Sunday, October 12, 2014

Photographs from the Western Front in World War 1, Part 1




World War 1 began 100 years ago, on 28 July 1914, and concluded on 11 November 1918. In between more than 9 million combatants and 7 million civilians died. Stalin famously said that one death is a tragedy, a million deaths is a statistic. When the numbers become too high to comprehend, grieving gives way to dispassionate observation. That is why photographs of individual scenes will often bring home the tragedy and enormity that words cannot.

Here are some WW1 images that do that, photographs and captions from Like Pictures at:

A French pilot made an emergency landing in friendly territory after a failed attempt to attack a German Zeppelin hangar near Brussels, Belgium, in 1915. Soldiers are climbing up the tree where the biplane has landed. 

Looking out across a battlefield from an Anzac pill box near the Belgian city of Ypres in West Flanders in 1917. When German forces met stiff resistance in northern France in 1914, a "race to the sea" developed as France and Germany tried to outflank each other, establishing battle lines that stretched from Switzerland to the North Sea. Allies and Central Powers literally dug in, excavating thousands of miles of defensive trenches, and trying desperately to break through the other side for years, at unspeakably huge cost in blood and treasure. [Editor's note: Photographer James Francis Hurley was known to have produced a number of WWI images that were composites of pieces of several photos, and it is possible this image is a composite as well.]

French soldiers on horseback in street, with an airship "DUPUY DE LOME" flying in air behind them, between ca. 1914. 

German officers in a discussion on the Western Front. (The man 2nd from right, in fur collar is possibly Kaiser Willhelm, the caption does not indicate). The German war plan had been for a swift, decisive victory in France. Little planning had been done for a long-term, slow-moving slog of a battle. 

A downed German twin-engined bomber being towed through a street by Allied soldiers, likely from Australia, in France.

Bombardment of the Cathedral of Reims, France, in September of 1914, as German incendiary bombs fell on the towers and on the apse during the German invasion of northern France. 

Six German soldiers pose in a in trench with machine gun, a mere 40 meters from the British line, according to the caption provided. The machine gun appears to be a Maschinengewehr 08, or MG 08, capable of firing 450-500 rounds a minute. The large cylinder is a jacket around the barrel, filled with water to cool the metal during rapid fire. The soldier at right, with gas mask canister slung over his shoulder, is peering into a periscope to get a view of enemy activity. The soldier at rear, with steel helmet, holds a "potato masher" model 24 grenade. 

French soldiers in a bayonet charge, up a steep slope in the Argonne Forest in 1915. During the Second Battle of Champagne, 450,000 French soldiers advanced against a force of 220,000 Germans, momentarily gaining a small amount of territory, but losing it back to the Germans within weeks. Combined casualties came to more than 215,000 from this battle alone. 

Harnessed dogs pull a British Army machine gun and ammo, 1914. These weapons could weigh as much as 150 pounds. 

German captive balloon at Equancourt, France, on September 22, 1916. Observation balloons were used by both sides to gain an advantage of height across relatively flat terrain. Observers were lifted in a small gondola suspended below the hydrogen-filled balloons. Hundreds were shot down during the course of the war. 

Soldiers struggle to pull a huge piece of artillery through mud. The gun has been placed on a track created for a light railway. The soldiers are pushing a device, attached to the gun, that possibly slots into the tracks. Some of the men are in a ditch that runs alongside the track, the rest are on the track itself. A makeshift caterpillar tread has been fitted to the wheels of the gun, in an attempt to aid its movement through the mud. 

French Reserves from the USA, some of the two million fighters in the Battle of the Marne, fought in September of 1914. The First Battle of the Marne was a decisive week-long battle that halted the initial German advance into France, short of Paris, and led to the "race to the sea". 

Members of New Zealand's Maori Pioneer Battalion perform a haka for New Zealand's Prime Minister William Massey and Deputy Prime Minister Sir Joseph Ward in Bois-de Warnimont, France, during World War I, on June 30, 1918. 

In France, a British machine-gun team. The gun, which appears to be a Vickers, is mounted on the front of a motorcycle side car. 

A German prisoner, wounded and muddy, helped by a British soldier along a railway track. A man, possibly in French military uniform, is shown behind them, holding a camera and tripod, ca. 1916.

British soldiers standing in mud on the French front lines, ca. 1917. 

Ruins of Gommecourt Chateau, France. The small community of Gommecourt sat on the front lines for years, changing hands numerous times, and was bombed into near-oblivion by the end. 

Three dead German soldiers outside their pill box near Zonnebeke, Belgium. 

Dead horses are buried in a trench after the Battle of Haelen which was fought by the German and Belgian armies on August 12, 1914 near Haelen, Belgium. Horses were everywhere in World War I, used by armies, and caught up in farm fields turned into battlefields, millions of them were killed. 

German soldiers make observations from atop, beneath, and behind large haystacks in southwest Belgium, ca. 1915. 

Transport on the Cassel Ypres Hoad at Steenvorde. Belgium, September, 1917. This image was taken using the Paget process, an early experiment in color photography. 

Mountains of shell cases on the roadside near the front lines, the contents of which had been fired into the German lines. 

A French soldier smokes a cigarette, standing near the bodies of several soldiers, apparently Germans, near Souain, France, ca. 1915.

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