18/10/1918 Italy prepares to attack Austria-Hungary #1918Live

Last year at Caporetto the Austro-Hungarian and Germans smashed the Italians with an offensive of such intensity that the country was almost forced out of the war. Since then Diaz, who succeeded Cadorna as the Italian commander, has striven to rebuild the Italian army. Knowing that the army’s morale is brittle he has resisted pressure put on him to attack the Austro-Hungarians: he fears the effect of another Isonzo style bloodbath on his men. Even at the most desperate stage of the German spring offensives this year Diaz denied Foch‘s request for him to launch a diversionary attack on the Austro-Hungarians.

Now though Diaz is coming under pressure to attack from his own government. Prime Minster Orlando sees that the Western Front is approaching its end game. An armistice there could bring the war to an end at any moment. It would be a disaster for Italy if her troops were seen to have sat out the war’s end, as it would weaken Italian claims to Austro-Hungarian territory on the Dalmatian coast and Istrian peninsula.

Orlando has been pushing Diaz to attack for some time now. Diaz agrees that an attack is necessary but his preparations for one are proving to be a bit drawn out. Now Orlando learns that the Austro-Hungarians are planning to withdraw unilaterally from the all territory they are occupying before suing for peace. Orlando needs to have Italian blood shed. He telegrams Diaz frantically: “Between inaction and defeat, I prefer defeat. Get moving!”.

Orlando’s message adds some urgency to Diaz’s preparations, who decides that that the attack will begin on the 24th of October. His plan is to combine a northwards assault on Monte Grappa with amphibious attacks across the Piave river towards Vittorio Veneto. The Italians hope that they will have better luck crossing the Piave than the Austro-Hungarians did in June.

17/10/1918 Wilson’s note causes consternation in Berlin #1918Live

When the Germans sent their first request for an armistice to President Wilson they did so hoping that he would offer more generous terms than his European allies. But the arrival in Berlin of Wilson’s latest note disabuses them of any notion that he is any kind of soft touch. He takes the German leaders to task for the destruction being left behind by their retreating troops in France and Belgium and then berates them for continuing the U-boat war while they are attempting to negotiate a ceasefire. The sinking of the RMS Leinster has excited anger on the Allied side, and Wilson states that it would be impossible for armistice negotiations to take place while German submarines are still sinking civilian vessels. He also says that the German system of government is itself an obstacle to peace, implicitly calling for full German democratisation.

Wilson’s harsh words cause consternation in Berlin. Prince Max is furious, feeling that Wilson has insulted the honour of the German army. A council of war today considers how Germany should respond. Ludendorff appears to have recovered his former confidence and urges rejection of Wilson’s terms and a continuation of the war. However, when the Chancellor asks him to go through the current military situation, the disastrous state of the German army is made clear. The army is now so short of men that Ludendorff proposes despatching divisions from the East to the Western Front (which would prevent the East being exploited for German needs) or by drafting industrial workers (which would cause a collapse in production of vital war goods). Prince Max dismisses these ideas as desperate fantasies. He gloomily concludes that there is no option but to continue the armistice negotiations with Wilson.

17/10/1918 German morale buckles as the Allied advance continues #1918Live

While their masters exchange notes with Washington, Germany’s soldiers on the Western Front continue to be pushed back. Allied troops are now recovering territories that have been in German hands since 1914. For the Belgians this is a particularly exciting time as almost their entire country has been under German occupation and now its deliverance is at hand. Recent Allied victories have forced the Germans to begin a withdrawal from the Belgian coast and today Belgian troops enter the port of Ostend, together with King Albert. His arrival leads to emotional scenes.

French troops meanwhile have recovered Lille, while British forces liberate Le Cateau, scene of a failed attempt by the British in 1914 to hold off the Germans. Times have changed and now it is the Germans who are unable to halt the Allied juggernaut.

The retreats and defeats have sapped the morale of the once-mighty German army. Officers censoring their men’s post report that defeatism is now rife, with many soldiers writing home that they want peace at any price and are no longer willing to risk their lives in a war that has been lost. If an armistice is not concluded soon then the German army is at a very real risk of disintegration.

map (The Long, Long Trail: Campaign and battle maps for the British Army, 1914-1918)

16/10/1918 The People’s Manifesto: Emperor Karl’s desperate attempt to reform his empire #1918 Live

The Austro-Hungarian Empire is falling apart thanks to the strains of war and now defeat. Its territorial integrity is now under threat, with newly emergent proto-states of Yugoslavia and Poland seeking to detach territory from it. The Czechs too are on the brink of declaring their own independence, perhaps joining with their Slovak relations to create a Czechoslovakia, straddling the empire’s internal border between Austria and Hungary.

Germany and Austria-Hungary have sought an armistice from the Allies, though the negotiation process is proving more drawn out than might have been expected. Emperor Karl hopes that a swift achievement of a ceasefire will lessen the pressures that are tearing apart his Empire. Nevertheless, he realises that time is of the essence. The Empire is clearly in need of some kind of reform and today he announces plans to introduce a federal system for the Austrian part (he is not in a position to dictate the internal arrangements of Hungary). His proposal is dubbed the People’s Manifesto and envisages the creation of self-governing German, Czech, Ukrainian and South Slav regions, with a separate Polish region having the option of staying in the Empire or leaving to join the newly emerging Poland.

The People’s Manifesto is however immediately rejected by the nationalities it is supposed to appeal to. They no longer see a future for themselves within the Austro-Hungarian Empire and are looking for full independence.

Although the People’s Manifesto is a failure, it has unintended consequences. Hungary was excluded from its operation but the Manifesto encourages separatist sentiment among the non-Hungarian peoples there. The Hungarians themselves also see the People’s Manifesto as a sign of the Empire’s increasing weakness, with many thinking now that they would also be better off seeking a future outside the rule of the Habsburg Emperor.

14/10/1918 Wilson demands an end to the U-boat war

Notes are flying backwards and forwards between Berlin and Washington as the German leadership tries to arrange an armistice through President Wilson. The Germans replied to Wilson’s last note stating that they accepted his Fourteen Points and were willing to withdraw from occupied territory; they hoped that this would mean a swift arrangement of a ceasefire between the armies on the Western Front. But they reckoned without the revulsion caused by the RMS Leinster‘s sinking by a German U-boat. The Allies are shocked that Germans are still sending their submarines to attack civilian ships; Wilson shares that sense of anger and wonders whether the Germans are negotiating in good faith.

So now Wilson sends a second note to the Germans. He demands an end to the U-boat war before an armistice can be concluded and also draws attention to the trail of destruction being left by the retreating Germans in France and Belgium. But he goes further, saying that the very system of government in Germany is an obstacle to meaningful armistice negotiations. It may mean therefore that the German political system will have to undergo some kind of transformation before peace can be concluded.

14/10/1918 Allied gains force a German withdrawal from the Belgian coast

For the Germans the battlefield situation on the Western Front remains dire. In Flanders an British, French and Belgian troops are now pressing on from Ypres towards Courtrai and Dixmunde. The success of the Allied offensive obliges the Germans to begin a withdrawal from the Belgian coast, which means their U-boats and destroyers will no longer have direct access to Allied shipping in the Channel.

The collapse in the fighting ability of the German army is evidenced by the frequency with which German troops are surrendering rather than fighting on to the end. Some 250,000 German soldiers have been taken prisoner since the end of the summer. Seasoned German officers like Prince Rupprecht, commander of the forces facing the British, are shocked by the frequency with which entire units are capitulating, with officers themselves leading surrenders rather than trying to prevent them. Such things would once have been unthinkable, but in the German army’s currently broken state they have become all too common.

12/10/1918 Prince Max replies to Wilson, accepting the Fourteen Points and need to evacuate Allied territory

President Wilson replied to the initial German request for an armistice with a note asking a number of questions. He wants assurances that the government of Prince Max is speaking on behalf of the German nation and also that the Germans are prepared to accept his Fourteen Points. Moreover he makes clear that any armistice would necessarily involve the Germans abandoning all occupied Allied territory.

The Germans have hesitated somewhat before replying. The military situation has improved somewhat — as the Allies advance, they outrun their supply lines, making it harder for them to keep up the pressure on the Germans. Ludendorff has become more confident and is less convinced that an immediate armistice is necessary. However Prince Max now believes that an armistice must be secured as soon as possible. Today he despatches his reply to Wilson, stating that he accepts in principle the Fourteen Points and the need to evacuate occupied territory.