25/11/1918 Germany’s last field army surrenders as Lettow-Vorbeck lays down his arms #1918Live

The Western Front armistice also obliged Lettow-Vorbeck‘s army in east Africa to lay down its arms. Lettow-Vorbeck had been unable to prevent much larger Allied forces from overrunning German East Africa but the Allies in turn have been unable to eliminate Lettow-Vorbeck’s force (which consists of mostly African troops (known as Askaris) led by European officers). Lettow-Vorbeck’s men have retreated into the interior of the colony, striking back against the Allies where they can but always retreating away from enemy forces strong enough to destroy them. Lettow-Vorbeck has also carried the war into enemy territory, launching raids into Portuguese Mozambique and more recently the British colony of Northern Rhodesia.

It is easy to romanticise Lettow-Vorbeck’s army as a plucky David taking on the Allied Goliath, but the reality is a bit less appealing. The Germans are supporting themselves by looting food from the local civilian population, so his army leaves famine and devastation in its wake. Ludwig Deppe, a doctor serving with Lettow-Vorbeck, ruefully notes: “We are no longer the agents of culture; our track is marked by death, plundering and evacuated villages, just like the progress of our own and enemy armies in the Thirty Years War”; hundreds of thousands of civilians may have died from famine and disease. The Allies meanwhile have press-ganged enormous numbers of African porters to support their armies, under-feeding them and bringing them to areas where they have no resistance to the local diseases, with the result that the porters have been dying at a higher rate than soldiers on the Western Front; at 45,000 men (soldiers and porters) killed, losses from British East Africa amount to some 12% of the adult male population.

While the armistice obliged Lettow-Vorbeck to surrender, there was the problem of how to let him know the war was over. Lettow-Vorbeck is completely cut off from Germany and has no radio with which to communicate with Berlin. However Lettow-Vorbeck learns of the armistice when an Allied dispatch is captured. Initially the Germans think that the war in Europe must have ended with German victory but gradually the harsh reality of defeat dawns on them. Finally today at Abercorn in Northern Rhodesia, Lettow-Vorbeck and his men surrender to the British. His army is now tiny, just 155 Germans, 1,168 Askaris and several thousand more porters. The German officers are allowed keep their swords and pistols pending transportation back to Europe.

Lettow-Vorbeck’s surrender, by an anonymous Tanzanian artist (Wikipedia: Paul von Lettow-Vorbeck)

Paul von Lettow-Vorbeck (Badass of the Week)

The war against German East Africa (Wikipedia: German East Africa)

25/11/1918 After 50 years, France recovers Strasbourg #1918Live

Since the Western Front armistice came into effect the Germans have been retreating and the Allies advancing to recover the lost territory. This leads to emotional scenes as places that have been under German occupation since the war’s start are now liberated. King Albert of Belgium returned to Brussels a few days ago, seeing his capital for the first time since 1914, and is greeted by cheering crowds. French troops today arrive in Strasbourg, capital of Alsace, which, like nearby Lorraine, was lost to France after the war of 1870. The return of the Tricolour to the streets of Strasbourg gives rise to more emotional scenes, but patriotic joy here may not be entirely universal, as one of the first acts of the French soldiers is to suppress a revolutionary council that had established itself in the town.

images:

The King and Queen of Belgium in Brussels (The Cross of Laeken: The King Returns to Brussels, 1918)

The French army returns to Strasbourg (The Blue Line – the Vosges Frontier from 1871 to 1914: The Kaiser’s Birthday, place Kléber, Strasbourg)

see also:

November 1918 in Alsace-Lorraine (Wikipedia)

Alsace-Lorraine (1914-1918 Online)

22/11/1918 Polish victory at Lemberg is followed by a pogrom against the city’s Jews

New states are emerging from the ruins of the defeated empires of central and eastern Europe. Unfortunately the intermingling of peoples and the lack of accepted borders is leading to conflict between these new entities. One site of strife is the former Austrian province of Galicia, claimed by the new Polish state but also claimed in part by the Ukrainians. The city of Lemberg (also known variously as Lviv, Lvov and Lwow) is the flashpoint of clashes between the Ukrainians and Poles. Ukrainian forces took over the city at the start of the month but the Poles have not taken this lying down. Local Polish forces held out in the western outskirts of the city and launched attacks towards the city centre. Piłsudski, the head of the provisional Polish government in Warsaw, has also sent troops to nearby Przemysl. Now at last the Poles drive the Ukrainian forces from the city.

Sadly the victory of the Poles does not mean that peace descends on Lemberg. Some of the Poles now turn on the city’s Jewish population, unleashing a vicious pogrom in which Jews are killed, beaten, raped and robbed.

imagess:

Orleta Eaglets defending the Łyczaków Cemetery during the Siege of Lwów, by Wojciech Kossak (Wikipedia: Battle of Lemberg)

Aftermath (Wikipedia)

21/11/1918 The German fleet sails into captivity

Under the terms of the armistice the German fleet is to be interned by the Allies. The U-boats have already sailed to Harwich in England and now today the German surface fleet sails to the Firth of Forth in Scotland, from there to travel on to the main British naval base at Scapa Flow in the Orkneys. Unlike the U-boats, whose crews were returned to Germany, the surface ships will retain their German crews while they are in Scapa Flow; although effectively under British confinement they will not be prisoners-of-war as such and the sailors will remain under their own command.
The German fleet sails under the command of Rear-Admiral Ludwig von Reuter; Admiral Hipper, the fleet’s commander-in-chief, delegated the distasteful task of leading the fleet into captivity. The German ships are escorted by the main British battle fleet, making this the largest gathering of warships the world has ever seen. The two fleets clashed just once at the inconclusive Battle of Jutland in 1916 but since then the British navy has grown further in size and now it is joined by French and American warships, meaning that the Allies now have 23 battleships to the Germans’ nine and nine battlecruisers to the Germans’ five. The whole exercise is a spectacular show of strength by the British, with the German fleet sailing between two lines of Allied ships, either of which would be a match for them.
The British fleet is commanded by Admiral David Beatty, who had commanded the battlecruisers at Jutland. His ships are prepared for any last minute tricks by the Germans: all guns are ready for action, with gun crews in place and ammunition ready to be loaded. But there is no need. The German navy knows it has been beaten and its sailors are not in the mood for suicidal gestures. Without a shot being fired the goal that eluded Beatty at Jutland is now being achieved: the neutralisation of the German fleet.
images:

HMS Cardiff leading the German ships (Wikipedia)

HMS Queen Elizabeth leads the 2nd British Battle Squadron; Diagram (BBC News: The day the entire German fleet surrendered)

The German fleet at sunset (Spitfires of the Sea (@seaspitfires) on Twitter)

See also fascinating Twitter thread from Spitfires of the Sea

18/11/1918 Meanwhile in Russia…

Peace is descending on Western Europe but in Russia the civil war between the Bolsheviks and their opponents continues. The terms of the Western Front armistice oblige the Germans to abandon the gains of the Brest-Litovsk treaty, so now German and Austro-Hungarian troops are withdrawing from Ukraine, forcing the client regime there to stand on its own two feet and face off a likely Red Army invasion. Meanwhile the Germans are also withdrawing from the Baltic states of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, where liberal nationalists are now establishing independent administrations.

The anti-Bolshevik forces within Russia itself hope that the armistice means that they will receive more assistance from the Allies, who have promised the Whites that Russian military stores captured by the Germans will be shipped to them; there is even talk of sending troops to occupy Ukraine. For now though the military situation remains confusing. Baron Wrangel is leading a White army in the northern Caucasus and is successfully clearing the Red Army and Bolsheviks from there. Elsewhere though the Red Army seems to be getting stronger and stronger and is no longer the ineffectual rabble it once was. The White are also suffering from the increased lack of interest by the Czechoslovak Legion in the Russian Civil War; the emerging independence of Czechoslovakia means that the Czechoslovaks do not see why they should remain in Russia any longer.

In southern Russia Denikin is the preeminent leader of White forces, particularly since the recent death by heart attack of Alexeev. In Siberia the situation is more complicated. The Komuch had attempted to establish a liberal and socialist regime but never attracted much popular support and increasingly became puppets of more reactionary military figures; the Komuch also finds itself consumed by infighting between different factions. Now the pretence of democracy is abandoned and a purely military regime is established under Alexander Kolchak, previously the commander of Russia’s Black Sea fleet.

image sources:

Pyotr Wrangel (Wikipedia)

Alexander Kolchak (Wikipedia)

13/11/1918 Constantinople occupied

In 1915 an Allied fleet attempted to sail through the Dardanelles and then on to Constantinople, thereby opening a naval trade route to Russia and perhaps knocking Turkey out of the war. That attempt failed, setting the stage for the disastrous Gallipoli campaign. At the armistice of Mudros however the Turks agreed to the occupation of their capital. Today an Allied fleet sails unmolested to Constantinople and lands troops in the Sublime Porte. This is the first enemy occupation of Constantinople since the Fall of Byzantium in 1453.

As a show of strength, Allied aeroplanes fly over Constantinople. Allied troops also parade through the city accompanied by marching bands, where they receive a warm welcome from the city’s Christian inhabitants.
One aim of the Allies is to bring to justice the perpetrators of Turkey’s campaign of extermination against the Armenians of Anatolia. Unfortunately Turkey’s leaders in the war and the main architects of this campaign, Enver, Talaat and Djemal, have all fled the country to Germany, so the Allies will only be able to deal with persons lower down the chain of command.

images:

Greek armoured cruiser in the Bosporous, by Likourgos Kogevinas (Wikipedia)

Allied troops in Constantinople, with Pera Palace Hotel in the background (Wikipedia)

11/11/1918 Celebrating the end of the fighting #1918Live

News of the armistice engenders a certain levity among the Allied commanders. Haig and his army commanders discuss the practicalities of continuing the advance into the German occupation zone and the problems of keeping the men usefully employed now that the fighting is over. But then men from a cinema company arrives to film the generals; as they pose for the camera they start playing tricks on each other like a bunch of schoolboys.
Pétain meanwhile marks the day by visiting a village theatre where soldiers and local civilians put on an impromptu performance. Pétain himself takes the stage to read the armistice communique to the delighted attendees.

In Mons, liberated just this morning, there is an outpouring of emotion as a Canadian army band plays the Belgian national anthem, previously banned by the German occupation authorities.

In Paris, after his meeting with Clemenceau, Foch retires to his apartment. Cheering crowds greet him but he is too exhausted after the final rush of the negotiations to join the celebrations. He sits alone smoking and thinking. The rest of the city gives itself over to a bacchanal. Paris explodes with tricolours and everywhere people are laughing, singing, embracing, and kissing. The conditions are perfect for the further transmission of the influenza.

image sources:

Haig and his generals

Paris celebrates (Le Blog Gallica: 11 novembre 1918 : Marthe Chenal chante l’arrêt des hostilités)

11/11/1918 Emperor Karl renounces power but without actually abdicating as his empire dissolves around him #1918Live

Austria-Hungary has made peace with the Allies. This effectively marks the end of the Habsburg Empire. Emperor Karl issues a statement renouncing power in Austria, but it is worded so carefully that it does not constitute an actual abdication. Karl continues to consider himself the rightful Emperor of Austria and King of Hungary.

Austria and Hungary are both going their separate ways, and both are being torn apart by the conflicting national aspirations of Czechoslovaks, Yugoslavs and Italians, as well as those of the German-Austrians and Hungarians themselves. Hungary also looks like it might be losing Transylvania, coveted by Romania. Romania was bludgeoned into submission by Germany earlier this year but now it has sprung back into life. Yesterday it declared war on Germany and today it invades the eastern Austrian province of Bukovina. Transylvania (inhabited both by Hungarians and Romanians) is surely next on its list.

11/11/1918 Italy’s returning prisoners receive a less than warm welcome #1918Live

It is a week since the armistice between Italy and Austria-Hungary came into effect. Since then the Italians have kept advancing into the occupation zone assigned to them by the armistice, which roughly corresponds to the territories promised to Italy by the Treaty of London. By now they have reached the Brenner Pass in the north and established an overland route to Trieste. Italian forces are also landing on the Dalmatian coast and offshore islands, to a less than warm reception from the Slav inhabitants.

Thanks to the confusion of the war’s last day, when Austria-Hungary stopped fighting 24 hours before the Italians, Italy now holds a vast number of Austro-Hungarian prisoners, with some 430,000 captured in the final day. These are being held in ramshackle conditions and are now dying in large numbers.

The Austro-Hungarians meanwhile are observing the terms of the armistice and have released their Italian prisoners. These were also being held in poor conditions. The food crisis in Austria-Hungary meant that their captors did not have much with which to feed them and the Italian government blocked the transfer of food parcels; as a result Italian prisoners suffered higher mortality rates than frontline combat units in the Italian army. The prisoners are relieved to finally return home, but their sufferings are not yet over. When they reach Italy they find themselves being held in internment camps, once more in poor conditions, where they are interrogated regarding the circumstances of their capture by the enemy. To the Italian authorities, surrendering is prima facie evidence of treason. There is even talk of shipping all the returning prisoners off to Libya.

11/11/1918 The guns stop firing, too late for some #1918Live

The Allied and German negotiators signed the armistice just after 5.00 am this morning but it does not come into effect until 11.00 am. As word spreads of the war’s imminent end fighting begins to trail off but before then fighting is surprisingly intense, with Allied troops either trying to capture symbolic targets or to secure advantageous positions in case the ceasefire breaks down and fighting is resumed. Canadian troops expend great efforts to liberate Mons, site of the first clash between British and German troops in 1914. By the time the guns stop firing it is in Canadian hands. American troops die taking the town of Stenay, apparently for no better reason than it has some excellent bathing facilities.

People keep dying right up until 11.00 am (and possibly beyond, as some isolated units only discover that the war is over after mid day). There are reports of Allied artillery pieces continuing to fire on the Germans until the very last moment, simply because doing so will save them the bother of bringing the un-used shells home.

There are a number of candidates for the last man killed. Near the Meuse river Augustin Trébuchon is bringing a message to frontline troops that hot soup will be served after the armistice comes into effect; then a bullet ends his life at 10.50 am. On the outskirts of Mons, Privates Arthur Goodmurphy and George Laurence Price are so far forward that news of the impending armistice has not reached them. Without orders, they move on further to investigate some abandoned houses. Then Price is shot and killed by a sniper at 10.58 am.

American troops taking part in the last stages of the Meuse-Argonne offensive are still fighting this morning but again, as news of the imminent armistice spreads they mostly choose to sit tight until the ceasefire. Private Henry Gunther has other ideas. Previously a sergeant, he was demoted after complaining to a friend in a letter about army conditions, advising him to avoid being drafted. Now he seizes a last chance for glory and makes a solo bayonet charge on a German machine-gun post. The Germans try to wave him away but he keeps coming and fires his gun before the machine guns cut him down, one minute before the armistice takes effect.

The last German deaths appear not to have been recorded. In total both sides suffer some 11,000 casualties today, of which roughly 2,700 are fatalities.

When the guns stop firing there does not appear to be much in the way of fraternisation between the two sides. There are reports of German soldiers waving towards their former enemies before beginning their long march home. Lieutenant Clair Groover of the US army is unusual in that he does meet a German today. A tearful German soldier approaches him, saying that his brother was killed yesterday. The German asks for permission to find and bury his brother’s body.

image sources:

map (New Zealand history: Armistice and occupation of Germany map)

Augustin Trébuchon’s grave (Wikipedia)

George Lawrence Price (Wikipedia)

Henry Gunther (Wikipedia)