Each week Albany Herald researcher Mary Braswell looks for interesting events, places and people from the past. You can contact her at (229) 888-9371 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Germany signed an armistice agreement with the Allies in a railroad car in the forest of Compiègne, France on Nov. 11, 1918. The fighting officially ended at 11:00 a.m., the eleventh hour in the eleventh month on the eleventh day. In no particular order, here is a look back at a variety of facts about World War I.
• More than 65 million men from 30 countries fought in WWI.
• Nearly 2/3 of military deaths in WWI were in battle. In previous conflicts, more deaths were due to disease.
• There were over 35 million civilian and soldier casualties in WWI. Over 15 million died and 20 million were wounded, according to most estimates.
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• Russia mobilized 12 million troops during WWI, making it the largest army in the war. More than 3/4 were killed, wounded, or went missing in action.
• British tanks were initially categorized into “males” and “females.” Male tanks had cannons, while females had heavy machine guns.
• “Little Willie” was the first prototype tank in WWI. Built in 1915, it carried a crew of three and could travel as fast as 3 mph.
• Dogs were used as messengers and carried orders to the front lines in capsules attached to their bodies. Dogs were also used to lay down telegraph wires.
• Big Bertha was a 48-ton howitzer used by the Germans . It was named after the wife of its designer Gustav Krupp. It could fire a 2,050-lb shell a distance of 9.3 miles. It took a crew of 200 men six hours or more to assemble. Germany had 13 of these huge guns or “wonder weapons.”
• Tanks were initially called “landships.” However, in an attempt to disguise them as water storage tanks rather than as weapons, the British decided to code name them “tanks.”
• Woodrow Wilson’s campaign slogan for his second term was, “He kept us out of war.“ About a month after he took office, the United States declared war on Germany (April 6, 1917).
• To increase the size of the U.S. Army during WWI, Congress passed the Selective Service Act, which was also known as conscription or draft, in May 1917. By the end of the war, 2.7 million men were drafted. Another 1.3 million volunteered.
• During the war, people of German heritage were suspect in the U.S. Some protests against Germans were violent, including the burning of German books and the killing of German shepherd dogs.
• Herbert Hoover, who would become president in 1929, was appointed U.S. food administrator. His job was to provide food to the U.S. Army and its allies. He encouraged people to plant “Victory Gardens,” or personal gardens. More than 20 million Americans planted their own gardens, and food consumption in the U.S decreased by 15 percent.
• World War I was also known as the Great War, the World War, the War of the Nations, and the War to End All Wars.
• While the first military submarine (named the Turtle) was first used by the Continental Army during the American Revolution, submarines only made a large military impact during WWI when Germany launched its fleet of U-boats. From 1914-1918, 274 German U-boats sank 6,596 ships.
• German trenches were built to last and included bunk beds, furniture, cupboards, water tanks with faucets, electric lights, and, in some cases, doorbells.
• During the war, the U.S. shipped about 7.5 million tons of supplies to France to support the Allied effort. That included 70,000 horses or mules, as well as nearly 50,000 trucks, 27,000 freight cars and 1,800 locomotives.
• During WWI, the Germans released about 68,000 tons of gas, and the British and French released 51,000 tons. In total, 1,200,000 soldiers on both sides were gassed, of which 91,198 died horrible deaths.
• The French had what German soldiers called the Devil Gun. At 75 mm, this cannon was accurate up to 4 miles
• During U.S. involvement in WWI, more than 75,000 people gave about 7.5 million four-minute pro-war speeches in movie theaters and elsewhere to about 314.5 million people.
• “Hello Girls,” as American soldiers called them, were American women who served as telephone operators for Pershing’s forces in Europe. The women were fluent in French and English and were specially trained by the American Telephone and Telegraph Company. In 1979, the U.S. Army finally gave war medals and veteran benefits to the few Hello Girls who were still alive.
• Even though the U.S. government didn’t grant Native Americans citizenship until 1924, nearly 13,000 of them served in WWI.
• Edith Cavell (1865-1915) was a British nurse who saved soldiers from all sides. When she helped 200 Allied soldiers escape from German-occupied Belgium, the Germans arrested her and she was executed by a German firing squad.
• The most decorated American of WWI was Alvin Cullum York (1887-1964). York led an attack on a German gun nest, taking 32 machine guns, killing 28 German soldiers, and capturing 132 more. He returned home with a Medal of Honor, a promotion to Sergeant, the French Croix de Guerre, and a gift of 400 acres of good farmland.
• WWI helped bring about the emancipation of women. Women took over many traditionally male jobs and showed that they could perform them just as well as men. In 1918, most women over the age of 30 were given the vote in the British parliamentary elections. Two years later, the 19th amendment granted American women the vote.
• More than 200,000 African Americans served in WWI, but only about 11 percent of them were in combat forces. The rest were put in labor units, loading cargo, building roads, and digging ditches. They served in segregated divisions (the 92nd and 93rd) and trained separately.