was a neat way to put it as it made a connection to my immigrant ancestors that was more real than it had been previously.

I can now easily imagine a young man named August, a stone mason by trade. Upon reaching the age of 18 August would be drafted into the Prussian Army and would serve as a regular for a number of years. From there he would be transferred to the reserves for a number of years and when he reached his thirties or so he would join the Landwehr, another type of reserve for older men.

At some point he would meet his young bride Maria and they would live in the Village of Kustrin. Sadly, Maria would die giving birth to my great-grandfather Friedrich.

August it appears did not remarry after Maria’s early death but did serve in the Franco-Prussian War where he was severely wounded.

Perhaps not being able to work in his trade he took his young son and immigrated to the US settling in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. From there August disappears but his son Frederick (sometimes registered as “Fritz”) works as a stone mason, marries Emilie Steldt and together have many children including my grand-father, Harry Roeder Sr. born in 1902.

Harry Roeder Sr. would marry Malinda Nehls (a child of German and Danish immigrants). Sadly, Malinda would die giving birth to my father, Harry Roeder Jr. who would in turn marry Gertrude Zoromski. (Gertrude’s ancestors can also be traced to western Prussia or Pomerania since at the time Poland was not a country and had been divided up between Austria, Russia and Prussia.)

Thanks Rob Schaefer for making the connection to my Prussian past. It was indeed a nice Christmas gift.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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First Over There_Book Review and more.

First Over There-The Attack on Cantigny, America’s First Battle of World War I, Matthew Davenport

Thomas Dunn Books, St. Martin’s Press, New York

360 pages including notes. Select bibliography and index

9781250056443

I started to study WW1 back in 2012 as Europe prepared for the upcoming centennial of WW1 that would commence in August 2014.

I knew little of US involvement other than German unrestricted submarine warfare had brought us into the conflict and that our Marines covered themselves with glory in a place called Bellau Wood.

I also knew a little about “Black Jack” Pershing the commander of the American Expeditionary Force (A.E.F.). He was called “Black Jack” because he once commanded African American soldiers in our segregated army. His nickname was not a compliment but indicative of white prejudice toward black units and the white officers that commanded them.

Black Jack Pershing, Commander of all American forces in France.

Black Jack Pershing, Commander of all American forces in France.

I knew even less about European involvement other than a Serbian anarchist started the whole thing by killing an Austrian Archduke. I also knew that George Washington warned our new country to stay out of European entangling alliances of the type that launched the Great War.

(Woodrow Wilson was re-elected in 1916 with a promise to keep us out of it. The country was highly isolationist; something we see growing today among many Americans. Teddy Roosevelt, the former President on the other hand was for intervention and worked tirelessly for it. Teddy was pro-British from the start as were American manufacturers who made munitions. They would have sold to anyone but because of the British blockade of Germany they were more than happy to make Britain and France their favorite customers. War is good business if you don’t have to fight.)

I also had some vague ideas about the bloodletting on the Western Front in battles such as The Somme (a British-German battle) and Verdun (a French-German battle).

I also knew about the Red Baron (a child hood hero) and the introduction of the tank to modern warfare and that the seeds of WW2 were laid down in the peace treaty imposed on Germany. Adolf Hitler was a corporal in a Bavarian Infantry Regiment.

Baron Manfred von Richtofen, child hood hero

Baron Manfred von Richtofen, child hood hero

What I lacked however was detail so I began to read quite a few books not only on the Western Front but also on the Eastern Front and the ramifications that followed Czarist Russia’s surrender to the Germans in 1917 and the beginning of the Soviet State-a State the US would be at odds with ever since even though Putin is not a Czar-he just acts like one. WW1 changed a lot of things; the effects of which we experience today.

The Germans won a huge victory over the Russians at Tannenberg, East Prussia in 1914 and by 1917 the Czarist government was falling.

The Germans won a huge victory over the Russians at Tannenberg, East Prussia in 1914 and by 1917 the Czarist government was falling.

1917 was a pivotal year.

When Russia surrendered it released dozens of German divisions for service on the Western Front where other German armies had been fighting the French and British for nearly three years in agonizing trench warfare that caused millions of casualties often for only yards of territorial gain.

Czarist Russian Artiillery

Czarist Russian Artiillery

From the German point of view the surrender of Russia came in the nick of time because the British naval blockade by the powerful Royal Navy was causing Germany to starve. German socialists were beginning to make noise and the population in general was weary of war as their empty bellies screamed for food.

At the same time Germany was trying to starve Great Britain via U-Boat warfare and while Germany did not want war with the US Germany felt it had to risk unrestricted submarine warfare to knock Great Britain out of the war. If that meant risking war with the USA (and it did) then the Germans thought they could use the released Eastern Front Divisions to launch an offensive against the British and French and beat them before the US could mobilize it’s huge population and create an army and get it to France in time to make a difference. It was a huge gamble and caused the British and French no small anxiety, as they were being bled white with massive casualties. The French Army had even started to mutiny and in many places along the front refused to advance any longer and only defend their positions.

In the Spring of 1918 the Germans launched a series of offensives designed to end the end war before the US could send over what would be a 2,000,000 man army.

In the Spring of 1918 the Germans launched a series of offensives designed to end the end war before the US could send over what would be a 2,000,000 man army.

The US had a tiny army in 1917 but upon the declaration of war the US moved quickly to expand the army to serve “over there.”

The first US Infantry Division to arrive was the 1st Infantry Division, nick-named the “Big Red One” for its shoulder patch and helmet insignia.

A Doughboy's helmet from the 1st Infantry Division-WW1 style.

A Doughboy’s helmet from the 1st Infantry Division-WW1 style.

The German offensive(s) in 1918 experienced various degrees of success against the British and French and both countries were anxious for American divisions to shore up defenses.

Although Black Jack Pershing was reluctant to oblige before American troops were ready (to serve under America he agreed to help the French around an obscure village called Cantigny.

Black Jack also realized that both the British and French were anxious to see how American forces would perform since the US had not fought a major war since the American Civil War that ended in 1865.

Pershing sent the only fully trained (May, 1918) unit he had, the 1st ID to Cantigny to relieve a shattered French Infantry Division of Colonial Moroccans.

The Germans had taken Cantigny and the French and Americans decided to take it back and it is here that author Matthew Davenport picks up the story.

The book is a remarkable tribute to the men of the 1st Infantry Division.

It is about what many call a soldier’s war-the view and experiences of the men in the trenches-the guys who were expected to take and then hold a salient around a shattered French town called Cantigny.

The planner for this limited offensive was none other than George Marshall the same guy who would lead the entire American Army in the next war (1941-45).

To insure success the French supplied the heavy artillery to shatter the German trench line and provide long range counter battery fire to silence German artillery.

The French also provided a new horror of war called the flame-thrower and provided assault teams to accompany the American infantry. The idea was to roast the Germans who had survived the massive bombardment in Cantigny in the basements of the buildings they occupied.

French flame throwers help clear Cantigny of German defenders.

French flame throwers help clear Cantigny of German defenders.

In addition to the flame throwers and heavy artillery the French also supplied another novelty and new weapon-the tank.

To accompany the American infantry and flame thrower teams they supplied 12 Schneider tanks-small enough by WW2 standards but effective enough by WW1 standards. The Germans had little defense against these new metal monsters of the battlefield.

French heavy assault tank-Schneider-1918

French heavy assault tank-Schneider-1918

The German defenders from a reserve infantry division did not stand much of a chance. Whole companies disappeared in the bombardment and follow up as the US infantry of the Big Red One went over the top.

1917: Americans troop in France during WW I. (Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

1917: Americans troop in France during WW I. (Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

The center US units did well and took Cantigny while the flanking units fared not as well since the German units on either flank were untouched by the bombardment. German machine gun fire caused American units on the flanks to go to ground and try to dig in short of their objectives. (The horror of trying to take a defended trench line manned by machine guns comes across loud and clear in the narrative.)

Nevertheless, the main objective was reached with relatively light causalities (by WW1 standards) and the lead US Infantry Unit dug in to receive the inevitable German reaction from German reserve formations and that’s when the real hell on earth began for the Americans who took Cantigny.

The French and American High Commands both realized the taking some ground could be easier than holding it because to take it back the Germans would employ essentially the same tactics the Americans had just used-a massive artillery bombardment supplanted by machine-gun barrage fire-a tactic that used heavy machine guns a bit like artillery in the sense that machine guns would continually sweep a trench line back and forth causing the defenders little opportunity to dig deeper and be better prepared to receive an infantry attack. To supplement the artillery and machine guns the Germans would employ effective sniper tactics that virtually ensured that anyone peaking over the trench line would get a bullet to the head.

These soldiers appear to be British or Commonwealth. The trench is deep and well prepared. The Americans at Cantigny had little opportunity to dig so deep once they took the village.

These soldiers appear to be British or Commonwealth. The trench is deep and well prepared. The Americans at Cantigny had little opportunity to dig so deep once they took the village.

Davenport states that his book is a tribute to the men, especially the men who died taking and holding a minor piece of WW1 real estate. As a result, due to his extensive research and access to dairies, letters home and archives the story of Cantigny and the Big Red One is an intensely personal story as he documents nearly man for man how soldiers died or in some cases how they recovered from some of the most horrific wounds you can imagine.

Frankly, there were times when a tear was brought to my eye as young soldiers in their prime of life were literally blown to pieces with nothing left to bury or others killed by machine guns as they frantically tried to escape machine gun fire by digging deeper. More than once I had to put the book down and take a break from the sorrow I was feeling for soldiers and families from so long ago.

Wounds are often horrific from any war and the INET provides numerous examples of the type suffered in WW1. This picture is mild and shows a Salvation Army worker helping a soldier with a head wound. He may be a lucky one if they send him home.

Wounds are often horrific from any war and the INET provides numerous examples of the type suffered in WW1. This picture is mild and shows a Salvation Army worker helping a soldier with a head wound. He may be a lucky one if they send him home.

For some reason and I’m not certain why a number of these recorded incidents involved soldiers from my home state of Wisconsin thus making me mindful and grateful of the fact I was born in 1953 rather than 1900!

When I was a child of maybe 12 or so my dad told me a story (dad served in WW2) about our early family.

My great-grandfather was a German immigrant to the US who arrived in 1875 or so. He settled in “little Germany” in Milwaukee, Wisconsin and started a family having many sons all born between 1892 and 1904.

According to family oral tradition that I cannot verify the boys of draft age (in 1917) did not want to go. As German-Americans one generation removed they felt they would face cousins across the lines and didn’t want to do that.

Dad also told me that at least one did go “over there” and was crippled by mustard gas living out his days in a VA home and dying quite young. That too I have been unable to verify despite extensive searching.

True or not Davenport’s story became even more personal as I came to realize the plight of German Americans who loved their new land and wanted do their bit but at the same time realized there were relatives on the other side of the trench lines.

That all came kind to mind as Davenport reports the countries of origin of many of the men most of whom were 1st or 2nd generation immigrants from Russia, Germany and Italy to name a few. In this I think the US fielded a rather unique army of immigrants called back to the lands they or their fathers and mothers had just left in order to fight for their new country and new freedoms.

First to Fight is Davenport’s first book and it was excellent. It’s top notch military history but more than that it is as I said deeply personal as you come to care about those who he writes about-the relatives of the survivors as well as those who died for their country and were for the most part proud do it such was their patriotism.

The Big Red One would go to fight through many more battles before the armistice before coming home in September 1919.

The Division would be remobilized for WW2. It was perhaps our premier Infantry Division fighting in North Africa, Sicily and the Invasion of France as part of the Normandy invasion.

Today there is a museum for the Big Red One in nearby Illinois. It’s on my list to visit next summer.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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War Toys_1

Below are three pics of some of my summer finds at rummage sales or antique stores. Although I’ve been a military miniature collector (and painter) for most of my life I never branched out into collectible war toys that were manufactured for most of the last century but are increasingly rare today.

The models below carry the brand  name Midgetoys. I confess that growing up I never heard of Midgetoys but probably saw them in the various “dimestores” that were popular in the 1960s like Woolworths or Ben Franklin.

http://www.esnarf.com/MTstory.htm  A little research turned up a link titled The Midgetoys Story.

Midgetoys were created by Al and Earl Herdklotz in 1948. The Herdklotz’s ran a machine shop and during WW2 and were involved in the war production industry like every other company in the US.

After the war the brothers got the idea of entering the die cast model field and came up with the idea of Midgetoys which obviously meant small scale (die cast models). Think of today’s Matchbox and Hot Wheels die cast models and you get the idea.

The brothers main competition back in 1948 was Tootsie Toy and to be competitive MidgeToys sacrificed interior detail in producing their models that spanned the range of cars, trucks, airplanes, trains and even early science fiction.

The brothers stopped production in 1968 making Midgetoys a collectible item for nostalgic toy collectors.

The two models below are from Midgetoys military line. The tank looks like the famous Sherman tank from WW2 and the Korean War while the artillery piece appears to be a 105mm howitzer.

According to the Midgetoys Story the brothers actually worked from blueprints supplied by the Defense Department to produce their models.

It appears that there were 12 models all together in the military line. I found mine in an out of the way antique store in Door County, WI and purchased both for around $10.00 not having the faintest idea if they were that. I did think it would be interesting to do a little detective work and find out something about Midgetoys.


  

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A British Regiment Marches to War 1914

This postcard is the most expensive I’ve ever purchased at $11.00. It is unique in my limited experience and I could not let it go.

The card is not dated but given the subject matter I’d estimate the date of publication to be 1914 at the start of the Great War in Europe.

Regiment of the Prince of Wales on way to the Front

Regiment of the Prince of Wales on way to the Front

The front of the card shows a column of British soldiers in 1914 uniforms parading down what I’m assuming to be an English street. The card is partially colorized giving the card a modern look.

The card was published by Underwood and Underwood. Underwood and Underwood was an American company and an early producer and distributor of stereoscopic and other photographic images, and later was a pioneer in the field of news bureau photography. Wiki

The most interesting feature is the one-armed officer leading the column of soldiers.

The flip of the card tells the story of the one-armed officer. It reads: Regiment of the Prince of Wales on way to the Front. The Grenadier Guards to which to the Prince of Wales is attached are led by Major Trotter, who lost his left arm in the service in South Africa.

Major Trotter is Lt. Col. Edward Henry Trotter

Major Trotter is Lt. Col. Edward Henry Trotter

Although I am not absolutely certain I believe that Major Trotter is one of the four sons of Major-General Henry Trotter who died in 1905.  I believe that the Major pictured is Lt. Col. Edward Henry Trotter who commanded the 18th Bn. of the King’s (Liverpool) Regiment during the early years of WW1. I do not have an explanation as to why the card says the Prince of Wales of Regiment as opposed to the King’s Liverpool Regiment on Wiki.

Trotter did have a commission in the Grenadier Guards so perhaps that explains the discrepancy or perhaps the caption simply misidentified the unit.

I do believe that Major Trotter and Lt. Col Edward Henry Trotter are the same persons given this clip from Wiki:

“After the outbreak of the Second Boer War in October 1899, a corps of imperial volunteers from London was formed in late December 1899. The corps included infantry, mounted infantry and artillery divisions and was authorized with the name City of London Imperial Volunteers. It proceeded to South Africa in January 1900, returned in October the same year, and was disbanded in December 1900. Lieutenant Trotter was appointed Staff captain to the corps on 1 January 1900, with the temporary rank of Captain in the Army,[1] and served as such until it was disbanded. He was awarded the Distinguished Service Order (DSO) for his services in South Africa on 29 November 1900.[2] In April 1902, Trotter returned to South Africa with a detachment of men from the Guards regiments.[3]

Trotter’s regiment took part in the Battle of the Somme in 1916. Trotter estimated that his regiment suffered 500 casualties on the first day! The British suffered 58,000 casualties during the Battle of the Somme, 1/3 of them on the first day. Trotter would later die as German artillery shell landed near his command dugout.

The card is a reverse image of the below photograph. Fascinating little piece of history and the story of a British officer who served in two wars.

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