Tuesday, July 8, 2008

4th of July - a license to preach and a call to duty

Over the Fourth of July weekend 90 years ago, the City Council of West Point, Nebraska passed a resolution that citizens were not to hold "assemblages not in sympathy with the war" or to distribute literature "out of harmony with the war."

Anti-German hysteria was sweeping the nation, particularly in places like Nebraska where large numbers of German immigrants lived. West Point's Fourth of July resolution was in keeping with recent laws passed at the state level. On March 20, 1918, a special session of the Nebraska State Legislature had passed the Sedition Law, which included the stipulation that "no alien enemy may act in the capacity of preacher... without having first filed an application in district court... The applicant must show when he came to this country, what places he has been, what steps taken toward completing naturalization and what contributions he has made toward winning the war."

With the Sedition Law now in effect, the local paper in West Point reported on April 19th that three Catholic priests and one Lutheran minister "were not permitted to preach last Sunday," because they were not yet citizens.

According to subsequent reports, Fathers Grobbel, Roth, and Brasch and Pastor Mangelsdorf "appeared in court the next week. Each stated his sympathy to the American cause and stated they were in the process of becoming citizens. They were granted licenses to preach... Area residents who had not completed all necessary paperwork to become U.S. citizens fell into the category of possible enemy aliens." [source]

Father Peter Anton Grobbel was born in 1873 in Milchenbach, Westphalia, Prussia, Germany and was ordained a Roman Catholic priest in 1905. He was immediately sent overseas to serve the German-speaking parishes of eastern Nebraska and by 1918, he had been pastor for five years at St. Anthony's Parish in St. Charles, Nebraska, which was located four miles southwest of West Point.

At the same time Fr. Grobbel was assuring his parishoners and neighbors that he was "sympathetic to the American cause", his 4th cousin - whom he had never met because his cousin's grandfather had emigrated to Michigan back in 1849 - was receiving his induction notice and getting ready to fight for that American cause . Clement Anthony Grobbel, born in 1895 in Warren Township, Michigan, arrived in Camp Custer on June 27th after a train ride from Detroit on the Michigan Central Railroad.

One of the first things he did after arriving was to write a short message to his younger brother, Leo. On the front of the post card below he wrote, "

Dear Bro., Ar. safe and sound. Left Detroit 2 o’clock arrived 3:30, the train was about 15 minutes late. We are going on a big hike tomorrow. Best regards to all, Clem

Camp Custer post card

Monday, April 7, 2008

Air Power

The British Royal Air Force (RAF) was formed on April 1, 1918 by the consolidation of the Royal Naval Air Service and the Royal Flying Corps. With over 20,000 aircraft at its inception, the RAF was the most powerful air force in the world.

Comments made by British Air Minister Lord Rothermere on the creation of the RAF were published three days later:

The performances of our flying men to-day and the aerobatics which form part of their daily routine were undreamed of even eighteen months since. Only human beings of perfect physique, of matchless bravery or of extraordinary quickness of brain can have any chance of distinguishing themselves in aerial warfare in 1918. And here is the miracle—the British Empire possesses thousands, not hundreds, of these 'supermen.' Our pilots come from all sections of the British Empire ; from our public schools and universities ; from the counting house and office desk in London, Manchester and Glasgow; from the wheat farm in the Canadian North-West; the sheep station in Australia and New Zealand ; from the gold mines on the Rand—in fact, from every section of His Majesty's Dominions these boys have come to "strafe the Hun." [source]

Little did Lord Rothermere realize that within a few months, the "flying men" of the RAF would also be sent to North Russia to "strafe the Bolshevik." In the U.S. Army Signal Corps photo above, an RAF Sopwith equipped with skis is readied for take-off from the aerodrome in Archangel, North Russia on March 6, 1919.

Red Army pilots in North Russia

Nearly two months after the creation of the RAF, the U.S. Army would reorganize its growing Aviation Section by transferring it from the Signal Corps to the newly-created U.S. Army Air Service. By Armistice Day, November 11, 1918, the Army Air Service would have a total of 740 airplanes on the Western Front, which represented only 10% of the total Allied air power in the Great War.

Monday, March 24, 2008

Prelude - Just Boys

Credit: Hugh D. McPhail papers, Bentley Historical Library, University of Michigan

The United States entered the Great War in April, 1917. At the time, their Regular Army and National Guard had a combined strength of less than 210,000 men, which was minute compared to the size of the armies already fighting in Europe. A conscription process was quickly established that would eventually bring 2.7 million men into the the military before the end of the war. [source] The first draft registration was held on June 5, 1917 for all men between the ages of 21 and 31. These men were called up for induction into the Army as soon as construction was finished on the new camps that were needed to house and train them.

Camp Custer (near Battle Creek, Michigan) was the cantonment that was built for the 85th Infantry Division. The 85th was nicknamed the "Custer Division" after Lt. Col. George Armstrong Custer, whose boyhood home was in Monroe, Michigan. The 339th Infantry Regiment of the 85th Division became known as "Detroit's Own" due to the large numbers of men it contained who were from Detroit and numerous other location across the state of Michigan.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Treaty of Brest-Litovsk

On March 3, 1918, the war on the Eastern Front came officially to an end with the signing of the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk.

Under the terms of this treaty, which was signed at Brest-Litovsk (now Brest, Belarus), the Bolshevik government of Soviet Russia ceded large amounts of territory, population and natural resources to the Central Powers in exchange for the ending of hostilities.

With no more threat of war on the Eastern Front as of March 1918, the Germans were now free to redeploy their troops to the stalemated Western Front. The elite Czech Legion, which had been fighting the Germans alongside the Russian Czar’s troops, had withdrawn to the interior of Russia along the Trans-Siberian railroad and were being prevented by local Bolsheviks from making their way to the Western Front via Vladivostok in the Far East. The United States had entered the war nine months earlier as an "associated power" on the side of the Allies (also known as the Entente Powers), but were still in the process of sending and training their Army divisions prior to deployment on the Western Front. The Soviets were expanding their control to the outlying provinces of Russia and their Bolshevik Red Army was growing in strength. Huge stockpiles of Allied war material intended for the Eastern Front were still sitting in warehouses in Murmansk and Archangel, waiting for the Bolsheviks, or worse yet the Germans, to get their hands on them.

By the end of March, 1918, the Allies were desperately in need of a strategy to deal with these mounting problems.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Allied Intervention in the Russian Civil War

"If I had been properly supported in 1919," Winston Churchill (right, 1919 photo inscribed to U.S. Army General John J. Pershing) said in 1954, "I think we might have strangled Bolshevism in its cradle, but everybody turned up their hands and said, 'How shocking!'" [source]

On September 19, 1959, during a visit to the United States, Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev toured the 20th Century Fox Studios in California and declared, "Your armed intervention in Russia is the most unpleasant event in the entire history of relations between our two countries, for we had never fought against America before that. We remember the grim days when American soldiers went to our soil headed by their generals to help our White Guard combat the new revolution. All the capitalist countries of Europe and America marched on our country to strangle our new revolution. Never have any of our soldiers been on American soil, but your soldiers were on Russian soil. Those are the facts. I beg you to pardon me for such a statement." [sources: 1 | 2]

U.S. President Ronald Reagan was only half right, when during his 1984 State of the Union Address he said, "Tonight, I want to speak to the people of the Soviet Union, to tell them it's true that our governments have had serious differences, but our sons and daughters have never fought each other in war. And if we Americans have our way, they never will."

In 1987, the General Secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, Mikhail Gorbachev, wrote in his book "Perestroika" that, "It is true to say that post-revolutionary development underwent difficult stages, largely due to the rude meddling of imperial forces in our internal affairs." [source]

But perhaps the most accurate summary of this military intervention came from British Under Secretary of State Lord Hardinge when he forwarded the relevant files on this operation after it had concluded in 1920. As a footnote in his forwarding letter to Foreign Secretary Lord Curzon, he wrote, "So ends a not very creditable enterprise." Upon reading it, Lord Curzon took out his pen and changed it to read, "So ends a highly discreditable enterprise." [source]

Ask several US high school AP World History classes the question "In what years did the US Army fight the Soviet Red Army on Russian soil?" (as I did just this past week while substituting for their absent teacher) and you will get varied answers such as "it has never happened" or "they only fought through proxies". Ask the same question of any Russian citizen over the age of 30 and the chances are good that they will immediately answer "1918 and 1919".

The Cold War may be over but the events of 90 years ago still color the relationships between Russia and the Western nations involved in the intervention.

Bookmark this blog and come back to follow along as we recount those events during the months and weeks they happened 90 years ago.