Monday, August 31, 2015

August 1915

It's August 1915.  As the second year of the World War begins, Allied forces at Gallipoli make a final major effort to secure the heights.  Once again, the attempt is unsuccessful.  Italy joins the war against Turkey.  With the Lusitania crisis still unresolved, another British ship carrying American passengers is sunk by a German submarine; American public opinion leaders respond in sharply different but predictable ways.  The carelessness of a German diplomat leads to the revelation of German espionage and sabotage efforts in the United States.  The United States effectively takes over the government of Haiti and joins other Latin American nations in an attempt to bring order out of chaos in Mexico.  A famous French aviator is a war casualty.  Britain declares cotton absolute contraband and seeks to deal with a financial crisis caused by the Allies' massive war expenditures.  General Pershing, who will soon lead American troops into Mexico and then to France, suffers a crushing family tragedy.  Leo Frank, the Jewish factory manager whose death sentence for murder has been commuted to life imprisonment by the outgoing governor, is lynched in Georgia.


British Troops Ashore at Suvla Bay

August was a month of high hopes and keen disappointment for the Allied effort at Gallipoli.  On August 6, after receiving reinforcements consisting largely of newly recruited "Kitchener" battalions, General Sir Ian Hamilton mounted a three-pronged offensive in a major attempt to drive the Turks from the peninsula and establish control of the Dardanelles.  Simultaneous attacks began that day at Cape Helles, Anzac Cove and Suvla Bay. The principal effort was made at Anzac Cove, with the intent of seizing and holding Sari Bair Ridge overlooking the Straits.  The Cape Helles operation was designed to draw Turkish forces to the south and hold them in place, while a landing at Suvla Bay to the north would unhinge the Turkish position on the heights around Anzac.  The Helles operation succeeded in diverting Turkish forces to the south, and Australian forces attacking from Anzac Cove succeeded in driving the Turks from Lone Pine Ridge on the right flank of the attack.  The attack was unsuccessful in its main objective, however, as the Australians, after a difficult night march through unfamiliar terrain, failed to break through at Sari Bair.  The most promising Allied success was at Suvla Bay, where British forces under Lieutenant General Sir Frederick Stopford landed and established a beachhead against light opposition.  Rather than seize the heights, however, General Stopford spent two days unloading supplies and consolidating his position on the beach.  This allowed the Turks to reinforce their position and to turn back the British attempt to advance to the high ground, which finally took place on August 9.  Assaults on Scimitar Hill and Hill 60 designed to link the Allied forces at Suvla Bay and Anzac cove were turned back on August 21.  Elsewhere in the Gallipoli operation, a torpedo bomber from the seaplane carrier HMS Ben-my-Chee took off from the Aegean Sea near the island of Xeros on August 12 and flew across the neck of the peninsula to the Sea of Marmora where it sank a Turkish supply ship in the first successful aerial torpedo attack in history.  On August 13, the military transport HMT Royal Edward, en route to Gallipoli with Canadian troops, was torpedoed by a German submarine and sank with heavy loss of life. 

Another enemy entered the war against the Ottoman Empire on August 21 when Italy declared war, citing Turkey's support for a Libyan revolt against Italian rule and its interference with "the free departure of Italian subjects from Asia Minor."

S.S. Arabic

The United States' latest note to Germany regarding submarine attacks on passenger vessels, sent only last month, included a stern warning to Germany that any further attacks of that kind that affected American citizens would be regarded as "deliberately unfriendly" acts.  Less than a month later, an attack took place that seems to fit that description.  On August 19 the passenger liner S.S. Arabic, sailing from Liverpool to New York, was torpedoed without warning in the Irish Sea and sank in minutes, near the spot where the Lusitania suffered the same fate in May.  Forty-four passengers, including two Americans, lost their lives.  Unlike the Lusitania, which was a passenger vessel that also carried cargo (including munitions), the Arabic was a cargo ship that was primarily engaged in transporting munitions and other war supplies from the United States to Great Britain, and only incidentally carried passengers.  The loss of American lives, however, has brought new urgency to the unresolved crisis caused by the sinking of the Lusitania, and Secretary of State Lansing has pressed his demand for assurances from Germany regarding the safety of American passengers.  At month's end discussions were continuing and administration officials are said to be hopeful that some acceptable pledge will be forthcoming.

Cardinal Gibbons

The reaction of the American public to the Arabic sinking and the continuing crisis in relations with Germany has followed familiar lines, with advocacy from opposing points of view by former Secretary of State William Jennings Bryan and former President Theodore Roosevelt.  In an article in the August 15 issue of The Commoner, Bryan repeated his call for Americans to be warned not to travel on British ships, saying the nation should not try to avenge the loss of a hundred Americans in ship sinkings by going to war and losing "a million more killed before we get out of it."  The Archbishop of Baltimore, Cardinal James Gibbons, considered by many the leading voice of the Roman Catholic Church in America, agreed, saying in an interview on August 24 that "it seems a terrible cost to sacrifice thousands of young men, the life and sinew of the nation, just because a few insist on taking . . . the dare of traveling by ships that are in danger."

 Plattsburg Military Training Camp

Roosevelt took a sharply contrasting view on August 25 at the Plattsburg Military Training Camp, on the shore of Lake Champlain in upstate New York.  Operated by the Army, Plattsburg is staffed by Army officers and run by Major General Leonard Wood, the commander of the Army's Eastern Department, who commanded Roosevelt's regiment, the "Rough Riders," at the Battle of San Juan Hill.  The Army offers military training at the camp to civilians who wish to undertake it at their own expense.  Among those going through the Plattsburg regimen this year are New York City Mayor John Purroy Mitchel and three of Roosevelt's sons.  In his speech that evening on the drill plain, Roosevelt lashed out at "poltroons" and "hyphenated Americans" who "are seeking to Chinafy this country."  He denounced "the professional pacifists, the peace-at-any-price men, who have tried to teach our people that silly all-inclusive arbitration treaties and the utterance of fatuous platitudes at peace conferences are substitutes for adequate military preparedness."  He did not specifically mention the president in his speech, but later he dictated a statement for the press in which he said that he believes we "must stand by the president," but only "so long as the president stands by the country."  Without mentioning President Wilson by name, he asserted that "to treat elocution as a substitute for action, to rely on high sounding words unbacked by deeds, is proof of a mind that dwells only in the realm of shadow and of sham."

Lindley Garrison

The next day, Secretary of War Lindley Garrison reprimanded General Wood for giving Roosevelt the opportunity to make a political speech.  Roosevelt came to Wood's defense, calling Garrison's reprimand "peculiarly mean and unfair."  Garrison refused to take Roosevelt's objection seriously, dismissing it in a jocular statement the humor of which the former president failed to see, characterizing it as "buffoonery."  Garrison replied, saying his pleas for preparedness have been "as strong as words would make them" without also borrowing Roosevelt's idea that "our present state of unpreparedness makes it desirable to engage in war with four or five other nations."  Roosevelt fired back by repeating his charge that for thirteen months the United States has "failed in any way to prepare," and that as for going to war, he "never said anything of the kind."  He reminded Garrison that in the seven and a half years he was president "not one shot was fired by any American soldier or sailor against any foreign foe, and not an American soldier or sailor was killed by any foreign foe."  He contrasted this with the record of the Wilson administration, which since it has been in office "has waged two small wars, one with Mexico and one with Haiti," in one of which "our ships and marines bombarded and took Veracruz for the purpose of having our flag saluted" and "lost a score of American lives and caused the loss of scores of Mexican lives, and then came away without getting the salute."  Almost forgotten in this exchange was what started it: Garrison's reprimand of General Wood.  It has long been expected that, if the United States were ever to enter the war in Europe, General Wood would be placed in command of any American troops sent to Europe.  Since Plattsburg, that seems less certain.

 Dr. Albert

Doctor Heinrich Albert is the Commercial Attache and Financial Adviser to the German Ambassador to the United States, Count Johann von Bernstorff.  Last month Dr. Albert left his briefcase on the Sixth Avenue Elevated Train in New York City where it was swiftly retrieved by a Secret Service agent who had been following him.  Review of the contents of the briefcase revealed extensive German sabotage and espionage activities in the United States in violation of America's neutrality.  Secretary of the Treasury McAdoo, after consultation with President Wilson, turned the documents over to the New York World, where they were published on three consecutive days beginning August 15.

Haiti's New President

Even as relations with Germany deteriorate on the issue of submarine warfare, the Western Hemisphere remains a major source of concern for the United States.  After ordering the occupation of Haiti last month following the overthrow and murder of President Guillaume Sam, the Wilson Administration installed a pro-American senator, Philippe Sudre Dartiguenave, as president on August 12.  The new president then signed a treaty giving the United States control over Haitian finances and the right to intervene militarily whenever it deems it necessary.  A domestic police force has been established under the control of the United States Marines.

In Mexico, control of the capital changed hands again on August 7 as Carranza's forces reentered the city.  A conference of the ABC Powers (Argentina, Brazil and Chile) was held in Washington, D.C. on August 5 and 6 to address the Mexico problem.  Carranza, now holding the upper hand, responded on August 11 with a note objecting to outside interference.  President Wilson returned from his vacation home in New Hampshire on August 12 to address the issue personally.  On August 14, the United States, the ABC Powers and other Latin American countries proposed a conference of the competing factions.

Russian Artillery Captured at Novo Georgievsk

The German offensive in Poland continued this month with a series of military successes.  The German Army occupied Warsaw on August 6.  On August 20, after a ten-day siege, the fortress of Novo Georgievsk surrendered, and Brest-Litovsk was captured on August 25.  On the Western Front, an attack by British forces recovered the ground lost in and around the crater at Hooge that was created by last month's enormous underground explosion.  The crater has changed hands twice since the explosion: British troops occupied it immediately afterward, German troops retook it using flame throwers, and it is now back in British hands.

 Pegoud Receiving the Croix de Guerre

The French aviator Alphonse Pegoud, who became famous for flying upside down and looping-the-loop in 1913, was shot down and killed on August 31 while flying a reconnaissance mission.  He had a distinguished record in the war, receiving the Croix de Guerre and being mentioned in dispatches several times for valor.  His most remarkable exploit came on August 20, when he fought an aerial duel in which he was forced down behind enemy lines.  Pegoud pretended to be dead as the German pilot landed and approached his wrecked aeroplane, then shot him and made his escape in the German's machine.

A Cotton Boat on the Mississippi

The economic war escalated this month as the British government on August 21 declared cotton, a major export product of the United States and an essential ingredient of many explosives and propellants used by the military, to be absolute contraband.  Two days later, the British Embassy in Washington issued a statement assuring American shippers that cotton shipments to neutral countries would not be interfered with as long as they did not exceed those countries' normal consumption.  If the United States objects, the British will likely point out that the their position regarding shipments to neutral countries is no different from that of the United States regarding British shipments to the Bahamas and other neutral destinations during the American Civil War.

Lord Reading

Massive British purchases of war supplies in the United States have led to a rapid fall in the value of the British pound sterling against the American dollar.  England's Lord Chief Justice Rufus Isaacs, Baron Reading, arrived in New York on August 13 for discussions with American bankers to establish credits of between five hundred million and one billion dollars for additional purchases.  As a first step in stabilizing the currency exchange, gold and securities valued at approximately $100,000,000, sent by the Bank of England to J.P. Morgan & Co., arrived in New York by rail from Halifax, Nova Scotia on August 12 and 29.  They were carried across the Atlantic by a British battle cruiser escorted by a flotilla of torpedo boat destroyers under the command of Vice Admiral David Beatty, the victor of last year's naval battle in the Heligoland Bight.

Pershing's House After the Fire (the Arrow Indicates the Location of Warren's Room)

Brigadier General John J. Pershing commands the Eighth Brigade of the United States Army, with headquarters at the Presidio in San Francisco.  Last year, in response to increasing concerns about events in Mexico, the brigade was deployed to Fort Bliss, on the Mexican border.  General Pershing accompanied his troops but left his family at the Presidio.  There, in the early morning hours of August 27, a fire broke out in the family home.  Pershing's wife and three daughters died in the blaze; only his six-year-old son Warren survived.

Cobb County Justice

On June 21, the day before his scheduled execution, Leo Frank's death sentence for the murder of Mary Phagan was commuted to life imprisonment by Georgia Governor John Slaton.  Protest demonstrations followed, but seemed to subside after a few days, notwithstanding an attempt on Frank's life by a fellow inmate last month (see the June and July installments of this blog).  Fears of mob justice were confirmed, however, on August 17.  In a raid executed with military precision, a band of twenty-five armed and masked men cut the telephone and telegraph wires to the Milledgeville state prison farm where Frank was being held, overpowered the warden and guards, and sped with Frank over 100 miles of country road to a wooded grove near the Phagan home in Cobb County, where they lynched Frank by hanging him from a tree.  Before the large crowd assembled at the site could carry out its threat to set the body afire, it was cut down and transported to Atlanta where it was hastily embalmed and put on a train to New York for burial, accompanied by Mrs. Frank and local friends and family.  Although the new governor has denounced the lynching and promised a full investigation, no suspects have been identified or arrests made, and it is considered unlikely that any prosecution in Cobb County would be successful.

August 1915 – Selected Sources and Recommended Reading

Contemporary Periodicals:
American Review of Reviews, September and October 1915
New York Times, August 1915
New York World, August 1915

Books and Articles:
A. Scott Berg, Wilson
Howard Blum, Dark Invasion 1915: Germany's Secret War and the Hunt for the First Terrorist Cell in America
Britain at War Magazine, The Second Year of the Great War: 1915
Winston S. Churchill, My Early Life
Winston S. Churchill, The World Crisis 1911-1918
John Milton Cooper, Jr., Woodrow Wilson: A Biography
John Milton Cooper, Jr., The Warrior and the Priest: Woodrow Wilson and Theodore Roosevelt
Patrick Devlin, Too Proud to Fight: Woodrow Wilson's Neutrality
David Fromkin, A Peace to End All Peace: Creating the Modern Middle East, 1914-1922
Martin Gilbert, The First World War: A Complete History
Martin Gilbert, A History of the Twentieth Century, Volume One: 1900-1933
Martin Gilbert, Winston S. Churchill Volume III: The Challenge of War, 1914-1916
Richard F. Hamilton and Holger H. Herwig, Decisions for War, 1914-1917
Peter Hart, Gallipoli
August Heckscher, Woodrow Wilson: A Biography
Godfrey Hodgson, Woodrow Wilson's Right Hand: The Life of Colonel Edward M. House
Michael Kazin, A Godly Hero: The Life of William Jennings Bryan
John Keegan, The First World War
Louis W. Koenig, Bryan: A Political Biography of William Jennings Bryan
Nicholas A. Lambert, Planning Armageddon: British Economic Warfare and the First World War
Arthur S. Link, Wilson: The Struggle for Neutrality, 1914-1915
Arthur S. Link, Woodrow Wilson and the Progressive Era, 1910-1917
Robert K. Massie, Castles of Steel: Britain, Germany, and the Winning of the Great War at Sea

G.J. Meyer, A World Undone: The Story of the Great War, 1914 to 1918
J. Lee Thompson, Never Call Retreat: Theodore Roosevelt and the Great War
Barbara W. Tuchman, The Zimmermann Telegram  
United States Department of State, Office of the Historian, U.S. Invasion and Occupation of Haiti, 1915-34
Geoffrey C. Ward and Ken Burns, The Roosevelts
The West Point Atlas of War: World War I
Ernest Wittenberg, The Thrifty Spy on the Sixth Avenue El, American Heritage, December 1965