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WWI Series - A Hudred Years Ago - August 27-September 10, 1915

Updated on September 2, 2015

US Army

Medical command insignia
Medical command insignia

San Diego 1915

Raymond lives in San Diego with his wife and five children in a four apartment adobe complex which surrounds a garden. His great-grandfather came to California in 1860 from the Ukraine shortly after Alexander II freed the Russian serfs. Not that his great-grandfather was a serf. His great-grandfather was a lion-tamer with the circus. Raymond continues the family tradition by working with the bears at the animal exposition at the exposition being held in San Diego 1915. He is helping to build a new containment for his bears in what is the San Diego zoo.

His neighbors in the quad are tuna fishermen or seamen. They are all Americans - not Ukrainian, not German, not Mexican nor Japanese. Raymond is part of an English speaking generation who assume a unique American identity. He refers to San Diego as the Gibraltar of the Pacific especially since the Suez Canal was completed in 1914. Guam, the Philippines, and Hawaii are part of a culture of accommodation. Point Loma is army with Fort Rosecrans but everything from the weather to location to the ideal port conditions point to navy. Raymond and his neighbors speak enthusiastically of a growing naval presence.

Raymond follows closely the war events in Europe. Unlike his neighbors, he is intensely interested in the eastern front. His neighbors do not seem aware of the eastern front. Germany fights on two sides, to the east and to the west. Germany, along with Austria-Hungary and Turkey, is a vast and powerful alliance spreading from the Baltic Sea to the Mediterranean. Opposing Germany and Austria-Hungary to the east is Russia defending Serbia.

While the 1915 stagnation along the trench lines of the Western Front in Belgium and France is well known, the slaughter in Warsaw is largely ignored. While the building of huge dreadnaughts for sea battle and the strategy of barricades is discussed with knowledge, no one even knows the location of Serbia. Ray knows the location of Serbia. Ray cares about the battles in Poland. He is American but he grew up knowing about Russia.


The Fair in San Diego in 1915 included military ships such as the unveiling of the North Dakota.
The Fair in San Diego in 1915 included military ships such as the unveiling of the North Dakota.

The Eastern Front

West and east in WWI is defined by the location of Germany. To the west of Germany is Belgium and France. The trench lines as well as the race to the sea are on the western front. The western front is unmoving while armies shoot at one another across no-mans-land.

The eastern front is fluid. The Russian army does not dig trench lines. In 1915 the eastern front includes the bulge of Poland as part of Russia. From May, 1915 through September, 1915 the Central Powers Summer offensive forces Russian retreat. By September the Russians have abandoned the entire bulge of Russian Poland.

Raymond considers his family heritage to be Russian. He can't help but hope the best for the soldiers from the Ukraine. The Ukraine is never mentioned as a separate army from Russia, however Raymond knows the logistics of Poland would mean many thousands of Ukrainian men are fighting. He waits for the armies of the Czar to crush German and Austrian armies. Czar Nicholas II took personal command of the Russian armed forces on August 21st.

Warsaw falls to the Germans on August 4, 1915. Brest-Litovsk falls on August 25, and the city of Vilna in Lithuania is captured. The Germans do not achieve a breakthrough past the Russian lines. The Russians have taken a pounding but escaped encirclement. The Russian losses have been great and will total by years end two million men. German and Austro-Hungarian loses are over one million men.

Germany seeks a separate peace with Russia. On August 28, 1915, Russia rebuffs offers of peace from Germany. The government announces that peace cannot be agreed until all German soldiers have left Russia. American papers are reluctant to expand on the trouble of the Czar.

ANZACS

Australian troops advance at the run with fixed bayonets against the Turkish trenches at Gallipoli
Australian troops advance at the run with fixed bayonets against the Turkish trenches at Gallipoli

Gallipoli

Famous in San Diego and along the west coast is the Anzac soldier, a soldier of legend. The Australian Imperial Force is the project of Major General Sir W.T. Bridges, Inspector-general of Australian forces. Bridges commanded at Gallipoli. The sacrifices of the Anzac soldier became the tales of legend, the glory of Australia. Sixty-two percent of the Anzac soldiers are casualties, the highest percentage of all units from the Anglo-Saxon world.

Gallipoli is the setting of one of the worst disasters suffered by the Allies in WWI. Europe ends at Gallipoli which is strategically located at the tip of the Dardanelles straights. The idea of the battle was to knock Turkey out of the war by sea, and to re-establish supply lines with Russia. The second and more urgent reason was to end the bloody stalemate on the western front. The failure of the Gallipoli ensured the war of attrition would continue in France and Flanders. Winston Churchill presented the plan in November, 1914.

On April 25, 1915 the Anzacs were put ashore on the wrong place, a narrow beachhead surrounded by high cliffs. The Turks held the high ground. The Anzacs were told to dig in. The date of the landing is marked in Australia as one of national heroism; in Turkey as one of national pride. (The Experience of World War I by J.M. Winter).

The allied forces held on despite intolerable conditions until the survivors were evacuated in December, 1915 leaving behind 200,000 dead. The allies admitted total failure. Winston Churchill resigned as first lord of the admiralty. The Anzacs served with honor and distinction.




Civilian Support Required

Endure, Sacrifice, Toughen-up, Brutality

In August, 1914, Germany and Austria-Hungary on one side and the UK, France, and Russia on the other side declared war on each other. One year later as Raymond goes to work in San Diego, California, the increasing casualties of war are alarming but expected. War is brutal. The civilians learn to endure for an unknown but hopefully swift time. They learn to sacrifice, saving food, and oil. Sacrificing their men. The civilians harden their hearts to the stories of brutality and death.

The soldiers learn brutality as the first line of defense. In this first international mechanized war the number of casualties over-whelms and then numbs. Soldiers who enlisted in patriotic zeal are soon fighting in a nightmare. Raymond who has never fought in a war knows old men who fought in the American civil war. He has no point of reference but believes loss and death are battle. Refugees are unfortunate victims of war but more acceptable than shocking.

The panic among Belgium civilians when Germany invaded resulted in one million Belgium refugees. The German army lived off the land as the crossed. They took severe measures against Belgians accused of resisting the German advance. As the stories of brutality in Belgium filtered through to Raymond thousands of miles away the stories became common, acceptable and part of war.

As the news of the huge casualties suffered on the eastern front reaches California, the news is no surprise but the news is sad. He knows the Czar has never considered individual lives as anything more than a tool at the Czar's disposal. However there is a limit to endurance and to sacrifice.

America is at peace. He sees the naval build-up and is glad for the defense on his doorstep. In complete confidence that war will not touch San Diego, he finds the death and destruction in Europe tolerable. He believes warriors are heroes. Generals are suspect. Politicians are crooked.

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