Tag: World War I

Today’s Top Ten Armies (Military Powers) in the World

This list of Top Ten Armies (Military Powers) in the world is subjective at best.  Unless you looked at specific aspects and judged based on that criteria alone, the list cannot be definitive.  One can look at a nation’s defense budget or the size of their enlisted members, or combine the two.  Another area for consideration is the amount of armor a nation has inventoried including tanks, helicopters, aircraft and ships.  This top ten took in a little of all of that, but it is still one perspective looking at the Armies around the world.  Input and educational pieces on other armies not listed here, or any additional information that may have been omitted, are welcomed.

Before listing the top ten, one country fell just short of making the list, but certainly deserves to be mentioned – North Korea.  They not only have one of the largest Special Forces in the world – 120,000 members – they have a very large inventory of armor.

10.  Pakistan

Pakistan is known for their good upper leadership.  Founded in 1947, their three branches of service totals more than 600,000 people – all volunteers.  They have close Pakistan Aircraftties to the militaries of the US and China.  Pakistan’s budget of over $5 billion is smaller than all the other top ten militaries, but it does exceed the overall defense budget of a number of other countries around the world.  While Pakistan has about the same number of naval craft as the United Kingdom (see below), they have more aircraft and helicopters and an incredible total of 9,000 tanks and armored vehicles.  They have assisted the United States in their War on Terrorism by fighting the Taliban and the Al-Qaeda in Afghanistan and along their own borders.

9.  United Kingdom  

British Forces include three branches of service, – the navy, the army and the air force. Below are some figures for the United Kingdom – the figures presented could vary slightly:

  • British HelicopterActive Military (including army, navy and air force) – 197,700
  • Reserve – 212,000
  • Paramilitary – 152,000
  • Aircraft and Helicopters – 1,800
  • Tanks and Armored Vehicles – 5,500

Despite having one of the smallest numbers of active military, the militaries of the United Kingdom are a sustainable force and their SAS is among the world’s top Special Forces.  Britain is a steadfast ally of the U.S.

8.  Iran

Iran militaryIran has one of the best small forces in the world.  Half of this countries government’s income goes towards defense.  Their modern day military was first founded in 1923 and currently boasts over 500,000 active members.  In addition, its defense budget of $10 billion has allowed more aircraft than the US and UK combined and almost the same amount of aircraft and helicopters as China, a country with a much larger force and budget.

7.  Turkey

Turkey militaryTurkey’s Army dates back over 2,000 years.  Their modern day militaries were not established though until 1920.  Turkey has over 600,000 members in its military forces and its budget is close to $19 billion.  This country comes in fourth for the total number of tanks and armored vehicles – 11,000 plus.  All Turkish males – once they reach 20 years of age – are required to serve in the military.  There are very few exceptions to this requirement.

6.  Germany 

Germany's Leopard IIMuch of Germany’s notable military history began with the rise of Hitler.  They were responsible for the start of WWII when they invaded Poland.  When the war was over, the country divided and the West German Army was formed.  It wasn’t until the 1990s the country reunited.  Currently, Germany has more than 200,000 active military members who are well-trained and well-equipped.  Germany boasts of one of the best tanks in the world – the Leopard II.

5.  France

France's MilitaryFrance’s military does not have the reputation as a super power, but its numbers would say differently.  Their military totals over 360,000 members spread throughout their navy, air force and paramilitary branches.  All three branches are very well rounded, but many feel their navy is bar far their strongest branch.  France’s defense budget comes in just over $58 billion.  Despite this impressive budget, it still has the smallest number of aircraft and helicopters than any other country on this list.

4.  India

India has a more advanced Air Force and very-well trained Special Forces.  They have four branches of military and also additional paramilitary units.  Their active military India's militaryhas more than 1.3 million members.  India has an additional 2.1 million in reserves and their paramilitary has 1.3 million members.  In all, India has more than 4.7 million total members.

Despite their large number of service members, India’s aircraft and helicopter and tank and armored vehicle totals put them only in the center of the list of countries listed here and they do have the smallest naval craft fleet.  Some estimates of nuclear warheads in India’s possession go as high as 80.

 

3.  Russia

This former superpower still has a large amount of equipment in its military inventory.  They have well over 1.2 million active military members and an additional 750,000 in Russian Militarythe reserve.  Their paramilitary total comes in at around 5,000.  The total military budget for Russia is in excess of $64 billion.  Only two countries have a higher military budget than Russia – the United States and China.

The current known Russian force was first founded in 1992, but Russia’s military history dates back to as early as 863.  Between the ages of 18 and 27, all male Russians are drafted into the country’s service for a period of 12 months.  A few exceptions, such as being a student or the parent of two or more children, serve as exemptions to this otherwise steadfast rule.

Russia is known to have the largest number of nuclear warheads on hand, but most of them are not active.

2.  China

Founded in 1927, the People’s Liberation Army of China has more than 2.3 million China's militaryactive service members in its military making it the largest active force in the world. With a reserve of 800,00 and a paramilitary of 1.5 million, in all, China has more than 4.5 million military members.   China’s defense budget of $129 billion is continually increasing each year by an average of 12 to 15%.  This total makes it the second largest defense budget in the world – second only to the United States.  China is believed to house as many as 240 nuclear warheads.

1.  United States

The US military has history dating back to 1775 when it first formed forces (Continental Army) to fight in the Revolutionary War.  The US Army has been involved in every major world war as well as the Korean War, Vietnam, the Gulf War and the Global War on Terrorism.

United States militaryThe defense budget for the United States is more than the combined totals of the previous nine countries coming in at over $689 billion.  The US has just over 1.4 million active military members, another 1.4 million reserve members and 11,000 in its paramilitary.  The US ranks second behind Russia in the total number of warheads, but it does have the largest number of active warheads.  The United States leads in the overall aircraft and helicopters – 21,000 – but is just barely ahead of China with its total of tanks and armored vehicles.  The United States also has an impressive 12 aircraft carriers in its fleet.

This list of today’s top ten armies (military powers) in the world, certainly sheds light on the overall power of these nations given their impressive numbers in members, equipment and budget.

The Hello Girls of World War I

The story of the World War I Hello Girls will not be found in history books.  It is not because they were not useful, or not dedicated.  In fact, they were quite the opposite.  The Hello Girls in WWI actually made a significant contribution to the war.

Hello Girls

WWI “Hello Girls” at the swtichboard

Their story began in the latter part of 1917.  At that time, General Pershing was seeking telephone-switchboard operators who were bilingual.  His appeal was published in newspapers across the US entitled ‘Emergency Appeal’.  He asked that any women switchboard operators with Bell Telephone be sworn in to the US Army Signal Corps.  Pershing felt women had more patience and perseverance when it came to doing long, grueling detailed work.  Pershing also discovered that it was difficult for the men to operate switchboard equipment.  He felt they were better suited in the field laying wire for the much needed communication between the trenches to the A.E.F. General Headquarters in the Chaumont.  This connection between the two was the first in warfare history.

Once the women were sworn in, they were subject to the same regulations as the men, which included being Court Martial, and the ten basic rules which were intended to assure moral character.  In general, those selected could be married – as long as it was not to someone overseas – and it was expected they be at least 25 years old.

Among the first 700 volunteers, a few spoke French.  Therefore, when the first 300 were chosen, the age requirement and switchboard training requirement was waived.  This waiver included two sisters, Louise (age 18) and Ramonde LeBreton (age 20).  They had moved to the United States (from France) when their mother (who was widowed) married an American.

The Story of Oleda Joure

OledaPortrait

Oleda Joure

Another young lady accepted was 19 year old Oleda Joure.  Oleda was an American of French-Canadian origin.  When she was only 16, she was trained by Bell Telephone to instruct other women to work the switchboards.

Oleda was also a pianist.  She would play for dance bands and became very familiar with the popular songs of World War I.  She once entertained the troops in Southampton, England when she was quarantined for two weeks as a result of the Spanish Influenza pandemic.  An official with the Red Cross asked her to tour camps and hospitals and entertain the troops.  She was unable to accept this position as she was ‘under orders’ for the duration of the war.

Oleda was assigned to Pershing’s American Expeditionary Force Headquarters in Chaumont, France.  She continued to serve for an additional year (after the signing of the Armistice) to assist with operating the telephones so arrangements could be made for the troops to return home.

Once Oleda was finally able to return to civilian life, she picked up right where she left off – as a training supervisor and as a pianist with dance bands.  In 1933, she married Athanasius Christides.  In the 1950s, he was sent to Paris as US Treasury Representative to the new Common Market and Interpol for duration of eight years.  Oleda’s ties with France were not only renewed during this time.  When she and Chris visited cafes in St. Germain des Pres, the people would often request she play the World War I songs that had lifted and united the spirits of the Allie troops so long ago.

The Hello Girls Return Home

When the Hello Girls returned to the US, they applied for their honorable discharges.  However, they were informed their requests could not be granted since US Army regulations stated that only “males” could be sworn in.  They were, therefore, not considered veterans.

Merle Egan-Anderson sits at the supervisor's desk.

Merle Egan-Anderson sits at the supervisor’s desk.

Beginning in 1930, Merle Egan-Anderson from Helena, MT led the ‘Hello Girls’ and together, they introduced various bills in Congress.  Up to that point, Congress had only awarded ten Citations for Bravery to ten women who were switchboard operators behind the front lines during the battle of St. Mihiel.  Their building had caught fire and the operators were ordered to evacuate.  The ‘Hello Girls’ felt the order was given because they were females so they chose to continue to stay and continue to operate the switchboards despite the fire.  Finally, the fire became so intense that GHQ threated the women with Court Martial if they did not abandon their posts.  An hour after the fire was extinguished, they returned to their switchboards.

In 1976, a lawyer by the name of Mark Hough, offered his services (at no cost) to Anderson.  Anderson’s daughter began researching the historical information available on the ‘Hello Girls’ and their contribution to the victory.  This brought about the much needed support from a number of Congresspeople and the bill was introduced and they finally received their recognition on the 60th anniversary of the Armistice officially making the Hello Girls of World War I the first women veterans of the US Army.

U.S. Army’s Youngest General – Mark W. Clark

Mark Clark

Mark Wayne Clark in 1943

U.S. Army’s youngest General, Mark W. Clark, is thought by many to be one of the best U.S. Generals of World War II.  His service career started in April of 1917 as a graduate of West Point Academy.  He was appointed as a 2nd lieutenant of Infantry but rose quickly in rank with the rapid escalation of the United States involvement in WWI.    By August of that same year, he was already a captain.

More Promotions for Clark

During WWI, Clark served in France with the US 11th Infantry.  As a result of the serious shrapnel wounds he received, he was transferred General Staff Headquarters of the First US Army and then eventually began serving with the Third Army in Germany.

Following World War I, General Marshall took note of Clark’s capabilities.  From 1921 – 24, Clark served in the office of the Secretary of War as an aide.  The following year (1925), he finished his professional officer’s course at the Infantry School.  From there, Clark began serving as a staff officer with the 30th Infantry in San Francisco.  He then went to the Indiana National Guard where he served as a training instructor.  It was during this time he received a promotion to Major (January, 1933).

Duties from 1935 through 1940

  • 1935-36:  Deputy commander of Civilian Conservation Corps in Omaha, NE
  • 1935:  Tour at Command and General Staff School
  • 1937:  Tour at Army War College
  • 1940:  Chosen to instruct at Army War College

While at the Army War College, Clark was promoted to lieutenant colonel.  In August of 1941, Clark received a two grade promotion to brigadier general.  As the US Army was gearing up for possible entry into WWII, Brigadier General Clark served as Assistant Chief of Staff at General Headquarters for the US Army located in Washington, DC.

Clark in WWII

Clark made significant advances during the early stages of World War II:

  • January, 1942:  Served as Deputy Chief of Staff Army Ground Forces
  • May, 1942:  Chief of Staff Army Ground Forces
  • June, 1942:  Sent to England as command general of II Corps
  • July, 1942:  Became Commanding General – Army Forces European Theater of Operations
  • August 1942:  Deputy commander in chief of Allied Forces in N. African Theater  

Clark was involved in the planning and directing of Operation Torch – the invasion plan for North Africa.  He was taken into N. Africa by a British submarine – the Seraph.  He arrived several weeks prior to the invasion in an effort to negotiate the surrender and ask for the cooperation of the Vichy French, which took place in October of 1942.

In November of 1942, shortly after the conclusion of the negotiations, Clark received a promotion to lieutenant general.  He was eventually made commanding general of the newly formed overseas field army – the US Fifth Army.  His task was to train the unit for

Clark on USS Ancon - landings at Salerno, Italy - September 1943

Clark on USS Ancon

an assault on Italy.  The invasion was scheduled for September of 1943 and known as ‘Operation Avalanche’.  However, it was reported by some British historians that Clark almost failed when he landed at Salerno, citing poor planning on his part.

Also in question was his bombing of the Abbey of Monte Cassino in February of 1944.  Though Clark gave the order, it was in fact based on direct orders he received from his superiors.    During the Battle of the Winter Line, Clark’s conduct of operation once again came under scrutiny based on evidence which suggested he was motivated by the fame that would most certainly result from entering Rome as a ‘conqueror’.

Though Rome was liberated, it resulted in Clark failing to exploit a gap in German positions, which allowed a large number of German forces to escape and strengthen the area that was to become known as the Gothic Line.   Though thanked by Pope Pius XII, others felt Clark’s action were best described as irresponsible and insubordinate.

Clark:  1944 – 1947

In December of 1944, Clark was given command of the Allied ground troops stationed in Italy.  They were given the name – 15th Army Group.  And in March of 1945, Clark received his promotion to General.  As the war neared an end, Clark found himself as Commander of Allied Forces in Italy and eventually US High Commissioner of Austria.  In 1947, Clark would serve as deputy to the US Secretary of State.  He assisted in negotiating the Austrian Treaty and upon returning home in June of 1947, he took command of the Sixth Army, whose headquarters were in San Francisco.  Two years later, Clark became chief of Army Field Forces.

 Later Years

In May of 1952, Clark succeeded General Ridgway as commander of the United Nations Command.  After retiring from the US Army, he served as president of the prestigious military college – the Citadel – from 1954 to 1965.  Clark’s military career spanned 24 years, during which time he rose through the ranks rapidly.  Some feel it was due in part to his association with General George Marshall and Dwight Eisenhower.

Along with his impressive rank at such a young age, Clark accumulated a number of awards and decorations including the Distinguished Service Cross, Legion of Merit, Bronze Star, Purple Heart, WWI and WWII Victory Medals and the Korean Service Medal, just to name a few.

Though some of his military career may be considered controversial, no doubt, General Clark, the youngest U.S. Army General, and his service left an indelible mark on the history of the United States military.

Carrier Pigeons Used During World War I

carrier pigeonCarrier Pigeons, used to carry communications during World War I, proved to be instrumental in the war.  Because advanced telecommunications had yet to be developed, the carrier pigeon was often used by both sides, not only for critical dispatches, but also often sent from the front line carrying status report messages back to the main headquarters.  The messages could then be relayed to the proper military authorities.  In all, it is estimated that more than 100,000 carrier pigeons were used by both sides during the war.  They are recorded as having a 95% success rate in navigating successfully to their intended destination.

Crude Communications

Though communications during WWI were still crude, the telecommunications at that time was still the preferred method of communication.  However, oftentimes, troop’s positions sometimes took them into areas past the existing lines.  They would have to delay their communications until new line was laid down – this sometimes delayed their transmissions for days.  In some cases, the terrain was so difficult, laying wire was impossible.

Carrier pigeons were fitted with a small carrier, which was attached to the pigeon’s leg.  Once a message was completed, it would be folded and placed inside the canister.  The pigeon would then be released to fly back to headquarters.

French_soldiers_ditch_1914During the First Battle of the Marne, pigeons were shown to be the most effective means of getting messages to the French headquarters.  Astonishingly enough, even if the pigeons were gone when the pigeon lofts advanced with the troops, when they returned, they still managed to find their loft.  Their ability to find their way back to those who used them as messengers, was vital.  Along with its acute homing instinct, the pigeon was also able to travel at great speeds, making it almost impossible to shoot one down.

Carrier pigeons were also found on board warships and seaplanes, where they could be used as a backup should radio communications, for any reason, break down.

US Army Signal Corps

One of the oldest groups of soldiers was known as the US Army Signal Corps.  During WWI, they were given 600 pigeons to use as a means of communication.   These are the men who were (and always have been) responsible for assuring that messages between units, as well as those from the other branches of the US service, got through.

At the start of the First World War, the United States received the pigeons as a donation from Great Britain bird breeders.  Then, it was up to the American Soldiers to train them for their jobs.

Cher Ami

One of the most noted carrier pigeons from WWI was named Cher Ami – translated Dear Friend.  This pigeon, in the fall of 1918, spent several months on the front line and flew 12 vital missions.  It is believed the most important message, however, was carried on 4 October 1918.

cher-ami-war-pigeonThe day before, US Army Major Charles Whittlesey and 500 of his men found themselves trapped in a small hollowed area on the side of a hill.  They were surrounded by the enemy.  Many of the men trapped were killed or wounded on the first day.  By day two, just over 200 were alive and unwounded.  Major Whittlesey sent out a number of pigeons to inform his commanders, not only of his position, but alert them of how dangerous the trap was.

The following day, Cher Ami was the only pigeon he had left.  That afternoon, the US sent some protection.  The only problem was they were unsure of the American’s exact location so some of the artillery they were firing was landing right on top of Whittlesey and his men.  The Major wrote a quick note instructing the men firing the artillery guns of his location and asking them to cease.

As Cher Ami was released, the German soldiers spotted the pigeon and began opening fire.  Whittlesey and his men thought they were doomed, as they observed Cher Ami plummeting to earth.  The pigeon, however, did not stay down for long.  He managed to once again spread his wings and rise.  Cher Ami flew high above the enemy fire and covered 25 miles in just 25 minutes.  When he arrived at his coop, he was found severely injured, but the silver canister, which contained the all-important message, was still attached.  The bird’s perseverance is credited with saving more than 200 lives.

Dedicated medics from the 77th Infantry Division worked valiantly to save Cher Ami.  Though successful, they were unable to save his leg.  They did, however, carve him a wooden leg.  When the French soldiers (who the American’s trying to assist) received word of Cher Ami’s courage and determination, they awarded him one of France’s great honors – the Crois de guerre with a palm leaf.

Once the pigeon was well enough to travel, it was sent by boat to the United States.  Back in the states, Cher Ami’s story was all over the news.  But eventually, on June 13 1919, less than a year after his brave journey, Cher Ami succumbed to his wounds.  He was preserved by a taxidermist and has served as inspiration for millions over the years.  In fact, Cher Ami, one of the most well-known carrier pigeons of World War I, is on display at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History in Washington, DC.

It should be adequately noted that this legend has grown and changed over the years.  Some feel it actually occurred during the Lost Battalion mission sometime in October of 1918.  In the telling of that story, no mention is made of Cher Ami being wounded just out of the pocket.  However, it is not important where or when Cher Ami was wounded.  What is important is that this World War I carrier pigeon’s bravery and determination is, in fact, still completely accurate.

WWI Gas Mask for Horses

Horse’s gas mask is featured on the left.

Step off the streets of the 21st Century and into the Armed Forces History Museum’s replica of a WWI trench where the sights and sounds of the great battle rage around you.  Inside you’ll discover a very rare WWI gas mask for a horse.  While it may be difficult to fathom the need for a horse’s gas mask, remember, you have just taken a step back to an era when horses played a vital role in the military. 

 

Introduction of Chemical Warfare

On April 22, 1915 during their attack on the French, Germany became the first military to utilize chemical warfare with a chlorine gas.  From this point forward, chemical warfare became a widespread threat and gas masks became standard issue.  Since horses were often used to transport supplies and ammunition to the trenches, gas masks were also designed to protect them.  Soldiers would train with their horses using the gas masks in order to familiarize the animal with the apparatus and off-set potential problems once they stepped onto the fields.

The respirator used by the horses (as seen in the photo) included a flannelette bag with a corresponding canvas mouthpiece, which would be inserted into the horse’s mouth.  An elastic band ensured the respirator would remain close to the horse’s face when in use.

Horses Important Role in WWI

At the beginning of WWI, all major military units had cavalry forces.  Some military forces discontinued using horses shortly after the war, but others continued implementing them for logistical support since horses were far better at travelling over the various terrains.  Horses were also used during WWI to carry messages and weapons and to assist with reconnaissance.  Additional duties also included pulling the artillery and supply wagons.

Horses often contributed to the overall morale of the troops on the front-line, but unfortunately, they also contributed to the problem of disease and poor sanitation.  Their value, however, cannot be disputed.  As WWI progressed, horses became more difficult to replace, making their loss (in the eyes of many) more of a tactical concern than the loss of a soldier.  A blockade by the Allies hindered the Central Powers attempts to replace their lost horses.  This is considered one of the reasons they were defeated.   By wars end, even the US Army, which had been well-supplied, found themselves short on horses.

World War I Snipers and Their Rifles

Throughout World War I, snipers were often used in the trenches in an effort to take out enemy soldiers as their heads peered over the top of the opposing trench.  At the start of WW I, only Germany issued scoped rifles to their troops.  The effectiveness of the German snipers resulted in their reputation – which was due in part to their training, but also due to the high-quality lenses manufactured by the Germans – as the deadliest and most efficient sharp shooters during the war.  The lack of Russian counter-parts, also allowed their specially trained snipers to execute their kills with no danger of a sniper counterpart.

As success of the German snipers spread, the British Army opted to begin its own training school, dedicated specifically to sniper training.  Major Hesketh-Prichard founded and headed up this first school and is credited with developing a number of sniping techniques, including spotting scopes, working in pairs and developing observational skills.

Sniper Rifles of WWI

Though rifles were used throughout the infantry, they were a critical component for a sniper. Below is a list of some of the more common rifles used by snipers throughout World War I:

  • German Mauser Gewehr 98 – In service from 1898 – 1935

British Pattern 1914 Enfield – Designed 1914-15 – declared obsolete in 1947

British Lee-Enfield SMLE Mk III – SMLE:  1907 – present day

US M1903 Springfield – US issue 1905 – 1937

Russian M1891 Mosin-Nagant – 1891 – present day

Sniper rifles in WW I were noted for their range and accuracy.  However, despite the sophistication of the weaponry, they were not a substitute for the training, dedication and marksmanship of the sniper.  The history of the sniper dates back as far as the American Revolutionary War, and their story continues on to present day.  Snipers have been an integral part of wars throughout history – World War I snipers are no exception.

Advancements in Technology in World War II

 

In World War II, continual advancements in technology were mandatory to maintain a competitive edge over the enemy.  While technological advancements were made prior to the war, other developments were a direct result of the trials and errors suffered during the war.  The WWII era housed a great many changes which affected weaponry, logistical support, communications and intelligence, medicine and various industries.

Overview

Advancement in military weaponry occurred rapidly during the Second World War, including everything from aircraft to small arms.  At the beginning of WWII, little advancement had been seen since the end of WWI.  However, just six short years later the face of warfare morphed significantly with the military utilizing jet aircrafts and ballistic missiles.

Tanks and Vehicles

 

Due to the increased mobility of troops in WWII (vs. the static front lines of WWI), tanks saw significant advancements, including increased speed, armor and firepower.  The amphibious DUKW was another crucial development during the war and was utilized extensively for troop deployment and as a means to transport tanks to areas in need.

Ships

WWI Navy battleships no longer dominated the sea power.  Newly designed aircraft carriers were equipped with greater range and a heavier striking power.  Due to time constraints in producing new ships, older ships were being retro fitted with newly designed components.

Small Arms

 The production of small arms changed dramatically with the introduction of stamping, riveting and welding.  Semi-automatic rifles and assault rifles were also developed during this era.  A number of transformations emerged throughout this time that would affect future small arms advancements.  WWII small arms have continued to be a favorite among collectors of WWII weapons or weapons in general.

Aircraft

Aircraft development was crucial during WWII due to its increased use throughout the war – as bombers, fighters and reconnaissance.  Massive bombing raids were being utilized as an alternative to static trench warfare.  Air superiority was the goal of both the Allies and the Axis, each dedicating as much man/woman and machine power as possible to produce the ultimate air weapon.  By the end of WWII, pilots were flying jet aircrafts.  Other advancements in armament, maneuverability and radar assisted with the continual advancement of military aircraft.

Conclusion

No doubt WWII played a critical role in the industrialization of many of the nations around the world on which every military greatly relied.   As a result, incredible advancements in technology – necessitated by the advancements of the enemy – were witnessed throughout World War II.