Bringing a war to the frontlines

There are many books on the history of World War I (WWI), but none quite like this one.

Graydon Tunstall, a history professor at USF for more than a decade, says past experiences affect how and what one writes. And his new book, “Blood on the Snow: The Carpathian Winter War of 1915,” is a testament to that.

A helicopter crash that required back surgery led Tunstall, an officer in the armored calvary and air calvary for two years, to work toward a Ph.D. in history.

“If you read military history and the person hasn’t been in the military, they’re not going to talk about logistics, luck, weather, terrain,” he said. “They’ll just talk about strategies.”

No other books have been written about the Carpathian Winter War until now.

The war took place in 1915 and resulted in the deaths of millions of Austria-Hungary and Russian troops during the harsh winter in the Carpathian Mountains, which span south-central Europe.

It was the first time troops had engaged in “total war” in mountain terrain, leaving most of the men unprepared.

“There have been no books in any language written on (The Carpathian Winter War),” he said. “My argument in the book is that the major combatants – Austria-Hungary and Russia – had such a horrendous battle that no one wanted to write about it.”

The battle should have never been fought, Tunstall said, and it’s the worst example of warfare in WWI.

“It’s a disaster. I mean there (were) well over 2.5 million casualties in three months,” he said. “The other factor is that everybody has assumed that the vast majority of the casualties resulted from combat, but … many of the soldiers died of the white death. They froze to death.”

When asked about the meaning of his book’s title, Tunstall said, “If a soldier got shot, his blood would spray onto the snow and leave an easy target for the enemy to shoot at.”

Tunstall, who is also the executive director of Phi Alpha Theta – the National History Honors Society – oversees 900 honors campuses and teaches classes, including War and Society.

Tunstall doesn’t teach about The Carpathian Winter War in his classroom. He may for 10 to 15 minutes but generally saves the topic for lectures at other universities.

USF alumnus Josh Searles said Tunstall’s experience gives him an advantage when teaching military history.

Searles said he knew “straight of the bat when (Tunstall) walked in the door, he was military trained.”

“He always brought a lot of new stuff to the table,” Searles said. “He was able to keep it interesting.”

Tunstall helped him become a better student and has been a friend and mentor to him since 2005.

“He helps people. He is the kind of guy who would stick up for you if he thinks you deserve it,” he said. “He wants to help you develop.”

Of all the things Tunstall has learned though his experience in teaching, he said there is one main reoccurring idea.

“History keeps repeating itself,” he said. “And it’s not the good things.”

He conducted his research for the book while teaching at USF.

“I did the research in the war archives of Vienna, Budapest, (Germany), Warsaw and Prague … sometimes two or three months at a time, sometimes two or three weeks,” he said.

Tunstall said he views himself as a historian and a detective.

“I had to translate a lot of things, the old German hand writing, Kurrentschrift, is a lost art and I had to learn it,” he said. “It’s not even taught in Europe anymore.”

During his research, Tunstall made copies of every manuscript he could use. He put more than a decade of research into his book.

His research for “Blood on the Snow” also inspired his next book, working title “The Fortress,” which is on the same topic but from a different viewpoint.

“This will help put (USF) on the map for history – particularly WWI history,” he said. “The main reason why any book on WWI is important … is because everything happening today goes back to WWI and the Treaty of Versailles.”

Tunstall’s “Blood on the Snow” has been recognized by the National Military History Book Club, which will advertise the book in its new issue. It will also be listed in the National History Book Club, which boasts the world’s largest selection of science and natural history books.

The Virginia Military Institute invited Tunstall to lecture in front of the Command and Staff School in Fort Leavenworth, Kan., and other locations following his book signing on May 23. “Blood on the Snow” will be released May 11.