Sunday, November 11, 2018

100 Years Ago On The Western Front

A month before the Armistice, the second in command of the German forces, Erich Ludendorff,* advised the Kaiser that victory was no longer possible and that peace should be sought. The principle factors, he said, were the tanks and the depletion of the German reserves.
[As they] looked towards the English the blood froze in veins as two mysterious monsters came creeping over the crater fields...They have learned not to fear men, but there was something approaching which the human brain, with tremendous mechanical powers, had fitted out for a devil's trick, a mystery which approached and shackled the powers because one could not comprehend it with understanding -- a fatality against which one seemed helpless. One stared and stared as if paralyzed.
The monster approached slowly, hobbling, moving from side to side, rocking and pitching, but it came nearer. Nothing obstructed it; a supernatural force seemed to drive it onwards. Someone in the trenches cried "the devil comes," and that word ran down the line like lightening. Suddenly tongues of fire leapt out of the armoured skin of the iron caterpillar, shells whistled over our heads, and a terrible concert [from] a machine gun orchestra filled the air. The mysterious creature had surrendered its secret, and sense returned with it, and toughness and defiance, and the English waves of infantry surged up behind the devil's chariot. 
The Devil's Chariots

The early tanks were hazardous even under normal conditions:
Bullet splash was a hazard peculiar to the tanks. When standard issue rifle and machine-gun bullets hit armour, their lead cores flattened and became molten, the resultant "splash" entering the hull through the slightest crack as a super-hot spray of atomized shrapnel. Entry points included the knife-thin gaps surrounding a loophole and vision slit covers, and the junction of sponson with hull where severe stresses tended to open the felt-packed joint to a crack of daylight. Concentrated Maxim fire could so hammer a section of plate as to cause its internal face to spall, throwing off hot steel fragments and leaving a characteristic rank smell of burned paint. Splash lodged under the skin of face and hands as black pinpricks, emerging weeks later, and commanders and gunners were particularly at risk of being blinded. Various forms of face shield were issued later -- principally steel goggles with inadequate vision slits and a square of chain mail beneath to protect nose, mouth, and throat -- but most men soon discarded them. Hull exteriors could quite literally become shot-blasted, as Lt. Henry Williamson, an infantry supplies officer, confirmed to his father in the spring of 1917: "My experience of the Hindenburg line is that it is bloody awful. One of our tanks that did comeback shined like hell from the bullets but the bloke inside was mad." Yet in spite of all, if any crewman had a fleeting moment to consider his position he thanked God he was not outside in the infantry.
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*Ludendorff was a major malefactor in the Weimar years. He remained active in politics. He participated in Hitler's Beer Hall Putsch but was acquitted, no doubt because of political influence.  He viewed peace as a mere lull between wars.

2 comments:

  1. The Prussian (heritage) and Junkers military philosophers led to the national acceptance of the Nazi re-armament that led to another disastrous war within a generation.

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  2. LL: There's a brief cameo of Patton at the 2min 8 s mark in the video. I don't know his whole story, but he emerged as a tank warrior in the next war. My dad trained on Sherman tanks during the Korean War but "graduated" to Patton class tanks when he served in Germany in '52.

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