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.

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.

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.

9/10/1918 As Canadian troops recover Cambrai, Wilson’s reply to Prince Max’s note arrives in Berlin

Fighting on the Western Front is continuing in an almost surreal atmosphere now that news of Germany’s armistice request has reached the soldiers. Officers try to prevent talk of the war’s imminent end, but many of the men are wondering why they should risk their lives in a war whose outcome now seems pre-ordained. On the German side, troops moving to the front are often denounced as scabs by those retreating, who see continued resistance as serving no purpose but to prolong the war and end more lives for nothing.

The Allies meanwhile are continuing to press the Germans. The Americans are plodding away in the Argonne, fighting the kind of attritional battle Pershing had thought his men’s pluck would have allowed him to avoid. Further to the north the fighting is more mobile, and today Canadian troops finally take the city of Cambrai, long a target of Allied intentions. Victory celebrations are muted by the ruinous state of the city, which appears to have been deliberately set ablaze by the retreating Germans (though perhaps Allied artillery bombardments may share some of the blame).

Meanwhile in Berlin the Germans receive a reply from Wilson to their armistice request. The US President’s response is cordial, but he seeks assurances that the German government is truly representative of their country and that it accepts his Fourteen Points. He also makes clear that any armistice will involve Germany’s complete evacuation of all Allied territory it has occupied. Prince Max, the German Chancellor, is reassured by the tone and cautiously optimistic that an armistice can be concluded.

image source:

Canadian troops liberate Cambrai (Cambrai Area Tourist Office: Liberation of Cambrai)

9/10/1918 A German king for Finland

In Finland the conservative Whites triumphed over the socialist Reds in the recent civil war. Victory allowed Finland to escape from Russia’s orbit but at a price: German aid and the presence of German troops in the country have turned it into something of a German protectorate. Now the Finnish government of Juho Kusti Paasikivi decides that the country should become a monarchy, offering the throne to Prince Friedrich Karl of Hesse, a German prince and brother-in-law to the Kaiser. The timing is odd: with Germany having requested an armistice, its power is clearly in the descendent, yet Paasikivi is trying to more closely align his country to Berlin.

It is proposed that when the king-elect arrives in Finland to be crowned he will be styled as Charles I, King of Finland and Karelia, Duke of Åland, Grand Duke of Lapland, Lord of Kaleva and the North.

image source:

Friedrich Karl of Hesse (Wikipedia)

8/10/1918 As French troops land in Beirut, the Turkish government resigns

Britain has made a few too many promises about how Turkey’s territories in the Middle East are to be carved up after the war ends. Sharif Hussein of Mecca was given to understand that he would become ruler of a vast Arab kingdom stretching from the north of Syria to the Arabian peninsula, but in the Sykes-Picot agreement British and French diplomats agreed to divide the region into French and British spheres of influence. Then last year Britain’s foreign minister declared that Britain supported the establishment of a Jewish national home in Palestine.

On the ground it is British and Commonwealth forces who are doing most of the fighting against the Turks, although Arab forces loyal to Sharif Hussein have established themselves in Damascus. Britain’s contradictory agreements mean that it will have to disappoint someone; to make sure it is not them, the French today land in Beirut. The French have long cultivated links with Lebanon, particularly with the region’s Christian communities, and they are determined to stake their claim to the region and use it as base to assert their rights in Syria.

Turkey is now in a desperate state. The British have overrun Palestine and Syria and will soon be in a position to press on into the Anatolian heartland. No help can be expected from Germany, which has requested an armistice from the Allies and has been separated from Turkey by the surrender of Bulgaria. Realising that they are staring defeat in the face, the Turkish government resigns, with the ruling triumvirate of Enver (war minister), Talaat (Grand Vizier and minister of the interior) and Djemal (proconsul in the Middle East) departing the political stage. Now the delicate process of forming a new government to negotiate an armistice with the Allies begins.

image source:

Beirut (The Illustrated First World War: Occupied by the Allies: Beirut—A Famous Port of Syria)