Saturday, July 9, 2016

100 Years Ago: O Verdun!

You may have noticed on the front pages from 1916 that have appeared on Saturback Sommeday here lately that by this point of the year, the Battle of Verdun had been underway for several months. Lasting from February into December, the Battle of Verdun was the single longest battle of the Great War.
"Offensives and Defensives" by John McCutcheon for Chicago Tribune, July 6, 1916
Verdun-sur-Meuse is a small river town on what was the Western Front; you'll find it on a line between Luxembourg and Paris. The French had not expected an attack there in winter, so the Germans were able to capture several forts in the first four days of their advance. Once the French put General Petain in charge of defenses there, however, a deadly stalemate took hold. By July, 185,000 were dead on the French side, 200,000 on the Germans'.

In June, the British launched a counterattack at the Somme, where they would suffer their greatest losses of the war over the next several months. It succeeded in forcing the German army to divert forces about 120 miles northwest, softening their line enough that the French were finally able to retake some six miles of territory on July 5.
"The Crown Prince and the German Sheep on Their Way to Slaughter"
Gabriel Galantara for L'Asino, (Rome)
German sheep being herded to slaughter was a theme I came across more than once in searching out cartoons about this particular battle. Keep in mind that as far as cartoonists in the belligerent countries were concerned, the enemy's casualties were always the more significant issue than those of one's own side.
"CLOWN PRINCE: Gott is mit uns! Another hundred thousand German lives will do it!"
Joseph Morewood Staniforth for Western Mail (Cardiff, Wales) 
In the U.S., officially a neutral country for the moment, some cartoonists saw that the carnage was equally tragic on both sides.
"Shade of Dante: 'My Inferno Was Child's Play.'"
William C. Morris for Harper's Weekly Independent, New York, July 17, 1916
As for German cartoonists, I have only this one cartoon about Verdun, probably from May or June. Here, the German soldier has his hapless French foe pinned on his back; the two figures belching fire in the background are British Prime Minister Herbert Henry Asquith and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Dmitrievich Sazonov.
W. A. Wellner for Lustige Blaetter, Berlin
I don't know what the caption to that cartoon was in the original German, and I don't speak German anyway; but I doubt there was anything clever or witty to Wellner's cartoon, or in any of the other German cartoons I've seen. Faced with the horrors of war, most continental cartoonists abandoned any sense of humor in favor of hyperbolic chauvinism.
"The Eagle Strangled by France"
Louis Raemaekers for Amsterdam Telegraf
Louis Raemaekers was without a doubt a great cartoonist, but even with reported grain shortages in Germany, the idea that France was strangling the German Eagle is wildly optimistic at this point of the war. The Western front was still entirely in France. This British cartoon by Leonard Raven-Hill is a better metaphor:
"Held" by Leonard Raven-Hill for Punch (London)
In July, a number of other cartoonists repeated some variation of this second cartoon by Raven-Hill from a few months earlier:
"The Grapes of Verdun" by Leonard Raven-Hill for Punch (London)
Meanwhile, Germany and Austria-Hungary also had to deal with the last major offensive of Czarist Russia on their Eastern Front. From his vantage point in America's Midwest, here's how things stood in John McCutcheon's eyes.
"The Supreme Test" by John McCutcheon for Chicago Tribune, July 3, 1916

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