Sunday, March 26, 2017

Invading Luxembourg

The author at General Patton's grave
American Cemetery in Hamm, Luxembourg

A school concert afforded me an opportunity to launch a small private and thoroughly peaceful "invasion" of Luxembourg this past weekend.  Luxembourg, a nation roughly the size of Rhode Island with a population over half a million, is a prosperous land.  Luxembourg is the only Grand Duchy in the world.   Its fertile agricultural countryside makes it a source of  delicious food and wine.  Today Luxembourg is a stable NATO and EU member state.  But Luxembourg has been invaded many times over its rich history.  In spite of these invasions Luxembourg retains a unique national identity.
Julius Caesar, Aureus
We noted in Italy Invades that Julius Caesar himself invaded Luxembourg "On his way to Britain".  Roman influence in the region had, however, disappeared by the 5th century.

"Mir wëlle bleiwe wat mir sinn,”
“We want to remain what we are.”
Place d'Armes, Luxembourg City
In America Invades we wrote, "The motto of the grand duchy of Luxembourg, one of the tiniest
countries in the world, is, “Mir wëlle bleiwe wat mir sinn,” or “We want to remain what we are.” They seem to have done this remarkably well because it’s one of those European micro-states, like Andorra, Monaco, Liechtenstein, and San Marino, that has managed to last until the present day without being permanently swallowed up by any of their much, much larger neighbors."

Walls of Luxembourg City
In the Place D'Armes square of Luxembourg City we found a column inscribed with the national motto.  Luxembourg, a mouse surrounded by elephants, has done a remarkable of "remaining who they are".  They did so by fortifying the capital of their landlocked nation.    As we noted in Italy Invades, "in 1543, an Italian military engineer arrived in Luxembourg along with a whole bunch of other Italians to restore Luxembourg’s fortifications on behalf of Francis I of France."  (www.italyinvades.com). Later in the 17th century Louis XIV's master of fortification, Vauban was summoned to Luxembourg to reinforce its defenses.  He helped to transform it into the Gibraltar of the North.  Possession of Luxembourg would be disputed by the Spanish, the Austrians, the French the Dutch the Prussians and other great powers.   In 1867 the Treaty of London proclaimed that Luxembourg would be perpetually neutral and that its fortifications must be torn down.  Most were, but many still remain to this day.

In spite of its neutrality, Luxembourg, as we noted in America Invades, was invaded twice by the Germans in the 20th century.  Luxembourg was invaded twice by the liberating armies of Americans in both world wars.

"In World War I, Luxembourg was occupied by the Germans. With the Germans withdrawing rapidly towards the end of the war, the US 33rd Infantry Division ended up, on November 11, 1918, at Stenay, about twenty- five miles from the Luxembourg border. But it did enter Luxembourg after the war, and for instance, in March 1919, the division headquarters were to be found at Diekirch in Luxembourg.

Hitler invaded tiny neutral Luxembourg in the spring of 1940 as part of his campaign against France.
On September 10, 1944, the US 5th Armored Division liberated Luxembourg City (not surprisingly the capital of the country Luxembourg) from German control. However, this wasn’t exactly the end of the battle. Hitler chose to launch his counterattack, the Battle of the Bulge, through the northern part of Luxembourgish territory in December 1944, meaning parts of Luxembourg had to be liberated all over again. The area around Wiltz, for instance, saw very heavy fighting. And American forces were in the Diekirch area again. It was the scene on the night of January 18, 1945, of the famous crossing of the River Sauer by the US 5th Infantry Division.

Ernest Hemingway in WW2
Not all Americans were having such a rough time in Luxembourg, though. On December 17, 1944, Ernest Hemingway arrived in Luxembourg as a war correspondent for Collier’s magazine and was put up in the old mill of Abbé Nicolas Didier. While there, he found the Abbé’s wine cellar, drained several bottles, and proceeded to urinate into them, subsequently giving them the label of Schloss Hemingstein. However, one night in the darkness, he grabbed a bottle, only to find himself having to rapidly spit out, yep, a mouthful his own Schloss Hemingstein."  (www.americainvades.com)

General Patton
USMA West Point, NY
On December 8, 1945 General Patton was involved in an automobile accident that broke his neck.  He lingered in hospital until his death on December 21, 1945.  His two dying requests were 1) that his your driver not be punished for his death and 2) that he be buried amongst the American soldiers with whom he had fought the war.



Both requests were honored and Patton's grave can be found today in the Luxembourg American Cemetery near Hamm, Luxembourg.  5,076 Americans are buried in this cemetery which is the final resting place of so many veterans of the Battle of the Bulge.  In a 1960 letter by Grand Duchess Charlotte of Luxembourg she wrote of "the nation-wide feeling of respect and undying gratitude which is inspired by the sacrifice of the soldiers who gave their lives for the cause of freedom."





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Monday, March 20, 2017

World War I Centennial

Cenotaph, Whitehall, London

One hundred years ago this month, Woodrow Wilson ended America’s longstanding policy of isolation and led us into World War I on the Allied side.   Over two and a half million Americans were shipped “over there” to Europe and served in the American Expeditionary Force (AEF).  By war’s end, more than 100,000 Americans would join the ranks of what British Prime Minister Lloyd George termed, without a trace of irony, “the glorious dead.”

US Infantry 27th or New York Division

My own great-great-uncle, John Wells (1895-1951), was a member of the AEF.  Wells served as a 2nd Lieutenant in the 27th Infantry, or New York Division.  He trained with the unit at Camp Wadsworth in South Carolina before deploying to Europe in May of 1918.  In the fall of 1918, this unit saw fierce action in the Somme push and along the Meuse River.  The New York Division helped to break the back of the German Army along the Hindenburg line, leading to Germany’s surrender in November 1918.

Why did Wilson make his fateful decision to enter the “War to end all wars”?  Two of the principle reasons behind Wilson’s decision were the German policy of unrestricted submarine warfare and the Zimmerman Telegram.
Lusitania Sunk

Unrestricted submarine warfare has become a stilted phrase that smacks of dry textbooks and AP history examinations.  It was not so then.  The period prior to World War I was the golden age of ocean travel.  Lindbergh did not fly across the Atlantic until 1927.  The only practical means to travel between North America and Europe was via passenger ship.  These passenger ships were the equivalent of commercial aircraft today.  Thomas Tileston Wells (John Wells’s father), for example, booked passage in 1909 on board the RMS Lusitania, which was destined to be sunk by a German U-boat off the coast of Ireland in 1915, killing around 1,200 passengers, including at least 125 Americans.  In 1916, Germany moderated its submarine policy by pledging not to attack passenger ships without providing for the safety of their passengers and crew. But on January 31, 1917, Kaiser William II reversed course, ordering the resumption of unrestricted submarine warfare against Allied shipping. This desperate move helped tip
the United States
 Congress, led by
 President Wilson, 
into declaring war 
on Germany on 
April 6, 1917.
WWI Recruiting Poster
Museum of Flight, Seattle WA
In order to appreciate the full horror of unrestricted submarine warfare, imagine how we might react today if a warring nation state used its jet fighters to shoot down commercial airliners flying toward the cities of its enemy.

Mata Hari was caught by surveillance too
The Zimmerman Telegram is a reminder that much of the “surveillance society” in which we live today had its origins in World War I espionage.  The British built a sophisticated signals intelligence network designed to monitor German radio traffic during the war.  Room 40 was a decryption service of the British Admiralty that would later inspire the code breakers of Bletchley Park in World War II. Their greatest coup of the war was the interception and decryption of the famous Zimmermann Telegram in 1917. This message, sent by the German minister of foreign affairs to the Mexican government, proposed an alliance with Mexico in the event of America’s entry into the war.  Room 40 was also responsible for the capture of World War I’s most famous spy—the tragic case of Mata Hari.
Pope Benedict XV, St. Peter's Rome
A century ago, America and the world were transformed by World War I, which ultimately cost over 17 million lives and was called “the suicide of civilization” by Pope Benedict XV.  This war toppled four empires and led directly to the creation of Syria and Iraq.  We feel the echoes of this conflict even today.

Cenotaph, Whitehall, London

Christopher Kelly is the editor of An Adventure in 1914 – a memoir written by Thomas Tileston Wells about his family’s voyage through Europe on the brink of World War I.


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