World War I History: Australia And The Battle of Fromelles


Editor’s Note: This article was originally published by The Interpreter, which is published by the Lowy Institute for International Policy, an independent, nonpartisan think tank based in Sydney. War on the Rocks is proud to be publishing articles from The Interpreter weekly.

Fromelles, fought one hundred years ago this week, is now one of the most famous battles in which Australians fought during World War I. It is routinely remembered as the greatest disaster in Australian military history: 5533 casualties in 24 hours, all for an operation that manifestly had no strategic value.

But Fromelles was not always central to Australian memory of war. In the inter-war years, the battleground became the site of one of the thousands of cemeteries created by the Imperial War Graves Commission. Here, at VC Corner, the remains of 410 unidentified Australian dead were interred and the names of the 1299 Australian missing from Fromelles inscribed on the memorial walls. In Australia, meanwhile, survivors of Fromelles would gather every year on July 19, while families who had lost men in what they called Fleurbaix would also insert “In Memoriam” notices in newspapers.

However, Fromelles was not then a “national memory,” in the sense of being a battle that was honored in prominent national rituals of commemoration. Perhaps this was because it was soon eclipsed by other costlier battles on the Western Front, such as Pozieres on the Somme and the Third Battle of Ypres in Flanders in 1917. Perhaps it was because survivors of World War I preferred to see themselves as heroes, not victims, as is the vogue in war commemoration of the early 21st century. The 5th Division, for instance, when asked in 1919 where it wanted to install the memorial celebrating its wartime achievements chose not Fromelles but Polygon Wood, the site of one of the more successful actions during the Third Battle of Ypres.

All of this changed in the 1990s. As the extraordinary resurgence of interest in war memory occurred not only in Australia but around the globe, Fromelles was rediscovered. This was the result of both government intervention and individual initiatives. In 1998, the Australian government opened a memorial park at Fromelles on the 80th anniversary of the end of World War I. At its heart was a statue of a man staggering under the weight of a wounded soldier draped across his shoulders. Called Cobbers, it immortalizes a Victorian farmer, Sergeant Simon Fraser of 57th Battalion, who in the days after the Fromelles battle joined small groups scouring the battlefield for the wounded. It was a story of compassion and mateship waiting to join other icons of Australian war memory:Simpson and his Donkey, and “Weary” Dunlop. Indeed, the sculptor of Cobbers, Peter Corlett, had already created the statues of these two iconic figures that stand now outside the Australian War Memorial.

Read the Remainder at War on the Rocks

World War I History: The Best Sniper of the Great War – Francis Pegahmagabow

I, for one, and am pleased to see the steady expansion of The Great War’s video library. It goes to show the power of Patreon campaigns and crowd-sourcing to back up and support great content creators who might otherwise not being able to afford producing. As a result of this, The Great War has been steadily expanding their content including a great series titled “Who Did What in World War 1?”

Their latest entry covers the “best” sniper of World War 1, a Canadian trooper by the name of Francis Pehahmagabow, who ultimately became the most decorated aborigonal soldier from the war.

Francis joined the army a scant nine days after Germany declared war on the United Kingdom. Raised in an adopted family (the story is that he was found next to his dead mother from childbirth), Francis played in  band and worked on Great Lakes freighters.

Identified as an exceptional soldier, he was used for extremely dangerous missions (which he rather enjoyed) including running messages and as a sniper. He took huge risks such as actually going to the German trenches and cutting off souvenirs while the Germans were sleeping.

He is credited with 378 sniper kills, the most of any sniper from any country in the war.

Pegahmagabow lived a stored life post-war.

Read the Original Article at The Firearm Blog

Military History: The Tank Turns 100 Years Old


Last Friday, July 1, marked the 100th anniversary of the Battle of the Somme in WWI. The Battle of the Somme, also known as the Somme Offensive, was several months long. It began with 18 (!) French and  British divisions going “over the top” and was the largest battle of the First World War. Over a million casualties were suffered; 60,000 of them were British on that first Saturday alone.

“…a series of extended lines of British infantry were seen moving forward from the British trenches. The first line appeared to continue with end to right and left. It was quickly followed by a second line, then a third and a fourth…

‘Get ready!’

“…Red rockets sped up into the blue sky as a signal to the artillery, and immediately afterwards a mass of shells from the German batteries in the rear tore through the air and burst among the advancing lines. Whole sections seemed to fall, and the rear formations, moving in closer order, quickly scattered. The advance rapidly crumbled under this hail of shells and bullets. All along the line men could be seen throwing their arms into the air and collapsing, never to move again. Badly wound rolled about in their agony, and others less severely injured crawled to the nearest shell-hole for shelter.

The British soldier, however, has no lack of courage, and once his hand is set to the plough he is not easily turned from his purpose. The extended lines, though badly shaken and with many gaps, now came on all the faster. ”  Matthäus Gerster, Reserve-Infanterie-Regiment Nr. 119

Today is July 4, the 100th anniversary of the death of the American poet Alan Seeger (author of ‘I have a rendezvous with death‘) one of many thousands of Americans who volunteered to fight on behalf of the French long before the United States entered the war. The Somme Offensive was unlike anything the world had seen before — 19th century tactics employed in the face of 20th century weaponry, resulting in the worst casualty rates in the history of warfare. One of the results of this battle — the first ever deployment of tanks (also something never before seen) to the battlefield, though that did not actually happen until September.

That makes 2016 the centenary of the tank.

Read the Remainder at Breach Bang Clear

World War I History: Soldier’s Loadout


A reader sent me a link to a pretty cool image gallery showing the basic clothing and equipment of five different major combatant powers from mid-WWI. I have re-uploaded the individual photos in case the original links go dead (click to enlarge each photo).

Read the Original Article and Photo’s at Forgotten Weapons


World War I History: Slaughter on the Somme


The Limits of Foresight On the Road To The Great War

One hundred years ago today, long lines of British infantry climbed out of their trenches in the Somme region of France and hurled themselves at the entrenched Germans. The next 24 hours would turn out to be the bloodiest day in British military history, with 60,000 casualties. Battalions lost 90 percent of their personnel in an hour. One division, the 36th, took 5,000 casualties in 2 days (56 percent) and had to be pulled out — after one year of training, it had lasted 48 hours in combat. The offensive petered out after three months, having advanced only five miles at the cost of 350,000 British and 70,000 Dominion casualties. For the high casualties and lack of success, historians and memoirists have harshly criticized British generals — “donkeys,” in Alan Clark’s estimation, and “arrogant incompetents” in Robert Graves’ semi-autobiography Good-Bye to All That. More broadly, historians have criticized all World War I generals for failing to anticipate the supremacy of the defensive and the trench system that resulted. But is this criticism for lack of foresight fair? As C.V. Wedgewood said:

History is lived forwards, but it is written in retrospect. We know the end before we consider the beginning, and we can never wholly recapture what it was to know the beginning only.

Looking back on World War I, historians can assemble bits of pre-war history to build a narrative predicting the superiority of the defensive and the resulting trench system. However, considered broadly, lessons of battlefield experience before the war were actually ambiguous and indicated a continuation of traditional maneuver warfare, punctuated by periodic sieges of cities and fortresses, as had been the experience in warfare for thousands of years. Here is the pre-World War I history that the generals had available to learn from.

The siege of Richmond and Petersburg at the end of the Civil War (July 1864 to April 1865) is often cited as an example of what the generals of World War I should have expected. The siege positions, extending 35 miles, comprised a continuous line of trenches and fortifications. Union infantry assaults failed, even when supported by surprise or extensive preparation (for example, the Battle of the Crater, July 30, 1864). With its extensive fortifications, powerful artillery, intense infantry fire, and rapid reinforcement of threatened sectors, the siege did indeed look a lot like the western front in World War I. However, this was an exceptional experience during the Civil War. In the west, the war was one of continuous maneuver, punctuated by periodic city sieges (for example, Chattanooga, Vicksburg, Atlanta). In April 1865, when Grant finally outflanked Lee’s entrenched army, the war in the east broke into open maneuver once again.

The Austro-Prussian war of 1866 never devolved into trenches or sieges at all, but instead saw continuous rapid maneuver aided by railroads and telegraph communications, as had been seen in the American Civil War. The decisive battle, Koniggratz, was positively Napoleonic in its movement of corps over large spaces and in the decisive strike to an exposed flank. The war between two great powers was over in seven weeks.

Read the Remainder at War on the Rocks