11/11/1918 Emperor Karl renounces power but without actually abdicating as his empire dissolves around him #1918Live

Austria-Hungary has made peace with the Allies. This effectively marks the end of the Habsburg Empire. Emperor Karl issues a statement renouncing power in Austria, but it is worded so carefully that it does not constitute an actual abdication. Karl continues to consider himself the rightful Emperor of Austria and King of Hungary.

Austria and Hungary are both going their separate ways, and both are being torn apart by the conflicting national aspirations of Czechoslovaks, Yugoslavs and Italians, as well as those of the German-Austrians and Hungarians themselves. Hungary also looks like it might be losing Transylvania, coveted by Romania. Romania was bludgeoned into submission by Germany earlier this year but now it has sprung back into life. Yesterday it declared war on Germany and today it invades the eastern Austrian province of Bukovina. Transylvania (inhabited both by Hungarians and Romanians) is surely next on its list.

2/11/1918 Italy presents its armistice terms to Austria-Hungary

Austria-Hungary is being torn apart by disaffection within and defeat on the battlefield. The Allies are now advancing up the Balkans, pushing the Austro-Hungarians from territories they have occupied since 1915. Today French and Serbian troops liberate Belgrade, which brings them to the pre-war frontier with Austria-Hungary. Now of course the Empire’s southern Slav territories are seceding in the hope of forming a new state with Serbia, the very nightmare that Austria-Hungary’s leaders went to war in 1914 to prevent.

On the Italian front the army is in a state of collapse. Italian troops are pressing eastward and are now across the Tagliamento. The forced evacuation of Monte Grappa meanwhile has allowed the Italians to push northwards into the Asiago plateau. The Austro-Hungarians seem incapable of further resistance here and are surrendering in large numbers; one British division attached to the Italian army here manages to capture some 20,000 prisoners for the loss of only 150 of their own men killed or wounded.

In Trieste the Austrian governor has fled the city after being informed by Vienna that it is being abandoned. And in the Villa Giusti outside Padua Austro-Hungarian negotiators are presented with Italy’s armistice terms. The Austro-Hungarian army must cease fighting, surrender half its artillery and demobilise. The Austro-Hungarians must also evacuate the territories promised to Italy by the Treaty of London and place their transport network at the Allies’ disposal. They have until midnight tomorrow to accept or reject the terms.

image source (Metropostcard – Belligerents and Participants in World War One: The Kingdom of Italy pt1)

29/9/1918 Bulgaria throws in the towel

Bulgaria has been gripped by war weariness for some time now. It joined the war to avenge its defeat by Serbia in the Second Balkan War of 1913 and its leaders were initially pleased to conquer Macedonia in 1915. If the war had come to an end then Bulgarians would have been happy but instead it has dragged on, with the country now suffering food shortages and other privations. Bulgarians increasingly came to feel that they are being subordinated to German interests and are enduring great hardships to benefit others, a point rammed home by the lack of attention paid to Bulgarian interests when Germany made peace with Russia and Romania.

The Vardar offensive in the southern Balkans shattered Bulgarian resistance there. The Germans declined to send any troops to the aid of their Balkan ally, citing the primacy of the Western Front. Austria-Hungary is experiencing its own travails and is also unable to help the Bulgarians. Allied troops have crossed the Bulgarian border and their advance appearing to be unstoppable. Meanwhile disorder is rife within the country as mutinous soldiers demand an end to the war. Fearing total defeat and revolution, Bulgaria’s leaders now accept the inevitable and agree an armistice with the Allies.
Bulgaria’s defeat is a disaster for Germany and Turkey, as it severs the only land link between the two powers. It also leaves Constantinople vulnerable to attack by the Allied armies in the Balkans. Moreover Austria-Hungary is now vulnerable to an assault from the south by the Allies (including resurgent Serbian forces seeking vengeance for their country’s occupation). Bulgaria’s fall may well mean that the end for Germany’s other allies is not far off.

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map (Wikipedia: Liberation of Serbia, Albania and Montenegro (1918))

Bulgarian delegates at the armistice talks: Ivan Lukov, Andrey Lyapchev and Simeon Radev (Wikipedia: Armistice of Salonica)

23/9/1918 Bulgaria’s Balkan disaster #1918Live

Germany’s allies are receiving a battering. Allenby‘s Megiddo offensive in Palestine looks like it will destroy the Turks’ ability to mount effective resistance there. The Bulgarians too are now facing an Allied battering ram in the southern Balkans. After the initial French and Serbian attacks on the Vardar broke through Bulgarian lines, British and Greek troops attacked near Lake Doiran. These attacks were less successful, as the Bulgarians had deployed higher quality formations to this sector. This engendered some hope on the part of Bulgarian commanders that the Balkan situation remained salvageable. Bulgarian troops near Lake Doiran were ordered to break contact with the Allies there and move to launch a counter-attack against the advancing Serbs and French. But the counter-attack is stillborn. Allied control of the air means that the Bulgarian columns are subjected to relentless aerial bombardment as they attempt to move through the Kosturino Pass. Their morale and cohesion is shattered and they are unable to strike back against the Allies.

The Serb and French advance into Macedonia now appears unstoppable. Many of the local people welcome the Serbs as returning liberators, while others who had initially welcomed the Bulgarians fear the victors’ retribution. In Bulgaria itself meanwhile the combination of defeat on the battlefield and the privations of war mean that increasing numbers of people are calling for an immediate peace at any price.

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map and Bulgarian prisoners (Wikipedia: Vardar Offensive)

15/9/1918 The Vardar offensive: Allied breakthrough against the Bulgarians

The Balkan theatre has remained relatively quiet since Serbia was overrun in 1915. The Allies established a military base in Salonika in Greece but were unable to expand much beyond it, while other priorities meant that the Central Powers left the Salonika force largely unmolested. Even the entry of Greece into the war on the Allied side did not obviously make much difference to this deadlocked front.

This apparent stasis masks a fundamental change in the balance of forces in the Balkans. The Allies have been building up their strength while that of their enemies has been eroding. German troops were withdrawn to take part in the Western Front battles, leaving the line to be held mainly by the Bulgarians, with some Austro-Hungarian units in support. The Bulgarians fought well during the conquest of Serbia but since then their morale has fallen as their homeland has been gripped by food shortages. The lack of significant German attention to Bulgarian interests in the peace treaties with Russia and Romania have made clear to Bulgarian soldiers that they are being used as pawns for Berlin. War weariness now has a hold on the Bulgarian army.

Today the Allied Balkan force attacks the Bulgarians defending positions on both sides of the Vardar river. Commanded by French general Franchet d’Espèrey, the Allied force is mainly composed of French and Serbian troops, with Greek units in support. The initial bombardment shakes the Bulgarians, with frontline units too weakened by desertion to effectively resist the enemy assault. There are pockets of resistance but the Allied offensive shatters the Bulgarians, holding out to the Allies the tantalising prospect of their total collapse.

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French (?) troops attack in the Balkans (MetroPostcard guide to the Balkan campaigns of World War One on postcards)

7/5/1918 Romania agrees to harsh peace terms with Germany #1918Live

Once Russia signed a peace treaty with the Central Powers it was inevitable that Romania would follow suit. Most of Romania was overrun in 1916 after its leaders joined the Allies, with only Bessarabia in the east remaining unoccupied. Without Russian help it was no longer possible for the Romanians to fight on. After agreeing an armistice last December, today the Romanians sign a peace treaty with the Central Powers near Bucharest.

The terms are harsh. Romania is obliged to cede territory to Austria-Hungary and Bulgaria. The remainder of the country becomes little more than a German client state, its oil industry and railways placed under German control and the country obliged to supply its agricultural surplus to the Central Powers. Romanian trade is now tied to Germany through its forced membership of a customs union.

As with Brest-Litovsk, the Treaty of Bucharest serves to remind the western Allies of the kind of terms they can expect if they are forced to make peace with Germany.

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Prime Minister Alexandru Marghiloman of Romania signs the treaty (Wikipedia: Alexandru Marghiloman)

French cartoon depiction of Germany forcing Romania to sign the treaty (Wikipedia: Treaty of Bucharest)

territory lost by Romania (Wikipedia: Treaty of Bucharest)

9/12/1917 Romania throws in the towel #1917Live

Romanian leaders declared war on Austria-Hungary last year, thinking that the early successes of the Brusilov Offensive meant that the war was about to end with an Allied victory. Unfortunately German help allowed the Austro-Hungarians to contain Brusilov; Romania then found itself invaded by Mackensen and Falkenhayn. Most of Romania was overrun and the small unoccupied rump only remained so thanks to the deployment of Russian troops.

Now the Russian army is collapsing and the new Soviet government is negotiating an armistice with the Germans. Romanian leaders accept that they cannot continue the war on their own. Today they sign their own armistice with the Central Powers. For Romania the war is over.

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Mackensen at the train station in Foçsani, where the armistice was signed (Foçsani: Armistiţiul de la Focşani din anul 1917)