100 Years Ago This Month in World War I
By Gary Blum & Leon Schmidt of Post 9 of the American Legion
Special to the City Times
In April 1917, the United States had declared war on the German Empire.
On May 10, Major-General Black Jack Pershing was appointed commander of the American Expeditionary Force. On May 18, the Compulsory Service Act (the draft) became law.
The first night air raid on London occurred on May 7. Following the March revolution in Russia and the abdication of Czar Nicholas II, Alexander Kerensky became the new Russian Minister of War in May. Despite huge losses he promised to keep Russia in the war.
The New French Offensive
Nearly one million French soldiers, out of a population of twenty million males of all ages, had been killed by early 1917. The British and French were searching for a way to achieve a strategic breakthrough on the Western Front. In April of 1917 a new French general, Robert Nivelle, promises a new war winning strategy. He predicted he could break through the German lines and win the war within 48 hours.
This Nivelle Offensive began with an assault at the Asne River in northern France. Among other ideas, he used a recently devised tactic called the “creeping barrage”, which allowed soldiers to move forward behind a line of exploding artillery shells toward the enemy trenches.
However, before the Nivelle Offensive began, the German army had significantly modified its organizational structure and supplied its soldiers with new portable light machine guns and several types of grenades in large numbers. The Germans had also developed a defensive strategy of withdrawing in small segments to highly defensible positions which caused attacking forces large losses with minimal gains.
The Nivelle Offensive failed with great loss of life and the French mood soured overnight. Over half of the French infantry divisions mutinied. The French army subdued the mutiny and the German army never realized it had happened. However, Nivelle was removed on May 17 and was replaced by General Philippe Petain. Petain was considered a general who would not squander his soldier’s lives. Nonetheless, he held 3,400 courts martial at which 554 mutineers were sentenced to death. Most of their sentences were reprieved later.
Wisconsin & The Great War
In April of 1917, nine of 11 Wisconsin Congressmen and Senator Robert LaFollette voted in Congress against the U.S. entry into the war. Life magazine portrayed LaFollette as a traitor being decorated by the Kaiser. The Wisconsin Loyalty League attacked German-American citizens of Wisconsin as “disloyal”.
It published a map showing where disloyalty in Wisconsin chiefly centered. It indicated southeastern Wisconsin, Marathon County, and the area around Marshfield.
However, by the end of the war, Wisconsin had become overwhelmingly pro-war. About 118,000 citizens of Wisconsin served in the military.