29/7/1918 Trotsky drafts the Tsar’s officers #1918Live

The military situation for the Bolsheviks is grim. The Czechoslovak Legion, allied to the anti-Bolshevik Komuch government in Samara appears to be unstoppable. Simbirsk in the Volga region has fallen to them, a target of symbolic importance as it is the birthplace of Lenin. Ekaterinburg too is now in their hands, falling to the Czechoslovaks a week after the Bolsheviks there had killed the Tsar and his family; the Czechoslovaks find no trace of the dead royals although a British officer serving with them manages to rescue Joy, the Tsarevich‘s pet dog, the only survivor of the executions.

Desperate times require desperate measures. Trotsky, the war commissar, has already shocked socialist sensibilities by seeking to recruit former Tsarist officers into the Red Army. Now he goes further, ordering the mass conscription of all former officers in the hope of professionalising the Red Army’s officer corps. To avoid leftist opposition to this measure he abolishes the Red Army’s soldiers’ committees.

For those Tsarist officers who find themselves in the zone controlled by the Bolsheviks, the choice is now simple: either they join the Red Army and take up arms against their former comrades now serving with Denikin and Alexeev, or they face imprisonment and other reprisals at the hands of the Bolsheviks. Further encouraging them into the Red Army’s ranks is the fact that many of these former officers are now effectively destitute as a result of the revolution. With no real choice they join the Red Army in large numbers, to the dismay of those who see their presence as symbolising a betrayal of revolutionary principles.

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Joy the Spaniel (Maja the Most Happy: the Fate of Joy)

26/7/1918 The last flight of Mick Mannock, Britain’s highest scoring fighter ace

Irish born Edward Mannock is the highest scoring British fighter pilot, credited with 60 enemy aircraft brought down since his flying career began in March last year. Known as Mick, he had previously served with James McCudden and was shocked by his accidental death. Mannock has flown against the Germans during many battles on the Western Front, including the Third Battle of Ypres last year and Operation Michael, the first phase of this year’s German offensives.

Mannock returned to England on leave in June, with some members of his family noting that he appeared to be under a great deal of nervous strain. On his return to France he took command of the RAF’s 85th Squadron. He introduced new tactics to his men, encouraging the pilots to fight together as a team rather than as individuals.

A week ago at a social function Mannock advised a fellow pilot to never fly low to observe a crashed enemy. Today though he breaks his own rule and pays the price. While patrolling in northern France, Mannock brings down a German aircraft, killing both members of his crew. He then inexplicably dives low to observe the wreckage before setting a course back towards his base. Unfortunately as he crosses the German lines at low altitude his aircraft is hit by intense fire from the ground and bursts into flames. The aircraft crashes behind German lines. Mannock’s body is apparently found some distance away, having been thrown clear or perhaps because he jumped to avoid immolation.

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The last photograph of Mick Mannock, taken in the summer of 1918 by a French farmer (samoyeddogs: Mick Mannock Veteran Page)

Major “Micky” Mannock (Acepilots: Edward “Mick” Mannock)

24/7/1918 Foch meets the Allied commanders, calls for them to go on the attack #1918Live

On the Western Front the tide appears to be turning in favour of the Allies. The German Marne-Champagne offensive has failed and now a French-led counter-attack is recapturing lost ground in the Marne sector. Meanwhile the balance of forces is becoming ever more favourable to the Allies as thousands of US troops continue to arrive in France every day while tanks and aircraft pour out of British and French factories.

Today Allied military leaders meet at Bombon, the headquarters of Foch, the Western Front generalissimo. Foch and Weygand, his chief of staff, greet Haig, Pétain and Pershing, the three Allied commanders. Weygand and Foch argue that the time has come for the Allies to go on the offensive, proposing a rolling series of assaults to push the Germans away from vital railway lines and pave the way for eventual Allied victory.

Haig and Pétain are both wary, fearing that their armies need to lick their wounds further before they can launch major offensives against the enemy. Pershing meanwhile is more keen to attack, but he remains insistent that American units must fight independently and not be incorporated into British or French armies (he had only with reluctance supplied US troops to support the French counterattack on the Marne).

Foch and Weygand are unable for now to bend Haig and Pétain to their will, but they manage to avoid a complete rejection of their proposals. Instead the Allied commanders will bring them to their own staff officers and issue a more considered reply in coming days. Foch remains confident that his fellow commanders will come round to his way of thinking. Soon the Allies will attack and seize the initiative permanently from the enemy.

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Philippe Pétain, Douglas Haig, Ferdinand Foch, & John Pershing (Wikipedia Commons)

Map (1 is the Marne counterattack currently underway) (The Long, Long Trail: The Battles of the Marne, 1918)

22/7/1918 Ludendorff shaken as French troops advance across the Marne #1918Live

French troops, supported by Americans (as well as British and Italian contingents), are counterattacking on the Marne. The Germans have been forced to abandon their own Marne-Champagne offensive and are now being pushed backwards, forced to gradually yield some of the gains of their earlier Blücher-Yorck battle. The French have now crossed the Marne and are continuing to move forward, though their advance has slowed somewhat thanks to their own exhaustion and the broken nature of the ground.

The Germans appear to be suffering something of a morale crisis. The spring offensives, starting with Operation Michael in March, were meant to bring victory but instead they have led to ever-lengthening casualty lists. With the Allies now striking back the promises of victory seem hollow. The crisis in morale manifests in incidents of units surrendering to the Allies and in disorder behind the lines. Nevertheless, most German units are continuing to resist the Allied advance; for the French this is no victory parade.

The failure of his Marne-Champagne offensive and the successful French counterattack has shaken Ludendorff, Germany’s Quartermaster-General and effective dictator. However he is still hoping that one more German offensive will bring about the final defeat of the Allies. For some time now he has been planning an offensive in Flanders, codenamed Hagen, which is meant to drive the British into the sea and force the French to surrender. His southern offensives (Blücher-Yorck, Gneisenau and the Friedensturm) were meant to be diversionary preludes to the final battle in Flanders. Now his attention turns back to the north and the war-winning offensive he intends to launch there. But with his army broken and the Allies in the ascendant, Ludendorff’s dreams of victory now look delusional.

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French machine-gunnners in a ruined church (Wikipedia: Bataille de la Marne (1918))

US propaganda poster showing African American troops of the US 369th infantry regiment (Wikipedia: 369th Infantry Regiment)

18/7/1918 2nd Marne: the French strike back #1918Live

The Germans launched the fifth phase of their offensives three days ago, attacking in the Marne and Champagne sectors to the east and west of Reims. Progress has been poor, achieving nothing like the initial successes of the previous assaults.

Now the Allies strike back. A strong French force bolstered by American reinforcements attacks the German salient on the Marne. In a break with Western Front tradition, there is no preliminary bombardment; instead a rolling barrage opens up just as the Allied troops move forward. Supported by several hundred of the new Renault tanks the French make great progress against the Germans, who have been taken by surprise and are manning only weakly fortified positions

The French attack forces the final abandonment of the German offensive, which Ludendorff had rashly dubbed the Peace Offensive in an attempt to persuade German troops that this was the last battle before the war’s victorious end. Now the Germans are losing the initiative. Ludendorff’s attempt to win the war before the Allies collected their strength appears to have failed. Unless he can pull one more rabbit out of the hat it looks like German defeat is now inevitable.

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map (1918: La Deuxiéme Bataille de la Marne)

French tanks and soldiers advance (Herodote.net: 15 juillet 1918 – L’Allemagne joue son va-tout en Champagne)

17/7/1918 The Tsar and his family killed #1918Live

Since the end of April the former Tsar has been imprisoned by the Bolsheviks in Ekaterinburg. At first he and his wife were held there alone, in the ominously named House of Special Designation, but they were subsequently joined by their five children.

The Bolsheviks have had difficulty deciding what to do with the Tsar. Trotsky favoured a show trial, relishing the prospect of leading the prosecution. But other Bolshevik leaders were less enthusiastic; the Tsar remained imprisoned while his captors dithered.

Then events force a decision. The Czechoslovak Legion is expanding its area of control and now has Ekaterinburg surrounded. With the town likely to fall, the Bolsheviks fear that the Tsar will become a focal point of counter-revolutionary resistance. To prevent this, orders are sent from Moscow (possibly by Lenin himself) to kill the Ekaterinburg prisoners.

In the early hours of the morning, the Tsar, the former Tsarina, their four daughters, their haemophiliac son Alexei, and their last four retainers are herded into the basement of their prison, ostensibly because they are about to be transported to a more secure location. But then armed men burst into the cellar and Yurovsky, the chief jailer, reads out the execution order. The Tsar is confused and asks him to repeat it, which he does. Then the execution squad opens fire.
It somehow takes the squad more than 20 minutes to kill all their victims, with some having to be finished off by bayonet, but at the end of that time the former royals and their retainers are all dead. The only surviver is Joy, Alexei’s pet spaniel.

The bodies are then taken away to be buried in secret.

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The House of Special Designation (Wikipedia: Execution of the Romanov family)

The killing of the Romanovs (La República: El centenario de la revolución rusa pasa inadvertido en Rusia)

17/7/1918 The sinking of the Carpathia #1918Live

In 1912 the Carpathia was sailing from New York to Fiume in the Adriatic when a wireless message alerted its crew to the shocking news that the Titanic had hit an iceberg and was sinking. The Carpathia raced to the scene and rescued the 700 survivors of the disaster.

Today the Carpathia meets its own doom. Germany’s U-boat campaign has failed to bring Britain to its knees but the German submarines are continuing to attack Allied shipping. In response the British have arranged for ships to travel in convoys, so that they can be better protected by naval vessels. However travelling in a convoy does not make a ship invulnerable to attack, as the Carpathia discovers today when it is torpedoed by the U-55 while sailing from Britain to the United States. The ship sinks in under two hours.

Unlike the Titanic, the Carpathia has an adequate number of lifeboats for the passengers and crew it is carrying. Almost all of these survive the sinking.

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The Carpathia sinks (Wikipedia)