"On the one hand it was an unnecessary war fought in a manner that defied common sense, but on the other it was the war that shaped the world in which we still live," wrote University of Oxford, All Souls College professor Hew Strachan in his 2005 book "The First World War." The demands of this massive confrontation gave birth to, or greatly advanced, many of the most important geospatial intelligence tradecrafts we practice daily here at NGA.
Our WWI commemorative card set covers aspects of the conflict related to intelligence, warfighters and technology.
We remember the service, sacrifice and cost demanded by the Great War. Never forget the significance of this potent conflict that still profoundly informs our world a century later.
President Woodrow Wilson
President Wilson initially opposed involvement in WWI. However, once the war became apparent, he championed America’s role in “making the world safe for democracy.” Wilson came to the presidency primarily with an academic background and was very much a visionary. He offered his Fourteen Points at the Paris Peace Conference, hoping to achieve a more lasting peace. However, America was weary of war and foreign entanglements and rejected the tenets of his Fourteen Points embodied in both the Treaty of Versailles and the League of Nations.
Captain Charles H. Ruth
Charles H. Ruth was the first commanding officer of the Army Engineer Reproduction Plant (ERP). Before 1917, there was little interest in the United States for maps of foreign countries. During the course of the war, the ERP produced some nine million maps. It was because of Captain Ruth’s initial direction that the ERP became one of the major military topographic organizations in the world. Captain Ruth left the Army in 1919 and joined the Evening Star newspaper staff in Washington, DC.
Collecting Imagery Intelligence
In this 1915 photo, a photographer captures a target by physically holding the camera and looking down the top mounted sight. Early in the war, aviators did not have openings and rigid mounting systems in the airframe. Here, a photographer tightly grips his Graflex Reconnaissance Camera, made by Folmer & Schwing Manufacturing Co., a firm later bought by Eastman Kodak. In later years, this camera model also went under the name Folmer Graflex K20, a device similar to the Fairchild K20.
Gas at Ypres
Germany introduced chlorine gas to its weaponry inventory at Second Ypres, April 22, 1915. Heavier-than-air chlorine hugged the ground and affected both man and horse in low trenches and shell holes. Because horses do not breathe through their mouths, equine respirators required a “bag over the nose” design. Until the gas mask was developed, soldiers used water-soaked handkerchiefs. Ultimately, all creatures serving on the front lines were fitted out with respirators, including goats, pigeons, mules, humans, and dogs.
Lusitania Hit by Torpedo
The magnificent RMS Lusitania fell victim to U-20, commanded by Kapitänleutnant Walter Schwieger, May 7, 1915, at the Old Head of Kinsale, off the coast of Ireland. One torpedo caused two explosions, quickly sinking the ship with 1,195 passengers, including 128 Americans. The outrage over this attack severely damaged Germany’s reputation in the neutral United States.
Field Artillery Captain Harry S. Truman
In 1918, Harry Truman commanded Battery D of the 129th Field Artillery Regiment of the 35th Infantry Division. Arriving in Europe without heavy weapons, Battery D spent time training with French 75mm field guns before joining the Allied forces in launching the massive Meuse-Argonne Offensive in September 1918. Enduring forty-seven days of heavy combat, Battery D was fortunate and suffered no combat deaths. Truman demonstrated courageous leadership under fire, attributes later tested as president of the United States from 1945 to 1953.
American Troops in London
The United States entry into the war was welcomed by the Allies as America’s military power and industrial might were desperately needed after the losses at the Somme and Verdun. Shown are American troops, led by a marching band and cheered by onlookers, crossing the Westminster Bridge over the River Thames in 1917, on their way to the Western Front. Visible in the background is the famous Palace of Westminster, home of Great Britain’s Parliament.
Armored Car Support
Retrofitted automobiles were used during the war for transport. Cars were augmented with thick steel plates and a rear-mounted turret gun. Without armor on the front or on top, crews wore warm clothing and used goggles in the absence of a windshield. Powered by four-cylinder engines, the cars could travel up to ten miles per hour. Shown is a crew of an armored car posing for a battlefield photograph while other crew members scan the terrain and consult a map.
Pigeons at War
Communications were problematic in trench warfare and pigeons became a proven commodity: fast, reliable, difficult-to-down, and virtually undetectable. Success rates per sortie were astonishing. In 1903, a pharmacist, devised a pigeon delivery system for medicine, and subsequently fashioned a miniature camera he could harness to a bird. Camera-fitted pigeons flew at low altitudes, and the mechanism of an interval meter, a camera, and a timer produced usable imagery. Depicted are two German pigeons with their cameras.
Krupp Railway Gun
Friedrich Krupp of Essen emerged as one of the world’s most powerful arms manufacturers well before the Great War. In this photograph you can see heavy artillery mounted on a railway car both for swift transport and for effective support and recoil control. The infamous German Paris Gun fell into this category as did the U.S. Navy’s railway guns. While not terribly precise, the Paris Gun could hit the city from 70 miles away. The shells would reach an altitude of 24 miles before descending.
German Field Telegraph
German officers review maps and documents at a wireless field telegraph station in 1915. The station is housed in and under a horse-drawn wagon. Components of the station are protected from the elements by canvass covers spread over and around the wagon and by tightly packed straw in critical places. Wireless telegraphy transmitted Morse code with the receiver using either a headset or hand held device to hear the dots and dashes.
Captain Edward “Eddie” Rickenbacker
Captain Edward “Eddie” Rickenbacker, was America’s premier flying ace in WWI, achieving twenty-six aerial victories between April 29 and October 30, 1918. Eddie flew with the 94th Aero Squadron known as the “Hat in the Ring” Squadron—after its insignia. Capt. Rickenbacker was awarded the Medal of Honor and, from France, the Legion of Honor and the Croix de Guerre.
Berthiot Color Lens
Major John Reynolds, Commander of the 91st Aero Squadron (the pilot) looks on as a French 1824 camera, fitted with a Berthiot color lens, is off loaded at Gondreville-sur-Moselle Aerodrone, France. The airplane is a French Salmson 2A2. The 91st Aero Squadron performed observation, surveillance and reconnaissance missions with remarkable results.
Murder in Saravejo
In 1908, the Austro-Hungarian Empire under Habsburg rule seized Bosnia- Herzegovina from the Ottoman Empire. The resident Bosnian Serbs struggled against Habsburg rule. On June 28, 1914, Gavrilo Princip, a Bosnian Serb, assassinated Archduke Franz-Ferdinand of Austria-Hungary, the heir to the Habsburg throne. After the assassination, Serbia rejected Vienna’s demand for jurisdiction over the murder investigation. Russia offered Slavic Serbia total support, while Vienna received support from Germany. Alliances were activated and Europe went to war.
The US Army’s 354th Aero Squadron performed short-range, tactical reconnaissance over the trenches and battlefield in the Toul sector of France from October 28 to November 11, 1918. While trenches were often designed as straight lines to aid mobility, the buttress, or “zip-zag” style, were designed to enhance defense. Shown is a squadron aircraft flying over the Toul battlefields in 1918. Clearly visible is the buttress style trench. The devastation wrought by war is evident by the lack of vegetation around the trench and the pock marked landscape.