There were plenty of hazardous postings during World War I, but serving as bait to lure German U-boats to the surface certainly ranked among the most perilous.
The British navy is believed to have produced between 200 and 300 so-called “Q-ships” during the conflict, vessels specially adapted as decoys and armed with concealed guns. Their goal was to lure enemy submarines to the surface and then attempt to destroy them.
This little-known aspect of the Allied war effort came to the fore last weekend, when researchers announced that they believe they have found the Q-ship HMS Stock Force, sunk in July 1918.
A team of divers spent about four years searching for the Stock Force and discovered the vessel about eight miles from where charts had indicated, at a depth of 200 feet, 14 miles from Plymouth, (England), according to the blog Remembering 1914.
The Stock Force was a former collier which retained the appearance of a merchant vessel and was manned by a Royal Navy crew disguised as merchant sailors.
On July 30, 1918, it was attacked by a U-boat, believed to be the UB 80, off the coast of Devon, and suffered a torpedo strike. However, the British ship then turned the tables on its assailant.
One, the RMS Olympic, enjoyed a long and fruitful career, from 1911 to 1935, before being scrapped.
The other, the RMS Britannic, had a decidedly shorter stint above the waves, sinking on this date in 1916. The Britannic, completed in 1915, never made a single passenger voyage, thanks to the Great War.
Instead, she was pressed into service in late 1915 as a hospital ship, ferrying nurses and other medical staff to the east, and bringing wounded back from the disastrous Gallipoli campaign.
The Britannic was on her sixth voyage into the Mediterranean Sea on Nov. 21, 1916, when, while steaming at full speed off the Greek island of Kea, she either struck a mine or was hit by a German torpedo. To this day, it’s still unclear what prompted the Britannic’s sinking.
The ship’s captain, White Star veteran Charles Bartlett, reacted quickly and coolly, ordering the watertight doors closed and directing that a distress call be sent out immediately. He also ordered the crew to uncover the boats and that the ship’s siren sound the general alarm.
Every November 11, the poem In Flanders Fields is read throughout Canada, a tribute to the 67,000 men of the Great White North who gave their lives in World War I.
The verse was written by John McCrae, a Canadian physician and poet of some note from Guelph, Ontario.
Although he was 41 years old at the outbreak of World War I and could have joined the medical corps because of his training and age, McCrae opted to volunteer for the First Brigade of the Canadian Forces Artillery as a gunner and medical officer.
He was on hand with the Canadian Expeditionary Force at the second battle of Ypres in the Flanders region of Belgium in early 1915, a month-long struggle that resulted in more than 100,000 casualties.
It was during this bloody battle that the Germans launched one of the first chemical attacks in the history of war. They hit the Canadian position with chlorine gas on April 22, 1915, but were unable to break through the Canadian line, which held for over two weeks.
McCrae described the battle as a nightmare in a letter to his mother:
Nearly a century after dying in the waning days of World War I, a young Irish soldier killed fighting for the US has been recognized by his adopted land.
Edmond “Ned” Brunnock, 28, emigrated from the Cork-Tipperary border to Dorchester, Mass., in the early part of the 20th century.
He enlisted in the American army in February 1918 and was sent to the trenches in France.
His unit – the 306th Division – was involved in a brutal battle with German troops at St. Hubert near Boureuilles near the Franco-German border on Sept. 28, 1918, less than six weeks before the end of the bloody four-year conflict.
Brunnock, a private, suffered severe injuries as he fought to save several comrades, and died of his wounds four days later on Oct. 1, according to the Irish Independent.
The Berlin City Palace, home to Prussian kings and German emperors, served not just as the residence of imperial leaders for centuries but was the city’s most cherished landmark.
It’s difficult to overstate the majesty of the Berliner Stadtschloss, a brilliant example of Baroque architecture with approximately 12,000 rooms and 250,000 square feet of floor space.
For five centuries the palace was not only a central part of Berlin’s identity, but also served as the focal point of its architecture, with the city center’s ensemble of historical building and main avenues growing up around the palace for more than 500 years, according to the Epoch Times.
Though heavily damaged in World War II, the palace’s structure remained intact. In 1950, the East German communist regime pulled it down to both make space for a grand square for military parades in the heart of Berlin and to rid the city of the reminder of Prussian militarism.
East German Communist Party chief Walter Ulbricht ignored all protests, even from within the party, to save the palace. Due to the thickness of the walls, up to 10 feet in places, the demolition process took 10 months, according to the Times.
Now, more than 60 years later, the Berlin City Palace is being rebuilt entirely from scratch, in a massive, ambitious project expected to cost upwards of $1 billion.
Nearly a century after being sunk by Turkish shellfire, a noted World War I British submarine has been located in the Eastern Mediterranean.
HMS E14 was discovered just 800 feet off coast of the Turkey town of Kum Kale, apparently largely intact.
The E14 was sunk in January 1918 with the loss of 25 men while on a mission to torpedo the Yavuz Sultan Selim, the flagship of the Ottoman Empire’s navy.
The submarine had navigated 20 miles through dense minefields and past a string of enemy positions into the heavily fortified Dardanelles – the narrow straits between modern-day Turkey’s European and Asian coasts, according to The Daily Mail.
Finding the Goeben gone, E14 attacked a merchant ship as she withdrew from the Dardanelles.
She fired two torpedoes but one exploded prematurely, damaging the submarine. E14 was forced to surface because of flooding and came under coastal battery fire off Kum Kale.
It’s been nearly a century since an Allied shell exploded above a bunker in the Alsace region of France, entombing 21 German soldiers.
They lay undisturbed since their deaths in 1918 until excavation work for a road building project uncovered the mass grave recently.
Many of the skeletal remains were found in the same positions the men had been in at the time of the collapse, prompting experts to liken the scene to Pompeii, according to The Telegraph.
“A number of the soldiers were discovered sitting upright on a bench, one was lying in his bed and another was in the fetal position having been thrown down a flight of stairs,” the publication reported.
The men, part of the 6th Company, 94th Reserve Infantry Regiment, were among 34 soldiers killed during the explosion.
Thirteen bodies were recovered from the underground shelter shortly afterward, but the remaining men had to be left under a mountain of mud as it was too dangerous to retrieve them.
In addition to bodies, such personal effects as weapons, wine bottles and wallets were also found.
William Shemin was just 19 years old when, over the space of three days in August 1918 during the pivotal Second Battle of the Marne, he crossed the battlefield three times to rescue fellow American soldiers.
On the third effort during the battle, in which the Allies stopped the last German offensive of World War I, he was wounded in the head.
But with his commanding officers either hurt or dead, Shemin refused medical attention and led the platoon out of danger before finally collapsing unconscious.
“He distinguished himself by excellent control of his platoon at every stage of the action and by the thoroughness at great personal danger at which he evacuated the wounded,” according to the battle report submitted three months later by the division commander.
The Bayonne, N.J., native’s heroics made him the recipient of the Distinguished Service Cross, the nation’s second-highest combat award, with his award being signed by Gen. John Pershing, commander of the American Expeditionary Force.
Now, nearly a century later, the Army will consider whether Shemin actually deserved the Medal of Honor, but was denied because he was Jewish.
Private Alexander Johnston, a Canadian soldier killed in the waning days of World War I, was laid to rest Tuesday in France while his great grand-niece played Last Post.
The remains of Johnson, who was 33 when he was killed during the Battle of the Canal du Nord on Sept. 29, 1918, in northern France, were identified last spring.
Among those in attendance at Cantimpre Canadian Cemetery in Sailly-lez-Cambrai were Marc Lortie, Canadian Ambassador to France, French dignitaries, a Canadian Forces contingent and members of Johnston’s family, including his great grand-niece, Corporal Ann Gregory, a Canadian Forces Reservist and trumpeter with the Governor General’s Foot Guards.
In July 2008, human remains were discovered in Sailly-lez-Cambrai, along with two collar badges of the 78th Battalion (Winnipeg Grenadiers). The Directorate of History and Heritage was notified of the discovery in February 2009, and Private Johnston’s remains were identified through mitochondrial DNA testing on March 31, 2011, according to the Canadian Department of National Defence.
“After all these years, we are finally able to commemorate and pay tribute to this great Canadian hero who made the ultimate sacrifice in the service of his country,” said Peter MacKay, Minister of National Defence. “By honoring Private Johnston today, we ensure that his courage and personal contribution in ending the Great War will never be forgotten.”
Nearly a century after they were buried alive, the bodies of 21 German soldiers have been discovered in a World War I tunnel in France.
The men, killed in March 1918, were found in Alsace, in what was once part of a labyrinth of passageways that troops used to try to avoid shelling during the 1914-18 conflict.
Kilianstollen was located about 500 feet behind the German front line. It was six feet high, nearly four feet wide and more than 20 feet beneath the surface. Thought to be bomb proof, the tunnel could offer up to 500 soldiers a break from the trenches.
For two years Kilianstollen survived Allied shelling unscathed, but one March afternoon in 1918, the Germans’ luck ran out. After a particularly heavy mustard gas attack – a chemical weapon which releases a powerful skin irritant – from the German army, the Allies retaliated with force as they rained explosives down on the area.