If Ye Break Faith

This blog is dedicated to the promotion of educating about the Canadian experience of World War One. To discover who we are as a nation in the 21st Century, we must understand our past.

Monday, 31 October 2011

Stick Close to Your Desks

I've never been to sea, so if William and Arthur are to be believed, I'm just waiting for my appointment to the Admiralty.  The sentiment in that lyric is certainly one by both its irony and sincerity which I've held dear from my youth.  I once used it on a friend during an exercise.  The weather had been lousy.  Being infantry we were exposed to it, and he had voiced a complaint.  As his section commander, taking into account that his father was a command grade naval officer, I gave him the two lines as earnest advice.  Once again, though, I have an ulterior meaning to the title.

As I've mentioned, during Remembrance Week, "If Ye Break Faith" will be running daily posts of biographies of Oakville, Ontario men who were Killed in Action during the Great War.  The essays were originally written by high school students from the same area.  It is a privilege to have them, and the ability to bring them to w wide and varied audience.  The essays, in order to account for space, and in some cases content or accuracy will be edited from their existing text.  The credit will be given to the student, and should be extended to Ms. Calvert, their teacher.  I feel she has set an example for history educators by this project.  As part of our expressed purpose, "If Ye Break Faith" would like to encourage more people to "stick close to their desks" to study and understand our past.

Along with the education of history, this project is dedicated to the preservation of our military heritage and supporting veterans both past and present.  While we wait for our not-for-profit status to be confirmed, if there are any causes you feel we should partner with, let us know here.  As developments can happen at any time, its always best to follow us on Twitter and Facebook.

I have a very special thanks to give out along with the usual nod to any new followers since the last post.  "If Ye Break Faith" was mentioned in an editorial list of Top 50 Links for History Tweeters.  The author, Laura Fraser, is also passionate about education and history.  I recommend following her blog.  It is nice to be recognised for what one does, but to be placed among such esteemed others is truly an honour.  Now I really think I do need to get her a coffee.  Least I could do.

The other side of the phrase used in the title does carry a naval tone to it, and it's here we're going to look at the state of naval power just as the war began.  Following posts (I won't promise them consecutively) on how the war on the seas unfolded and the issue of unrestricted submarine warfare will be upcoming.

From 1799 to 1899, the world had changed so much through emergent technology and industrialisation as not to be recognisable.  Every industry was effected in one way or another, usually through some vast improvement but sometimes through the obsolescence that improvement carries with it.  Ships at sea are conduits for trade, communication and travel.  Improvements made on ship design regarding speed and reliable navigation techniques had helped bring sailing into the modern era.  By mid century, the world was about to be witness to steam power outpacing wind as a preferred propulsion method.  Something else was needed to draw military innovation further, and a short battle fought in shallow water off the coast of the United States proved the catalyst.  The exchange of fire between the ironclads USS Monitor and CSS Virginia in one day made every single other vessel afloat obsolete before sundown.

The shipbuilding industry was thrown on its ear and all the major world powers set to design comparable modern navies.

For none else was this more important than Great Britain.  Being an island has placed a heavy reliance on a strong naval defence, and a globe-spanning empire requires the ability to administer and protect those lands.  At the close of the 19th Century, Britain's mastery of the seas was still unchallenged, and looked to remain so with the unveiling of a new type of ship:  The Dreadnaught.

When people think of a battleship, it's usually defined by the features which the Dreadnaught was the first to sport.  They were big ships compared to their contemporaries.  Their size as well as engines gave the ships tremendous geographic range; they could go, it seemed, anywhere.  It was, though, the ubiquitous turrets, fore and aft mounting several heavy guns each which was the real deterrent.  A bigger ship means being able to displace more weight, ergo heavy guns.  Large guns enable a ship to engage with more powerful shells at longer distances.  A Dreadnaught could out-shoot any other type of ship in its day, and could do so while remaining out of range of replying shots.  Their ability to use these weapons to fire at targets ashore or inland in support of land operations was also worrisome.

For a very short time, Britain had unquestioned dominance of the oceans.

Germany felt the emerging Dreadnaught fleet was a threat both to her national security as well as her small overseas holdings.  If war between the two countries occurred, Britain could snap up the German colonies in Africa and the South Pacific without Germany being able to answer back.  In response to British ship building, and thanks to some effective espionage, Germany began construction of her High Seas Fleet; a number of copy-cat Dreadnaughts to challenge the established supremacy.

Diplomatic ventures to stop the Germans building failed.  By the time war began, two very powerful navies were set to face off against one another.  There could be no real technological advantage, so the naval war, much like the deadlock on the Western Front would have to rely on a more unpredictable variable to bring about victory, the human element.

Thursday, 27 October 2011

Pleas and Tanks

We are going to forward an appeal from Regimental Books who are gathering source material for a study on the Royal Australian Armoured Corps.  If you have any photos, journals, diaries or any other primary resources that might help, please follow the link above; they would be grateful to hear from you.

As always, you can keep up to date with this project by following us on Facebook and Twitter.

It's rather fitting, considering the nature of the appeal that today's discussion topic is going to focus on the genesis of modern armoured warfare.  Last time, we visited the reasons behind the emerging obsolescence of horsed cavalry.  Even before this began to take place, and in light of tactical conditions facing commanders on the Western Front, it was realised that something would have to be introduced not only to replace the horse as an instrument of battle, but succeed it where it couldn't by its nature meet the requirements of warfare as it was evolving.

British military engineers, under the direction of higher command were set to task to develop a solution.  At first, this was initiated by the Admiralty as it was their vision to design "landships."  The engineers were required to invent something which could move and manoeuvre at speed over broken ground; withstand small-arms fire; cross wire obstacles and trench lines; and deliver the fight to the enemy.

Such a vehicle, if it could be built was envisioned to grant tremendous advantage to whomever had them available against those who did not.  To preserve this advantage, development was blanketed under great secrecy.  The prototypes were built with the ruse that they were in fact mobile water carriers, and it is from that  deception we get the word tank in reference to an armoured vehicle.  The men who were to crew these weapons and the tanks themselves fell under the command of the intentionally beguilingly named "Heavy Branch" of the Machine Gun Corps, which only later took up the mantle of the "Armoured Corps."

Two types were developed, the "male" armed with two six-pounder guns (the name refers to the weight of the shell it fired) and three machine guns.  The "female" variant eschewed the heavier guns and only mounted four machine guns.

Despite perceptions of anachronistic generals not possessed of forethought, the tank was greatly anticipated.  Haig and his commanders were eager to use this new weapon as noon as opportunity and available numbers existed.  While it may have been wise to wait until design issues had been resolved and a larger number of tanks completed and delivered, the situation along the Somme in the autumn of 1916 called out for any advantage the Allies had to breach the stalled offensive.  Surprise above reliability and numbers was trump in this case, and on 15 September the 49 tanks which had been delivered to date were slated to go into battle, securing the flanks and in direct support of the infantry advance.

Surprise was perhaps the only advantage.  The majority of tanks failed to cross the start line due to mechanical issues or becoming stuck.  Those few that did make it forward largely stunned and panicked the German defenders.  More damage was done perhaps psychologically by the mere presence of these steel monsters than was done by their firing power.

These first tanks went a long way to achieve the purpose to which they were designed, but were only capable of fulfilling that to a degree.  The technology simply didn't exist at the time to ensure mechanical reliability, or to provide for a means of instant communication to coordinate efforts with artillery, infantry and air assets.  Once the initial shock of the tank had been absorbed, those that faced it initiated methods to cope with it, either by creating obstacles a tank couldn't ford or by re-purposing artillery to serve in an anti-armour role.

It may not have had as much sway in the outcome of the war as first was hoped, but as an element of the modern battle, the tank had arrived.  It would take a further generation of development to overcome the issues which forestalled its success in the Great War to come into its own as a fighting arm.  Perhaps not ironically, it was those who first understood the shock value of armour by being on its receiving end that would master the potential of its use; especially in co-operative operations known today as AirLand Battle, but sounding more ominous in its inceptive phraseology:  Blitzkrieg.

Thursday, 20 October 2011

Keep Calm & Et Cetera

Keeping up with this site and the project it supports can be done by following our Facebook Page, and Twitter Feed.  Any suggestions, questions or comments, please forward them to me here: ifyebreakfaith@gmail.com.

Being in a dire position had me thinking about a phrase from World War II that's recently become popular again:  "Keep Calm and Carry On."  I had heard there some copyright controversy about it (story here), so the words were fresh to mind.  They sprang up unbidden when I checked my balance the other day.  It's a reassuring thought, and so much better than the blind panic I usually employ at times like these.  It's also, if I can be a bit glib, a very British sentiment.  It smacks of "stiff upper lip"; the stoic and redoubtable nature of what is believed to be a trait endemic to the British people.  Had the phrase been developed in America it may well have been "Keep Calm and Kick Ass."  

The words, as a public appeal are WWII vintage, but it has inspired me to think about civilian attitudes during the First World War.  I covered this in a small way with my post "The Home Front" but wanted to revisit it to investigate the necessity of influencing the civil mindset during a time of crisis.

There is a balance crucial to the effort of a country at war.  A government accountable to it's electorate requires civil support of military endeavours.  It's a difficult prospect as the majority of the population don't have a fundamental understanding of armed conflict and the requirements thereof.  Your average citizen, however, understands completely the concepts of fear and pride.  A government can, by either overt or subtle means engage these emotions in the people in order to manipulate popular opinion towards supporting a war effort.

The easiest way for Britain to keep its population in check was also a tried, tested and old method.  Allowing civilians to believe an invasion is not just probable but imminent will do several things:  Keep civil traffic to a minimum, inspire recruitment and ensure industrial output.  The threat of a hostile invasion of the British Isles has been a frequent concern for millennia, going back much further than1066, even.  It has the added bonus of inspiring confidence in the government when the invasion doesn't happen.  To this day, for example (and revisiting WWII again, briefly) people see the Churchill government as one which staved off the inevitable Nazi landings.  Never mind, of course that Germany was completely incapable of mounting such an endeavour.  Operation SEA LION was a pipe dream, but the threat it created did serve to cohese the home front.

The ability of the enemy to strike from the air gave a new facet to warfare, and another means by which to exercise control and mould opinion.  Blackouts conserve resources like fuel oil and electricity and the tragedy of civilian deaths helps to paint the enemy in inhuman colours. The reality was though, that air raids, while possible, were neither as frequent nor as damaging as was generally perceived; and while there was outcry and indignation about the terror attacks the Germans were making on ordinary British people,at the very same time the Royal Flying Corps was engaged in the same business over German cities.

The opportunity during war for propagandists to sway opinion is rife.  Gentle suggestions to conserve and ration, appeals to men's sense of duty and fear of being shamed to drive recruitment placed with out and out lies of enemy atrocities will keep the masses cowed and behind the war machine, an easier prospect then when media communication was rudimentary with no reliable source for rebuttal.  Sewing suspicion about spies or fifth columnists can even enable a government to act against groups within that it feels a threat.  This leads to a hyper-vigilant population, who will act as  unpaid agents of the government's agenda.  The extension of this is what occurred both in the UK and Canada, as well as other countries, the suspension of rights and internment of "enemy aliens."

As civil support is necessary to a successful war effort, the government must take action to ensure that support.  The question of the morality of such methods I'll leave open for discussion.  Post your thoughts, comments, opinion or suggestions here.

Do you have a topic you'd like to see, or perhaps some expository writing on World War One in need of a venue? Please let me know, I look forward to hearing from you.

Friday, 14 October 2011

Mutual Support II

A while back, I posted "Mutual Support" an article based on links to people businesses and charities that either have helped this project itself, work towards a similar end or have an interesting and unique way of promoting historical learning themselves.

In the intervening time since the last support post, I've picked up so many new people to follow, and followers that I feel the need to revisit this style of post.  Many of these connections I have made through Twitter, where I can be found as well, with a slightly lesser number that socially network only through Facebook.  I will freely admit to having a very low opinion of Twitter before I began my work here.  I saw the limitation present in the 140 character tab, and much of the content that I was aware of seemed to be based on the banality of famous people reporting on doing ordinary things; superseded of course by the banality of ordinary people reporting on doing ordinary things.  This has been  a good week for me to open up on some of my biases, come to think of it.

Turns out that for my purposes, no better tool giving me the ability to build and inform a mutual network has worked for me than has Twitter.

While I'm at this, I just want to express my gratitude to all of you who have given your support through following my work, posting comments and suggestions as well as the occasional compliment.  No less of a thanks should go to anyone who has read an article on this page and walked away with further knowledge on the subject of the Great War than they had before reading.  Perhaps it comes from a lack of validation earlier in life, but I do get a real kick out of having an "audience."  All of you out there have given me a gift of gentle reassurance that the contribution I am attempting to make is worthy of notice. All of the links below, and many others to whom I've linked before or mentioned in some other way have done more to push me towards my vocation than I could have managed on my own.  I may be responsible for the content and direction of "If Ye Break Faith" but it is you who visit this space and read the articles that give this work its right to exist, and inspire me to continue to perpetuate the goals the project was founded upon.

So, to all I mention here, have mentioned before, and especially those whom I have neglected to mention, an immense "thank you" for all is heartily given and well deserved.

I'm going to start with The First World War, a Twitter feed that posts links to interesting articles and archives on the war.  It seems they've just begun to post, so I encourage you to follow them to gain some unique insights via the writing they promote.  In a similar vein is GreatWar FourteenEighteen, a Facebook page that is promoting an essential reading list of more than a thousand titles on the subject of the First World War.  The work done there is a valuable resource for finding research material.  Military Heritage is an UK based online promoter and retailer of military memorabilia from the Great War.  First World War Centenary, supported by the Imperial War Museum (my absolute favourite museum in the whole wide world, btw) is gearing up to promote the upcoming 100th anniversary of World War One.  Trench Tweets offers snapshots of information on the war, linking to source articles.  Active History is a teaching and learning resource that's choc-a-block with work sheets and projects for young students, a great start for educators looking to include multimedia resources to their lesson plans.  Then/Hier is a Canadian based history resource that has just announced an upcoming conference on history education taking place in Halifax, Nova Scotia.  For anyone looking to get me something nice for my birthday two months ago, sending me to this conference would be a great start!  Rifleman Tours, based out of the UK offers small group excursions to the battlefields of France and Flanders.

History In An Hour offers a variety of titles on a wide range of historical subjects suited for handheld devices and e-readers.  They've just re- launched with Harper Collins, and I have a proposed title in for their consideration, so I'll keep you all up to speed on that.  Skirmish Magazine and its partners are a wonderful resource for the living history and re-enactment communities.  Osprey Publishing bills itself as "The Destination for Military History."  Given their catalogue, it's hard to broker argument.  Warfare Magazine is a young e-publication that has just pushed it's third issue.  I encourage you to take a look, as they do great work and I hope to see them continue on their early success.  The History Press Ireland offers books on general history as well as niche subjects particular to Ireland.  A little known secret about me is that if I couldn't be Scottish, I'd have liked to have been Irish.  The Celtic tradition of storytelling is very much alive in me, and Ireland has had a very colourful history. THP Ireland is an offshoot of The History Press, the UK's largest local and specialist history publisher.  Soldier Magazine is the official publication of the British Army, an informative source for the UK military in both the present context and the past.  Amber Books is another publisher of a large variety of history related titles.  Tommies Guides not only promotes and publishes military history titles, but offers services to aid in the publishing process.  I wonder if they've caught wind of "Iron Spirits" yet?  Pen and Sword Books also offer a wide range of titles on history, both military and general.  Regimental Books is an Australian based military history publisher who also posts interesting links and pictures of Australia's military past.  Lou Reda Productions produces and distributes award winning films on a wide range of historical topics.

Not to be forgotten are the organisations that promote and preserve history.  These sites, whether privately managed, done so on a charitable or not-for-profit basis, or government initiatives all embody the values and principles that I with "If Ye Break Faith" try to uphold.  In Memoriam 2014The UK Battlefields TrustCommonwealth War Graves CommissionNew Zealand Military History SocietyAustralian War MemorialThe Western Front AssociationCalgary Military Museums SocietyHonour our ForcesLast Post FundFor the FallenPoppy Support, and The Vimy Foundation all have my admiration for the work they do and the history they perpetuate.

Now, if I have overlooked anybody I apologise for my oversight.  I hope you would post me an email, or a comment so that I might make up for not including you in the above lists.

On a very special note, I would like you to join me in wishing a very happy 120th anniversary to the 48th Highlanders of Canada, my old Regiment.  No finer body of troops exist, in my opinion.  To all my old comrades, and especially to my fallen comrades I want to express the motto Dileas Gu Brath.  Now, and forever.

Thursday, 13 October 2011

Thinking Globally About a World War

Well, this one might be a bit touch and go in getting it out on time.  The main stumbling block here is that my ISP hasn't quite realised that I've paid my bill.  Customer service has been little help, refusing to access my account because according to them I don't know my own birthday.  While we're at it, how is it that every time I request to speak with a CSM to escalate my issue to a satisfactory resolution, I get a hedging excuse or even a refusal?  Short story here:  If this update posts later than usual, I urge you to take the issue to Wind Mobile.  The solution to my problem is that I have to make the time to go in person to the retail location and adjust my account there.  Fortunately I'm neither too busy nor too far away.  It begs the question of what if that wasn't the case?  I make my (unpaid) living through the internet, so a consistent and fast connection is a must for me, and unfortunately I'm tied into a sub-standard provider on economic grounds, but I don't think I should suffer ineffective service based on that.

I'd love to update you all on what's going on, but without being online, I've got no idea what's going on.  Follow me on Facebook and Twitter to keep up to date with news and announcements, with any luck today's SNAFU will be cleared up soon.

Once again, I'm taking a suggestion on board.  In my post A True Global War we looked at the First World War in theatres beyond the Western Front.  A friend of mine pointed out that I should examine the efforts on the Western Front of a military asset too often overlooked: That of the colonial forces.  My own Euro-centric bias is quite clear as I really haven't given these men the credit due them, and in doing so, I am ignorantly allowing their marginalisation to continue.

Both Britain and France had large colonial holdings at the turn of the 20th Century.  It had long been the practice of both powers to raise, train and equip locally procured units.  The manpower was readily available and having native contingents freed up the necessity to garrison large numbers of troops from home overseas.  Their existence was primarily to act as a deterrent for internal unrest against the colonising power as much a a force for defence against external incursions.

As war came about, the availability of these units was a tremendous asset to the Allies.  France was faced with recalling reservists back to service, and hastening the training of recently inducted conscripts.  Fully trained and outfitted regiments from Western Africa and South East Asia could be put into the line in Europe just as soon as they could be transported.  This addition of resources certainly helped to shore up numbers facing the larger German presence.  Britain had at her disposal her Indian Army along with other colonial troops.  With her own manpower shortages based on a long practice of voluntary enlistment, Britain also was able to increase her fighting presence by shifting troops from an unthreatened sub-continent to the European Theatre.  Another source of manpower, mainly Chinese labourers working for the war effort in road and rail construction but not actually inducted to the military freed up fighting troops from fatigue duties.

It takes more than numbers to win a war, and one thing that victory does require is fighting quality.  This is an issue of debate which can be a bit touchy to light upon when looked at subjectively.  During the war there were several instances of colonial troops being routed or abandoning positions in the face of heavy resistance.  A notable example of this would be the collapse of Moroccan and Algerian units at 2nd Ypres.  Conveniently forgotten is that these men had just absorbed the first poison gas attack in modern warfare.  I don't think it's fair to view their retreat as anything less then men reacting to an unprecedented situation; to place emphasis on the point of origin of these soldiers is entirely unfair.  While there were colonial elements that suffered from poor discipline or lacked elan, the same could be said of elements of national forces.

In some cases, colonial troops proved the better.  Many units of the Indian Army, particularly it's cavalry were highly motivated and experienced.  Several actions involving these men during the war were some of the finest execution of mounted tactics the world would ever witness.  The reasoning for this might set some people a bit twitchy, but even ugly truths need to be pursued.  Colonial forces, based upon ethnic lines, could and were viewed as less valuable on a human level than home units.  Able to assign a certain dispensability to them, colonial units were often chosen for difficult and prospectively costly actions.  Enduring these hardships helped to forge the best of these forces to an elite standing.

Perhaps then the two things that make the Great War a global conflict is partly where it was fought, but also relies a great deal on who was involved in the fighting.  We may not tend to spend a great amount of time in their recognition, but without the assets the colonial units brought to the war, the outcome of the conflict would have been very different indeed.  I think that these soldiers, and the actions in which they made their names should be given a closer look here.  I have to admit to not knowing enough about the topic that I will have to research it further before I can relate detail.  In the mean time, coming up I've got some great topics to share with you all.  If you've got a suggestion, comment or a question, it can reach me via email.

Monday, 10 October 2011

The Rise of Fall

One other thing of note in being able to spot trends in the traffic to this page is the ability to know when something is not well received.  "Over There" went over lead balloon style.  I myself am not entirely satisfied by it.  I will admit rushing the copy, on the return that I was working on a great opportunity; hopefully more about which soon.  I'm still taking great pleasure in gaining new followers  One that really has my admiration is Sapper O'Brien.  There are other diaries I've come across, particularly Haig's War which enlightens perspective on a complicated and powerful man.  While I enjoy that insight, what speaks closer to the heart of this project is history seen through the eyes of a relatable everyman.  Both feeds are on Twitter, where you can also get updates and news regarding "If Ye Break Faith" and the recently announced supporting title "Iron Spirits".  This page is also linked to through Facebook.

It's Thanksgiving in Canada.  What this brings to mind for me is that Remembrance Day is in a month, and it is usually at this time of year when I was at school that thoughts and study were on the First World War.  The way in which I tended to associate this was by placing my own surrounding environment, particularly the weather in my visualisations of the past.  From certain photographs, trees blasted bald from shellfire resemble those shed for fall, and having a blue shy register as grey in black and white does make the war look as though it was fought in a perpetual autumn.  Of course, that isn't so, but what did transpire in the five fall seasons the war witnessed were events that would define the direction of the conflict.

From the 19th Century, long into the past it was traditionally accepted that armies did not campaign in the winter.  Usually owing to a drain in manpower for the harvesting season, opposing forces would garrison in the fall to wait out the cold weather ahead, take on replacement troops, work on training and preparing equipment to resume is better weather.  There are the exceptions to this, Napoleon's excursion into Russia and Washington's raid across the Delaware to name two examples quick to mind.  The Western Front also experienced what could best be described as a lull in winter, though fighting was more or less a constant for the duration; it is a question of scale.  The cold weather made large offensive operations difficult, but terrible weather is ideal for raids and patrols, and artillery suffers little below freezing.

There seems, upon reflection always a bit of a rush of activity as each autumn of the war cam on.  Reasons for this may be partly coincidental, but mostly it has to do with tactical desires to achieve war aims before the onset of winter would upset momentum.

In 1914, what would become the Western Front was stabilizing, and all sides were under pressure to complete entrenchments on the best ground possible before the earth froze and digging was made a more laborious prospect.  The opening campaigns of manoeuvre had stretched all sides in logistics and manpower, so remaining in place and building up strength  over the winter months was the priority all 'round, and plans for the re-opening of offensives in spring 1915 occupied the upper echelons of command.  The one event that the winter of 1914 is best known for is the spontaneous and unofficial "Christmas truces" that occurred along the line.  I'll save that topic for a more timely post.

The next year saw very little had changed.  The limited attacks along the Western Front had made negligible progress and campaigns attempted in other theatres had either failed or not produced the desired results.  Once again, the winter was a time to reflect and plan ahead; this time for the Allies a coordinated offensive on all fronts, and the Germans finalised their design for the attack on Verdun.  Britain's industry was racing against time to increase output for the demands the army in France was placing on it.  Measures had been put in place to ensure a proper level of supply, but just as that was occurring, Britain was planning the largest battle she had ever fought, and was truly stretching her resources to the limit of their capacity to produce.  Restricting operations over the last months of the year held important material in reserve for the battle which would occur the following summer.

1916 was a bloody year, and when the campaigns at the Somme and Verdun wore down, the focus for the Allies was absorbing the lessons these battles had taught, and implementing them through intensive training.  The Germans began work on the Hindenburg Line in response to new theories of defensive operations.  This included the idea of a resolutely held but thinly manned front line, the bulk of forces held in the rear for quick, flexible counter attacks.  It was based on the nature that the front defensive works, employing crew served weapons like machine guns and mortars with good communication to the rear via artillery observers could reasonably be held against infantry assault with less manpower.  Moving to the Hindenburg Line would collapse about fifty kilometers of frontage for the Germans.  With these two factors in place, there were now more men in reserve to commit to strong counter attacks, the idea being to keep repelling assaults and using those reversals to their advantage.

 The fall and winter of 1917 saw the Allies in a particularly good position.  Britain's offensives had gained crucial ground, in spite of the French stagnating under collective indisciplines, and the German withdrawal to the Hindenburg Line gave even more territory over to Allied hands.  The Americans had entered the war and the next spring was optimistically looked towards.  Events on the Eastern Front gave the Germans the ability and winter afforded the time to shift troops east to west for an anticipated all-out offensive in spring before the U.S. could take to the field in force.

These attacks had initial success, but were responded to well and contained.  As fall of 1918 approached, the German army in the field was quickly losing effectiveness, and facing casualties it couldn't replace.  The naval blockade of Germany would mean another lean winter for those at home.  Knowing that their army and people faced collapse if the war continued, Germany brokered for armistice rather than face another war winter.

On Thursday, I plan to look at the contribution to the war of often overlooked combatants, the Colonial Forces.  If you have any questions comments or suggestions please post them here.

Thursday, 6 October 2011

Over There

Goodness, what a week I've had so far.  Opportunities regarding this project and my own freelance work have been coming to me in a "when it rains it pours" kind of way.  First, I'm very thrilled to have been mentioned by The Life Today, a daily posting of notable blogs.  I've just made my first step toward publication.  Recently, I've become acquainted with History In An Hour, a great way of making the past more accessible,a goal which I support wholeheartedly.  Also, the latest edition of Warfare Magazine is now available.  Take some time to check the new issue out.  It's been one of those weeks where I seem to be accumulating followers on my Twitter Feed.  As has been my practice, I like to thank each new follower directly, but there's been so many I may have missed one or two.  I apologise if you've been overlooked, and please accept my thanks here.  This project can also be found on Facebook, a great way to keep informed on new posts and developments.

I like the ability this site gives me to track my audience.  The information available through my blog's statistics can help me to decide on what topics might be well received.  As last week has seen a rise in hits from the United States, I figured it would be a good opportunity to discuss America's involvement in the First World War.  The U.S.'s entry in the war is often seen as a calculated effort to position the country favourably in the peace process; that her contribution came at a time when victory was a foregone conclusion, and so of not much importance to the Allied effort on the whole. Once again, we're faced with an aspect of history in which our perceptions have an element of truth, but overlook the intricacies of the period and personalities examined.

By 1914, America was emerging as an economic and industrial powerhouse, whose output and GDP had just begun to surpass previous leading countries such as the U.K. and Germany.  A political swing and social trend towards isolationism, supported by President Woodrow Wilson's platform of international neutrality kept the States from immediate involvement.  The decision was good for business, as the free-enterprise system which America's economic philosophy is based allowed industrialists to "play both sides" in taking advantage of increased trade possibilities to both the Entente and the Central Powers.  In a sideways fashion, America also provided manpower to the war effort in the form of 35 000 volunteers who crossed the border to join the Canadian Expeditionary Force.  One of the most famous aspects of American involvement before 1917 was the "Escadrille Lafayette", a squadron of American volunteer pilots flying French aircraft under the command of the French Air Service.  These issues were just as diplomatically difficult as the issue of Germany's policy of unrestricted submarine warfare.

The aim was to strangle Britain by interdicting trade ships bound for the island nation, and to that end Germany instituted the practice that any ship, even of neutral origin travelling in contested waters could be sunk without warning.  The loss of the Lusitania in 1915 would later become a rallying cry to carry the country's population to the war.  At the time, though Wilson determined to broker a diplomatic solution, which resulted in Germany suspending the practice.  It would be re-instituted in 1917 when the Germans were desperate to force a strategic conclusion to the war by eliminating Britain's material ability to continue.  The loss of American lives inflamed the population, the loss of hundreds of thousands of tonnes of material would not be tolerated by big business.  The U.S. again protested this action along with a secret telegram between Germany and Mexico describing terms of alliance should Mexico attack the U.S. to prevent her from entering the European conflict.  Despite Wilson's long standing desire to not make war, (his desire for peace had been so great that his government had offered to mediate a negotiated settlement to the war) the affronts to his people and their livelihood could no longer go unanswered.  The United States Declared war on Germany on 2nd April, 1917.

America greeted the war with an enthusiasm which rivalled European public response in 1914.  It was faced with having to raise, train equip and transport it's army from the ground up, a process which would take some time.  Even after the first elements of the American Expeditionary Force arrived in France, its commander, General Pershing wouldn't deploy his forces to the field until he had an appropriate host that would operate as an equal and independent  force.  The delay was the impetus for Germany's spring offensives in 1918, a hope to break the Allied lines before the fresh influx of men and materiel from the States could be brought to the fight. It was a near run thing, but it was due in part to the AEF bolstering front line forces which defeated the German advance.  America would go on to distinguish itself in battles with names that resonate on their national conciousness, such as Bellau Wood and the Battle of the Marne.  Eventually disposed of more than a million men, the AEF was too strong a reinforcement for Germany to counter, and could be extrapolated that it was a deciding factor in Germany's request for armistice.

The First World War, as concerning America seems not to have the same historical resonance as the Second, perhaps to do with the failed peace and the ambiguity of the conflict in the first place.  However, her decision to go to war with Germany in 1917 is almost assuredly what would bring the principle member of the Central Powers to heel. Yes, America really did "save the day" by going over there.

Monday, 3 October 2011

Bullets and Beans

I'd like to welcome everyone back to the first regular post since my brief hiatus; as well as to extend a special welcome to those of you who have just recently discovered this project.  Again, the well wishes I received when I decided to step aside from "If Ye Break Faith" were so genuine and concerned that I managed to see how reactionary I was being to other circumstances.  From there I realised how much joy I take in this work, and re-evaluated my priorities so that I wouldn't have to eliminate this as a venue of expression, an attempt at enlivening the past and making tribute to all fallen comrades.  I might not have ever turned a cent by what I do here at "If Ye Break Faith" (hope would be a fine thing, eh?) but the rewards that come forward as a result of my writing are fulfilling in a way that is very different and perhaps more valuable than fiscal elements could be.  The trick, my friends is to find marriage of the two, and that certainly won't happen if I don't keep at what I do here twice a week.  In between, if you're so inclined, this project can be followed on Facebook and Twitter.

In the time I took to evaluate my personal situation, and the decision that inspired my initial desire to suspend the project, I came to a very strange realisation, something that I've touched on before from time to time, and that is the unexpected way in which "If Ye Break Faith" has grown and evolved.  I could not have predicted the direction this work is taking now from the vision I had at the outset.  Further thought about this had me realise that again, my life in a certain fashion is analogous to the subject matter I deal with.  At the start of the Great War, very few people had any inclination as to how vast, monumental and change inducing the conflict would become.  Britain especially was underprepared, leading some critics to put shame on those in power politically and militarily for not having the foresight to better make preparation.  The argument is as ridiculous as the preceding sentence makes it sound.  At the time, Britain's policy for involvement in a European war was potentially not as clearly defined as it could have been, but the ambiguity with which Parliament offered alliances with France and Russia was intentional so that Britain may not ever be obligated to deploy forces to the continent.  There was a very good reason for this as what regular forces Britain had were mainly earmarked to provide protection to the large Empire she sustained.

There were attempts before the war to reorganise the armed forces, particularly those in reserve in order to make recruiting, expanding and reinforcing the regulars more efficient.  These measures were slow to take hold, and not popular to begin with, and did nothing to eliminate the long held practice of reserve forces not being compelled to overseas service.  It was not just trained men which was at a deficit, absolutely everything needed to wage war had been allocated along the lines of taking the field in a colonial conflict.

The error, if there was one was that once war was declared, the decision seemed only to have an effect on the armed forces, as it had in the past, and little impact on civil society.  This can be illustrated by the munitions crisis, or "Shells Scandal" that came to light in 1915.  Ostensibly to deflect blame from himself, Field Marshal John French, the Commander-in-Chief of Empire Forces let it be leaked to the press that there was a critical shortage of munitions in theatre.  This shortage, he opined, was responsible for the failed offensive at Neuve Chapelle.  There can be no doubt that the munitions sector was not producing output on the scale required, however, it really can be seen as the government's shortcoming in not adjusting their requirements at the outset.  Then again, that would be akin to finding fault with someone because they failed to be clairvoyant.

The result of the scandal was largely positive, though.  It led to a re-evaluation of how Britain and its Empire was pursuing the war, and solutions were enacted to cooperate with that policy.  A Munitions Board was created to address the industrial question of materiel output and method, a necessary step towards putting the country into an immersed war economy.  The ramp up in production did make good on deficiencies, but the trade off in this case was using inexperienced and untested labour with unfamiliar processes.  Some have argued that the vast amount of explosives left in the fields of France and Belgium after the war are largely a result of poor and rushed workmanship.  Nevertheless, by the end of 1915, Britain and her forces were on their way to being properly equipped and supplied.  This work also called into innovation the logistics of moving materiel, inspiring the building of road and rail networks behind the line, and using civilian experts to oversee construction.  The expanded need for raw material was also a boon to Canada, which has a wealth in that regard, but came with the need to find a solution to crossing the Atlantic safely.

I feel much like this project is in a "1915" phase.  As it turns out, it's much larger and encompassing than I first thought it might be, and I find that resources, the all important "bullets and beans" that any job requires are in short supply not for what I had initially intended, but for what this work has become.

For the actual events of 1915, the Shells Scandal would have far reaching consequences, and is one of those events that so changed the way in which the war was being fought, and the men responsible for waging it that had it not happened, the outcome of the First World War could be put in doubt.  Politically and professionally, French fell on his sword.  He may have instigated the crisis and by that enacted the change necessary, but his making a military issue public in the forum of the media was unforgivable.  He was replaced in command by General Douglas Haig, who would continue in the office of Commander-in-Chief for the duration of the war.  Any subsequent battle fought would be done under his direction, and he was a very different man from French.  The Munitions Board, the body set up to oversee the gearing up of war production was headed by David Lloyd George, a Welsh Cabinet Minister of some esteem.  He was quite politically astute himself, and let the notoriety of the Munitions Board successes boost his stock in Parliament.  It is his work with the Board that could be seen as the leading factor in his becoming Prime Minister of a coalition government in 1916.

The lesson in this is that one can be prepared as much as possible for an event, but it is those who can correctly adjust to the situation as required that will come out ahead.  Taking that on board, it means that I have to persevere, adjusting and adapting when needed in order that I can see this work through to it's destination, wherever that turns out to be.  I'm glad to have you along with me, as having the backing of a receptive audience makes the effort that much easier.  If you have any comments, questions or suggestions, please submit them here.  If Ye Break Faith, and its supporting project Iron Spirits do require financial support.  If you wish to make a contribution, it can be managed through PayPal, with my gratitude.