The Chairlady, Lyn Miller, opened the January meeting by welcoming all present to the first meeting of the New Year and by mentioning the recent unfortunate events involving the Military Police and a raid on the Museum. Your committee has pledged its full support to the staff of the Museum and has passed on small sympathy gifts to those who were incarcerated during the recent fiasco.
She also took the opportunity to introduce members to the next raffle with the prize of a DVD entitled "The War in the Skies" (Great air battles of World War 11). Tickets at R10 each will be available at lecture evenings until March.
She then introduced the first speaker, the well-known lecturer and radio presenter Mr Gerald Zwirn who presented the curtain raiser for the evening entitled "Voices from the Past".
Mr Zwirn presented a fascinating audio and pictorial presentation of old recordings and photographs of famous people captured on film and the newfangled gramophone. Starting in 1890 with the voice of Florence Nightingale, our speaker brought us through the evolution of the gramophone and broadcasting (and incidentally of photography) with an excellent selection of voices. He showed us a depiction of the original 1890 Edison Cylinder, used Edison himself to describe his own invention, and then allowed Tolstoy and Sarah Bernhardt to speak for themselves. George Bernard Shaw was supremely witty and received a round of applause. Dame Nellie Melba gave her farewell speech in 1926. Arthur Conan Doyle spoke on how and why he invented Sherlock Holmes. The "Hindenburg" crash was relived and we heard King Edward abdicating and Hitler, Chamberlain, Hertzog, Mussolini and Roosevelt declare war. Montgomery badmouthed Rommel and Stalin growled. Lala Andersen sang "Lili Marlene" for us and Vera Lynn countered with "The White Cliffs of Dover". Ghandi had something to say and Harold MacMillan prophesied on the "winds of change blowing through Africa". Gerald ended his presentation with the sound of nightingales singing to a cello solo by Beatrice Harrison in 1937, thus literally starting and ending with a nightingale and bringing an excellent presentation to a close.
The main speaker of the evening was Mr "Flip" Hoorweg, our Deputy Chairman, who presented a comprehensive and well illustrated talk on "The American Offensives in France in 1918: St Mihiel and the Meuse-Argonne".
By late 1917, a stalemate had arrived in World War I as the contestants, especially in Western Europe, were utterly exhausted, with their manpower resources coming to an end. However, two developments suddenly altered this: the Russian Revolution and the entry of the United States into the conflict. The former allowed Germany the chance to stop the war in the east, and by moving millions of their soldiers to France, enabled General Ludendorff to launch successive offensives in the west.
The latter, the entry of the USA into the war, was a major development which would make victory over the central powers a near certainty. Unfortunately, by early 1918, little more than 100 000 half-trained US soldiers had arrived in France.
American public opinion largely favoured the Allies. Ties of language and literature, law and custom bound the US to the British, and relations with France dated back to the Revolution. The US also developed an economic stake in the war and German unrestricted submarine warfare had caused a number of US vessels to be sunk and lives to be lost. The USA ultimately declared war on the German Empire on 6 April 1917.
It was expected that by early 1918 there would ultimately be five million US soldiers in France. This whole army had to be assembled, equipped and trained from the ground up, but grew apace under leaders who would become celebrities in World War II, such as George Marshall, Douglas MacArthur and George Patton. However, it was the firm leadership of General John J Pershing, the Commander-in-chief of the American Expeditionary Force (AEF), who insisted on using his force as a sole entity that ultimately forged the AEF into a strong instrument of about 15 divisions.
After a trial period in the line, at Chateau Thierry in May 1918, to familiarize the raw "doughboys" with combat, it was decided to give the US forces their big chance.The chosen sector was the NE of France, where the most important railway lines ran close to the German frontline. A breakthrough here would enable the US forces to launch a war-winning push into Germany. On September 12, 1919, Pershing started his offensive in the St Mihiel sector, with 300 000 men. It was very successful. For four years this sector had been a thorn in the flank of France, but the Americans removed it in a single day. Ludendorff was stunned.
The nearby Meuse-Argonne sector was next in line. By a supreme effort, Colonel George Marshall assembled 600 000 men in position on time. Heavy rain made the country waterlogged, bringing about the collapse or death of thousands of horses that were hauling supplies and causing traffic mayhem. The Argonne area had many steep mountains and ravines, as well as the strong Kriemhilde Stellung, part of the main Hindenburg line.
Pershing's offensive started on September 26, with a bombardment of 3 800 guns. Very heavy fighting took place and it took the Americans three weeks to break through, although they were approaching the main railway line between Sedan and Metz when the war came to a sudden end.
The politicians had not been idle and the Armistice came into effect at 11:11 on November 11, 1918.
Mr Bob Smith thanked Flip for an excellent and interesting lecture and then called for a show of hands as to who would be interested in attending the Society's next outing, which would be in April and would be a visit to Pretoria to tour the Kruger House and Melrose House. There was an overwhelmingly positive response and Bob will make the necessary arrangements.
The December 2004 Military History Journal has been unavoidably delayed, firstly by the passing away of George Barrell, the sub-editor, and secondly by the unpleasantness at the Museum which affected Susanne Blendulf, who is the Editor. It WILL appear and you will receive your copy, if you were a paid up member in 2004.
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