28/4/1919 The Red Army strikes back against Kolchak’s Siberian Army

The Allies have been pursuing a contradictory policy towards Soviet Russia, never being entirely sure whether the Bolshevik regime is something they should seek to contain or overthrow, or whether they should accept that the Bolsheviks are not going away and instead seek some kind of accommodation with them. As a result Allied intervention forces have been landed in Russia, but forces too small to seriously contend with the Red Army. The Allies have also supplied arms to the White forces in the field against the Soviets, but never in very great quantities. And through all this they have been carrying out half-hearted attempts at negotiating with Lenin‘s representatives.

For all the efforts Trotsky has put into moulding the Red Army into an efficient fighting machine, it had looked as though the Whites might actually succeed in crushing the Bolsheviks. Admiral Kolchak‘s Siberian army successfully captured Perm at the end of last year. Earlier this month Kolchak launched a new offensive. His forces made impressive gains, helped by a peasant uprising taking place in the Red Army’s rear.

But today the Red Army launches a counterattack, led by Mikhail Frunze, formerly a Bolshevik agitator in Minsk and Moscow. Frunze’s blow shatters Kolchak’s forces. It becomes apparent that Kolchak’s army has overstretched itself and is unable to battle determined opposition. Moreover corruption and disorganisation in the Whites’ rear means that their army is badly supplied and equipped. And the Whites too face their own revolting peasants, angry at attempt to requisition food or pay for it in currency rendered worthless by runaway inflation.

In Paris, many had been hoping that Kolchak’s offensive would spell the end of the Bolsheviks. There was talk of formally recognising Kolchak’s regime as the government of Russia. Now though it is apparent there is no prospect of the Bolsheviks’ immediate collapse. Kolchak is not going to be solving the Allies’ Russian problem for them.


Soldiers of Kolchak’s army (Wikipedia)

Mikhail Frunze and his wife, Sophia (Wikipedia)

The Bolshevik counteroffensive (Wikipedia)

28/4/1919 Wilson’s dirty deal with Japan

President Wilson‘s great goal in Paris is the establishment of a League of Nations. His hope is that this international organisation will usher in a new age of peace by allowing nations to resolve their conflicts without recourse to war. The other Allies are also sympathetic to the idea of the League, with French leaders hoping that it will effectively provide them with security guarantees against a resurgent Germany.

As work on design of the League has progressed, Wilson has found himself facing a terrible conundrum. The Japanese delegates have indicated that they will be unable to sign the peace treaty if the League’s covenant does not include their proposed racial equality clause. Wilson knows that if the racial equality clause is included then the peace treaty will be rejected by the US Senate. However with Italy having walked out of the conference, he fears the consequences of Japan’s defection. Some deal with the Japanese must be found.

The racial equality clause is not Japan’s only demand. They are also looking for control of the Shantung peninsula in northeastern China. This was the site of the German naval base at Tsingtao, which Japanese forces captured at the start of the war. The problem is that the Chinese understandably want Shantung returned to them.

Opinion within the United States and elsewhere is very sympathetic to Chinese claims to Shantung. But Wilson is in a bind, feeling that he must give the Japanese Shantung in return for their withdrawal of the racial equality proposal. A tacit deal along these lines is struck.

Today at a plenary session of the conference the League’s covenant is adopted. Baron Makino of Japan barely mentions the racial equality proposal and expresses broad support for the covenant. It is at this point that the Chinese delegates begin to realise that they have been betrayed.

image sources:

Woodrow Wilson (Wikipedia)

Tsingtao and Shantung (Wikipedia: Kiautschou Bay concession)

27/4/1919 The revolution that wasn’t: the Limerick Soviet comes to an end

After an outbreak of serious unrest, the British authorities declared the Irish city of Limerick to be a special military zone, placing a cordon around it and preventing people from entering or leaving without permission. In response the city’s trade unions declared a general strike and took over the town’s administration, organising the distribution of food and issuing their own money. The strike coordination committee becomes known as the Limerick Soviet, leading some to wonder whether the revolutionary wave that has spread from Russia to Hungary and Bavaria has now arrived in Ireland.

Some indeed hope that the Limerick Soviet will pave the way for a general strike across Ireland and the seizure of power by the working classes. There is some support for a widening of the strike across Ireland within the labour movement. However the national leadership of the unions and of the Labour Party is more cautious, being more wedded to reformist rather than revolutionary strategies. They decline to back a national strike in support of Limerick.

In the face of this lack of support, the union leaders in Limerick today decide to call off their strike and instruct workers to return to work. Normality begins to return to the city. The army’s cordon remains in place, but the hope is that the British will respond to the Soviet’s demise by once more allowing free access to the city.


Map of Limerick showing the cordon (The Limerick Soviet: The Story of the Limerick Soviet, by D. R. O’Connor Lysaght)

27/4/1919 Czechoslovakia attacks! War on two fronts for Soviet Hungary

The Hungarian Soviet Republic has been invaded from the south by Romania. Now it finds itself battling the Czechoslovaks in the north. Like the Romanians, the Czechoslovaks claim that it is Hungary’s attempts at communist subversion in its territory that has obliged it to attack, but the real reason is territorial ambition: Prague wants to extend its border southwards and bring more Slovaks into Czechoslovakia.

Facing war on two fronts Béla Kun‘s communist regime now appeals to Hungarian patriotism and sets about raising an army to fight against the invaders.

Czechoslovak troops (Wikipedia: Hungarian–Czechoslovak War)

24/4/1919 Crisis in Paris at Italy walks out of the peace conference

Italy joined the Allies in 1915 after the secret Treaty of London promised it considerable territorial gains at the expense of Austria-Hungary: the South Tyrol and the Istrian peninsula, as well as territories along the Dalmatian coast and islands off it. Since then Italian appetites have grown, with Italian opinion now fixated on the need to add the port of Fiume to the spoils of victory.
Developments since the signing of the Treaty of London have not been kind to Italian ambitions. Although large numbers of Italians died in the war, the Italian contribution to the Allied war effort was largely ineffectual and is not seen as having played a major part in securing Allied victory. This makes the other Allies less keen on acceding to Rome’s lust for Adriatic expansion. The emergence of Yugoslavia and the rise of the United States as the leading Allied power have also created problems for Italy. President Wilson‘s ideas of national self-determination mean that it would now be problematic to transfer the Slavic peoples of Dalmatia from Yugoslavia to Italy. Fiume likewise is a bit of a conundrum, as the town centre has an Italian majority but the countryside around it is predominantly Slav.

Orlando, the Italian prime minister, is insistent that Italy must have everything it was promised, as well as Fiume. He rejects any compromise and refuses to accept a proposal whereby Fiume would become a free city. He intimates that Italy will decline to sign the peace treaty if its demands are not met.

Wilson and Lloyd George are increasingly exasperated with Orlando and what they see as Italy’s unrealistic demands. After a fraught meeting over Easter, Wilson decides to appeal directly to the Italian people. Lloyd George and Clemenceau express caution, but Wilson insists and takes out advertisements in the Italian press, warning the Italian public that their leaders are pursuing an unrealistic policy. Ties of kindred and geography require that Dalmatia and Fiume will have to be part of Yugoslavia.

The result in Italy is nationalist uproar. Opinion writers in the Italian press fall over themselves to denounce Wilson in terms that make him go white with anger. In the face of this maelstrom, a climbdown by Orlando is impossible. He instead announces to the other Allies that he is leaving the conference. Lloyd George laughs in his face when Orlando suggests that the conference will be unable to function without Italy. And then Orlando and Sonnino, his foreign minister, leave Paris and return to Rome.


Map of territories promised to Italy in 1915, as well as territories separately promised to Serbia (Wikipedia: Vittoria mutilata)

Vittorio Orlando (Wikipedia)

21/4/1919 Poland pushes the Red Army out of Vilnius

In January the Red Army forced the Poles to withdraw from Vilna. Since then Piłsudski, Poland’s military commander, has been determined to recover the city. After a series of engagements in which the Poles successfully deceive the Soviets as to their true objective, Polish cavalry race into the city, catching the Reds by surprise. Fighting continues for a few days but by today the city is securely in Polish hands. Unfortunately the victory is then marred by assaults on the city’s large Jewish population, who are believed by many Poles to be in league with the Soviets.

Piłsudski hopes that by occupying Vilna he will create a fait accompli and ensure that the city remains in Polish hands. But he is creating problems for Poland with its northern neighbour. Vilna is known as Vilnius by the Lithuanians, and they see it as the ancient capital of their newly emergent country. Its retention by Poland will poison relations between the two countries.


Map and Polish troops entering Vilna (Wikipedia: Vilna offensive)

17/4/1919 The domino stays upright: a failed communist coup in Vienna

Communist regimes are now in power in both Hungary and Bavaria, but both are embattled, with the Hungarian communists facing an invasion from Romania and their Bavarian comrades battling counter-revolutionaries loyal to the state’s parliamentary government. Between Bavaria and Hungary lies Austria. If Austria were to go communist then it would radically transform the fortunes of the communists in central Europe. Aside from providing a link between Leviné in Munich and Kun in Budapest, Austria also holds the arms caches of the former Austro-Hungarian army, which would greatly improve the military capabilities of communist Hungary and Bavaria. The Kun regime in Budapest has therefore done its best to promote communist revolution in its neighbour.

The Austrian communist party (the KPDÖ) has a sizeable enough following in Austria, but the Social Democrats are considerably more popular, with Karl Renner of that party leading the government. Nevertheless, Austrian communists today have a go at seizing power, with several hundred armed cadres today storming the parliament building in Vienna, hoping to precipitate the regime’s collapse.

Renner’s government responds decisively. Unlike their German counterparts, the Austrian Social Democrats do not call on the support of rightwing paramilitaries; instead they deploy their own party militia, the Volkswehr (People’s Guard). Together with the Viennese police the Volkswehr are able to suppress the communist uprising and maintain constitutional order. For now at least, communist Bavaria and Hungary will remain separated.


Map showing position of Austria between Hungary and Bavaria (History Answers – The Red Archduchess: The Hapsburg heir who murdered an actress & defied the Nazis)

16/4/1919 Romania strikes against communist Hungary

Béla Kun‘s communist regime in Hungary is moving the country in a radical direction. Socialisation of factories has been decreed, together with land reform and redistribution of property. Conservative opinion has been shocked the introduction of sex education and baths for children, as well as by plans to turn the country’s churches into cinemas. Kun’s government brooks no opposition, with clampdowns on independent political activity and rigid censorship for the media. The communists form a paramilitary militia under József Cserny to enforce revolutionary discipline; Cserny’s men become known as the Lenin Boys.

For now Kun appears to have the upper hand over the internal enemies of his regime. His hope is that a wave of revolution will spread communism across Europe. The formation of the Bavarian Soviet Republic is an encouraging sign, as indeed is the appearance of the Limerick Soviet in faraway Ireland. For now though Kun’s government is isolated, surrounded by countries led by reactionary leaders who desire the collapse of Soviet Hungary lest it tempt their own workers towards revolution. Worse, some of these have designs on Hungarian territory.

Now Romania strikes against Hungary. The Romanians had entered the war against Austria-Hungary in 1916; they hoped to conquer Transylvania but were instead crushed and forced to sign a humiliating peace treaty with the Germans. Now they are free to take up cudgels again and they launch another invasion of Hungary, claiming to be doing so in response to its communist propaganda. Like their fellow communists in Russia, Béla Kun’s government is now at war.


József Cserny and the Lenin Boys (Wikipedia: Lenin Boys)

Romania attacks (Wikipedia: Hungarian–Romanian War)

16/4/1919 Revolt of the Freikorps: German mercenaries seize power in Latvia

Germany’s defeat allowed Latvia to gain its independence, but soon after it found itself being invaded by the Red Army. In desperation the Latvians began to recruit German volunteers to form a mercenary army. The German volunteer units are known as Freikorps, like the volunteer militias busily suppressing ultra-leftism in Germany itself. The Latvian Freikorps are led by Rüdiger von der Goltz, who previously commanded the German intervention force during the Finnish Civil War.

Recruiting the Freikorps proves something of a faustian pact for the Latvians. The Germans are openly contemptuous of the Latvians they have supposedly come to save and are casually brutal to any they suspect of Bolshevik sympathies. And now they break completely free of control of the Latvians, with Goltz deposing the Latvian government and instead appointing Andreas Needra, a Lutheran pastor, to head a puppet regime. Goltz and his supporters hope to turn Latvia into a de facto German colony and to then use it to dominate the eastern Baltic.

image source:

Freikorps members in Latvia (Patrick Chovanec (@prchovanec) on Twitter)

Rüdiger von der Goltz (Wikipedia)

15/4/1919 The Limerick Soviet: dawn of an Irish socialist revolution?

Ireland is in an increasingly restive state. In Dublin through Dáil Éireann, the self-declared national parliament, Sinn Féin members are attempting create the trappings of an independent nation. Meanwhile a military campaign is building as members of the Irish Volunteers (now increasingly known as the Irish Republican Army) attempt to seize arms and carry out attacks on British forces. The political and military campaigns operate in tandem, with some of the leading Sinn Féin members also being involved in directing IRA operations.

Tensions are mounting in particular in Limerick. Here Robert Byrne, a local trade unionist and IRA organiser, has been arrested by the authorities. The IRA launch a daring attempt to free him but the mission goes awry: one of his would-be rescuers accidentally shoots and kills Byrne. The incident causes uproar, with many believing that Byrne has in fact been murdered by the police. The city sees an upsurge in demonstrations and protests against the authorities.

The British respond to the unrest by declaring martial law in Limerick, creating a cordon around it and blocking movement into or out of the city without permission. In response, the Limerick’s trade unionists declare a general strike. They also take over effective government of the city, issuing their own money and organising the distribution of food. The strike committee starts being referred to as the Limerick Soviet, a sign that perhaps Ireland too is about to follow Russia, Hungary and Bavaria down the road to socialist revolution.


British soldiers and a tank at a checkpoint into Limerick (Limerick Soviet 2019, @LimerickSoviet on Twitter)

Limerick Soviet promissory note (Libcom – Forgotten revolution: Limerick soviet, 1919, by Liam Cahill)