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WW1 Centennial News for March 23, 2018 - Episode #64

Rags was a mixed breed terrier who served with the U.S. 1st Infantry Division in WW1Rags was a mixed breed terrier who served with the U.S. 1st Infantry Division in WW1

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Highlights - Spring Offensive

  • Spring offensive in the media | @01:50
  • Operation Michael Overview - Mike Shuster | @10:10
  • 3rd Division, 6th Engineers grab a gun and go - Dr. Edward Lengel | @14:05
  • ‘Women’s Voices In Letters” exhibit - Lynn Heidelbaugh | @20:10
  • US Army Women’s Museum - Dr. Francoise Bonnell | @25:30
  • Book “Paws of Courage” - Nancy Furstinger | @31:45
  • Journey’s end director - Saul Dibb | @38:00
  • NC State 100C/100M project - Thomas Skolnicki, Benny Suggs and Commissioner Jerry Hester | @44:30
  • Centennial in Social Media - Katherine Akey | @53:20

View the PDF transcript


Welcome to World War 1 centennial News - episode #64 - It’s about WW1 THEN - what was happening 100 years ago this week  - and it’s about WW1 NOW - news and updates about the centennial and the commemoration.

Today is March 23rd, 2018 and our guests for this week include:

  • Mike Shuster, from the great war project blog giving an overview of the big German Spring Offensive - Operation Michael
  • Dr. Edward Lengel with a story of US Combat Engineers joining in the fight
  • Lynn Heidelbaugh introducing the new women’s exhibit at the Smithsonian’s  National Postal Museum
  • Dr. Francoise Bonnell discussing the history of women and the US Army
  • Nancy Furstinger talking about man’s best friends in WWI -- and other critters...
  • Saul Dibb the director of the feature film Journey’s End  talks about being in the trenches to make the film
  • Thomas Skolnicki, Benny Suggs and US WWI Centennial Commissioner Jerry Hester, sharing the 100 Cities/100 Memorials project at NC State University
  • Katherine Akey with the WW1 commemoration in social media

A great lineup of guest for WW1 Centennial News -- a weekly podcast brought to you by the U.S. World War I Centennial Commission, the Pritzker Military Museum and Library and the Starr foundation.

I’m Theo Mayer - the Chief Technologist for the Commission and your host. Welcome to the show.

Link: https://open.spotify.com/show/4xrhXYSHPEtG1CqMXEJj67



Every week as we prepare the podcast, we pour through the publications that came out that week 100 years ago and look for themes, trends and what is being talked about. This week, we were struck with what WASN’T being talked about - especially in government related media like the Official Bulletin - the government’s daily war gazette - published for the President by George Creel’s Committee on Public Information or the American Expeditionary Forces’ weekly Stars and Stripes newspaper.

This is the week, on March 21st, that the Germans slammed down their hammer with the first phase of their spring offensive.  

With that as a setup, let’s jump into our Centennial Time Machine and roll back 100 years to the week that launched the definitive 6 months of DO or DIE -  in the War that Changed the World!

World War One THEN

100 Year Ago This Week

It’s the third week of March, 1918

And to review the situation once again, Even before the Brest-Litovsk Treaty earlier this month, which successfully wraps up the war on Eastern Front for the Germans - the front collapsing has been freeing up massive resources of men, arms and munitions which are now being re-deployed to the Western Front.

Germany's General Erich Ludendorff plans a massive spring offensive designed to separate the British and French armies and force a surrender which the Germans feel pressure to do -  before the American troops can affect the outcome.

The offensive is code named Operation Michael, and unbeknownst to the allies is scheduled for March 21st., 1918.

Though the Allies could have   been more prepared, they surely were not surprised. Most historians agree that the only surprise is the specific day and the specific location for the offensive’s launch.

In fact,  by mid-February 1918, the buildup of both men and heavy artillery on the German side had become too large to dismiss any doubt of a coming attack.

In a letter from Sir Douglas Haig, Commander in Chief of the British Armies, written after the fact, he describes aerial operations revealing expanded ammunition and supply dumps all along the Western Front, but with a clear buildup in the Arras sector, leading Haig to believe that this is the most probable place for a German offensive to take place.

By some accounts, the actual date of Operation Michael is uncovered by British intelligence a few days before the fact. Unfortunately, defenses are still being prepared on March 21st. Even more unfortunately, General Haig has decided to strengthen his left wing at the expense of his right, and his right wing is exactly where the full force of the German hammer comes down.  

According to historian Robert Doughty, French intelligence also discovers a high probability of a German attack at Arras, but the lack of a overarching structure connecting the two armies hampers collaboration.

Meanwhile the US Government seems to be focusing its public with misdirection.


Dateline Monday March 18, 1918

As the offensive encroaches - Here is a sampling of headlines in the Official Bulletin:

  • More than 12 Billion Dollars now in War risk insurance….
  • Woman on Sub teaches men how to cook under water
  • Norway protests to german people over convoy sinking
  • Bakers must bake VICTORY bread or close shop after March 20

The next day the war department briefs the press causing the NY TImes to print an article doubting the offensive is imminent.


Dateline Tuesday March 19, 1918

A headline in the NY times reads:

Offensive in west foe’s last Resort?

Washington believes it won’t be delivered unless strategy compels it.

Massing of more enemy troops is impracticable.

And the article reads:

Doubt that the German military leaders will launch their offensive in the west unless compelled by the strategy of the situation to do so,  is expressed in the weekly statement issued by the war Department today, reviewing military operations of the last week.

Meanwhile, the next day In the Official Bulletin we find headlines that include:

  • No icing on this year’s Hot Cross Buns for good Friday
  • National Conference called to discuss plans for Americanization of Aliens
  • Live day-old chicks may be sent by mail on 72-hour journeys
  • Export of Oleomargarine to be licensed to Canada

And still nothing about the impending offensive!

But that is not true for the public press! In contrast to the government media, the NY Times is all over the start of the German spring offensive!

Dateline March 21, 1918

The headline in the NY times reads

Concentrated assault made to pinch British out of their front line

intense struggle ensues

The battle spreads north and south and is still continuing with great fury

Shell storm over lines

Wide area back of British front is swept by German missiles

And the story reads:

The Germans this afternoon launched a heavy attack against British lines over a wide front in and near the Cambrai sector, and the assault bears all the earmarks of being the beginning of the enemy’s much heralded grand offensive.

The attack was preceded by a heavy bombardment from guns of all calibers and the duel between the opposing heavy batteries has been rocking the countryside for hours.

[ Sound Effect ]

Another Headline Reads

Washington still doubtful on drive.

American officers wait for full scope of German move to develop.

However, the next day on March 22nd, a reporter name Philip Gibbs files a cable report to the NY TIMES that is, in retrospect, the most accurate description in this dynamic moment.

Dateline March 22, 1918

The headline in the New York Times reads

Germans vast superiority in Guns is backed by 50 divisions of men

One cannon for every 12 yards of front

One British division fought six near St.  Quentin

The enemy flung the full weight of his great army against the British yesterday. Nearly 40 divisions are identified and it is certain that as many as 50 must be engaged. In proportion of men, the British are much outnumbered, therefore the obstinacy of the resistance of the troops is to be admired.

Nine German divisions were hurled against three British at one part of the line, and eight against two at another.

All the storm troops, including the guards, were in brand-new uniforms. They advanced in dense masses and never faltered until shattered by machine gun fire.

As far as I can find, the enemy introduced no new frightfullness, no tanks, and no specially invented gas, but instead, relied on the power of his artillery and the weight of his infantry assault.

The supporting waves advanced over the bodies of the dead and wounded. The German commanders were ruthless in the sacrifice of life, in the hope of overwhelming the defense by the sheer weight of numbers.

And that is how the media ran - this week 100 years ago - when the German Spring Offensive launches -  in the war the changed the world

We have put the links to some of our research in the podcast notes for you to explore.


























Great War Project

That brings us to Great War project with Mike Shuster - former NPR correspondent and curator for the Great War project Blog….


We have been looking at this moment through the lens of press reports - and your post this week offers a great congealing overview of the first days of the spring offensive. What your headline Mike?


Mike Shuster from the Great War Project blog.



America Emerges: Military Stories from WW1

No w for this  week’s segment of America Emerges: Military Stories from WWI with Dr. Edward Lengel.

Ed: Your story this week is about a 3rd division regimen of engineers. When I read it, it really struck me as a great example of what the Americans brought to the bone tired, desperate and war weary allies. It was more than bodies and equipment - it was also a very special, almost naive but very recognizable spirit.  



[Ed, what will you be telling us about next week?]

Dr. Edward Lengel is an American military historian, author, and our segment host for America Emerges: Military Stories from WWI.

There are links in the podcast notes to Ed’s post - and I recommend that you take a look at it. The pictures Ed included are memorable.  





The Great War Channel

If you’d like to see videos about WWI, we suggest our friends at the Great War Channel on Youtube.

This week’s new episodes include:  

  • Allied Unified Command on the Horizon
  • King George V in WW1
  • Inside the German A7V WW1 Tank

See their videos by searching for “the great war” on youtube or following the link in the podcast notes!


World War One NOW

It is time to fast forward into the present with WW1 Centennial News NOW -


This part of the podcast isn’t about the past - it is about NOW and there is a lot going on to commemorate the centennial of the War that changed the world!

Remembering Veterans

Women’s Voices in Letters Lynn Heidelbaugh

This week for remembering veterans and for Women’s History Month - we are highlighting a special exhibit:  In Her Words: Women's Duty and Service in World War I

Which is on view at the Smithsonian’s     National Postal Museum.

We’re joined by Lynn Heidelbaugh, the Curator for the exhibit.  

Lynn - Nice to have you back to the Podcast!


[With families being separated and with more and more men sent to training camps and abroad-- is there an estimation of how much mail was being sent during WW1?]

[An on-going subject on the show is new roles and jobs women were taking on during the war-- did the postal service also see women joining its ranks at that time? ]

[Lynn - let’s talk a bit about the exhibit-- what inspired it, and how does it differ from your other WW1 letters exhibit, My Fellow Soldiers ]

[Is there one particular or special women’s letter that you’d like to highlight ?]


Lynn Heidelbaugh is a Curator at the Smithsonian National Postal Museum. Learn more about their WW1 exhibits by following the links in the podcast notes.

Link: https://postalmuseum.si.edu/In-Her-Words/index.html


US Army Women's Museum

Now Sticking with museums and continuing our focus on Women’s History Month we are joined by Dr. Francoise Bonnell, the director of the U.S. Army Women's Museum at Fort Lee, Virginia. She is an author and a recognized authority in women’s military history.

Dr. Bonnell! Welcome,


[Dr. Bonnell, I’d like to start by asking you about the U.S. Army Women’s Museum. can you give us a quick overview?]

[I know we need to get to WWI but I was struck by something I read on your website. It states that the museum covers the service of Army women from 1775 to the present -  well 1775 is when the colonies kicked off the Revolutionary war against England’s King George - That is pre-United States --- so what was the role of women in our colonial 1775 army?]

[OK - on to WWI - Dr. Bonnell - How did women affect the army in WWI and how did their service affect womanhood?]

[Is there a continuing legacy of WW1 for women in the army today?]

[Does the museum have any WWI centennial commemoration plans?]

Dr. Francoise Bonnell is the director of the U.S. Army Women's Museum at Fort Lee, Virginia. Learn more about the museum and the legacy of women’s service in the Army by visiting the link in the podcast notes.

Links: http://www.awm.lee.army.mil/about/more_than_a_museum/

Paws of Courage

Men served in WWI and as we have been exploring this month - Women served in WWI, but in addition to people - over 16 million animals were mobilized for the war effort. We’ve covered these stories in the past - horses, mules, pigeons, the lion cubs Whiskey and Soda, the elephants of the Berlin Zoo and last weeks the trench rats of the Chemin de Dames…  Today we’re joined by Nancy Furstinger (FUR-stinger), an animal author -- whose book “Paws of Courage” highlights the tales of our heroic canines.

Welcome, Nancy!


[Nancy, to start -- can you give us an overview of the various roles Dogs played in the Armed Forces during WW1?]

[Everyone’s been talking about Sgt. Stubby -- and of course, next week he premieres as the star of an animated feature film! What other famous wartime canines are there from WWI?]

[Your book covers dogs in service -- and as we mentioned in the opening, there were a lot of different animals that served in WWI. from your research - what strikes you as the most interesting?]


Nancy Furstinger is the author of over 100 books - and many about her life’s passion - animals. Learn more about Nancy, her writings and the service of animals by following the links in the podcast notes.






Spotlight in the Media

Journey’s End

Last week in Spotlight on the media we introduced you to a WWI feature film that premiered over the weekend in both New York and Los Angeles.

Journey’s End is a powerful film about a group of British soldiers that rotated into the front line trenches - just about exactly 100 years ago this week, at the cusp of the anticipated great German offensive.

I had a chance to catch up with the film’s Director, Saul Dibb in a call to London. Welcome, Saul!

[Saul - Journey's end is a very intimate film - about a very intimate subject - men, mortality and fear - Can you give us a quick overview of the story? ]

[Journey's End was a stage play, in fact a very good stage play,  before you made it into a film - so it was conceptualized to happen on the confines of a stage - with a story that plays out largely in the confines of a trench system - how did that affect your approach?]

[The art direction, cinematography, performance and obviously the script are all amazing - as the director - what your biggest challenge in bringing this all together.]

[Saul - You've made several period films - so authenticity is always a key element - how did you go about "getting it right" for Journey's end?]

Saul Dibb is the director of the feature film Journey’s End, now in limited release in us theaters across the country. We put links in the podcast notes for both the trailer and the theater show listing - or Google Journey’s End - I you are interested in what this first week of spring was like for the Tommies in the trenches in 1918  - This fine film will take you there.




100 Cities 100 Memorials

Moving on to our 100 Cities / 100 Memorials segment

about the $200,000 matching grant challenge

to rescue and focus on our local WWI memorials.

This week we are profiling the Memorial Bell Tower project at NC State University in raleigh, North Carolina.

With us tell us about their project are Thomas Skolnicki [SKOAL-nick-ee], A veteran and the Landscape Architect for the University -- retired US navy Rear Admiral  -- Benny Suggs, the director of NC State's Alumni Association and US Air Force Veteran, World War One Centennial Commissioner Jerry Hester, and all three men are alumni of the school!

Welcome gentlemen!


[Let me start with a courtesy - Commissioner Hester - We have not had the pleasure of your presence on the Podcast before - I just want to welcome you to the show.]

[My first questions is to you Tom - The North Carolina State University Bell Tower is a very unusual building with an interesting history. It started out as a low 16 foot ww1 memorial - a cornerstone monument known as the shrine room but, like a tree it started to grow! For decades! Up to 115 feet tall. Can you tell us the story?]

[Commissioner Hester - you are an alumni of the University - did you encourage them to participate in the 100 Cities / 100 Memorials Project - or did you learn about their participation after?]

[Benny - this is our first “Spring of 2018” episode and appropriately, for your restoration project is adding a poppy beds to the tower. Can you tell us about that and the dedication plans?]

[Commissioner - You have been promoting poppy plantings all over the state - even along the highways - I understand it was pretty spectacular last year.]

Thomas Skolnicki is the University Landscape Architect at NC State University, Benny Suggs is the director of NC State's Alumni Association, and Jerry Hester is a World War One Centennial Commissioner. Learn more about the 100 Cities/100 Memorials program at the link in the podcast notes or by going to ww1cc.org/100Memorials

Link: www.ww1cc.org/100cities


The Buzz

And that brings us to the buzz - the centennial of WW1 this week in social media with Katherine Akey - Katherine, what do you have for us this week?

St. Patrick’s Day and Literacy

Hi Theo -- we celebrated St Patrick’s Day this past weekend, and in honor of that I wanted to share two quick articles about the Irish and Irish Americans of WW1 that we shared on Facebook this past week.

The first comes from NPR and tells the story of a torpedoed Irish ship and the cargo aboard that saved its sailors lives. The ship was making its way across the Irish Sea, a favored hunting ground for German uboats, when it was struck by a torpedo and split in two. As the ship began to sank, sucking the sailors down into the water with it, the cargo floated up to the surface -- barrels and barrels of the iconic Irish stout, Guinness. Holding on to the Guinness, the sailors drifted in the sea and were rescued a few hours later. Read the full story at the link in the notes.

To wrap up St Patrick’s Day, head to Saratogian News where they recently published an article about the experience of an Irish American regiment, a part of the 42nd Rainbow Division, during the St Patrick’s Day of 1918. They celebrated the holiday just after having experienced some heavy losses at the hand of the German’s and their artillery. Read about their valiant efforts under intense German fire, and their celebration of the holiday, at the link in the podcast notes.

Finally for the week, head over to Mental Floss to take a WW1 era literacy test. With a rapidly growing armed forces, drawn from all corners of the country and all segments of the population, officials and army leaders saw indications of life in the early 20th century: nutrition and literacy in this cross-section of America were not at the levels they had expected.

Though reading and writing might are not necessarily the most important requirement for trench warfare -- and indeed several combatants, including Russia, Italy and Turkey had shockingly low rates of literacy in their ranks-- the U.S. Army became increasingly concerned with whether or not its soldiers were literate as the war picked up pace. Thousands of American soldiers couldn't read printed directions on basic military tasks -- posing a potentially dangerous problem for the fledgling force. The Army didn't implement its first major literacy program until the 1940s, but it did use a battery of yes or no questions to test literacy as new recruits came in. Some of the questions are quite simple, like “is coal white?” but they escalate in complexity to ones like “Are members of the family usually regarded as guests” and “Are loquacious and voluble opposite in meaning?”

You can take the test yourself, and read more about the pitfalls of this first literacy battery, by visiting the link in the notes.

That’s it for this week in the Buzz.





And that is also it for this week’s episode of WW1 Centennial News. Thank you for listening.

We also want to thank our guests...

  • Dr. Edward Lengel, Military historian and author
  • Mike Shuster, Curator for the great war project blog
  • Lynn Heidelbaugh, curator at the Smithsonian National Postal Museum
  • Dr. Francoise Bonnell, Director of the U.S. Army Women's Museum at Fort Lee, Virginia
  • Nancy Furstinger, animal lover, and author about animals
  • Saul Dibb. director of the feature film Journey’s End
  • Thomas Skolnicki, Benny Suggs and WW1 Centennial Commissioner Jerry Hester, from the 100 Cities/100 Memorials project at NC State University
  • Katherine Akey, the commission’s social media director and line producer for the podcast

A shout out to Eric Maar as well as our intern John Morreale for their great research assistance.

And I am Theo Mayer - your host.

The US World War One Centennial Commission was created by Congress to honor, commemorate and educate about WW1.

Our programs are to--

inspire a national conversation and awareness about WW1; Including this podcast!

We are bringing the lessons of the 100 years ago into today's classrooms;

We are helping to restore WW1 memorials in communities of all sizes across our country;

and of course we are building America’s National WW1 Memorial in Washington DC.

We want to thank commission’s founding sponsor the Pritzker Military Museum and Library as well as the Starr foundation for their support.

The podcast can be found on our website at ww1cc.org/cn  

on  iTunes, Google Play, TuneIn, Podbean, Stitcher - Radio on Demand --- or using your smart speaker.. Just say “Play W W One Centennial News Podcast” and we are excited to announce - as of this week - you can listen to us on Spotify. Search ww1 Centennial News.

Our twitter and instagram handles are both @ww1cc and we are on facebook @ww1centennial.

Thank you for joining us. And don’t forget

to share the stories

you are hearing here today

about the war that changed the world!


So long!

Next week:

  • 14/18 now join us for an interview
  • 100c/100m in Appleton WI
  • Women's Overseas Service League
  • Idaho WW1 Commission


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