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Remembered Today:

Blood-thirsty Leadership


bob lembke

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Pals;

We have on several occasions discussed the alleged bloody-minded leadership style attributed to some British generals, as part of the recurrent "Lions led by donkeys" discussion. I myself have seen references to a HQ mindset that, if an attack failed, if the casualties in the attempt were, say, 10%, the general leading the attack might be sacked; while if the losses were, say, 40%, the general might get an "Atta' Boy". I am not especially knowledgeable on the history of the British leadership.

I just read a book (Albert M. and A Churchill Ettinger; A Doughboy with the Fighting Sixty-Ninth - A Remembrance of World War I; pp. 250-51), and the author discussed a top AEF general, Major General Charles P. Summerall, who was at the AEF HQ, who supposedly tended to end written orders for an attack with an explicit statement that the division attacking, if the attack failed, must show casualty reports indicating at least 5000 or 6000 casualties for the failed attack, quoted from two supposed actual orders.

Any comments? Could such an attitude, if true, reflect that the Allies had an almost unlimited potential supply of men, especially with the Yanks joining in? I do know a lot about the German side of the coin, and have never seen a hint of such an attitude.

Bob Lembke

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Bob

I suggest that, if true, it was more likely to prevent the individual from being sacked rather than due to the supply of men. Or at least to remind his men that the rest of the Allies had been through the grinder and they must expect to do the same. However, I have no evidence to back this up, just a personal view.

Roxy

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I think the US commanders entered into the WW1 fighting with (or quickly adopted) the belief that a general demonstrated his "intestinal fortitude" by refusing to be deterred by casualty numbers. I`m not suggesting that this is altogether a bad thing - although it may be. It may be militarily necessary to incur high losses for a tactical/strategic purpose but not to establish the general`s reputation as a fireeater. Phil B

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Summerall was a character, during Boxer Rebellion he was unhappy with artillery performance and under fire ran to the wall being fired upon and drew a circle with chalk!

He was one of the commanders who were quite overzealous at the very end cutting into areas of other divisions in race for Sedan, they wanted to beat each other and the French.

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Summerall led the 1st Division AEF from July to October 11th, then commanded the V Corps.

Bob, I'm at work right now so can't check but is it Albert M (the Father who served in the 69th) or his son Churchill making the statement? From what I can piece together the 42nd didn't serve under Summerall in the Meuse-Argonne ( I may be wrong!) so it may be a rumor.

If written by the son, then I would figure he checked the orders and as Paul stated, it certainly seems like something Summerall would say particularly to make a point to his new command.

Neil

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This is an interesting topic and I will probably have to do a little more thinking before I am able to reply fully.

My initial thoughts are that it may well indicate that the overwhelming Allied superiority in manpower did effect the Allied commanders. The American Officer you mention knew that the Germans were being forced back and, perhaps having a sort of Patton like mind set, insisted that his men fight hard and the only evidence that he had that they 'fought hard' were the considerable losses.

On the other hand he might have been trying to make sure that his officers advanced regardless of the almost inevitable heavy casualties that took place within the context of Western Front fighting. Maybe he is attacking squemishness among US formation commanders? What do you think?

Jon B)

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Just a thought, US gents. Could there have been a hangover from the Civil War that influenced what was thought to be a "correct" attitude towards casualties? Phil B

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My mistake, Summerall did command the 42nd and did relieve the 83rd brigade commanders. By reading the appendix of A Doughboy... it is pretty clear that Summerall was the exception. His decision to relieve the commander of the 83rd was obviously not supported by Liggett, commander of the First Army as Liggett returned the general to active Brigade command with another division (77th).

The appendix seems to indicate Summerall was a yutz (admittedly a well-connected yutz protected by Pershing, not that this attitude permeated the AEF.

Neil

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The appendix seems to indicate Summerall was a yutz (admittedly a well-connected yutz protected by Pershing, not that this attitude permeated the AEF.

What is a ''yutz''?

Jon

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Yutz: a hapless, clueless, annoying socially clumsy guy

It's a Yiddish expression, sorry for the confusion.

Neil

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Yutz: a hapless, clueless, annoying socially clumsy guy

It's a Yiddish expression, sorry for the confusion.

Neil

Might we substitute "putz"?

Like all armies, there was a lot of variability in the AEF in the quality of officers, etc., but it seems to have been very extreme. Part of it flowed from having to raise a very large army almost from scratch, quickly; also, being largely mentored by Team Haig might have been a problem, too.

The literature and sources on the AEF, IMHO, is the most unreliable on WW I, by a wide margin, and I have read many hundreds of sources in German, English, French, Dutch, and Italian, and am now, with great pain, translating a bit of Turkish. It probably is due to two main reasons; the well-organized civilian and military propaganda effort aimed at the US by both the Brits and the hawks in the US; and, secondly, the number of politicians writing or editing official histories, and the like. Also, the US population was rather distant from the events in Europe, and one could probably write whoppers that the populations in Europe would know was nonsense. I mentioned the story about hundreds of thousands or some impossible number of teen-aged girls wandering the roads of northern France and western Belgium, all raped, and all with one or the other arm cut off, all below the elbow. A French citizen probably did not like the Hun a lot, but I am sure that they would scoff at such a story, as they had never seen such a thing. Some UK residents might believe such a thing, most not (I doubt that such propaganda was ever aimed at them); while many people in the US and Canada might swallow such a story.

I have mentioned reading about 25 US sources on a single battle i9n August 1918, mostly official histories, and only three seemingly not having been cooked over; those being written by actual combat participants; a private in a letter home, and a sergeant and a lieutenant actually in the thick of the fighting, who wrote books after the war was over. Anything written or edited at a pay grade over lieutenant was badly cooked to conceal tremendous casualties, suicidal great heroism coupled with flat-out cowardice by COs, etc. Every official history was written or edited by that unit's CO. As it was a National Guard unit, and the higher officers were or planned to be politicians, losing 5000 or many more men holding 200 yards of one street for three weeks was not an accomplishment to crow about.

One might mention the alleged loss of 3000 men in the last 24 hours of the fighting, losses ordered by officers knowing the fighting was ending in a few hours. A book on this recently has been published; I have not read it.

Another highly variable factor was tremendous, even suicidal heroism by green troops, coupled with a tremendous desertion problem in the AEF, leading to French complaints and the development of a criminal class of AEF deserters forming in Paris, really causing problems with the French leadership. See Gen. Bullard on this; he had to form a heavy cordon of MPs behind each fighting line.

Anyone know why Prof. Mosier wrote that only the US actually officially cooked over their casualty statistics? (I know that not everyone likes his research and writing.)

Bob Lembke

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