November 1-9, 1914: A Global Conflict

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 152nd installment in the series.

While most of the important battles took place in Europe, as its name suggests the First World War was a truly global conflict, with fighting in almost every corner of the globe, including land campaigns in Africa and Asia and naval engagements in the Indian and Pacific Oceans. A series of events in November 1914 give a good idea of the incredible scope of the Great War – a manmade catastrophe whose size and complexity seemed to defy human comprehension or control.

German Victory at Coronel

On November 1, 1914, Britain’s mighty Royal Navy suffered yet another embarrassing defeat in the first major combat between surface vessels during the war – the Battle of Coronel off the coast of Chile. For the Germans, this victory marked the high point of the first phase of the war at sea, when German “commerce raiders” terrorized Allied shipping, sinking dozens of ships and forcing the Allies to mount a huge naval dragnet to bring their depredations to an end.

The sudden outbreak of war in August 1914 found the German East Asia Squadron, composed of five modern cruisers (Scharnhorst, Gneisenau, Dresden, Leipzig, and Nürnburg) under Vice Admiral Maximilian von Spee, scattered around the western Pacific Ocean, leaving the individual ships vulnerable to the much stronger British Royal Navy and Japanese Navy. Before they could act, however, Spee collected his ships in the Marianas Islands and then headed for German Samoa, occupied by troops from New Zealand on August 29, in hopes of catching enemy ships in port. Failing to find any he steamed east, bombarding Papeete in French Tahiti before disappearing into the vastness of the Pacific Ocean.

After several weeks with no trace of the German squadron, the British Admiralty correctly concluded that he was heading for the west coast of South America, and began concentrating a naval force in the Falkland Islands, near Cape Horn, to confront Spee if he tried to sail around the continent’s southern tip into the Atlantic Ocean. Forced to use whatever ships were at hand, the Admiralty formed the task force around an older battleship, HMS Canopus, because it was the only ship in the vicinity with guns powerful enough to penetrate the armor on Spee’s newer ships – and therefore the only ship that could protect the more lightly armed and armored British cruisers, including HMS Good Hope and Monmouth.

However the Canopus was slower than the rest of the task force, meaning there was no way the British ships could stay protected and hunt the enemy at the same time. Thus the British commander, Rear Admiral Christopher Cradock, left it behind when he sailed up the west coast of South America to hunt for the German squadron off Chile, ordering the old battleship to catch up as fast as possible. This was a huge gamble, but he may have hoped to use his other ships to lure the Germans within range of the Canopus.

On October 29 a British light cruiser, HMS Glasgow, detected a German wireless signal coming from the Chilean port of Coronel, and found a single German supply ship there, which simultaneously spotted the Glasgow and radioed the news to the rest of the fleet. Now the opposing fleets converged on Coronel, with both commanders believing they had a chance to pick off a lone enemy ship.

As soon as the fleets spotted each other, Cradock lined up his ships and approached from the southwest, intending to use the mid-afternoon sun to blind the Germans, making it harder for them to locate his ships. However Spee cleverly turned the tables by reversing course and keeping the British just out of range until the sun was setting behind the enemy ships, silhouetting them and providing a perfect target.

As dusk fell Spee suddenly reversed course again and attacked, knocking out the forward-facing heavy gun on Cradock’s flagship, the Good Hope. Despite this serious setback Cradock continued sailing towards the German ships, probably hoping to use Good Hope’s numerous smaller guns to blast the enemy vessels at close range, and possibly attack with torpedoes, but rough seas prevented him from employing either option effectively.

Now the German armored cruisers, Scharnhorst and Gneisenau, laid down a blistering fire that wrecked Cradock’s flagship, Good Hope, and at 7:50 pm her artillery magazine exploded, splitting the ship in two. All the German ships now turned their fire on the Monmouth, which soon lost power and drifted helplessly as the shells rained down on her in the gathering gloom. After an offer of surrender met no response, the Nürnburg delivered the coup de grace and the Monmouth followed the Good Hope into the deep with the loss of all hands.

The remaining ships in the British squadron, the Glasgow and Otranto, wisely beat a hasty retreat, but the disaster was more or less complete: 1,570 British sailors perished during the battle, most by drowning, while just three German sailors were wounded during the entire battle. News of the victory lifted German spirits and prompted even more harsh criticism of the Royal Navy’s leadership in Britain, where the Admiralty was already under fire for the loss of multiple ships to German submarines and mines (in fact, unbeknownst to the public the HMS Audacious, a brand-new “super-dreadnought” battleship, had sunk after hitting a German mine off Ireland on October 27, 1914).

But despite these humiliating losses the basic balance of forces still favored the British by an overwhelming margin, and the Royal Navy and Allied ships were slowly closing the net, leaving the German raiders fewer places to refuel and take on supplies. When the German Far East Fleet put into the Chilean port of Valparaiso after Coronel (above), the local German population presented Spee with a bouquet of flowers – but he prophetically remarked, “these will do nicely for my grave.”

Germans Shell Yarmouth

Back in Europe, British civilians got their first taste of war on November 3, when German destroyers shelled Yarmouth, a port town on the North Sea. The raid inflicted minimal damage and was mostly symbolic, although a British submarine chasing the cruisers hit a mine and sank, and ironically one of the German cruisers hit a German mine and sank on the way home. However the attack foreshadowed more serious raids to come, including the shelling of Scarborough, Hartlepool, and Whitby on December 16, 1914, which left 137 civilians dead.

Karlsruhe Explodes

On November 4, the Allies enjoyed a stroke of luck when another German commerce raider, the Karlsruhe, exploded at sea and sank off the north coast of South America. Like her peers the Karlsruhe had inflicted considerable damage on Allied shipping in the Atlantic and Caribbean, sinking or capturing a total of 17 merchant ships. She was on her way to sow more chaos by attacking shipping around Barbados when her boilers blew up; most of her crew of 355 sailors and 18 officers died in the accident, although a handful survived and were able to return to Germany aboard her collier (a companion ship which carried coal).

German Victory at “The Battle of the Bees”

The war in Africa took a surprising turn on November 4, 1914, when a scrappy force of German Askaris (native colonial troops) defeated a much larger British invasion force attempting to make an amphibious landing at Tanga in German East Africa (today Tanzania). The British hoped to capture Tanga as the first stage in the conquest of the entire German colony, and succeeded in landing a force of about 8,000 Indian and British troops on the beach on November 3, and the following day they marched into the town itself.

However the German commander, Paul von Lettow-Vorbeck, was rushing to repel the invasion with his own, much smaller force of about 1,000 Askaris reinforced by German colonists. Contrary to racist European views of native troops, Lettow-Vorbeck’s Askaris were well-trained and well-disciplined, and put up a stiff resistance to the British advance force in the center. Lettow-Vorbeck recalled: “The next moment the rifle fire opened along the whole front, and one could only judge of the rapid development and the ebb and flow of the action from the direction of the firing. One heard the fire draw in from the eastern edge of the town to the middle…” Seeing his center forced back, Lettow-Vorbeck ordered a daring envelopment with bayonet attacks by the Askaris on the flanks and rear (top, Askaris skirmish): “The whole front jumped up and dashed forward with enthusiastic cheers… In wild disorder the enemy fled in dense masses, and our machine guns, converging on them from front and flanks, mowed down whole companies to the last man.”

In one of the more bizarre episodes of the Great War, some of the Indian troops were attacked by angry swarms of bees at Tanga, leading the British to accuse the Germans of training the creatures in an early attempt at biological warfare (even though the bees attacked the Germans too). Beset by Askaris and insects, the British and Indian troops panicked and ran back to the beaches, and the rest of the invasion force packed up and evacuated to the waiting ships the next day.

The “Battle of the Bees” would be the first of many victories for the German commander, Paul von Lettow-Vorbeck, who defied the odds with a guerrilla campaign against superior Allied forces, his small force improbably escaping death or capture right through the end of the war in November 1918.

British Troops Land in Mesopotamia

After the Ottoman Empire effectively declared war on the Allies with the bombardment of several Russian Black Sea ports on October 29 (the official declaration coming a few days later), the British hurried to protect their Persian oil supplies and threaten the Turkish flank with an invasion of Mesopotamia (today Iraq). On November 6 the first British and Indian troops landed in Mesopotamia and laid siege to Basra, an ancient port city located in the south on the Shatt-al-Arab river, formed by the junction of the Tigris and Euphrates.

British troops who heard that Mesopotamia was the site of the Biblical Garden of Eden were surprised by what they encountered, to say the least. Before the discovery of its huge oil reserves Mesopotamia was little more than a neglected backwater of the Ottoman Empire, backwards even by its low standards, covered with mud, with no sanitation, rampant disease including cholera and dysentery, and plagues of biting insects. One anonymous British officer remembered: “Flies and fleas were awful. The whole ship’s crew, officers and men, armed themselves with fly flaps, and hunted the fly all day.”

Furthermore the British expedition began on a less than impressive note in organizational terms, according to the same officer, who wondered, “When will England learn not start every campaign with a conglomeration of chaos…” This inauspicious start foreshadowed worse challenges ahead; contrary to general expectations of a quick march to Baghdad, the British campaign in Mesopotamia would be just as long and painful as any other theater of the Great War.

November 7, 1914 Tsingtao Surrenders to Japanese

Although under the terms of the Anglo-Japanese Alliance they were technically under no obligation to come to the assistance of their British ally, the Japanese saw the Great War as an opportunity to expand by picking up German colonies in Asia. These included the Marshall, Marianas, and Caroline Islands and the German concession on Kiautschou Bay (Jiaozhou Bay) on the Shandong Peninsula, centered on the city of Tsingtao (Qingdao, home of the famous beer).

The Japanese occupied the islands unopposed in October 1914, but Tsingtao, held by 3,650 German soldiers manning elaborate fortifications, put up considerably more resistance. After landing on the Shandong Peninsula on September 18, 1914, 24,500 Japanese troops drove the Germans back from the city’s outer defenses with attacks from September 27-29, then attacked the inner defenses (with help from 1,300 British troops) beginning October 10. The attackers sustained serious casualties, including the Japanese cruiser Takachiho, which was hit by a torpedo fired by a German torpedo boat and sunk on October 17, with the loss of 271 crewmembers.

The final attack on Tsingtao began on October 31, with sustained shelling by Japanese heavy artillery and naval guns covering sappers who slowly extended the Japanese trenches towards the German lines. On the night of November 6, waves of Japanese infantry battered the defenders and eventually broke through, achieving victory but again at the cost of heavy casualties. The German governor finally surrendered Tsingtao to the Allies on November 7, 1914. German propaganda, influenced by the endemic racism of the era, reflected public anger towards the Japanese for their “treachery” (below).

Emden destroyed at Cocos Island

On November 9, 1914, the German commerce raiders suffered another defeat with the loss of the Emden, which had been operating successfully in the Indian Ocean. In just three months the Emden captured or sank 25 ships, as well as bombarding Madras and Penang in British Malaysia (managing to sink a Russian cruiser and French destroyer in the latter engagement).

On November 9, however, the Emden’s luck ran out. A German landing party went ashore on one of the Cocos Islands (Keeling Islands) to destroy the British wireless station there, but the wireless operators had just enough time to send out a distress signal before the Germans. The signal was received by the HMAS Sydney, an Australian cruiser escorting the first convoy of ANZAC (Australian and New Zealand Army Corps) troops to Europe. The Sydney sped to the scene and after a fierce exchange of fire forced the Emden to run aground.

While most of the Germans were killed or taken prisoner, 50 Germans who were still ashore when the battle started managed to elude capture, leading to one of the most amazing escapes of the Great War. During the night the German sailors commandeered a civilian schooner and sailed to Padang, Sumatra, in the Dutch East Indies. From there they caught a freighter to Yemen, then sailed north through the Red Sea to reach the Arabian territory of the friendly Ottoman Empire. After landing in the Hejaz, they fought off marauding Bedouins near Jeddah and eventually reached the Turkish Hejaz railway. From here they traveled overland to Constantinople, and thence to Germany.

See the previous installment or all entries.

Hee-Haw: The Wild Ride of "Dominick the Donkey"—the Holiday Earworm You Love to Hate

Delpixart/iStock via Getty Images
Delpixart/iStock via Getty Images

Everyone loves Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer. He’s got the whole underdog thing going for him, and when the fog is thick on Christmas Eve, he’s definitely the creature you want guiding Santa’s sleigh. But what happens when Saint Nick reaches Italy, and he’s faced with steep hills that no reindeer—magical or otherwise—can climb?

That’s when Santa apparently calls upon Dominick the Donkey, the holiday hero immortalized in the 1960 song of the same name. Recorded by Lou Monte, “Dominick The Donkey” is a novelty song even by Christmas music standards. The opening line finds Monte—or someone else, or heck, maybe a real donkey—singing “hee-haw, hee-haw” as sleigh bells jingle in the background. A mere 12 seconds into the tune, it’s clear you’re in for a wild ride.

 

Over the next two minutes and 30 seconds, Monte shares some fun facts about Dominick: He’s a nice donkey who never kicks but loves to dance. When ol’ Dom starts shaking his tail, the old folks—cummares and cumpares, or godmothers and godfathers—join the fun and "dance a tarentell," an abbreviation of la tarantella, a traditional Italian folk dance. Most importantly, Dominick negotiates Italy’s hills on Christmas Eve, helping Santa distribute presents to boys and girls across the country.

And not just any presents: Dominick delivers shoes and dresses “made in Brook-a-lyn,” which Monte somehow rhymes with “Josephine.” Oh yeah, and while the donkey’s doing all this, he’s wearing the mayor’s derby hat, because you’ve got to look sharp. It’s a silly story made even sillier by that incessant “hee-haw, hee-haw,” which cuts in every 30 seconds like a squeaky door hinge.

There may have actually been some historical basis for “Dominick.”

“Travelling by donkey was universal in southern Italy, as it was in Greece,” Dominic DiFrisco, president emeritus of the joint Civic Committee of Italian Americans, said in a 2012 interview with the Chicago Sun-Times. “[Monte’s] playing easy with history, but it’s a cute song, and Monte was at that time one of the hottest singers in America.”

Rumored to have been financed by the Gambino crime family, “Dominick the Donkey” somehow failed to make the Billboard Hot 100 in 1960. But it’s become a cult classic in the nearly 70 years since, especially in Italian American households. In 2014, the song reached #69 on Billboard’s Holiday 100 and #23 on the Holiday Digital Song Sales chart. In 2018, “Dominick” hit #1 on the Comedy Digital Track Sales tally. As of December 2019, the Christmas curio had surpassed 21 million Spotify streams.

“Dominick the Donkey” made international headlines in 2011, when popular BBC DJ Chris Moyles launched a campaign to push the song onto the UK singles chart. “If we leave Britain one thing, it would be that each Christmas kids would listen to 'Dominick the Donkey,’” Moyles said. While his noble efforts didn’t yield a coveted Christmas #1, “Dominick” peaked at a very respectable #3.

 

As with a lot of Christmas songs, there’s a certain kitschy, ironic appeal to “Dominick the Donkey.” Many listeners enjoy the song because, on some level, they’re amazed it exists. But there’s a deeper meaning that becomes apparent the more you know about Lou Monte.

Born Luigi Scaglione in New York City, Monte began his career as a singer and comedian shortly before he served in World War II. Based in New Jersey, Monte subsequently became known as “The Godfather of Italian Humor” and “The King of Italian-American Music.” His specialty was Italian-themed novelty songs like “Pepino the Italian Mouse,” his first and only Top 10 hit. “Pepino” reached #5 on the Billboard Hot 100 in 1963, the year before The Beatles broke America.

“Pepino” was penned by Ray Allen and Wandra Merrell, the duo that teamed up with Sam Saltzberg to write “Dominick the Donkey.” That same trio of songwriters was also responsible for “What Did Washington Say (When He Crossed the Delaware),” the B-side of “Pepino.” In that song, George Washington declares, “Fa un’fridd,” or ‘It’s cold!” while making his famous 1776 boat ride.

With his mix of English and Italian dialect, Monte made inside jokes for Italian Americans while sharing their culture with the rest of the country. His riffs on American history (“What Did Washington Say,” “Paul Revere’s Horse (Ba-cha-ca-loop),” “Please, Mr. Columbus”) gave the nation’s foundational stories a dash of Italian flavor. This was important at a time when Italians were still considered outsiders.

According to the 1993 book Italian Americans and Their Public and Private Life, Monte’s songs appealed to “a broad spectrum ranging from working class to professional middle-class Italian Americans.” Monte sold millions of records, played nightclubs across America, and appeared on TV programs like The Perry Como Show and The Ernie Kovacs Show. He died in Pompano Beach, Florida, in 1989. He was 72.

Monte lives on thanks to Dominick—a character too iconic to die. In 2016, author Shirley Alarie released A New Home for Dominick and A New Family for Dominick, a two-part children’s book series about the beloved jackass. In 2018, Jersey native Joe Baccan dropped “Dominooch,” a sequel to “Dominick.” The song tells the tale of how Dominick’s son takes over for his aging padre. Fittingly, “Dominooch” was written by composer Nancy Triggiani, who worked with Monte’s son, Ray, at her recording studio.

Speaking with NorthJersey.com in 2016, Ray Monte had a simple explanation for why Dominick’s hee-haw has echoed through the generations. “It was a funny novelty song,” he said, noting that his father “had a niche for novelty.”

The 11 Best Movies on Netflix Right Now

Laura Dern and Scarlett Johansson in Marriage Story (2019).
Laura Dern and Scarlett Johansson in Marriage Story (2019).
Wilson Webb/Netflix

With thousands of titles available, browsing your Netflix menu can feel like a full-time job. If you're feeling a little overwhelmed, take a look at our picks for the 11 best movies on Netflix right now.

1. Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse (2018)

Spider-Man may be in the middle of a Disney and Sony power struggle, but that didn't stop this ambitious animated film from winning the Oscar for Best Animated Feature at the 2019 Academy Awards. Using a variety of visual style choices, the film tracks the adventures of Miles Morales (Shameik Moore), who discovers he's not the only Spider-Man in town.

2. Hell or High Water (2016)

Taylor Sheridan's Oscar-nominated Hell or High Water follows two brothers (Chris Pine and Ben Foster) who take to bank robberies in an effort to save their family ranch from foreclosure; Jeff Bridges is the drawling, laconic lawman on their tail.

3. Raging Bull (1980)

Robert De Niro takes on the life of pugilist Jake LaMotta in a landmark and Oscar-winning film from Martin Scorsese that frames LaMotta's violent career in stark black and white. Joe Pesci co-stars.

4. Marriage Story (2019)

Director Noah Bambauch drew raves for this deeply emotional drama about a couple (Adam Driver, Scarlett Johansson) whose uncoupling takes a heavy emotional and psychological toll on their family.

5. Dolemite Is My Name (2019)

Eddie Murphy ended a brief sabbatical from filmmaking following a mixed reception to 2016's Mr. Church with this winning biopic about Rudy Ray Moore, a flailing comedian who finds success when he reinvents himself as Dolemite, a wisecracking pimp. When the character takes off, Moore produces a big-screen feature with a crew of inept collaborators.

6. The Lobster (2015)

Colin Farrell stars in this black comedy that feels reminiscent of screenwriter Charlie Kaufman's work: A slump-shouldered loner (Farrell) has just 45 days to find a life partner before he's turned into an animal. Can he make it work with Rachel Weisz, or is he doomed to a life on all fours? By turns absurd and provocative, The Lobster isn't a conventional date movie, but it might have more to say about relationships than a pile of Nicholas Sparks paperbacks.

7. Flash of Genius (2008)

Greg Kinnear stars in this drama based on a true story about inventor Robert Kearns, who revolutionized automobiles with his intermittent windshield wiper. Instead of getting rich, Kearns is ripped off by the automotive industry and engages in a years-long battle for recognition.

8. Locke (2013)

The camera rarely wavers from Tom Hardy in this existential thriller, which takes place entirely in Hardy's vehicle. A construction foreman trying to make sure an important job is executed well, Hardy's Ivan Locke grapples with some surprising news from a mistress and the demands of his family. It's a one-act, one-man play, with Hardy making the repeated act of conversing on his cell phone as tense and compelling as if he were driving with a bomb in the trunk.

9. Cop Car (2015)

When two kids decide to take a police cruiser for a joyride, the driver (Kevin Bacon) begins a dogged pursuit. No good cop, he's got plenty to hide.

10. Taxi Driver (1976)

Another De Niro and Scorsese collaboration hits the mark, as Taxi Driver is regularly cited as one of the greatest American films ever made. De Niro is a potently single-minded Travis Bickle, a cabbie in a seedy '70s New York who wants to be an avenging angel for victims of crime. The mercurial Bickle, however, is just as unhinged as those he targets.

11. Sweet Virginia (2017)

Jon Bernthal lumbers through this thriller as a former rodeo star whose career has left him physically broken. Now managing a hotel in small-town Alaska, he stumbles onto a plot involving a murderer-for-hire (Christopher Abbott), upending his quiet existence and forcing him to take action.

SECTIONS

arrow
LIVE SMARTER