Tuesday, December 22, 2009


Chas Clifton sent me a link to a fascinating story at the Daily Mail, showing some photos from Britain's first woman press photographer, mostly pictures she had taken of departing troops in London during the Great War. It's never really easy looking at a postcard of a whole section of smiling lads that were headed for the corpsefields of Loos or the Somme.


Of more abstract interest is the fact that the one photo of U.S. doughboys at the linked article clearly shows them at Wellington Barracks in London with their rifles stacked, and those stacked rifles are quite clearly M1898 Krags, which had been out of service with the regular U.S. Army for about a decade. It remained in service with some National Guard units into the '14-'18 War years, but it's odd to see them overseas. Can anybody more familiar with U.S. gear of the period guess the type of unit by looking at the photo?


Anonymous said...

Damnit. Got something in my eye

wv: poomen. short for poor men?

og said...

Damn. Look at all those Krags and Smellys. A bunch of handsome young men, off to their doom.

Turk Turon said...

One of the Daily Mail commenters agreed with you, Tam:
"The picture of the Yanks with their 1898 Krags are a question, being so late in the war. Also, the guys look a lot older than usual, which makes me think they are some kind of reserves."

Ed Foster said...

My guess would be either the 27th New York National Guard or the 30th Carolinas NG. Both units went over with Krags, knowing that they would be replaced with SMLE's when they were attached to the British army.

They served with the Brits until war's end, and a lot of the old "Apple Knockers" from upstate New York that I knew as a kid had British decorations along with American.

My guess, strickly from the variation in physical appearance, is the 27th New York NG.

Boat Guy said...

The Guard units would be a good assessment.
Even later in the war there were problems getting small arms. My maternal Grandfather was in the U.S. Army and didn't get issued any weapon till he got to France - and then he went through training with an 88 Commission Mauser! We've a great photo of him with it.
Later as a motorcycle messenger he was carrying a 1911 - but it obviously had to be rotated among the riders as most of the photos of him between runs show an empty holster on his pistol belt. His sergeant wore a 17 revolver in the butt-forward twist-draw holster, but it looks as though he got to actually keep his sidearm all the time.
Paternal Grandfather didn't have that problem; as an officer, he had already purchased his own 1911. We still have - and occasionally shoot - that one.

B.S. philosopher said...

There was supposedly a Regular Army engineers unit that made it over in Early '17 equipped still with Krags. They didn't see combat and were re-equipped a few months later.

Gewehr98 said...

Kinda throws the whole Springfield vs. U.S. Enfield debate out there, don't it?

Chas S. Clifton said...

Thanks for the link. I missed the Daily Mail commenter's observation, but it makes sense.

When I first saw the photo, I thought they were '03 Springfields by the stocks, but there was that bare metal showing on the left side of the breech.

Doing some more Googling, I found references to National Guard units with Krags, so maybe Ed Foster nailed it.

Anonymous said...

on one canteen is the 12 18 over the US marking.

Is that a battalion or regiment of either NC or NY Guard unit.

One of my friends had an uncle who shipped overseas and was gassed in the the second battle of the Marne. He was issued a Krag, which my friend still has. His uncle was apparently in a Texas National Guard unit.


Vaarok said...

According to Krag on Gunboards, AKA Paul Scarlatta IRL, there was a unit of rear-echelon engineers equipped with Krags. Otherwise they were strictly for training, the units that shipped overseas with them were issued SMLEs, 03s, or M1917s for combat.

global village idiot said...

Guard unit is further reinforced by the canteen they're using. It's from the Spanish American War period. Our Army was issuing the "new" pattern in 1910. We would recognize it as a metal version of the plastic canteen we were all issued. For its time it was as innovative as a canteen can get.

This sort of thing happens all the time. In 2005 my Reserve detachment went to Camp Atterbury with old equipment - some of it designed in the Vietnam War - the canteens are but one example. We got issued some new kit at Atterbury but some we had to wait for until we arrived in Kuwait.

I notice also that some of the rifles are quite clumsily stacked. Most of the stacks are done properly but (oddly for a posed photograph) the front two stacks are bollixed. The second from front is quite narrow compared to the rest, and the frontmost is just a jumble. Kinda like we stack our rifles now. And here I thought my own generation was the first to stack our arms so nonchalantly.


Tam said...

"This sort of thing happens all the time. In 2005 my Reserve detachment went to Camp Atterbury with old equipment - some of it designed in the Vietnam War - the canteens are but one example."

A former co-worker who went downrange in Desert Storm swears up and down he saw a cop from an ID or MT Air Nasty Guard unit with an M1897 trench gun over there. I know my old neighbor who was a Guard bum with the TN Air Guard saw his unit turn in their pristine mid-'60s M16s for A2s in '05, only because M193 ball had gotten too hard to come by...

Boat Guy said...

Had to look up the ship shown on the flat-hat worn by Trooper O'Conner's brother. HMS Ariel was sunk by a mine in 1918 with 49 KIA including the Skipper.
Hard to conceive of the scale of the losses that generation incurred.

Tam said...

I seem to recall kindly old Professor Tolkien telling an interviewer that he didn't have any old friends from school because they were all dead...

Ruzhyo said...

A recent biography said Tolkien was wrong when he claimed they were all dead, but only by one or two people.

WV: "punric" - A more jovial version of the Punic War

Robert Langham said...

Had to go get my Krag and sight down the barrel a few times. God bless those men, all long past laid in their graves.

Britt said...

Was at my local WMD distribution center and militia recruitment depot today, and they had, right next to each other a Krag, an 03, a WWII era Enfield, a nice Garand and the most beautiful SKS I'd ever seen. The Krag was not safe to fire, but I wanted them all.

This is why I keep my credit card in a block of ice.

Ed Foster said...

The British were the most aggressive (think Gallipoli),the Germans the least, wisely fighting on the defensive after Verdun, making the allies come to them. The Americans and French were in the middle in terms of loss acceptance.

The Americans took the advice of the French, and quickly became masters of aggressive fire and movement, "bounding over watch" coordinated small unit rushes. That, plus Pershing's utter contempt for armies trained only for trench warfare, was the primary reason for the rapid pace of the allied offensive.

Essentially, the Americans pulled the British along with them, flanking German units to their north and causing them to pull back without giving the Brits in front of them much of a fight. If they had stood their ground before the British, they would have had Americans and French behind them.

Interestingly, in a sad sort of way, the war losses changed the genetic make-up of the British people. There were so many losses among young men, it became common for girls in their teens and twenties to marry men in their 40's, 50's, and 60's.

A peculiarity among European men, not found in other groups, is that older men sire more boys than girls, by a ratio of roughly 2 to 1, presumably a selection evolved from times past when large scale losses were common.

So there were more British men of prime military age per given unit of population in 1939-1945 than in other nationalities. Check the online archives of Discovery Magazine for the full article.

Evidently, losses on this staggering scale must have happened often enough over the centuries that selection favored middle-aged or older men who made boys. Scary thought.

Right up there with the bit about how the "bottleneck" near extinction of Cro-Magnon at the end of the ice age was so close to finishing us.

95% of all people of European stock alive today are descended from only 13 men, something the DNA kiddies only noticed about 3 years ago.

History is written by the winners, but sometimes it's hard to tell them from the losers.

jselvy said...

1 July 1914:

Between the hours of 0730 and 0830 GMT the British units at the Somme suffer 60,000 casualties, 40,000 of them fatalities.

A monumental loss of life that I sincerely hope will never be repeated.