September 20, 1917 - Third Ypres: Battle of Menin Road Ridge Begins

Pictured - British troops occupy captured trenches, September 20, 1917.

Britain renewed its assault on the Germans at Ypres on September 20, 1917. The offensive from this point on turned into a succession of smaller battles: the British consolidating artillery and men to cut off and storm pieces of the German front line one-by-one. To that end 13 British divisions, including the two Australian Imperial divisions, fighting side-by-side, attacked the German positions on the road to Menin, located on Westhoek Ridge.

Supported by 575 heavy guns, the Tommies “leap-frogged” their attack. Starting at 5:40 AM, they assaulted the first line of German trenches and captured them. Then they waited an hour while British aritllery pounded the next line of German defenses. It was an example of the “bite-and-hold” tactics the British army had developed at the Somme: mass troops and guns to take one piece of the German line, hold it against the inevitable counter-attack, and then move up against hth next section of German positions.

The attack went well. The British and Australian troops captured 1,500 yards of ground along a 14,500 yard front. Success could not hide that things were brutal at the sharp end: “All our objectives were captured to plan,” wrote New Zealand officer Bernard Freyberg, but “not many prisoners were taken by our men.” A British sergeant, W. Burman, won the Victoria Cross for killing eleven German machine-gunners with a sword. The battle continued to the 26th, as the Germans tried to re-take their lost positions, but again British gunfire drove them off.

Battle of the Menin Road Ridge

Australian wounded after the battle.

September 20 1917, Zonnebeke–Since late August, the area around Ypres had been relatively quiet.  By mid-September, many leading Germans were convinced that the British had given up in the sector and were planning to shift their focus to advances in Mesopotamia and Palestine.  However, they had instead been quietly preparing for a renewed offensive, this time with General Plumer’s Second Army.

Plumer’s strategy was not to aim for a deep advance and a breakthrough, but a more limited “bite-and-hold” advance to defined objectives, staying well within range of the massed British artillery.  This way, any German counterattacks would have to advance through prepared artillery fire.

When the attack began with a creeping barrage at 5:40AM on September 20, it largely proceeded as planned.  The weather was misty, but not raining as had been feared.  The German front-line positions were mostly destroyed by the barrage, and what few were not offered little resistance to the British advance.  An Australian soldier wrote that “it was just as though the battalion were carrying out an exercise during maneuvers.”  The troops secured most of their objectives, advancing around a mile in some areas.

The Germans attempted multiple counterattacks over the course of the day, but with front-line communications knocked out by the barrage, coordinating them was extremely difficult, with commanders unsure which positions were in British hands.  British artillery fire, directed in part from the air, inflicted severe casualties on the counterattacking Germans, and the British were able to hold most of their positions–a marked improvement from many of the battles in August.

Although the battle was seen as a great success by the British, it still came at a very high cost.  Over five days, the British suffered 21,000 casualties (about as many as the Germans), for a gain of five square miles.  Nevertheless, these were some of the best-defended five square miles of the Western Front, and Plumer and Haig were optimistic that additional attacks along the same lines would lead to a steady advance until the German positions either became untenable or German morale collapsed.

Today in 1916: Polish Legions Become “Polish Auxiliary Corps”
Today in 1915: British Repulsed at Longido
Today in 1914: Reims Cathedral Burns; Elsewhere, Haircuts

Sources include: Nick Lloyd, Passchendaele; Lyn Macdonald, They Called it Passchendaele.

Dazzle Ship

Victo Ngai

I am very excited to share with you my debut children’s book, Dazzle Ship, authored by Chris Barton and published by Lerner Book. 

Dazzle Ship is the story behind the thousands of war ships painted with bold colors and crazy patterns during WW1. 

Sounds interesting? You can get a copy anywhere books are sold in American or online here

Big thanks to Chris Barton, AD Danielle Carnito and Editor Carol Hinz for getting me acquainted with this colorful piece of history and being so wonderful to work with! 

Video and photos by Munira, Music by Bensound. 

Though Phoebe Chapple was recognised as a skilled doctor, the Australian government’s policies precluded her from military service. Undaunted, the Adelaide-born Chapple travelled to Britain in 1917 and joined the Royal Army Medical Corps, becoming one of the first two woman doctors sent to France. During a bombing raid near Abbeville in May 1918, her care for those wounded around her, regardless of personal danger, led to her being awarded the Military Medal – the first woman doctor ever to receive this decoration for bravery.

(Australian War Memorial)

1917  A French Red Cross dog wearing a gas mask

During the First World War there were ‘Red Cross dogs’, also known as ‘ambulance dogs’. These dogs detected wounded people. They were trained to ignore the dead and not to bark when finding an injured person, but to alert their owner in silence. The dogs were also used to bring medicine back and forth. They carried a backpack in which bandages, some food for the dog and a bottle of liquor were stored. There were around 10,000 Red Cross dogs during the First World War.

British filmmaker Geoffrey Malins showing how he carried reels of film while making films covering World War 1 in Belgium and the Vosges Mountains of France, c. 1914-1915.

100 Years Ago

100 years ago today, a group of Canadians in Northern France proved themselves as a formidable force, showing greatness in their own right, and not as a subset of Great Britain. 

Vimy Ridge is 7 kilometres long. It was heavily fortified by German forces. Previous attempts to recapture the Ridge had been unsuccessful, leading to the death of over 100,000 French and British soldiers. But the Canadians were determined. 

The 4 Canadian divisions, more than 15,000 infantry, attacked together at 5:30 am on April 9, 1917. Faced with heavy fire, the Canadians showed incredible bravery - even with the deaths of their officers, the soldiers continued moving forward. Countless Canadians single-handedly charged machine guns and German dugouts. The highest point on the Ridge, at the time protected with machine guns, was captured with a bayonet charge. The battle continued for three days, ending on April 12, 1917. By then, 3,598 Canadians had given up their lives. Another 7,000 had been wounded. 

The Battle of Vimy Ridge was so much more than just a victory for the Allied forces. It was the first time that all 4 Canadian divisions attacked together - men from all regions of Canada fighting side-by-side. Vimy Ridge became a symbol of the sacrifice of the young nation. In 1922, the government of France ceded the Ridge and the land surrounding it to Canada in perpetuity. The Vimy Memorial now stands on the Ridge as a reminder of the Canadians with no known graves who were killed in France. 

Following the war, Brigadier-General A.E. Ross famously declared, “in those few minutes I witnessed the birth of a nation.”

First Use of “OMG”

September 9 1917, London–Although their relationship had become highly strained over the course of the Dardanelles campaign, Churchill and Lord Fisher remained close friends afterwards.  Churchill even subjected himself to some political humiliation by making an appeal in Parliament to return Fisher to the Admiralty.  The two maintained a regular correspondence, and on September 9, Fisher sent Churchill a short letter.  Most of it discussed German naval preparations in the Baltic.  With the fall of Riga, the Germans wanted to push north, putting further pressure towards Petrograd.  To do so by land seemed relatively infeasible at the time, and Riga’s usefulness as a port was limited by Russian control of the large islands in the Gulf of Riga.

The Germans planned landings on these islands, with major assistance from large portions of the High Seas Fleet (brought through the Kiel Canal for the purpose).  Although their exact plans were unknown, the movement of German ships and their intention to carry out amphibious operations north of Riga were well-known enough to appear in British papers.  Fisher lamented that the Germans were poised to do with a small force what the British had not been able to do the entire war (despite Churchill’s plans):

We are five times stronger at Sea than our enemies and here is a small Fleet that we could gobble up in a few minutes playing the great vital Sea part of landing an Army in the enemies’ rear and possibly capturing the Russian Capital by Sea!…Are we really incapable of a big Enterprise?

Fisher concluded his short note with this line:

I hear that a new order of Knighthood is on the tapis–O.M.G. (Oh! My God!)–Shower it on the Admiralty!!

This is the first documented use of OMG as an abbreviation for “Oh My God” in the English language.

Today in 1916: Hindenburg & Ludendorff Discuss Full Economic War Mobilization
Today in 1915: US Demands Recall of Austrian Ambassador for Fomenting Strikes
Today in 1914: Lieutenant Colonel Hentsch Orders a German General Retreat

3

British Pattern 1897 Infantry Officer’s Sword

A top quality Wilkinson 1897 pattern British infantry officers sword (still current regulation for infantry officers) with a hexagonal proof disc denoting Wilkinson’s best quality. The sword is dated to 1933 and has George V cypher on the hilt and blade. The blade itself is in good condition with some light staining and a few marks but no pitting and some lovely crisp etching. The panel in which a coat of arms or name may be added is blank but the stamped serial number, 63754, may allow the sword to be researched. The spine of the blade also has the ‘made in England’ stamp.

Tunnel Warfare 

Under enemy lines.

Since ancient times, armies have used mining and tunneling as a way of besieging their enemies. In classical antiquity, armies dug tunnels under enemy walls, and then set fire to timber in the tunnel, causing the shaft to collapse and with it enemy wall. Armies came up with increasingly ingenious ways to use tunnels, or to fight back against them. In 285, Sassanid Persians used poison gas to kill Roman engineers tunneling under their walls. In medieval times, gunpowder became the weapon of choice to place under enemy lines, blowing them sky-high.

The Western Front of World War I was essentially a medieval siege battle on a massive scale, and thus tunnel warfare surfaced again in history. Digging was a way of getting around the strategic impasse of trench-fighting. From the very beginning, the armies employed former miners in crude operations, digging under enemy lines, placing TNT in the mine-shafts, and then blowing up enemy trenches from below. Or tunnels could dig secret entrances into No-Man’s Land or enemy trenches, allowing soldiers to cross into enemy territory safely.

How it worked.

By 1917 tunnel warfare had become a complex and sophisticated operation. Britain recruited professional coal miners from Wales and Australia, as well as the “clay kickers” who had designed the London underground. Germany and France employed miners of their own, each side mining under enemy lines, or searching and destroying the underground tunnels of their enemies.

French sappers listen for vibrations that would detect enemy German diggers.

The most effective case ever was on June 7, 1917, when the British began the Battle of Messines by detonating 19 mines, with over 1 million tons of explosives, under German lines. The noise could be heard in London, 140 miles away. It was the loudest noise produced by humans in history up to that point, and the deadliest non-nuclear explosion of all time.

One of 19 mines goes up at Messines, June 7 1917.

Tunnel warfare was a deadly business. It came, first of all, with all the natural risks of mining. Shafts could collapse suddenly, burying sappers alive. In the clay soil of Belgium, where the water table was very high, mines flooded almost instantly, and soldiers spent laborious hours pumping out water. Complicated breathing apparatuses might be necessary for when oxygen ran out. Furthermore, sappers worked underground with massive quantities of dynamite. An accidental spark here or there and thousands of tons of TNT could blow up.

A sawn-off Lee Enfield rifle for underground fighting.

Even more risks came from the enemy. When one side mined, the other side dug counter-mines. Sappers listened for vibrations from underground, and if they heard the enemy digging, they could rig another tunnel to blow in the enemy excavation. Or, like the ancient Persians, they could find the enemy sap and siphon in gas. And sometimes the methods of war underground were truly medieval. Sometimes enemy sappers ran into each other underground, suddenly bursting through an underground wall. In these cases, nightmarish subterranean conflicts took place in the pitch dark, as man killed each other with knuckle-dusters, knives, and sawn-off bolt-action rifles.

A crater formed by one mine at Messines Ridge.

WWI, WWII & PTSD in Fan Fiction: A personal rec list

Read the tags of each fan fiction. There might be triggers. All Johnlock.

ACD Holmes

Soldier’s Heart by Piplover: After his return from his three years’ “death,” not all is as it should be for Holmes. The road is long ahead, but Watson will always be there to walk it with him. > PTSD!Holmes & PTSD!Watson. There are more wars than those on the frontlines. Highly reccomended. It’s like “Kissing Sherlock Holmes”, only gayer. That’s possible. (85k, explicit) (http://archiveofourown.org/works/152297/chapters/218438)

The Hungerford Wreck by @mistyzeo (explicit, 9k): The Great Western Railway wreck of 1898 kills twelve and injures nearly two hundred. Sherlock Holmes is among that number and it affects him more deeply than he realises. Fortunately, he’s on very good terms with his physician. (http://archiveofourown.org/works/4059682) > PTSD!Holmes; railway wreck; sex as medicine


SHERLOCK (TV)

Bring me back to life by yalublyutebya (51k, explicit): After being injured on the Front, John Watson is sent to Craiglockhart Hospital for psychiatric treatment and finds himself sharing a room with the mysterious Sherlock Holmes. >> WWI, PTSD!Watson; drug addict & convicted homosexual!Holmes; read it read it read it.

Love or What you Will by @miss-frankenstein (32k, teen and up audiences): John is an English professor who specializes in War and Post-War Literature and Sherlock is the brilliant yet impossible Ph.D. student assigned to be his TA because no one in the Chemistry Department is willing to put up with him. And - somewhere between Waugh and Plath, e-mails and takeaway, novels and villanelles - they fall in love. >> about war poetry & PTSD, academia!AU

One Night in December by Holly Sykes (Artemis8147) (126k, explicit): London, 29th December 1940, 8 pm. The London Blitz reached its nadir with the bombing of the City of London and the area around its most beloved landmark, St. Paul’s Cathedral. John Watson and Sherlock Holmes meet as the flames blaze and roar all around them. But who is that dark-haired young man and why is he risking his life in such a careless manner? This is what Doctor Watson is wondering, as he eventually becomes enmeshed in a mystery that will take him away from his dreary, hopeless life and plunge him into the secret life of wartime London. […] >WWII, murder mystery; no-period typical homophobia

Enigma by @khorazir (WIP, 17/20 chapters; ca. 195k; mature): It’s the autumn of 1941, war is raging in Europe, German U-boats are raiding Allied convoys in the Atlantic, the Luftwaffe is bombing English cities, and the cryptographers at Bletchley Park are working feverishly to decode their enemies’ encrypted communications. One should consider this challenge and distraction enough for capricious codebreaker Sherlock Holmes. But the true enigmas are yet waiting to be deciphered: an unbreakable code, a strange murder, and the appearance of Surgeon Captain John H. Watson of the Royal Navy. >> WWII, PTSD!Watson; codebreaker AU; amazing story, amazing fan art

Rosethorne by suitesamba (WIP, mature, ca. 80k): John Watson, WWII army doctor, is injured in the line of duty and can no longer wield a scalpel. Sherlock Holmes, Britain’s best code-breaker, is side-lined by his own devastating injury. In a work inspired by Frances Hodgson Burnett’s “The Secret Garden,” the two men must find meaning and purpose in a world which seems to have taken away all they hold most dear. But of course, it really hasn’t. >> WWII, codebreaker!AU, “The Secret Garden” crossover (?), war injury

Two Two One Bravo Baker by abundantlyqueer (read by @aranel-parmadil: http://archiveofourown.org/works/5805433/chapters/13380190) (explicit; 114k): Captain John Watson of 40 Commando, the Royal Marines, is assigned to protect and assist Sherlock Holmes as he investigates what appears to be a simple war atrocity in Afghanistan. An intense attraction ignites between the two men as they uncover a conspiracy that threatens everything they’ve ever known, but Sherlock is as much hunted as hunter, and everyone close to him is in deadly danger. Can he solve the case in time to save himself and John? > Pre-Canon; War Story; soldier!John

Northwest Passage by krypteria (read by @lockedinjohnlock-podfics http://archiveofourown.org/works/5862562/chapters/13512910): Seven years ago, Captain John Watson of the Canadian Forces Medical Service withdrew from society, seeking a simple, isolated life in the distant northern wilderness of Canada. Though he survives from one day to the next, he doesn’t truly live until someone from his dark past calls in a favor and turns his world upside-down with the introduction of Sherlock Holmes. “The essentials of their relationship distilled through solitude.” –review by Alicat >> PTSD!John; soldier!John; sort of Pre-Canon (95k, explicit)

And because I can:

WAR HORSE

Roses of Picardy by splix (76k, explicit): Captured in battle, Major Jamie Stewart faces an uncertain fate. > WWI, war story & love story; queer soldiers and no major character death; aftermath of war (injury, mental illness (PTSD?)). Yes, it‘s the soldiers portrayed by Benedict Cumberbatch & Tom Hiddleston. Read it (anyway).