21/12/1916 Lloyd George closes Frongoch, university of Irish rebellion

After the suppression of the Easter Rising, the British authorities in Ireland were left with a large number of rebel prisoners. The round-up that followed the revolt added to their ranks. These were removed from Ireland and interned in Wales at a former prisoner of war camp in Frongoch.

Since then the British have been unsure what to do with these internees. The initial response to the Rising was harsh, with rebels being executed after trial by court martial. This however created problems with Irish public opinion and the courts martial were halted. The British abandoned the idea of subjecting any more of the rebels to trial and held them in Frongoch under wartime emergency powers.

Holding all these people together at Frongoch has had unintended consequences. The inmates of Frongoch have become increasingly unruly and uncooperative with their captors. The round-up hauled in many people of relatively mild nationalist views, but throwing them together with more committed rebels has led to their increased radicalisation. Now they start to plan the next steps in the struggle to separate Ireland from the United Kingdom. Belatedly the British realise that they have effectively created a university of rebellion.

So now Lloyd George, the Welsh prime minister of Britain, decides to close Frongoch. The rebels will be sent home before Christmas, arriving back in Ireland in batches, to minimise the likelihood of their being greeted by anti-British demonstrations.

image source:

Frongoch (Irish Independent)

see also:

Frongoch and 1916: Recreating a Lost Landscape (online exhibition by Inspiring Ireland)

18/12/1916 President Wilson’s peace initiative

Could the war be coming to a negotiated end? Chancellor Bethmann Hollweg of Germany recently offered to open peace talks with the Allies. His proposal has had a frosty response from Germany’s enemies, who want to prosecute the war to victory. But across the Atlantic President Wilson of the United States is interested.

The USA is still neutral, but many Americans fear that if the war continues they will eventually be sucked into it. Wilson was elected on a peace platform, trading on the fact that he had kept his country out of the war. Now he acts to try and bring the war to an end. He sends a message to all the belligerent countries, asking them to state their terms for an end to the conflict. In so doing he hopes to start the ball rolling on negotiations to end the conflict, one in which his country could perhaps serve as an honest broker.

image source:

Woodrow Wilson (Wikipedia)

18/12/1916 Verdun finally grinds to a halt

The Battle of Verdun has raged since the Germans launched their first assaults in February. Now the French have pushed the Germans back, recovering much of their lost ground. The battlefield is increasingly in the grip of winter. After 302 days the struggle splutters to a halt.

The battle is a defeat for the Germans. They have not managed to break French morale by seizing Verdun. Nor have they succeeded in Falkenhayn’s goal of bleeding France to death by inflicting an unsustainable level of casualties. True, French casualties are enormous, estimated at 377,231 in total, of whom some 162,440 were killed. But the French wells of manpower have not run dry and they have always been able to find more men to feed the guns at Verdun. And the Germans have suffered almost as many losses as the French, taking some 337,000 casualties, of whom around 143,000 were killed.

The Germans have much greater reserves of manpower than the French, so they can better afford these losses. However the Germans have also lost great numbers of men at the Somme and are heavily engaged against Russia and in the Balkans. Attritional warfare is a dangerous game for them. Small wonder then that Hindenburg and Ludendorff are determined not to repeat Verdun.

The French also do not want a repeat of the battle. Nivelle, their new Western Front commander, made his name at Verdun, where he commanded the counter-attacks that recovered the ground lost to the Germans. He is planning to replicate these successes in a major offensive in the spring, one he hopes will smash through the German lines and bring the war to an end.

image sources:

Mountain of bones (Mental Floss)

Verdun: the World’s Blood Pump (Wikipedia; medal originally from British Museum exhibition “The other side of the medal: how Germany saw the First World War”)

map (Les Françcais à Verdun)

16/12/1916 Documenting the Hell of Horrifying Ghosts

Armin T. Wegner had been serving as a medical officer with the German army in the Turkish Empire. He noticed the extermination of the Armenians taking place around him: the massacres, the deportations, the death marches, the killings by starvation and so on. Horrified by what he saw, he did what he could to stop the slaughter or, failing that, to document it so that it could not be denied in future. A keen photographer, he captured many disturbing images of the Armenians’ suffering across Syria and Mesopotamia. Against military orders he had these smuggled these and notes describing the mass killings smuggled back to Germany and to diplomats from neutral countries.

Now Wegner is back in Germany, apparently recalled because the German authorities were concerned at the potential embarrassment his efforts cause to relations with their Turkish allies. Today he writes to Marga von Bonin, a German nurse he had befriended in Constantinople. He tells her that he has written a book about the Turks’ extermination of the Armenians, but the censors’ have blocked its publication. He describes again the horrors that he has seen and then adds “It was more of a chance and a miracle, that I was able to get out alive once more from the hell of those horrifying ghosts”.

Wegner has brought more photographs back with him to Germany. He continues his efforts to spread the word of what his country’s ally is doing to the Armenians.

image sources:

Armin T. Wegner (Wikipedia)

Wegner photograph of child and murdered man, Syria (Columbia University:
Documents and Wegner Photographs Reporting on the Armenian Genocide)

see also:

Armin Wegner, the German who stood up to genocide of both Armenians and Jews (Irish Times)

A. V. MusheghyanArmin T. Wegner’s letters and diary of 1915-1916 and struggle for condemnation of the Armenian Genocide [PDF] (Fundamental Armenology, no. 1, 2015)

15/12/1916 Further French gains at Verdun

At Verdun the French fightback continues. After recovering Fort Douaumont and Fort Vaux, the French are now pushing the Germans back towards the positions they occupied at the start of the battle in February. Today they recapture the villages of Louvemont and Bezonvaux, both lost in the battle’s early days. The villages little more than rubble now and the French have lost many men in their recapture, but they have now pushed the frontline 3 kilometres beyond Fort Douaumont. They can rest assured now that Verdun is safe from any return to the offensive by the Germans.

image sources:

Explosion (Les Français à Verdun)

Bezonvaux (Les Français à Verdun)

12/12/1916 Nivelle succeeds Joffre as France reshuffles its generals

France’s political leaders have had enough of Joseph Joffre, the army’s commander on the Western Front. Joffre’s calmness arguably saved France from defeat after the disastrous early battles of August 1914, but he appears unable to prosecute the war to victory. Now the politicians want a more vigorous approach to the fighting on the Western Front, so Prime Minister Briand has Joffre sacked. Or, rather, he has Joffre promoted to a meaningless position as general-in-chief (not commander-in-chief) of the French army and technical adviser to the government.

Joffre’s replacement as commander of the French armies on the Western Front is Robert Nivelle, the commander of the recent French counter-attacks at Verdun. Nivelle has leap-frogged over more senior commanders, including his own commanding officer, Philippe Pétain, who had commanded at Verdun during its desperate early stages. Unlike Pétain, Nivelle is an attacking general who has recaptured much ground from the Germans at Verdun, albeit at considerable cost. The politicians hope that his offensive vigour will now be applied to the French army as whole in their efforts to drive the Germans from France next year.

12/12/1916 Bethmann Hollweg’s peace initiative

Today in a speech to the Reichstag, Chancellor Bethmann Hollweg reveals that he has just despatched a note to the Vatican, inviting Germany’s enemies to enter into negotiations to end the war. Noting that German forces have overrun Romania and continued to see off Russian and Franco-British offensives, Bethmann Hollweg presents his offer as the magnanimous gesture of an invincible power seeking to avoid senseless slaughter.

Bethman Hollweg does not outline German terms. His diplomatic effort is partly being made for internal consumption. The Social Democrats are still supporting the war but have grown suspicious that Germany’s leaders are engaged in a war of conquest. Bethmann Hollweg hopes that his offer of negotiations will reassure them that Germany remains a peace-loving nation that has been forced into conflict. He also hopes that if the Allies reject his offer then their populations might start to turn against their leaders for keeping the war going.

The United States of America looms large in the Chancellor’s thoughts. Relations with America have been fraught ever since the sinking of the Lusitania. With his peace initiative he hopes to improve Germany’s reputation in the United States. Above all else, Bethmann Hollweg fears a rupture with the Americans. Many senior figures in Germany are calling for a resumption of unrestricted submarine warfare, which the Chancellor fears will bring the Americans into the war on the Allied side. With his peace initiative he hopes to delay the U-boat lobby from pressing the issue.

11/12/1916 The Turks rebuffed at Yanbu

Arabs supporting Sharif Hussein of Mecca are in revolt against their Turkish masters. Fahreddin Pasha however is seeking to crush the revolt. He has led a strong force against the rebel-held port of Yanbu. If Yanbu falls it will be harder for the British to supply the rebels with arms and gold.

The rebel forces opposing Fahreddin are commanded by Faisal, Sharif Hussein’s son. They are able to delay the Turks but are too weak to halt them. They retreat to Yanbu to make a last stand. Fahreddin advances, hoping that storming the port will be the first step towards victory over the rebels.

But a nasty surprise awaits Fahreddin when he reaches Yanbu. Five British warships are achored off Yanbu. Their guns outclass anything Fahreddin has at his disposal, forcing him to abandon his plans to assault the town. He accepts defeat and withdraws back towards Medina.

The British warships’ presence at Yanbu is no coincidence. Captain T. E. Lawrence, a British intelligence officer, had been with Faisal when he first confronted Fahreddin. Realising the rebels’ danger, Lawrence raced back to Yanbu and summoned the British ships, saving the Arab Revolt. Now the rebels make plans to go on the offensive.

11/12/1916 Italy loses a battleship and a general

Since Italy joined the war, the Italian navy has been supported by ships from France and Britain in its efforts to keep the Austro-Hungarian fleet bottled up in the upper Adriatic. As a result Italian shipping is able to sail without much molestation by enemy warships. However the seas still have their dangers, as the crew of the Regina Margherita discover tonight. After leaving the Albanian port of Vlorë (known to its Italian occupiers as Valona) in rough seas, this pre-war battleship strikes a mine. The ship sinks with the loss of 675 men.

General Oreste Bandini, commander of the Italian expeditionary force in Albania, is aboard the Regina Margherita. Bandini is not among the 270 survivors.

image source:

The Regina Margherita, before the war (Wikipedia)

10/12/1916 Verdun: this way to the slaughterhouse


The Somme has come to an end but the Battle of Verdun continues. The Germans are on the back foot now, with the French working to recover the ground lost since the battle’s start in February. But the fighting is not plain sailing for the French, who are suffering mounting casualties. This is taking its toll on the morale of the men.

There are some worrying incidents. On the road into Verdun, a sign is posted saying “Chemin de l’Abattoir“: this way to the slaughterhouse. While visiting Verdun, President Poincaré has stones thrown at his car. And an entire division of troops, moving up for the final push, takes to bleating like sheep on their way to be butchered.

And yet the French troops keep on fighting. At home the wider French public is unaware that the soldiers’ morale is fraying. Fed on a continuous account of positions recaptured from the enemy, they are aware only of the army’s heroic efforts at Verdun, under the glorious leadership of Nivelle, the local commander.

image source:

The road to Verdun (1914-1918 la 1ere guerre mondiale, l’effroyable hécatombe)