14/8/1918 Hindenburg and Ludendorff block peace talks

The disaster at Amiens has forced the Germans to take stock. Yesterday Ludendorff and Hindenburg, the army’s chief of staff, met with senior German politicians; Hindenburg remained confident but Ludendorff was pessimistic. Today the generals brief the Kaiser, in the company of Chancellor Hertling and Hintze, the foreign minister. Ludendorff now recovers his poise somewhat, admitting a reverse on the battlefield but blaming it on agitations by socialists and malcontents in Germany. The generals insist that German forces are still well-placed to fight a successful defensive war on the Western Front, hoping that the Allies will just give up and let Germany keep Belgium, Alsace-Lorraine and some territory captured from France. The Kaiser and Hintze suggest some kind of peace overture, but Hindenburg and Ludendorff reject this as an admission of weakness. The German army will have to first win an impressive military victory so that Germany can enter peace talks from a position of strength.

The Kaiser is notionally Germany’s supreme warlord but for now he defers to the generals. Despite the recent defeats, there will be no serious attempt to seek an end to the war.

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Paul von Hindenburg and Erich Ludendorff (in 1916) (Wikipedia: the Hindenburg Programme)

5/8/1918 Allied intervention in Russia and the defence of Baku

Russia is now in the grip of civil war between the Bolshevik government in Moscow and its various enemies. However the chaotic situation in the country is not merely an internal matter, as foreign powers are now beginning to intervene. This is mainly a matter for the Allies, as the Central Powers are too busy with the territories they wrested from Russia at Brest-Litovsk to actively take sides in the civil war. Allied intervention in Russia however is somewhat confused, with a lack of clear goals or a consistent approach.

In the Russian Far East, Japanese and American troops have landed in Vladivostok, to secure the city for the Czechoslovak Legion. This is implicitly an anti-Bolshevik intervention, as the Czechoslovaks are fighting the Bolsheviks on behalf of the Komuch government in Samara. British forces meanwhile have established themselves in the north Russian ports of Murmansk and Archangelsk. They landed initially to secure military supplies that had been sent there to support the Russian war effort. The British were also keen to deter German or Finnish expansion in this region, which meant that there was some tacit support for their landing on the part of the Bolsheviks. Since then though there are suspicions that the British are working with anti-Bolshevik elements.

In Baku British intervention is fighting to block Turkish expansion in the Caucasus region. Turkish forces have been expanding here since Russia signed the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk, seeking to recover territory lost in previous conflicts with Russia. Their attempts to advance into Georgia had put them at loggerheads with the Germans, who favour Georgian independence. It seemed briefly as though the Turco-German alliance would collapse over the issue, but instead Enver, Turkey’s war minister, backed down and redirected his men towards Azerbaijan.

Following inter-communal violence in April, Baku is now largely devoid of Azeris and is under the control of the Central Caspian Dictatorship, an alliance of Armenian nationalist and various anti-Bolshevik forces that recently seized power in the city. The Dictatorship is now facing a Turkish army under the command of Nuri Pasha, Enver’s half brother. The defence of Baku is aided by an amphibious British force, which arrives today from Persia. The British are only too happy to take on the Turks, fearing that if they are victorious in Baku they will then attempt an overland march on India. Their expeditionary force is nick-named Dunsterforce, after its commander, General Lionel Dunsterville, who is reputedly the real-life model for the eponymous character in Rudyard Kipling’s Stalky & Co.

The arrival of Dunsterforce at Baku proves decisive. The Turks are forced back. For now at least Baku remains a safe haven for Armenians.
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British troops advancing to the aid of Baku (Wikipedia: Battle of Baku)

Armenian fighters (Wikipedia: Sebastatsi Murad)

6/7/1918 The Left SR uprising: a deadly threat to the Bolsheviks at the heart of their power

The Bolsheviks in Russia are embattled, with counter-revolutionary forces threatening their rule across the country. The Czechoslovak Legion provides a particularly potent threat, controlling the Trans-Siberian Railway; working in alliance with the Komuch government in Samara they threaten to bring an end to Bolshevik rule. Vladivostok has fallen to the Legion, which they now proclaim to be an Allied protectorate. The Allies begin to think of using the port to aid anti-Bolshevik forces in Russia, with the ultimate aim of bringing the country back into the war against Germany. President Wilson goes so far as to suggest that Japan could send forces to secure Vladivostok, allowing the Czechoslovaks to redeploy further to the west.

But the Bolsheviks face other threats further to home. When the Bolsheviks seized power last November, they did so in alliance with the left faction of the Socialist Revolutionary Party (the Left SRs). However the Left SRs were not supportive of the Brest-Litovsk peace treaty with Germany, seeing it as a betrayal of the revolution. Left SR commissars resigned from Sovnarkom, the Soviet government, but the party remained broadly supportive of the soviet regime, a kind of loyal opposition. Since then they have become increasingly disenchanted by the Bolsheviks’ authoritarianism and their perception that the country is being transformed into a German client state.

Now the Left SRs decide to act. One of their activists assassinates Count Mirbach, the German ambassador, an act of propaganda by deed intended to ignite a general uprising of the masses against the Bolsheviks. When Dzerzhinsky, Lenin’s head of the Cheka (the political police), tries to arrest the murderers he is himself arrested: most members of the Cheka in Moscow are in fact loyal to the Left SRs rather than the Bolsheviks.

The Germans are understandably furious at the murder of their ambassador. Lenin is summoned to the German embassy where he issues a grovelling apology. His situation is now desperate. The Left SRs have far more armed men in the capital than he does: if they press their advantage the Bolshevik regime could find itself decapitated.

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Wilhelm von Mirbach (Wikipedia)

3/7/1918 The death of Mehmed V of Turkey #1918Live

Today sees the death of 73 year old Mehmed V, Sultan of the Ottoman Empire and to true Muslims the Caliph, successor of the Prophet. Mehmed’s reign recalls that of Austria-Hungary’s Franz Josef (who died in 1916), in that both men have seen decline of their empires to shadows of their former selves. In Franz Josef’s case the decline took place over the long decades of his rule, but Mehmed was unfortunate enough to see his empire wrecked in the nine years since he ascended the throne in 1909. In these short years the Turkish Empire has lost its North African territories and the Dodecanese in the Italo-Turkish war and almost all of European Turkey in the First Balkan War. Following these disasters effective power in Turkey fell to the so-called Three Pashas, Enver, Talaat and Djemal.

Since Turkey’s entry into the current war the British have driven Turkish forces from Mesopotamia and southern Palestine. Only in the Caucasus do Turkish fortunes appear to be in the ascendant, with Enver taking advantage of Russia’s turmoil to recapture territories lost there in previous wars. Mehmed’s only real part in the current war was to declare a Jihad , calling on all Muslims to wage holy war against the infidel Allies; this appears to have had little effect, with many Arab Muslims instead choosing to support Sharif Hussein of Mecca and his Arab Revolt.

Like Franz Josef, Mehmed is perhaps fortunate to die when he does. The war is not over yet, but Turkey’s position is now looking extremely precarious. Ottoman fortunes are so tied to Germany’s that if, as now appears likely, the German offensives on the Western Front fail to win victory then Turkey will follow the Germans to defeat. That will most likely mean the effective end of the Ottoman Empire. Mehmed V is spared the ignominy of being the last Sultan. That honour may fall to his half-brother, who now ascends to the Sultanate as Mehmed VI.

image source (Wikipedia)

1/7/1918 Writing on the wall for Austria-Hungary as France declares support for an independent Czechoslovakia

In 1914 Austria-Hungary’s leaders pushed for war with Serbia in the hope that it would restore the Habsburg Empire’s fortunes and reverse its long decline. Events since then have not progressed entirely to their satisfaction, with the underperformance of the Austro-Hungarian military turning the Empire into little more than a client state of the Germans. Now its continued existence is increasingly threatened. The travails of war have led to great hardships and discontent and the disaster at the Piave has shattered what remained of the Empire’s prestige, with Emperor Karl himself being blamed for the debacle. Now the various ethnicities and peoples that make up the Empire are restless, with many wishing to separate themselves from the Habsburgs.

The Allies meanwhile are increasingly intent on breaking up the Empire. In his Fourteen Points, Wilson had proposed that Austria-Hungary’s peoples should have every possible opportunity for autonomous development. Since then the US President’s views have developed and how he argues that “all branches of the Slav race should be completely free from German and Austrian rule”. Talk of joining Serbia with Austria-Hungary’s southern Slav territories to create a new state (Yugoslavia) is finding a receptive audience in most Allied capitals, with the notable exception of Italy. Meanwhile in Paris the cause of Czechoslovakia is being advanced by exiled Czech nationalist Tomáš Masaryk and his Czechoslovak National Committee. Today they achieve a diplomatic breakthrough, with the French government formally recognising them as the representatives of the Czechoslovak nation. With the Allies also talking of attaching Galicia to a newly independent Poland, it looks like there will not be much left of Austria-Hungary if the Allies win the war.

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Tomáš Masaryk (Českobudějovický deník: Jihočeské kalné ráno…)

28/6/1918 In response to industrial unrest the Bolsheviks nationalise industry #1918Live

Bolshevik rule in Russia is threatened by Denikin and Alexeev‘s White Army in the south and by the Czechoslovak Legion and the Komuch in Siberia. Within the heartland of Soviet Russia the Bolsheviks are facing other threats to their rule. Unrest seems to be particularly prevalent in Petrograd, the cradle of the revolution. The economic crisis has led to a wave of strikes that have paralysed industry there. Harsh counter-measures, including the Cheka’s firing on striking workers, have failed to bring Petrograd’s workers to heel. If anything the situation has worsened with strikes continuing to escalate, threatening to spread from Petrograd to the rest of Soviet Russia.

The Bolshevik leadership fears that labour unrest is a prelude to a coup attempt by their Menshevik and Socialist Revolutionary rivals. These fears are accentuated when Volodarsky, a Bolshevik press commissar, is assassinated during industrial unrest. To combat this threat the Bolsheviks now take a bold step: the nationalisation of Russian heavy industry. Previously the revolution had meant that factories were coming under the control of workers’ committees. Now they will be brought under state control, self-management replaced by direction from the centre. Striking workers can then be threatened with dismissal and strike organisers arrested.

The nationalisation decree is issued today by Sovnarkom, the Soviet government. In tandem the Mensheviks and Socialist Revolutionaries are expelled from soviet assemblies. The last opposition newspapers are shut down and the Cheka let loose on any leftist opposition to the Bolsheviks.

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Russian factory workers (Libcom.org: Russian Labour and Bolshevik Power after October)

20/6/1918 Arthur Griffith wins East Cavan by-election from his English prison cell #1918Live

British plans to introduce conscription in Ireland have alienated wide swathes of opinion there. After a series of strikes and demonstrations against the measure, plus pledges by Irish women not to take the jobs of conscripted men, the British authorities have back pedalled on their plans and effectively abandoned plans to draft Irishmen. The successful resistance to the German offensives on the Western Front and the increasing numbers of US troops arriving in Europe have in any case reduced the need for Irish soldiers.

Nevertheless, Ireland remains tense. Sinn Féin leaders have been arrested by the British, accused of treacherous plotting in support of a German invasion of Ireland. One of these is Arthur Griffith, founder of the party but no longer its leader. Today he finds himself elected to the House of Commons in a by-election held in the East Cavan constituency, where the sitting MP had died. Griffith soundly defeats the candidate from the more moderate Irish Parliamentary Party, reversing a run of by-election defeats suffered by his party.

Sinn Féin’s policy is for its MPs to not take their seats in Westminster. The British authorities assist Griffith in this regard, preventing him from leaving Gloucester jail.

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poster (Fr Michael O’Flanagan, from Cliffoney to Crosna: Fr O’Flanagan’s Suppressed Speech, May 1918)