About those "Chateau Generals"
The reputation of British generals during World War I is that they ran the war from chateaux well behind the lines, caring little about actual conditions at the front. Well, a recent study by Frank Davies & Graham Maddocks, titled Bloody Red Tabs: General Officer Casualties of the Great War 1914-18, has cast some interesting light on the subject.
The authors demonstrate that 151 British and Commonwealth generals died during the war, somewhat more than half of them as a result of combat.
|Field Marshal || 3|
|General || 2|
|Lieutenant General || 6|
|Major General || 29|
|Brigadier General ||111|
Of this total, 78 died as a consequence of combat operations, all but 20 of them on the Western Front. Thus, out of a running total of 1,253 British and Commonwealth generals serving on the Western Front, around 4.6-percent died of combat-related causes. While the average death rate among British and Commonwealth forces on the Western Front was about 10-percent, this is still a rather impressive loss rate. In contrast, the Germans lost a little over 3-percent of their generals in combat; of, 2568 generals active during the war (excluding tombstone promotions), 85 died in action, 164 of other causes (disease and natural causes), three by suicide, one in an accident, and one in an Allied P/W camp.
The causes of British and Commonwealth combat-related deaths varied.
|Accident: Flight|| 1|
|Accident: Other|| 2 ||*|
|Artillery Fire|| 34|| **|
|Cholera || 1|
|Drowning|| 3|| ***|
|Small Arms Fire ||22|
|Unknown || 15|
|* One poisoning.|
**Including trench mortar.
*** One accidental, included here.
As can be seen, most of the deaths were from direct enemy action, and the balance related to combat in some fashion. Actually, it’s not clear why only five deaths from accidents or disease are included here. If the purpose is to include deaths that occurred as a consequence of campaigning, why isn’t Marshal Earl Roberts of Kandahar included, an elderly gent who died of pneumonia in France in November of 1914, contracted while visiting Indian troops fighting on the Western Front. And how many middle aged generals may have keeled over from a heart attack induced by the stress of operations?
In addition, although the number of Commonwealth generals wounded in action during the war is not known, the figure is at least 146, and one estimate puts it at nearly 300. The breakdown by year of wounding for these men is rather interesting.
|Year|| Generals WIA *|
|1916|| 48 |
|1917|| 51 |
|1918 || 76|
|* Includes two generals who were each|
The “war of movement” that led to the Armistice of November 11, 1918 actually resulted in more injured generals than the trench fighting of the previous three years.
So World War I generals, at least some of them, didn’t spend all their time sipping tea in chateaux well behind the lines, after giving orders to send men to their deaths. Certainly the losses of brigadier generals, who actually led the troops in the field, and major generals, usually considered to be operating behind the front, were impressive.
And, by the way, not to make invidious comparisons, but it’s interesting to note that during World War II, when generals were supposedly more willing to show up at the front, only 21 British generals died in combat.
The U.S. Army Melts Some Snow
In February of 1920 a major blizzard struck the New York City area. With much of the region snowbound, someone in the War Department had a bright idea. As a result, the Chemical Warfare Service dispatched Lt. Paul R. Smith and a detail of troops equipped with two flame throwers from Edgewood, Maryland, to New York with orders to report to the Army’s chief recruiting officer in the city. This worthy was to offer the services of the flame thrower teams to help clear the snow. The idea was that the sight of the troops melting the snow off the city's streets using flame throwers might stimulate recruiting.
The city fathers decided to give it a try. So, on February 9th, a section of a park was roped off for the experiment, and the troops were asked to clear it, while some infantrymen from Governor’s Island kept onlookers at a safe distance.
But things went awry. One of the flame throwers did not work properly. The other worked, but all it accomplished was to leave a smear of sooty muck on a mound of ice and snow.
New Yorkers observing the “experiment,” quickly grew "somewhat derisive," according to the New York Times, and the city’s Commissioner of Parks r officially declared the experiment a failure.
Of course flame thrower technology has improved considerably since then, and troops were reportedly troops called in to help clear the streets of Washington of a heavy snowfall on the eve of John F. Kennedy’s presidential inauguration on January 20, 1961.