Friday, November 29, 2013

The franc-tireur, or "sniper"

According to [a source I just discovered]: "Translated from the French as literally 'free shooter' and originating from the 1870-71 Franco-Prussian War, 'franc-tireur' was the term used to describe civilians who took up arms against an enemy power contrary to the usual rules of war.

"During the First World War the term was most commonly attributed to Belgian citizenry who took to sniping in opposition to the neutral country's occupying German force." What upset the Germans so much about the sniping is that they were not at all used to "guerilla warfare" tactics involving uncoordinated, impromptu shooting by civilians from apartment house windows and similar opportunistic vantage points. They were literally shocked by this!

Pronunciation of Magyar

The Magyars, the primary ethnic group of Hungary, have a name that can be pronounced either "mag-yar" or "mud-yar" (more precisely, mo-dyor) of which the latter, I believe, is the actual Hungarian pronunciation. No big deal, I guess, unless you are Hungarian.

Battles in Code for World War Secrets (July 1933)

Thanks to Jim Landau for passing along this article from Modern Mechanix, July 1933, on the role of cryptography and spying during The War.

Monday, November 18, 2013

World War One Glossary

Lou Nirenberg has suggested I include a World War I glossary here. Below is my initial effort at this:

[see also]


Back-door furlough = "absent without leave"

Deep sea turkey =  canned salmon, as referred to by World War I troops (Synonyms: goldfish, sewer carp, submarine chicken)
Farmerette = young woman who worked on a farm in place of a man during World War I

Flying bathtub = cumbersome or otherwise inferior airplane (Synonyms: flying boxcar, flying chicken coop, flying bedstead, galloping goose, orange crate)
Liberty cabbage and liberty steaks = sauerkraut, hamburgers (Note: The word liberty was used to replace common words of German origin during World War 1)

Ticket west = fatal wound

Attrition, War of = A war in which each side seeks to wear the other out.

Big Bertha = Huge Krupp 42cm siege guns used to attack the Belgian forts at Liege in the opening of the war; generally applied to large German artillery pieces. Named for the daughter of Alfred Krupp, German arms manufacturer.

Big Push = The British reference to 1916 Battle of the Somme. Later the battle also was know as the Great Cock-Up [standard British term for SNAFU]

Big Show = The Americanism for the Meuse-Argonne Offensive. Largest American battle of the World War

Black Hand = A nationalistic organization in Serbia. Believed responsible for the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand.

Blotto = strong liquor

Blue Max = Nickname for German medal awarded to Rommel, Richthophen, Boelcke among others. (there is some dispute whether the expression Blue Max was actually used during the war)

Boelcke’s Dicta = Rules for successful fighter pilots developed by German ace & aviation pioneer Oswald Boelcke. boelcke died in a collision with a colleague while flying his sixth mission of the day, 15 October 1916

Chat = Nickname for body louse.

Devil Dogs = Nickname given to the US Marines by Germans who faced them at Belleau Wood.

Diggers = Name for Australian troops in World War I

Dixie (from the Hindi "degci") = an army cooking pot

Duckboard = A board laid down as a track or floor over wet or muddy ground. Used for both trench floors and trails across flooded fieldsred Karno’s Army

Dum Dum Bullet = A rifle bullet that explodes or expands on impact with flesh, thus creating even more serious injury

Fred Karno's Army = Nickname given to the British Army raised after the start of WW1, in allusion to Fred Karno, a comedian and producer of burlesque. Also known as Kitchener’s Army.

Frontschwein = Literally, frontline pigs. Implied is the imminence of being slaughtered. How German soldiers referred to themselves.

Hedge-hop = Flying near the ground.

Irredentism = any position of a state advocating annexation of territories administered by another state, such asthe states of post-World War I Central Europe, created from the Austro-Hungarian Empire; the Balkans, and the Near East had borders carved out by the Allies that left many of the new states in those regions unsatisfied. There were minority populations and conflicting historical claims to territory in each case. Similarly, many territories and nations in Africa had borders determined by power struggles among the European colonial powers, rather than reflecting historical ethnic and language groupings. The result split ethnic groups between different countries, such as the Yoruba who are divided between Nigeria and Benin. In some cases, the irredentist arguments have continued past the Second World War and on to the present day.

Jack Johnson = Large artillery shell. The power and large amount of dark smoke given off by big shell explosions were reminiscent of black Heavyweight boxing champion Jack Johnson.

Jerry = Sympathetic nickname for German soldiers by Allies

No-Man’s-Land = The desolate territory between the hundreds of miles of opposing Allied and German trenches.

Pals battalions = the Kitchener armies, men from the same town or trade were allowed to enlist and serve together.

Paris Gun = Krupp artillery piece designed to fire over 75 miles to bombard Paris. Sometimes confused with Big Bertha.

Pikelhaube = German spiked helmet used in first half of the war.

Pillbox = Low structure for of reinforced concrete usually enclosing a machine gun

Poilu = Front line French soldier, literally, hairy-one.

Pop = the Tommy’s nickname for Poperinghe, a town 8 miles due west of Ypres.

Potato Masher = Nickname for standard German hand grenade, based on resemblance to the kitchen tool. Also a nickname for club used in trench raids.

Q-Ship = Antisubmarine armed vessel disguised as common steamer.

Red cap = British military policeman.

Red Tabs = Slang, British staff officers.

Slum =  Slang for a thin stew eaten by the American soldiers.  Abbreviation of slumgullion.

Tin Hat = Slang for British and American model helmet.

Tommy = Tommy Atkins, British frontline soldier.

Trench Fever =  A louse borne relapsing febrile disease which struck soldiers of the Great War; characterized by fever, weakness, dizziness, headache, severe back and leg pains and a rash.
Trench Fever  A louse borne relapsing febrile disease which struck soldiers of the Great War; characterized by fever, weakness, dizziness, headache, severe back and leg pains and a rash.

Trench Rabbit = Slang, rat.

Wastage = Used as euphemism for killed and wounded by politicians and generals; sometimes used to differentiate casualties in the presumably less productive interim periods from the major battles.

Whiz-bangs = A high speed shell whose sound as it flies through the air arrives almost at the same instant as its explosion; later synonymous with excellent or topnotch.

Willie = Canned corn beef.

Wipers = The Tommy’s nickname for Ypres and the Salient.
Jim Landau has suggested a book for us, Dare Call it Treason: The True Story of the French Army Mutinies of 1917 by Richard M. Watt. He notes that "Despite its title, this book covers in some detail French politics and political intrigue during World War I, with a good deal of earlier background that helps to understand what was going on in French politics during the War.  For example, it tries to figure out just what Joseph Caillaux was thinking, and traces the rise of Clemenceau.  I read this book in high school and was impressed by it enough to do a term project based on it.

"About the title: Mr. Watt may have been playing on the title "None Dare Call It Treason", which was a John Birch book widely available when Watt's book appeared in 1963.

"I rate this book as Beacon: 'great, but highly focussed.'"

He makes two other suggestions: "C. S. Forester, author of the Hornblower series, wrote two novels about World War I, both of which I have read:

"The General.  This is a character study of a fictional British officer who rose to an important command in the War.  I find the book disappointing because Forester chose an unflattering stereotype of the British army officer as someone of limited imagination and/or mental capacity.  Most likely Forester was trying to present an understanding of the high casualties and limited gains of trench warfare in France as being the result of shortsighted, mentally blinkered British officers.  Strachan certainly does not agree with this stereotype!  Like all Forester books, it is quite readable, but in my opinion it has an axe to grind. Therefore I rate this book as "Aunt Minnie" (too opinionated)

"The African Queen.  This is the book the Humphrey Bogart-Katherine Hepburn movie was taken from.  It takes place during World War I, in Africa, but it an adventure story about the Hepburn character and has little to do with the war (there is only one battle sequence and that lasts for only a few pages).  So unless you would like to read about why the Hepburn character decides to go to war, it is not relevant to our book club.  Therefore I have to give this book a rating of Fortune Cookie: superficial."

Thanks, Jim!

Thursday, November 14, 2013

The first book we will be reading is The First World War by Hew Strachen (2005). It is a reasonably brief account of the war (384 pages) by a scholar who will be producing a three-volume magnum opus on the subject.

According to Publishers Weekly, "The war as he sees it was a race among generals on all sides to create new weapons and tactics faster than their opponents, a race that the Triple Entente won. It was also a race among soldiers to fight with these new weapons and tactics instead of raw courage and numbers wherever possible. Yet Russia and the Dual Monarchy of the Austro-Hungarian Empire were totally unfit for a large modern war (one reason the czar and his empire fell in 1917) and were a source of fatal weakness to Germany's alliance even before Italy changed sides. The political background (including the rising consciousness of colonial nationalities conscripted for the war), social consequences and diplomatic finagling all face an equal amount of revision, leaving the book organized more thematically than chronologically. Readers already familiar with the sequence of events in strict order will benefit most. But all readers will eventually be gripped, and even the most seasoned ones will praise the insights and the original choice of illustrations. This is likely to be the most indispensable one-volume work on the subject since John Keegan's First World War," which we will also be reading.

Next discussion is Tuesday, Dec. 10, at 7:00 PM (new time) to 8:30 PM at the Otto Bruyns Library, 241 W. Mill Road, Northfield.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

NING Participating Blog

I have set up a NING Blog for the World War I Book Club, which will allow any member to do a post (on which others may comment), rather than just post comments on this site.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

First Meeting

In conjunction with the centennial of
the outbreak of World War I in 2014.

Where:   Otto Bruyns Public Library 
               241 W. Mill Road, Northfield, New Jersey 
When:   2nd Tuesday of the month, starting November 12
Time:    7:30 to 9:00 PM

We will be reading modern historical accounts of “The Great War” plus some of the major novels about this watershed event.

Group Leader: Ernie Schell (609-487-9340)