pulprack2

OVER THERE

Edited by Jerry Page and Jerry L. Burge

The Great War was a major influence on the pulps. The men coming back from the battlefields of Europe no longer saw the world the way their fathers saw it. The most direct result of that change of thinking is to be found, probably, in the rise of the hardboiled detective story in the pages of Black Mask and Dime Detective.

The first pulp dedicated to fiction about the war was Dell's War Stories, soon followed by Over the Top from Street & Smith, and Battle Stories from Fawcett the latter edited by Capt. Roscoe Fawcett and published by Capt. W.H. Fawcett more famous, of course, as the titular officer of Captain Billy's Whizbang which, come to think of it, shows a bit more of that Great War influence in its "how ya gonna keep 'em down on the farm" approach to humor, though possibly not much of a change of thinking.

We're mainly interested in pulp fiction about World War I, and as always our principal slant is pulp fiction as pulp fiction. But often pulp editors made claims for the authenticity of the stuff they printed; sometimes their claims were legitimate and sometimes they were just promotion with little authority to back them up. So we've invited a couple of friends who know a bit about the war to contribute some reviews that examine the background of the fiction a bit more thoroughly than we normally do. One of those friends is the historian Fred van Hartesveldt and the other is Frank Brayman. We think you'll be pleased with their observations. Keith Troop, one of our regular contributors also knows a bit about military history that has proved useful in this column.

:: Jerry Page and Jerry Burge

Jerry Page:

Was there ever a copy of Battle Stories that did not feature something by Arthur Guy Empey? Not that I've ever seen. The June 1932 issue carries his long novelette, featuring his bread-and-butter hero, "Terrence X. O'Leary," “The Y.M.C.A. Goes Over the Top.” Well, so do most Arthur Guy Empey stories, now I think of it.

Arthur Guy Empey. Has any pulp writer ever been more maligned for the quality of his output? For that matter, take O'Leary. Has any fictional character in the history of the pulps ever been ridiculed more than Terrence X. O'Leary? Possibly only Carroll John Daly and "Race Williams" come even close. Yet Empey sold a lot of pulp magazines in his time (the late twenties and early thirties) and in that same period sold a lot of hardbacks as well. For a time, thanks to his Great War memoirs Over the Top, he was as hot as John Grisham is today. Yet a couple decades later he also wrote the lead novels in Terrence X. O'Leary's War Birds, one of the sillier air-war magazines, for which many pulp critics have never forgiven the poor man, and probably never will.

"The Y.M.C.A. Goes over the Top" is the middle part of a trilogy wherein O'Leary gets into his usual trouble, this time in the company of a bunch of cowboys from Montana. I've not read the fore and aft portions of this threesome, nor do I know whether or not they were published together in book form. This one reads well enough by itself to stand alone.

O'Leary and his bronco busting pals have all received injuries, presumably in the previous story, and are sent to a field hospital where they learn they will be rotated back to the states to live the posh life and tell stories of their exploits at Liberty Loan drives. This so appalls them that they decide to leave their comfy sickbeds and rejoin the fighting. This involves stealing uniforms and identification papers and such-like carryings-on, which ends up with our boys pretending to be Y.M.C.A. men. The Y.M.C.A., of course, ran the military canteens during the war and had a reputation for being tight-fisted. The title of this story comes from part of "Hinky-Dinky-Parley-Voo," which goes,

The Y.M.C.A. went over the top, Parley Voo,

The Y.M.C.A. went over the top, Parley Voo.

The Y.M.C.A. went over the top

They thought they heard a nickel drop. Hinky, Dinky, Parley Voo!

Their actions get O'Leary and his pals in Dutch with the M.P.s, especially a corporal named Halligan who's hot on their trail for the first half of the story. And why not? O'Leary and his boys are rewriting the record books in breaking regulations. In addition to simple A.W.O.L. and carrying false I.D., O'Leary is impersonating a chaplain (and he later impersonates a two-star general), the whole group is resisting arrest with the sort of gusto that is generally acknowledged at Courts Martial as sufficient to convert common garden variety A.W.O.L. into mutiny, and let's not even get into destruction of military property; to say nothing of Conduct Unbecoming. Before too many pages have passed, even O'Leary and the boys are acknowledging that their goose is cooked and their only recourse is to make it to the front. There, they believe, they can avoid arrest for the remainder of the war and fulfill their patriotic dream of fighting out the duration after which, it's Leavenworth if they're lucky, a firing squad if simple common justice prevails.

Now, in the first half of this story has O'Leary and his boy-os in and out of detention. At one point they take over a Y.M.C.A. hut, lead the boys in a hymn singing that features the un-bowdlerized version of "Mademoiselle from Armentieres," and give away free chocolate and cigarettes. But whoops! they get caught by Halligan, and while waiting for an escort to take them to their doom, are visited by a Y.M.C.A. chaplain who has arranged their escape. Seems he's heard they were just trying to stay in the fray with all the other good American lads, and darned if he doesn't respect that. Sometimes a chaplain regrets that he can't pick up a gun and fight too. This so impresses O'Leary and his pals they promise never again to say a word against the Y.M.C.A. Furthermore, they refuse to escape until the chaplain provides them with membership cards showing them to be Y.M.C.A. members in good standing. Then they take off for the front, driving a limousine disguised as a general's vehicle. Can't you just hear the firing squad receiving the command to "Lock and load?"

There's a ferocious chase that ends with our heroes surrounded in the dark. Their only recourse is to hide out in a signal balloon that O'Leary happens to know won't be send aloft with a crew. Of course, it gets sent aloft despite what O'Leary knows, and with O'Leary and his Galloping Orphans hiding in it. They crash land behind enemy lines. They're taken prisoner and find themselves in a German machine gun bunker, hidden beneath what looks like a caved-in trench. The idea is, when the Americans charge the German lines tomorrow, they'll go past the machine gun bunker and be trapped. Since our pals are dressed as non-combatants, the Jerrys take them as spies and decide to shoot them. O'Leary has other plans.

This novelette is about 20,000 words long and so crowded with story that all the room that's left to tell us that O'Leary and his delinquents weren't shot, is the last sentence which assures us they returned to their lines "bearing information calculated to square them with their officers for the wild escapades that had resulted in sending the Y.M.C.A. over the top."

Verdict? This story strains the credulity. But it is a lot of fun to read.

Empey is not a bad writer. His prose is workmanlike and he paces his story like a solid professional. Something's going on all the time and he makes sure you know what it is. O'Leary is not a character of great depth, but he sure has charm. And whether you believe it or not, all the crimes O'Leary commits are motivated by the purest of reasons: he's a patriot. How dare they send him back to talk at Liberty Loan rallies when there's man's fighting to be done! Furthermore, he's a man of honor. He doesn't allow his men to shoot back (very much) at the M.P.s, and in one scene he even has pangs of conscience knowing he must attack a German soldier who's just made a gesture of kindness toward him.

Of course, this isn't writing on a plane with H.P. Lovecraft or Raymond Chandler. This is slapstick, pure and simple. Empey, in Over the Top tells about his experiences in the British Army, which includes writing and producing comic plays for the troops. O'Leary's the common soldier proving to be smarter and sharper and basically better than the officers and politicians supposedly responsible for running this war. That makes him a character out of a folk tradition that goes back several centuries, and appropriately the humor in these stories is lowbrow and roughhouse, and Arthur Guy Empey shows a certain talent for this sort of thing. The humor in Capt. Billy's Whiz Bang from the same publisher is labored and verbose, like much popular humor of the twenties, and almost always misses my funny-bone. Empey's stuff is crisp and fast-paced and makes me laugh most of the time and it's been sitting on the shelf for over seven decades. This story ain't art, but it is entertainment, and it's on a par with Frederick Davis and Emile Tepperman and a lot of other pretty good pulp writers, who probably didn't turn out art either, but certainly entertained.

Of course that doesn't necessarily let Empey off the hook for his later sins in writing Terrence X. O'Leary's War Birds, but let's take one sin at a time, shall we?

:: Jerry Page

Frank Brayman:

“Zero Hour with the Princess Pats” also comes from Battle Stories, their June 1932 issue. It's written by Harold Cruickshank and the editors make a big deal about him as one of their most popular contributors and a veteran of the Canadian Army, who fought in World War I. I'm told that these days Cruickshank is remembered by pulp fans for his animal stories which are highly regarded. On the basis of this story, however, I have to give him mixed grades and not very high ones, at that as a writer of war stories.

Sergeant Dan Bryson is about to be sent on leave to England where he expects to be married. This is on the eve of the Battle of Sanctuary Wood the WWI battle for which the Canadian battalion, the Princess Patricia's Canadian Light Infantry is best known. Just prior to Bryson leaving the trenches his best friend is killed and lives long enough to identify his assailant as a German spy in English uniform. Just as his friend dies, the company clerk arrives to hand Bryson his leave orders and a telegram. Bryson, already heart broken at the death of his friend, opens the telegram to learn that his fiancée has just been killed in a Zeppelin raid. Bryson forgets his leave and stays to fight the Hun in revenge for the death of his loved ones. It ends with him waking up in the hospital minus an arm but less concerned about that than how proud he is of the Princess Pats.

Some background is in order. At the start of WWI, the Canadian Militia consisted of a small Permanent Force (Regulars), less than 10,000 men, supplemented by Organized Militia regiments who received 5 days drill a year, and Enrolled Militia which was a list of names at the court house and received no training at all. Except for the Permanent Force, by law none of these units could be required to serve outside Canada.

Partly for this reason, the Canadians decided to form independent Overseas Battalions composed of volunteers. This system broke down in 1915 because there was no provision for recruiting and training replacements. The "fix" was to disband some battalions to provide immediate replacements, and to affiliate the remainder administratively with the prewar militia regiments. This reform was in place by 1916.

Using Harold F. Cruickshank as an example, a bio of him in the issue says he enlisted in the 63rd Battalion in 1915. No such unit appears on the order of battle for the Canadian Army Corps, so presumably it refers to the prewar 63rd Regiment -- Halifax Rifles, Volunteers from the 63rd Regt. formed the 14th and 40th Overseas Batts. of the CEF in 1914-15. By the winter of 1915-16, the 63rd Regt. was designated the parent formation of these numbered batts. The 14th served in the 3rd Infantry Brigade, 1st Canadian Division, while the 40th was part of the Canadian Training Division stationed on Salisbury Plain. If Cruickshank actually served at the front (his bio says he did and was wounded and gassed), the progression would have been enlistment and basic training in Canada with the 63rd Regt., transfer to the 40th Batt. for advanced training, and then transfer to the 14th Batt. for service at the front.

The Princess Patricia's Canadian Light Infantry were a special case. They were formed as a private venture by Andrew H. Gault of Montreal, who recruited men who had seen prior service in the British Army. They were recruited in nine days. Gault paid all expenses to recruit and equip the PPCLI and joined the unit as the senior Major. Their uniforms and Ross Mark II rifles were of Canadian origin. Their web equipment was purchased from the Mills Cartridge Belt Company in New England and was similar but not identical to the British Patern 1908 equipment, They were equipped with the Colt Model 1896 machine gun ("potato digger"). In infantry units, handguns were normally issued only to the No. 1 on a machine gun team (officers purchased their own). I don't have any information as to type but the RCMP used Colt New Service revolvers in both .45 Long Colt and .455 Webley calibers, while the units of the 1st and 2nd Divisions used Colt Model 1911 .45 Auto pistols.

The PPCLI were initially assigned to the 27th Division BEF (British Regulars). By mid-1915, they had been transferred to an independent infantry brigade (the Royal Canadian Regiment was the other unit) under the Canadian Army Corps. This formation was later designated the 7th Infantry Brigade, reinforced with the 42nd and 49th Batt.'s CEF, and incorporated into the new 3rd Division. By 1916, their web equipment was the standard Pattern 1908, the Ross rifles had been replaced with Short Lee-Enfield Mark III rifles, the Colt machine guns with Vickers and Lewis guns, and the handguns with .455 caliber Webley Mark VI revolvers.

Many infantrymen had non-issue handguns. My grandfather was No. 1 on a machine gun team so he was issued a Webley Mark VI. He also had an Iver-Johnson pocket pistol in .32 Short caliber. He never shot anyone with either one, though he took a prisoner with the .32. I still have the .32; it's a good thing he never needed to use it, because a heavy overcoat would provide pretty good protection.

Because of their exemplary wartime record, both the PPCLI and the French-Canadian 22nd Overseas Batt. CEF ("Vingtdeuxieme Battalion" or "Vandoos") were added to the Permanent Force as regimental-strength units. Both of these units are still part of the Canadian Regular Army.

As for the story itself, it's about as realistic and believable as a Sergeant Rock comic book. The comic was better at least it had art by Joe Kubert.

The story gives us radio-equipped spies in no-man's land and a radio-equipped Fokker. Both are preposterous. Radios, and the necessary power supply at that time were less than portable. A listening post would have used a field telegraph. To my knowledge, the only aircraft equipped with radios were multi-engine flying boats and zeppelins; as fleet units, they used naval-type spark-gap wireless telegraph. Nobody used spies or agents to gather front-line intelligence, and particularly not men disguised as enemy soldiers, because they would be shot out of hand if captured. Frontline intelligence made heavy use of aerial photo reconnaissance, supplemented by patrols and raids.

Artillery counter-battery fire was nowhere near as effective as the story would have you believe. The artillery had the lowest casualty rate of the combat arms.

The description of the mine explosion process sounds like an earthquake. That makes sense that's probably how it seemed. The description of the smell of the disturbed earth is the way my grandfather described it.

The fight with the German scout is reasonably well done. But Cruickshank could have learned this type of brawling in a Halifax waterfront saloon.

The use of a periscope to scope out the area forward of the trench is a good touch. The first ones were improvised using shaving mirrors, when the men discovered that curiosity was often rewarded with a sniper's bullet through the head. Later, periscopes were an issue item.

Mixed reviews for the main battle scene. The dialogue is unbelievable, filled with pointless speeches. Realistically the dialogue would have been unprintable in a 1932 magazine, anyway. The reinforcements armed with rifles, grenades and shovels is a good touch; my grandfather killed several men and took two prisoners with a sharpened shovel. Flamethrowers were used I'm not sure I'd want to get close enough to one to bayonet the operator. Cruickshank knows the textbook method of clearing a bayonet but it didn't always work. There seems to be too much bayonet work; it actually wasn't that common. A shovel or mace (an issue weapon a hexagonal cast-iron knob mounted on a pick handle) is a better weapon at close quarters. Further, unlike the socket bayonets of the 19th century, it would be almost impossible to break an Enfield sword-bayonet. However, it is possible to break the forestock of the rifle at the point of the attachment of the nosecap/bayonet lug, which would have the same result. This problem was known at the time and was addressed after the war in the design of the experimental SMLE Mark V and the later No. 4 rifle of WWII.

The historical items are from various books in my library. The rest is based on conversations with my grandfather and on a journal he kept during his service with the Canadian Army in WWI.

Bottom line: maybe Cruickshank was there, and maybe not. I've never been within 30 years or 3000 miles of a WWI battlefield but I think I could write a story at least as good as this one.

:: Frank Brayman

Jerry Page:

Frederick C. Painton is one of the most reliable pulp writers of all time, and was always welcome in Battle Stories. In the June 1932 issue, his story “Cracked Wings” is called "one of the greatest air stories ever written." That's high praise indeed, considering some of the fine work done in the aviation field by the likes of George Bruce and Joel Rogers.

This story comes awfully close, however, with a strong opening and a rousing ending. No one wrote action scenes better than Painton, and few were as good. Furthermore, to find writers who were better than him at registering emotional turmoil you have to look to the very best: Norvell W. Page of "Spider" fame, and Cornell Woolrich. "Cracked Wings" is the story of Captain Cocky Landers, a pilot on the verge of a crack-up.

He knows it too, though his men don't. They think he's absolutely fearless. His commander knows better and has ordered him to take leave. He's getting ready to go when one of his men comes to him and begs him to lead one more flight.

The man is Boots Lawrence, who's supposed to lead today's flight. Boots has had a dream where he saw his brother Vic, also in the company, go down in flames. Cocky decides he can risk one flight an easy patrol where there's not likely to be much action so he agrees to lead the flight and start his leave at noon.

Illo by Mark Fults

Then the major comes in and tells everyone that their target has changed. They're to take on a crack German unit headed by a man named Schlieffel. Schlieffel is good, possibly the best pilot in the war, and he's killed a lot of men.

During the engagement Schlieffel goes after Vic but Boots foolishly interferes. Cocky Landers rushes to his rescue, oblivious to the Fokker pursuing him. He and Boots Lawrence are both shot down, and Landers suffers serious but not fatal injuries. They manage to get out of their respective planes safely but Schlieffel straffes and kills Boots. Cocky's mind snaps.

While in the hospital, Cocky's case is argued by two psychiatrists one of whom thinks he's incurable and wants to send him back stateside, to spend the rest of his life in an asylum. The other comes to believe that if he gets back in combat it might bring him out of his psychosis. This doctor takes him back to his unit, but it may already be too late. The Armistice has been signed. In less than 30 hours the war will be over.

The unit decides to go up and challenge Schlieffel's unit to give Landers one last time. Landers can still fly though no one really knows how he'll respond to a combat situation.

How he responds is he snaps out of his fugue and engages in the last great dogfight of the war.

The action scenes at the beginning of this story are truly wonderful. They carry you aloft and put you through the aerobatics and emotional roller coaster of aerial combat with such vivid force that you feel as if you understand what Cocky Landers has gone through. His breakdown is completely believable. Oddly enough, and for the same reason the sheer power of Painton's action writing you believe his recovery, also, at least for a little while.

It's the middle part you don't quite believe. The part where the psychiatrists debate Landers' state; and the part where one of them decides to risk the lives of other pilots to see if Landers will come back under combat.

To tell you the truth, I found the fight scenes so well done, I didn't mind that the psychiatric parts were foolish. Painton doesn't belabor them; he isn't out to prove anything, or argue a philosophical position. He just wants to get Landers back in the air so he can go on with what the story is really about.

The heck of it is, that was what I wanted, too. So I suppose if Painton is guilty of failure as a writer, that makes me equally guilty of failure as a reader.

Incidentally, it doesn't affect the story at all but at one point Painton has one of his characters remark that this war was so horrible that that there most certainly wouldn't be anything like it again in their lifetime. It's a shame he was wrong, isn't it?

:: Jerry Page

Frank Brayman:

I suppose it was just good advertising for a pulp magazine to claim that their writers knew what they were writing about, and to tack on tags that would seemingly lend authority to their words. As most pulp fans know, a lot of the air war writers added ranks they were never awarded to their magazine by-lines. Most of these magazine weren't written for actual veterans, of course, but for teen-age boys.

I've found that veterans who have been on the sharp end tend not to talk about their experiences with outsiders (i.e., people who haven't been shot at) until many years have passed. When I was a kid the many WWII veterans in the neighborhood didn't tell war stories even though us boys were interested. My father said that when he was a kid, my grandfather wouldn't talk about the war. If the average pulp writer had seen much action, it's likely he would have written something more like All Quiet on the Western Front.

By the time I was old enough to ask intelligent questions, over 40 years had passed and Gramps had had time to come to terms with it. I remember that in about 1958, on vacation, Gramps met a fellow WWI veteran who had served in the same places at the same time. They had a great time swapping yarns for the next day or so. The other man was from Bavaria. After 40 years, the common experience was more important that the color of the uniform they wore.

:: Frank Brayman

Fred van Hartesveldt:

Redvers' story “The Wound Stripe” in Adventure (August 15, 1931) is in so many senses a failure that what virtues it has provide no redemption. Its limited virtues are as an amusing story for children, but because the humor is achieved at the expense of decent, honorable men attempting to make the best of a truly hellish situation, it cannot be recommended even for fun.

The story is about Spike Molton, a Canadian serving on the Western Front in 1917. Molton is a malingerer who seeks to avoid fatigues (labor duties) by pretending to be sick. His unit's doctor sees through the subterfuge and provides pills (strong laxative perhaps) that make him wish he'd stuck to his duties. Molton resents the doctor and continues to wish for a phony medical excuse to be freed of his duties. Then he is ordered to take a captured German doctor back to be held as a POW. Taking refuge from a barrage which he claims he has been ordered to go through, Molton befriends the German who in return suggests some symptoms that should get him kept for observation rather than sent back immediately to the front when they reach their destination. Molton is successful in bluffing his way into a hospital, but to his discomfort finds that he is headed into an appendectomy. He blames the German doctor for tricking him (although he got three weeks in the hospital) and says he should get a "wound stripe," that is a decoration for being wounded because he was injured due to the effects of an enemy.

As Redvers does not have his facts straight about the setting (the battle of Messines, June 1917), it is, perhaps, not surprising that his knowledge of the workings of the British army and the situation of the Western Front is less than perfect. This ignorance results in unrealistic and unfair portrayals and thus a poor story. Furthermore, the story does not hang together logically, making it even worse. These problems can be illustrated by examining some elements in the story.

First, one job of the battalion MO (Medical Officer) was to prevent wastage due to malingering. A veteran (which Molton claimed to be) would have known that a report to the platoon sergeant would have had much worse consequences than the pills. It would have also been the appropriate behavior for an MO. Second, although suicidal tasks were sometimes ordered on the Western Front, these were to accomplish vital missions. Delivering a POW to the rear doesn't qualify. Even a very bad officer would not waste a soldier by ordering him through a barrage unnecessarily. Nor would the punishment for being late in getting back have been sufficient to risk the barrage. Since Molton expects nothing from the German, he has no reason to curry favor by pretending to risk punishment by taking shelter rather than pressing on with the trip. Third, although the German doctor could have described the right symptoms, he could not supply clinical evidence no fever, no appendicitis. Why would a doctor even if he did not know a man to be a goldbrick and this was the same doctor as in the first incident make a diagnosis purely on a patient's report of symptoms? Fourth, for two powerful reasons the MO would not do unnecessary surgery to teach Molton a lesson. First, his duty, however much he regretted having to send young men into harm's way, was to get his patients back to their units as quickly as possible. In the weeks after Messines, the British army was building up for the Third Ypres Offensive (popularly known as Passchendaele), and it was vital to have men in training and then in combat. An MO who kept a man away for three weeks, as reported in the story, unnecessarily would have been subject to discipline. Teaching Molton not to malinger was not the doctor's job, and attempting to do so, rather than just reporting him, would put the doctor at risk as well as being an ill service to Molton's unit. The second reason is the Hippocratic Oath. An appendectomy in 1917 was very serious surgery. Opening a body cavity in the days before antibiotics was life-threatening. Abdominal surgery was so dangerous that three years before the war began, Royal Army Medical Corps' doctrine was not to treat abdominal wounds. It was thought that the casualty had a better chance without medical intervention. Doctors quickly learned that with then modern techniques it was actually better to operate as quickly as possible after the injury, but recovery rates from such wounds were rarely better than 50%. Thus Redvers' character is a bad soldier and worse doctor who puts a man's life at risk to do someone else's job and/or out of pique at being manipulated.

The author (and his editor) should be ashamed of trying to make a few bucks by turning the awful, terrifying choices of the Western Front into sophomoric humor.

:: Fred van Hartesveldt

Jerry Page:

Publisher Captain Billy Fawcett and editor Captain Roscoe Fawcett might have made sure the contents page of Battle Stories listed their ranks, but they weren’t fools. The heroes in most of their stories were enlisted men. Officers might publish pulps, but they didn’t read them.

We can take a trio of examples right quickly from the Match, 1928 issue. First up is “Discipline” by Cole Richards. It’s a half page “story” about three corporals saluting a colonel. Seems the colonel is a real martinet and the corporals catch him drunk and make him spill wine all over himself when he returns their salute. That’s the plot, pal, and it’s certainly no prize as a story. But doesn’t it say reams about who this magazine was aimed at?

“A Lady from Alsace” by E.E. Radikin has a plot, sort of, but not much more plot than “Discipline.” During a convoy, an ambulance driver fakes a breakdown so he can stop off in a French village and drink beer. Seems he has this card on him that he found on a dead German and out of curiosity as to what it says, he asks a French soldier if he can read German. Seems the “French” soldier is really a German spy and because of the note he mistakes our alleged hero for a German master spy and takes him to where the Germans are holding a beautiful allied spy from Alsace – the lady of the title. He rescues her and captures the spy ring but never quite figures out what the heck is going on.

Which brings us, thank God, to J. J. Kalez and his short story, “Attaboy, Soldier!” The soldier in question is a footslogger named Grimmer who tries to hide out to avoid action when his outfit is sent to hold a position on the front lines. He passes out, wakes up hours later, to find out his outfit has been flanked by the Germans and fled back to the lines. He joins up with a marine and a sailor – stretcher bearers – and the three of them are pinned down by a German machine gunner. Grimmer, shamed by the failure of his infantry outfit sets off to wipe out the machine gun nest and succeeds. Not much more plot there than the other two, but Kalez knows how to put a story together and tell it. He seems to have a military background and the story is as convincing as it has to be – not much more than that, of course, but it makes little difference as it entertains solidly. I associate Kalez mainly with Navy stories, but he handles the infantry well. All the illustrations in this issue are drawn by Chester Sullivan who does not distinguish himself. While Kalez seems to know the procedure for striking an enemy with the butt of a rifle, Sullivan’s drawing for the story shows Grimmer swinging it like a baseball bat, so that the narrowest part of the rifle stock will smack against the German’s helmet. (In the story Grimmer uses the butt not the stockm and drived it between the man’s shoulders.) Sullivan’s way might daze the German – it’s not likely to do him much more harm than that. But mainly it’s going to snap the stock of that rifle right off, rendering it useless for either striking an enemy or shooting him. Sullivan’s other illustrations aren’t much better, but we’re reproducing some of them anyway. :: Jerry Page

Frank Brayman:

“The Man Who Won the War” by Larry Boardman a non-fiction piece in the June 1932 issue of Battle Stories announces in its first sentence that the man who won the war has been found at last thirteen years after the Armistice. The man is E.J. Rollins of Neath, Wales who was given an award of $25,000 offered by Lady Houston, widow of British shipping magnate Sir Robert Houston. In 1918 when Neath was a 28 year old subaltern in a British tank outfit he participated in a raid into German territory and brought back documents and papers containing plans of the Hindenberg line. The citation that went with the award says that these plans were essential to the success of the Allies final offensive and that without them the war might have dragged on for several more months.

The title "The Man Who Won the War" overstates the facts. The Germans were used up by August 1918, having shot their wad in the unsuccessful March 1918 offensive.

The mission described raiding a headquarters is a traditional light cavalry mission, the sort of thing that John S. Mosby's men did in the Civil War. The fact that the officer commanding was surprised at the $25,000 prize indicates that he thought of this mission as plain vanilla. I'm not familiar with the incident, but the story rings true it probably happened as described.

:: Frank Brayman

Jerry Page:

"The Desert Devils" actually is the story of one man an American cowboy, at that. It appeared in the February, 1928 issue of Battle Stories, and was written by Capt. George F. Elliot, one of the most familiar by-lines in the adventure pulps, and generally one attached to pretty readable stories.

Shorty Boyce is a horse wrangler who helps bring a herd to Galveston. While drunk, he hears someone is looking for a horse valet. Though he is warned the job is aboard a ship that's going overseas, he takes it anyway. And when he sobers up and gets his sea legs, he actually finds he enjoys it. The ship proceeds to Bordeaux and from there to Alexandria. He disembarks there and on impulse, joins the British Army. Luckily, he gets a cavalry unit. But when he draws his gear he's disappointed to see that the weapons they give him are an Enfield rifle -- smaller than the .30-.30 he's used to -- and a sword. "Don't I get no six gun?" he yells.

Well, no. He soon learns that the only enlisted men who get to carry six guns -- Webleys -- in this man's army are squadron sergeant majors, so old Shorty decides to become one.

He's lucky he got into this outfit. Being a calvalry unit, it has plenty of room for a horseman of Shorty's skill. Being a yeomanry unit Fielding compares it to the National Guard Cavalry it promotes on merit. Soon it's Sergeant Boyce, just one step away from a six gun.

As the war gets hotter, Boyce's unit finds itself on a mission in the desert. Cut off from their supply trains, they attack a village and take it only to discover that the wells are mined. The enemy blows them up and the result is a cave-in that can't be cleared away in less than a week. Lacking the water to wait that long, the unit must push on to another enemy village, get past the wire and trenches and take the wells before they're destroyed.

At the outset of the battle, the lieutenant is shot and the sergeant major breaks his leg. He passes command and his six-gun over to Shorty. But the problem of water still remains. The standard way is to send in infantry but Shorty decides to try something else he decides to charge the trenches and the wells beyond them on horseback.

This is a lively and colorful yarn about one of the lesser known fronts of the First World War, and it's told by a man who's both a veteran writer and a veteran soldier. His by-line would soon be Major George Fielding Elliot, after all.

:: Jerry Page

Keith Troop:

“The Gunner’s Seat” by Gordon Carroll first appeared in the September 15, 1931 issue of Adventure. It is the story of a tank corporal of the British army of the First World War and quite a good story it is. If you liked “Team Yankee” by Harold Coyle, then you should like this story as well because it is extremely well written tank combat.

Mind you, it is First World War tank combat, so instead of charging into battle on some thundering steel stallion, you’re lumbering into battle in a great big metal target. But again, it is very well written, so you feel every jolt and jar of the mighty beast as it makes its way onto the battlefield and into the history books.

We find our corporal as he is joining his tank unit and very quickly into the story we find that this is not your average corporal. He is forty-five and has some hidden past that has something to do with the invention and use of tanks. He is joining a unit of Mark V tanks and will be the right sponson machine gunner.

Now I will take a moment to tell you that if you are not up on your tank history, then this story will frustrate you because it was written at a time when everyone in the world knew what a Mark V tank was and looked like. For that reason, little is done to educate the reader about what these beasts are and how they should relate to them. Fortunately for you, I happen to be a bit of a tank know-it-all so I can help. Remember Indiana Jones and The Last Crusade? That was the one with Sean Connery playing Harrison Ford’s father as they both searched for the Holy Grail. The tank that was transporting the bad guys through the desert while trying to squish Indy is a Mark V. All you have to do is take off the turret that was on top of the thing and there you go. Now you know what kind of tank we are talking about.

We watch our hero go through his first tank action and subsequent actions where he has to deal with the way the tank has dehumanized the battlefield. This and his memories of a bitter disappointment earlier in his life where the military rejected his tank proposal are the primary insights into this character and his motivation to join the army at the ripe old age of forty-five.

Corporal Brown apparently served at Spion Kopje, a battle in the Boer war where the infantry were badly mauled and apparently that had inspired his quest to design a machine that would make the battlefield safer for his side of it. We flash back to the reports of that day and the day when the army initially rejected his proposal for the new super weapon. We learn that Brown had wept bitter tears over the Army’s shortsightedness and that he basically enlisted in the tanks to vindicate his faith in them as a war-winning weapon.

In the end, he resolves the few moral dilemmas he has with the idea of bone crushing steel being used as a weapon of mass destruction against an otherwise unreachable foe. He puts his faith and his honor on the line by leaving the safety of his tank so that he might find a lost target for his unit and guide them to it. Exposed as he is, he realizes that it is still men who fight wars and men who win them, not the machines they are in. He also gets shot, so maybe the whole thing about machines not winning wars was completely wrong. I won’t tell you how the story ends or if he makes it through because I don’t want to spoil the surprising twist. I’m hoping it will make more sense to you as it was the only part of the story I did not really "get".

I will say that if you are a fan of tank history, you will enjoy this story very much. Written in the ‘30s as it was, the tactics and techniques mentioned will be thoroughly foreign to the modern tank aficionado. Remembering that the tank was designed to end trench warfare, we see why it was designed the way it was in the paragraphs of this story. You get to watch as the tank straddles a trench and then "cleans" it with its two side sponsons firing six pounder cannon shells and machine guns into the helpless infantry below it. Even more telling is the description of one tank as it rolls over a German machine gun nest burying the gun’s crew in place with it.

On a larger geopolitical scale, this story has a contemporary look at what the tank meant and how it was viewed by the world at that time. The way the main character deals with the tank dilemma is very much done in the same language that the end of the next world war will have people using about the atomic bomb. All the talk about it being a terror weapon and the weapon that would make warfare obsolete is all there. Even the idea that the weapon itself dehumanizes the warfare experience is right out of contemporary thoughts about the bomb. Make no mistake about it, whatever historians or political analysts of the time might have had to say about it: to the average Joe on the street, it was the tank and no other weapon that ended the war to end all wars.

:: Keith Troop