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(1914-1918) WWI
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john hayward
Allenstown
NH USA
Posts: 816
Battle of the Aisne 1914
Posted on: 2/14/2020 6:42:52 PM

On Sept 14 1914 the BEF attacked the German First Army on the wooded Chemin des Dames heights. The battle which began on the 14th lasted about one month. The BEF lost about 13,500 officers and men, numbers that rivaled Loos, the Somme and Passchendaele. Some of the battalions that fought on the Aisne were completely annihilated.

At the Aisne the BEF would send their men into futile assaults up the slope of the ridge that was devoid of cover to attack hidden lines. Each one would fail with heavy losses and an inevitable retreat.

There was no lack of courage in these men as 6 Victoria Crosses were awarded here. Many other heroic acts when unreported.

The end of the war of movement and the birth of trench warfare on the Western Front.
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"When fascism comes to America it will be wrapped in the flag and carrying a cross."
Phil Andrade
London
 UK
Posts: 4650
Battle of the Aisne 1914
Posted on: 2/15/2020 1:55:29 AM

John,

A little taken back by your statement that the loss of 13,500 men rivalled the figures of Loos, the Somme and Passchendaele .

A much smaller scale of affairs for the BEF in September 1914 than was to be the case over the following years.

The relatively tiny size of the British contingent in 1914, however, did imply terrible proportionate casualty rates, and it appears from the CWGC database that the highest number of British deaths in 1914 was indeed suffered in this Aisne fighting, probably on 14 September. That’s saying something, when we think about the furious fighting that was to follow around Ypres in the ensuing month or so.

It was excruciatingly close, apparently, with the British soldiers failing by minutes to seize the vital high ground along the Chemin des Dames. 1914’s Little Round Top !

The consequences were to be momentous.

Edit : I did check the CWGC figures, and 14 September on the Aisne and 31 October at Ypres are almost identical as the costliest days in lives for the BEF in 1914. Both of them combined amount to barely one tenth of the first day of the Somme in 1916.

Regards, Phil
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"Egad, sir, I do not know whether you will die on the gallows or of the pox!" "That will depend, my Lord, on whether I embrace your principles or your mistress." Earl of Sandwich and John Wilkes
john hayward
Allenstown
NH USA
Posts: 816
Battle of the Aisne 1914
Posted on: 2/15/2020 6:56:38 AM

Phil
I should have said in terms of percentage lost, over 10%, than in actual numbers lost. The numbers themselves are in no way close to the Somme.

The Aisne in many ways showed that the leadership of the BEF and even the French had no idea how to fight a modern war in 1914. There was no thought in how to attack except head long over and over. The men and horses were exhausted from the pursuit of the retreating Germans after the Marne. The weather was extremely warm in the beginning but rain began to fall heavily and temperatures dropped by Sept 12. Many had thrown away their overcoats on the retreat from Mons. Some in the mistaken belief they would get more as they rested and refitted. Artillery horses were footsore and without fodder. Some units were taking horseshoes from dead German horses as they advanced. The 1st Division had covered 19 miles on Sept 12 while other division average 15 miles.

The bad weather grounded the Air Corps so no one had a clue what was on the other side of the ridge.

The Allies believed they had the Germans on the run and there was talk of driving them clear out of France. That the next big battle would be on the Meuse
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"When fascism comes to America it will be wrapped in the flag and carrying a cross."
Phil Andrade
London
 UK
Posts: 4650
Battle of the Aisne 1914
Posted on: 2/15/2020 7:28:28 AM

John,

Something I read screams out to be cited....but, you know how it is ....I can’t find the source !

It’s bound to be in one of those myriad books on my shelves.

Forgive me if I just try and sum up what I remember .

The source is the comment of a German field artillery officer, who described the initial attacks made by the BEF on the Aisne.

This is extraordinary, because it speaks of very skilful British tactics of fire and movement .

He describes how the Tommies advance in dispersed formation, their ranks spread, as the German guns flail the advance with shrapnel and HE. To the German officer’s consternation - and, it’s clear, his admiration, - the khaki soldiers cover the ground with remarkably few casualties. This account stands in contrast with German accounts that stress the massed formations used by the British, and the frightful casualties they suffered as a result.

Here the British troops are depicted as adept and experienced, and equally determined and disciplined.

This must have been a close up observation , with old fashioned direct fire.

It remains for me now to authenticate this citation and find that book.

I know that Haig was quick to discern that the high angle fire of the heavier German guns put his men at a disadvantage , and he was anxious to impress this on the British authorities . No dunderhead cavalry obsessed soldier here, but a prescient and modern general. His corps took the brunt of this battle, and, if I remember correctly, one of his divisions took four thousand casualties in a day or two of these attacks. As you state, heavy loss in proportionate terms.

I have always been impressed by how attractive the scenery around the Aisne is compared with the more dismal fields of Flanders and Artois. The river itself looked lovely when I saw it.

Regards, Phil
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"Egad, sir, I do not know whether you will die on the gallows or of the pox!" "That will depend, my Lord, on whether I embrace your principles or your mistress." Earl of Sandwich and John Wilkes
john hayward
Allenstown
NH USA
Posts: 816
Battle of the Aisne 1914
Posted on: 2/15/2020 7:39:23 AM

Phil
Totally agree that the British Tommy understood the fire and movement. The battalion commanders and their men showed it on many occasions on the Aisne. And shown to be "adept and experienced, and equally determined and disciplined."

The Aisne is the first battle of WW1 that must have really hit the British home front hard. The telegrams and list of dead in newspapers must have come as quite a shock.
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"When fascism comes to America it will be wrapped in the flag and carrying a cross."
Phil Andrade
London
 UK
Posts: 4650
Battle of the Aisne 1914
Posted on: 2/15/2020 8:02:03 AM

John,

Anecdotes came thick and fast from the Aisne fighting .

Fighting at close quarters in a sugar beet factory and in a quarry.

Germans who attempted to surrender being shot down by their own side .

A single German howitzer shell landing in a quarry and killing forty British guardsmen .

A barn on fire, with wounded men inside. Gallant British officers rescuing the wounded, and braving enemy fire to recover the German wounded, too.

A chilling admission in one British account that thirteen french farmers were executed by firing squad because they were , allegedly, spying for the Germans and signalling to their guns.

These are just things I remember reading.

There are many more .

I exaggerate when I state that a single division of Haig’s corps suffered four thousand casualties : it was his entire corps that sustained that loss, preponderantly on 14 September , although I believe that one division took most of this punishment.

Regards, Phil
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"Egad, sir, I do not know whether you will die on the gallows or of the pox!" "That will depend, my Lord, on whether I embrace your principles or your mistress." Earl of Sandwich and John Wilkes
john hayward
Allenstown
NH USA
Posts: 816
Battle of the Aisne 1914
Posted on: 2/15/2020 8:52:10 AM

Phil
At the village of Bourg-et-Comin a villager shot a German soldier. The Germans had gathered the men of the village and were planning on shooting them in reprisal. The 1st Gloucestershires arrived at the village just in time to cause the Germans to retreat and not carry out the shootings.

The 1st Division of Haig's I Corps crossed the Aisne on the 13th and established a bridgehead. Only the 5th Inf Brigade of 2nd made it cross. They crossed under heavy artillery fire showing that the Germans had the range and had sighted in on the destroyed bridges being used. The BEF's artillery was unable to respond
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"When fascism comes to America it will be wrapped in the flag and carrying a cross."
Phil Andrade
London
 UK
Posts: 4650
Battle of the Aisne 1914
Posted on: 2/15/2020 3:09:23 PM

John,

This battle is quite hard to put into context, isn’t it ?

How is it best interpreted ?

It’s sandwiched between the Marne and the “Race to the Sea”.

I wonder what the Germans were trying to do.

Consolidate their hold on the best ground while they stabilised their retreat , before resuming another offensive ?

German accounts of the second half of September in the West will require some reading. Time to seek them.

Regards, Phil
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"Egad, sir, I do not know whether you will die on the gallows or of the pox!" "That will depend, my Lord, on whether I embrace your principles or your mistress." Earl of Sandwich and John Wilkes
john hayward
Allenstown
NH USA
Posts: 816
Battle of the Aisne 1914
Posted on: 2/15/2020 8:39:45 PM

Phil
The Germans had to halt their retreat somewhere to make a stand. The Chemin des Dames was the best place. The town of Laon and a critical railway lay directly behind it. They needed to control this rail hub which crucial for their supplies. A defeat here or a failure to halt here threatened to unravel the whole line.

They utilized the terrain and strategically placed their trenches, machine guns, and artillery to make it virtually impossible for them to be removed. They could see the BEF across the the Aisne from the heights and observe its every move while remaining concealed.
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"When fascism comes to America it will be wrapped in the flag and carrying a cross."
Phil Andrade
London
 UK
Posts: 4650
Battle of the Aisne 1914
Posted on: 2/16/2020 6:16:03 AM

John,

Noteworthy that, the very day when the British soldiers were struggling against the Germans in their bloodiest engagement so far, the appointment of Erich von Falkenhayn took place. He wrote :

...to a German leader it was quite beyond doubt that the securing of the Western Front had to be attempted by means of an offensive , so long as such a thing seemed at all possible.

The Aisne battle had been fought to a mutual standstill .

German failure was as apparent as that of the Allies.

Regards, Phil
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"Egad, sir, I do not know whether you will die on the gallows or of the pox!" "That will depend, my Lord, on whether I embrace your principles or your mistress." Earl of Sandwich and John Wilkes
john hayward
Allenstown
NH USA
Posts: 816
Battle of the Aisne 1914
Posted on: 2/16/2020 6:38:59 AM

Phil

Didn't both sides try to jump start their offensives by the so called "Race to the Sea"? They made attempts to turn each other flanks in an effort to made it a war of movement again. Not familiar with all the details but with what I know about the the Aisne both sides were exhausted. Supplies needed to catch up, units needed to refit, regroup and reform and for many morale needed to be restored.

How much of a "Race" was it ?
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"When fascism comes to America it will be wrapped in the flag and carrying a cross."
Jim Cameron
Ossining
NY USA
Posts: 914
Battle of the Aisne 1914
Posted on: 2/16/2020 10:26:30 AM

To describe it as a "race" probably overstates the case. But the open flanks on both sides, and the relative proximity and importance of the coast made it obvious that was where the front would end up.
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Jim Cameron Every time I go to Gettysburg, I learn two things. Something new, and, how much I still don't know.
Phil Andrade
London
 UK
Posts: 4650
Battle of the Aisne 1914
Posted on: 2/16/2020 12:26:22 PM

Trying to take a stab at this, I would refer to what Falkenhayn wrote about his take on things.

He showed acute awareness of the vulnerability of the exposed German flank , and, significantly, attributed this in part to the departure of German units to the Eastern Front a couple of weeks or so earlier. He would do, wouldn’t he ? Never a proponent of forsaking the West for the East !

Another thing he mentioned was the sharp British naval victory at Heligoland Bight at the end of August , which diminished the influence of German naval power in the Channel , and made it more incumbent on the army to try conclusions as far as the Channel Ports were concerned.

It seemed to be a mixture of responding to threat, and seeking an opening.

Did this became a race, or a developing series of encounter battles ?

This brings the 1864 Overland Campaign in Virginia to my mind : moving to the flank, seeking the vital crossroads, very intense fighting and frantic attempts to steal a march.

I get the impression that Falkenhayn was more coherent in formulating a strategic goal, while the Allies were more in the nature of groping their way forward as they sought the open flank.

Regards, Phil

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"Egad, sir, I do not know whether you will die on the gallows or of the pox!" "That will depend, my Lord, on whether I embrace your principles or your mistress." Earl of Sandwich and John Wilkes
john hayward
Allenstown
NH USA
Posts: 816
Battle of the Aisne 1914
Posted on: 2/16/2020 9:25:52 PM

Phil
One result of the battle was the movement of BEF. At the time of the battle the BEF was wedged between the French 5th and 9th Armies. As the fighting continued the BEF ran low on supplies and CiC French complained the Joffre that because he was tied to the Channel ports trying to get the supplies through was becoming impossible. He felt that his supply lines cut across the 9th Army's, causing confusion and delay. Joffre agreed and allowed the BEF to leapfrog the 9th and extend its line towards the Channel
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"When fascism comes to America it will be wrapped in the flag and carrying a cross."
Phil Andrade
London
 UK
Posts: 4650
Battle of the Aisne 1914
Posted on: 2/17/2020 5:13:02 AM

John,

A good example of making a virtue of necessity : secure supplies and be in closer touch with the Channel Ports .

It’s surprising how little attention the Aisne battle of 1914 gets in some of the one volume histories of the Great War.

An interlude- albeit a portentous one - between the dramatic crises in the West in 1914.

This despite September 14 being an outstandingly deadly day in the British experience of 1914.

Regards, Phil
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"Egad, sir, I do not know whether you will die on the gallows or of the pox!" "That will depend, my Lord, on whether I embrace your principles or your mistress." Earl of Sandwich and John Wilkes
john hayward
Allenstown
NH USA
Posts: 816
Battle of the Aisne 1914
Posted on: 2/17/2020 6:44:45 AM

Phil
One thing that began to rear its ugly head by battle's end was a concern over British ammunition and armaments. They were being fast depleted. Sir Charles Haddib, Master-General of the Ordinance arrived at French's HQ to discuss the deficiency. French assured him there was no problem and the matter was well in hand.

Another visitor arrived on the 27th. 1st Lord of the Admirality Churchill showed up and was taken to an observation post on the Brenelle Plateau above the village of Chassemy. During the ride Churchill repeated asked if there were any Germans lurking nearby and rode the entire trip with his revolver in his lap. After taking a look at the German positions he returned to the car and exclaimed, "Now I have been under fire in five continents!"
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"When fascism comes to America it will be wrapped in the flag and carrying a cross."
Phil Andrade
London
 UK
Posts: 4650
Battle of the Aisne 1914
Posted on: 2/17/2020 12:55:41 PM

John,

Prominent among the notorious episodes of this Aisne fighting was the bombardment of Reims Cathedral by the Germans in later September .

After the destruction of the library at Louvain, this was another propaganda coup for the Allies.

Browsing through Haig’s diary and letters, I noticed that he mentions one or two episodes in which British troops panicked and ran, or offered themselves as prisoners with indecent haste.

The same was noted of the Germans, with the added touch that they were cut down by their own guns as they attempted to give themselves up.

There are also at least two occasions recorded where Germans offered surrender, and then changed their minds and shot down their British would be captors.

No doubt, German accounts make claims in which the situation was reversed.

There is an awareness of extreme exhaustion and fragility of morale extant in many accounts.

Hardly surprising given the intensity of the fighting over the preceding month, and the incredible casualty totals that had been suffered....several hundred thousand on each side by mid September 1914, with the prospect of another bloodbath as the encounter battles of the misnamed “ Race for the Sea” developed.

Regards, Phil
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"Egad, sir, I do not know whether you will die on the gallows or of the pox!" "That will depend, my Lord, on whether I embrace your principles or your mistress." Earl of Sandwich and John Wilkes
john hayward
Allenstown
NH USA
Posts: 816
Battle of the Aisne 1914
Posted on: 2/17/2020 7:42:56 PM

Phil
The 1st West Yorkshires saw advancing Germans approach with a white flag and rifles raised. They carrying stretchers also. As they moved to accept their surrender, the Germans dropped the stretchers which were carrying machine guns.They opened fire within 30 yards. Many were killed or wounded, only a few escaped. The 2nd Durham Light Inf witnessed the attack.

"There can be no getting away from the fact that the Germans are abusing the white flag, and after this we received orders that we must on no account take any notice of this flag in the future."

The 2nd Highland Light Inf. after 8 consecutive days at the front was relieved. "At every halt men fell on the muddy road hardly able to wake, some left behind."

1st Black Watch..."We spent the night of the 14th digging and collecting the dead and wounded...the collecting had to be abandoned owning to the fire kept up on the stretcher parties."
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"When fascism comes to America it will be wrapped in the flag and carrying a cross."
Phil Andrade
London
 UK
Posts: 4650
Battle of the Aisne 1914
Posted on: 2/19/2020 7:04:09 AM

John,

The narrative of the fighting on the Aisne reminds me of stories of Spotsylvania in the Civil War.

The role of the artillery was far more important in 1914 than it had been fifty years earlier : although I note that a Union attack on 18 May 1864 was easily repulsed by rebel cannon alone. On the Aisne in September 1914, the Germans sited their guns skilfully and caused havoc. They knew good ground when they saw it. So, of course, did Lee in the Overland.

The Union casualties in the fighting from the Wilderness to Cold Harbor are almost identical to those suffered by the British in the Flanders battles of October and November 1914, which are collectively known as First Ypres.

Union, Wilderness- Cold Harbor : 54,929

British, First Ypres : 54,105

Regards, Phil



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"Egad, sir, I do not know whether you will die on the gallows or of the pox!" "That will depend, my Lord, on whether I embrace your principles or your mistress." Earl of Sandwich and John Wilkes
Phil Andrade
London
 UK
Posts: 4650
Battle of the Aisne 1914
Posted on: 2/19/2020 11:20:39 AM

The Aisne, 26 September 1914.

Nothing like the scale of fighting that had occurred on the 14th of that month....but here’s a vignette that testifies how vicious some of these small scale actions could be.

This is from the account of Captain C.J. Paterson of the 1st South Wales Borderers, a battalion of the 3rd Infantry Brigade, 1st Division , 1 Corps. He recounts the initial days of heavy fighting, and then goes on to describe what happened twelve days later, as the Germans began a series of counter attacks. Note how he alludes to officer casualties by individual surnames, and then refers to “ men”, the other ranks. Here’s his account of the nasty business of the 26th :

Saturday 26th September, 1914

The most ghastly day of my life and yet to one of the proudest because my Regiment did its job and held on against heavy odds. At 4.15 am Germans attacked.....News comes that they are trying to work round our left.....Poor D Company had to face the music more than anyone else.

Presently the news comes that the Germans are in a quarry in the middle of our line, i.e. that our line was pierced. C Company drove them clean out...

Total casualties. Killed Welby, Simonds, Coker, Sills and 86 men ; wounded - Pritchard, James and Gwynn slightly, and 95 men ; and 12 missing. These 12 were of D Company, and apparently surrendered. May they be spared to reach England again and be tried by court martial and get what they deserve.


Apart from the casualty list’s astonishingly high proportion of killed ( 90), as against wounded (98) - a testimony to something of primitive ferocity - the outrage the Captain expresses about the fact that a dozen men disgraced the unit by surrendering tells us something of the background and outlook of the old British officer class of 1914.

I imagine that Paterson had been weaned on the Lays of Ancient Rome when he had been a schoolboy, and was thinking of that legendary verse :

Then out spake brave
Horatius,
The Captain of the Gate:
To every man upon this earth
Death cometh soon or late.
And how can man die better
Than facing fearful odds,
For the ashes of his fathers,
And the temples of his Gods ?


Regards, Phil
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"Egad, sir, I do not know whether you will die on the gallows or of the pox!" "That will depend, my Lord, on whether I embrace your principles or your mistress." Earl of Sandwich and John Wilkes
john hayward
Allenstown
NH USA
Posts: 816
Battle of the Aisne 1914
Posted on: 2/19/2020 1:55:51 PM

Phil
A number of accounts talk about the fierce fighting and hand to hand combat in the trenches. Many British soldiers mention the use of the bayonet and brag about being superior in its use.

Your comparison to the American CW is very good. Many of the descriptions of the Aisne combat are like the fighting seen at the Mule Shoe at Spotsylvania.

Observations at the Aisne at the artillery fire point out two things:
1. How large the craters were. Jack Johnsons?
2. How demoralized it was to be under shell firing and the feeling you couldn't move without a shell crashing on your head.

As far as the repulse of Mott's Division on May 18... there was a lot more involved than just the artillery. poor planning, poor timing and low morale of the men attacking led to it. If the Conf guns hadn't withdrawn before the next attack it is possible it might have failed too
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"When fascism comes to America it will be wrapped in the flag and carrying a cross."
Phil Andrade
London
 UK
Posts: 4650
Battle of the Aisne 1914
Posted on: 2/19/2020 1:58:53 PM

Forgive me, John...might you be confusing the battles of the 10th and 12th of May with that of the 18th ?

Wasn’t the successful storming of the salient on May 12th due to Lee withdrawing those guns, and then trying to rush them back when it was too late ?

Apologies if I’ve made the errors here.

Regards, Phil
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"Egad, sir, I do not know whether you will die on the gallows or of the pox!" "That will depend, my Lord, on whether I embrace your principles or your mistress." Earl of Sandwich and John Wilkes
john hayward
Allenstown
NH USA
Posts: 816
Battle of the Aisne 1914
Posted on: 2/19/2020 6:09:42 PM

Phil
You are right. As I typed it I kept saying to myself "The 18th?" The attack I was referring to was on May 10th. Mott's Division was suppose to support Upton's attack but thru delays and miscommunication the attack was repulsed before it even got started. My great-great grandfather's unit was involved in this attack and the one on the 12th. After the 12th Mott's Division was disbanded and blended into others in the II Corps.

As we said before a lot of men in the BEF experiences on the Aisne were similiar to fighting in the Am. Civil War in 1864
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"When fascism comes to America it will be wrapped in the flag and carrying a cross."
Phil Andrade
London
 UK
Posts: 4650
Battle of the Aisne 1914
Posted on: 2/20/2020 4:52:25 AM

John,

Thanks for putting my mind at rest here. I checked it, too.....I'd always associated Mott with the controversial action in support of Upton's attack on the Mule Shoe in the later afternoon of 10 May.

There is scope for comparisons with the Aisne, here, too.

Look at this entry from Haig's correspondence and diary entries for 14 September 1914, the big day on the Aisne :

At this time a young officer of the 15th Hussars rode in to tell me.....that he had seen a gun limber and... infantry...retreating hurriedly towards Vailly. These belong to the 3rd Division...under hot shell fire just West of Chavonne. Fugitives said the 3rd Division had been driven back upon the river.....

Sir J. French and Staff arrived at this time. I explained the situation. How very fortunately situated we were until 3rd Division had run away back ! It was impossible to rely on some of the regiments in the 3rd Division which had been so severely handled at Mons and Le Cateau…


How redolent this account is of the fate of Mott's Division : badly hurt in the Wilderness a few days earlier, with many of the men about to have their terms of enlistment expire, they were imprudently deployed and unfairly censured for failure to press home their attack on 10 May. How well Upton had done, and what a shame he hadn't been backed up !

I'm even getting a sniff at the figures, and, without being exact, it seems that the casualties suffered by the yankees at Spotsylvania on 10 May 1864 were similar in number to those suffered by the BEF on 14 September 1914.

Regards, Phil
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"Egad, sir, I do not know whether you will die on the gallows or of the pox!" "That will depend, my Lord, on whether I embrace your principles or your mistress." Earl of Sandwich and John Wilkes
john hayward
Allenstown
NH USA
Posts: 816
Battle of the Aisne 1914
Posted on: 2/20/2020 6:56:09 AM

Phil
Mott's Division was not in good shape by May 10th. Made up of men from the III Corps, they were shot up at Gettysburg. Under the command of Maj Gen William French and Brig Gen Henry Prince the III Corps performed poorly under these commanders. Then in April 1864 the III Corps was abolished and folded into the II Corps. Many of the men upon be given the II Corps' badge pinned it to their backside

On the 2nd day of the Wilderness, they were hit on the flank and routed by Longstreet. They fled back to the Brock Road, climbed over the works, and hid behind them. A large number refused to stand and fire back.

After May 10 Gen Wright VI Corps told Grant, "I don't want Mott's Division on my flank. They are worse than having no one there."

Many of the regiments in the Division were rebuild after Gettysburg with draftees, recruits and bounty men, not good material. The 7th NJ for example had a total of 656 desertions during the war, 447 happened after January 1864.
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"When fascism comes to America it will be wrapped in the flag and carrying a cross."
Phil Andrade
London
 UK
Posts: 4650
Battle of the Aisne 1914
Posted on: 2/20/2020 7:07:06 AM

John,

These anecdotes are valued : thank you.

The thing I must not forget, of course, is that, analogies notwithstanding , the Union soldiers at Spotsylvania were within one year of the war’s end ; the British troops fighting on the Aisne had another four years of war ahead of them.

Editing : note how sniffy Haig was about the 3rd Division. Not “ his” men, of course....they belonged to the 2nd Corps. Inter corps jealousy played a part here ; I see that the men of Mott’s Division did not enjoy the prospect of being consigned to a different corps. Soldiers, from highest to lowest rank, are tribal in their loyalties , aren’t they ?

Regards, Phil
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"Egad, sir, I do not know whether you will die on the gallows or of the pox!" "That will depend, my Lord, on whether I embrace your principles or your mistress." Earl of Sandwich and John Wilkes
john hayward
Allenstown
NH USA
Posts: 816
Battle of the Aisne 1914
Posted on: 2/20/2020 8:21:11 AM

Phil
Yes loyalties run deep. After the war the veterans of the III Corps still referred to themselves as either Kearney's or Hooker's old divisions

The turning point of the Overland Campaign IMHO was when the AoP pulled out of Wilderness lines and headed south. It did not retreat and start all over again. When the men realized this and saw Grant riding along the column they let out a tremendous cheer.

An officer in the BEF wrote (I can't find the quote) that he had fought at Mons and along the Marne but little did he realized that 4 years later the lines that were established in Sept 1914 on the Aisne would still be occupied.
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"When fascism comes to America it will be wrapped in the flag and carrying a cross."
Phil Andrade
London
 UK
Posts: 4650
Battle of the Aisne 1914
Posted on: 2/20/2020 5:34:21 PM

John,

The most poignant facet of that epic on the Western Front is that the British army ended up where it had started...at Mons.

The last Commonwealth soldier to be killed was a Canadian, two minutes before the Armistice came into effect.

A pretty unspeakable sadness.

Let me say how much I’ve enjoyed this thread. You and I are the only two standing here, and I want to thank you for your commitment and help in discussing the story of the Aisne battle and how it might be interpreted. To reflect on the fighting of September 1914, and to integrate it into a discussion about the battles in America half a century earlier, with reference to your own great grandfathers’ role...this makes MHO a special delight for me, and I want you to be aware of that.

Regards, Phil
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"Egad, sir, I do not know whether you will die on the gallows or of the pox!" "That will depend, my Lord, on whether I embrace your principles or your mistress." Earl of Sandwich and John Wilkes
scoucer
Berlin
 Germany
Posts: 2778
Battle of the Aisne 1914
Posted on: 2/20/2020 9:30:50 PM

Thank you Phil and John. I have enjoyed the threads. Lack of time has kept me from joining in.

Trevor
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`Hey don´t the wars come easy and don´t the peace come hard`- Buffy Sainte-Marie Some swim with the stream. Some swim against the stream. Me - I´m stuck somewhere in the woods and can´t even find the stupid stream.
john hayward
Allenstown
NH USA
Posts: 816
Battle of the Aisne 1914
Posted on: 2/21/2020 6:54:35 AM

Phil
Thank you.

Your knowledge has kept me on my toes and I find myself scrambling to find more information to add to our threads. I feel like we should be sitting down over a beer or something stronger discussing Haig, French and those brave Tommies.
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"When fascism comes to America it will be wrapped in the flag and carrying a cross."
Phil Andrade
London
 UK
Posts: 4650
Battle of the Aisne 1914
Posted on: 2/21/2020 10:24:47 AM

John,

What is your secret ? You have the knack of posing a subtle challenge, and I get agitated if I fail to address your questions. In the process, I , too, end up scurrying around trying to marshal my information. This I have found to be not only engaging , but truly enjoyable.

Editing : This evening I enjoyed a large glass of Italian vino rosso, and , in honour of your kind comments, I raised it to you !

Regards, Phil
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"Egad, sir, I do not know whether you will die on the gallows or of the pox!" "That will depend, my Lord, on whether I embrace your principles or your mistress." Earl of Sandwich and John Wilkes
john hayward
Allenstown
NH USA
Posts: 816
Battle of the Aisne 1914
Posted on: 2/21/2020 7:15:02 PM

Phil
Thank you and I raised my glass of Sam Adams to you.

No secret. Taught middle school for 43 years and teach History class to night students at the local college for 30 years. Like to challenge my students
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"When fascism comes to America it will be wrapped in the flag and carrying a cross."
Phil Andrade
London
 UK
Posts: 4650
Battle of the Aisne 1914
Posted on: 2/22/2020 4:24:52 AM

John,

Your CV gives you an edge here !

A wonderful thing : to be an academic in your professional life, and to be enjoying it in the years thereafter.

Discussing the question of booze would make for an interesting thread when it comes to the experience of British - and indeed, other - soldiers in the Great War.

When the BEF disembarked in France in August 1914, they were bemused to receive a kind of declaratory order from Kitchener warning them of the temptations of women and wine, and instructing them to show perfect courtesy to the former, but to abstain from both.

Kitchener, of course was no Ladies’ Man ; his subordinate, John French, was too much of one.

British soldiers loved their beer, and their officers their whisky, but the availability of wine must have been a novelty to most of them.

To this day people here say “ Plonk” when they allude to cheap wine, without realising that it originated from Tommy Atkins slang “ Plink Plonk” for the ubiquitous vin blanc they were offered in the estaminets in France.

My welsh GF was an army chaplain in France 1917-18, and kept quiet about his experiences, with a memorable exception when he spoke to me sotto voce and said that the prevalence of syphilis and gonorreah among the troops had appalled him.

Regards, Phil

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"Egad, sir, I do not know whether you will die on the gallows or of the pox!" "That will depend, my Lord, on whether I embrace your principles or your mistress." Earl of Sandwich and John Wilkes
john hayward
Allenstown
NH USA
Posts: 816
Battle of the Aisne 1914
Posted on: 2/22/2020 7:10:45 AM

Phil,

Gen Pershing and the US Army waged war on two fronts...one to make the world safe for democracy and the other to save the morals of the US doughboy. They took a three step approach on the latter
1. Established YMCAs to provide food and good clean fun for the boys
2. Astinence- Books, posters, lectures, and punishments
3. Issuing condoms which was problem because it was against the law in most US states to have anything that promoted birth control.
Still our boys found time for their "lil' joes" to "stand at attention" despite the attempts to stop it.
How you going to keep them down on the farm after they seen Paree?

I understand the British established two levels of bordellos. One for the officers and one for the enlisted men. Both were inspectioned for disease

Rueben, Rueben, you're mistaken
Said his wifey dear
Once a farmer, always a jay
And farmers always stick to the hay
Mother Reuben, I'm not fakin
Tho you may think it strange
But wine and women play the mischief
With a boy who's loose with change

How ya gonna keep 'em down on the farm
After they've seen Paree'
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"When fascism comes to America it will be wrapped in the flag and carrying a cross."
Phil Andrade
London
 UK
Posts: 4650
Battle of the Aisne 1914
Posted on: 2/22/2020 8:36:07 AM

Good stuff, John, very apt !

There are several estates over here, with a long tradition of feudal or neo feudal hierarchy , and in some of them a folklore has developed about the horrific impact of the Great War.

One of them cites the famous stonemasons of the estate - there were twenty one of them who went to war , and only four returned .....oh Lord ......subsequent investigation reveals that four were killed, four came back, and the other thirteen decided, after their wartime experiences, that the world was a much bigger place than their previous subjugated lives had allowed for.

Regards, Phil
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"Egad, sir, I do not know whether you will die on the gallows or of the pox!" "That will depend, my Lord, on whether I embrace your principles or your mistress." Earl of Sandwich and John Wilkes
john hayward
Allenstown
NH USA
Posts: 816
Battle of the Aisne 1914
Posted on: 2/22/2020 10:47:55 AM

Phil
During World War I, the Army discharged more than 10,000 men because they were ailing from sexually transmitted diseases. That is just the ones reported.

WWI did not have that kind of effect on our returning doughboys. Most returned to the States happy they did their part "over there" only to find that many here didn't really care. Became part of that "Lost Generation" Then there was the Bonus Army fiasco in 1932

FDR decided that the returning vets from WWII wouldn't suffer the same fate so the GI Bill of Rights was started.

Understand Haig was big in getting benefits for returning soldiers
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"When fascism comes to America it will be wrapped in the flag and carrying a cross."
scoucer
Berlin
 Germany
Posts: 2778
Battle of the Aisne 1914
Posted on: 2/22/2020 1:56:21 PM

Quote:
John,

What is your secret ? You have the knack of posing a subtle challenge, and I get agitated if I fail to address your questions. In the process, I , too, end up scurrying around trying to marshal my information. This I have found to be not only engaging , but truly enjoyable.

Regards, Phil


Yeah, me too. Then I want to check my sources. In the end I´m too tired to post anything.

Trevor
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`Hey don´t the wars come easy and don´t the peace come hard`- Buffy Sainte-Marie Some swim with the stream. Some swim against the stream. Me - I´m stuck somewhere in the woods and can´t even find the stupid stream.
Phil Andrade
London
 UK
Posts: 4650
Battle of the Aisne 1914
Posted on: 2/23/2020 7:33:10 AM

John,

Understand Haig was big in getting benefits for returning soldiers

Indeed, he was.

He actually predicted, at the end of 1915, that winning the war against German militarism might cost the nation one tenth of its manhood. He was countenancing the literal decimation of a generation : he was uncannily correct in his assessment.

He recorded his thoughts when he stood on the Somme battlefield in early 1917, and surveyed the ground that the Germans had relinquished as they retired to new lines. He alluded to the awful task that his soldiers had undertaken in attacking these “ tremendous positions”, and reflected on the cost, using the phrase “ certain death” : he used that phrase more than once in his writing when he tried to articulate his thoughts on the ordeal of the officers and men he commanded.

He also expressed his determination that such men as these would receive proper acknowledgment and reward from the British nation, and I reckon his commitment to their welfare was profound and maybe obsessive.

No glossing over of his flaws should be tolerated if we attempt to assess his role, but, in this matter, I feel he acquitted himself honourably.

Regards, Phil



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"Egad, sir, I do not know whether you will die on the gallows or of the pox!" "That will depend, my Lord, on whether I embrace your principles or your mistress." Earl of Sandwich and John Wilkes
Phil Andrade
London
 UK
Posts: 4650
Battle of the Aisne 1914
Posted on: 2/23/2020 7:54:30 AM

John,

Following on from my comments about Haig and his reflection on the cost of victory, I want to say that there is a delightful township - on the county borders of Kent and East Sussex - called Wadhurst .

A very close friend of mine lives there, and it is a joy to visit him and his wife, and tour the surrounding countryside. Nearby is Chartwell, Churchill’s beloved country residence, and also Batemans, home of Rudyard Kipling. Also close at hand is Westerham, home of General Wolfe , the man who won the battle on the Heights of Abraham and made the world safe for the spread of the English language. To make the cup run over, my friend has a fantastic wine cellar, and is a keen historian . Imagine what a great time we would have if you were with us !

To state the reason for my rambling on here, I must say that, from a population that included about 700 men of military age in 1914, Wadhurst lost 149 men killed 1914-18 .....more than one in five. One time and place in particular stands out as an evil memory : the battle of Aubers Ridge, 9-10 May 1915, when twenty five of them lost their lives in a thoroughly disastrous British attack. Just over one year later, an Australian division was massacred in another frightful failure in the same sector, at a place called Fromelles. There must be some Australian equivalents of Wadhurst that attribute dreadful notoriety to that area of Artois.

In 2007 I passed through the Pas de Calais on the Eurostar train, and saw hoardings erected which screened the area outside Fromelles from view. At that very time, an exhumation was taking place of hundreds of Australian dead who had lain in mass graves for nearly a century, and the blue screens concealed the grisly work that the devoted teams were performing.

Adolf Hitler served there.

Sometimes the awful events of that war suddenly seem very close.

Regards, Phil

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"Egad, sir, I do not know whether you will die on the gallows or of the pox!" "That will depend, my Lord, on whether I embrace your principles or your mistress." Earl of Sandwich and John Wilkes
john hayward
Allenstown
NH USA
Posts: 816
Battle of the Aisne 1914
Posted on: 2/23/2020 12:16:43 PM

Phil

Yes it does.

As I travel thru New England I marvel at the number of towns no matter the size that have a monument to the men who fought in our Civil War. There are very few that don't have one.

The town of Gilmanton Iron Works lost 12 boys on May 3/4 1863 at Chancellorsville. The town at the time consisted of about 25 families. It is hard to believe how it must have struck the little hamlet.

On the other hand, it is very difficult to find any to WWI.

Haig is a very complex study
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"When fascism comes to America it will be wrapped in the flag and carrying a cross."
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