Sunday, 31 July 2016

Medical care in the trenches for Weird War 1

Medical care throughout the First World War was largely the responsibility of the Royal Army Medical Corps (RAMC). The RAMC’s job was both to maintain the health and fighting strength of the forces in the field and ensure that in the event of sickness or wounding they were treated and evacuated as quickly as possible.

Every battalion had a medical officer, assisted by at least 16 stretcher-bearers. The medical officer was tasked with establishing a Regimental Aid Post near the front line. From here, the wounded were evacuated and cared for by men of a Field Ambulance in an Advanced Dressing Station.

A casualty then travelled by motor or horse ambulance to a Casualty Clearing Station. These were basic hospitals and were the closest point to the front where female nurses were allowed to serve. Patients were usually transferred to a stationary or general hospital at a base for further treatment. A network of ambulance trains and hospital barges provided transport between these facilities, while hospital ships carried casualties evacuated back home to ‘Blighty’.

As well as battle injuries inflicted by shells and bullets, the First World War saw the first use of poison gas. It also saw the first recognition of psychological trauma, initially known as 'shell shock'. In terms of physical injury, the heavily manured soil of the Western Front encouraged the growth of tetanus and gas gangrene, causing medical complications. Disease also flourished in unhygienic conditions, and the influenza epidemic of 1918 claimed many lives.

Casualties had to be taken from the field of battle to the places where doctors and nurses could treat them. They were collected by stretcher-bearers and moved by a combination of people, horse and cart, and later on by motorised ambulance ‘down the line’. Men would be moved until they reached a location where treatment for their specific injury would take place.

Where soldiers ended up depended largely on the severity of their wounds. Owing to the number of wounded, hospitals were set up in any available buildings, such as abandoned chateaux in France. Often Casualty Clearing Stations (CCS) were set up in tents. Surgery was often performed at the CCS; arms and legs were amputated and wounds were operated on. As the battlefield became static and trench warfare set in, the CCS became more permanent, with better facilities for surgery and accommodation for female nurses, which was situated far away from the male patients.

Wounds to the extremities were so severe that many thousands of soldiers had to have limbs amputated. In France, a guillotine, a variation on the one used to cut off heads in the French Revolution, was used to amputate limbs. As traumatic as it was, amputation saved the lives of many men as it often prevented infection.

Infection was a serious complication for the wounded. Doctors used all the chemical weaponry in their arsenal to prevent infection. As there were no antibiotics or sulphonamides, a number of alternative methods were employed. The practice of ‘debridement’ – whereby the tissue around the wound was cut away and the wound sealed – was a common way to prevent infection. Carbolic lotion was used to wash wounds, which were then wrapped in gauze soaked in the same solution. Other wounds were ‘bipped’. ‘Bipp’ (bismuth iodoform paraffin paste) was smeared over severe wounds to prevent infection.

Delays in treatment could mean the difference between life and death, so innovations in transport changed the nature of medical care during wartime. In battles that took place on foot or horseback, medical treatment had to be close to the battlefield and the wounded were vulnerable to further danger. Men had to be removed from the battlefield by stretchers. Historically ships were used to transfer the wounded to safer locations where a doctor could treat them, and hospital ships were developed on board in which the wounded could be treated. During the Napoleonic Wars Dominique Larrey developed ambulances drawn by horses to get wounded soldiers away from the battlefield. In the First World War motorised ambulances and trains made this a faster process.

In addition to wounds, many soldiers became ill. Weakened immune systems and the presence of contagious disease meant that many men were in hospital for sickness, not wounds. Between October 1914 and May 1915 at the No 1 Canadian General Hospital, there were 458 cases of influenza and 992 of gonorrhoea amongst officers and men. Wounding also became a way for men to avoid the danger and horror of the trenches. Doctors were instructed to be vigilant in cases of ‘malingering’, where soldiers pretended to be ill or wounded themselves so that they did not have to fight. It was a common belief of the medical profession that wounds on the left hand were suspicious. In a secret report during the war, Colonel Bruce Seaton examined 1,000 wounds and injuries to Indian troops being treated at the Kitchener Hospital in Brighton to find out whether any of them were self-inflicted. After careful investigation, however, Seaton concluded that there was no evidence to support the theory of self-wounding among the Indian soldiers.

Wounding was not always physical. Thousands of men suffered emotional trauma from their war experience. ‘Shellshock’, as it came to be known, was viewed with suspicion by the War Office and by many doctors, who believed that it was another form of weakness or malingering. Sufferers were treated at a range of institutions. Officers went to Craiglockhart where they were treated by psychiatrists such as W H R Rivers, and the men went to hospitals such as Netley, or were placed in asylums. Treatment was vastly different at each institution: the officers at Craiglockhart were given therapies such as talking cures; the men at Netley were treated with more physical forms of ‘cure’ such as physiotherapy.

If a wound was serious enough it meant the soldier going back home to receive further treatment. The hospitals at home provided more technologically advanced treatment, away from the frantic activity of the care near the battlefield. Many soldiers had to have further surgery to clean up the hurried efforts of surgeons at the Front. A number of therapies were available at the hospitals far away from the battlefield. In Britain, the wounded were cared for in a range of buildings around the country, from schools to stately homes. In some cases, suitable surroundings were deemed an important part of the recovery process. The Pavilion in the seaside town of Brighton was repurposed to provide a hospital for many of the wounded Indian troops. These men were considered particularly vulnerable to the cold winters in France and Belgium and were given electrotherapy to cure conditions believed to come on from cold weather.

The First World War changed the ways that soldiers were cared for when they were wounded. New technologies including blood transfusion, control of infection and improved surgery ensured that, although many men were permanently wounded, many more survived than died as a result of their injuries.

Friday, 29 July 2016

Boilerplate - History's Mechanical Marvel for Weird War 1

Boilerplate was built by Professor Archibald Campion in the 1880s and unveiled at the 1893 World's Columbian Exposition in Chicago. The robot's notable adventures include an expedition to the Antarctic, during which it saved the lives of the team members by singlehandedly moving ice floes, clearing a path for the ship to sail out.

Designed for the self-proclaimed purpose of "preventing the deaths of men in the conflicts of nations," Boilerplate charged into combat during the Spanish–American War and the Boxer Rebellion. Campion and his robot also circled the planet with the U.S. Navy, make silent movies, and hobnobbed with the likes of Mark Twain and Nikola Tesla

Despite General Pershing's disappointment with Boilerplate's performance during the punitive expedition against Pancho Villa, he requisitioned the mechanical soldier for a special sabotage mission against what was thought to be only one cannon.

Boilerplate covertly travelled to the forest of Coucy near Laon, where it successfully spiked one of what turned out to be three cannons. Before the metal man’s work was discovered, the Germans attempted to fire the sabotaged weapon, resulting in an explosion that killed most of its 17-man crew.

When the American First Army became official on August 10, 1918, Boilerplate was attached to Pershing’s staff and functioning in a variety of roles. The metal soldier participated in the St. Mihiel campaign in September and was to take part in the Meuse-Argonne campaign in October.

On October 2, 1918, General Pershing ordered the U.S. 77th Division to advance through the Argonne forest--"no matter what our casualties are."

A mixed battalion of about 550 men under Major Whittlesey proceeded toward the Charlevaux Valley, encountering light resistance. They reached a defensible position by evening and dug in for the night. In the dense forest and incessant rain, German units managed to encircle the U.S. force and effectivly cut them off from any relief. In the following days, Pershing had the 50th Aero Squadron attempt an air-drop of supplies. The mission ended in failure: the planes were either shot down, or their packages captured or lost.

By October 5, the "Lost Battalion," as it was being called by the press, was without food or water. The next day, Pershing had Boilerplate loaded with as much supplies as it could carry. Its mission was to break through the German lines, pinpoint the exact location of the American troops, and deliver the supplies. The metal man returned after its successful mission, then, on October 7, participated in an assault that relieved the Lost Battalion.

During that action, Boilerplate vanished without a trace.

Weather and terrain made it easy to lose track of the soldier next to you, so the absence of the mechanical man was not noticed until that evening. It was initially thought that Boilerplate was destroyed by a German artillery shell; however, even a direct hit would have left fragments, and in the weeks to come no pieces of the mechanical soldier were found.

Many have speculated about Boilerplate's fate.

Attributes: Agility d6, Smarts d4, Spirit d4, Strength d12, Vigor d12
Skills: Climbing d6, Fighting d8, Notice d6, Shooting d6
Pace: 6; Parry: 5; Toughness: 14 (4)
Special Abilities:
Armor (+4): Boilerplate is heavily armoured.
Construct: +2 to recover from Shaken; No additional damage from called shots;
Immune to poison and disease.
Large: Attackers gain a +1 bonus when attacking Boilerplate.
Lumbering: Boilerplate has a run die of d4.
Size +2: Boilerplate is huge.

Slam: Str+d8.

Weird War 1 rations in the trenches

They say an army marches on its stomach, so feeding the two million men who were in the trenches at the height of the First World War was some task. It was a great achievement that in the entire conflict not one British soldier starved to death.

Yet no one should think that the Tommies enjoyed the food that was served up by the military. According to the wags on the frontline, the biggest threat to life was not German bullets but the appalling rations.

Most despised was Maconochie, named after the company in Aberdeen that made this concoction of barely recognisable chunks of fatty meat and vegetables in thin gravy.

When served hot, as per the instructions on the tin, it was said to be barely edible. Eaten cold for days on end in the trenches, where a warm meal was usually no more than a fantasy, it was said to be disgusting.

It was the stated aim of the British Army that each soldier should consume 4,000 calories a day. At the frontline, where conditions were frequently appalling, daily rations comprised 9oz of tinned meat (today it would be known as corned beef but during the First World War it was called bully beef) or the hated Maconochie.

Additionally the men received biscuits (made from salt, flour and water and likened by the long-suffering troops to dog biscuits). They were produced under government contract by Huntley & Palmers, which in 1914 was the world's largest biscuit manufacturer. The notoriously hard biscuits could crack teeth if they were not first soaked in tea or water.

Tea was a vital part of the British soldier's rations. It was a familiar comfort and concealed the taste of the water, which was often transported to the frontline in petrol tins. If the troops were lucky they got bacon a few times a week, which they'd cook themselves over a candle taking care not to create smoke and attract a barrage of German shells.

"The soldiers in the trenches didn't starve but they hated the monotony of their food," says Dr Rachel Duffett, a historian at the University of Essex. "They were promised fresh meat and bread but the reality was often very different."

As the stalemate dragged on and supply lines were affected by a German submarine blockade it became increasingly difficult to feed the Tommies.

However by the end of 1916 flour became hard to come by so bread, known as K-Brot was made from dried potatoes, oats, barley and even pulverised straw. The occasional arrival of vats of stew called "pan packs" was a cause for celebration.

Battle to feed tommy, ww1, world war one, world war one food, soldiers food, imperial war museum,A soldier's mess kit including the dreaded Maconochie stew.

An older tradition of a rum ration endured although it was viewed with mixed feelings. "If rum was handed out it often signalled they were about to go over the top," adds Dr Duffett, also author of The Stomach For Fighting: Food And The Soldiers Of The Great War.

Food science was in its infancy and the lack of variety led to vitamin deficiencies, while stomach upsets were common. Because of the shortage of fresh water, troops often resorted to drinking from the ditches and puddles.

Yet faced with such challenging conditions, the soldiers also learned to be ingenious.

Before the advent of tinned food in the late 19th century, it was normal for armies to herd cattle as they went. The Gloucestershire Regiment is said to have kept the custom alive in the First World War by having a trench cow which ensured a supply of fresh milk. It's also claimed that some soldiers who were dug in for months grew vegetables.

Away from the frontline there was scope for men to improve their diet. They went fishing, poached game, scrounged fruit and liberated chickens from the French farms. Officers often turned a blind eye, believing the victims had every reason to be grateful for the presence of the British Army. Soldiers were also able to receive food parcels from home containing cakes, chocolate and other goodies, and used their wages to buy food locally.

In villages impromptu cafes called estaminets sprang up everywhere. Often they were in front rooms but they became very popular with the Tommies.

The locals soon realised that their own cuisine was not to the taste of most of the British soldiers, who were especially dismissive of the "smelly" French cheeses. Instead they began serving up platefuls of eggs and chips washed down with cheap "vin blanc" which became known as plonk.

For officers with access to transport the options away from the front were even more tempting, including the fine restaurants of Amiens. There's no doubt that the British troops ate better than their German counterparts, particularly when the war finally turned in favour of the Allies.

However a propaganda broadcast in which it was claimed that British soldiers were enjoying two hot meals a day caused an outcry because it was far from the truth.

In the reserve lines there were also Army cooks and mobile kitchens but the quality varied. Although the dishes could be plain, cooks were taught to look for nettles, sweet docks, wild mushrooms and marigold flowers with which to season dishes. Many of the cooks died in the fighting but it was considered by the Tommies to be a cushy job.

Andrew Robertshaw, a curator at the Royal Logistic Corps Museum, in Camberley, Surrey, and author of Feeding Tommy, says: "There was no Army catering corps and in the trenches the men fended for themselves. But away from the frontline there was a cook for about every 100 men.

"For the first time in a major conflict frozen food, which was allowed to thaw on its way from the French ports, was also available. The priority was to keep the men fit to fight, not provide variety, but to feed so many was very impressive."

Weird War 1 - The Tank Mark I

The “Little Willie”

The Mk.I tank was the first operational tank in the British army and in the world. It was based on the “Little Willie” (The Lincoln machine) project, supported by the Landships Committee, headed by Walter Wilson and William Tritton. It was largely an attempt to overcome the previous model’s issues. One of the solutions was to avoid adding a turret and mounted the guns in sponsons instead. The Little Willie, also known as the “Lincoln machine number one”, was tested and modified, and the lessons were taken in account for the development of the Mark I and its prototype, called “Big Willie” or, more commonly, “Mother”.

“Mother”, the production prototype

In December 1915, the final prototype was ready for the first trials, which took place in April 1916. It was named officially “His Majesty’s Land Ship Centipede”, but was know colloquially as “Mother” or “Big Willie”, as a joke directed towards the German Kaiser and the crown prince, both named Wilhelm. In the meantime, the “Tank Supply Committee” succeeded the Landship Committee, under the chairmanship of Albert Stern. Other members included Ernest Swinton,  the head of the committee, General Haig, who acted as a liaison officer, Hugh Elles who would  later become the commander of the tank force in France. The trials were held up in an impressive reconstruction of no-man’s land with trenches, parapets, craters and barbed wire, and impressed all officers except the Secretary of War, Lord Kitchener. Despite of this, an order was secured for 150 tanks in two batches, with one order being issued on 12 February 1916 and another on April 23.


The Mk.I was elaborated to encompass all the lessons learnt from the Little Willie trials in 1915. No turret (giving a low center of gravity), armament mounted in sponsons, bolted hull made of boiler panels, newly designed tracks inherited from the Little Willie and a large, easily recognizable rhomboid hull, with the tracks surrounding the hull, making up the entire length of the machine. This shape could not be underestimated. While Great Britain learned the difficult trade of crossing heavily cratered, muddy terrain with the previous Lincoln machine, a radical solution was adopted, which proved adequate to the task, but too radical at the same time, and would emerge in postwar years.

Indeed, a running track of this size allowed to gap the largest known trenches of the time, negotiate craters, while the front three meter recess allowed the vehicle to climb almost any obstacle. But, in addition of being heavy, these full-running tracks caused a safety problem for the crew members, who could get caught in it and be dragged under the tank. It also limited the ability to store anything on top, save for a narrow portion of the central hull. Visibility was perfectible and a lot of space was lost by cramming all the return rollers. A nightmare for an engineer, as well as the maintenance crew.


Propulsion relied on a six cylinder petrol engine at the rear of the hull, with no compartmentalization, due to the transmission system tunnel, which ran through the tank and, more importantly, because, at that stage, the engine was relatively untested and finicky enough to force engineers to need to be able to get their hands on the engine just in case. In addition, the engine had to push quite hard to carry the 28 tons of steel with its just 105 horsepower, with a crushingly low of 3.7 hp per tonne. Not surprisingly, the burden was made greater by the incredibly sticky nature of the mud, which was shown by recent studies to just stick to metal, which meant a tremendous force was required to extract whatever was plunged in to.

At least in the case of the tracks, the flat shape and serial arrangement made it more likely to “surf” on the surface, although taking along a large amount of mud in the process. Being clogged in a sinkhole was just the level of effort which the valiant little Daimler was not ready to undertake. Breakdowns were commonplace and ruined the early stage of the assault, largely diminishing the number of tanks that just had the luck to make their way into the no-man’s land and reach the destination. Also, the engine not being separated from the fighting compartment proved ruinous for the crew, which fell ill quite quickly, but that feature remained unchanged until 1918. The general staff didn’t see this sickness as a limitation either, given the relatively short distance which had to be crossed between opposing trenches. A mobility aspect which was incorporated into the design concerned the removable sponsons, allowing the tank to be narrower and thus, providing easier transport by rail.


The crew comprised eight men, of which two were drivers (one for the gearbox and the other for the brakes) and two others controlling the gears of each track. This system needed perfect coordination, which was difficult due to the noise inside and the protective leather helmets they used. The four others were gunners, serving the six-pounders and the machine guns, depending on the armament. 50% of the Mk. Is were armed with two guns in the sponsons and three machine-guns (two in the sponsons, one axial in the hull), named “males”, and the other half were “females”, armed with five machine-guns. These were either Vickers models or the 8 mm (0.31 in) Hotchkiss air-cooled equivalents. The tanks were quite big, weighing 28 tons with an eight meters long hull and an overall length of nearly ten meters with the additional tail wheel, another feature kept from the Little Willie. It was designed to help crossing very large trenches, but later proved impractical and was dropped.


No less than 150 Mk.Is were built at William Foster & Co. of the Lincoln Metropolitan Carriage and Metropolitan Carriage, Wagon & Finance Co. at Wednesbury. The first order of 100 was increased to 150 in April 1916, acting as a pre-series for further mass-productions. The Foster deliveries concerned 37 males, while Metropolitan Carriage, Wagon, and Finance Company, of Birmingham, delivered 113 Tanks, including 38 “males” and 75 “females”. Later on, two rails were mounted over the hull to handle a wooden beam, used for unditching. The first were ready in a hurry and deployed in August, just in time for the Somme Offensive. From the end of 1917 and until 1918, some of the surviving ones were converted as signal tanks with a large antenna at the base of the driver’s cab, participating in the battle of Cambrai. Others were converted as supply tanks.

Succession: the Mk. II and III

As the Mark I showed many limitations, the next batch of 50 tanks (25 females and 25 males) were built at Foster & Co and Metropolitan for training purposes only. There were some claims about their unhardened steel plates, but all data seems to show that the Mk.IIs were regular Mk. Is with a few modifications for training purposes. Some 20 were sent to France for advanced training and those left remained at the Wool training ground in Dorset.

However, in 1917, there weren’t enough tanks operational for the offensives planned in April 1917 near Arras, and twenty surviving Mk.Is and all the Mk.IIs remaining in Britain were put in action (despite some protests), suffering high casualties, mainly due to the new armor-piercing bullets the Germans employed.

The Mark IIIs were training tanks as well (the great improvements were still planned for the Mk.IV) and were all fitted with Lewis machine guns in smaller, lighter sponsons. Otherwise, few changes were visible at the beginning, as this batch of 50 vehicles was designed to incorporate all the Mk.IV improvements. Deliveries were slow and none left Great Britain.

The Mark I In Action

Their first operational use was in September at Flers-Courcelette, but this first attempt was a near disaster. Most of the tanks broke down on their way, others bogged down in the mud. However, despite the lack of training of their crews, some managed to reach their designated objective, if only too few. Only 59 were part of this attack, most of them being captured afterwards by the Germans. The first issues quickly arrived at the War Office. When they appeared however through the fog, they had an uncanny psychological effect on the German troops, which fled their trenches, leaving their machine guns. The distant roar and clinging of the tracks, and later the slow-moving masses emerging from the fog which resembled nothing built yet were enough. But their ability to take punishment and return fire was compelled by the fact the Germans were caught completely unaware of their existance. A real surprise achieved by the well-guarded secret behind the name that stuck ever since, the “tank”.

Sick Crews

The noise, the smell and the temperature that reached nearly 50 degrees Celsius were just unbearable. There were powerful emanations of carbon monoxide, cordite, fuel and oil vapors, all made worse by poor ventilation. The crews often opened the narrow door situated just behind the sponson, in an attempt to get some fresh air in. With poor training and almost no internal communication, steering was enormously difficult, resulting in mechanical over-stress, causing many breakdowns.


Another factor was the petrol engine, overwhelmed by the weight of the hull combined with the very sticky, heavy mud typical of the region, something that was rediscovered when excavating and experimenting with the supposed battlefield of Agincourt. Coordination between the tanks also proved inadequate, theoretically by using a set of fanions, flags, lamps, semaphores and other devices inspired by navy practice. There was no radio on board. Pigeons were used instead to report positions and status with the General Headquarters.

Protection issue

Crew security was also an issue inside the tank. If the 8 mm (0.31 in) plates were proven bullet proof, each impact produced mini-shrapnel inside the hull, injuring anybody inside. Following the first reports, thick leather jackets and helmets, or a combination of leather and chain-mail, were provided to the crews. Spall liners would take ages to come into view.


Crew: eight
Weight: 28 tons
Length, width and height: 9.9m, 4.2m, 2.4m
Fuel capacity: 227.3 litres
Max speed: 5.9km/h
Fuel consumption: 5.9 litres/km
Armament: Two six-pounder (57mm) quick-firing and four 7.62mm Hotchkiss air-cooled machine guns

Type: Tank; Acc/Top Speed: 1/3; Toughness: 15/14/14 (2/1/1); Crew: 8 (Commander, driver,mechanic, 2 loaders, 3 gunners)
Notes: Heavy Armor, Tracked
Weapons (“Male”):
Three .303 Vickers machine guns, one forward, left, and right sides (5,640 rounds total)
Two 6-pounder cannon in side sponsons (200 rounds total)
Five .303 Vickers machine guns, one in front and two on each side (12,780 rounds total)


There were two types of Mark I tank: 'male' and 'female'. Male tanks mounted a six-pounder gun in each sponson, plus three light machine guns. Female tanks had two heavy Vickers machine guns in place of the six-pounders.

The Hotchkiss six-pounder was an adapted naval gun with a range of 6,860 metres. It was served by a gunner and loader, neither of whom could stand or sit comfortably in the cramped interior. The gunner aimed using a simple telescopic sight, but the vibration of the tank was so severe that careful aiming was impossible unless the tank was completely stationary. Each male tank carried 334 shells, stowed in special tubes arranged around the interior of the tank.

The machine guns, also Hotchkiss, were for close defence if the tank was attacked by enemy infantry. One was located in each sponson, with a third at the front, firing through a loophole between the driver's and commander's visors. These guns tended to be temperamental due to the heat and vibration inside the tank.


The Mark I was powered by a large Daimler (of Coventry) six-cylinder engine with a 13 litre capacity, but it only produced a relatively puny 105 brake horsepower. Chosen for its smooth, quiet running, the engine was nonetheless located in the same compartment of the tank as the crew, where the heat, noise and exhaust fumes were almost unbearable.

The engine was started by four members of the crew winding a large crank handle. The engine was water-cooled, with the large radiator situated at the back of the tank. This was served by a heavy duty fan, which drew air from inside the tank and may have slightly alleviated the dreadful conditions inside.


Petrol was on a 'gravity feed' to the carburettor. This meant the two internal 25 gallon (113.5 litre) containers had to be situated high up, on either side of the front cab. If a tank became stuck in a nose-down attitude, the tank would stall, making it necessary to feed petrol to the engine manually.

A far greater danger was fire. If a tank was struck by a shell that ignited the fuel, the crew had little or no chance of escape. Additionally, the average range of a tank on its internal fuel supply was only 20-25 miles, depending on terrain, so crews carried as many extra petrol cans as possible on the roof of the tank where they were extremely vulnerable to damage. Petrol leaking into the tank from the roof could force the crew to evacuate.


Caterpillar tracks were key to the success of British tanks in World War One. When it was realised that commercially-available tracks were simply not up to the job, Albert Tritton of Foster & Co, Lincoln, came up with a new design. This enabled the adoption of the characteristic all-round track layout which gave British tanks their unrivalled cross-country performance.

Simplicity and strength were the key factors, but there were drawbacks. Small diameter rollers, located along the lower frames, were unsprung, so tanks bumped hard across rough ground, adding further to the discomfort of the crew.

A broken, or 'thrown', track could disable a tank at once, and replacing it was hard work. To prevent this, adjustable idler wheels at the front were used to keep the tracks taut, and track links were flanged so that they would not fall away from the rollers when the tank crossed a trench.


The Mark I had a crew of eight men, four of whom were required just to drive it. The process was complicated. The driver had control of a clutch, footbrake, hand throttle and primary gearbox, which gave two speeds forward and one in reverse. The commander, sitting to the driver's left, operated the brakes. At the back of the tank, two 'gearsmen' worked secondary, two-speed gearboxes located within the track frames.

For any major change in direction (known to tank men as 'swinging'), the driver stopped the tank and put the primary box in neutral. Depending on the direction of turn, the gearsmen selected a gear on one side and neutral on the other, while the commander held the brake. The driver then put the primary box in gear and the driven track 'swung' the tank around. The tank then had to stop again while the gears were reset.

The steering tail device worked on a principle similar to that of a boat's rudder and gave the tank a laborious 18 metre (diameter) turning circle. It was widely regarded by crews as a nuisance and was removed a few months after the Mark I was introduced.


In order to limit the weight of the Mark I to a 'manageable' 28 tonnes, the thickness of its armour plate was limited. In vital areas, such as the front, it was 10 mm thick. Elsewhere it was a minimal 6 mm. In theory, the crew were reasonably safe from small arms fire and shrapnel. Anything heavier would smash straight through the plate and probably wreck the tank.

The art of manufacturing thin armour was still in its infancy so the quality varied. Bullets were known to pierce the armour, particularly on the sponsons. Even if bullets failed to penetrate, the crew suffered a great deal from 'splash' - molten lead from the core of spent bullets that found its way through gaps in the armour to burn exposed skin and damage eyes.


The sponsons on 'male' tanks were naval in origin and were adopted in place of a rotating turret. A turret would have raised the centre of gravity to an unacceptable height, and being directly above the engine might well have roasted the crew.

The sponsons also had their flaws: they added weight, made it difficult for the driver to judge the width; would often become wedged in soft ground; and had to be removed and refitted when the tank was transported by train.

The male sponson included a pedestal for the gun and a curved shield of armour plate that rotated with the gun as the gunner swung it round, ensuring that the aperture was adequately covered at all times. The doors of the tank were located to the rear of each sponson.


In addition to the fumes, the cramped conditions and the deafening noise, it was virtually pitch black inside the Mark I when going into action. Every door, flap and hatch was shut tight against bullets, shrapnel and bullet 'splash' yet the crew had to be able to see outside both to drive and fight.

At the front, the commander and his driver had large flaps that could be opened in layered stages as required, and slim periscopes which poked up through holes in the cab roof. Elsewhere in the tank were narrow vision slits with crude periscopes which used shatterproof strips of shiny steel rather than glass blocks.

German troops soon learned to fire at the tank's vision devices, which the crews tried to camouflage with paint. Other apertures, covered by teardrop-shaped flaps, were designed not for vision but to allow crew members to use their revolvers.


If conditions inside the Mark I were appalling - deafening noise, roasting heat, suffocating fumes from the engine and the choking smell of cordite when in action - the men learned to live with it and still function as a team. Given that they were often in extreme danger and working in near-total darkness, their commitment was remarkable. Although the tanks were originally regarded as expendable, their crews took much pride in them, christening each one with an individual name, and repairing and recovering them after an action where possible. The Mark I crew comprised eight men.

Commander (front left)

In 1916, he would have been a young officer. Besides the usual duties of command - determining the route, watching out for targets and the care of the crew - he was responsible for working a pair of steering brakes in conjunction with the driver. If the ground was bad or the route uncertain, the commander would often get out of the tank and walk ahead, testing the ground with a stick - holding a lit cigarette behind his back if it was dark - at the risk of enemy fire and being run down by his own tank.

The Driver (front right)

The driver was regarded as the most skilled and valuable member of the crew. He was responsible for navigating the tank, gear changing, operating the throttle, applying the foot brake and operating the steering tail device by means of a steering wheel. He also supervised maintenance of the engine, clutch, gears and tracks.

Secondary Gearsmen (at the rear of the tank)

The gearsmen were stationed on each side of the tank. They operated the secondary gearboxes relating to the individual tracks. They also passed forward ammunition, greased the tracks and operated the light machine guns.

Gunners and Loaders

In a 'male' tank, each six-pounder gun was served by a gunner and a loader. The gun was moved by the sheer physical exertion of the gunner, using a shaft under his right armpit to elevate and swing the weapon. He aimed using a telescopic sight and operated the firing mechanism manually.

The first tank crews came from virtually every regiment in the British Army. Consequently, there was little conformity in cap badges or uniform early on, but eventually they were made a branch of the Machine Gun Corps. This became the Tank Corps in July 1917, the Royal Tank Corps in October 1923 and the Royal Tank Regiment in April 1939.

Wednesday, 27 July 2016

Monk Eastman - Weird War 1 Mobster

Edward "Monk" Eastman (1875 – December 26, 1920) was a New York City gangster who founded and led the Eastman Gang, which became one of the most powerful street gangs in New York City at the turn of the 19th/20th century. His aliases included Joseph "Joe" Morris, Joe Marvin, William "Bill" Delaney, and Edward "Eddie" Delaney. Eastman is considered to be one of the last of the 19th-century New York gangsters who preceded the rise of Arnold Rothstein and more sophisticated, organized criminal enterprises such as Cosa Nostra.

In 1898 Monk Eastman was arrested and convicted under the alias William Murray (one of the many Irish aliases Eastman employed). He spent three months on Blackwell's Island for larceny. During this time, he belonged to a gang of pimps and thieves known as the Allen Street Cadets. Herbert Asbury reports that Eastman was known to have had a messy head of wild hair, wore a derby two sizes too small for his head, sported numerous gold-capped teeth, and often paraded around shirtless or in tatters, always accompanied by his cherished pigeons. In time, Monk's reputation as a tough guy (despite his squat five-foot-six inch frame) earned him the job of "sheriff" or bouncer at the New Irving Hall, a celebrated club on Broome Street, not far from his pet shop. At the New Irving Hall and Silver Dollar Smith's Saloon, Eastman became acquainted with Tammany Hall politicians, who would eventually put him and his cohort to work as repeat voters and strong-arm men.

Eastman's greatest rival was Paul Kelly (Paolo Antonio Vaccarelli), immigrant leader of the Italian Five Points Gang. The warfare between these two gangs reached a fever pitch on September 17, 1903, with a protracted gun battle on Rivington Street involving dozens of gangsters. One man was killed and a second reported fatally wounded and numerous innocent civilians were injured. Members of the Eastman gang were arrested.

Tammany Hall worked closely with both Kelly and Eastman. Its officials grew tired of the feuding and the bad press generated when civilians were killed or injured in the cross-fire. In 1903, Tammany Hall set up a boxing match between Eastman and Kelly in an old barn up in the Bronx. The fight lasted two hours, with both men taking hard punishment before it was called a draw.
Monk Eastman lived at 221 E. 5th Street at the turn of the 19th/20th century, just about two blocks from Paul Kelly's New Brighton Social Club at 57 Great Jones Street.

On February 3, 1904, Eastman tried to rob a young man on 42nd Street and Broadway in Manhattan. As he was followed by two Pinkerton agents hired by the man's family to keep him out of trouble, the agents intervened. Eastman shot at them while escaping, but was caught by policemen responding to the shooting. Tired of bad publicity from Eastman, Tammany Hall refused to help him. Later that year, Eastman was convicted and sentenced to 10 years in prison at Sing Sing penitentiary.

In 1909, Eastman was released after serving five years in prison. During his absence, the Eastman Gang had split into several factions; one of his top men, Zwerbach, was dead. Since none of the surviving gang factions wanted Eastman as their leader, he was effectively out of power. For several years, Eastman reverted to petty thievery. During this period, he became addicted to opium and served several short jail terms.

After the United States entered World War I in 1917, the 42-year-old Eastman decided to join the army. During his military physical, the doctor observed all the knife and bullet scars on Eastman's body and asked him which wars he had been in; Eastman replied, "Oh! A lot of little wars around New York".  

He served in France with "O'Ryan's Roughnecks", the 106th Infantry Regiment of the 27th Infantry Division. After Eastman's discharge in 1919, the Governor of New York, Al Smith, recognized his honorable service by restoring his U.S. citizenship (voting rights were removed with his conviction as a felon.)

Attributes: Agility d6, Smarts d6, Spirit d6, Strength d8, Vigor d8

Skills: Fighting d8, Intimidation d10, Notice d6, Shooting d8, Streetwise d6, Throwing d4

Charisma: –8; Pace: 6; Parry: 6; Sanity: 5; Toughness: 6

Hindrances: Bloodthirsty, Mean, Ugly

Edges: Block, Brawler, Danger Sense

Gear: Uniform, canteen, steel helmet (+1), Springfield rifle (Range 24/48/96, Damage 2d8) with 100 rounds, brass knuckles (Str+d4), 4× Mk1 grenades (Range 5/10/20, Damage 3d6, MBT), sharpened spade (Str+d6), gas mask.

Tuesday, 26 July 2016

The War Pigeon - Communications in Weird War 1

Pigeons have long played an important role in war. Due to their homing ability, speed, and altitude, they were often used as military messengers. Carrier pigeons of the Racing Homer breed were used to carry messages in World War I and World War II, and 32 such pigeons were presented with the Dickin Medal.  They ceased being used as of 1957.

During the First and Second World Wars, carrier pigeons were used to transport messages back to their home coop behind the lines. When they landed, wires in the coop would sound a bell or buzzer and a soldier of the Signal Corps would know a message had arrived. He would go to the coop, remove the message from the canister, and send it to its destination by telegraph, field phone, or personal messenger.

A carrier pigeon's job was dangerous. Nearby enemy soldiers often tried to shoot down pigeons, knowing that released birds were carrying important messages. Some of these pigeons became quite famous among the infantrymen they worked for. One pigeon, named "The Mocker," flew 52 missions before he was wounded. Another, named "Cher Ami," lost her foot and one eye, but her message got through, saving a large group of surrounded American infantrymen.

 Before the advent of radio, carrier pigeons were frequently used on the battlefield as a means for a mobile force to communicate with a stationary headquarters. In the 6th century BC, Cyrus, king of Persia, used carrier pigeons to communicate with various parts of his empire.   In Ancient Rome, within many texts, there are references to pigeons being used to send messages by Julius Caesar.

During the 19th-century (1870-71) Franco-Prussian War, besieged Parisians used carrier pigeons to transmit messages outside the city; in response, the besieging German Army employed hawks to hunt the pigeons.  The French military used balloons to transport homing pigeons past enemy lines. 

 Microfilm images containing hundreds of messages allowed letters to be carried into Paris by pigeon from as far away as London. More than one million different messages travelled this way during the four-month siege. They were then discovered to be very useful so were used in World War One.
Homing pigeons were used extensively during World War I. In 1914 during the First Battle of the Marne, the French army advanced 72 pigeon lofts with the troops.

The US Army Signal Corps used 600 pigeons in France alone.
One of their homing pigeons, a Blue Check hen named Cher Ami, was awarded the French "Croix de Guerre with Palm" for heroic service delivering 12 important messages during the Battle of Verdun. On her final mission in October 1918, she delivered a message despite having been shot through the breast or wing. The crucial message, found in the capsule hanging from a ligament of her shattered leg, saved 194 US soldiers of the 77th Infantry Division's "Lost Battalion".

United States Navy aviators maintained 12 pigeon stations in France with a total inventory of 1,508 pigeons when the war ended. Pigeons were carried in airplanes to rapidly return messages to these stations; and 829 birds flew in 10,995 wartime aircraft patrols. Airmen of the 230 patrols with messages entrusted to pigeons threw the message-carrying pigeon either up or down, depending on the type of aircraft, to keep the pigeon out of the propeller and away from airflow toward the aircraft wings and struts. Eleven of the thrown pigeons went missing in action, but the remaining 219 messages were delivered successfully

The Accrington Pals, the 11th (Service) Battalion (Accrington), East Lancashire Regiment

The Accrington Pals, officially the 11th (Service) Battalion (Accrington), East Lancashire Regiment, was a pals battalion of Kitchener's Army raised in and around the town of Accrington.

Recruiting was initiated by the mayor of Accrington following Lord Kitchener's call for volunteers, and it took only ten days to raise a complete battalion. The battalion's nickname is a little misleading since of the four 250-strong companies that made up the original battalion, only one was actually composed of men from Accrington. The rest volunteered from other East Lancashire towns nearby such as Burnley, Blackburn, and Chorley. The men from Chorley, who formed Y Company, were known as the Chorley Pals.  The men from Burnley, who formed Z Company, were known as the Burnley Pals.

The Accrington Pals joined the 94th Brigade of the 31st Division, a "pals" division containing many North Country pals battalions. With the 31st Division, the Accrington Pals were initially deployed to Egypt in early 1916 to defend the Suez Canal from the threat of the Ottoman Empire. The troopship carrying the Accrington Pals was narrowly missed by a torpedo; a fortunate miss because the ship also carried sixty tons of lyddite explosive.

The Accrington Pals next moved to France where they first saw action in the Battle of the Somme. On the first day on the Somme, 1 July 1916, the 31st Division was to attack the village of Serre and form a defensive flank for the rest of the British advance. The 31st Division's attack on Serre was a complete failure, although some of the Accrington Pals did make it as far as the village before being killed or captured. One of the battalion's signallers, observing from the rear, reported:

"We were able to see our comrades move forward in an attempt to cross No Man's Land, only to be mown down like meadow grass. I felt sick at the sight of the carnage and remember weeping."

Approximately 700 men from the Accrington Pals went into action on 1 July; 585 men became casualties, 235 killed and 350 wounded in about half an hour. The battalion's commander, Lieutenant-Colonel A. W. Rickman, was among the wounded. A rumour spread around Accrington that only seven men had survived from the battalion, and an angry crowd surrounded the mayor's house, demanding information.

The Accrington Pals were effectively wiped out in a matter of minutes on the first day on the Somme. The battalion was brought back up to strength and served for the remainder of the war, moving to the 92nd Brigade of the 31st Division in February 1918.

Monday, 25 July 2016

Rudolf von Eschwege: German World War I Ace Fighter Pilot

German officers and men stationed at the airfield in Drama, Greece, were shaken out of their beds by the thunder of heavy guns on the morning of May 20, 1917. Headquarters advised them that British warships in the Aegean Sea were bombarding the naval base at Kavalla, about 15 miles southeast of Drama.

The gunfire was being directed by a Royal Naval Air Service (RNAS) Maurice Farman reconnaissance plane with a seven-fighter escort. Leutnant (second lieutenant) Rudolf von Eschwege (pronounced Esh-Vay-Ga), the only German fighter pilot on the Macedonian Front, ran to his Albatros and took off as soon as he heard the news, still wearing his pajamas. Eschwege knew that he must try to surprise the Farman pilot without interference from the seven-fighter escort. Instead of attacking the Farman directly, he circled to the east of the enemy, heading out over the Aegean and climbing all the way. Soon he was above and seaward of the intruders, who expected any interceptors to come from the shore. Suddenly he plunged down out of the morning sun, passing through the escort and firing at the Farman as he dived. His aim was true–the Farman fell into the Aegean Sea with the dead pilot slumped over the controls. His mission accomplished, Eschwege now depended on his Albatros’ diving speed to escape the fighter escort. But the Allied pilots were so surprised by his sudden attack that they failed to chase the speeding Albatros. The encounter is a perfect example of Eschwege’s daring and ingenious approach to combat aviation.

Rudolf von Eschwege was born in Homburg von der Hohe in northern Germany on February 25, 1895. After completing his secondary schooling, he entered the War Academy. When World War I began, the 19-year-old cadet–of medium height and a delicate build, with piercing blue eyes–was sent into battle with the 3rd Mounted Jäger Regiment on the Western Front. After three months on the battlefield, finding little opportunity for individual initiative, Eschwege applied for flying duty, and by February 1915 he was in flight training. Like the ‘Red Baron,’ Manfred von Richthofen, Eschwege was not a born pilot. Before he completed his training, the fledgling flier crashed several planes, but he eventually passed his tests and went back to the Western Front as the pilot of a large two-seater in the observation/reconnaissance unit Feldflieger Abteilung (FFA) 36 in July 1915. The winter of 1915-1916 proved largely uneventful, but by May 1916 Eschwege was flying Fokker Eindecker scouts, attempting to protect FFA 36’s observation planes.

During the fall of 1916 Eschwege was commissioned a lieutenant and transferred to Macedonia. That remote front received little attention in the press during the war, and few people even realized at the time that the conflict had extended into the Balkans. The war in Macedonia, a complicated and sometimes confusing struggle, pitted the German, Turkish and Bulgarian forces of the Central Powers, on the one hand, against Allied forces, which included British, French and Serbian troops. The British Royal Navy controlled the Aegean Sea, which meant that Allied war materiel was delivered to the war zone by ship to the Greek port of Salonika. The Germans, Turks and Bulgarians depended on the single-track Berlin­Constantinople Railroad, which passed through Serbia, Greece, Bulgaria and European Turkey and was a prime target for British and French/Serbian aircraft. Otherwise, supplies–including fuel and oil for the aircraft–had to be transported via horse and wagon along the mud tracks that passed for roads in Serbia. Each German flying unit had 90 horses and 30 wagons to keep the supplies rolling in. Except for a few wheat fields, the terrain was mostly inhospitable, with mountainous crags, marshes and muddy bottoms so deep that at times whole wagons disappeared in the mire.

The Struma sector of the Macedonia Front presented problems that pilots never dreamed of on the flying fields of France. The marshes that formed a long sector of the front were infested with malaria-carrying mosquitoes, and illness took a heavy toll on both sides. Fliers found the intense summer heat unbearable–and it caused problems for their flying machines as well. During the summer, missions could be flown only during the early morning or late evening, and even then the heat was so intense that pilots found wearing a flight suit intolerable. Aerial photography proved nearly impossible because the heat melted the gelatin on the photographic glass plates. During the winter months, the thermometer plummeted, again resulting in numerous hardships for personnel and equipment. Moreover, the thin mountain air, with its strong gusts, eddies and unpredictable drafts, made flying hazardous year-round. Many aircraft smashed against the sharp crags and cliffs because pilots lost control and were unable to regain it in time to avoid disaster.

Lieutenant Eschwege was 21 when he arrived in Macedonia in the summer of 1916, assigned to the provisional FFA Xanthi in Bulgaria. Unlike on the Western Front, German aircraft in Macedonia were greatly outnumbered. Allied forces in the Struma sector boasted 160 French/Serbian aircraft, two RNAS wings, Nos. 2 and 3, and two Royal Flying Corps (RFC) squadrons, Nos. 17 and 24, against three FFA units, Nos. 1 and 30, and FFA Xanthi. At times the Germans were outnumbered 10-to-1. Young Eschwege, who was originally assigned a Fokker Eindecker as his mount, was told that he was responsible for protecting all German aircraft as well as intercepting any identified Allied aircraft along 37 miles of the Struma River and 62 miles of the Aegean coast. He was also supposed to protect the Bulgarian 10th Division from aerial attacks.

Eschwege–called ‘Rudi’ by his comrades and often in official FFA reports as well–started out in his new role with vigor. Shortly after he arrived, he intercepted a flight of Henri Farmans, based on the Greek island of Thasos, that had bombed the Xanthi railroad depot. He fired on one of the bombers, destroying its engine with the Fokker’s synchronized machine gun. The biplane glided into the Aegean Sea, flipped over and sank. Troops at a Bulgarian observation post witnessed the action and reported seeing the Farman crash into the sea. By the time Eschwege entered his victory claim, however, the Bulgarian unit had been transferred and could not be located to confirm the victory, and Eschwege’s claim was denied. Such are the fortunes of a fighter pilot.

By that time, it had become obvious to the Germans that Xanthi, located in Greece 50 miles from the Struma River, was too far from the action, and they needed an airfield close by. They chose Drama, only 20 miles from the Struma, and Eschwege was transferred to FFA 30 at Drama.

Eschwege’s first shot at combat with his new unit came on October 25, 1916, when an RNAS two-seater Nieuport 12 buzzed over the mountains, shooting up Bulgarian troops in the area around Drama. The crew was apparently unaware of the new German airfield and whipped around the region at rooftop level, with the observer firing at any target he passed. The Nieuport was flying so low that its crew failed to notice Eschwege had taken off until he fired a short burst at them. The British gunner returned the German pilot’s fire, but at that point Eschwege’s gun jammed. He managed to clear it, but the gun jammed again after three shots, so the German pilot veered away from the Nieuport and cleared it again. It jammed once more after five shots.

During that one encounter, Eschwege dived on the Nieuport 23 times, getting off a few shots between jams. Finally he hit the British plane’s engine, forcing the two-seater down to a crash landing behind Bulgarian lines for his first confirmed victory. There was no doubt about the validity of his claim, given the tangible evidence of his victim’s wreckage. After the gun-jamming incident, Eschwege always loaded his machine-gun belts himself. As he put it, ‘One learns wisdom through suffering.’

The troops of the Bulgarian 10th Aegean Division were thrilled–the Nieuport was the first enemy aircraft to be shot down behind their lines, and Eschwege became their hero. They called him the ‘Eagle of the Aegean Sea.’ Thereafter, when he flew his Fokker monoplane over the lines, the Bulgarians waved and cheered because they knew it had to be Eschwege. His was the only Fokker in the Struma sector.

Eschwege scored his easiest official victory on January 9, 1917, when a French Farman appeared over the Drama airfield and began to lose altitude. As the Farman crossed the airfield perimeter, anti-aircraft guns began firing, forcing the Farman to increase its speed and altitude. By that time Eschwege was in the air. He fired several rounds into the intruder, then waved to the crew to land, which they did. Two very embarrassed Serbian sergeant pilots emerged from the plane. They had lost their way on a flight from Flonna to Salonika and mistaken Drama for an Allied airfield. They had intended to land and ask for directions.

In the winter of 1917, British Captain Gilbert Ware Murlis-Green, who was destined to become the RFC’s top fighter ace in Macedonia, was in the process of running up his score with wingman Lieutenant J.C.F. Owen. On February 18, 1917, the duo decided to do something about Eschwege. They headed for Drama. As Eschwege climbed to intercept the two intruders, Green and Owen dived on him, firing. Green’s single gun jammed, so he turned away to clear it, leaving Owen and Eschwege to fight it out. Owen’s Royal Aircraft Factory B.E.12 engine took several rounds, which knocked it out. Lieutenant Owen landed near the Drama airfield, and Eschwege landed beside him and took him prisoner, but he was not in time to keep Owen from burning his plane. It was Eschwege’s fourth official victory.

The following day a British aircraft flew over the Drama airfield and dropped a note inquiring about Lieutenant Owen’s fate. The Germans obliged and replied.

In late February 1917 Hauptmann (Captain) Georg Heydemark relieved a Lieutenant Geisler as commanding officer of FFA 30. On his way to take up his command, Heydemark stopped by German aviation headquarters in Uskub, where he was shocked to learn that FFA 30 was flying three reconnaissance aircraft at one time but had only one escorting scout. In an effort to reassure Heydemark, the brass told him, ‘Yes–but the scout is Eschwege!’ Such was Eschwege’s reputation after only five months in Macedonia.

Many Royal Navy aircraft were based on the island of Thasos, as well as at Stavros on the Greek mainland and on two seaplane carriers, HMS Ark Royal and HMS Empress. Eschwege encountered an RNAS two-seater Nieuport 10 over the road between Drama and Kavalla on March 22, 1917, and wounded the pilot, Lieutenant Sydney Beare, and the observer, a Lieutenant Hyde, with short bursts from his machine gun. The plane crash-landed near the road, and the wounded officers were later treated at a field hospital, where Eschwege visited them.

By this time Eschwege had been issued a twin-gunned Albatros D.III fighter. In May Eschwege demonstrated aggressiveness in the face of superior numbers when he intercepted two English B.E. two-seaters over Lake Tachyno. As Eschwege attacked one of the aircraft, the other B.E. circled and fired a well-aimed burst that hit Eschwege’s right arm and the fuel tank. The German pilot managed to escape further damage by virtue of a sideslip followed by a quick climb. But as he regained control of his Albatros, the two English planes sped off toward their base at Monuhi, on the western shore of the lake.
The Albatros’ Mercedes engine began to cough and sputter due to loss of fuel from the punctured tank. Disregarding his painful wound, Eschwege switched to the auxiliary gravity tank in the upper wing and sped after his escaping quarry. He ended the battle by destroying one of the British planes.
When Eschwege returned to his airfield, the engine stopped the instant the wheels of the Albatros touched the ground. The wounded airman had used his last drop of fuel.

Although the German airman was flying on a front that received little attention in the war, Eschwege’s fame was spreading. In addition to his other nickname, the Eagle of the Aegean, some who knew of his exploits were beginning to call him the ‘Richthofen of the Balkans.’
By now it was early June 1917, and the wheat in the Bulgarian fields was ripe enough to burn. Starvation was a legitimate weapon in this brutal little war, and British planes were scheduled to spread incendiary bombs over the Bulgarian wheat fields of the Sary Schaban plain. The British determined that the ideal time to firebomb the wheat was between June 3 and June 7.
Such raids had been carried out earlier without interference, but that had been before Eschwege was on the job. Drama was too far from the Sary Schaban plain for him to intercept the enemy planes. Eschwege knew that if he waited at Drama, the fields would be ablaze and the bombers would have returned to Thasos unscathed. The clever German flew to an emergency airfield midway between Thasos and Sary Schaban early on the morning of June 5 and lay in the shade of his Albatros’ wings, waiting for the bombers. He knew that the British planes normally appeared around midday, when the evening dew had evaporated.

As soon as he heard the familiar drone of aircraft engines, Eschwege started his Albatros’ engine and gave chase to two Henri Farmans and a Sopwith seaplane, shooting down one of the Farmans for his 10th victory. After that, no further attempts were made to firebomb the wheat fields.

Eschwege was stricken with malaria early in September, but on September 12, three days after returning to duty, he shot down a Sopwith 1 1/2 Strutter–his 15th victory. After Eschwege’s 16th victory, on October 3, he became interested in observation balloons, enormous tethered hydrogen-filled sausages that spied on troop movements and directed artillery on the battlefield. So far the German ace had never shot down a balloon. He decided to try his hand at destroying the British gasbag that appeared every morning over Orljak, west of the Struma River.

Eschwege’s first balloon-busting attempt was early in the morning of October 28, 1917. He had loaded his machine-gun belts with incendiary bullets and began circling through the mountains north of Seres, approaching Orljak with the sun at his back. The German flier’s first attack forced the observer in the balloon’s gondola to take to his parachute. The balloon itself, however, failed to erupt in flames. It took four passes before Eschwege managed to ignite the hydrogen. Clearly, balloon-busting was not as easy as it might have seemed. Eschwege barely escaped pursuing Allied fighters on his way back home.
A second balloon-busting sortie on November 9 ended when Eschwege’s guns jammed. Six days later, however, he was more successful, sending a second Orljak-based balloon down in flames.

The Allies sent up another balloon at the same location on November 19. After shooting down a Sopwith 1 1/2 Strutter, his 19th victory, Eschwege attacked the new gasbag. But this time the Allied crew managed to haul the balloon to the ground before the German could fire. Disappointed, the Aegean Eagle turned on four accompanying planes, but they fled from the lone Albatros.

Eschwege was up at dawn on November 21, 1917, eager for his 20th victory. He loaded the guns of his aircraft with incendiaries and headed for Orljak, about 30 miles to the west. Some accounts and illustrations have Eschwege flying a Halberstadt D.II–an obsolete type that nevertheless served effectively in Flieger Abteilungen over Salonika and the Dardanelles as late as January 1918. A photograph purported to show Eschwege’s crashed plane, however, includes a section of elevator and an interplane strut that suggest he was flying an Albatros D.III at the time.

A Bulgarian officer commanding an observation post in the mountains north of Seres had a good view through his binoculars of the Orljak balloon that morning. He noted that it was higher than ever–2,500 feet instead of the usual 500 to 1,000 feet–and that no planes were in the air to protect it. When Eschwege’s scout appeared, the Bulgarians at the post gathered to watch their champion score another strike against the hated English. As Eschwege attacked, puffs of smoke from the customary anti-aircraft defenses were strangely absent.

Eschwege’s aim was perfect that morning, and the top of the gasbag erupted in flame. But as the German pilot passed near the balloon an enormous cloud of smoke enveloped his plane (see sidebar). Observers saw the scout bank sharply and dive to the ground. British medics found Eschwege’s body in the wreckage.
The Aegean Eagle’s body was identified, and he was given a funeral with full military honors. Six RFC flying officers carried his coffin to the grave. A few days later a British plane dropped a message over the Drama airfield that read: ‘To the Bulgarian-German Flying Corps in Drama. The officers of the Royal Flying Corps regret to announce that Lt. von Eschwege was killed while attacking the captive balloon. His personal belongings will be dropped over the lines some time during the next few days.’ The British carried out their promise, enclosing a photograph of Eschwege’s funeral with his belongings.
The following day a German plane dropped a wreath, a flag and a letter on the RFC airfield at Monuhi. The message read: ‘To the Royal Flying Corps, Monuhi. We thank you sincerely for your information regarding our comrade Lt. von Eschwege and request you permit the accompanying wreath and flag to be placed on his last resting place, Deutches Fliegerkommando.’
The British complied, and the Bulgarians later erected a monument to Eschwege’s memory. The inscription reads:

Leutnant Rudolf von Eschwege
Born on February 25th, 1895
at Homburg von der Hohe
Fell here at Orljak
on November 21st, 1917
From the 10th Aegean Division

Unlike German Jagdstaffel pilots on the Western Front who fought in squadron strength or at least as a Kette (two or three aircraft), Rudolf von Eschwege fought virtually alone on the Macedonian Front. He scored all his 20 victories in little more than a year without assistance. He was brave and resourceful, fighting under harsh conditions. Yet despite his magnificent record, he was not awarded Germany’s highest honor, the Ordre Pour le Mérite, commonly known as the ‘Blue Max.’ Other German aces who scored 20, 19, 18, 15, 13, 10, 9 and as few as 8 official victories on the Western Front were accorded that honor. It appears that the men who fought in this forgotten little war in Macedonia were as neglected by the high command as was the war in which they fought.