100 Years Ago This Month in World War I
By Gary Blum and Leon Schmidt
Special to the City Times
The Battles of Paschendaele and the Isonzo River
In August of 1917, the British and French armies continue their efforts to capture the ridges located to the east of the Belgian town of Ypres in Flanders. The last of these ridges was at the town of Paschendaele. Historically, Flanders always had a lot of rain in August, and in 19917 it was the worst it had been in 30 years.
Consequently the allied efforts to attack the German lines were mired in mud the entire month. It was easier for the German soldiers to lay in the mud and shoot British soldiers as they slogged across muddy fields than it was for the British to charge ahead through those muddy, water logged fields.
General Sir Hubert Gough had been put in charge of the offensive by General Haig. General Gough’s attacks tended to not be well prepared and attempted greater daily advances than was wise. He tried for 4,000 – 5,000 yard daily goals. But, by the time the British had advanced 4,000 yards, they had sustained heavy casualties and were substantially reduced in numbers.
The German army intentionally concentrated its troops in the rear areas from which it mounted successful counter-attacks, driving the British back almost to where they had started. The result was minimal gains and high loss of life. The was the story the whole month of August. At the end of August, General Gough was replaced by a much more effective officer, General Sir Herbert Plumer.
In the meantime, British Prime Minister Lloyd George placed his hopes in the campaign on the Italian front. The Italian and Austrian armies fought 11 battles in the Dolomite mountains between Austria and Italy. The battles occurred about once every three months for three years. They are referred to by the name of a nearby river; the Isonzo.
The armies essentially fought vertically in the hard carbonite rock of the Dolomites. They fought on mountain peaks, glaciers, and mountain tunnels. In December 1916 alone, 10,000 soldiers were killed in avalanches. Italian discipline was especially harsh. By the end of August, the Italian soldiers were fed up. As in France, the Isonzo battles through August of 1917 remained largely stalemates with many casualties.
Battery “G” of the First Wisconsin Cavalry, soon to become the 120th Field Artillery, had arrived at Camp Douglas and spent the month of August drilling and getting inoculations. Battery “G” was from Wisconsin Rapids, then Grand Rapids. It was commanded by Captain Richard Gibson, First Lieutenant John Carrigan, and Second Lieutenant Elmer Babcock. It wouldn’t be long before it was sent on its way to Fort MacArthur, and then France.