Sunday, July 31, 2016

July 1916

By July 1916, the warring nations have abandoned all pretense of a war that is less than total.  In an attempt to divert the relentless German attacks at Verdun, the Allies follow their massive artillery barrage at the Somme with an equally massive infantry assault and meet unexpectedly strong German defenses.  Furious battles are now raging on multiple fronts in Europe.  The German occupiers of Belgium forbid celebration of Belgian independence. A British ferry captain is captured and executed for trying to ram a German U-Boat.  In the United States, the presidential election campaign gets under way and Congress passes preparedness legislation for the Army and Navy.  Bombs go off in San Francisco and New York Harbor; the perpetrators are unknown but American anarchists and German saboteurs are on the list of suspects.  Anglo-American relations are strained by Great Britain's inclusion of American firms on its "Black List."


British Infantry Preparing to Attack

The Allied offensive on the Somme entered a new phase on July 1 with a massive infantry assault.  Little effort was made to conceal preparations for the offensive, and the Germans took advantage of the opportunity to strengthen their defenses.  The attacking forces relied on a week-long artillery bombardment, followed by the detonation of ten huge mines under the German trenches two minutes prior to the advance, to weaken the German positions, and told their infantry to expect little if any resistance.  They were wrong: well-protected and concealed artillery, machine guns and barbed wire cut down the advancing infantry as fast as they came into view.  At the end of the first day, almost 20,000 British soldiers lay dead and over 30,000 were wounded, missing or taken prisoner.  None of the first day's objectives had been achieved.

Delville Wood

The Allied offensive on the Somme continued throughout the month with bitter fighting resulting in high casualties and temporary victories that gained possession of small woods and villages only to be followed by retreats in the face of German counter-attacks.  The village of Contalmaison was captured on July 7, lost to a counterattack that evening, and recaptured July 10.  On July 12 the British finally succeeded in taking Mametz Wood, a short distance from their starting point eleven days earlier.  A major assault on July 14 broke through the German line at High Wood but a German counterattack restored the line before reinforcements could arrive.  The next day the South African Brigade attacked nearby Delville Wood (Bois d'Elville, nicknamed "Devil's Wood" by the troops), a German position that threatened an Allied salient.  A diversionary attack by Australian troops on Fromelles to the north on July 19 was a costly failure, but another Australian attack three days later succeeded in capturing the crossroads village of Pozieres, from which attacks continue on a tactically important German trench system the British call the O.G. (for "Old German") Lines.

Fort Souville In the Aftermath of the German Attack

One of the objectives of the Somme offensive is to relieve the German pressure on Verdun, and in this it has succeeded to some degree.  Two infantry divisions, comprising tens of thousands of German troops and sixty heavy guns, have been transferred from Verdun to the Somme sector.  On July 12 the Germans mounted what may be their last attempt to break through the French defenses at Verdun.  Another attack on Fort Souville using phosgene gas and flamethrowers inflicted severe casualties on the French garrison and resulted in the temporary occupation of the fort's outer walls, but the Germans were driven back and Fort Souville remains in French hands.

 Russian Soldiers Advancing

On the Eastern Front, the Brusilov offensive continued its advance against Austrian and German forces in Galicia.  In an attempt to halt the Russians' progress, German Generals Hindenburg and Ludendorff were assigned to command large sections of the front in the last week of July.  The success of Brusilov's offensive has had the additional benefit for the Allies of limiting the ability of Germany and Austria-Hungary to move reinforcements into other areas of combat, including Verdun and the Somme on the Western Front and the Isonzo Front in Italy.  It may also encourage Romania, which has thus far remained neutral, to join the Allies.

German Soldiers in Brussels

July 21 was the 85th anniversary of Belgian independence.  The German Army forbade all demonstrations, but large numbers of Belgians wore green ribbons as they went about their daily routine.  That evening, citizens of Brussels applauded Archbishop Cardinal Mercier, who had called on Belgians to resist the German occupiers, as he entered a car to travel to his home in Malines.  For these unwelcome displays of patriotism the citizens of Brussels were fined one million marks.

Captain Fryatt

As an employee of the Great Eastern Railway, Captain Charles Fryatt commanded cross-channel ferries on regular runs between Rotterdam, in the neutral Netherlands, and ports on the east coast of England.  He had two encounters in March with German submarines.  In the first he managed to outrun the U-Boat and in the second he defied an order to stop and ran straight at the enemy submarine, forcing it into an emergency dive.  For each of those actions, Fryatt was awarded a gold watch and hailed as a hero by the British public.  Last month as his ferry departed Dutch waters it was captured by German destroyers and taken to Bruges in German-occupied Belgium.  He was taken to Berlin, where on July 27 he was tried before a naval court-martial, convicted of being a franc-tireur, and sentenced to death.  The Kaiser promptly confirmed the sentence, and Fryatt was executed by a German firing squad that evening.  British Prime Minister Asquith told the House of Commons that "Captain Fryatt has been murdered by the Germans.  His Majesty's Government have heard with the utmost indignation of this atrocious crime against the laws of nations and the usages of war."  He said "it shows that the German High Command, under the stress of military defeat, have renewed their policy of terrorism."


 Senator Harding

In the United States, the presidential campaign began on July 31 with the Republican Party's ceremony giving formal notice to Charles Evans Hughes of his nomination.  Notification ceremonies mark the beginning of the presidential campaign and typically take place around Labor Day.  The Republicans are holding theirs earlier this year to allow for an August tour of the western United States by Hughes so that he can concentrate on the populous eastern states in the fall.  Notification ceremonies are often held outdoors, but the Republicans held theirs this year on the hottest day of the year in the sweltering heat of Carnegie Hall.  A capacity crowd of 3,000 cheered the nominee and, with equal fervor, former President Roosevelt who was also in attendance.  Senator Warren G. Harding of Ohio, the Chairman of the Notification Committee and of last month's Republican National Convention, introduced Hughes and formally notified him of his nomination. The nominee, borrowing President Wilson's "America First" theme, titled his address "America First and America Efficient."  He criticized President Wilson's policies, especially in international affairs, focusing on his treatment of the Mexican situation and his record of dealing with the warring powers of Europe.  Adopting a proposal advanced by former President Taft's League to Enforce Peace, he advocated the creation of an international court and the formation of an international organization to keep the peace.  He was critical of President Wilson's late conversion to the cause of preparedness, reminding his audience that "about a year and a half ago we were told that the question of preparedness was not a pressing one" and that only "later, under the pressure of other leadership, this attitude was changed."  As Hughes referred to "other leadership," he turned to look at Roosevelt, causing an outbreak of prolonged cheering and applause.

Major General Hugh Scott, Army Chief of Staff

While most politicians running for office in the United States support "preparedness," there remains a strong anti-preparedness body of opinion, especially in the Midwest and West, led by isolationist senators such as George W. Norris (Rep., Neb.) and Robert M. LaFollette (Rep., Wisc.) and by Governor Hiram Johnson of California, Roosevelt's 1912 Progressive Party running mate who is seeking both the Republican and Progressive Party nominations for the Senate this year.  Even among its supporters, the word preparedness has different meanings.  President Wilson, following his conversion to the cause earlier this year, toured the Midwest advocating preparedness but emphasizing that it was meant only for defense and not for war.  (See the January 1916 installment of this blog).  Not long after, Secretary of War Lindley Garrison resigned when his proposal for the creation of a Continental Army was rejected by the President, who preferred legislation authorizing a modest increase in the Regular Army and bringing the National Guard of the states under federal control.  (See the February 1916 installment of this blog).  The Hay-Chamberlain Army Reorganization Bill, supported by President Wilson and new Secretary of War Newton D. Baker, was passed in May and signed into law last month.  It was denounced as inadequate by former President Roosevelt and other advocates of a more assertive foreign policy, and welcomed as a victory by most isolationists.

Admiral William S. Benson, Chief of Naval Operations

Advocates of naval preparedness have been more successful, largely because the idea of a strong Navy is less objectionable to isolationists than that of a large standing Army.  Most of the immediate threats to American lives and commerce come from the sea, so the Navy can be seen as a protector of neutrality rather than a threat to it.  Last month the House of Representatives approved a watered-down version of a bill submitted by Secretary of the Navy Josephus Daniels that provided for a five-year naval building program.  The Senate, more sympathetic than the House to the Navy's needs, passed a bill on July 21 appropriating over 588 million dollars for the largest naval building program in the nation's history.  It provides for construction of 157 vessels, including four dreadnoughts, four battle cruisers, four cruisers, twenty destroyers and thirty submarines, and stipulates that the entire program is to be under way within three years rather than the five originally proposed.  The vote was 71 to 8.  Other important features of the bill include construction of a government-owned armor-plate plant, substantial increases in the number of enlisted men in the Navy and Marine Corps, enlargement of Navy yards and of the Navy's air arm, and a provision for cooperation between the Coast Guard and the Navy in time of war.  The bill has gone to a Conference Committee, where it has encountered some resistance from the House members.  On July 27 President Wilson invited the House conferees to a meeting at the White House, where he urged them to agree to the Senate bill.

Just Before the Bomb Exploded

Some anti-preparedness Americans carry their opposition to extremes.  Suspected anarchists protesting a preparedness parade in San Francisco on July 22 exploded a bomb concealed in a suitcase at the corner of Steuart and Market Streets as the parade passed by.  At least six people were killed and twenty-five seriously injured.  A Finnish sailor was arrested as he stood near the bodies after the explosion and made a speech praising anarchism.  Suspicions of a higher-level conspiracy have focused on known anarchists and radical labor leaders, including the leadership of International Workers of the World (IWW, known as the "Wobblies").

Location of the Black Tom Munitions Depot

 After the Explosion

A few days after the bomb exploded in San Francisco, another explosion three thousand miles away rocked New York Harbor.  Black Tom Island, in Jersey City near the Statue of Liberty, is the home of the largest munitions depot in the country, where railroad lines from all over the country converge and unload their cargo to await loading onto ships for the hazardous voyage across the Atlantic. On the weekend of July 29-30 the Black Tom depot was filled as usual with enormous quantities of weapons and ammunition.  Shortly after midnight Sunday morning several fires broke out.  The Jersey City Fire Department was called, but about two hours later there was a huge explosion that lit the sky for miles around, sending bullets flying through the air and embedding pieces of shrapnel in the Statue of Liberty.  The shock, which was felt nearly 100 miles away, broke water mains, flooded streets, and blew out windows as far away as the Public Library at Fifth Avenue and Forty-Second Street in Manhattan.  At least two people are known to have been killed, and several more are missing, a toll that would certainly have been much higher if the explosion had taken place during a work day.  It appears that the first fire began on a barge that was moored at a warehouse pier contrary to applicable safety regulations.  Responsible officials of the National Dock & Storage Company, the Lehigh Valley Railroad and the Johnson Lighterage & Towing Company have been arrested and charged with manslaughter.  So far there is no indication of an alien plot, but there is little doubt that news of the explosion is being cheered in Berlin.

Lord Robert Cecil

A tool Great Britain has employed in its economic warfare with Germany, in addition to the interception and search of merchant ships, is the adoption of a "Black List" of neutral firms with which British citizens are forbidden to do business under the terms of Britain's Trading with the Enemy Act.  Because of Britain's dominant naval power and its control of worldwide port facilities and coal supplies, inclusion on the Black List means a virtual exclusion from international trade.  When it was first compiled earlier this year it included no American names, but on July 18 a new and expanded list was published that contains the names of eighty-five American companies.  This has caused a political uproar in the United States, leading to a vigorous note of protest from the United States to Great Britain arguing that its action violates international law by interfering with the right of American firms to conduct business with other neutral countries.  On July 25 Lord Robert Cecil, who as Under Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs is the cabinet member responsible for compiling and publishing the Black List, told the House of Commons that the intent of the list is only "to declare that British shipping, British goods, and British credit should not be used for the support and enrichment of those who are actively assisting our enemies."


July 1916 – Selected Sources and Recommended Reading

Contemporary Periodicals:
American Review of Reviews, August and September 1916
New York Times, July 1916

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 Third Year of the Great War: 1916
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
John Dos Passos, Mr. Wilson's War
David Fromkin, A Peace to End All Peace: Creating the Modern Middle East, 1914-1922
Martin Gilbert, Churchill: A Life
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
August Heckscher, Woodrow Wilson: A Biography
Godfrey Hodgson, Woodrow Wilson's Right Hand: The Life of Colonel Edward M. House
Paul Jankowski, Verdun: The Longest Battle of the Great War
Keith Jeffrey, 1916: A Global History
Roy Jenkins, Churchill: A Biography
John Keegan, The First World War
David M. Kennedy, Over Here: The First World War and American Society
Ian Kershaw, To Hell and Back: Europe 1914-1949
Nicholas A. Lambert, Planning Armageddon: British Economic Warfare and the First World War
Arthur S. Link, Wilson: Confusions and Crises, 1915-1916 
Arthur S. Link, Woodrow Wilson and the Progressive Era, 1910-1917
G.J. Meyer, A World Undone: The Story of the Great War, 1914 to 1918
Merlo J. Pusey, Charles Evans Hughes
Jonathan Schneer, The Balfour Declaration: The Origins of the Arab-Israeli Conflict 
J. Lee Thompson, Never Call Retreat: Theodore Roosevelt and the Great War
Adam Tooze, The Deluge: The Great War, America and the Remaking of the Global Order, 1916-1931
Barbara W. Tuchman, The Zimmermann Telegram   
Geoffrey C. Ward and Ken Burns, The Roosevelts: An Intimate History
The West Point Atlas of War: World War I