18/11/1917 Allenby decides to press on towards Jerusalem #1917Live

After his victory at Gaza Allenby has pushed into Palestine, capturing Ramlah and Lydda and then most recently the vital port of Jaffa. His men have advanced some 80 kilometres and taken around 10,000 prisoners. Now the winter rains begin to arrive, making the conditions for mobile warfare considerably more difficult.

Allenby faces a choice: should he stop now, consolidate his positions, and then renew his offensive in the spring, or should he press on now, hoping that notwithstanding the rains he will be able to capture Jerusalem from the still disorganised Turks before the year’s end. Allenby decides to press on, hoping to seize the opportunity his victory has given him.

Meanwhile in Mesopotamia the British have also been pressing the Turks, but now they suffer an unfortunate blow. Maude, their commander there, who had overseen the recapture of Kut and the fall of Baghdad, dies suddenly of cholera. He meets his end in the same house in Baghdad that Goltz, Germany’s then commander in Mesopotamia, had died in last year. Maude’s death gives the Turks in Mesopotamia a breathing space, though it is inevitable that sooner or later the British there will renew their offensive.

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New Zealand troops accepting surrender of Jaffa (Wikipedia: Battle of Jaffa)

Frederick Maude (Wikipedia: Frederick Stanley Maude)

17/11/1917 The Bolsheviks tighten their grip on power #1917Live

The Bolsheviks have seen off Kerensky‘s attempt to overthrow their government in Petrograd. They are beginning to break the civil servants’ strike that hampered their takeover of the administrative organs of central government. And the military situation is also improving in Moscow, where anti-Bolshevik forces are now being pushed back relentlessly. Nevertheless, the Bolsheviks’ situation remains precarious and they are acutely aware that they could rapidly find themselves as impotent and marginalised as Kerensky’s Provisional Government was in its last days.

When the Bolsheviks established their Council of People’s Commissars (Sovnarkom), they declared it to be a Soviet government, responsible to the Soviet Executive. Now however Sovnarkom declares itself able to pass emergency legislation without the Soviet’s approval.The Soviet Executive votes narrowly to accept its effective marginalisation.

Within the Bolsheviks there is some disquiet at the direction the party is heading. Moderates, including Zinoviev and Kamenev, resign from the party’s central committee in protest at the suppression of the opposition press and Sovnarkom’s sidelining of the Soviet (Kamenev also resigns as chair of the Soviet Executive). None of this overly concerns Lenin. Let his moderate comrades have their protest; he knows they will come back into the fold soon enough.

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Moscow scene (Russia Travel Blog: Moscow destroyed by the Bolsheviks in the autumn 1917) This link features some fascinating pictures of central Moscow in late 1917.

16/11/1917 Georges Clemenceau, France’s latest Prime Minister #1917Live

Another political crisis in France has led to the fall of Painlevé‘s government. Now President Poincaré takes the bold step of inviting Georges Clemenceau to form a government. Clemenceau is an old man, 76 years of age, and a leader of the Radical Party, a secular liberal group that has long been the bane of France’s conservative establishment. Clemenceau has also been a strident critic of the way France’s political leaders have been conducting the war. Handing him the premiership gives him an opportunity to put up or shut up.

Clemenceau is determined that the war must be prosecuted to victory and vehemently opposed to any suggestion of a separate peace with the Germans. He plans immediate moves against pacifist agitators within France, including senior politicians such as the Socialist leader Joseph Caillaux, whom he suspects of seeking to bring France out of the war.

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Georges Clemenceau (Wikipedia)

14/11/1917 Caporetto winds down as Italy manages to hold the enemy at the Piave #1917Live

The German and Austro-Hungarian offensive at Caporetto has smashed the Italians, forcing them to abandon the Isonzo line. They retreated to the Tagliamento but were unable to stop the enemy there. Since then the Italians retreated to the Piave, knowing that if the enemy could not be held here then Venice would fall and the Germans and Austro-Hungarians advance could become unstoppable.

The Germans and Austro-Hungarians however are now finding the going harder. Their stormtroopers are exhausted after the continuous fighting and marching since the offensive’s beginning. Their commanders have failed to plan for the scale of the defeat they have inflicted on the Italians, failing in particular to adequately resource a second attack by Conrad from the Asiago plateau that could have cut off the Italian line of retreat.

With both sides exhausted, the Italians are able to hold the Piave. Italy will be able to stay in the war after all. But the battle has been devastating. The Italians have taken over 300,000 casualties in the battle, with some 294,000 of these captured by the enemy (only 42,000 of the Italian casualties are killed or wounded). Meanwhile another 300,000 troops have been separated from their units and are either trying to make their way home or are wandering aimlessly behind the lines. The Italians have also lost some 3,000 guns, half the army’s complement of artillery pieces. A telling tribute to the rout of its army is the loss by its soldiers of 300,000 rifles. It will be a long time before Italy is able to strike back against the Austro-Hungarians.

Those Italians who surrendered to the enemy may have hoped to quietly sit out the rest of the war. Sadly, for them the nightmare is only beginning. Austria-Hungary struggles to feed its own soldiers and civilians; it has little or no food to spare for this large bag of enemy prisoners. And the Italian government prohibits the transmission of food parcels to those captured by the enemy, who are viewed as little better than traitors. For the unfortunate Italian prisoners, starvation waits.

With the battle winding down, the Germans prepare to withdraw the men and the guns they have lent to the Austro-Hungarians. Soon their stormtroopers will be able to apply their infiltration tactics in France, when Ludendorff launches the battle he hopes will win the war.

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map (Wikipedia: Battle of Caporetto)

Italian prisoners (Mental Floss WWI Centennial: Disaster At Caporetto)

12/11/1917 As the Bolsheviks’ situation improves, Kerensky departs the stage #1917Live

Lenin‘s Bolsheviks seized power easily in Petrograd but Moscow has proved a tougher nut to crack, with forces loyal to the ousted Provisional Government continuing to resist there. Even in Petrograd the rule of the Bolsheviks remains shaky, with a civil servants’ strike hampering Lenin’s commissars in their takeover of public administration while activists from other left parties grumble at the Bolshevik seizure of power.

Kerensky, the former prime minister, fled the capital as the Bolsheviks replaced his Provisional Government with Sovnarkom, the Council of People’s Commissars. He has found some loyalist troops and sends them to smash the Bolsheviks in Petrograd. But if there is a tide in the affairs of men it has well and truly gone out for Kerensky. A rising by anti-Bolshevik troops within Petrograd is easily suppressed and Kerensky’s force is blocked outside the capital by a revolutionary militia. Fearing that his soldiers will now hand him over to the Bolsheviks, Kerensky disguises himself as a sailor and flees.

The situation in Moscow also begins to improve for the Bolsheviks, with more of the city centre coming under their control. Perhaps Lenin’s government is not about to collapse after all. The world may soon see what a truly revolutionary regime guided by Marxism is able to accomplish.

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Fighting in Moscow (Russia Travel Blog: Moscow destroyed by the Bolsheviks in the autumn 1917) This link features some fascinating pictures of central Moscow in late 1917.

11/11/1917 The Mons Conference: Ludendorff decides to attack the British next year #1917Live

Germany’s U-boat campaign was meant to have forced Britain to make peace by now; instead it has brought the USA into the war against Germany. Although the Americans will not have an army ready to field in Europe for some time, the Germans know that the clock is ticking against them. Yet one unexpected event this year has worked greatly to their advantage: the Russian Revolution. Russia has fallen increasingly into chaos, its armies unable to challenge those of Germany. And now the Bolsheviks have seized power, promising to bring Russia out of the war in the immediate future. This creates an opportunity for Germany: the prospect of bringing its Eastern Front troops to France to win a decisive victory there before the Americans arrive.

Now Ludendorff, Germany’s Quartermaster-General and the effective commander of its army, meets with other generals at Mons in Belgium to discuss strategy for next year. They decide that their spring offensive will target the British defending the Arras and St. Quentin sector. The Germans hope that their infiltration tactics (As seen at Riga and Caporetto) and the large numbers of men they will be able to bring from the east will smash the British, separating them from the French. Ludendorff hopes that this devastating victory will force Britain out of the war, in turn forcing the French to capitulate and bringing the war to a victorious end before the Americans arrive.

9/11/1917 The embattled Bolshevik government decrees land reform, bans the opposition press #1917Live

The Bolsheviks have overthrown the Provisional Government and established their own revolutionary government, the Council of People’s Commissars (Sovnarkom). One the new government’s first steps was to issue a land reform decree, written by Lenin himself, handing over to village communities church and crown lands and land held by private landlords, without the payment of any compensation. This popular measure has been introduced partly to appeal to the left faction of the Socialist Revolutionaries, on whose support the Bolsheviks are currently dependent. As word of this decree filters out across the country it leads to a renewed wave of desertions by soldiers who are keen to return home to take advantage of the land redistribution.

But for now Russia remains in such a chaotic state that the writ of Sovnarkom runs only in Petrograd itself. Even there they are having problems assuming the reins of power, as a civil servants’ strike is paralysing public administration. In Moscow the Bolsheviks have been even less successful in their seizure of power, with fighting continuing in the central district. Today the Bolsheviks suffer a reverse as forces loyal to the Provisional Government evict them from the Kremlin. Perhaps in response to this crisis, Sovnarkom takes the extreme step of banning opposition newspapers. This ban covers not just the papers of rightwing parties like the Kadets but also those of other socialist groups.

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Lenin addressing the Congress of Soviets (Jacobin: From February to October)