Saturday, April 21, 2018

Paris Under the Gun

Seigeback Saturday returns to breaking news from 100 years ago in World War I. Nothing demonstrates the power of human ingenuity quite like our indefatigable ability to find new ways to kill each other in war. If necessity is the mother of invention, animosity is its nursemaid.

On March 21, 1918, Germany began shelling the French capital from 75 miles away with a brand new long-range cannon. Variously named the Pariser Kanone or Kaiser Wilhelm Geschütz, it fired the first man-made projectiles to reach the stratosphere; the rotation of the Earth during the three minutes the shells were airborne had to be taken into account in calculating their trajectory.

21 shells landed on Paris on the first day. Since the gun was out of earshot, Parisians at first thought they were being bombed by unseen high-altitude planes or zeppelins. But it didn't take long for the French military to determine that the shells were being fired from somewhere in German-occupied northern France.
"Die Märchenkanone" by J. Bahr in Kladderadatsch, Berlin, April 14, 1918
German media gleefully reported the news of their fantastic new weapon. Bahr's cartoon above apparently refers to a practice of spitting cherry pits at someone who has put on airs; perhaps there's some fairy tale about an auntie doing so. At any rate, the French ministry, press, telegraph and stock exchange are shown cowering underground — in the sewers perhaps — from Langen Tante's barrage of  kirschkerne.
"In Pariser Kellern" by Karl Arnold in Simplicissimus, Munich, April 23, 1918
From the safety of their drawing boards in Berlin and Munich, it was easy for German cartoonists to make schadenfreude of Parisians' plight.
"Neue Entene-Rüstungen" by Richter in Kladderadatsch,  Berlin, April 21, 1918
Another Kladderadatsch cartoonist ridicules the Entente powers, depicting them as having to resort to medieval defensive strategies against Germany's 20th Century weaponry. And over at Simplicissimus, one of their cartoonists shifted the blame for Paris's suffering to one of her allies.
"Jeanne d'Arc" by Wilhelm Schulz in Simplicissimus, Munich, April 30, 1918
Yet another Simplicissimus cartoonist came closer to accepting German responsibility, recalling a much more recent French conflict.
"Die Bescheissung von Paris" by Ragnvald Blix in Simplicissimus, April 16, 1918

"Kolossal Kanon" by Léo Lechevallier in Le Rire, Paris, April 20, 1918
Meanwhile, the targets of the Paris Gun were understandably much less sanguine about being shelled on a daily basis by an enemy unseen over the horizon.
"Le Kanon d'Hérode" by Jean-Louis Cureau in Le Rire, Paris, April 20, 1918
By its nature, the Paris Gun was not a precision weapon; the Germans could not see their targets to aim at anything in particular. Its intent was to demoralize citizens of the French capital with its very randomness. The allies therefore played up the shock value of its victims, such as the 91 killed at St.-Gervais-et-St.-Protais Church during Good Friday mass, for maximum propaganda effect.
"The Long Range Hunter" by Bob Satterfield in Cleveland News, ca. April 20, 1918
Between March and August, the Germans fired at least 320 shells into Paris, killing 250 and wounding 620. It took that long before Entente armies forced the German military to retreat and to haul their massive weapon with them back across the Rhine. Germany completely dismantled the gun and destroyed the Krupp munition records of its construction before the country's ultimate surrender in November, so its precise design specs remain unknown.
"The Kaiser's Barometer" by Bob Satterfield, in Cleveland News, ca. April 15, 1918
But in the spring of 1918, Germany was enjoying some degree of success on the battlefield. With no threat from the east, German forces were able to concentrate on their western front. 106 German divisions took part in the Spring Offensive, nearly breaking through the British lines until French reinforcements arrived to push the Germans back.
"Paying Too Much for His Whistle" by Jay N. "Ding" Darling, ca. April 15, 1918
Entente propagandists could point out the high cost of German victories in human life, but in truth, both sides were guilty of regarding their soldiers as expendable. On April 11, British Commander in Chief Sir Douglas Haig declared, "Many amongst us now are tired.  To those I would say that Victory will belong to the side which holds out the longest.... There is no other course open to us but to fight it out.  Every position must be held to the last man: there must be no retirement.  With our backs to the wall and believing in the justice of our cause each one of us must fight on to the end."
"Haig's Report" by Bob Satterfield in Cleveland News, ca. April 19, 1918
Meanwhile, for America's cartoonists, April was Liberty Loan month. Day after day, they cranked out appeals to their countrymen to dig into their pockets in support of the the third Liberty Loan drive. Having to draw on the same appeal again and again, few cartoonists produced anything inspired or original; there are only so many ways one can shame fellow citizens for hanging onto their hard-earned cash, or depict the Kaiser cringing from American banknotes.
Excerpt from The Rectangle by Frank O. King in Chicago Tribune, April 7, 1918
But even newspapers which were not in the habit of running cartoons on the front page ran these pleas for cash up above the fold. That includes one or two surprising examples, such as this entire front page from a German-language newspaper in Texas:
I notice, however, that nobody bothered to translate the text of the uncredited (John McCutcheon, perhaps?) poster into German.

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