African American Soldiers 1 doughboys with mules pilots in dress uniforms Riveters gas masks Mule Rearing African American Officers The pilots

World War I Centennial News


 

Story of Choctaw Code Talkers told at Reims event

via the Choctaw Nation Biskinik newsletter

Tiajuana King Cochnauer presented Telling Our Own Story: Choctaw Code Talkers, at an international conference in Reims, France, in April.

LukeLuke Clay of Rattan, Oklahoma, great-great-grandson of Tobias Frazier, one of the original Code Talkers.This location is near the World War I battlefields where the 19 young Choctaws from Oklahoma were tasked to communicate military messages in Choctaw. Their messages confounded the German army because they could not translate the Choctaw messages. As a result of their successful efforts in October 1918, they later became known as the original Code Talkers.

CodeTalkerCoinTiajuana, a professional heritage and environmental interpreter, is a Certified Interpretive Guide through the National Association for Interpretation. She will leave Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma flags, provided by the Choctaw Nation, at the battlefields where these Choctaws fought.

Included in her presentation will be a video clip of young Luke Clay of Rattan, Oklahoma, who portrays his great-great-grandfather, Tobias Frazier, one of the original Code Talkers. Her international audience will also learn how the Code Talkers Association and the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma are honoring and recognizing the contributions of these first Code Talkers.

Tiajuana is the Dyer, Labor, King and Cochnauer families’ historian and is a registered Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma artist. She has a Special Collections of Choctaw and family material begun at the Oklahoma History Center in Oklahoma City. She is donating a quilted wall hanging of the Code Talkers to their Association as a fundraiser. She resides in Aiken, South Carolina.

Read more: Story of Choctaw Code Talkers told at Reims, France conference

“America’s centennial book on World War I”

“Lest We Forget: The Great War” book now available 

By Chris Isleib
Director of Public Affairs, United States World War One Centennial Commission

Chicago’s Pritzker Military Museum & Library (PMML) has published what it hopes to be “America’s book on World War I,” in partnership with the United States World War One Centennial Commission. Lest We Forget: The Great War, with an introduction by Sir Hew Strachan and history by Michael W. Robbins, uses prints, photographs, and scholarship to tell the complex story of World War I. It is a wonderful resource for anyone who wants to learn about World War One.

Lest We Forget jacketA companion exhibit at the PMML will run through mid-2019 that can be viewed in person or online here.

Half of net proceeds from the book will go toward building the National World War I Memorial in Washington, D.C.

The story of this epic struggle is told through many means, including the powerful and memorable art it spawned--the posters from all nations; a taut narrative account of the war's significant events; its major personalities, and it's tragic consequences; and the timely period photographs that illustrate the awful realities of this revolutionary conflict.

Most importantly, this book is a tribute to those who served: the Doughboys and sailors and the allies they fought beside to defeat collectively a resourceful and implacable enemy. it also serves as a lasting reminder that our world ignores the history of World War I at its peril--lest we forget.

“The 166 print reproductions and 180 photos and maps in this book represent only a small percentage of the PMML’s WWI collection,” says Kenneth Clarke, who served as Executive Editor and Creative Director for the book. “In the case of World War I, the prints tell an incredible story about how each government communicated with its people, its allies, and its enemies. They represent the first time that this kind of propaganda played a significant role in a war.”

Read more: “Lest We Forget: The Great War” book now available

6a35259vTown of Seicheprey, soon after the battle.

The Yanks of Seicheprey 

By Betsy Sheppard
Staff Writer, United States World War One Centennial Commission

On April 20th, 1918, in Seicheprey, France, near the St. Mihiel Salient, American soldiers engaged in their first significant infantry battle of World War I.

Connecticut croppedSoldiers from the 26th Division after the Battle of Seicheprey, 1918. Image courtesy of the National Archives.On the front lines, the St. Mihiel-Metz corridor was seen by General Pershing as the entrance to Imperial Germany. He considered it to be a key operating and training area for his growing force of soldiers.

In 1918, Pershing started sending a number of his divisions to the St. Mihiel Salient for combat exposure, and in situ training. This front-line training involved units from the 26th Division, known at the “Yankee Division”.

The battle of Seicheprey occurred on the southern side of the St. Mihiel salient. There, three companies of the Yankee Division's 102nd Regiment occupied a trench, known as the Sibille trench.

On April 20th, the German Army attacked from the northeast, north, and northwest, arriving at the town simultaneously in three different groups. This attack outmaneuvered the Americans, and inflicted a number of American battle casualties, which ranged between 400 and 500 people wounded & killed.

Read more: The Yanks of Seicheprey

Conference logoPictured above (left to right): General John J. Pershing, President Woodrow Wilson, Brigadier General Hunter Liggett, and Pershing’s aide-de-camp Colonel George C. Marshall

VMI and VA Commission present WWI Symposium

By Chris Isleib
Director of Public Affairs, United States World War One Centennial Commission

Do you have an ancestor who fought in World War 1? History buffs will enjoy this informative and accessible exploration of World War 1 from a political, military and social perspective.

As part of Virginia’s commemoration of the World Wars, this symposium marks the 100th Anniversary of America’s participation in World War I. Join us in the historic setting of Virginia Military Institute in Virginia’s scenic Shenandoah Valley as we hear from national and regional experts, who will explore the political and military leadership of World War I, the experiences of the soldiers and generals on the front and the role that Virginians played in the Great War.

The symposium will highlight Woodrow Wilson’s and General Pershing’s leadership, examine military strategies and the experiences of the Doughboys, including African-American soldiers’ contributions, and share the crucial role that Virginians played in the Great War, highlighting the contributions of VMI graduates, the Virginia National Guard, and other Virginia institutions to the war effort.

Read more: VMI and VA Commission present a WWI Commemorative Symposium

Treasure trove of WWI Diplomatic Courier Service Artifacts in en route to the State Department in Washington D.C. 

By Barbara Gleason
Diplomatic Security Service, U.S. State Department

For many, the term “diplomatic courier” might conjure up classic Hollywood images of movie heroes like Tyrone Power or Cesar Romero, adventuring through foreign lands, delivering our government’s most important communiques.

636590720554426940 DSC02864Wearing a protective glove, Robin Peaslee Dougall, the grandson of U.S. Army Maj. Amos Peaslee, shows off his grandfather's draft copy of the Treaty of Versailles. (Photo: Trevor Hughes/USA TODAY)These adventurous courier duties are still relevant today -- and they were particularly relevant in the pre-telephone, pre-radio, pre-internet communication era World War I.

Today's U.S. Diplomatic Courier Service traces its founding to December 2, 1918, when Gen. Pershing directed the creation of a group of handpicked Army couriers to perform host of diplomatic duties. This first group of couriers -- known as the Silver Greyhounds -- was created. organized, and led by Army Major Amos J. Peaslee.

Peaslee's Silver Greyhounds were tasked with reopening diplomatic routes to U.S. Embassies and diplomatic posts across post-war Europe, and into Bolshevik Russia. They were integral to the peace process that ultimately led to the Armistice, and the signing of the Treaty of Versailles.

When the Silver Greyhounds disbanded in 1919, their jobs were turned over to civilian management through the State Department, which still depends on its 100-strong Diplomatic Courier Service to oversee the secure transport of everything from top-secret reports to blank passports and visa paperwork to encrypted communications equipment and construction materials for new U.S. Embassies in unfriendly countries.

Read more: Treasure trove of WWI Diplomatic Courier Service Artifacts in en route to the State Department in...

Quincy, IL doctor thought U.S. proved its might in World War I

By Arlis Dittmer
via the Quincy, IL Herald-Whig newspaper web site

Dr. C.D. Center took an unusual path when he served in World War I. He had been a respected doctor in Quincy for 17 years. He began his military career in 1905 as assistant surgeon for the Fifth Infantry of the Illinois National Guard. In 1910 he was promoted to captain and shortly after to major. Because of the ability displayed while on duty at Fort Benjamin Harrison in 1912, he was transferred from the medical corps to field and staff duty as a lieutenant colonel of the infantry. In that capacity he reported for duty March 26, 1917, shortly after the United States entered the European war, now known as World War I.

Dr CD CenterPhysician and Col. Charles D. Center wore his World War I infantry uniform in this undated photograph. | Illustration courtesy of the Historical Society of Quincy and Adams County Charles Dewey Center was born in 1869 on a farm near Ottawa. While helping his family farm, he suffered a leg injury and developed a blood infection. Not being able to farm, he attended Knox Academy and Knox College in Galesburg. In 1890, his leg was injured again, and he spent months in Chicago at Presbyterian Hospital, which helped him decide to become a physician and where he met his future wife. He graduated with honors from Rush Medical College in Chicago in 1894. After graduation he was a surgeon for three iron mines on the Gogebic Range in northern Michigan before returning to Chicago to complete his internship.

Soon after, Dr. Center married his first wife, Edith, who had taken care of him in 1890, and who was a graduate of Illinois Training School for Nurses. At the time of their marriage she was assistant superintendent of the school. They moved to Quincy in 1896. Dr. Center first worked with Dr. Henry Hatch before he opened his own practice specializing in surgical services for women and diseases of children. He served on the medical staff of Blessing Hospital and was a lecturer for Blessing Hospital Training School for Nurses.

Dr. Center wrote scientific articles for medical journals on a variety of topics such as encephalitis, abdominal pregnancy, history of medicine, malaria, and the uses of X-rays. He was active in both the Adams County Medical Society and the Illinois State Medical Society, holding a various offices. According to the Quincy Medical Bulletin, he also was known as "a speaker of force and wit … on almost any subject." He and his wife had two sons, Donald and Arch, before she died of Bright's disease in 1908. Fourteen months later, he married a nurse he met while she was in training at Blessing Hospital. They had two sons, Charles and H. Allen.

Dr. Center was called to active service March 26, 1917. While at Camp Logan in Houston, the Fifth Infantry was transformed into military police, engineers,and machine gun battalions. In November he was placed in command of the 108th Ammunition Train. In December he received orders to report to Hoboken, N.J., where he boarded the ship Andania and sailed for France. In Blois, he was told he had been promoted to colonel before he left the United States. He was now in charge of a station of casual officers, those coming and going, but also those about to be discharged from service. His next assignment was with the 4th Canadian Division and then on to Staff College for a short time. Throughout these months in France, he received training on front line transport of men and materials, all of which prepared him for his job of transport command in the 33rd Division of the 2nd Army. After the war ended in November 1918, he was provost marshal for the Duchy of Luxembourg.

His oldest son, Donald, also joined the Army. He left the University of Illinois in May 1917 and enlisted in the Fifth Illinois Infantry. He went overseas with the headquarters company of the 129th Infantry. While in France, he was transferred and became a battalion sergeant-major of the 108th Trains and Military Police.

In the last chapter of his book, "Things Usually Left Unsaid," Dr. Center wrote, "It was not altogether a pleasant thing to be an American officer in France late in 1917 and early in 1918. … (Allied officers said) A year ago you would have been welcome; now your coming will merely prolong the struggle a few weeks or months, and we will have to pay a still greater penalty… ." He then asked, "What did we get out of the war?" He answered his own question by saying, "We prove again that the American Nation -- slow to take offense, dilatory perhaps in her methods up to the final moment -- will, when sufficiently aroused, fight, and fight hard."

Read more: Quincy, IL doctor thought U.S. proved its might in World War I

A New Reading of World War I American Literature 

By Keith Gandal
via the Johns Hopkins University Press web site

One hundred years after U.S. involvement in World War I, it is time to revisit our literature that came out of that conflict--because we are only now, finally, able to understand it in its actual historical context. That is the purpose of my new book, War Isn't the Only Hell: A New Reading of World War I American Literature. It draws on military archives and cutting-edge research by social-military historians to fully and properly come to terms with the works of thirteen of our major writers, including some of our most famous authors and some who were in their own time well-known but have been mostly forgotten.

Keith GandalKeith GandalThe Great War is sometimes called “America’s forgotten war.” This is the case, not only because World War I came to be overshadowed by World War II, but because, as Steven Trout suggests, there is no single prevailing account of the war that became registered in the national memory, as there is with World War II. Instead, we supposedly have two sets of contradictory narratives, some patriotic and excited, some haunted and disillusioned.

We know what American involvement in World War II was about; we are less clear what World War I meant to the country. Historians and literary critics have tended to divide our  Great-War literature into pro- and antiwar works, but this is too blunt a procedure because it fails to do justice to the mixed reactions that in fact characterize most of these works. Moreover, it is misleading because commentators have largely mistaken the motivations behind a large portion of the disillusionment and excitement.

53392771I would suggest that another reason for World War I’s “forgotten-war” status, which also explains the reductive critical approach, is that, until very recently, we had forgotten a tremendously important aspect of the U.S. experience. In fact, that war involved a chapter of American history that eventually changed this country forever.

As I argue in my book, World War I began America’s national embrace of meritocracy, a conception of status and a practice of governance that had roots in the founding principle of human equality and that would move the country toward an understanding of equality not simply as equality of political rights but also as equality of socioeconomic rights, or equality of opportunity for advancement.

To raise and organize a huge army and officer corps almost from scratch, as I show in War Isn’t the Only Hell, the army conducted America’s first, large-scale national experiment with meritocracy, mostly assigning men to positions and ranks based, not on class, family, and ethnicity, as had been the practice in the Civil War, but on merit. Though the army was notoriously discriminatory against African Americans, it nonetheless made a groundbreaking attempt to extend egalitarian treatment to all other ethnic groups, as well as to the poor and working class. This policy was not a matter of social justice but of the practical, bottom-line aim of winning the war. Indeed, the army’s original plan was for no discrimination against African Americans as well, but the military brass was overruled by a federal government pressured by alarmed white southern leaders. And meanwhile--despite, on the one hand, the vicious army discrimination instead instituted, and, on the other, continuing protests by white southern officials concerning black participation--inclusion of African Americans in the war effort involved some black troops in battle, saw a limited number of black officers, and gave hundreds of thousand of black men a chance to experience a country (France) that was not governed by racial discrimination and Jim Crow laws and that came to embrace them.

Read more: A New Reading of World War I American Literature

 WWI history on display at Fort Benning museum

By David Vergun
via the Army.mil web site

FORT BENNING, Ga. -- Many installations across the Army are marking or have marked the centennial of the construction of their posts, which occurred in the weeks and months following the U.S. declaration of war on Germany, April 6, 1917.

Fort Benning was one of the last installations to be activated in October 1918, just a month before the armistice was declared on Nov. 11, 1918.

Ft Benning displayU.S. Soldiers in combat during World War I, displayed at the National Infantry Museum & Soldier Center. (Photo Credit: David Vergun)To mark the occasion, the WWI history on display at the museum here has devoted a large exhibit to what is sometimes referred to as "the Great War."

David S. Hanselman, director of the Maneuver Center of Excellence's Museum Division, provided a tour.

The war effort was monumental, he said. Prior to World War I, the active and reserve components numbered only about half a million. By war's end, the combined total had grown to over four million.

The Selective Service Act of 1917 required all males aged 21 to 30 to register for military service. The act was amended in August 1918 to expand that age range to 18 to 45. More than half of those who served during the war were drafted and the rest volunteered.

The Army preferred that Soldiers volunteer. To support the recruitment effort, a number of colorful and creative recruiting posters were produced.

One poster promised free "food, clothing, living quarters, medical attention, dental attention, baseball, football and movies-theatre; plus $30 per month." No mention was made of combat hardships.

Another poster proclaimed: "There's the world before you, young man. Do you want to see it, earn a trade and live a strong, healthy life? If so, enlist and be happy -- you can't beat this!"

Another poster was designed to entice Soldiers already in the Army to re-enlist. It reads in part: "The Army is a big workman's school and you can learn any trade you desire -- from shoemaker to aviator mechanician -- and you earn while you learn."

Many who joined the Army ended up fighting the Germans on the Western Front in France and Belgium. A large painting depicts a scene from the front titled "The Menin Road," by Paul Nash.

The description below the painting states: "Many artists tried to capture the utter desolation, wreckage, mud and hopelessness of 'no man's land,' that horrifying place of death and fear between opposing forces on a World War I battlefield."

Read more: WWI history on display at Fort Benning museum

 Re-Discovering the Unknown: World War I’s South Asian Soldiers in the US Military

By Tanveer Kalo
via The Aerogram web site

Tanveer Kalo of St. Lawrence University in Canton, NY, is researching the stories of South Asians who fought for the United States in the Great War. He writes about how the project began during his internship at the United States World War I Centennial Commission.

The First World War was not only the United States’ first global conflict, but it was also the first time in which a truly diverse American military was able to showcase its strength and resolve on the battlefields of Europe. Among this diverse American Expeditionary Force was a group of South Asian soldiers. In the Spring of 2017, I completed an internship at the United States World War I Centennial Commission in Washington D.C. My assigned responsibility as an intern involved creating an original historical database on the service and lives of the South Asian soldiers during the war.

WWI soldiersThis project originated from a simple conversation I had with my supervisor at the Commission, Mr. Chris Christopher. I was sharing information that I had found about Dr. Bhagat Singh Thind’s service in the U.S. Army. Dr. Thind was one of the first South Asians and turbaned Sikhs to serve in the American armed forces. Mr. Christopher advised me to investigate more into Dr. Thind’s time with the American Military during the war.

As I did, I referred to Young India, a journal and newspaper publication from the South Asian American Digital Archives (SAADA). Using this resource, I uncovered the fact that more South Asians had participated in the conflict on behalf of the United States. The August and October 1918 issues of Young India listed the names and included photographs of South Asians who were in training or deployed overseas to Europe.

I utilized the information from Young India to identify primary documents catalogued on the website ancestryinstitution.com. Over a period of four months, I examined, analyzed and collected hundreds of records, such as naturalization papers, federal census documents, military registration cards, and more, in order to recreate accounts specific to the lives of these soldiers and relative to their military service. My searches used the moment they arrived in the U.S. as a common starting point and traced through time to their last known life event.

Read more: Re-Discovering The Unknown: World War I’s South Asian Soldiers In The US Military

How a Colorado man’s box of forgotten relics shed light on grandfather’s role in ending WWI

By Mark K. Matthews
via the Denver Post newspaper web site

A treasure hunt that stretched from the Jersey shore to the Rocky Mountains came to fruition Wednesday with the unveiling in Colorado of a cache of long-forgotten World War I-era antiquities.

us army major amos peaslee historic documents treaty of versail 10U.S. Army Major Amos J. Peaslee, dated 1919, next to his personalized engraved copy of the Treaty of Versailles that is part of a treasure trove of historical items his grandson Robin Peaslee Dougall has given to the U.S. Department of State on April 11, 2018The search began six years ago, in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, when New Jersey native Shane Morris Sparks was sifting through old boxes and stumbled across song lyrics written decades ago by a globe-trotting envoy of the U.S. government.

Intrigued, Sparks tucked away the work of Amos Peaslee but pretty much forgot about it until last Thanksgiving, when Sparks recalled that a cousin of hers had grown up with some of Peaslee’s descendants.

The connection ultimately led Sparks to Colorado Springs resident Robin Peaslee Dougall, a Peaslee grandson who then went through his own long-forgotten boxes of family possessions.

What emerged was a wellspring of history — papers, photos and other artifacts recounting the end of World War I, the signing of the Treaty of Versailles and the birth of an international messenger service the U.S. government still uses today.

“It was an eye-opener to me that he had created the courier service, which is the same courier service that’s still around,” said Dougall, 68, of his grandfather. “And then it was an eye-opener to me that he had been involved in the negotiations (for) the Treaty of Versailles.”

Read more: How a Colorado man’s box of forgotten relics shed light on grandfather’s role in ending World War I

Max Beckmann: The Faces of World War I

By Ginny A. Roth
Curator of Prints & Photographs, History of Medicine Division, National Library of Medicine

“My heart beats more for a rougher, commoner, more vulgar art … one that offers direct access to the terrible, the crude, the magnificent, the ordinary, the grotesque and the banal in life. An art that can always be right there for us, in the realest things of life.”
– Max Beckmann 

Max Beckmann, 1884–1950, was a painter and print-maker, primarily known for his self-portraits. Although Beckmann railed against being tagged as belonging to any art movement, he is most commonly classified as an Expressionist artist, until his work dramatically changed in the 1920s.Max Beckmann (1922)

Detail from Irrenhaus Madhouse by Max Beckmann 1918Detail from Irrenhaus (Madhouse) by Max Beckmann, 1918Expressionism was a movement that developed in Germany and thrived between 1905 and 1920 as a reaction to the rapid growth and industrialization of cities. Expressionist artists created their work based on a subjective view of the world; a world that reflected the emotions of the artist himself. It was a departure from Impressionism, a style whose proponents worked to capture the objective reality they saw.

But Expressionists were not looking to capture reality. They rejected realism and embraced the emotion, fear, turmoil, and human emotion within that reality. Expressionism became dominant in Germany following World War I, “where it suited the postwar atmosphere of cynicism, alienation, and disillusionment.”

Max Beckmann volunteered in the Medical Corps in Belgium as an orderly at the start of World War I in 1914. He was discharged after having a nervous breakdown in 1915, which led to the dramatic transformation of how he depicted himself and humanity in his art. Through his post-war art he sought to save the ”injuries of the soul” he suffered during his service. His trauma led him to create haunting, expressive figures using techniques of distortion and extreme angularity once he returned to civilian life.

The National Library of Medicine (NLM) had a unique opportunity to acquire two original Beckmann prints which he created during his recuperation after he was discharged from service. Upon examining them, I heard the silent screams and felt the emotional pain of the figures he created. Without a single word they emulate the crippling effects that the war had on Beckmann, his acquaintances, and his view of the world.

The prints were originally part of the private collection of Aaron Sopher, 1905–1972, a Baltimore artist and associate of Beckmann. Sopher’s work currently hangs in the Smithsonian Art Museum and has appeared in the Baltimore Sun, the New Yorker, and Harper’s Bazaar. Like Beckmann, Sopher felt a moral responsibility to portray individual devastation in a meaningful manner, although his works were created in America during the Depression.

Read more: Max Beckmann: The Faces of World War I

Bringing Indian-American Contributions in WWI into Historical Discussion 

By Elizabeth Ivanecky
via the StudyBreaks web site

Many college professors caution their students against using Wikipedia to conduct scholarly research, yet encourage the blacklisted website when it involves beginning preliminary research at least. For St. Lawrence University (STLU) senior Tanveer Kalo, spending time perusing Wikipedia led him to learn more about the Indian-American community.

Indians who Served page captureKalo, a government major and history minor from Queens, stumbled upon Dr. Bhagat Singh Thind, the first turbaned Sikh to serve in the U.S. military in 1917, on Wikipedia. Thind would be the first of many Indian-American WWI veterans whose stories the STLU senior would share online.

Just over 100 years ago, Thind immigrated to the United States in 1913 in pursuit of higher education at the University of California, Berkeley. In 1917, he enlisted in the U.S. Army during World War I. After having served in the military, Thind fought a legal battle for citizenship back in America but was twice denied by the Immigration and Naturalization Service who claimed that he was not a “free white man.”

Today, the issue of obtaining a citizenship among immigrant communities in the United States is not so divorced from the difficulties immigrants experienced in the past. The uncertainty of DACA and Executive Order 13769 “The Travel Ban” present hurdles to citizenship for several different immigrant groups.

Tanveer KaloTanveer Kalo“Thind’s story is a really big American story because you had an immigrant come here to fight for a better life. He had to fight for his life and rights that he had as a citizen because of his service to the U.S. military,” explains Kalo. “It’s a very unknown story about the Indian-American community that not many people realize.”

During spring of 2017, Kalo, as a student-researcher, interned with the United States World War I Centennial Commission (WWICC), exploring the Indian-American community further while at the same time adding informative content to the Commission’s website.

The STLU senior conducted research under the supervision of Theresa Sims, WWICC Director of Strategic Relations, and Captain Chris Christopher, Publisher at WWICC. Using the South Asian-American Digital Archives (SAADA) website and later documents from “Young India,” a weekly journal published by religious leader Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi in 1919-1931, Kalo created the page “Indians who served” on the WWICC website.

The page details the stories of many Indian-Americans who served in WWI and even some who have served in both WWI and WWII such as Manganlall K. Pandit. Kalo has received much positive reception both nationally and even internationally for his work on Indian-American soldiers.

“One of the soldiers who I highlighted for the Commission’s website in ‘Indians who served,’ Colonel Pashupati Joseph Sarma, is buried in Arlington National Cemetery in Arlington, Virginia. A descendant of his contacted me saying ‘You wrote this page on my great-uncle. Thank you so much. We didn’t know the extent of his service.’ Then he provided more information on his great-uncle in terms of his life story coming to the United States and then serving in the U.S. military,” says Kalo.

Read more: Bringing Indian-American Contributions in WWI into Historical Discussion

Chasers 04 Im 006 UnitIn 1918 these three vessels were part of a wartime fleet of 303 U.S. submarine chasers formed a new offensive against the enemy, armed with depth charges, deck guns and an array of new, top secret submarine detection and pursuit devices. These miniature wooden war ships, the smallest commissioned vessels in the United States Navy, were the first major deployment mechanism for early antisubmarine warfare equipment, and were remarkable in their capabilities and service.

U.S. Navy Submarine Chasers in the Great War 

By Todd A. Woofenden
Publisher, The Subchaser Archives web site

Imagine crossing the Atlantic Ocean in a wooden motorboat—but not an ordinary motorboat. The U.S. submarine chasers of WWI were 110’ in length, and were armed with a 3” Poole deck gun, racks of depth charges, a Y-gun launcher, and Lewis and Colt machine guns on the bridge wings. Below decks were a galley, an engine room, a radio room, quarters for two officers and a crew of over twenty men, fresh water tanks, and storage rooms.

During the war, 303 of these miniature warships took part in the antisubmarine warfare effort. A total of 133 chasers crossed the Atlantic Ocean, and of these, 102 engaged in ASW operations out of Plymouth, England; Corfu, Greece; and Queenstown (Cobh), Ireland.

G.S.Dole Bridge SC 93Lt. (jg) George S. Dole, commanding officer, on the bridge of WWI U.S. Navy submarine chaser SC 93My great uncle, Lt. (jg) George S. Dole, was commanding officer of submarine chaser SC 93, assigned to the Otranto Barrage at the mouth of the Adriatic Sea. After the war he performed minesweeping operations in the North Sea as CO of submarine chaser SC 354, and he was the unit leader of the chasers that traveled above the Arctic Circle in 1919 to assist with the evacuation of American troops from northern Russia. Hunters of the Steel Sharks: The Submarine Chasers of WWI tells the story of U.S. submarine chasers in the Great War, and was inspired by his service.

Lt. Dole was one of many thousands of men assigned to chasers in WWI. But in addition hunting U-boats, he provided another service, by preserving paperwork and photos from his time on the chasers. The collection he left behind includes the original nautical charts that were used on the bridge of SC 93; rare, unpublished tactical documents on the use of new ASW devices and methods for pursuing enemy submarines; and a large set of period photographic prints. Also in the collection are hundreds of pages of USN correspondence, invoices showing acquisition of supplies and equipment, and personal accounts of his time on the chasers.

I could see in these materials a fascinating, untold story of technical ingenuity, experimentation, and raw grit: This was the advent of antisubmarine warfare, and the men who served on the chasers were right in the middle of it. New technologies, quaint by modern standards but top secret innovations at the time, were being tested and adapted even as the chaser fleet was being built and deployed.

The rapid construction of the fleet employed boat builders all across the country. Due to the construction efforts for larger warships, steel was in short supply, and so the chaser plans called for wooden construction. But seasoned wood to supply such a massive boatbuilding effort wasn’t available. This led to leaky hulls, and the need for regular repairs and sealing.

A significant logistical challenge was the need for hundreds of engines for this new class of vessel. Standard Motor Construction Company was selected in part because they could promise the large number of engines needed. But to achieve the technical specifications for speed, the chasers each had to be fitted with three enormous Standard 220 hp gasoline engines.

Read more: U.S. Submarine Chasers in the Great War

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