30/5/1919 Admiral Horthy: the new leader of Hungary’s conservatives

Soviet Hungary has been invaded by Romania and Czechoslovakia. However the Hungarian Reds have thrown together an army and defeated the Czechoslovaks, making it look as though the invaders are not about to overthrow Kun‘s communist regime. Instead the internal enemies of the Communists make their own preparations to strike back the revolution. In Szeged, currently occupied by French troops, conservatives meet to form a counter-revolutionary army to take on the Communists. The new army’s leader is Admiral Horthy, the wartime commander of the Austro-Hungarian navy. Like the White armies in Russia or the German Freikorps, Horthy’s army attracts many former officers of the old regime, as well as men from the borderlands that have been lost to Romania and other neighbouring countries. They prepare to wage war on the urban communists of Red Budapest.

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Admiral Horthy (Wikipedia)

New recruits for Horthy’s army
(Magyar Elektronikus Könyvtár: Hadsereg és katonapolitika 1919–1940 között (Hungarian Electronic Library: Army and military policy between 1919 and 1940)

26/5/1919 Broad decisions in Paris on Italy’s territorial gains

Italian leaders flounced out of the Paris Conference in protest at the lack of respect being shown to their ambitions by the other Allies. Since then Prime Minster Orlando and Sonnino, his foreign minister, have slunk back, hoping to extract whatever they can from the conference.

Italy’s problem is that the world has changed since Britain and France made lavish promises to lure the country into the war against Austria-Hungary. In the secret Treaty of London, Italy was offered not just favourable adjustments of its land border, but also extensive Adriatic territories, both offshore islands and points along the Dalmatian coast. Unfortunately the rise of Wilson and his new-fangled ideas of national self-determination make the Allies less inclined to grant the Slav-inhabited Dalmatian territories to Italy, with the newly emergent state of Yugoslavia the more natural home for these peoples. Italian claims have also not been helped by the poor performance of Italian arms during the war, with the Italian war effort seeming to the other Allies to have been almost more of a hindrance than a help to their eventual victory.

Growing Italian ambitions have caused them to set their sights on the city of Fiume, not originally promised in 1915 but now a focus of nationalist attention in Italy. In Paris Orlando offers to rescind Italy’s claims to Fiume in return for full implementation of the Treaty of London, but the other Allies are not having it. Instead the shape of a solution begins to emerge. Fiume will be a free city, with a plebiscite to be held after 15 years to determine its final status. Italy’s borders will advance to bring the Trentino, the south Tyrol, Trieste and the Istrian peninsula under Rome’s control, but the Dalmatian coast and islands will remain with Yugoslavia. Italy’s population will increase by around 1,400,000 people, but less than half of these will be ethnic Italians (the rest are Slovenes, German-Austrians and Croats). Italy’s inflated appetites unfortunately mean that this imperial expansion will still be seen by many of its people as a betrayal by the Allies.

22/5/1919 Riga falls to the Freikorps

German Freikorps volunteer units came to Latvia ostensibly to save the country from invasion by the Red Army. Since then however they have seized power in the country, with Freikorps commander Goltz ruling through a puppet government. The Germans have continued to push back the Soviets and today they evict them from Riga, Latvia’s capital.

Before the war Riga was an important industrial and commercial centre and had a substantial community of ethnic Germans. The intervening years have not been kind to it, with industrial activity having collapsed and the city having lost half its population. Nevertheless, to the Freikorps its capture is a triumph, calling to mind its previous seizure by the German army in 1917, when it still looked like Germany might win the wider war.

The fighting for Riga is however quite brutal. The Freikorps are incensed by the resistance they are offered by Soviet irregulars, particularly those they dub Flintenweiber: young rifle-armed women who snipe at the German troops. The Freikorps launch an orgy of violence against real or suspected Flintenweiber and communist sympathisers.

With Riga now secure the ambitions of the Freikorps are growing. Goltz begins preparations for an invasion of Estonia, intent on expanding his Baltic empire.

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Freikorps officers before the attack on Riga (Wikipedia)

Map of (confusing) Baltic situation following fall of Riga (Pygmy Wars: Latvia 1919)

20/5/1919 Communist Hungary strikes back against Czechoslovakia

The Bavarian Soviet Republic has been overthrown by Freikorps volunteers and troops loyal to the state’s parliamentary government. Communist Hungary meanwhile is facing invasion from both Romania and Czechoslovakia, but Béla Kun‘s regime in Budapest is proving more resilient than that of Leviné in Munich. Kun’s government has successfully appealed to Hungarian patriotism, with the result that volunteers are flocking to join the Hungarian army. And the Hungarian communists are able to purchase arms from Italy, whose leaders support a strong Hungary as a counterweight to Italy’s enemy, Yugoslavia. There are also rumours that the Italians have supplied Hungary with Czechoslovak battle plans, which would be easy enough for them to do as one of the Czechoslovak armies is commanded by Italian officers.

Now the Hungarians are sufficiently emboldened to go on the offensive. They strike back against the Czechoslovaks, separating them from Romanian forces and pushing them back across the border. With one enemy defeated, the Hungarians may now be able to unleash their forces on the Romanians.

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Revolutionary Hungarian sailors (Wikipedia: Revolutions and interventions in Hungary, 1918–20)

19/5/1919 Rising nationalist sentiment in Turkey

The Greek landing at Smyrna has caused disquiet in Turkey. Following on from Italian landings elsewhere and indications that the Allies are planning to create independent Armenian and Kurd states, the occupation of Smyrna has led to fears that the Allies are intent on completely dismembering Turkey, not just detaching it from its empire in the Middle East. As a result, nationalist sentiment is now building throughout the country. This has led to the authorities in Constantinople halting the trials of those accused of massacring Armenians during the war.

Although Turkey was soundly defeated in the recent war, some are preparing to take up arms once more in defence of their country. One of these is General Mustafa Kemal, who became a national hero following his actions in the Gallipoli campaign. The Turkish government has sent Kemal to the Anatolian interior to oversee the demobilisation of Turkish forces in line with Allied demands. However, when he arrives today in Samsun he begins to make contact with other disaffected army officers, seeking out those who are willing to join him in a struggle for Turkish independence, even if it means pitting themselves against the Ottoman Sultan in occupied Constantinople.

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Mustafa Kemal arrives in Samsun (Sabah: Bandırma Vapuru)

15/5/1919 Greek troops land in Smyrna

Without authorisation from the Paris Conference, Italian forces have landed in the Turkish city of Antalya, using it as a base to occupy Bodrum and Marmaris. They are also rumoured to be thinking of landing in Smyrna.

Smyrna has large Greek-speaking population. Venizelos, the Greek prime minister, is close to Britain’s Lloyd George and has been making the case for its cession to Greece. He talks of attacks on Greeks in Smyrna’s vicinity by the Turks and cites the natural affinity with his country of the city’s Greek population.

The Americans are not generally supportive of Turkey being carved up among the Allies, but Lloyd George is very insistent that Smyrna should go to Greece. In the end, Wilson agrees, if only to prevent the troublesome Italians from occupying the port. The Allies authorise a Greek landing in Smyrna, over the objections of Henry Wilson, the British army’s chief of staff, who warns that they may be starting another war whose outcome is uncertain.

Greek troops land in Smyrna today. They receive a warm welcome from the city’s Greek citizens. Initially there is something of a carnival atmosphere, but as the day wears on the mood turns ugly. Some Turkish troops are beaten to death when they try to surrender. Inter-communal rioting breaks out and the town descends into an orgy of violence and looting, with disorder quickly spreading into the countryside around the city.

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Greek troops in Smyrna (Wikipedia: Turkish War of Independence)

14/5/1919 Germany mulls the Allies’ unsavoury peace terms

The Allies have presented their peace terms to the German delegation at Versailles. They have in turn communicated the terms back to their government in Berlin, where their perceived harshness causes consternation. The loss of territory, the crippling reparations and the identifying of Germany as being responsible for starting the war all being very upsetting. True, the peace terms are much less harsh than those the Germans imposed on Russia at Brest-Litovsk or Romania at the Treaty of Bucharest. However, those treaties were the diktats of authoritarian Germany; since then Germany has undergone a democratic transformation and its leaders had believed President Wilson‘s promises that the peace would be guided by his liberal principles, only now apparently to have their faith shattered.

Scheidemann, Germany’s Chancellor, denounces the peace terms. There is talk of rejecting them, but doing so would mean having to restart the war. The German army was on the brink of collapse when the armistice was signed in November 1918 and its situation is worse now, after its demobilisation and the transfer of heavy equipment required by the armistice. But some think nevertheless that honour requires that Germany reject the peace and launch a desperate battle for national survival.

Brockdorff-Rantzau, the foreign minister, is one of the leading proponents of rejection, even if it means that Germany will be invaded. The advocates of resistance believe that they will be able to hold out in eastern Germany even if the west of the country comes under foreign occupation. It falls to Groener, the army’s quartermaster-general, to dismiss such fantasies. He makes clear to Ebert and Scheidemann that the German army would be unable to mount effective resistance to the Allies. Any attempt to renew the war would lead to Germany’s occupation, dismemberment, and ultimately “the total capitulation of the German people”. The Germans may not like the peace terms, but they will have to go along with them.

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Wilhelm Groener (Wikipedia: Ebert–Groener pact)

13/5/1919 Knocklong: an IRA man rescued

Knocklong Railyway Station
The British authorities in Ireland have been keen to apprehend those responsible for the Soloheadbeg ambush in January, which saw two policemen killed by members of the Irish Republican Army. Substantial rewards have been offered for the capture of the rebels, who as a result have spent the last few months on the run, staying with Republican sympathisers and seldom spending more than one night in the same place.

After attending a dance near Clonoulty, Seán Hogan, one of the ambushers, was captured yesterday by members of the Royal Irish Constabulary (the RIC). His comrades resolved to free him. Today at Knocklong station they strike, boarding a train in which Hogan is being guarded by four RIC men while on his way to Cork. In the fracas that follows, Hogan is freed, but two of the RIC men are killed. Dan Breen and Sean Treacy, both veterans of the Soloheadbeg ambush, are injured, but they will survive to fight again.

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Knocklong Railway Station (Burns Library, Boston College, on Flickr)

Seán Hogan (Wikipedia)

12/5/1919 Bad news for the Sudeten Germans as the Allies agree Czechoslovakia’s borders with Germany and Austria

The German peace treaty is the main preoccupation of the Paris Conference, but it is still managing to find time to settle other matters. One of these is the problematic question of the border between the newly emergent state of Czechoslovakia and the rump Austria left behind by the breakup of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. The difficulty here is that large numbers of German speakers live in the territories claimed by Czechoslovakia. These people, known as the Sudeten Germans, do not want to be part of a Slavic country and instead wish to be incorporated into either Germany or Austria. They mostly live along the borders with these two countries, so the Czechoslovak border could be redrawn to their benefit, which would accord with Wilson‘s ideas of national self-determination. However, a border of that kind would leave Czechoslovakia vulnerable to invasion from its neighbours.

The Czechoslovaks offer various concessions to the Sudeten Germans, offering them considerable linguistic and cultural autonomy. Germany itself is unwilling to take up their cause: Brockdorff-Rantzau, the German foreign minister, makes clear that while he is sympathetic to the Sudeten Germans, he is not going to complicate negotiations with the Allies by making demands on behalf of people who have, after all, never been part of Germany proper. Austria, meanwhile, is unstable, its leaders fearful that it may be on the brink of a communist revolt; they too are in no position to press the case of the Sudeten Germans.

In Paris therefore there is no one to state the Sudeten Germans’ case. The Allies decide that they are not going to give more territory to either of defeated Germany or Austria, so they decide that Czechoslovakia should inherit the pre-existing borders of Bohemia and Moravia. The Sudeten Germans will have to learn to live within Czechoslovakia.

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Germans in western Austria-Hungary (Kiddle: Sudetenland facts for kids)

7/5/1919 Enter the Germans: the Allies present the peace terms to the German delegation


A German delegation has arrived in Versailles to receive the peace terms the Allies have prepared for them. The Germans are headed by Count Ulrich von Brockdorff-Rantzau, formerly a career diplomat and now Germany’s foreign minister. For the last few days the Germans have been waiting in the Hôtel des Réservoirs in Versailles, their hotel surrounded by a stockade, allegedly for their own protection (leading to complaints from the Germans that they are being treated “like the inhabitants of a Negro village at an exposition”).

Today the Germans are summoned to Versailles’ Trianon Palace Hotel to formally receive the terms. Clemenceau outlines what defeated Germany will have to accept. Germany is to lose all its colonies. Alsace and Lorraine will be returned to France. The Allies will continue their occupation of the Rhineland for at least fifteen years, after which the region will be permanently demilitarised. Belgium will gain territory at Germany’s expense. Danzig will become a free city. Poland will also gain territory at German expense, including a corridor to the sea that cuts off East Prussia from the rest of the country.

The terms also oblige Germany to maintain only a small, volunteer army, intended only to assist with the maintenance of internal order and lacking heavy artillery, tanks, aircraft and other modern weapons. Germany will also lose its fleet and is prohibited from building new battleships or submarines. Moreover, the Germans will have to pay enormous sums in reparation to the Allies, to compensate them for the injuries they have suffered in the war. The peace terms specifically state that Germany was responsible for starting the war, with this guilt being the basis on which the Allies are demanding reparations.

In his reply, Brockdorff-Rantzau is defiant. He argues that the treaty effectively eliminates German sovereignty and warns that this kind of dictated peace can only sow the seeds of future conflict. His tone and his aristocratic bearing unfortunately create an extremely bad impression on the Allies.

The Germans then retire to their hotel to study the peace terms in detail. They have two weeks in which to furnish their reply.

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Ulrich von Brockdorff-Rantzau (Wikipedia)