30/6/1918 Time begins to run out for the Germans #1918Live

The Germans are preparing for their next offensive on the Western Front. Although Ludendorff is still intending to drive the British into the sea in Flanders, the next assault will hit the French in the south, with some 40 divisions to attack on either side of Reims. Ludendorff has dubbed this battle der Friedensturm (the Peace Offensive), hoping to convince his battered troops that this is the one last push that will somehow bring the war to an end.

The fighting since the start of the offensives has been devastating. The Germans have suffered some 800,000 casualties since the first assaults in March. Their gains in the first four offensives have stretched their frontline from 390 to 510 kilometres, which leave them vulnerable if the Allies should regain the initiative. The Germans are also being hit hard by the new influenza pandemic, which in the last month has led to some 135,000 military cases on the Western Front, far more than the Allies have suffered. Very few of these men have died, but while they are sick they are unable to fight.

German casualties have afflicted the elite stormtrooper units most severely. Ludendorff has replenished their ranks by taking men from ordinary units. This has however diluted the quality of the stormtroopers and left other units depleted and less able to perform their functions.

The Allies have taken great casualties too in the offensives but they seem to have a deeper well of manpower, while American troops are continuing to arrive in Europe in great numbers. All in all time is running out for Ludendorff: if his next offensive does not break the Allies then it looks disturbingly like Germany will lose the war.

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Stormtroopers (Drakegoodman on Flickr)

29/6/1918 Vladivostok falls to the Czechoslovak Legion #1918Live

Since hostilities broke out with Bolsheviks, the Czechoslovak Legion has been expanding along the Trans-Siberian Railway. Now finally Vladivostok falls into the Czechoslovaks’ hands, meaning that they control the railway all the way from Samara to the Pacific Ocean.

The original goal of the Czechoslovaks had been to leave Russia and travel to Western Europe, where they could rejoin the war against the Central Powers and help found an independent Czechoslovakia. Now that the railway line is in their hands they should be able to leave Russia unmolested. But Russia has distracted the Czechoslovaks. They have formed an alliance with the Komuch, the left-liberal government in Samara, and are now part of the struggle to overthrow the Bolsheviks. Perhaps there is some grand strategy at work here: if the Bolsheviks are overthrown then Russia might rejoin the war against Austria-Hungary and Germany. Or perhaps events have developed their own momentum, drawing the Czechoslovaks into Russia’s civil war without the consequences being thought through.

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Czechoslovak troops in Vladivostok (Wikipedia: Czechoslovak Legion)

map (Johnny Depp Zone: TPAOL Tidbit #5 ~ The Czech Legion)

Meta: One year to go

Just over four years ago I started this crazy venture with a post about an Austrian Archduke visiting a market. In a year’s time I will be done with the First World War forever. Between now and then a lot happens, not least over the next month, which has as good a claim as any to be the month in which the war was decided.

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Franz Ferdinand and Countess Sophie, an hour before their murder (ThoughtCo: The Life and Death of Archduke Franz Ferdinand)

Italian war graves (Traces of War: Italian War Graves Ljubljana)

28/6/1918 In response to industrial unrest the Bolsheviks nationalise industry #1918Live

Bolshevik rule in Russia is threatened by Denikin and Alexeev‘s White Army in the south and by the Czechoslovak Legion and the Komuch in Siberia. Within the heartland of Soviet Russia the Bolsheviks are facing other threats to their rule. Unrest seems to be particularly prevalent in Petrograd, the cradle of the revolution. The economic crisis has led to a wave of strikes that have paralysed industry there. Harsh counter-measures, including the Cheka’s firing on striking workers, have failed to bring Petrograd’s workers to heel. If anything the situation has worsened with strikes continuing to escalate, threatening to spread from Petrograd to the rest of Soviet Russia.

The Bolshevik leadership fears that labour unrest is a prelude to a coup attempt by their Menshevik and Socialist Revolutionary rivals. These fears are accentuated when Volodarsky, a Bolshevik press commissar, is assassinated during industrial unrest. To combat this threat the Bolsheviks now take a bold step: the nationalisation of Russian heavy industry. Previously the revolution had meant that factories were coming under the control of workers’ committees. Now they will be brought under state control, self-management replaced by direction from the centre. Striking workers can then be threatened with dismissal and strike organisers arrested.

The nationalisation decree is issued today by Sovnarkom, the Soviet government. In tandem the Mensheviks and Socialist Revolutionaries are expelled from soviet assemblies. The last opposition newspapers are shut down and the Cheka let loose on any leftist opposition to the Bolsheviks.

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Russian factory workers (Libcom.org: Russian Labour and Bolshevik Power after October)

25/6/1918 US Marines clear the Germans from Belleau Wood #1918Live

US marines played their part in halting the Germans’ third offensive this year when they went into battle in the Belleau Wood near the Marne. The Americans have been attacking since then, determined to clear the enemy from the woods. Lacking combat experience, the Americans took heavy casualties but they proved determined fighters and now at last the forest is entirely in their hands, albeit at the cost of nearly 10,000 casualties.

The Allies derive great comfort from the battle. The Americans have shown that they can fight the Germans and are not cowed by losses of the scale encountered in Western Front fighting. On the other side of the hill the battle shakes German morale. Belleau Woods is of no great strategic significance in and of itself but it is a worrying harbinger of things to come. The Americans, largely on their own (although with some French support) have successfully defeated the Germans. With US troops now pouring into France, time is clearly beginning to run out for Ludendorff and his offensives.

In American the battle is used for propaganda purposes. Recruitment posters invite men to join the Teufel Hunden (Devil Dogs), the strangely ungrammatical nickname the Germans are reported to have given the marines.

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US and French troops, near Belleau Wood (Wikipedia: 6th Machine Gun Battalion (United States Marine Corps))

Teufel Hunden poster (Wikipedia: Battle of Belleau Wood)

23/6/1918 Piave: for Italy a triumph, for Austria-Hungary disaster #1918Live

The Battle of the Piave is now over. The Austro-Hungarians have retreated to the east bank of the river having failed to break out of their bridgeheads. The Italians hail this “Battle of the Solstice” as a great victory: it shows that their army is able to fight again, the stain of Caporetto now erased. For the Austro-Hungarians meanwhile the battle is a disaster, laying bare the organisational failures that led to soldiers going into battle underfed and without adequate supplies.

The human losses of the fighting are considerable. The Italians suffer around 85,000 casualties, of whom around half were captured by the enemy and now face starvation (the Italian authorities forbid the sending of food parcels to their prisoners and the Austro-Hungarians are struggling to feed their own soldiers, let alone those of the enemy). Austro-Hungarian losses are greater, at around 118,000, with a much higher proportion of these killed or wounded.

The failed offensive severely dents the prestige of Emperor Karl, the army’s commander. Parliamentarians in Austria and Hungary condemn the foolhardiness the inadequately prepared venture. Wider discontent with the conduct of the war and the Empire itself spreads further through its subject peoples.

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Italian soldiers at the front (Wikipedia: Second Battle of the Piave River)

Emperor Karl (Wikipedia)

Take 3 Guys, all Conscientous Objectors.

Three British conscientious objectors.

Scarce heard among the guns. (Blogs about WW1)

These are three short bits about Conscientious Objectors. One is still sung about in Scotland his name is John Maclean (24 August 1879 – 30 November 1923). Born in Pollockshaws on the outskirts of Glasgow. John was Britain’s only revolutionary communist.  The others of his era, Manny Shinwell, Willie Gallacher and the other leading lights of Red Clydeside were Parliamentarian Communists. Educated at Glasgow University where he obtained an MA. John spent most of his adult life teaching other adults in Glasgow and founded the Scottish Labour College. He was Britains first Bolshevik Consul, although not recognised by the Westminster Government. Imprisoned for his anti-war stance under the provisions of the Defence of the Realm Act (DORA) he went on hunger strike and was released after protests. In April 1918 he was again arrested. At the beginning of December 1918 he was released. An event commemorated in a song by Hamish Henderson.

“Hey Mac…

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21/6/1918 Austria-Hungary retreats across the Piave #1918Live

Austro-Hungarian forces have crossed the Piave river. They hoped to deal a crushing blow to the Italians but were unable to break out of their bridgeheads. The Austro-Hungarians had hoped to reinforce their men from the Asiago plateau and then renew the offensive, but Italian pressure there has made that impossible.

After a strong Italian counter-attack threatened to overrun the bridgeheads, the Austro-Hungarians bowed to the inevitable: Emperor Karl has ordered a withdrawal to the east bank of the Piave. Now Austro-Hungarian troops are retreating across the river, largely unmolested by the Italians who are themselves also exhausted by this round of fighting.

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Aftermath (Battaglia del Solstizio – La Ritirata: Gli Austro-Ungarici ripassano il Piave)

20/6/1918 Arthur Griffith wins East Cavan by-election from his English prison cell #1918Live

British plans to introduce conscription in Ireland have alienated wide swathes of opinion there. After a series of strikes and demonstrations against the measure, plus pledges by Irish women not to take the jobs of conscripted men, the British authorities have back pedalled on their plans and effectively abandoned plans to draft Irishmen. The successful resistance to the German offensives on the Western Front and the increasing numbers of US troops arriving in Europe have in any case reduced the need for Irish soldiers.

Nevertheless, Ireland remains tense. Sinn Féin leaders have been arrested by the British, accused of treacherous plotting in support of a German invasion of Ireland. One of these is Arthur Griffith, founder of the party but no longer its leader. Today he finds himself elected to the House of Commons in a by-election held in the East Cavan constituency, where the sitting MP had died. Griffith soundly defeats the candidate from the more moderate Irish Parliamentary Party, reversing a run of by-election defeats suffered by his party.

Sinn Féin’s policy is for its MPs to not take their seats in Westminster. The British authorities assist Griffith in this regard, preventing him from leaving Gloucester jail.

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poster (Fr Michael O’Flanagan, from Cliffoney to Crosna: Fr O’Flanagan’s Suppressed Speech, May 1918)

19/6/1918 Francesco Baracca’s last patrol over the Piave #1918Live

One factor aiding the Italians in the Piave fighting is their control of the air. The Italian air force dominates the skies, allowing them to provide accurate target observation to their artillerymen and preventing aerial observation the enemy. As a result Austro-Hungarian artillery meanwhile is largely firing blind, unable to target anything its spotters on the ground cannot themselves see.

Italian aircraft are also assisting their men in the ground by strafing enemy positions. One flier undertaking missions of this type is fighter pilot Francesco Baracca, who has shot down some 34 enemy aircraft since the war started. Like his German counterpart Manfred von Richthofen, Baracca is an aristocrat and he decorates his aeroplane with the prancing stallion found on his family’s coat of arms.

Today Baracca and a wingman are flying low over the Piave battlefield, strafing enemy positions in the Montello hill area. Baracca does not return from his mission. His cause of death is unclear: the Italians report him as having been brought down by ground fire but the Austro-Hungarians claim him as having been shot down by one of their aircraft.

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Francesco Baracca (Wikipedia)