First U.S. troops arrive in France

Jun 26, 1917:

First U.S. troops arrive in France

During World War I, the first 14,000 U.S. infantry troops land in France at the port of Saint Nazaire. The landing site had been kept secret because of the menace of German submarines, but by the time the Americans had lined up to take their first salute on French soil, an enthusiastic crowd had gathered to welcome them. However, the “Doughboys,” as the British referred to the green American troops, were untrained, ill-equipped, and far from ready for the difficulties of fighting along the Western Front.

One of U.S. General John J. Pershing’s first duties as commander of the American Expeditionary Force was to set up training camps in France and establish communication and supply networks. Four months later, on October 21, the first Americans entered combat when units from the U.S. Army’s First Division were assigned to Allied trenches in the Luneville sector near Nancy, France. Each American unit was attached to a corresponding French unit. Two days later, Corporal Robert Bralet of the Sixth Artillery became the first U.S. soldier to fire a shot in the war when he discharged a French 75mm gun into a German trench a half mile away. On November 2, Corporal James Gresham and privates Thomas Enright and Merle Hay of the 16th Infantry became the first American soldiers to die when Germans raided their trenches near Bathelemont, France.

After four years of bloody stalemate along the Western Front, the entrance of America’s well-supplied forces into the conflict was a major turning point in the war. When the war finally ended on November 11, 1918, more than two million American soldiers had served on the battlefields of Western Europe, and more than 50,000 of these men had lost their lives.

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Germans release statement on use of poison gas at Ypres

Jun 25, 1915:

Germans release statement on use of poison gas at Ypres

On this day in 1915, the German press publishes an official statement from the country’s war command addressing the German use of poison gas at the start of the Second Battle of Ypres two months earlier.

The German firing of more than 150 tons of lethal chlorine gas against two French colonial divisions at Ypres in Belgium on April 22, 1915, had shocked and horrified their Allied opponents in World War I and provoked angry outbursts against what was seen as inexcusable barbarism, even in the context of warfare. As Sir John French, commander in chief of the British Expeditionary Force (BEF), wrote heatedly of the German attacks at Ypres: “All the scientific resources of Germany have apparently been brought into play to produce a gas of so virulent and poisonous a nature that any human being brought into contact with it is first paralyzed and then meets with a lingering and agonizing death.”

The German statement of June 25, 1915, was a response to this outraged reaction by the Allies; they considered it hypocritical, claiming that their opponents–namely the French–had been manufacturing and employing gas in battle well before the Second Battle of Ypres. “For every one who has kept an unbiased judgment,” the statement began, “the official assertions of the strictly accurate and truthful German military administration will be sufficient to prove the prior use of asphyxiating gases by our opponents.” It went on to quote from a memorandum issued by the French War Ministry on February 21, 1915, containing instructions for using “these so-called shells with stupefying gases that are being manufactured by our central factories?[that] contain a fluid which streams forth after the explosion, in the form of vapors that irritate the eyes, nose, and throat.”

This memo, the Germans concluded, proved that “the French in their State workshops manufactured shells with asphyxiating gases fully half a year ago at least” and that they must have manufactured sufficient numbers for the War Ministry to issue directions on how to use the shells. “What hypocrisy when the same people grow indignant because the Germans much later followed them on the path they had pointed out!”

Though the French were, in fact, the first to employ gas during World War I–in August 1914 they used tear-gas grenades containing xylyl bromide to confront the initial German advance in Belgium and northeastern France–Germany was undoubtedly the first belligerent nation during the war to put serious thought and work into the development of chemical weapons that were not merely irritants, like xylyl bromide, but could be used in large quantities to inflict a major defeat on the enemy. In addition to chlorine gas, first used to deadly effect by the Germans at Ypres, phosgene gas and mustard gas were also employed on the battlefields of World War I, mostly by Germany but also by Britain and France, who were forced to quickly catch up to the Germans in the realm of chemical-weapons technology. Though the psychological impact of poison gas was undoubtedly great, its actual impact on the war–like that of the tank–is debatable, due to the low rate of fatality associated with the gas attacks. In total, the war saw some 1.25 million gas casualties but only 91,000 deaths from gas poisoning, with over 50 percent of those fatalities suffered by the poorly equipped Russian army.

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Update 6-24 : New Pictures Added to the Website

New Pictures have been added to the Pages:

  • Luftwaffe Pilots
  • Fuhrer’s Headquarters and Other Official Sites
  • Tiger 1
  • SS – Schutzstaffel
  • Order of Battle – Waffen-SS Divisions
  • Battle of Greece
  • Battle of Normandy
  • Reichsführer Heinrich Himmler
  • SS Officers, NCOs, Etc.
  • Modern Germany
  • Self-propelled Anti-aircraft Weapon
  • Military Ceremonies and Rallys of the Third Reich
  • Leading Figures of Nazi Germany
  • Fuhrer Adolf Hitler
  • WW2 U-Boats

Enjoy!

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Soviets blockade West Berlin

Jun 24, 1948:

Soviets blockade West Berlin

One of the most dramatic standoffs in the history of the Cold War begins as the Soviet Union blocks all road and rail traffic to and from West Berlin. The blockade turned out to be a terrible diplomatic move by the Soviets, while the United States emerged from the confrontation with renewed purpose and confidence.

Following World War II, Germany was divided into occupation zones. The United States, Great Britain, the Soviet Union, and, eventually, France, were given specific zones to occupy in which they were to accept the surrender of Nazi forces and restore order. The Soviet Union occupied most of eastern Germany, while the other Allied nations occupied western Germany. The German capital of Berlin was similarly divided into four zones of occupation. Almost immediately, differences between the United States and the Soviet Union surfaced. The Soviets sought huge reparations from Germany in the form of money, industrial equipment, and resources. The Russians also made it clear that they desired a neutral and disarmed Germany. The United States saw things in quite a different way. American officials believed that the economic recovery of Western Europe was dependent on a strong, reunified Germany. They also felt that only a rearmed Germany could stand as a bulwark against Soviet expansion into Western Europe. In May 1946, the Americans stopped reparations shipments from their zone to the Soviets. In December, the British and Americans combined their zones; the French joined some months later. The Soviets viewed these actions as a threat and issued more demands for a say in the economic future of Germany. On June 22, 1948, negotiations between the Soviets, Americans, and British broke down. On June 24, Soviet forces blocked the roads and railroad lines into West Berlin.

American officials were furious, and some in the administration of President Harry S. Truman argued that the time for diplomacy with the Soviets was over. For a few tense days, the world waited to see whether the United States and Soviet Union would come to blows. In West Berlin, panic began to set in as its population worried about shortages of food, water, and medical aid. The United States response came just two days after the Soviets began their blockade. A massive airlift of supplies into West Berlin was undertaken in what was to become one of the greatest logistical efforts in history. For the Soviets, the escapade quickly became a diplomatic embarrassment. Russia looked like an international bully that was trying to starve men, women, and children into submission. And the successful American airlift merely served to accentuate the technological superiority of the United States over the Soviet Union. On May 12, 1949, the Soviets officially ended the blockade.

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Soviets enjoy a Victory Parade

Jun 24, 1945:

Soviets enjoy a victory parade

On this day in 1945, Soviet troops parade past Red Square in celebration of their victory over Germany. As drums rolled, 200 soldiers performed a familiar ritual: They threw 200 German military banners at the foot of the Lenin Mausoleum. A little over 130 years earlier, victorious Russian troops threw Napoleon’s banners at the feet of Czar Alexander I.

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First operational flight of New German Fokker Eindecker Plane

Jun 24, 1915:

First operational flight of New German Fokker Eindecker plane

On June 24, 1915, young Oswald Boelcke, one of the earliest and best German fighter pilots of World War I, makes the first operational flight of the Fokker Eindecker plane.

The years of the First World War, 1914 to 1918, saw a staggering improvement not only in aircraft production, but also in technology, on both sides of the conflict. The war began just a decade after Orville and Wilbur Wright made their historic 12-second flight at Kittyhawk, North Carolina; by 1918, fighter airplanes had been developed that could serve purposes of observation and reconnaissance, tactical and strategic bombing, direct attack on ground and air targets and use in naval warfare.

The Fokker Eindecker, a plane equipped first with one and eventually with two machine guns that could fire straight ahead through the aircraft’s propellers, would have a huge impact on air combat in the Great War and would put the Luftstreitkrafte, the German Air Service, far ahead of the Allied air forces for several months during the summer of 1915. The British referred to this as the Fokker Menace or the Fokker Scourge. The plane’s designer, Anton Fokker, had based the concept of synchronization, or the precise timing of the propeller blades to avoid being struck by the machine gun bullets, on an aircraft designed by France’s Morane-Saulnier corporation and flown by the famous French ace Roland Garros when he was shot down in April 1915 by the Germans. The Fokker Eindecker, or Fokker E, plane made German pilots like Boelcke and Max Immelmann into national heroes, as the number of their kills increased exponentially.

By the end of the summer of 1915, the Allies had managed to develop their own planes to rival the Fokkers, and balance was restored. Another German air menace reared its head in early 1917, though, as the new German Albatros planes decimated the British Royal Flying Corps in the skies over France. Soon, however, Allied aviation technology and production began to far outstrip the German efforts, as aerial combat became less a question of individual battles by heroic pilots than a matter of mass-production capability. In the last year of the war, Britain, France and the United States jointly produced an average of 11,200 aircraft and 14,500 engines per month, while their financially struggling German counterparts managed below 2,000 of each.

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