A Daily History of Holes, Dots, Lines, Science, History, Math, the Unintentional Absurd & Nothing |1.6 million words, 7000 images, 3.5 million hits| Press & appearances in The Times, The Paris Review, Le Figaro, The Economist, The Guardian, Discovery News, Slate, Le Monde, Sci American Blogs, Le Point, and many other places...
Nearly all of the WWI photos that have appeared on this blog are from my own collection--this one, this fabulous one below, is not. It is a fantastic image that I think would bring up notions of crazy proofer types looking to establish the idea that Nazis actually went to the Moon and have been hiding there since 1945--but no. it is just a great photo. Also: I've seen a number of photographic postcards like this from folks at a country fair or some such thing, having their picture made sitting with the Man in the Moon--soldiers included. But I've never seen one with this many people involved.
I could hardly resist this 1918 image: the young girl, her hands in her pockets, ribbons on her chest, her submarine fashioned over a tricycle with the two flags (Stars and Stripes and the Union Jack).
The sun is low, rising or setting, and it is catching the girl in the face, the home-fashioned hardboard visor of her home-grown officer's headgear doing nohing to shade her eyes. She's in her dress whites, maybe proud of someone else's handiwork on her ten foot long submarine.
The image comes from my small archive of 200 or so WWI news service photos, this one no doubt intended to stir some home fires to help raise money or spirits. I have no idea of the image was ever published.
And of course the details:
And this of the stern flag, the Union Jack:
And this, with the hand-sewn eagle on the hand-made jacket, with all of the trimmings a creation of mom, or someone else as kind:
And you can purchase the original: World War I news service photo, made 1918. 8x6 inches. Good condition. $350
I do believe that this is a Lewis Machine Gun, one of the most popularly-used automatic weapons by the BEF (and of American design). It was a gas-operated weapon firing a .30-06 Springfield at 500/600 rpm withan effective range of about a half-mile. The drum magazine (not present here so far as I can see) held 47 and 97 rounds. These soldiers were all business. (Source: this is one of perhaps 400 WWI news service photos down in the warehouse...)
I was looking through a very heavy volume from 1924 of Military Engineer and came upon a very large folding map1. It was vanilla on the outside and stayed so, opening only the back of the map through one, two, three, four (!) unfoldings, not yet revealing itself, until it was at it full width, and then unfolded once down, which opened to the middle of the map, which was a mass of lines and shading of brown and gray. Another unfold up, and then another down, and more of the same, so much detail that the context still was hidden. I unfolded the bottom half of the map three more times and at the bottom was the town "Regret". My right hand obscured the name of the much larger and antique-fortified town, which turned out to be the military-sacred city of Verdun. When I unfolded the top of the map--making it about four feet long--I saw that it was for development of the battle and lines of communication and placement of troops and so on for part of the Autumn of 1918. And trenches.
(This was actually "Verdun B", the mate of "Verdun A", which together form a huge and wildly complex 4x4' map. )
This was a reprint six years later of the 34th edition of this particular map--that is a lot of editions. But this was a lot of place, Verdun. A fluid place of ordered killing chaos that was as dynamic as it was occasionally static, starting in a very contained space of massive fighting that took place from 21 February to 18 December, 1916. The map is of a place that was about the longest, costliest, and deadliest battles that humans have come to, so far. Casualties were about the same on each side (370,000 French and 340,000 German) and totaled about 710,000 people, though scholars argue the point, some coming to a figure much higher, approaching a million. That makes 70,000-100,000 per month for the battle, which was like a war in itself.
There were probably two million soldiers in motion here, at Verdun, in a relatively tiny area, with front lines extending about five miles or so, the battlefield being fairly narrow from point to point, perhaps totaling 20 square miles of heavily bombarded/shelled ground. It was a terrifying place to be, and I'm certain that it must have scarred forever hundreds of thousands who survived the ordeal.
Unfortunately Verdun 1916 was only about the half-way point of the war, with these maps generated to show artillery targets for the American entry in the war for action that would take place just before the end of the war on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month of 1918. This was the French Fourth Army and the American First Army which attacked on a front from Moronvillers to the Meuse on 26 September 1918 through the end of September, and from which the German army began its gradual withdrawal from the area, continuing right up to Armistice Day.
Ultimately whenever I think of this war things usually boil down to Dalton Trumbo's Johnny Got his Gun, which was required reading in my freshman year of high school in 1970.
1. Journal of the Society of Military Engineers, volume 16, 1924; the map titles are "Tranchee Francaise schematique a la date de 1er Sept 1918" and "Carte Generale des Objectifs d'Artillery".
This fantastic photograph calls to mind the importance of the little things of battle--dry socks, headgear, water, food, scissors. And of course a good coat in the winter--a good coat that can be kept closed to allow the body to stay warm, or dry. I mentioned in an earlier post here that it was a small thing that may have led to the demise of Napoleon's army in Russia in 1812--the buttons on the overcoats of the soldiers were made of tin, and as tin becomes brittle in severe cold, it is conceivable that the buttons failed and therefore allowed the jackets to blow open much more easily than normal. Little change that has an enormous impact.
This photograph--an official French photo published by the Western Newspaper Union in November 1918--shows a group of French telegraphic soldiers, taking a break, and mending their clothes. The original text for the photograph (below) points out that their uniforms were torn and made shabby by continuously running themselves up and down telegraph poles. It is important to keep yourself fit and fed and your uniform in good order, so they calmly awaited the repair of their uniforms y the one man with a needle and thread.
I'm not sure at what point during the War this image was made (though I suspect it was midway through the American experience) and shows what I think is the enlistment and draft numbers for U.S. soldiers. The progress of the growth of the Army is charted against German cities that were to be conquered or had already been engaged. The Doughboy in the graphic along with everything else looks clean and hopeful and determined--the end result of all of this determination was Victory and Defeat and people dead everywhere.
This increible image shows an enormous gathering of the 137 Brigade, 46th Division, gathered post-battle on the banks of the St Quentin Canal, next to the Riqueval Bridge. It was one in a series of pivotal battles to bring the war to a close, this breaking the Hindenburg Line (a major element of the German defence system) which came which formed part of the German defence system, the Hindenburg Line, which was broken on 29 September 1918. They are being addressed by Brigadier General J C Campbell VC CMG DSO on the Riqueval Bridge.
The close-up below was taken directly from the Imperial War Museum (here), and shows the reason or major reason for the assembly, which was an address by Brigadier-General J.C. VC CMG DSO Campbell to his troops, more visible with his cap off, at extreme left on the bridge.
TO have been on the River Somme, in France, in the summer of 1916, and to be in uniform, and carrying a gun, was perhaps the worst place to be in the whole of World War I. More than one million soldiers were killed or wounded in that time, with millions more engaged. It was impossible.
This photograph tells part of the story. It was released September 27, 1918, by Underwood and Underwood, a news photo service agency that distributed sanctioned photographs of war action to newspapers and other periodicals.
The photograph was accompanied by a caption supplied by U & U (bottom) and tells the story of these captured German soldiers--dazed, starving, frightened, hungry, thirsty, and were part of a group of more than 100,000. They were offered water from a trough, and in spite of it all, they were so thirsty that they were desperate for whatever they could get.
For whatever reason, the entire trough was not filled with water--only limited sections were. The soldiers were holding their place in line with their hands on the empty trough, inching slowly forward. In my collection of these photographs it is rare to see faces in despair or pain like this, and these faces are definitely telling stories. (This is another example of the unusual display of emotion in WWI news service photographs.)
JF Ptak Science Books An earlier post (#1308) expanded
If I was in a time machine, stepping back through a wormhole and into another segment of another reality, one of the places I'd least want to step into would be a cramped, cold, wet, dirty and dangerous place. Like this American soldier, waiting for a German attack to begin so that he could launch a warning flare to the rest of the soldiers, hunkered down in a cold wet place in the front line along the Lorraine section in France, mid-way through 1918 and almost all-the-way-through WWI.
And even though this soldier looks far too clean, and his uniform far too spotless and pressed-ish, and his calf-skin gloves too calf-skinny, and his duffle too unmarred, and his helmet chinstrap too perfect for this man to actually have been fighting, the sensation of cold/bad/dangerous still gets through the whitewash.
There are of course much worse places to be, but I think if I limited my time travel to include what I would be on the other end--a U.S. soldier--one of the places at te top of te list would be a generic trench in the front line of a battle late in the fighting in WWI. Sitting there, watchful, waiting for the advance of thousands of German troops, charging over a ruined and sulfurous landscape, waiting for the ruination to begin as it churned its way through No Man's Land. Of course it could be worse--one could be going "over the top", charging across the Desolate Place towards a line of thousands of entrenched soldiers all of whom were trying to kill. you.
Or of course you could be in a blue coat marching in a straight line towards a series of long lines of men in red coats, everyone getting ready to get close enough to discharge an 69-calibre (or thereabouts) ball across an open plane of hundreds of feet into the ranks of the opponent. Or being in a Marine uniform in Tarawa, in the Gilberts, in November 1943. Or being in Butternut, crossing the Emmitsburg Road on the way up Cemetery Ridge on 3 July, or being in any uniform whatsoever at Antietam.
The places and times get worse I think once you allow yourself to be any other solider in any other uniform. A French soldier, for example, sitting in a similar spot in the same battle along a front line as our American Doughboy, above, would've been worse. A Belgian soldier virtually anywhere also would have fared worse, statistically, than just about anyone else in WWI. Being a newly-minted soldier wearing the uniform of the Soviet Socialist Republics in the Summer of 1941 would probably have been half-a-death-sentence. Of course the list goes on, and on.
Perhaps one of the worst inventions in the history of warfare was The Trench. Millions of men were wounded or met their ends while defending one, or attacking one, or being in-between two of them. Hundreds of thousands of troops spent months charging back and forth between opposing lines, the ground over which they fought made uninhabitable for almost any form of life. Cold, wet, bad.
Here's another original photograph made by the Western Newspaper Union Photo Service, as a "British Official Photograph" (with the "British" part penciled out and replaced by an unknown hand, "Italian"), The photo agency supplied a caption for the image (that was supposed to have been used by the newspaper or magazine that published the picture) as follows:
JF Ptak Science Books Quick Post Part of the series on World War I
This wonderful, contemplative, lonely, sad, and ultimately draining photograph depicts a camouflaged road somewhere on the Western Front. That's rather a prosaic term for that atrocious line of battle that stretched from the North Sea to Switzerland, where hundreds/thousands of miles of trenches were dug and filled and fought over, where millions of shells were shot and exploded, and millions of soldiers and civilians killed and wounded.
The "Western Front" really doesn't quite do as a descriptor.
But here we are, just the same. And so the image above, with the man on a bicycle on a well-used road--he's moving along under a long canopy of netting designed to obscure/hide the road from telescopic viewing or eyes-in-the-sky. When this photo was made for the Western Newspaper Union, mid-1918, the war was nearly over. But still there was the fighting, and the supply lines for the millions of troops, right to the bitter end at the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month.
And the full version:
The photograph itself is one from a collection of hundreds here from news photo service agencies, images made of the War from a pool of photographers who covered the action for American newspapers and magazines, and whose work was necessarily censored. The photographs would be selected/ordered by a news agency, and the caption of explanation would be provided by the news photo service (as seen above).
I don't often see graphical displays of quantitative data utilizing quite so many images of shells, even when the image is comparing ammunition production. This striking example is found in The Illustrated London News for July 15, 1917.
In this stereographic photograph of a group of 3,000 U.S. soldiers (prepared to fight in Europe in WWI, ca. 1917/1918), there is a smaller contingent in two rows, in front, consierably removed from the rest of the formation. This is difficult to see in the first image. However, with a more concentrated view and deeper scan, this is a little more evident, below:
This view still shows the first row of soldiers; that more-distant third row differentiation is much more defined here--the depth of the mass of the formation is starting to really come into focus. The next image shows the heads of the men in the second row, but mostly concentrates on that third row, and beyond:
The final view is just above the heads of the sldiers in the third rank, and more clearly shows the those men in the rear of the formation, including that final rank, which is a profile of men marching. This enlargement represents a section in the original photograph that measures less than 10x6mm--60 square millimeters of great density, complexity, insight, and beauty.
This single-sheet infographic sheet was published seven months after the end of the war, in June 1919, in the Illustrated London News. "Great Britain's High Place in the Allied Roll of Honor: the Testimony of Figures" is exactly that, a very significant, visual testimony. The images speak for themselves.
JF Ptak Science Books Quick Post Part of Zoomology Series
In a moment of levity at the end of WWI, these sailors from America and the U.K. and France got together for a bit, and turned their little doggie mascot into a small attraction of sorts, entertaining themselves and the small curious crowd surrounding tthem. The photograph was made anonymously by the Western Newspaper Union and is stamped "British Official Photograph", and published on 10 October 1918.
Which is a delightful detail from this:
And this intriguing woman, who appears in the upper right corner:
This image shows one of the happy moments during the First World War--rather, a happy moment right before the end of the war, just a few days after the Armistice (11-11-1918, on the 11th minute of the 11th hour). The image shows the British army being welcomed into the city of Lille on October 17, 1918--the city had been occupied by the Germans right at the beginning of the war in the middle of October, 1914, and was severely punished for a deception perpetrated in its defense, with the German army burning down an entire section of the ancient city in revenge.
The picture was published on 15 November 1918, a few days after the end of the war. In the detail of this photo is revealed a small and unexpected kindness: