24/6/1917 The Red Baron’s Flying Circus

Over the Western Front fliers contend in the skies in support of their comrades on the ground. A problem for the Germans is that they have less considerably aircraft than the Allies: in the skies they will always be outnumbered. Now they try a new tactic to ensure that they are able to achieve aerial dominance in key sectors. Manfred von Richthofen, the Red Baron, is given the command of four fighter squadrons, with the new super-unit given the name Jagdgeschwader 1 (JG 1). The idea is that this unit will be quickly deployable anywhere along the front to achieve local air superiority. Richthofen is authorised to recruit the best fighter pilots on the Western Front and to expel any who underperform.

JG 1 soon acquires a new nickname: the Flying Circus. Many of the aeroplanes are brightly coloured, with fliers emulating the red of Richthofen’s own aeroplane. The unit also travels from place to place by train, quickly setting up to take on the Allies before moving on to their next engagement, like a troupe of wandering entertainers. The cheerful connotations of the nickname are of course at odds with the murderous intent of the Flying Circus.

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Manfred von Richthofen (Wikipedia)

23/6/1917 Ukraine declares autonomy from Russia

Revolution has seen the various regions of Russia become more assertive in their rights. In Ukraine a local parliament, the Rada , has convened itself. Rada leaders have petitioned the Provisional Government to recognise Ukrainian autonomy but their demands have gone unheard by both Prince Lvov‘s government and the Petrograd Soviet, both of which argue that these questions cannot be resolved until the future convening of a Constituent Assembly.

Irked by Petrograd’s cold shouldering, the Rada leaders now issue a unilateral declaration of autonomy dubbed the First Universal. While the declaration stops short of declaring independence, the Rada leaders establish an executive under the leadership of V.K. Vinnichenko, which assumes authority over Ukraine.

The First Universal causes consternation in Petrograd. Prince Lvov accuses the Rada of seeking to “inflict a fatal blow on the state” while Soviet leaders denounce the Ukrainian nationalists for stabbing the Revolution in the back. But Petrograd appears unable to make its writ run in Ukraine.

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V.K. Vinnichenko (Wikipedia)

21/6/1917 The Women’s Battalion of Death

Russia has seen many great changes since the start of its revolution. Many of the traditional structures of society have now being completely overturned. These changes to the established order are affecting not just relations between the social classes but between the sexes, with the rights of women now being asserted in a previously undreamt of manner.

One strange new development is the encroachment of women into the traditionally male sphere of the army. In Petrograd Kerensky has authorised the formation of an all-woman combat unit, the Women’s Battalion of Death. They are led by Maria Bochkareva, who has been serving in the Russian army since the war’s outbreak, earning the respect of her male colleagues by her bravery in combat.

Today Kerensky reviews the Women’s Battalion as they prepare to depart for the front to take part in the offensive Brusilov is planning. Kerensky hopes that the women’s example will encourage their male comrades to give their all in this great democratic offensive.

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The Women’s Battalion of Death & Emmeline Pankhurst (Wikipedia)

20/6/1917 Industrial unrest grips France

The French army continues to be gripped by unrest. On the home front too a rebellious mood is evident. A rolling series of strikes has been taking place in French factories, both ones engaged in civil production and ones producing munitions for the army. Most of the strikers are women, who have replaced conscripted men on the factory floors.

The strikers’ demands are mostly economic rather than political, with the women seeking pay rises and equality of wages with their remaining male colleagues. But there is a political undercurrent too, with demands for the war’s end being heard.

Industrial unrest perturbs the authorities. Could France be on the brink of a revolution like that of Russia? The strikes are met with repression, with the police violently suppressing demonstrations by striking workers. But the strikes are not a complete failure, with employers finding themselves forced to increase wages in order to lure their workers back to the shop floor.

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Women in a French munitons factory, 1916

19/6/1917 Italy attacks, Mount Ortigara falls

Earlier in the month the Italians attacked on the Asiago plateau, hoping to clear the Austro-Hungarians from positions they had retreated to after their Punishment Expedition last year. The attacks were staged in the middle of a summer storm and the assault troops foundered in a sea of mud.

Now the weather has improved and the Italians are attacking again. With better visibility Italian artillery is able to batter Austro-Hungarian positions. The Italian air force also lends a hand, with bombers supporting the infantry.

This time the Italians enjoy considerable success. They manage to storm to the summit of Mount Ortigara, wresting it from the Austro-Hungarians in brutal hand-to-hand fighting. Around a thousand prisoners are captured and several artillery pieces. But the Italians know that they cannot rest on their laurels: they will have to defend the mountain from the inevitable Austro-Hungarian counter-attacks.

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Italian troops storming the mountain (EreticaMente: La conquista dell’Ortigara)

map (Valgame: La Guerra sull’Altopiano)

18/6/1917 Nasir and Lawrence set their sights on Aqaba

Emir Faisal has sent his cousin Nasir ibn Ali and other trusted lieutenants north to reconnoitre Syria and enlist local support for the Arab Revolt. Nasir has been accompanied by T. E. Lawrence, the British intelligence officer who liaises between the Arab rebels and the British authorities in Cairo.

Now Nasir and Lawrence have managed to persuade Auda abu Tayi and several hundred of his tribal followers to join the revolt. The question now is what to do with them. The Turkish rail depot at Ma’an makes for a tempting target, but it is too strongly defended for the rebels to attack. Instead Nasir and Lawrence decide on another target, the Red Sea port of Aqaba.

If the rebels could take Aqaba then they would have a base at the gates of Syria from which the British could supply them. The Turks have strongly defended Aqaba against sea attack. However Nasir hopes to take advantage of the Turks’ failure to anticipate an attack by land. The rebels begin their advance.

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T.E. Lawrence & Auda abu Tayi (eKurds: Photographs of Lawrence from 1914-1918)

Aqaba and environs (A Passage to `Aqaba: A Geographical Enquiry)

16/6/1917 Germany’s plague of hamsters

German farmers are being tormented by an army of hamsters. They are not facing a horde of little rodents but city dwellers who come out to the country to look for food. City folk are finding their rations inadequate and so are resorting to trips to the countryside in order to put sufficient food on their tables. These foragers have become known as hamsters because of the way they hide foodstuffs in bags and pockets.

The hamsters are an annoyance to the farmers. Sometimes they seek to buy food at black market prices, but they also steal produce and damage crops. The hamsters can also become violent or threatening when farmers do not wish to sell food to them.

Trading food on the black market does not encourage solidarity between the city and the countryside. Hungry city folk resent the apparent cornucopia of food the farmers have at their disposal while the farmers conclude that the urbanites cannot be as poor as they claim if they are willing to pay such high prices. Mostly though the farmers wish the city folk would go away and leave them be to bring in the harvest.

In Austria the country folk resort to violence against starving Viennese residents seeking food in the countryside. Viennese hamsters are stoned by their rural compatriots and chased away from their farms.

Food shortages therefore continue to undermine the cohesion of German and Austro-Hungarian societies. The authorities note such discord with dismay but hope that the U-boat war will fulfil its promise of ending the war before the winter.

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Postcard of farmers preparing to defend themselves from hamsters arriving by train (Metropostcard: Food and the Great War)