Category Archives: World War 1

Battle of Vimy Ridge, 1917

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The Battle of Vimy Ridge, painting by Richard Jack. Canadian War Museum via Wikipedia.

220px-Canada_flag_halifax_9_-04Today marks the 100th anniversary, April 9, 1917, of the start of the Battle of Vimy Ridge.

The battle was part of the opening phase of the British-led Battle of Arras in the Nord-Pas-de-Calais region of France, and involved four Canadian divisions against three German divisions.

The Canadians objective was to take control of the high ground, in order to ensure other troops could advance without German fire. The Canadians captured most of the ridge during the first day of the battle.

The battle marked the first occasion when all divisions of the Canadian Expeditionary Force participated in a battle together, and became a symbol of Canadian national achievement and sacrifice.

free-vector-poppy-remembrance-day-clip-art_106032_Poppy_Remembrance_Day_clip_art_smallBritish and Canadian losses totalled 3598 dead and 7004 wounded.

Amateur Radio Shut Down, 1917

QST, April 1917.

QST, April 1917.

With the declaration of war, Amateur Radio in the United States was shut down for the duration.  Both transmitting and receiving were banned, and amateurs were required to take down their antennas.

The official order was printed in QST, May 1917:

Office of Radio Inspectoor

To all Radio Experimenters,


By virtue of the authority given the President of the United States by an act of Congress, approved August 13, 1912, entitled “An Act to Regulate Radio Communication,” and of all other authority vested in him, and in pursuance of an order issued by the President of the United States, I hereby direct the immediate closing of all stations for radio communications, both transmitting and receiving, owned or operated by you. In order to fully carry this order into effect, I direct that the antennae and all aerial wires be immediately lowered to the ground, and that all radio apparatus both for transmitting and receiving be disconnected from both the antennae and ground circuits and that it otherwise be rendered inoperative both for transmitting and receiving any radio messages or signals, and that it so remain until this order is revoked. Immediate compliance with this order is insisted upon and will be strictly enforced. Please report on the enclosed blank your compliance with this order, a failure to return such blank promptly will lead to a rigid investigation.

Lieutenant, U.S. Navy,
District Communication Superintendent

US At War: April 6, 1917

One hundred years ago today, April 6, 1917, the United States entered the First World War when Congress declared war on Germany.  President Wilson, in an address to a joint session of Congress on April 2, had asked for the declaration, citing unrestricted German submarine warfare and the Zimmermann telegram.  The Senate passed the resolution on April 4, with the House following on the morning of April 6.


Wilson Asks for War: 1917

On hundred years ago today, April 2, 1917, President Wilson addressed a joint session of Congress and asked for a declaration of war against Germany.

In his address, Wilson first told the assembled Congress that there were “serious, very serious, choices of policy to be made, and made immediately.” He first cited the German government’s declaration on February 3 or unrestricted submarine warfare in the Atlantic and Mediterranean, which he called “a warfare against mankind.”

It was clear that Wilson saw the role of the United States as a superpower who would win the war through overwhelming national power:

What this will involve is clear. It will involve the utmost practicable cooperation in counsel and action with the governments now at war with Germany, and, as incident to that, the extension to those governments of the most liberal financial credits, in order that our resources may so far as possible be added to theirs. It will involve the organization and mobilization of all the material resources of the country to supply the materials of war and serve the incidental needs of the nation in the most abundant and yet the most economical and efficient way possible. It will involve the immediate full equipment of the Navy in all respects but particularly in supplying it with the best means of dealing with the enemy’s submarines. It will involve the immediate addition to the armed forces of the United States already provided for by law in case of war at least 500,000 men, who should, in my opinion, be chosen upon the principle of universal liability to service, and also the authorization of subsequent additional increments of equal force so soon as they may be needed and can be handled in training. It will involve also, of course, the granting of adequate credits to the Government, sustained, I hope, so far as they can equitably be sustained by the present generation, by well conceived taxation.

And while Wilson stated that the United States had no quarrel with the German people, it’s government, as evidenced by the Zimmermann telegram, was evidence of “criminal intrigues everywhere affot against our national unity: ” That it means to stir up enemies against us at our very doors the intercepted note to the German Minister at Mexico City is eloquent evidence.”

The country would be at war within four days. The Senate approved the declaration of war on April 4, with the House approving it on April 6.

Old Glory: Banned in Boston


We recently carried an image , a smaller version of which is shown at the right above, of the SS Kansan, illustrating how the U.S. flag was illuminated to make abundantly clear that the ship was a neutral vessel.  The image appeared on the cover of the January 1917 issue of Electrical Experimenter.

Newsstand readers in Boston, however, didn’t see the flag.  Instead, some of them saw a sticker of Santa Claus.  Massachusetts law forbade the sale of goods displaying the flag, so news dealers were forced to obscure it.  In this case, Santa Claus got the honors of being the censor.  The image above is taken from the magazine’s March issue, which explained the odd juxtaposition.

Abdication of Czar Nicolas, 1917

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Czar Nicolas II. Wikipedia photo.

On this day a hundred years ago, March 15, 1917, Czar Nicolas II of Russia abdicated the throne. Although his government continued for a time to tenuously hold power, he and his family were eventually executed in 1918.

Sinking of the California, 1917

A hundred years ago today, the U.S. was clearly getting closer to war.

On February 1, Germany had announced unrestricted submarine warfare, and on February 3, the American freighter Housatonic was boarded and sunk. And a hundred years ago today, the British passenger ship SS California, en route from New York to Glascow, was attacked by a German U-Boat near the Irish coast, with the loss of 41 lives.

With the subsequent publication of the Zimmermann telegram, U.S. involvement in the war was becoming inevitable, with the declaration of war coming on April 6.

SS Kansan, 1917


Within a few months, America would be at war, but a hundred years ago this month, the country was still neutral, and the cover of the January 1917 issue of Electrical Experimenter magazine showed how electricity was helping to preserve that neutrality.

The ship depicted is the steamer Kansan, of the Hawaiian-American line. The flag was painted on both sides of the ship, and powerful electric lights were employed to cast their rays on the flag at night.

There had been cases of neutral vessels being sunk by submarine commanders not wanting to get close enough to a ship to make a positive identification of its nationality. The immense flag “would seem to be a very sure manner of indicating to any submarine commander as to just what ship he was dealing with.”

While the illuminated flag apparently protected the Kansan during American neutrality, she did not fare well after the country’s entry into the war.  On July 10, 1917, she was sunk without warning by a submarine or mine two miles east of Kardonis Point (Belle Isle), France.  Four men died in the attack.


Zimmermann Telegram, 1917

Zimmermann Telegram, as sent from Washington to Mexico City. Wikipedia image.

Today marks the 100th anniversary of the Zimmermann Telegram, which played a key role in the entry of the United States into the First World War.  The message was originally sent from Germany on January 11, and on January 19, 1917, it made the final leg of its circuitous route to Mexico City.

Interestingly, the telegram was routed through Britain, which allowed the British to intercept and decode it.  Because the Germans had no wire communications with America, President Wilson allowed them to send diplomatic cables courtesy of the American embassy in Copenhagen.  That was routed through Britain, where the British were able to intercept it.

From the German embassy in Washington, the cable was sent to Mexico City by Western Union.  The telegram instructed the German ambassador to Mexico to propose, if hostilities appeared imminent, an alliance between Germany and Mexico.

USS Arizona, 1917

1917janpmShown here in Popular Mechanics, January 1917, is the recently launched USS Arizona passing down the East River from the New York Navy Yard on her first voyage into the Atlantic. The ship had been launched in June 1915 and christened with a bottle of water taken from the first to flow through the spillway of the Roosevelt Dam.

The 608 foot long ship remained stateside during the First World War. She was sent to Turkey in 1919 at the beginning of the Greco-Turkish war, and transferred to the Pacific Fleet for the rest of her career.

It was regularly used for training between the wars, and after the 1933 Long Beach earthquake, the ship’s crew provided aid to the survivors. In April 1940, she was transferred to Pearl Harbor with the rest of the Pacific Fleet.

Arizona sunk and burning, December 7, 1941. Wikipedia photo.

During the attack of December 7, 1941, a bomb detonated in a powder magazine, causing the ship to explode violently and sink, with the loss of 1177 lives.

The ship remains a permanent memorial to “be maintained in honor and commemoration of the members of the Armed Forces of the United States who gave their lives to their country during the attack on Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, on December 7, 1941.”