30/4/1918 The former Tsar arrives in the House of Special Designation #1918Live

Before the revolution the Tsar wielded absolute power in Russia, at least in theory. His life and that of his family was one of gilded luxury. After his abdication the imperial family were held in conditions of genteel house arrest, continuing to enjoy privileges undreamt of by their former subjects. However the Tsar remained deeply unpopular with the revolutionary public and there were fears for his life if he remained in Russia. During his premiership, Kerensky tried unsuccessfully to arrange for the Tsar to go abroad into exile. However a tentative offer of asylum in Britain was withdrawn following objections by King George V, who feared that his cousin’s arrival would ignite revolutionary sentiment. Other countries declined to take the Tsar for their own reasons.

To protect them from the Petrograd workers, Kerensky moved the imperial family to Tobolsk in Siberia, where they continued to live in comfortable conditions. However, since the October Revolution the situation of the imperial family has deteriorated. They have been denied luxuries and put on more basic rations. Their guards have become more surly. There is increased talk of putting the Tsar on trial.

In truth, the Bolsheviks are not sure what to do with the Tsar. Trotsky favours a show trial in Moscow, with himself as the prosecutor; others are not so sure. In the meantime the Tsar and Tsarina are transferred to a new place of incarceration in Ekaterinburg. They arrive today and are greeted by an angry mob before being taken to the House of Special Designation, the commandeered home of a local businessman. Their son and daughters will join them later.

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Tsar Nicholas II in the early stages of his captivity (Encyclopaedia Britannica)

The House of Special Designation (Wikipedia)

30/4/1918 The UB-85’s mission of failure comes to an embarrassing end #1918Live

German U-boats are still attacking Allied shipping, their crews pushed to the limit of endurance in a desperate efforts to inflict unsustainable losses on the enemy. By now though there is clearly little likelihood of the submarines winning the war for Germany; the claims by Admiral Holtzendorff that the U-boats could end the war by the autumn of 1917 now seem laughably naive.

Declining morale and the sending forth of U-boats crewed by insufficiently trained crews is taking its toll on the submarine fleet. Today in a bizarre episode the UB-85 is lost after its crew forget to close a hatch when it submerges. Water enters the U-boat, disabling its electrical engine, and forcing it to surface but the submarine could still have used its diesel engine to escape approaching British ships. Instead its commander orders his men onto deck, where they shout “we surrender!” at the British before abandoning ship. The UB-85’s mission had already been one of complete failure, with every torpedo it fired missing its target.

NOTE: In later years reports will emerge that the UB-85’s troubles stemmed from an attack by a sea monster. This story has no basis in fact and appears to have been made up in 2005. See Recovered WWI German U-Boat Revives ‘Sea Monster’ Tales

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UB-148, a similar vessel to the UB-85 (Wikipedia)

30/4/1918 Another British attack across the Jordan goes awry #1918Live

In Palestine Allenby has been ordered to prepare his best troops for despatch to the Western Front, where they are needed to face Ludendorff‘s spring offensive. However the British general is determined to have one last crack at Amman in Transjordan before he has to go on the defensive. Today Australian and British troops cross the Jordan and secure the town of Salt, in preparation for an attack on Amman itself.

But then things begin to go wrong. German and Turkish forces materialise out of nowhere to launch an unanticipated counterattack of unexpected strength. Liman von Sanders, the German commander of Turkey’s forces in Palestine, has somehow got wind of Allenby’s plan, through treachery or the interception of British wireless messages.

The Australians and British find themselves heavily outnumbered and in danger of being cut off. Reinforcements are quickly sent across the Jordan to their aid, but there is no longer any prospect of capturing Amman: the expeditionary force is fighting for its survival.

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map (Wikipedia)

29/4/1918 Germany’s last attack in Flanders #1918Live

Ludendorff has been trying to win victory on the Western Front, attacking first in the Somme sector and now in Flanders. Exhaustion and mounting casualties are leading to a slackening of German efforts while reinforcements, particularly French reinforcements, have strengthened the Allied defence. Today the Germans make another push near Ypres, attacking French troops who have relieved their battered British allies. However, unlike at Kemmelberg, just a few days ago, the French hold firm. German gains are minimal.

Realising that no further gains are to be had, Ludendorff halts this phase of the offensive. The Allies have survived again but the Kaiser’s Battle continues. Ludendorff now ponders where to land the next blow. Time is however beginning to run against him. The fighting in the Somme cost the British some 178,000 casualties, the French 77,000 and the Germans 239,000. The Flanders offensive has cost the Allies another 118,000 casualties and the Germans some 95,000. But the Allies have greater reserves of manpower to draw on, particularly now that American troops are starting to arrive in France. Worse, the German casualties are concentrated among the elite stormtroopers and assault troops, the men Ludendorff can least afford to lose. The Germans need to win the war soon, before Ludendorff’s offensives destroy their army.

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map (Wikipedia: Battle of the Lys)

Erich Ludendorff (Revolvy)

29/4/1918 The Hetman: Germany’s puppet leader of Ukraine #1918Live

Germany detached Ukraine from Russia in the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk. The Germans also negotiated a separate deal with the Rada government of Ukraine, supplying German troops to guarantee their security in return for shipments of grain. Unfortunately for the Germans, the Rada’s ability to extract grain for Berlin has proved less impressive than expected. Peasants have resisted Rada attempts to requisition grain and something akin to an agrarian insurgency has developed in the country.

The Rada seems unable to maintain order. In response the Germans overthrow the Rada and install Pavlo Skoropadsky as the new leader of Ukraine. A former general in the Tsarist army, Skoropadsky takes the title of Hetman and will head a pro-German puppet regime. Maintaining Skoropadsky in power will mean that large numbers of German and Austro-Hungarian troops will have to be stationed in Ukraine for the foreseeable future, preventing them from taking part in Ludendorff‘s spring offensives on the Western Front.

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Hetman Pavlo Skoropadsky (Wikipedia)

29/4/1918 Vyborg: victory for Finland’s Whites tainted by mass murder #1918Live

The Finnish Civil War is now in its endgame. Many of the Red leaders have by now fled to Russia. After the losses of Tampere and Helsinki, the only remaining centre of Red power is Vyborg in the east of the country, but today it too falls to the Whites after several days of fighting. Some Red Guards manage to break through enemy lines and head off towards Russia but large numbers are captured by the Whites.

Vyborg sees a number of unsavoury episodes. The Reds executed some White prisoners before the town’s fall. Now the victors take their turn, summarily executing some of their captured Red Guards. The Whites also kill members of Vyborg’s Russian community, seeing them as Red sympathisers.

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Captured Red Guards after the battle (Wikipedia: Battle of Vyborg)

Victims and perpetrators of the massacre (Wikipedia: Vyborg Massacre)

28/4/1918 The Austro-Hungarian army’s nationalities problem #1918Live

Austria-Hungary is a large multi-national empire. At the start of the war the army was largely organised on linguistic and regional lines, so that men from one place who all spoke the same language were placed in units together. The downside of this approach is that some nationalities of the empire are (or are deemed to be) less loyal than others. Czechs are seen as particularly disloyal and putting them together in all-Czech units appears only to encourage their disaffection, leading to malingering and desertion (with desertion on the Eastern Front being so great that Russia was able to form a Czech Legion to fight on its side against Austria-Hungary). Serbs and Romanians are also regarded with suspicion by the authorities.

In an effort to prevent military unrest, the army of Austria-Hungary is now being reorganised. Units will henceforth contain men from across the empire. This will hopefully make it harder for disaffected minorities to work together and may also engender a greater sense of pan-empire nationalism in the army.

There are of course downsides to this reorganisation. The esprit de corps of units is undermined by throwing disparate elements together. Combining men who speak different languages together also undermines unit effectiveness. And the elite units of Slovenes and Croats that had fought so well against the Italians are now diluted by the addition of more unruly elements. The danger of this reorganisation is that it might spread the bacillus of disaffection throughout the entire army instead of keeping it safely isolated.

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Bosnian officers in the Austro-Hungarian army (Austro-Hungarian Land Forces 1848-1918: The Bosnians)

28/4/1918 Gavrilo Princip dies

Do you remember Gavrilo Princip? Back in 1914 he shot and killed Archduke Franz Ferdinand, heir to the throne of Austria-Hungary, triggering the crisis that led the outbreak of war. Princip was convicted of murder but, being under 20 years of age, was too young for the death penalty and was given a 20 year prison sentence. Held in harsh conditions, his health has deteriorated. His right arm had to be amputated while disease and malnutrition has led to him wasting away. Today finally he dies of consumption.

Princip expressed sorrow for having also killed Sophie of Chotek, Franz Ferdinand’s wife, thereby orphaning their children. He never accepted responsibility for having plunged Europe into conflict, blaming German ambition for having started the war.

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Gavrilo Princip (Wikipedia)

25/4/1918 German losses on the Somme, gains in Flanders #1918Live

Yesterday in the Somme sector German troops captured the village of Villers-Bretonneux but their attempts to advance further where blocked in the war’s first tank versus tank battle. Overnight British and Australian troops counter-attack, first surrounding the village and then storming it. In brutal fighting most of the German defenders are killed, with a small number managing to surrender. Villers-Bretonneux is back in Allied hands, meaning that for now the railway hub of Amiens is safe from the enemy’s attentions.

The Germans have more success in Flanders, where Ludendorff‘s Georgette offensive continues to press against the British. Foch, now officially the Allies’ supreme commander, has sent French troops to strengthen the British line. Newly arrived French troops take over British positions at Mount Kemmel, near Ypres, but they find they have arrived in hell when they are subjected to a devastating artillery bombardment and gas attacks before elite German units move forward against them, supported by German aircraft. German troops take the hill and thousands of French troops lose their lives. The Kaiser is so pleased with the victory that he calls for champagne to toast his Kemmelberg heroes.

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Australian night attack on Villers-Bretonneux (RSL Virtual War Memorial: Villers-Bretonneux)

Kemmelberg heroes (Wikipedia: Kemmelberg)

24/4/1918 The first tank battle #1918Live

Although Flanders remains Ludendorff‘s main focus, German troops are still pushing towards Amiens in the Somme sector. Their intermediate target is the village of Villers-Bretonneux. If they can establish themselves here they may be able to press on to take Amiens itself; Villers-Bretonneux is also close enough to Amiens that from there the Germans could render the vital transportation hub unusable with heavy artillery.

Today’s German attacks on Villers-Bretonneux are supported by tanks, with several of the lumbering A7V monsters moving forward with the assault troops. The Germans overrun the village and then when the German tanks are moving onward to exploit they encounter British tanks moving forwards to try and close the gap in the line. The stage is now set for the first battle between tanks the world has yet seen.

One German tank finds itself facing three British vehicles, two of which are “female” tanks, armed with machine guns rather than cannons. Their machine guns are unable to penetrate the German tank’s armour. After the A7V’s cannon blasts holes in the females’ armour their commanders decide that discretion is the better part of valour and retreat. The remaining British and German tank blast away at each other. The German tank lands several hits but then tips over on its side, apparently having fallen into a crater.
More tanks from both sides join the fray, but this time the German retreat in the face of determined shelling by the British. The British then use their new Whippet medium tanks to attack German infantry who are preparing to advance. The Whippets kill many of the Germans by simply driving over them, returning to their own lines with their tracks stained red, though three of the seven Whippets are knocked out by enemy artillery.

While apparently inconclusive, the tank battle has at least prevented German exploitation of Villers-Bretonneux’s capture. This has bought valuable time for the British, who have brought up reinforcements with which they hope to recapture the vital village.

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models (Flames of War – Iron Fortresses: British & German Tanks Of World War One)

Capsized A7V (Wikipedia: Villers-Bretonneux)