15/12/1917 Russia and Germany agree an armistice #1917Live

The Bolsheviks came to power in Russia promising to end the war. Now they manage to agree an armistice with the Germans, which will last for one month during which time representatives of the two countries will seek to negotiate a permanent end to their conflict.

For the Germans, this is a great coup. With Russia on its way out of the war they are now free to start transferring troops to the Western Front in preparation for their spring offensive next year. They also hope to extract concessions from the Russians that will improve the German food situation.

Lenin meanwhile knows that he cannot continue the war with the Germans; attempting to do so would rapidly make him as unpopular as Kerensky. In any case, the Russian army is disintegrating and unable to mount serious resistance to the Germans. By now around 370,000 men have deserted the ranks, either heading for home to benefit from the recently announced land reforms or milling around in lawless bands to terrify the countryside. The disintegration of the army is not something that upsets Lenin and his Bolshevik comrades: it prevents a reactionary general like Kornilov using it against the Soviet government.

Lenin has predicted that socialist revolution would start in Russia but then spread to the world’s more advanced nations. He sees the peace negotiations with Germany as part of this process. He hopes to play for time, time in which the soldiers and workers of the other belligerent states will also demand an end to the war, turning on their masters to usher in the new age of socialism.

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Signing of the armistice (Wikipedia) note Kamenev at front on the right

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)

2/12/1917 Using unconventional methods, the Bolsheviks assert their power over the State Bank and the army

The Bolsheviks continue to consolidate their position. Striking civil servants are still a problem for the new regime. Many of Russia’s officials are opposed to the Bolsheviks’ seizure of power and have been on strike in protest. By now though the strikes are declining in effectiveness as enough civil servants return to work in order for some semblance of orderly public administration to progress.

One area where the Bolsheviks have had particular problems is the State Bank, whose staff have refused to obey the orders of Sovnarkom, the Soviet government. This puts the Bolsheviks in an awkward position, as it prevents them from paying their supporters. Finally though the situation is resolved by the removal at gun point of the State Bank’s cash reserves.

Another pole of opposition to the Bolsheviks is the army. Lenin has sent an order to all units to elect their own representatives to conduct local armistice negotiations with the Germans. Dukhonin, the acting army commander, has attempted to prevent this order reaching frontline troops. Dukhonin’s efforts are thwarted by the Germans, who have themselves retransmitted Lenin’s order, hoping to speed the disintegration of the Russian army.

Lenin decides that he has had enough of Dukhonin. He is dismissed and Krylenko, the Sovnarkom war commissar, heads to army headquarters at Mogilev to replace him. But when Krylenko arrives, Dukhonin is dead. An angry crowd of soldiers had attacked the general, accusing him of organising the release from captivity of Kornilov. Dukhonin is beaten to death and his body reportedly used for target practice.
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State Bank employees demonstrate in support of the Constituent Assembly (St Petersburg Encyclopaedia: Constituent Assembly, All-Russian)

Nikolai Dukhonin (World War 1: November 22, 1917 – Bolsheviks Begin Armistice Talks with Central Powers)

16/10/1917 Enemy at the gates: Germany threatens Petrograd #1917Live

German forces have staged an amphibious landing on the islands of Estonia, outflanking Russian forces defending the approaches to Petrograd. Now the Russians abandon the city of Revel (known to the Estonians as Tallinn), fearing that it has become untenable.

Revel was the last bastion between the Germans and Petrograd. With the Germans threatening the capital, the Provisional Government investigates evacuating itself and key industries to Moscow. But to the Petrograd Soviet and the revolutionary activists in the city, it looks suspiciously like Kerensky’s government is planning to hand them over to the Germans. Perhaps Kerensky would prefer to let the Germans deal with the unruly city.

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Kerensky wonders what to do (1917 portrait by Isaac Brodsky) (Spartacus Educational: Alexander Kerensky)

11/10/1917 Operation Albion: German troops seize the islands of Estonia #1917Live

On the Eastern Front, the Russian military situation continues to deteriorate. German troops have already taken Riga; now they land on Saaremaal in the Estonian archipeligo, crushing Russian resistance there. This is an ominous development: the amphibious operation is outflanking Russian defensive lines, threatening a German advance on Petrograd itself. To those in the capital who fear that the revolution has gone too far, the prospect of the Kaiser’s troops arrival becomes almost something to hope for.

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Riga & the Baltic Islands (Wikipedia: Operation Albion)

3/9/1917 Germany strikes at Riga

Germany has launched a new offensive against Russia, hoping to seize the port of Riga and threaten Petrograd itself. The attack is commanded by General Hutier, who is applying a new tactical approach partly based on the infiltration tactics used by the Russians in the Brusilov Offensive last year.

Hutier’s attack begins with a short but devastating bombardment, designed primarily to stun the Russian defenders. The main assault is then undertaken by lightly armed and fast moving stormtroopers who press forward quickly, leaving any enemy strong points to be mopped up by followup troops.

The Russian army has been in poor shape for some time but even so the offensive succeeds beyond the dreams of the Germans. The attack only began on the 1st but the Russians have already abandoned Riga, desperately retreating to avoid encirclement by the Germans.

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Oskar von Hutier (Wikipedia)

map (Wikipedia: Schlacht um Riga (1917))

3/8/1917 Kerensky shuts down the Finnish parliament but loses Czernowitz to Austria #1917Live

Kerensky has been emboldened by the recent failure of radicals to overthrow the Provisional Government. Now the Russian Prime Minister flexes his muscles, arranging for loyal troops to shut down Finland’s parliament, the Sejm. The Sejm had a socialist majority following elections earlier this year and it recently passed a resolution declaring Finland’s effective independence from Russia. This unilateral separation is unacceptable to Kerensky (and to many on both right and left in Russia); his shutting down of the unruly Finnish parliament is widely supported in Russia. Even in Finland many conservatives support the measure, fearing that without the link to Russia the Finnish socialists would be uncontrollable.
Kerensky finds it harder to bend the army to his will. He has appointed Kornilov as its commander in chief and accepted his demands for the reintroduction of the death penalty for desertion. But Kornilov’s attempts at repression are a failure. The army continues to disintegrate and the Germans and Austro-Hungarians continue their advance that began with their counter-attacks against Kerensky’s offensive. Now they recover the Galician town of Czernowitz, captured by the Russians in Brusilov’s offensive last year. The Russian army looks increasingly unable to prevent further advances by the enemy.

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The Eastern Front (Wikipedia)

Emperor Karl of Austria-Hungary salutes the liberators of Czernowitz (Wikipedia)