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.


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)