Showing posts with label World War I. Show all posts
Showing posts with label World War I. Show all posts

Saturday, October 15, 2016

Bicycles in War (Book Review)

Bicycles in WarBicycles in War by Martin Caidin

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The record doesn't give credit to a co-author, Jay Barbree, who seems to have written books mostly about space exploration, including at least one other book written with Martin Caidin.

My father and his older brother both served in the U.S. Army during WWII and both were interested in aviation - they owned a plane together for a while. Growing up I didn't use the public library very much (it wasn't particularly close by) and read a lot of my father's books about WWII that included four or five books written by Martin Caidin about different U.S. fighters and bombers and their use during the War. I certainly remember them as engaging my attention - I'm pretty sure I read several of them more than once.

I got this out of the library where I work. It is probably not readily available these days.

Caidin's usual approach with his military aviation books was to describe the development of the aircraft and then to describe examples of its use in combat, focusing on particular pilots and units. Caidin and his co-author don't appear to have known that much about bicycles or otherwise think that the readers would be interested in the development of bicycles for use in war so that subject is not presented - the focus is on their use in several particular examples, including World War I, World War II, and the Vietnam War. He spends about 20 pages on the famous (in certain circles . . . ) 1,900 mile "march" of the 25th Infantry Corps (that was an all African American unit, except for the officers) in 1897 from Missoula, Montana to St. Louis, Missouri. The story of this unit is now covered quite well be various sources on the Internet, including this day-by-day account, the 25th Bicycle Corp, a page at the Fort Missoula Museum web site, and an hour long video, "The Bicycle Corps: America's Black Army On Wheels" (2000).

The Fort Missoula Museum site provides some of the technical information lacking in the book, for example:
Moss contacted the A. G. Spalding Company, who agreed to provide military bicycles co-designed by Moss at no cost. The Corps, consisting of eight black enlisted men, soon was riding in formation, drilling, scaling fences up to nine-feet high, fording streams, and pedaling 40 miles a day. Each bicycle carried a knapsack, blanket roll, and a shelter half strapped to the handlebar. A hard leather frame case fit into the diamond of each bicycle and a drinking cup was kept in a cloth sack under the seat. Each rider carried a rifle (first slung over the back, later strapped to the horizontal bar) and 50 rounds of ammunition.

The Spalding military bicycles were furnished with steel rims, tandem spokes, extra-heavy side-forks and crowns, gear cases, luggage carriers, frame cases, brakes, and Christy saddles. They were geared to 68 inches and weighed 32 pounds. The average weight of the bicycles, packed, was about 59 pounds.
For someone like me, with my interested heavily towards what the bicycles were like, this wasn't a particularly satisfying book. On the other hand, given that there isn't much published on this topic and was readily available (to me) it was a good enough read.

There are some b&w photographs included - nothing particular special alas, but then these are the days of the Internet and the book was published in 1974. I had seen many of those used before, but when the book was published, they were likely unusual to see.

Cycle orderlies under fire"Cycle orderlies under fire" - one of the photographs in the book, now widely published on the Internet (and even available for purchase from Getty Images, if you want to spend money)

View all my book reviews of books on cycling at Goodreads.

Sunday, March 30, 2014

World War I: German Bicycle Corps

Rotogravure of German Bicycle Corps soldiers WWI

An image from "The War of the Nations" published in 1919, made up of rotogravures taken during World War I from the New York Times. Rotogravures were photographs printed in newspapers using a higher quality process than was typical, producing better results - this comes from a volume published in 1919 after the war was over, a compilation of photographs taken by news photographers.

The photographs in books like this, with minimal (and fairly self-evident) captions, often raise all sorts of questions. Here the soldiers with bicycles are "marching with difficulty over the sand dunes" - one has to wonder, why are they bothering to do this? And why are they heading in one direction while behind them we see a column of soldiers (the same army) heading in the opposite direction? It is noticeable without much examination that the soldiers heading left-to-right seem to all have backpacks, while those heading right-to-left are (mostly) not doing so. And so on. One will likely never know. Not, of course, that it matters.

Saturday, March 29, 2014

World War I - Americans Race Bicycles in France

The Stars and Stripes (Paris, France), February 7, 1919, Vol. 2 No. 01, page 6 has the following short story about a bicycle race held by the American Expeditionary Force during World War I.

5th Army Corps to Hold Thirty Kilometer Pedal Speed Contest

On Saturday, February 15, the Fifth Army Corps will stage a bicycle road race from Bourbon les Baines to Nogent en Bassigny, a distance of about 30 kilometers. Three teams of 20 men each will start, representing the 29th and 82nd Divisions and the Fifth Army Corps troops.

There will be a trophy for the team having the greatest number of men to finish, as well as individual prizes. Bicycle road race rules will govern. There will be no pacing other than that done among the contestants themselves, and controls will be established where assistance may be given the contestants.

Colonel Foster, athletic officer of the Fifth Corps., is in charge of the details of the competition, which he claims will forever put a stop to the arguments about the speed of the couriers in the recent big offensive.

All along the course organizations are arranging to give the riders a big reception. The finish will be at the foot of a big hill in Nogent en Bassigny, near Major General Summerall's chateau.

Article as it appeared in the Stars & Stripes

This kind of activity, a recreational race, was possible since the war had ended in November 1918.

Image of scout (not messenger) cyclists in World War I

Friday, January 3, 2014

1914 - The Year World War I Started

Later in 1914 we will have the 100th anniversary of the start of World War I, about which I expect we'll read and hear plenty. Bicycles were a relatively low-cost way to achieve a more mobile infantryman, but their use seems to have been limited. Still, one does see photographs.

France - Cyclists of Army, from the Library of Congress

[between ca. 1914 and ca. 1915]
1 negative : glass ; 5 x 7 in. or smaller.
Notes: Title from data provided by the Bain News Service on the negative.
Photograph shows French soldiers with bicycles during the beginning of World War I.
Forms part of: George Grantham Bain Collection (Library of Congress).
Subjects-World War, 1914-1918.
Bain News Service Collection persistent URL for version at Library of Congress.

While cyclist-soldiers take up most of the visual space in the photograph above, there is one mounted cavalryman to the left. One wonders how the two groups, cyclists and traditional cavalry, regarded one another.

Cycle orderlies under fire, from the National Library of Scotland

From the National Library of Scotland description of this photograph: Cyclists sheltering from shelling, Western Front, during World War I. A shell bursting in the rubble of ruined buildings beside a road. Two cyclists have turned their bikes upside down and are using the wheels to give a little shelter from the blast. Curiously, a third man, appearing totally unconcerned, seems to be using a hammer and chisel on a rock in the road.

Bicycles were used quite commonly, not only for general transport, but also for carrying dispatches. Motorbikes, runners, pigeons and dogs were also used to carry messages because field telephones were limited by the need for cables and wireless was still unreliable.

I think the person who wrote this annotation is lacking imagination - rather than using a hammer and a chisel on a rock, I believe the fellow is bashing some bicycle part to try to bend it - that would make more sense. I also don't think they were seeking shelter behind their bicycles - not much shelter to be had! It seems more logical that they were simply working on their bikes, the photographer was going to record that scene, and by chance the photographer captured the shell going off in the background as well. Anyway, I like that theory better.

By chance I found this book written by a young American journalist, Roadside Glimpses of the Great War by Arthur Sweetser, published in 1916 before the United States was part of WWI - amazingly he did much of his travel in the war zones of France and Belgium by bicycle. On page 23 he starts what is probably one of the more unusual bicycle travelogues:
It was obvious that even if the Germans entered Lille at all, it would be only with a small holding force. The main army was driving through farther east. Douai, they told me, was the centre of activities, but how to cover the forty kilometres there was a poser. At last the idea of a bicycle struck me. It would be quaint indeed thus to chase the battle-front blindly all over France. After a whole day's hunting and tremendous linguistic effort, I secured the best the city could offer, the best bicycle, I soon believed, in all France, a machine which, costing me but $23 secondhand, was destined to take me half across the country.