Patterico's Pontifications


The Great War One Hundred Years Ago Today

Filed under: General — JVW @ 2:58 pm

[guest post by JVW]

On July 15, 1918, the German First and Third Armies attacked the French Fourth Army just east of Reimes, beginning what came to be known as the Second Battle of the Marne. By this point the German forces had been ravaged by influenza, and despite having successfully advanced in Northern France from March until June of that year, the Kaiser’s troops were overworked, undernourished, and dispirited. The German commander, General Erich Ludendorff, had led the spring offensive hoping to penetrate the Allied lines on the Western Front, thus rallying his troops while simultaneously providing Germany with one last opportunity for an end-run to Paris.

File found at

File found at

The fighting commenced the day before with Germany firing 17,500 gas shells at the American 42nd Rainbow Division whose Chief of Staff was a 38-year-old newly-promoted brigadier general named Douglas MacArthur. The 42nd was about 20 miles west of Reims at Château-Thierry, so the attack appears to be intended to prevent the Americans from reinforcing the Fourth Army to the east. The gas would incapacitate over 1,000 American troops and blind dozens, though only six were killed. On that same day, Bastille Day, Second Lieutenant Quentin Roosevelt, son of the former President, was shot down and killed piloting his Nieuport 28 ten miles east of the 42nd in Chamery (now known as Coulonges-Cohan).

The Germans also bombed the French lines at Souain-Perthes-lès-Hurlus, 10 miles east of Reims. The French, however, had advance warning of the assault thanks to intelligence from some prisoners of war, and left a skeleton crew in their front trenches as they fell back to the rear. Thus, the Germans basically wasted their heavy artillery to kill a very few troops left behind in the ruse. At the same time, the advance intelligence on the German movements gave the Americans and French the opportunity to shell the German lines as they assembled to attack, further disorienting the Hun. As the German First and Third passed through the abandoned trenches, they were quickly cut down by French troops who had dug new trenches a quarter-mile back from the German bombardment.

The next day, July 16, the Germans fired a half million shells against the French and American forces, dropping over 9000 tons of mustard gas, phosgene, and diphenylchlorarsine as the Kaiser himself watched from the First Army observation point 14 miles to the northeast. Despite the onslaught, the French heavy guns managed to destroy 20 German tanks (the tank being new to the war, appearing on the battlefield for the first time a year earlier) and French bombardiers along with American artillery successfully destroyed every bridge that the Germans had managed to build to cross the Marne River. German troops attempting to ford the river at its most shallow points were easily mowed down by waiting Yank machine gunners. Even the Italian troops (insert your favorite Italian war joke here) got in on the act, repelling a German offensive at Nanteuil-Pourcy. On July 18, the Allied armies under Marshal Ferdinand Foch launched their counter-attack, driving the Germans back four-and-one-half miles and capturing 20,000 prisoners in one day’s worth of fighting.

The events of July 15, 1918 would be recognized as the last significant German offensive of the Great War. The Second Battle of the Marne would officially last until August 6, at which point the Kaiser’s lines had been driven back 28 miles, several beyond the point where they had launched the spring offensive five months earlier. The American poet Joyce Kilmer would be killed in action on July 30 while accompanying Major William J. “Wild Bill” Donovan (who founded the Office of Strategic Services in the next war) to scout the position of German machine guns prior to an impending Allied attack. A little over three months later, the war mercifully concluded.

Note: Most of the above is taken from the late Sir Martin Gilbert’s excellent account, The First World War. I regret that I loaned my copy of the late John Keegan’s The First World War to my father, as I would have liked to consult it as well in writing this post. Both books are indispensable for an understanding of that momentous conflict.


59 Responses to “The Great War One Hundred Years Ago Today”

  1. As we head towards the 100th anniversary of the armistice in November I hope to have some further posts reflecting on that pivotal event.

    JVW (42615e)

  2. On a more cheerful note- ‘The Great Adventure’ – 49 years ago today: the countdown for the launch of Apollo 11 was progressing smoothly; a scheduled 11-hour hold at T-9 hours forthcoming late on July 15-16, 1969.

    DCSCA (797bc0)

  3. “The Hun”

    Can’t say that today.

    Kevin M (5d3e49)

  4. The Kindle version of Keegan’s book is $6. Jjst sayin’

    Kevin M (5d3e49)

  5. The Kindle version of Keegan’s book is $6. Jjst sayin’

    You know, I work in the technology industry yet I just don’t do e-books. And ironically enough, my final job in higher education was convincing professors and students to abandon print materials for online materials. I think it’s my dedication to killing trees and despoiling the environment.

    The one exception to this is the free stuff you can get from amazon. So I do in fact have the collected works of Rudyard Kipling and some Damon Runyon stories on my iPad. But that’s the extent of it, and I hope to God I never get to the point where I am content reading from my phone.

    JVW (42615e)

  6. You know, I work in the technology industry yet I just don’t do e-books.

    Smart; beyond a certain age, the look, feel and convenience of a hardcover and/or paperback are still appreciated.

    Although a different generation has a differing POV; the college-age niece and recent grad nephew swear by them-there-e-books; mainly because the don’t/didn’t have to lug a lot of heavy, costly textbooks around in backpacks– just keep their tablets charged. Personally, it seems harder to read lengthy passages on backlit screens.

    DCSCA (797bc0)

  7. TIL: Joyce Kilmer was a man! Married to Aline Murray Kilmer at age 22, five children. I’ll never look at a tree the same way again.

    nk (dbc370)

  8. College e-textbooks are pretty damn awesome. Imagine reading through your calculus book and getting to open up a 8-minute video where the professor guides you step-by-step through the definition of a limit, or imagine getting to do online homework and being stuck on a problem, and clicking open a video where a similar problem is solved step-by-step, or imagine doing multivariable calculus and being able to see a three-dimensional rendering of a function and being able to rotate the image so you can see it from each axis. They are far superior to the calculus books that we grew up with.

    I suppose a book like Keegan’s can be improved in digital form if it included interactive maps and some other stuff, but until that comes standard I am sticking with print and paper.

    JVW (42615e)

  9. The us came out of the war relatively unscathed venizelos contested the presidency because of it. But for most it was generational slaughter even for the victors.

    Narciso (2b38be)

  10. TIL: Joyce Kilmer was a man!

    Dammit, I wanted to reply to this with the clip of Burt Reynolds and Farrah Fawcett discussing Kilmer in The Cannonball Run, but I can’t locate it online. I hope you are familiar with the reference, nk.

    JVW (42615e)

  11. @8. Yeah, the kids often crowed about those embedded ‘professor videos’ helping them along the way. That element of it is an amazing teaching tool and a worthy advance. Still, for general comfort and convenience, a paperback novel and hardcover bio on a sunny beach day, a rainy winter night or just a quick perusal in the can or the bath can’t be beat.

    DCSCA (797bc0)

  12. I found the transcript, JVW.

    nk (dbc370)

  13. JVW, you know, some of the recordkeeping from that era was fairly good. Had some obscure French and U.S. Army paperwork handed down over the years from some friend of the family who’d corresponded w/Harry Truman about a WW1 a few battles and U.S. memorials, wreath laying plans w/French officials and such. While it was time consuming, it wasn’t all that complicated to track down the names, the battles involved, the details from the actual action reports and so forth. The re[orts were so detailed, it referenced this fella shooting a pistol-wielding German officer, prisoners taken and commendations from various officers up the chain of command for actions in battle. You could picture the whole battle in context, just from reading it.

    DCSCA (797bc0)

  14. I have literally run out of space to put more printed books.

    While I definitely prefer the experience of turning pages, it has become a luxury I can no longer afford.

    OTOH, it is nice to be able to carry a library of 200 books in my pocket wherever I go, and the screen of the iPhone X definitely has a less cramped, more pleasant feel than my previous, smaller phones.

    I mainly buy through Barnes & Noble, in part to do what I can to prevent brick & mortar bookstores from becoming extinct. The loss of Borders was a very sad turn of events (I fell in love with the original, and at the time, only, Borders when I was in college in Ann Arbor…).

    Dave (445e97)

  15. Couple of interesting pieces in Keegan’s book. As in, Moltke knew he had trouble before he started in 1914 but the Kaiser said, “Your uncle would have given me a different answer.” So he penciled in his troops and went ahead.
    See Showalter, “Tannenberg” on the run up to the whole thing, plus the cultures of the French, British and Germany armies and the societies from which they came.

    Richard Aubrey (3d7f6e)

  16. FWIW, 49 years ago, ‘the way it was,’ when America truly did great things; Wednesday, July 16, 1969:

    ‘What a moment…’ Still a magnificent sight to watch.

    Coincidentally, the lunar crater Moltke, named for Moltke The Elder, uncle to WW1’s Moltke, is a landmark in the Apollo 11 landing site.

    DCSCA (797bc0)

  17. FWIW, 49 years ago, ‘the way it was,’ when America truly did great things


    Dave (445e97)

  18. There’s a theory that Kaiser Wilhelm animus,toward who were after all, his in-laws, was motivated by the boer war

    Narciso (1a1ce8)

  19. this war is like older than the constitution

    happyfeet (28a91b)

  20. I have literally run out of space to put more printed books.

    I get that, but at a certain point you have to take stock of your books and honestly ask of yourself “Am I ever going to refer to that book again?” and if the answer is no then you need to rid yourself of it. It’s hard to do, but after having seen my dad and my uncle go through it I have started doing it on my own. Painful, yet somehow cathartic.

    JVW (42615e)

  21. Richard Aubrey (3d7f6e) — 7/15/2018 @ 4:10 pm (Edit)

    Gilbert is the best for the political background of the war; Keegan is superior in his coverage of the military maneuvers. And his section on Moltke is indeed fascinating.

    JVW (42615e)

  22. There’s a theory that Kaiser Wilhelm animus,toward who were after all, his in-laws, was motivated by the boer war

    It’s fascinating to read about Kaiser Wilhelm, Tsar Nicholas, and King George and realize that they are family, as were some other European royalty. Right up until the war started the Kaiser and the Tsar were exchanging letters to each other addressed “Dear Nicky” and “Dear Willy.” What a weird history European monarchy has.

    JVW (42615e)

  23. I get that, but at a certain point you have to take stock of your books and honestly ask of yourself “Am I ever going to refer to that book again?” and if the answer is no then you need to rid yourself of it.

    I’m about as likely to throw away a book as Gollum was to throw away his “precioussss”.

    I’d sooner take a plunge into the fires of Mt. Doom myself!

    (There are exceptions – I threw away all my Ann Coulter books a year or two ago…) :)

    Dave (445e97)

  24. Painful, yet somehow cathartic.

    I converted to Kindle a few years go, but my wife still thinks it has to be on paper to be a book. Recently, as she was packing/purging her 5000 printed books for our big more, I would say “Kindle!” at strategic moments.

    Kevin M (5d3e49)

  25. i want me one of these

    there’s a lot of permutations and i’m not all that picky

    happyfeet (28a91b)

  26. You don’t “throw them away”, you give them away. Libraries, Rotary Club book sales, Goodwill. Churches often take spiritual books, sometimes even those of other faiths.

    Kevin M (5d3e49)

  27. i threw mine away when i moved

    there was a garbage chute and i had a lot to do

    happyfeet (28a91b)

  28. @19. And it ended just 28 years before Trump was born, Mr. Feet!

    DCSCA (797bc0)

  29. This is a great book, from the perspective of a Italian of the upper class, with a emphasis on aesthetics. Beautiful and moving.

    I highly recommend.

    lee (ab26cf)

  30. And it ended just 28 years before Trump was born, Mr. Feet!

    what does this mean

    i love President Trump

    he’s my everything

    happyfeet (28a91b)

  31. You don’t “throw them away”

    If Ann Coulter’s name is on the cover, you do.

    Dave (445e97)

  32. Exactly I capgave many of my books to thrift shops, libraries etc kept about a dozen, one of them being the great upheaval

    narciso (d1f714)

  33. what does this mean

    Pay it no mind, Mr. Feet.

    The sun rose for the first time, and history began, on the day your dear leader was born.

    Everything that allegedly happened prior to that is at best irrelevant, and at worst, FakeNews.

    Dave (445e97)

  34. The loss of Borders was a very sad turn of events predicable and well-deserved. The mismanagement of the operation was legend. Despite being encouraged to crush the upstart Amazon as early as 1997, they knew better. No one wanted to buy books online. Their resistance to internet sales (and to discounting) drove their stock, and eventually the company into the ground. When they finally did get online, it was as a Borders-branded Amazon site (often trying to sell full-priced books).

    Pfui! Good riddance.

    Kevin M (5d3e49)

  35. The little second hand book shops were the real casualty

    narciso (d1f714)

  36. Borders did pretty well for a while when they would send the 30% off coupons to you via email. I assume the philosophy behind that was that you would come in and select your one item to purchase with the coupon, but you wouldn’t be able to help yourself and you would buy a couple of full-price items too. But yeah, when their stores started devoting more space to cafes and to kiddie play sections and they started carrying fewer and fewer interesting books, their days were numbered.

    JVW (42615e)

  37. predicable and well-deserved

    I don’t doubt that, from a business perspective.

    But their disappearance made my world, at least, a sadder place.

    Dave (445e97)

  38. There’s sometime about the feel of a paperback or even a hard cover you can’t capture with a tablet.

    Now since world war, we have rarely had standing armies in confrontation for long periods there were some set piece battles in Korea and Vietnam, since the latter there haven’t been any major confrontations of air forces or navies

    Narciso (25d2fa)

  39. @31.You don’t “throw them away” If Ann Coulter’s name is on the cover, you do.

    But if her name’s in it, sell it: $50 on eBay.

    DCSCA (797bc0)

  40. Furthermore there might be something with the notion that war was driven by ares who turns out not to be who we think, as in the wonder woman film

    Narciso (25d2fa)

  41. I look forward to reading further posts.

    July 21st will be a hundred years since a German submarine fired on the town of Orleans, Massachusetts. It is the only place in the United States to receive enemy fire during the war. There is a book that tells the story: Attack on Orleans: The World War I Submarine Raid on Cape Cod

    Mattsky (55d339)

  42. Wonderfully informative post, JVW.

    Dana (023079)

  43. How are you doing, dana?

    Narciso (deb479)

  44. Hey Dana, nice to see you!

    Dave (445e97)

  45. dana dana you’re back soon yes? and i hope you’re doing better every day

    it’s the ides of july this very day

    time to pivot

    happyfeet (28a91b)

  46. My grandfather was reported Missing In Action 100 years ago.

    He was wounded and behind enemy lines. I still have the notice sent to my great grandparents reporting him missing (and his Purple Heart).

    harkin (e3be5c)

  47. Wilson in my opinion was awful as president. Probably worse than obama

    mg (0d66b4)

  48. My grandfather was reported Missing In Action 100 years ago.

    Sorry to hear that, harkin. I’m sure it was very difficult for your great-grandparents. I take it they never recovered his remains.

    My great-grandfather was a Doughboy in France. I need to investigate more about his division and where they were engaged. I got to know him a bit when I was a boy and he was an old man (he died when I was about 10 or 11 I think). He was already kind of senile, but he also might have suffered some from shell-shock. What a hellish war that was.

    JVW (42615e)

  49. But if her name’s in it, sell it: $50 on eBay.

    Your remark got me thinking – unless memory fails me, I think I’ve only attended one book signing in my whole life.

    Somewhere I have a hardcover anthology of the Hitch-hiker’s trilogy inscribed:

    Dear Dave,
    Don’t Panic!
    – Douglas Adams


    Dave (5958e0)

  50. She has a good researcher, but she over states the conclusions. I know that never happens to anyone else.

    Narciso (b2eb1c)

  51. @49. The one of hers unloaded for fifty was found in a thrift store for $2.95.

    DCSCA (797bc0)

  52. @48. Worth the time and trouble, JVW. Was amazed at how detailed the info was given the era once you get into it and peruse reports. It’s a matter of where to look and taking the time- the Army action reports and division histories had an amazing level of detail. Just a matter of wading through it all.

    @46. Ugh, harkin. They may make a try to make unknowns known w/DNA but time/cost/samples etc., factor in.

    DCSCA (797bc0)

  53. “Sorry to hear that, harkin. I’m sure it was very difficult for your great-grandparents. I take it they never recovered his remains.”

    He survived and even though wounded made it back without being captured.

    He had a huge painting of the Arc De Triomphe and Champs De Elysees in his living room. One of his proudest moments was the Paris victory march he participated in.

    I still have the proclamation given him from the Los Angeles City Council on his last day of work for the LAPD in the early 60s. They noted he had only missed one day of work, the day my father was born in 1929.

    The day after Pearl Harbor he tried to enlist but they told him he was too old. My dad said he had never seen him so angry.

    I would love to be able to sit with him just one last time at the Farm House Restaurant in Buena Park and listen to his stories.

    One thing grandpa said that I’ll never forget. He said that by the time I was his age (he was prob around 75) I’d have to get a permit from the govt to drive across the country.

    harkin (e3be5c)

  54. How long would it take for the first lawsuit of a fallen soldier at Souain to sue DJT for intentionally placing their loved one in a spot intending to draw fire away from the main force?

    My grandfather who had volunteered as a brand spanking new legal immigrant from Sweden, was mustard gassed along the Northern front. I am not sure if it was this battle, but it was around this time.

    There was little medicine could do for him, but they strongly advised he move to a place with super clean air and water. He took their advice and moved to, of all places – Sturgis, SD! My mother was born and raised there.

    Oh. He loved a rigorous and robust life until he died at age 84. Typical of most of our heroes, he would never speak of what happened and what he saw as a soldier.

    Ed from SFV (6d42fa)

  55. My grandfather was also a doughboy, he was gassed in the trenches and suffered respiratory problems the rest of his life. He was in the Blue and Gray division, named for it’s unique composition of units from both North and South of the Mason Dixon Line. (These men were born only 25 to 30 years after the Civil War.)

    Later during WW-2 my Mother wanted her parents’ approval to marry a man from Pennsylvania. Although he wanted her to accept one of the 3 other proposals, all from Southerners, my grandfather acquiesced, he had served with Pennsylvania Yankees and considered them brave and honorable men. I was born 11 months after they married.

    ropelight (9f4736)

  56. RE: “the Hun”

    That went out of fashion maybe by 1920. It sounds like Hungarians.

    Sammy Finkelman (02a146)

  57. There is the idea that at the time, World War I was known as “The Great War.”

    I don’t think so. I don’t remember that in the Literary Digest. It mostly had no name, and became known as the World War eventually.

    I used toi think it was called “the Great War” because in the third garde we had amath book from 1931 and in there it was called the “Great War.” (in the middle of the school year, which was 1962-3, it got swapped out for new books, which were behind in level. The new books were called called “Growth in Arithmetic” I named them to myself “Slowth in Arithmetic.”

    Later on I found out it was known as the European War (at least till 1917) The Encyclopedia Americana still called it that as late as the 1952 edition, which in got in 1970 as a hand-me down from a family connection. It had more about World War I, than World War II (which it called World War II) World War II was ain a different volume tahn “War, European.”

    And, what’s more, the Reader’s Guide to Periodical Literature called it the European War all the way through 1976!

    I know I read some math school book from 193 1that called it the Great
    War but I don’t think that was its big name, even afeter the U.S. got
    iun in 1917. Maybe teh World War or the World Crisis (as Churchill

    Sammy Finkelman (02a146)

  58. One thing perhaps to be wary of:

    I’ve seen these things.

    Sammy Finkelman (02a146)

  59. Anybody who served in the war is entitled to wonder, What the hell were they thinking?” B. H. Liddell-Hart served and he found out and he’s pissed. See his history of the war. He even blames the British people for not taking charge of the government and thence the war, using the term “infanticide” twice.

    Richard Aubrey (3d7f6e)

Powered by WordPress.

Page loaded in: 0.7151 secs.