18/3/1918 Looting the occupied Italian zone #1918Live

After Caporetto the Austro-Hungarians found themselves occupying a large swathe of north-eastern Italy. Many of the people in this zone, both ethnic Italians and Slavs initially welcomed the Austro-Hungarians because of fond local memories of Habsburg rule before the area’s incorporation into Italy in 1866. By now however most have a less favourable view of the Austro-Hungarians. The occupying army has been requisitioning the goods of the civilian population to supplement its own resources. Livestock, foodstuffs and wine, fodder and manure have all already been seized. Now the Austro-Hungarians begin to confiscate clothes and household linen, often leaving civilians with nothing but the clothes on their backs.

As cruel as these efforts are, they are a symptom of the rot eating at the Austro-Hungarian Empire. The food crisis at home is tearing apart the threads linking the different parts of the empire. While the army is better fed than Austro-Hungarian civilians, army rations are still not what could be described as generous. The looting of the occupied zone in Italy is a sign of Austria-Hungary’s weakness.

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Livestock confiscation (MetroPostcard, Themes of World War One: Food and the Great War  pt2)

Italian postcard of hungry Austrian soldier eating a church candle (MetroPostcard, Themes of World War One: Food and the Great War  pt4)

14/3/1918 Trotsky takes over as commander of the Red Army #1918Live

Lenin declared the Russian Civil War to be over when his men captured the city of Novocherkassk, capital of the Don region. But this may have been premature. Kornilov and Alexeev‘s army remains at large since it evacuated Rostov. The cossacks of the Kuban region are restive. Across Russia the Bolsheviks‘ enemies are waiting for the right moment to strike against Lenin’s government.

The Bolsheviks have already started to form a Red Army to replace the now disbanded army of the former Tsarist regime. However it is still a ragtag and disorganised body, little more than a workers’ militia and certainly not something that can be expected to fight and win a war against determined enemies. In order to transform the Red Army into an effective fighting force, Trotsky is now appointed as Sovnarkom‘s war commissar, making him effectively both the Red Army’s political director and its commander-in-chief. But although Trotsky is a man of many talents, he has no military experience whatsoever. How is he to remodel the Red Army?

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Leon Trotsky in military uniform (Marxists Internet Archive: the Military Writings of Leon Trotsky, Volume 1 (1918))

12/3/1918 Turkey recovers Erzurum and presses on towards the Caucasus #1918Live

In eastern Anatolia Turkish forces are advancing to recover the territory lost since the war started and to occupy the three lost provinces promised to them by the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk. The Turks also want to stake their claim to as much of the Russian territory south of the Caucasus as possible. That the Turks should be expending so much effort here when they are under pressure from the British in Palestine might seem strange, but Enver Pasha, Turkey’s war minister and paramount leader, sees this as a chance to restore the prestige of the Ottoman Empire. Enver also wants to rescue Turkic peoples of the Caucasus from the horror of government by Christians.

A good command of logistics has not been a strong point of the Turkish army, so it should be difficult for it to maintain this rapid advance. However Turkish troops are able to sustain themselves on what the Russians have abandoned. Today Turkish forces recapture Erzurum, whose loss in 1916 was a terrible blow. They find the city abundantly stocked with supplies left behind by the Russians, supplies the Turks can now use as they press on towards the pre-war frontier.

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Erzurum after abandonment by the Russians (Wikipedia: Schlacht von Erzurum)

20 February 1918 – Schlachtstaffeln?

German plans to use ground attack aircraft in support of Ludendorff‘s spring offensive.


Unlike tne famous Jastas, one of the lesser known German aerial formations is the Schlachtstaffeln (often abbreviated to Schlastas), which make up about 10% of german formations at this point. They had originated as security flights for the Fliegerabieilungen who carried out reconnaissance.

As the war progressed, their two-seaters transitioned into more of a ground-
attack role aircraft specially designed for that role were introduced.

With the preparations for the forthcoming German offensive in full swing, an entire section of the new German attack doctrine issued in January 1918 was devoted to air support for the ground

That doctrine was underlined by a document issued today specifically dealing with the and their control under divisional command in the initial stages of the attack. It lays out the role of the squadrons as “flying ahead of and carrying the infantry along with them, keeping down the fire of the enemy’s…

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11/3/1918 The food crisis eating at the Austro-Hungarian Empire #1918Live

German civilians are suffering from food shortages. Compared to others in Central Europe however they are enjoying relative abundance. Food rations in German-occupied Warsaw are now half that of what people in Germany are enjoying. Worse, the difficult economic situation there means that few people are able to supplement their rations on the black market.

In Austria-Hungary the food situation remains deeply problematic. The same factors that apply to Germany also apply here: inability to source food or nitrate fertiliser from overseas and a fall-off in the agricultural labour force. The internal division between Austria and Hungary is limiting the transfer of food from agricultural regions to the cities. Moreover Austria-Hungary also has a less developed transportation infrastructure, on which military transport is being prioritised over food distribution. And the authorities in Austria-Hungary seem considerably less effective than their German counterparts in addressing the food issue.

Rations, even in agricultural Hungary, are considerably lower than in Germany. The result, particularly in the empire’s urban centres, is severe malnutrition and instances of actual starvation. One positive effect for the regime is that it deters desertion from the army, as soldiers are the one group in society receiving something approximating to an adequate supply of food. But across the empire, the food situation erodes support for the regime and exacerbates existing tensions between town and city and between the empire’s regions and nationalities.

Copying a German programme and following on from charitable efforts last year, the Austro-Hungarian authorities now initiate a programme to evacuate children from the cities to the countryside, where they will receive better food in return for light work on the farms. This may save these children from severe malnutrition, if not worse, and perhaps work to repair relations between the towns and the countryside. But the overall food situation remains unsustainable. If the war is allowed to continue it will bring about the Habsburg empire’s disintegration.

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Queuing for food in Vienna (The World of the Habsburgs – The food emergency in the First World War as a key social problem: Searching for the ‘enemy within’)

8/3/1918 Bombing Paris, preparing for the spring offensive #1918Live

On the Western Front the Allies are waiting for Ludendorff‘s spring offensive, when the Germans will try to win the war before the Americans show up in strength. The British and French do not know where the blow will land or when the Germans will attack but they know the day is coming soon. The tension is mounting, with every soldier posted to the front knowing that the next day could be his last.

The Germans are doing their best to pile the pressure on the Allies, striking at the morale of not just the men at the front but also the civilians at the rear. Zeppelin raids on Britain continue, but the British also face intermittent attacks by giant Gotha aeroplanes, though the air raids have failed to cause the level of devastation and panic Germany’s leaders would like.

The Germans are also intermittently bombing Paris. Tonight in a particularly large attack the Germans drop 90 bombs on the city, causing much damage and apparently leading to some 200,000 people fleeing the city. Thirteen people lose their lives.

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Gotha G.IV bomber (Wikipedia: German strategic bombing during World War I)

Air raid on Paris, 30 January 1918 (Geographical Imaginations: Is Paris Burning?)

7/3/1918 Germany prepares to intervene in Finland’s civil war #1918Live

Finland is now gripped by civil war, with Reds and Whites fighting to determine the future direction of the country. The Reds look to Soviet Russia for support while some of the Whites seek aid from Germany. With the signing of the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk, German attention should be shifting away from the East, but Ludendorff is keen to ensure the emergence of a pro-German regime in Finland, as this will allow him to threaten Petrograd in the event that the Russians renege on their commitments.

A German naval expedition has already landed on Finnish Åland Islands, joining a Swedish force ostensibly there to protect the Swedish-speaking islanders. Now the Germans sign an agreement with the White Finns, recognising their independence and promising military aid against the Reds. But the agreement binds Finland tightly to the Germans: has Finland achieved independence from one imperial master only for the Whites to squander that freedom by turning the country into a German satellite?

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Swedish, German and Russian troops in the Åland Islands (Wikipedia: Invasion of Åland)