30/11/1917 Cambrai: the Germans strike back

The British have called a halt to their attacks at Cambrai. While the first day‘s successes were not repeated, the battle so far has done wonders for British morale, showing that the combination of tanks and carefully targeted artillery is able to smash through even the strongest defences.

The British think the battle is over now, but they are wrong. The Germans have reinforced the Cambrai sector and now they launch an unexpected counter-attack, hoping to recover the ground lost in the fighting so far. The Germans do not have tanks to spearhead their assault, but they do have the infiltration tactics developed by Hutier at Riga and then used to great effect at Caporetto.

When German stormtroopers attack after a short but intense bombardment they attack the right flank of the British, ripping through their lines. The Germans are supported by a significant deployment of air power, with large numbers of ground attack aircraft harrying the British. Only the deployment of the few tanks the British still have available prevents their complete collapse.

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German stormtroopers attack (Metropostcard – Belligerents and Participants in World War One: The German Empire  pt1)

29/11/1917 Fate catches up with German fighter pilot Erwin Böhme #1917Live

Last year German fighter pilot Erwin Böhme accidentally caused the death of his commander, fighter ace Oswald Boelcke, when their aeroplanes collided during a dogfight. The distraught Böhme had to be dissuaded from killing himself.

Since then Böhme has made his reputation as a fighter pilot, notching up an impressive rate of kills. Three days ago he was awarded the Pour la Merité, Germany’s highest award for bravery. This morning he shoots down his 24th enemy aircraft, a British Sopwith Camel. Later in the day he sets off on another patrol over the Ypres salient. Spotting a British aeroplane on a reconnaissance mission, he swoops to attack. Unfortunately he overshoots and the British fliers manage to score enough hits on his Albatross to set its fuel ablaze. Böhme goes down in flames, crashing on the British side of the lines.

The British retrieve Böhme’s charred body and bury him with full military honours. He was 38 years old, almost twice the age of most other fighter pilots.

image sources:

Erwin Böhme (Wikipedia: Erwin Böhme)

Erwin Böhme shot down (Barry Weekley studio: Aviation Galleries) follow link for more pictures of warplanes from the First World War and beyond

27/11/1917 Cambrai: as British attacks halt, the Germans prepare for a counterattack #1917Live

British Mark IV 'Female' (Blarney Castle), Fontaine Notre Dame, November 1917
After a first day of astonishing successes, British progress at Cambrai has slowed as their tanks have broken down or been knocked out by the enemy. Now after a series of failed attempts to take the village of Fontaine the British call a halt to their attacks. The Cambrai offensive has shown what tanks are capable of; the British hope that next year they will be able to apply these lessons on a larger scale.

As far as the British are concerned, the Battle of Cambrai is over. The Germans however see things differently. They brought troops to Cambrai to block the British advance. Now they are preparing for a counter-attack, one that will treat the British to the infiltration tactics that were so successful at Riga and Caporetto. The second phase of the Battle of Cambrai is about to begin.

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German soldier and British tank knocked out during fighting in Fontaine (Flickr, Drakegoodman: tanks)

map (Wikipedia: Battle of Cambrai)

26/11/1917 Sykes-Picot revealed: the world learns of British and French plans to carve up the Middle East #1917Live

The Bolsheviks are seeking to completely discredit the pre-revolutionary regime and its secret agreements with the Allies. Trotsky has overseen the publication of these covert pacts within Russia, including both the agreement to cede Constantinople to Russia and the Sykes-Picot agreement carving up the Middle East between Britain and France. These are now beginning to be reported on outside Russia, with the Manchester Guardian revealing the Sykes-Picot agreement to the English-speaking world today.

Sykes-Picot’s publication is deeply embarrassing to the Allies, as it reveals a duplicity at the heart of Anglo-French plans for the Middle East. Sharif Hussein of Mecca is leading an Arab Revolt against Turkey, having been led to believe by the British that they supported the establishment of an Arab state stretching from Syria to the Arabian peninsula. Balfour’s recent declaration of British support for the creation of a Jewish homeland in Palestine has already dented the credibility of British guarantees to the Arabs; with the British and French now revealed to be intent on dividing the Middle East between them, Sharif Hussein looks like he has been taken for a ride.

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The Manchester Guardian reveals the secret treaties (Wikipedia: Sykes–Picot Agreement)

25/11/1917 Russia votes for a Constituent Assembly #1917Live

The position of the Bolsheviks in Russia is now more secure. The fighting in Moscow has come to an end with the defeat of the their opponents. In Petrograd Sovnarkom is taking over the organs of central government, breaking the civil servants’ strike that initially paralysed their administration.

The Bolsheviks feel secure enough to allow voting to begin today to elect an assembly to draw up a constitution for Russia. The size of the country means that voting will take place on a staggered basis over the next two weeks. Elections to the Constituent Assembly kept being postponed by the Provisional Government, so much so that the Bolsheviks accused Kerensky of planning to cancel them completely. The still precarious nature of Lenin’s regime means that he must now go ahead with the elections.

The vote for the Constituent Assembly is the first democratic election in Russia’s history; even women are voting, something that is still only being considered in other countries. The problem with free elections of course is that people do not always vote in accordance with their objective class interests. Nevertheless, Lenin hopes that the Bolsheviks and their allies in the Left-SRs will win a majority, thereby vindicating his seizure of power.

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Election poster, I think for the Socialist Revolutionaries (Saint Petersburg Encyclopaedia: Constituent Assembly, All-Russian)

25/11/1917 Negomano: Lettow-Vorbeck smashes the Portuguese #1917Live

Germany’s Lettow-Vorbeck is being pressed hard in East Africa. The Germans had sent a Zeppelin airship to bring much needed supplies to him, but it had to turn back after learning that its intended landing site had been overrun by the British. Today the Zeppelin arrives back in Bulgaria.

Lettow-Vorbeck’s supply situation is increasingly critical, with his army (mostly locally recruited Askaris) running low out of guns and ammunition. Shortage of medicine is also a severe problem, particularly of the quinine that prevents the European officers from succumbing to malaria. But today the Germans achieve a victory that will allow them to fight on.

Pressure from the British and South Africans has forced Lettow-Vorbeck to retreat his force across the border into Portuguese Mozambique. The Portuguese have made some preparations for conflict with Lettow-Vorbeck since their declaration of war on Germany last year. However they appear to have gravely underestimated their opponent. Lettow-Vorbeck attacks the Portuguese today at Negomano, smashing their force there and driving them from the field. In the process he captures a large quantity of arms and ammunition, as well as medical supplies.

South Africa’s Deventer is leading the British pursuit of Lettow-Vorbeck. He had hoped that the campaign was coming to an end, but the Germans’ unexpected victory means that the war in Africa will continue.

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German forces attack across the Rovuma river (Wikipedia: Battle of Ngomano)

Route of the L-59 Zeppelin on its unsuccessful mission (Historic Wings: Das Afrika Schiff)

map (Wikipedia: Battle of Ngomano)

October 1917

Passchendaele mud. Austria-Hungary and Germany shatter the Italian army at Caporetto. Mata Hari executed. The British invasion of Palestine begins.

4/10/1917 The Sacchi decree: Italy combats the menace of defeatism

4/10/1917 Broodseinde: more Ypres attrition

8/10/1917 Trotsky elected chairman of the Petrograd Soviet’s executive

9/10/1917 Poelcapelle: an Allied attack at Ypres fails

11/10/1917 Operation Albion: German troops seize the islands of Estonia

12/10/1917 ANZAC forces cut to pieces in failed attack on Passchendaele

13/10/1917 The Miracle of the Sun

14/10/1917 Austria feeds the guns while its people go hungry

15/10/1917 Mata Hari executed

16/10/1917 Enemy at the gates: Germany threatens Petrograd

17/10/1917 The Action off Lerwick: a daring German strike on a British convoy

18/10/1917 Mahiwa: Lettow-Vorbeck’s pyrrhic victory

23/10/1917 The Bolsheviks decide to seize power

24/10/1917 Caporetto: Austria and Germany strike back against Italy

25/10/1917 De Valera takes over Sinn Féin

25/10/1917 Caporetto: Italy reels from the enemy onslaught

26/10/1917 Brazil joins the Allies

26/10/1917 Canadians take their turn being killed at Passchendaele

26/10/1917 Caporetto: astonishing progress by the Germans and Austro-Hungarians

27/10/1917 La Malmaison: a French offensive on the Chemin des Dames

27/10/1917 Caporetto: Cadorna orders a withdrawal

27/10/1917 Fighter pilot Arthur Rhys-Davids fails to return

28/10/1917 Caporetto: as Italy reels, Britain and France promise help

30/10/1917 A new Italian prime minster spells danger for the army’s commander

31/10/1917 Beersheba: the great charge of the Australian cavalry

31/10/1917 Hard times for Germany’s U-boats

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mud (Mental Floss WWI Centennial: First Passchendaele, Rainbow Division Crosses the Atlantic)

map (Mental Floss WWI Centennial: Disaster At Caporetto)

see also:

Monthly Archive 1917

September 1917

@ww1liveblog (Twitter)

World War 1 Live Blog (Facebook)

23/11/1917 Cambrai: British progress stalls #1917Live

"English tanks near Cambrai" / „Dieses Vieh überfährt Schützengräben, Bäume und Wälle.”
The British have had trouble exploiting their initial gains at Cambrai. German resistance has stiffened as reinforcements have arrived while the British tank force is being depleted by enemy action and mechanical failure.

The fighting has now assumed a more positional character. The village of Fontaine is targeted by the British, but evicting the Germans from it proves nigh impossible. The defenders are making the most of the cover the ruined buildings of the village provide. And now the Germans have discovered that the tanks are vulnerable while manoeuvring through Fontaine’s narrow streets. They take to knocking out the land battleships by flinging bundles of grenades underneath them.

The British are still making gains. Today they drive the Germans from Bourlon Wood. However they fail to take the nearby Bourlon village. With fighting at Fontaine stagnated and tank numbers depleted down to 92, the British offensive at Cambrai is clearly running out of steam.

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Knocked out tanks near Fontaine, probably photographed some time after the fighting was over (Drakegoodman: Tanks (a Flickr album of vintage First World War tank photographs))

23/11/1917 Germany’s Zeppelin safari aborted #1917Live

Germany has sent the L-59 Zeppelin on a mission from Bulgaria to German East Africa, to bring desperately needed supplies to Lettow-Vorbeck‘s embattled army. After crossing the Mediterranean the airship has flown south through British occupied Egypt. To avoid interception by British aircraft, it flies at maximum speed and zig zags along the Nile to throw pursuers off course.

The L-59 manages to avoid the British but the Afrika-Schiff cannot evade the elements. The cold desert nights freeze the crewmen but they also cool the hydrogen gas that keeps the L-59 aloft. In turbulent air this morning the Zeppelin nearly crashes but the crew manage to keep her in flight. Then by day the terrible heat of the Sahara wreaks its toil on the crew, making it difficult for them to concentrate or work, in some cases even leading to hallucinations. But the airship flies on, crossing from Egypt proper to the Anglo-Egyptian Sudan.

The L 59 is now more than half way on its journey but then it receives an unexpected message by wireless. The British have captured the intended landing site of the L-59 in German East Africa, forcing Lettow-Vorbeck’s men to retreat into the mountains. A Zeppelin landing there would be impossible. The L 59 is ordered to return to Bulgaria.

The Zeppelin’s volunteer crew beg their commander to continue the mission: they want the L 59 to fly on to crash land in the mountains, so that Lettow-Vorbeck will receive at least some of the supplies. Any of the crew who survive the crash-landing will also be able to join Lettow-Vorbeck’s army. But Captain Ludwig Bockholt is adamant that orders must be obeyed. The L 59 turns about and begins to retrace its steps.

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The L-59 in flight (Historic Wings: “Das Afrika-Schiff”)