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Fokkers, Marines, and Flu

belleau wood fokkers influenza

Summer is Here

Between a very eventful spring and fall of 1918, June is kind of time to take a breather from the spectacular stories and look around at what was going on in general. 

US Marines

Before there was Iwo Jima, there was the Battle of Belleau Wood, covering most of June, that defined the Marines as "devil dogs" or "Teufelhunden". In much the same way that the stories of WWI aviators inspired WWII pilots as boys, Belleau Wood was remembered in many stories that the young boys of the next generation would read, that would influence the choice of many of them to join the Marines and become the Marines of Iwo Jima. 

One thing the Marine Corps doesn't usually bother to mention is that the Army was there with them. However, Pershing, like many commanders before and since, did not trust the media of his day to keep secrets secret, so the Marines got their story out first and it's been remembered as a Marine victory ever since.

Another Marine event at this time: on the first of June the Marine Corps consolidated its aviation forces into the First Marine Aviation Force, which then deployed to France.

Fokker Victories

The first Fokker D-VIIs arrived at the front in the late spring of 1918, after being test-flown and recommended by Manfred von Richthofen the previous January. They were considered the best single-seat fighter of the war, with the power to hang vertically from the propeller. The wings were fully cantilevered, but they had struts purely for pilot comfort. The pilots, having seen accidents where wings broke or shredded their fabric, didn't want to fly something with only the engineer's word that the wings wouldn't break off. It was a great aircraft, but this late in the war, what could it do? 

It could do a lot, since the war was still very far from a foregone conclusion. Germany, with its western forces newly reinforced by those from the eastern front, was still of the opinion victory was possible, and the British and French were still doubtful that the untried American forces could change what had been going on for four years now. Belleau Wood was only just starting to convince the Germans that the war was now mobile again, and not in their favor, and the Meuse-Argonne Offensive wouldn't happen for many weeks still; Germany had the area very well defended. 

Surrender the Fearsome Flying Machines

If the ground war had gone as well for Germany as the air war did with the D-VII, we might all be speaking Deutsch now. Though the Germans were greatly outnumbered, they were often able to achieve at least local air superiority, and scored hundreds of victories over the summer.

Looking at these little aircraft a hundred years later, we should remember these quaint, colorful planes were the cutting-edge technology that was such a fearsome part of the German war machine that they were mentioned in the conditions of the Armistice. Among the 1700 aeroplanes that Germany was to give up, they were to surrender "firstly all D. 7's and night-bombing machines)."

In Other News

Some quotes from The Great Influenza by John M. Barry:

In France in late May, at one small station of 1,018 French army recruits, 688 men were ill enough to be hospitalized and forty-nine died. When 5 percent of an entire population - especially of healthy young adults - dies in a few weeks, that is frightening.
On June 30, 1918, the British freighter City of Exeter docked at Philadelphia after a brief hold at a maritime quarantine station. She was laced with deadly disease, but Rupert Blue, the civilian surgeon general and head of the U.S. Public Health Service, had issued no instructions to the maritime service to hold influenza-ridden ships. So she was released.
Between June 1 and August 1, 200,825 British soldiers in France, out of two million, were hit hard enough that they could not report for duty even in the midst of desperate combat. Then the disease was gone. On August 10, the British command declared the epidemic over.


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