21/9/1916 The Arab Revolt’s uncertain progress

Sharif Hussein, Emir of Mecca and Medina, has revolted against the Turkish Empire. His followers are gradually consolidating control of the Hejaz region of western Arabia. Mecca and Jeddah are securely in rebel hands. Control of Jeddah on the coast is important, as it allows an inward flow of arms and gold from the Allies. Now at last they have also managed to force the surrender of Ta’if, thanks largely to the help of Egyptian artillerymen sent over by the British. With the fall of Ta’if the rebels have also captured Ghalib Pasha, the Turkish governor of the Hejaz, who had taken refuge there.

However, not everything is going the way of the rebels. Medina remains in Turkish hands, with a strong army located there under Fahreddin Pasha. Elsewhere in the empire, Fahreddin has previously been involved in brutal actions against the Armenians. Now he hopes to give the Arabs a dose of the same medicine. He plans to march on Mecca and crush the rebellion.

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The governor’s residence after the fall of Ta’if (Axis History Forum)

Omar Fahreddin Pasha (Wikipedia)

20/9/1916 Brusilov’s offensive ends in failure

The Brusilov Offensive is over. In its early days, it brought the Austro-Hungarians close to collapse. Their line was only stabilised by the commitment of significant quantities of German reinforcements. The price of this aid has been the German take-over of the Austro-Hungarian army. The ancient Habsburg Empire is now little more than a client state of the arriviste Germans.

Brusilov’s offensive was meant to have been followed by another against the Germans to the north by Evert, with the rolling offensives denying the Central Powers the option of concentrating against any one threat. Unfortunately Evert’s offensive was still-born, thanks to his use of unimaginative human wave assaults. With Evert’s failure the Russians sent more reinforcements to Brusilov, but in an increasingly attritional battle the superior transport links and armaments of the Germans swung the battle in their favour. The offensive’s failure embitters Brusilov, who feels that he has been let down by his fellow officers.

The scale of blood-letting in the fighting is almost unimaginable. Russian casualties are variously estimated as being in the range of 500,000 to 1,000,000, with similar losses for the Austro-Hungarians and Germans. The bloodbath has effectively brought an end to Austro-Hungarian independence, but the offensive’s failure now threatens the credibility of the Tsarist regime in Russia.

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Maps (Wikipedia)

Soldiers (Metro Postcard)

19/9/1916 Belgium joins the invasion of German East Africa

The Allies are invading the Kaiser’s last overseas colony, German East Africa. South Africa’s Smuts is commanding British Empire forces that are moving south from British East Africa. Meanwhile a Belgian force has crossed over from the Belgian Congo and is pushing into German territory. The Belgians have secured the Ruanda-Urundi territory on the Congo’s border.

Belgian and British forces were racing to capture the key interior town of Tabora. The Belgians won the race, taking the town after the Germans decided to retreat rather than fight to the end against superior forces. This leaves the railway from Dar Es Salaam to Kigoma on Lake Tanganyika in Allied hands.

Since the Allied invasion began in earnest earlier this year the Germans have retreated rather than fight to the finish. After this latest victory the Allies cannot but wonder how long it will be before the Germans have nowhere to retreat to and find themselves obliged to surrender.

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Belgian colonial troops (Belgians have been everywhere on our planet)

18/9/1916 Things start to go badly wrong for the Romanians

Romania’s leaders joined the war on the Allies’ side in the expectation of an easy victory that would allow them to establish a Greater Romania on both sides of the Carpathians. To accomplish this, Romanian armies pushed across the border into Transylvania. Austria-Hungary was already being pressed by Brusilov’s offensive in Galicia and the Italians on the Isonzo, so Romania’s invasion would be the coup de grâce that knocked it out of the war.

Or so they thought, but the Romanians have miscalculated. By the time they launched their invasion of Transylvania, the Austro-Hungarians had weathered the storm of the Brusilov Offensive: German reinforcements had staved off the threat of collapse, while on the Isonzo the Italians are showing no great likelihood of achieving a strategic victory.

Now the Romanians find their plans increasingly going awry. Germany’s Mackensen leads a combined Bulgarian and German force that has invaded Romania from the south and is threatening the vital port of Constanza. Meanwhile in Romania the Austro-Hungarians have received German reinforcements. Falkenhayn commands here. Anxious to restore his reputation, he is keen to administer a drubbing to the Romanians. Today his men launch their first major counter-attack.

The Romanians are obliged to halt offensive operations in Transylvania and assume a defensive posture. Their decision to join the war has now engulfed them in a battle for national survival.

image source (Wikipedia)

18/9/1916 Despite German and American protests, Turkey’s extermination of the Armenians continues

The Turkish authorities are continuing their elimination of their Armenian minority. Some of the Armenians (particularly young adult men) are being shot or killed by other kinds of direct violence. For most though the killing is by more drawn-out and indirect methods. Armenians are being sent off to inhospitable death camps in the Syrian desert and left to die of hunger, thirst and exposure.

The extermination is not happening in secret. Newspapers in the neutral United States have carried shocking reports of Armenian suffering, with a recent article in the New York Times quoting a Presbyterian missionary saying that starving Armenians have tried to feed themselves on locusts or wild dogs, while others have resorted to cannibalism. The missionary also reports that other Armenians have given up hope, killing themselves or begging for execution by their tormentors.

The Armenians’ extermination is causing disquiet on the part of Turkey’s allies but they are unable or unwilling to stop the slaughter. Paul Wolff Metternich, Germany’s ambassador to Turkey, reports back to Berlin that the Turkish authorities are intent on the complete elimination of the Armenian population and that his protests and those of American diplomats have done nothing to ease their suffering. Turkey’s leaders are determined to exterminate the Armenians and will not be swayed from this course of action.

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Armenians butchering a horse (Wikipedia)

17/9/1916 The Seventh Battle of the Isonzo draws to a close

Italy’s seventh offensive along the Isonzo started only a few days ago. However progress has been minimal so now Cadorna suspends the assaults. Losses have been heavy, with the Italians taking as many as 17,000 casualties in the short battle. At 15,000 casualties, Austro-Hungarian losses have been heavy too, thanks to Italian artillery and Boroevic’s insistence that counter-attacks be immediately launched to recapture lost positions.

Cadorna starts preparations for the next battle, hoping that sooner or later he will be able to smash through the Austro-Hungarians. On the other side, Boroevic begs for reinforcements. His men are starting to feel the strain. There have been reports of desertions in units composed of Bosnian Serbs, whose loyalty to the Empire is distinctly suspect. Men from other ethnic groups remain more reliable, especially Bosnian Muslims, Croats and Slovenes. A feature of the Austro-Hungarian army at war is that some men will fight well on one front but not on others. Croat and Czech troops have a poor reputation on the Russian front, but against the Italians they have shown more spirit. Apart from the Bosnian Serbs, the southern Slav troops (Slovenes, Croats and Bosnian Muslims) may in part be fighting to defend their homes from incorporation into the Kingdom of Italy.

Conrad listens to Boroevic’s appeals for more men, but there are not many to spare. Brusilov’s offensive is still pressing Austria-Hungary in Galicia while the Romanians are still pushing into Transylvania. Two divisions are released to Boroevic, but this still leaves him heavily outnumbered by the Italians. His men do their best to prepare for the next onslaught.

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Bosnian Muslim soldiers (Illyria Forums)

17/9/1916 The first victims of the Red Baron

Fighting continues at the Somme. The most recent push by the British is now petering out into the usual series of uncoordinated minor assaults that serve no purpose other than to get men killed. Haig is over any disappointment he might feel at this latest failure and is already looking forward to the next big push, which will surely see the Germans collapse and the British cavalry romping across open country to exploit the great victory.

While the infantry struggle away in the mud on the ground, a new kind of war continues above them. The British are using aircraft to observe the German positions and to guide artillery bombardments onto the enemy. But the Germans are not letting the British fly over them with impunity. Increasing numbers of German fighter planes have been brought to the Somme to contest Allied control of the skies.

Today British aeroplanes are returning from a bombing mission behind German lines when they are attacked by German fighters. Captain Tom Rees and Lieutenant Lionel Morris are in a two seater FE 2. They find themselves caught in a struggle to the death with a German pilot flying an Albatross D.II. Rees tries to shoot down the German with his Lewis gun but the Albatross manoeuvres underneath the British plane. The German peppers the FE 2 with bullets, killing Rees, wounding Morris and knocking out the aircraft’s engine. Morris manages to crash-land behind the German lines but dies later in the day of his injuries.

Rees and Morris are the first victims of Manfred von Richthofen, a newly minted German fighter pilot who has learned his trade from German ace Oswald Boelcke. Rees was 21 years old when he died, Morris just 19. Richthofen orders a silver cup from a Berlin jeweller to celebrate his victory.

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Alex Hamilton’s painting of Richthofen’s battle with Rees & Morris (BBC)

Tom Rees (Wikipedia)

Lionel Morris (Wikipedia)

Manfred von Richthofen (The World at War)