Conference Program

85th Annual Meeting of the Society for Military History

 Landscapes of War and Peace

April 5 - 8, 2018, Louisville, Kentucky

Title: Transitions of the Interwar Period, 1919-1943: Out of Fighting, toward Peace, and Back Again
Abstract: This panel will examine transitions from war to peace and back across multiple landscapes following the end of World War I. All three papers will reflect difficult transitions out of peace and war, the continuous state of tumult following World War I, and the implications of fighting in specific geographical and spatial contexts. One recent argument is that the First World War never really ended until the close of the Second World War because of the difficulties in reaching a successful peace settlement. This panel explores specific episodes in keeping with that idea. Dean Nowowiejski will explore the initial American occupation of the German Rhineland after World War I by the newly created Third Army from late 1918 to early 1919. This transition toward peace involved a quarter of a million American men who advanced into the alien landscape of Germany and occupied one of the four allied zones while the Treaty of Versailles was being negotiated. Bob Baumann will explore confusing events of the Basmachi Revolt in Central Asia. There, as the tide of revolution and civil war arrived at the farthest reaches of the former Russian Empire, indigenous Muslim peoples of Turkestan resisted the assertion of Bolshevik authority. This case illustrates a clash of divergent visions of the future and the difficult path to peace amidst the vacuum left by imperial collapse. The Basmachi Revolt was itself shaped by the landscape of Central Asia. Greg Hospodor will present a reassessment of US Army combat effectiveness at Barrafranca, Sicily, as the American Army adapted back to the modern practice of combined arms warfare after an initial episode in North Africa. This paper will show the importance of leadership and organizational commitment to learning in a successful transition back to war. Our chair and commentator will illuminate these transition episodes.
Dean Nowowiejski, US Army Command and General Staff College
Participant's Paper Title: The United States Third Army's Occupation of the German Rhineland, 1919: Transition to Peace in a Country Shaped by War
Participant's Paper Abstract: The American Expeditionary Force came relatively late to the conflict during the concluding stages of the First World War. Immediately after the end of the Meuse-Argonne offensive and the Armistice, the Third Army was created to fulfill President Woodrow Wilson's pledge to participate in the Allied occupation of the German Rhineland. The Third Army began to march into Germany through Luxembourg and the Moselle River valley in mid-November 1919 and reached the Rhine at Coblenz by early December. A quarter-million American troops joined the march and filled the American zone. They would remain there until the 4th of July 1919 and the signing of the Treaty of Versailles by the Germans, then begin to go home. Upon entering Germany, Third Army soldiers quickly confronted an alien landscape, as they billeted in homes of a recent enemy described in allied wartime propaganda as brutish and evil. Despite a non-fraternization order, over time the US soldiers came to respect the Rhinelanders and their Prussian administrators, upon whom the Third Army leaders relied for occupation stability and success. Unfortunately, Third Army leaders stumbled a bit as they failed to realize the importance of aligning their military government boundaries with those of the Prussian administrators. Third Army officers used creative means to keep their large occupation force ready for combat in case the Armistice dissolved, while at the same time calming a restive desire to return home since to Doughboys the war was over. This important episode in the conclusion of the First World War should be remembered and better understood as we approach its centennial. It is a clear example of the challenges of transitioning from war to peace and the adjustments required to the geography, environment and spaces of an occupying force.
Robert Baumann, US Army Command and General Staff College
Participant's Paper Title: The Basmachis, the Red Army and the Soviet Invention of Uzbekistan
Participant's Paper Abstract: Perhaps no postwar landscape reflected a more tumultuous and complex transition from war to peace than Central Asia, and in particular that space which became the modern state of Uzbekistan. Subjugated by a combination of military campaigns and coercive diplomacy during the second half of the nineteenth century, the region then referred to as Turkestan by Russians was the heir to great and influential civilizational currents, yet lacked a true national identity. The Emirate of Bukhara and the Khanates based at Kokand and Khiva, all situated in what we know today as Uzbekistan, were from a military-political viewpoint the atrophied vestiges of the formidable empire of Amir Temur, or Tamerlane. Russian colonialism in the region rested on military administration, as there were neither enough Russians nor Russian administrators to effect integration into the regular governmental system. Central Asia remained quiet until 1916, when the exigencies of war drove the Russian Empire to announce conscription of heretofore exempt frontier populations. A sudden explosion of outrage led to armed rebellion and the gradual coalescence of systematic resistance. Meanwhile, even before the end of the First World War, Russia descended into revolution and civil war. For a couple of years, Central Asia stood aside from the inevitable storm to come even as it welcomed ideological harbingers of change in the form of Tatar nationalists, advocates of Pan-Turkism, and even miscellaneous Islamists. With Red Victory in Moscow, yet another cultural and military invasion rolled into Turkestan, clothed in the rhetoric of anti-colonialism yet insistent that Central Asians must remain within the authority of a new Soviet state that could easily have been mistaken for a rebranding of the former Russian Empire. Over a decade on mostly unconventional warfare ensued, giving way to uneasy peace and ultimately yielding the invention of five republics including Uzbekistan.
Gregory Hospodor, US Army Command and General Staff College
Participant's Paper Title: 'Our objective is Barrafranca': A Reassessment of US Army Combat Effectiveness in 1943
Participant's Paper Abstract: Despite the work of historians such as Robert Sterling Rush, Kenneth Bonn, and Peter Mansoor, the US Army, when compared to their German adversaries, comes off second best. The idea that it was just not as good as the Wehrmacht man-for-man persists. This paper argues that American units quickly adapted and proved a tactical match for their opponents as early as the summer of 1943. Two keys to this effective adaptation were high quality leadership and an organizational commitment to learning quickly in the hard school of combat. As such, it contributes to a continuing reevaluation of Allied combat effectiveness during World War II. The methodology used assumes that artfully dealing with tactical actions can reveal meaning far beyond their narrow scope. Consequently, the paper addresses the successful efforts of the 1st Infantry Division's 26th Regimental Combat Team (reinforced) to take the Sicilian hill town of Barrafranca from a Kampfgruppe of the 15th Panzergrenadier Division on 16 July 1943.
The rationale for choosing Barrafranca for such a study is simply stated. First, the 26th had been blooded in Tunisia and processed this experience before taking part in Operation Husky. Second, the panzergrenadiers' defense of Barrafranca was not passive; it involved a combined arms team and an armored counterattack, a shock action that forced the lead battalion of the 26th to respond rapidly and creatively. Finally, the condensed timeframe of the battle (combat began at approximately 0100 and ended by 2000), the relatively small number of forces involved, and the availability of ample primary sources, at least for the 26th RCT, mean that the story can be told in depth and breadth in the abbreviated format of a conference presentation.
James Willbanks, US Army Command and General Staff College
Paul Miles, Princeton University

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