13/11/1918 Constantinople occupied

In 1915 an Allied fleet attempted to sail through the Dardanelles and then on to Constantinople, thereby opening a naval trade route to Russia and perhaps knocking Turkey out of the war. That attempt failed, setting the stage for the disastrous Gallipoli campaign. At the armistice of Mudros however the Turks agreed to the occupation of their capital. Today an Allied fleet sails unmolested to Constantinople and lands troops in the Sublime Porte. This is the first enemy occupation of Constantinople since the Fall of Byzantium in 1453.

As a show of strength, Allied aeroplanes fly over Constantinople. Allied troops also parade through the city accompanied by marching bands, where they receive a warm welcome from the city’s Christian inhabitants.
One aim of the Allies is to bring to justice the perpetrators of Turkey’s campaign of extermination against the Armenians of Anatolia. Unfortunately Turkey’s leaders in the war and the main architects of this campaign, Enver, Talaat and Djemal, have all fled the country to Germany, so the Allies will only be able to deal with persons lower down the chain of command.

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Greek armoured cruiser in the Bosporous, by Likourgos Kogevinas (Wikipedia)

Allied troops in Constantinople, with Pera Palace Hotel in the background (Wikipedia)

11/11/1918 Celebrating the end of the fighting #1918Live

News of the armistice engenders a certain levity among the Allied commanders. Haig and his army commanders discuss the practicalities of continuing the advance into the German occupation zone and the problems of keeping the men usefully employed now that the fighting is over. But then men from a cinema company arrives to film the generals; as they pose for the camera they start playing tricks on each other like a bunch of schoolboys.
Pétain meanwhile marks the day by visiting a village theatre where soldiers and local civilians put on an impromptu performance. Pétain himself takes the stage to read the armistice communique to the delighted attendees.

In Mons, liberated just this morning, there is an outpouring of emotion as a Canadian army band plays the Belgian national anthem, previously banned by the German occupation authorities.

In Paris, after his meeting with Clemenceau, Foch retires to his apartment. Cheering crowds greet him but he is too exhausted after the final rush of the negotiations to join the celebrations. He sits alone smoking and thinking. The rest of the city gives itself over to a bacchanal. Paris explodes with tricolours and everywhere people are laughing, singing, embracing, and kissing. The conditions are perfect for the further transmission of the influenza.

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Haig and his generals

Paris celebrates (Le Blog Gallica: 11 novembre 1918 : Marthe Chenal chante l’arrêt des hostilités)

11/11/1918 Emperor Karl renounces power but without actually abdicating as his empire dissolves around him #1918Live

Austria-Hungary has made peace with the Allies. This effectively marks the end of the Habsburg Empire. Emperor Karl issues a statement renouncing power in Austria, but it is worded so carefully that it does not constitute an actual abdication. Karl continues to consider himself the rightful Emperor of Austria and King of Hungary.

Austria and Hungary are both going their separate ways, and both are being torn apart by the conflicting national aspirations of Czechoslovaks, Yugoslavs and Italians, as well as those of the German-Austrians and Hungarians themselves. Hungary also looks like it might be losing Transylvania, coveted by Romania. Romania was bludgeoned into submission by Germany earlier this year but now it has sprung back into life. Yesterday it declared war on Germany and today it invades the eastern Austrian province of Bukovina. Transylvania (inhabited both by Hungarians and Romanians) is surely next on its list.

11/11/1918 Italy’s returning prisoners receive a less than warm welcome #1918Live

It is a week since the armistice between Italy and Austria-Hungary came into effect. Since then the Italians have kept advancing into the occupation zone assigned to them by the armistice, which roughly corresponds to the territories promised to Italy by the Treaty of London. By now they have reached the Brenner Pass in the north and established an overland route to Trieste. Italian forces are also landing on the Dalmatian coast and offshore islands, to a less than warm reception from the Slav inhabitants.

Thanks to the confusion of the war’s last day, when Austria-Hungary stopped fighting 24 hours before the Italians, Italy now holds a vast number of Austro-Hungarian prisoners, with some 430,000 captured in the final day. These are being held in ramshackle conditions and are now dying in large numbers.

The Austro-Hungarians meanwhile are observing the terms of the armistice and have released their Italian prisoners. These were also being held in poor conditions. The food crisis in Austria-Hungary meant that their captors did not have much with which to feed them and the Italian government blocked the transfer of food parcels; as a result Italian prisoners suffered higher mortality rates than frontline combat units in the Italian army. The prisoners are relieved to finally return home, but their sufferings are not yet over. When they reach Italy they find themselves being held in internment camps, once more in poor conditions, where they are interrogated regarding the circumstances of their capture by the enemy. To the Italian authorities, surrendering is prima facie evidence of treason. There is even talk of shipping all the returning prisoners off to Libya.

11/11/1918 The guns stop firing, too late for some #1918Live

The Allied and German negotiators signed the armistice just after 5.00 am this morning but it does not come into effect until 11.00 am. As word spreads of the war’s imminent end fighting begins to trail off but before then fighting is surprisingly intense, with Allied troops either trying to capture symbolic targets or to secure advantageous positions in case the ceasefire breaks down and fighting is resumed. Canadian troops expend great efforts to liberate Mons, site of the first clash between British and German troops in 1914. By the time the guns stop firing it is in Canadian hands. American troops die taking the town of Stenay, apparently for no better reason than it has some excellent bathing facilities.

People keep dying right up until 11.00 am (and possibly beyond, as some isolated units only discover that the war is over after mid day). There are reports of Allied artillery pieces continuing to fire on the Germans until the very last moment, simply because doing so will save them the bother of bringing the un-used shells home.

There are a number of candidates for the last man killed. Near the Meuse river Augustin Trébuchon is bringing a message to frontline troops that hot soup will be served after the armistice comes into effect; then a bullet ends his life at 10.50 am. On the outskirts of Mons, Privates Arthur Goodmurphy and George Laurence Price are so far forward that news of the impending armistice has not reached them. Without orders, they move on further to investigate some abandoned houses. Then Price is shot and killed by a sniper at 10.58 am.

American troops taking part in the last stages of the Meuse-Argonne offensive are still fighting this morning but again, as news of the imminent armistice spreads they mostly choose to sit tight until the ceasefire. Private Henry Gunther has other ideas. Previously a sergeant, he was demoted after complaining to a friend in a letter about army conditions, advising him to avoid being drafted. Now he seizes a last chance for glory and makes a solo bayonet charge on a German machine-gun post. The Germans try to wave him away but he keeps coming and fires his gun before the machine guns cut him down, one minute before the armistice takes effect.

The last German deaths appear not to have been recorded. In total both sides suffer some 11,000 casualties today, of which roughly 2,700 are fatalities.

When the guns stop firing there does not appear to be much in the way of fraternisation between the two sides. There are reports of German soldiers waving towards their former enemies before beginning their long march home. Lieutenant Clair Groover of the US army is unusual in that he does meet a German today. A tearful German soldier approaches him, saying that his brother was killed yesterday. The German asks for permission to find and bury his brother’s body.

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map (New Zealand history: Armistice and occupation of Germany map)

Augustin Trébuchon’s grave (Wikipedia)

George Lawrence Price (Wikipedia)

Henry Gunther (Wikipedia)

11/11/1918 The armistice is signed #1918Live

In Compiègne Forest German and Allied negotiators have been trying to conclude an armistice that will end fighting on the Western Front. The Germans have been shocked by the severity of the terms the Allies are offering. Yesterday though Erzberger, the lead German negotiator, was directed by Ebert, Germany’s new Chancellor, to sign whatever terms he can get. Revolution is now spreading through Germany and the army is disintegrating; if the war continues then chaos and anarchy will be the result.

Ebert’s authorisation led to an intense burst of negotiations. Finally just after 5.00 am today the two sides reach an agreement. The Germans were unable to persuade the Allies to significantly improve their terms, though they did win some concessions. Foch and the Allied negotiators now accept that Germany will not have to surrender more U-boats than it actually possesses. They allow the German army to retain a very small amount of its military capacity in order to combat internal disorder. The Germans also win a slightly longer window in which to evacuate their troops from occupied territory.

Fundamentally though the armistice terms are dictated to the Germans by the Allies and are designed to prevent any resumption of hostilities by them. The German army is to surrender almost the entirety of its artillery pieces, mortars and machine guns, as well as huge numbers of trucks, locomotives and train carriages. The Germans have 15 days to withdraw from Belgium, Luxembourg and France (including Alsace-Lorraine) and must then withdraw their forces 40 kilometres east of the Rhine. The Allies will occupy the west bank of the Rhine and bridgeheads across it, with the right to seize any property they need from the local population. Germany’s navy will completely disappear, its warships and U-boats sailing to Allied ports for internment, pending a final decision on their fate.
The armistice nullifies the unequal treaties Germany signed with Russia and Romania earlier this year. German troops are also to be withdrawn from all the territories it has been occupying in the east. And Lettow-Vorbeck‘s army in Africa is to surrender. All prisoners of war held by the Germans are to be repatriated.

The Germans had hoped that the armistice would mean the end of the blockade of their ports, but this is not to be. The armistice states that the blockade will continue until a final peace settlement is agreed. For Erzberger this is a particularly egregious provision. He reads out a formal note of protest before signing the armistice, warning that the terms will unleash famine and anarchy in Germany. Yet his concluding words are defiant: “A nation of seventy million people suffers, but it does not die”.

Erzberger had wanted the armistice to take effect immediately but Foch insisted on a six hour gap. The fighting will end at 11.00 am. Messengers race off to tell frontline units that the war is ending. Foch meanwhile travels to Paris to present the armistice terms to Clemenceau. “My work is finished,” the generalissimo tells his Prime Minister. “Your work begins.”

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Painting of Erzberger protesting, by Maurice Pillard Verneuil, and the Allied armistice negotiators

10/11/1918 Ebert tells Erzberger to agree the Allied armistice terms #1918Live

Germany is in a state of flux. Ebert is now the Chancellor of a republic, the Kaiser having fled to Netherlands this morning. In the Chancellery he receives a telephone call on a secret line from Groener at army headquarters in Spa. Groener promises to support Ebert’s government; Ebert in turn promises to suppress the more extreme revolutionary elements and to respect the prerogatives of the army’s officer corps.

Ebert also receives the armistice terms that Foch presented to Erzberger in the Compiègne forest. The terms are harsh but Ebert knows that Germany cannot continue the war. He authorises Erzberger’s signature of an armistice on whatever terms he can obtain. The armistice negotiations now enter their final lap.