15/7/1918 Round Five: Ludendorff’s Peace Offensive #1918Live

Germany’s four offensives on the Western Front have failed to break the Allies. While both sides suffer enormous casualties, the Allies have been better able to replenish their ranks from new recruits and reinforcements from America. German losses have weakened the effectiveness of the elite stormtrooper units while morale generally has fallen as the offensives have failed to bring an end to the war.

Now Ludendorff rolls the dice one more time. The German commander still sees Flanders as the best location for a decisive battle but instead his men attack further south, on either side of Reims, in the Marne and Champagne sectors. He has assembled 43 infantry divisions for this assault, which has been dubbed both the Friedensturm (Peace Offensive) and Second Battle of the Marne. As with the previous assaults, this one begins with an intense artillery bombardment of the enemy, with the Germans having assembled some 5,000 guns for the purpose.

Then things start to go wrong for the Germans. The French are ready for the German assault, forewarned by deserters. As the German assault troops move up to the trenches from which they are to attack, they are hit by French artillery. This does not stop the German assault, but the French have learned from previous battles, organising a defence in depth that smothers the Germans, preventing them from achieving the kind of gains seen at the start of the previous battles. While some progress is achieved, there is no breakthrough. By the end of the day it looks disturbingly like the Peace Offensive has failed.

Western Front map (Wikipedia: Third Battle of the Aisne)

Offensive map (Wikipedia: Second Battle of the Marne)

9/7/1918 The dangerous folly of low level acrobatics #1918Live

James McCudden was one of the six British fighter pilots who brought down German ace Werner Voss over Ypres last year. Since then he has continued to notch up victories, with his tally to date amounting to 57 enemy planes brought down. His efforts have earned him the Victoria Cross, Britain’s highest award for gallantry. But for McCudden it is not enough. He is determined to surpass the 80 victories achieved by Germany’s Richthofen, the Red Baron, so he will have to kill some more.

It is not to be. Today he is on his way back to base after a period of leave in England. After flying across the Channel he stops at Auxi-le-Château for directions. Then he takes off but almost immediately he crashes, his engine stalling when he attempts a low level acrobatic manoeuvre. The fall fractures his skull and although he is rushed to a hospital he does not regain consciousness. He dies that evening, 23 years old.

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James McCudden, by William Orpen (Wikipedia)

7/7/1918 The Bolshevik regime secure once more as the Left SR uprising fizzles out #1918Live

The Left faction of the Socialist Revolutionaries (the Left SRs) used to be allies of the Bolsheviks but now they are enemies. After murdering Count Mirbach, the German ambassador, the Left SRs have taken up arms and are calling on the masses to overthrow the Bolsheviks as betrayers of the revolution. Yesterday the situation hung in the balance, with Bolshevik forces in Moscow heavily outnumbered by the Left SRs, who controlled most of the armed militia of the Cheka, the political police.

But now the Left SR rising is over. The masses have failed to rally to the Left SRs while the rebels failed to capitalise on their temporary advantage by storming the Kremlin and arresting the Bolshevik leaders. Instead the uprising runs out of steam, with the Bolsheviks managing to round up Maria Spiridonova and other Left SR leaders (who have conveniently all gone to attend a meeting of the Soviet Congress without any armed guards) and muster enough forces of their own to oblige the surrender of the rebellious Cheka units.

With the Left SRs defeated, the Bolsheviks are once more secure in Moscow. Left SR supporters can now be purged from the Cheka and other Soviet bodies. The reformed Cheka will then be free to ensure there is no fresh challenge from the Left SRs or other disgruntled parties on the left.

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Pro-Bolshevik troops guarding the Bolshoi Theatre (Wikipedia: Aufstand der Linken Sozialrevolutionäre)

6/7/1918 The Left SR uprising: a deadly threat to the Bolsheviks at the heart of their power

The Bolsheviks in Russia are embattled, with counter-revolutionary forces threatening their rule across the country. The Czechoslovak Legion provides a particularly potent threat, controlling the Trans-Siberian Railway; working in alliance with the Komuch government in Samara they threaten to bring an end to Bolshevik rule. Vladivostok has fallen to the Legion, which they now proclaim to be an Allied protectorate. The Allies begin to think of using the port to aid anti-Bolshevik forces in Russia, with the ultimate aim of bringing the country back into the war against Germany. President Wilson goes so far as to suggest that Japan could send forces to secure Vladivostok, allowing the Czechoslovaks to redeploy further to the west.

But the Bolsheviks face other threats further to home. When the Bolsheviks seized power last November, they did so in alliance with the left faction of the Socialist Revolutionary Party (the Left SRs). However the Left SRs were not supportive of the Brest-Litovsk peace treaty with Germany, seeing it as a betrayal of the revolution. Left SR commissars resigned from Sovnarkom, the Soviet government, but the party remained broadly supportive of the soviet regime, a kind of loyal opposition. Since then they have become increasingly disenchanted by the Bolsheviks’ authoritarianism and their perception that the country is being transformed into a German client state.

Now the Left SRs decide to act. One of their activists assassinates Count Mirbach, the German ambassador, an act of propaganda by deed intended to ignite a general uprising of the masses against the Bolsheviks. When Dzerzhinsky, Lenin’s head of the Cheka (the political police), tries to arrest the murderers he is himself arrested: most members of the Cheka in Moscow are in fact loyal to the Left SRs rather than the Bolsheviks.

The Germans are understandably furious at the murder of their ambassador. Lenin is summoned to the German embassy where he issues a grovelling apology. His situation is now desperate. The Left SRs have far more armed men in the capital than he does: if they press their advantage the Bolshevik regime could find itself decapitated.

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Wilhelm von Mirbach (Wikipedia)

4/7/1918 Hamel: a local victory for the Australians and a worrying portent for the Germans

Ludendorff is preparing for his next offensive on the Western Front, the Friedensturm that will perhaps finally bring the Allies to their knees. The Allies though are becoming more confident that the worst of the German storm has passed, wondering if it might soon be time for them to go on the offensive against the Germans. In the meantime. Australian forces (supported by British tanks and aircraft as well as a small contingent of US troops) launch a local attack at Hamel, near Amiens. The aim is to clear a German salient and to prepare the way for a possible larger counteroffensive here.

For the Allies the attack at Hamel goes very well. In just 90 minutes the Australians achieve their objectives, capturing a large number of German prisoners. The attack shows that the Allies are continuing to refine the combined arms tactics that they used to great effect at the first stage of the Battle of Cambrai, a worrying sign for the Germans should they lose the initiative on the Western Front.
Battle of Hamel  - German POWs gathered near Corbie, 4th July 1918 (detail view)

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German prisoners taken at Hamel (Flickr, Baz: Battle of Hamel , July 1918)

3/7/1918 The death of Mehmed V of Turkey #1918Live

Today sees the death of 73 year old Mehmed V, Sultan of the Ottoman Empire and to true Muslims the Caliph, successor of the Prophet. Mehmed’s reign recalls that of Austria-Hungary’s Franz Josef (who died in 1916), in that both men have seen decline of their empires to shadows of their former selves. In Franz Josef’s case the decline took place over the long decades of his rule, but Mehmed was unfortunate enough to see his empire wrecked in the nine years since he ascended the throne in 1909. In these short years the Turkish Empire has lost its North African territories and the Dodecanese in the Italo-Turkish war and almost all of European Turkey in the First Balkan War. Following these disasters effective power in Turkey fell to the so-called Three Pashas, Enver, Talaat and Djemal.

Since Turkey’s entry into the current war the British have driven Turkish forces from Mesopotamia and southern Palestine. Only in the Caucasus do Turkish fortunes appear to be in the ascendant, with Enver taking advantage of Russia’s turmoil to recapture territories lost there in previous wars. Mehmed’s only real part in the current war was to declare a Jihad , calling on all Muslims to wage holy war against the infidel Allies; this appears to have had little effect, with many Arab Muslims instead choosing to support Sharif Hussein of Mecca and his Arab Revolt.

Like Franz Josef, Mehmed is perhaps fortunate to die when he does. The war is not over yet, but Turkey’s position is now looking extremely precarious. Ottoman fortunes are so tied to Germany’s that if, as now appears likely, the German offensives on the Western Front fail to win victory then Turkey will follow the Germans to defeat. That will most likely mean the effective end of the Ottoman Empire. Mehmed V is spared the ignominy of being the last Sultan. That honour may fall to his half-brother, who now ascends to the Sultanate as Mehmed VI.

image source (Wikipedia)

3/7/1918 “Wholesale jollification”: Lettow-Vorbeck’s victory at Nhamacurra #1918Live

The outcome of this war will most likely be decided on the Western Front, where the bulk of German and Allied forces are deployed. But there are other fields of battle, and one of these is East Africa, where Lettow-Vorbeck has commanded German forces since the beginning of the war. His plan remains to keep his army in being, tying down as many Allied troops as possible and preventing their transfer to Europe. The forces ranged against him are overwhelming but Lettow-Vorbeck remains at large, his army (European officers and locally recruited Askaris) continuing to evade resist Germany’s enemies.

Lettow-Vorbeck has been unable to prevent the Allies from overrunning German East Africa. He has retreated into the Portuguese colony of Mozambique where his army is living off the land, often leaving starvation in its wake but also provoking native rebellions against their colonial masters. British Empire forces under South Africa’s Deventer and Portuguese army units seem powerless to stop Lettow-Vorbeck’s march; Deventer in particular is increasingly disdainful of the efforts of his Portuguese allies. He sees their troops as next to useless, an actual liability in combat against the Germans.

Fighting over the last few days at Nhamacurra, near the port of Quelimane, both accords with and runs counter to Deventer’s poor opinion of his allies. When Lettow-Vorbeck attacked the Portuguese here many of them quickly surrendered. However others, supported by a contingent of British Askaris, put up a stout resistance until they were eventually overwhelmed.

The vicotry at Nhamacurra is a godsend to Lettow-Vorbeck. As well as continuing to burnish his reputation for invincibility, his men have also captured the supplies of their enemies: stores of arms and ammunition and an enormous quantity of both food and quinine, the drug that protects his European officers from the ravages of malaria. The Germans also discover a large quantity of Portuguese wine and other alcohol, which leads to what Lettow-Vorbeck describes as “a wholesale jollification”, a surrender to drunkenness enjoyed by both his African and European troops.

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German standard bearer (Africans and West Indians at War: German African Soldiers)

map (Wikipedia: Battle of Ngomano)