World War I History Podcast

MacArthur Memorial Audio Tour Produced by the MacArthur Memorial to commemorate the upcoming centennial of World War I (1914-1918), the World War I History Podcast will explore the history of the war from a variety of perspectives.

From the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand, to the Zimmerman Telegram, the Red Baron, trench warfare, the Christmas Truce and Lawrence of Arabia, this podcast will answer some of the major questions of the war.

What were the causes? Who were the major players? How did this war redraw the political and social map of the world? And most importantly, why does this war still matter?

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Special Exhibit Tour COMING SOON!

The North Sea Mine Barrage

The North Sea Mine BarrageThe Allies and Central Powers employed hundreds of thousands of sea mines during the Great War.  These mines were commonly used to defend coastlines and strategic locations from invasion – but they were also used as part of a broader anti-submarine campaign.

In 1917, with German submarines sinking many tons of shipping in the Atlantic, the United States Navy working in cooperation with its British counterparts, created a mine barrage in the North Sea that stretched from the Orkney Islands to the coastal waterways of Norway.  It was hoped that this barrage would prevent German submarines from reaching the Atlantic shipping lanes.  The ultimate effectiveness of the North Sea Mine Barrage is still debated today.   (14:13)

The Red Baron

The Red BaronSome of the great heroes of World War I were the “aces” – pilots who were credited with bringing down large numbers of enemy planes.  These dashing young pilots captured the imagination of the public and imbued the war with a sense of romanticism.  Their celebrity came from the fact that they fought a war of individual heroism in the blue skies – far from the anonymity of the muddy trenches.  In terms of casualty rates however, they were just as doomed as the troops in the trenches.

One of the most legendary “aces” of the war was Germany’s Baron Manfred von Richthofen – a man more commonly known as “The Red Baron.”  Flying a plane painted bright red, Richthofen stood out to friend and foe alike.  Killed at the age of 25, he left behind a record of 80 kills.   (22:02)

Woodrow Wilson Part I: Before the War

Woodrow Wilson Part I: Before the WarThis podcast features the first of three interviews that were recorded at the Woodrow Wilson Presidential Library in Staunton, VA.

The first installment in this series traces the meteoric rise of American President Woodrow Wilson – from his days as a professor to his political career and his vision of the role of the American president.   (17:58)

Woodrow Wilson Part II: During the War

Woodrow Wilson Part II: During the WarThis podcast features the second of three interviews that were recorded at the Woodrow Wilson Presidential Library in Staunton, VA.

The second installment in this series tells the story of Wilson during the war.  Elected to be a president focused primarily on domestic policy, within the first year of his first term in office, he was faced with a world war in Europe.

Reelected in 1916 under the slogan “He kept us out of war,” within a year he asked Congress for a declaration of war against Germany.  Highly intellectual, progressive, and idealistic, how did Wilson meet the challenge of world war?   (15:09)

Woodrow Wilson Part III: After the War

Woodrow Wilson Part III: After the WarThis podcast features the third of three interviews that were recorded at the Woodrow Wilson Presidential Library in Staunton, VA.

The third installment in this series tells the story of Wilson after the war. Traveling to France at the end of the war to play a role in the Paris Peace Conference, Wilson was greeted by enthusiastic crowds wherever he went.

His star had never been higher, but within a year he would be back in the United States – his health broken and his dream of American participation in the League of Nations out of reach.  What were his aims in the peace process? And what is his legacy today?   (13:39)

The 1914 Christmas Truce

The 1914 Christmas TruceAs dusk arrived on December 24, 1914, it was a cold night on the Western Front.  It had been five months since the start of the war, and already, German, French and British Armies, slugging it out in the mud of Flanders, had experienced unimaginable casualties.

The war was supposed to be over by Christmas – or so many of the soldiers had been told. Instead, there was an unbreakable stalemate, and many soldiers on both sides were suffering from trench foot, pneumonia, and frostbite.  There was little for them to celebrate as Christmas approached.

Despite the devastation and the suffering in the trenches however, there was a marked “live and let live” attitude in the days leading up to Christmas 1914.  This philosophy intensified as Christmas approached, and manifested itself in what scholars today refer to as the Christmas Truce of 1914.  This was not one isolated event, nor was it officially sanctioned or widespread – but across the Western Front, soldiers on both sides arranged temporary ceasefires, exchanges of gifts, and even played several soccer games in No Man’s Land.   (13:37)

The 42nd Division, Winter 1917-1918

The 42nd Division, Winter 1917-19181917 was a winter of gloom for the Allies.  The British had lost more than 400,000 men in their failed offensive at Passchendaele in the previous summer and fall.  That was followed by mutinies of nearly half of all French Army units after the failed Nivelle offensives.  To add to the gloom, Europe was about to experience its worst winter in many years.  The only glimmer of hope was the slow, steady arrival of American soldiers, and it was amidst this atmosphere that MacArthur and the 42nd Rainbow Division arrived in France.

The first months in France would be a difficult time for the Rainbow Division – mentally and physically - as the men were further prepared for the rigors of trench warfare.  It was also a difficult time for the officers of the 42nd Division who struggled to keep the division intact.  The Rainbow Division ultimately survived this difficult winter, and five months after their arrival in France, they were
ordered to the front.   (24:22)

The War Dead and the Politics of Commemoration

The War Dead and the Politics of CommemorationDr. Lisa Budreau, author of Bodies of War: World War I and the politics of commemoration in America 1919-1933, visited the MacArthur Memorial in October 2012 and lectured on the topic of repatriation, memorialization, and the creation of American cemeteries overseas to commemorate the fallen.

World War I marked the first war in which the United States government and military took full responsibility for the identification, burial, and memorialization of those killed in battle.  In the wake of the devastation of World War I, this process of memory and commemoration not only played an important role in helping grieving families, but also in terms of setting the groundwork for memorializing future war dead.   (34:13)

Dazzle Painting

Dazzle PaintingWorld War I was a war of production and supply: whoever could feed their populations and soldiers, make the most weapons, and marshal the most resources would win the war.  Surrounded by enemies on land, and desperate to break the trans-Atlantic trade and supply lines of the Allied Powers, Germany used submarines during the war to hunt down and destroy Allied vessels.  With this German U-Boat campaign threatening Allied supplies and production capabilities, it soon became obvious that something had to be done to counter the U-Boat threat or the Allies would lose the war.

One of the tactics adopted was the use of “dazzle painting” – a jarring, brightly colored paint scheme for ships.  Recognizing that it was impossible to make a ship invisible, Norman Wilkinson, the father of dazzle painting, decided to use bright and contrasting colors in geometric patterns to distort the size, speed, and shape of a ship.  While the ultimate success of dazzle painting was much debated after the war, it remains an interesting chapter in the history of World War I.   (12:53)

Douglas MacArthur in the First World War – Part III: The Journey to France

Douglas MacArthur in the First World War – Part III: The Journey to FranceThe North Atlantic is cold and stormy in October and November, and it loomed as a dreaded specter to thousands of members of the 42nd Rainbow Division at Camp Mills who had never seen the ocean much less taken a twelve day journey across it.  Furthermore, in 1917 all shipping routes to Europe from America were patrolled by German submarines.

The danger was clear, but so was the need for American troops in Europe.  The adoption of the convoy system by the British and United States Navies was a counter to the U-boat threat, but unpreparedness for war found America severely lacking in merchant shipping to get its men to France and it led to early difficulties in the alliance.  This podcast will discuss the incredibly difficult transport of the 27,000 men of the Rainbow and its complement of draft animals to France during the winter of 1917.  The journey was a nightmare for many, but the 42nd would arrive in France at a critical moment in the war.   (15:28)

Douglas MacArthur in the First World War – Part II: Camp Mills

Douglas MacArthur in the First World War – Part II: Camp MillsSituated on Hempstead Plain in Long Island, New York, Camp Mills was the primary training ground of the 42nd Rainbow Division.  The camp was swiftly constructed in the summer of 1917 and soon 27,000 men and 991 officers of the Rainbow Division began arriving at the camp to begin preparing for the war in Europe.

General John J. Pershing was already leading the American Expeditionary Force in France, and the war was not going well.  It was clear that the only thing that would turn the tide of the war was more men – and fast.  Pershing informed the war department that places like Camp Mills should focus on turning out physically fit men who could shoot.  As a result, Colonel Douglas MacArthur, Chief of Staff of the 42nd Division, later noted that “no frills and fancy gadgets were employed” at Camp Mills.  The training was difficult and often boring for many of the men, but in the end, Camp Mills was the anvil on which the 42nd Rainbow Division was forged.   (14:56)

Douglas MacArthur in the First World War – Part I: The Formation of the Rainbow Division

Douglas MacArthur in the First World War – Part I: The Formation of the Rainbow DivisionWhen the United States declared war on Germany in 1917, it had an absolutely miniscule standing army.  As the US Army General Staff began frantically preparing to mobilize an American Expeditionary Force, an internal debate arouse about the type of army the United States should send to France.  Should they wait for enlistment to swell the ranks of the regular army?  Or should the National Guard be used?

At the time, Major Douglas MacArthur was working in Washington, D.C. as part of the General Staff.  He had a deep belief in the value of the National Guard and believed that federalizing Guard units would be the best way to put large numbers of American troops in the field quickly.  He had the backing of Secretary of War Newton Baker, and in the early months of American participation in the war, Major MacArthur helped to create the 42nd “Rainbow” Division out of National Guard troops from around the nation.  His involvement with the “Rainbow” Division would go on to shape his experience of World War I.   (14:40)

The Organization and Insignia of the American Expeditionary Force – Lecture by Robert Dalessandro

The Organization and Insignia of the American Expeditionary Force – Lecture by Robert DalessandroRobert Dalessandro, Executive Director of the U.S. Army Center of Military History, visited the Memorial in October 2012 and lectured on the topic of the organization and insignia of the American Expeditionary Force (AEF).

World War I marked a watershed moment in the organization of the United States military.  The incredible scale of the war, as well as the changing nature of warfare made many of these changes necessary.  From the size of an army to the composition of smaller units like platoons and companies, the American military underwent a reorganization on many levels.  In addition to these changes, Dalessandro also traces the development of the insignia of the AEF and discusses a few of the stories behind the adoption of certain insignia by different AEF divisions.   (24:28)

The Fighting 69th in the Great War – Lecture by Author Stephen L. Harris

The Fighting 69th in the Great War – Lecture by Author Stephen L. HarrisAuthor Stephen L. Harris visited the Memorial in October 2012 and gave a presentation on “The Fighting 69th” in World War I.  As part of the New York National Guard, elements of the 69th Infantry Regiment have participated in five wars to date: the American Civil War, World War I, World War II, the Iraq War, and Afghanistan.

The regiment earned its nickname “The Fighting 69th” during the Civil War, and lived up to this nickname in World War I.  In 1917, the 69th Infantry was added to the 42nd “Rainbow” Division and renumbered the 165th Infantry Regiment.  The “Rainbow” Division was then sent to France as part of the American Expeditionary Force.  Col. Douglas MacArthur served as Chief of Staff of the “Rainbow” Division, and within the ranks of the 165th Infantry were legendary men like Father Francis Duffy, “Wild” Bill Donovan, and Joyce Kilmer.   (24:56)

The Miracle at the Marne

The Miracle at the MarneOn September 4, 1914, Kaiser Wilhelm II exulted: “It is the 35th day!”  The 35th day of the war had a very significant meaning to the German General Staff.  The Schlieffen Plan anticipated a victory over France within 35-40 days of combat.  This would allow Germany to avoid a damaging two front war and would leave the Germany army with plenty of time to turn and crush the Tsar’s newly mobilized forces in the East.  With the Allied armies in retreat and the French government abandoning Paris, on day 35 the Kaiser and his staff were confidently looking forward to the decisive battle that would end the war in the West.

By day 40 however, far from menacing Paris or completing the envelopment of British and French forces, the German forces were in retreat.  In what was later referred to as the Miracle of the Marne, the beleaguered British and French forces pushed the German armies back – ultimately saving France and denying the German’s the quick victory they needed to win the war.  This 1st Battle of the Marne would prove a strategic victory for the Allies but would also usher in trench warfare and the deadly stalemate that would forever characterize the nature of World War I.   (15:21)

The USS Olympia in World War I

The USS Olympia in World War IThis podcast features an interview with Megan Good, the director of the J. Welles Henderson Archives and Library at the Independence Seaport Museum in Philadelphia.  The Independence Seaport Museum is currently the home of the U.S.S. Olympia – a vessel that served as Commodore George Dewey’s flagship during the Battle of Manila Bay in the Spanish American War.

By World War I the Olympia was no longer a match for the larger, faster ships born of the early 20th Century naval arms race, but she still had some important roles left to play.  Whether her mission was diplomacy, humanitarian aid, or peacekeeping, the Olympia was kept busy during the war.  Much beloved by the American public, after the war the Olympia would also be selected to carry the body of the Unknown Soldier of World War I back to the United States.  In many respects, the Olympia has become a forgotten story of World War I.   (15:13)

Terror in Sarajevo – The Assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand

Terror in Sarajevo: The Assassination of Archduke Franz FerdinandOtto von Bismarck once predicted that some “foolish” thing in the Balkans would start a major war in Europe – and he would prove correct in this belief.  In an age of entangling alliances between nations, unrest in the Balkans would be enough to disrupt and twist the relationships between the major European powers and lead to a world war.

The spark that would ignite this awful cataclysm would be a single act of terrorism in the Balkans – the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife Sophie.  In different environment, the assassination would have been viewed as merely a tragic event – not a casus belli.  But in the perfect storm that was Europe in the early 20th century, and in an atmosphere of saber rattling, the assassination changed the world.   (14:58)

The Schlieffen Plan

The Schlieffen PlanIn the decades before World War I, all the European powers had secret plans to defend against invasion or to make preemptive strikes against their enemies.  In Germany, the main war plan was the Schlieffen Plan.  This plan grew out of a German fear of encirclement.  Increasingly cut off from the rest of Europe by French, Russian, and British alliances, by the early 1900s Germany was geographically and politically isolated.

The Schlieffen Plan developed as a military solution to this predicament.  This plan anticipated a future war in which Germany would be surrounded by France and Russia.  It was designed to enable Germany to fight both nations, but to avoid doing so simultaneously.  When World War I began, a version of the Schlieffen Plan was implemented, but in the stalemate that ultimately developed, a victory meticulously planned on paper would be impossible to achieve.   (13:38)