23/5/1917 Unrest in Italy as attacks continue on the Isonzo

The Tenth Battle of the Isonzo continues. Cadorna had lowered the tempo of his men’s attacks on the Carso Plateau to focus on attacks on the more mountainous terrain around Gorizia to the north. Fighting there has become positional, with both sides taking and retaking hilltop positions and suffering heavy casualties while they do so.

Now Cadorna turns his attentions back to the Carso. Italian artillery blasts the Austro-Hungarians with a terrible intensity, though with much of the artillery still deployed around Gorizia the bombardment is not quite as intense as it could be. Still, the hope is that when the infantry attack tomorrow they will have better luck than in their advance at the start of the battle.

On the Italian home front meanwhile the strain is beginning to show. A wave of unrest sweeps across the country, particularly strongly in Milan. The authorities respond harshly, deploying troops to restore order in Milan and to crush leftist trouble-makers there. Some 50 people are killed and 800 arrested.

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Italian position, Mont San Gabriele (Rainer Regiment)

21/5/1917 A minor success for the Allies in East Africa

The war in East Africa continues. The Germans here are cut off from their homeland but they continue to resist the Allied invasion of German East Africa. Their army is mostly locally recruited Askaris led by European officers. British Empire and Commonwealth forces are finding the war here tough going, as are their Belgian allies. Although they greatly outnumber the Germans, the terrain and climate are unforgiving and the Germans are adept at playing a game of cat and mouse.

For both sides, supplying their men is difficult. The Germans are living off the land, looting the colony’s civilian population and leaving famine in their wake. Both sides find the transportation of food extremely difficult. The colony lacks paved roads and has a very limited railway network. Supplies must be carried on the backs of men, which means that large numbers of bearers must be deployed. The British in particular have forcibly recruited a vast corps of bearers, whose numbers greatly exceed their men under arms. These bearers are underfed and suffering terribly from disease as they are moved out of their native areas. Their mortality rates are greater than those of soldiers on the Western Front.

The British have a stroke of luck today. Captain Max Wintgens has been leading a German raiding party that has spread chaos behind the Allied lines. The Allies have made great efforts to track him down, but these have been a costly failure. The British pursuit force sees a tenth of its 2,500 bearers die of disease and a greater number again become too sick to continue the campaign. Today though Wintgens himself is obliged to surrender to the Belgians, now suffering from typhus. However his subordinate officers escape with the rest of the raiders to continue harassing the Allies.

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Bearers (DW: Africa and the First World War)

Max Wintgens (Axis History Forum)

19/5/1917 Faisal sends his agents north into Syria

Thanks to a steady inflow of British arms and money the Arab Revolt is now pretty secure in its dominance of the Hejaz region of the Arabian Peninsula. The Turks still have a garrison in place in Medina but it is unable to contest control of the region with the rebels. British aeroplanes are bombing the railway line to Medina, keeping the Turks there too undersupplied to bother the Arabs.

To the discomfiture of his British patrons, Emir Hussein of Mecca has declared himself King of the Arabs. Now his son Faisal prepares to extend his father’s writ north into Syria. He sends his cousin Nasir ibn Ali and other trusted associates to reconnoitre the region. They are to make contact with the rural tribesmen and also with the Arab nationalists in Damascus.

Travelling with Faisal’s men is British intelligence officer T.E. Lawrence, who has been liaising between Faisal and the British in Cairo. Lawrence has become sympathetic to the Arab cause. By now Lawrence is aware of the Sykes-Picot Agreement, in which Britain and France agreed to divide the Middle East between them. Lawrence dislikes the French and hopes to assist Faisal in staking a claim to Syria before the French are able to establish themselves there.

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Faisal ibn Ali (Ruth’s Jordan Jubilee)

T.E. Lawrence (Wikipedia)

18/5/1917 America introduces conscription

US warships have arrived in Europe to join patrols against the U-boat menace. President Wilson knows however that if the war is to be brought to an end it will be done so on land. Here the USA is at a considerable disadvantage. The country’s army amounts to just 145,000, insignificantly small compared to the great armies of Europe.

In order to make a difference in Europe, the American army will have to be expanded. Today the President signs into a law the Selective Service Act, which allows for conscription. Even so, it will be some time before the army will have been built up to a level that can take on the Germans. Given the task facing the Americans, that of building a large modern army almost from scratch, some wonder whether the USA will be able to deploy troops to Europe in strength before 1919.

In keeping with the traditions of the United States, draftees will be segregated by colour.

image source (Wikipedia)

18/5/1917 Russia’s government reconstituted as unrest spread across the country

Prince Lvov has managed to reconstitute Russia’s Provisional Government. His cabinet is now formally supported by the Petrograd Soviet, several of whose leading figures accept ministries, including Tsereteli of the Menshevik faction of the Socialist Democrats. Kerensky meanwhile is promoted to war minister.

Miliukov, the former foreign minister, is sacked from the government. His addendum to the Soviet’s peace proposal had provoked uproar, making him a deeply unpopular figure. His supporters in the Kadets (the Constitutional Democrats) also leave the government and adopt a more oppositional stance. The Kadets had represented progressive elements within the pre-revolutionary elite but now their reactionary side becomes more apparent. They position themselves as the party of law and order, the true defenders of the Russian Empire from the revolutionary chaos engulfing it.

If Prince Lvov had hoped that bringing the Soviet leaders and Mensheviks into the government would be a moderating influence on the country at large, he is mistaken. Workers are emboldened by the arrival of socialist ministers and there is an upsurge in labour militancy. The Bolsheviks remain outside the government, hoping that they will be able to rally leftist opposition.

Meanwhile in the countryside, peasants have grown tired of waiting for government sanctioned land reform. Instead they are increasingly seizing and dividing up the big estates themselves. Delegates at the All-Russian Peasant Assembly endorse the seizure of the estates, legitimising the revolution in the countryside.

17/5/1917 As the Battle of Arras ends, Haig’s thoughts turn to Ypres

The Battle of Arras is now over. The battle began as a diversion, an attempt to draw German attention away from the French offensive in the Chemin des Dames sector. Great initial successes were achieved but as the battle went on it became more like the typical Western Front meat-grinder battle.

The offensive should have been wound down once the French offensive began, but when it became apparent that the French were suffering a disaster in the Chemin des Dames Haig kept the attacks going. Now though the battle is at an end. The British and their Commonwealth allies have suffered just under 160,000 casualties. German losses are around 130,000.

With Arras over, Haig is now free to plan for his summer offensive, a planned major assault on the German lines at Ypres in Flanders. Haig hopes to break through the German lines and clear them from the Belgian coast, eliminating the German naval bases that have been threatening Allied shipping in the Channel.

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Canadian machine gunners, Vimy Ridge (Wikipedia)

15/5/1917 Tenth Isonzo: Cadorna changes tack

Cadorna had high hopes that this time after a heavy bombardment his men would be able to smash through the Austro-Hungarian lines. But on the Carso Plateau the enemy has put up stiff resistance. Since the infantry attacked yesterday the Italians here have suffered some 25,000 casualties.

The Italians have made more progress further to the north, though nothing like the promised breakthrough. Cadorna now decides to concentrate efforts here, even though the terrain does not make a breakthrough likely. His intention now is to let Capello, the local commander, seize more of the high ground and consolidate his gains, after which his artillery will be transferred back to the Carso for a renewed attempt to break through the Austro-Hungarians and press on to Trieste.

image source (Emerson Kent)