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Battle of Arras

The First World War was an unprecedented catastrophe that shaped our modern world. Erik Sass is covering the events of the war exactly 100 years after they happened. This is the 147th installment in the series. 

October 1-6, 1914: Battle of Arras 

Following the Battles of Picardy and Albert in late September 1914, as October began German and French forces clashed again at the Battle of Arras, leading to yet another bloody stalemate in the “Race to the Sea.”

With the fighting around Albert grinding to a halt, German chief of the general staff Erich von Falkenhayn rushed reinforcements to the Sixth Army under Bavarian Crown Prince Rupprecht at the far right end of the German line, in hopes of outflanking the French Second Army under General Édouard de Castelnau from the north. Meanwhile, French chief of the general staff Joseph Joffre formed a new army subdivision with recently arrived troops (soon to be the new Tenth Army) under General Louis Maud’huy, standing in the way of the German Sixth Army at Arras. 

On October 1, Rupprecht, unaware of the extent of French reinforcements, ordered Sixth Army to advance west from near Douai, while Maud’huy, believing he faced no more than a thin screening force of German cavalry, ordered an attack in the opposite direction. The result of these simultaneous moves was another head-on collision. 

Over the next two days the German Sixth Army slowly pushed the French back towards Arras with assistance from the German First, Second, and Seventh Armies, but the Germans paid a heavy price for modest gains; on the afternoon of October 3, they gave up the direct assault on Arras and mounted a new attack from the north, without much more success. At the same time, the French attempted a flank attack from the north that also failed, while a German push for Vimy, north of Arras, made slow progress in the face of stiff opposition. Caught in the middle of all this, the town of Arras itself was soon battered into oblivion, with the loss of a number of historic medieval buildings.

 

On October 4, Joffre put the aggressive General Ferdinand Foch in command of a new northern army group including both Castelnau’s Second Army and Maud’huy’s Tenth Army, with instructions to hold off the Germans as new French reinforcements arrived to the north—repeating the now-familiar pattern of the Race to the Sea, which the French General Gallieni summed up with his judgment that “the Allies were always 24 hours and an Army Corps behind the Germans.” 

The Germans managed to make some further gains on October 4, finally occupying Vimy and taking control of part of a ridge offering good defensive positions to the south and west of the village—but once again they suffered heavy casualties for small advances. In the days to come Foch ordered the Tenth Army to counterattack but the French push soon ran out of steam in the face of German defenses. Both sides were digging in around Arras (top, German trenches) and the focal point was shifting north once again.

British Move to Flanders

As the Race to the Sea approached the Belgian border, Joffre and Foch sought additional reinforcements to hold the lengthening front and hopefully turn the German flank. With fewer French troops available for redeployment from the south, they turned to the British Expeditionary Force, still dug in along the Aisne but now freed up by the French Sixth Army, which took over the British trenches.

Beginning October 2 the BEF began boarding trains, trucks and buses to redeploy to the far left end of the Allied line, north of the new French Tenth Army—an area just south of the Belgian border near the villages of St. Omer and Hazebrouck. The British infantry started to assemble west of Lille on October 10, screened by two British cavalry divisions under General Edmund Allenby, and reinforced by fresh troops from England. 

However, at the same time, the German Sixth Army was also moving north towards Belgium, where it would clash with the British at the Battle of Messines beginning October 12. And unbeknownst to the Allies Falkenhayn was ordering the creation of a new German Fourth Army in western Belgium, setting the stage for one of the bloodiest battles in history—the inferno of Ypres. 

Belgian Government Flees Antwerp

To the north the noose was tightening around Antwerp, where German siege guns were obliterating outdated fortresses and shattering any hopes the Belgians had of withstanding a long siege. As Belgian resolve began to waver, the British rushed to shore up Antwerp’s defenses and implored King Albert to hang on as long as possible. But the British plan was a textbook example of “too little, too late.” 

In one of the stranger episodes of the war, on October 2 Foreign Secretary Grey and Secretary of State for War Kitchener agreed that First Lord of the Admiralty Winston Churchill should visit Antwerp in person to convince King Albert to hold with promises of British help. Arriving in Antwerp the following day, Churchill managed to persuade the Belgian sovereign to stick it out for another week if possible, promising assistance from the British Royal Naval Division, an amphibious force composed of sailors and marines under the control of the Royal Navy.

As it turned out the Royal Naval Division wasn’t quite ready for service overseas: many of the troops were reservists and volunteers equipped with obsolete rifles, and the brigades lacked artillery or field ambulances. Nonetheless the first British units arrived in Antwerp on October 5, followed by a larger force of 22,000 British troops who arrived at Ostend on October 6—just as the Germans penetrated the first line of forts guarding Antwerp. That same day the Belgian government departed for Ostend, and King Albert prepared to order the Belgian Army to evacuate the city and retreat to safety while it still could. The final German assault was about to begin.

Turks Prepare to Join War 

In the years leading up the Great War, the rulers of the Ottoman Empire desperately sought a European ally to protect their troubled realm against the other Great Powers while they implemented badly needed reforms. However the Europeans hesitated to enter into a formal defensive pact that would oblige them to fight for the decaying medieval empire; most were more interested in picking up some new territories when it finally fell apart. 

All that changed with the outbreak of war, as both sides suddenly found new reasons to befriend the Turks. The French, British, and Russians hoped to at least keep the Ottoman Empire neutral in order to keep the strategic straits at Constantinople open, allowing the Western Allies to send critical supplies to Russia via the Black Sea.

Meanwhile the Germans hoped to recruit the Turks into active participation in the war; while Berlin had no great expectations for Turkish performance on the battlefield, the addition of the empire to the Central Powers would allow them to cut off Russia, threaten Britain’s Middle Eastern possessions including Egypt and the Suez Canal, and generally distract the Allies from the decisive theatre on the Western Front. 

In the end the Germans won Turkish favor with a promise to guarantee the Ottoman Empire’s borders with a long-term defensive alliance, along with financial assistance to the tune of five million Turkish gold pounds, and the alliance was secretly signed on August 2, 1914. The Germans further cemented the deal by giving the Turks two powerful warships, the Goeben and Breslau, which replaced two Turkish dreadnoughts confiscated by the British admiralty at the beginning of the war. However to the Germans’ chagrin Constantinople didn’t declare war immediately; instead the Turks pleaded for time, pointing out how long it took to mobilize their forces over the empire’s vast distances and backwards infrastructure. 

After two months the Turks were finally (almost) ready to join the Central Powers. On October 1, 1914, they revealed their intentions by announcing that they were abrogating the “capitulations”—the humiliating concessions that gave Europeans extraterritorial rights in Constantinople and the Turkish straits, impinging on Ottoman sovereignty. Their first act was to close the straits to international shipping, severing Russia’s supply line from the Western Allies.

This wasn’t the only place the Turks intended to roll back Western influence with German support. One of their main goals was to cancel the Yeniköy Agreement of February 8, 1914, which they correctly perceived as the first step in a Russian plan to undermine Turkish control of the Armenian provinces in eastern Anatolia. Fighting for the very existence of the Ottoman Empire, the Young Turk triumvirate of Enver Pasha, Djemal Pasha and Talaat Pasha believed that any measures were justified to settle the “Armenian question.” A horrific tragedy was about to unfold. 

See the previous installment or all entries.

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10 People Who Have Misplaced Their Oscars
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Winning an Oscar is, for most, a once-in-a-lifetime achievement. Unless you’re Walt Disney, who won 22. Nevertheless, owning a little gold guy is such a rarity that you’d think their owners would be a little more careful with them. Now, not all of these losses are the winners' fault—but some of them certainly are, Colin Firth.

1. ANGELINA JOLIE

After Angelina Jolie planted a kiss on her brother and made the world wrinkle their noses, she went onstage and collected a Best Supporting Actress Oscar for her role as Lisa in Girl, Interrupted. She later presented the trophy to her mother, Marcheline Bertrand. The statuette may have been boxed up and put into storage with the rest of Marcheline’s belongings when she died in 2007, but it hasn’t yet surfaced. “I didn’t actually lose it,” Jolie said, “but nobody knows where it is at the moment.”

2. WHOOPI GOLDBERG

In 2002, Whoopi Goldberg sent her Ghost Best Supporting Actress Oscar back to the Academy to have it cleaned and detailed, because apparently you can do that. The Academy then sent the Oscar on to R.S. Owens Co. of Chicago, the company that manufactures the trophies. When it arrived in the Windy City, however, the package was empty. It appeared that someone had opened the UPS package, removed the Oscar, then neatly sealed it all back up and sent it on its way. It was later found in a trash can at an airport in Ontario, California. The Oscar was returned to the Academy, who returned it to Whoopi without cleaning it. “Oscar will never leave my house again,” Goldberg said.

3. OLYMPIA DUKAKIS

When Olympia Dukakis’s Moonstruck Oscar was stolen from her home in 1989, she called the Academy to see if it could be replaced. “For $78,” they said, and she agreed that it seemed like a fair price. It was the only thing taken from the house.

4. MARLON BRANDO

“I don’t know what happened to the Oscar they gave me for On the Waterfront,” Marlon Brando wrote in his autobiography. “Somewhere in the passage of time it disappeared.” He also didn't know what happened to the Oscar that he had Sacheen Littlefeather accept for him in 1973. “The Motion Picture Academy may have sent it to me, but if it did, I don’t know where it is now.”

5. JEFF BRIDGES

Jeff Bridges had just won his Oscar in 2010 for his portrayal of alcoholic country singer Bad Blake in Crazy Heart, but it was already missing by the next year’s ceremony, where he was up for another one. He lost to Colin Firth for The King’s Speech. “It’s been in a few places since last year but I haven’t seen it for a while now,” the actor admitted. “I’m hoping it will turn up, especially now that I haven’t won a spare! But Colin deserves it. I just hope he looks after it better.” Which brings us to ...

6. COLIN FIRTH

Perhaps Jeff Bridges secretly cursed the British actor as he said those words, because Firth nearly left his new trophy on a toilet tank the very night he received it. After a night of cocktails at the Oscar after-parties in 2011, Firth allegedly had to be chased down by a bathroom attendant, who had found the eight-pound statuette in the bathroom stall. Notice we said allegedly: Shortly after those reports surfaced, Firth's rep issued a statement saying the "story is completely untrue. Though it did give us a good laugh."

7. MATT DAMON

When newbie writers Matt Damon and Ben Affleck took home Oscars for writing Good Will Hunting in 1998, it was one of those amazing Academy Award moments. Now, though, Damon isn’t sure where his award went. “I know it ended up at my apartment in New York, but unfortunately, we had a flood when one of the sprinklers went off when my wife and I were out of town and that was the last I saw of it,” Damon said in 2007.

8. MARGARET O'BRIEN

In 1945, seven-year-old Margaret O’Brien was presented with a Juvenile Academy Award for being the outstanding child actress of the year. About 10 years later, the O’Briens' maid took the award home to polish, as she had done before, but never came back to work. The missing Oscar was forgotten about when O’Brien’s mother died shortly thereafter, and when Margaret finally remembered to call the maid, the number had been disconnected. She ended up receiving a replacement from the Academy.

There’s a happy ending to this story, though. In 1995, a couple of guys were picking their way through a flea market when they happened upon the Oscar. They put it up for auction, which is when word got back to the Academy that the missing trophy had resurfaced. The guys who found the Oscar pulled it from auction and presented it, in person, to Margaret O’Brien. “I’ll never give it to anyone to polish again,” she said.

9. BING CROSBY

For years, Bing Crosby's Oscar for 1944’s Going My Way had been on display at his alma mater, Gonzaga University. In 1972, students walked into the school’s library to find that the 13-inch statuette had been replaced with a three-inch Mickey Mouse figurine instead. A week later, the award was found, unharmed, in the university chapel. “I wanted to make people laugh,” the anonymous thief later told the school newspaper.

10. HATTIE MCDANIEL

Hattie McDaniel, famous for her Supporting Actress win as Mammy in Gone with the Wind, donated her Best Actress Oscar to Howard University. It was displayed in the fine arts complex for a time, but went missing sometime in the 1960s. No one seems to know exactly when or how, but there are rumors that the Oscar was unceremoniously dumped into the Potomac by students angered by racial stereotypes such as the one she portrayed in the film.

An earlier version of this post ran in 2013.

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"Weird Al" Yankovic Is Getting the Funko Treatment
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Kevork Djansezian, Getty Images

Though the New York Toy Fair—the largest trade show for playthings in the western hemisphere—won't officially kick off until Saturday, February 17, kids and kids-at-heart are already finding much to get excited about as the world's biggest toy companies ready to unleash their newest wares on the world. One item that has gotten us—and fans of fine parody songs everywhere—excited is "Weird Al" Yankovic's induction into the Funko Pop! family. The accordion-loving songwriter behind hits like "Eat It," "White & Nerdy," "Amish Paradise," and "Smells Like Nirvana" shared the news via Twitter, and included what we can only hope is a final rendering of his miniaturized, blockheaded vinyl likeness:

In late December, Funko announced that a Weird Al toy would be coming in 2018 as part of the beloved brand's Pop Rocks series. Though we know he'll be joined by Alice Cooper, Kurt Cobain, Elton John, and the members of Mötley Crüe, there's no word yet on exactly when you’ll be able to get your hands on Pop! Al. But knowing that he's coming is enough … for now.

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