26/3/1917 Britain’s advance blocked at Gaza

British forces have been hitting the Turks hard in Mesopotamia. Meanwhile in the Levant the British have also driven them out of the Sinai and are now at the gates of Palestine. Now Murray, Britain’s commander in Egypt, sends his men to attack Gaza, strongly defended by the Turks, delegating command of the assault to Dobell, his subordinate.

The British attack first with cavalry, surrounding the town. Then they begin to shell the town to destruction before the infantry move forward. The Turks do their best to hold back their attackers with snipers and machine guns but their situation becomes increasingly desperate. When Australian and New Zealand cavalry units attack Gaza from the north, the Turkish defence begins to collapse. The town’s surrender seems imminent.

But then the unthinkable happens. Dobell orders his men to withdraw from their positions around Gaza. Communications have broken down and he is unaware of how close to victory his men are. Instead he fears that night will fall and leave them in an exposed position, short of water and ammunition, vulnerable to attack by any Turkish forces coming to the aid of those in Gaza. So he orders them to withdraw to safety.

The Turks are astonished to see the British pulling back, but they quickly take advantage of the situation to launch some determined counterattacks. The British lick their wounds and prepare to attack again.

image sources:

The road to Gaza (Emerson Kent)

Prisoners of the Turks under guard after the battle (Wikipedia)

23/3/1917 Russia’s new regime recognised abroad as reforms are implemented at home

In Russia the Provisional Government is struggling to contain the energies released by the recent revolution. Workers have been emboldened by the overthrow of the Tsar, leading to ongoing workplace militancy. Following negotiations brokered by the government, factory owners in Petrograd now agree with the city’s Soviet to accept the principle of an eight-hour working day, hoping thereby to avoid further industrial unrest. The eight-hour day now begins to spread from Petrograd to the rest of the country. The deal also includes the creation of forums comprising workers and managers in many factories, at which grievances can be discussed and hopefully resolved before they lead to strikes.

The Provisional Government has brokered these agreements in the hope of keeping the factories open to maintain production for the war effort. Its commitment to the war provides some reassurance to Russia’s allies, who today formally recognise the new regime in Russia. Some in Britain and France view the revolution as a positive development: the advent of a liberal government in Petrograd makes it easier to present the war as one of democracies against dictatorial empires. But some are more pessimistic, noting that war weariness was a significant factor leading to the revolt against the Tsar. They fear that anti-war sentiment will eventually overwhelm the Provisional Government, leading Russia into a separate peace with the Central Powers.

20/3/1917 The Seeadler disposes of its prisoners

Felix von Luckner commands the Seeadler, a German raiding ship disguised as Norwegian merchantman. The sailing ship is now operating in the South Atlantic and has had great success in its operations against Allied shipping. In fact she has had so much success that she is now burdened with several hundred prisoners.

Keeping these prisoners under control is becoming a bit troublesome, so Luckner decides to get rid of them. Fortunately for them, Luckner is fighting the war as a gentleman, so there is no question of the prisoners being murdered or left to die. Instead he strips some of the sails and any radio equipment from a captured French barque, the Cambronne. His 300 prisoners are put abroad this vessel and left to navigate their own way to safety. With their reduced sails, Luckner knows that the Seeadler will be well out of harm’s way by the time they make contact with the Allies.

But there are danger clouds on the horizon for Luckner. The British are irked at this ship that is challenging their dominance of the seas. Now they set a trap for him, sending armed merchant steamers to offer themselves for his attentions, hoping that their guns will be able to sink the Seeadler before Luckner realises his danger.

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The Seeadler (Linger and Look)

20/3/1917 Germany’s Western Front withdrawal continues as the Allies prepare to attack

The war continues on the Western Front in France and Belgium. German troops are withdrawing in phases from the exposed Bapaume and Noyon salients to the strongly prepared defensive position dubbed the Hindenburg Line by the Allies. As the Germans retreat, they leave behind a desolate landscape in which they have destroyed anything that might be of use to the enemy.

The French and British are moving into the abandoned German territory but they must always be on their toes. The Germans have left behind booby traps to catch any of their enemies who let down their guard. They also mount the occasional counter-attack on the advancing enemy. Overall the effect of their withdrawal is discomfiting to the Allies, who cannot but feel that the Germans are up to something. Nevertheless, the Allies are happy to use the Germans’ devastation of their abandoned territories for propaganda purposes.

Meanwhile the Allies are planning their own major strokes against the Germans. In April Nivelle, the bold new French commander, is to attack the Germans in the Chemin des Dames sector, while further to the north the British (and their Commonwealth allies) will attack at Arras. Nivelle in particular is confident that this combined assault will smash the Germans, though some are beginning to wonder if he might perhaps be a tad overconfident.

Although they are not due to attack until early April, the British start preliminary shelling at Arras today. They hope to have the German positions well softened up by the time the infantry have to go forward. Of course, the intensified shelling also has the effect of suggesting to the Germans that an attack might be in the offing.

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Athies after its abandonment by the Germans (Wikipedia; the huge crater was left by the Germans, though the damage to the buildings may result from Allied artillery)

February 1917

Germany’s U-boat campaign pushes the Americans towards war. British gains in Mesopotamia. Germany begins to withdraw to the Hindenburg Line. Mata Hari arrested.

3/2/1917 The United States severs diplomatic relations with Germany

9/2/1917 Western Front: the Germans begin a withdrawal to the Hindenburg Line

11/2/1917 Germany tries to put the Belgians to work

13/2/1917 Mata Hari arrested

19/2/1917 The Seeadler’s captain renews an old acquaintance

20/2/1917 Attacking the Medina railroad

21/2/1917 The loss of the SS Mendi

22/2/1917 The continuing food crisis in Germany and Austria-Hungary

23/2/1917 Mesopotamia: the Second Battle of Kut

25/2/1917 Britain returns to Kut

25/2/1917 The sinking of the “Laconia”

28/2/1917 Mesopotamia: Maude is eager, Robertson cautious

28/2/1917 The first month of the unrestricted U-boat campaign

see also:

@ww1liveblog (Twitter)

World War 1 Live Blog (Facebook)

January 1917

17/3/1917 The Provisional Government grapples with Russia’s problems while in Kiev a Ukrainian parliament is formed

The revolution in Petrograd has overthrown the Tsar and turned Russia into a republic. Now the Provisional Government under Prince Lvov is trying to bring some order to the chaotic situation. To the annoyance of many, the Provisional Government remains committed to fighting the war. With some other issues it is avoiding difficult decisions by deferring them to a Constituent Assembly, which will be elected at some point later in the year to decide the future direction of the country.

One of the major issues that is being left to the Constituent Assembly is the question of land reform. The revolution has raised the prospect of the large estates of the nobility and gentry being divided up amongst the peasantry. This proposal is opposed by landowners.

Another difficult question is Russia’s future internal organisation. Should it be a unitary state or should there be some kind of federal arrangement reflecting the different regions and ethnicities that make up the vast empire?

In the regions there are signs that some may be looking to solve these problems for themselves without waiting for the Constituent Assembly. In Kiev, the Ukrainian capital, intellectuals and public figures convene a self-appointed parliamentary assembly, the Rada. At this point the Rada is not calling for Ukrainian independence, but its emergence is a sign that the government in Petrograd will not be able to take the regions for granted.

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The first general secretariat of the Rada (Internet Encyclopedia of Ukraine)

16/3/1917 The end of the Russian monarchy

Yesterday the Tsar abdicated, naming his brother, the Grand Duke Mikhail, as his successor. This comes as something of a surprise to Mikhail when he learns the news today in Petrograd. Having seen the revolutionary disorder in the capital at first hand, the Grand Duke is wary of accepting the throne. He is probably right to do so, as news that there is to be a new Tsar leads to considerable anger among the more radical elements in the city.

The Grand Duke meets with the Provisional Government. Most of them urge him to decline the throne, arguing that if he were not to do so Russia would be plunged into a chaotic civil war. However Milyukov, the foreign minister, argues the opposite, saying that without a Tsar Russia will collapse into anarchy.

What clinches it for the Grand Duke is the realisation that the Provisional Government would not be able to guarantee his personal safety if he accepts the crown. He chooses to abdicate, ending one of the shortest reigns in history and 300 years of rule by the Romanov dynasty.

Russia is now a republic. As news filters through the country it is greeted with joyous celebration.

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Grand Duke Mikhail (Wikipedia)