9/6/1918 Round four: Ludendorff unleashes Operation Gneisenau #1918Live

The recent Blücher-Yorck offensive has been the most successful phase of the German spring offensive yet. Ludendorff, Germany’s Quartermaster-General and effective dictator, had intended it to divert Allied attention away from his forthcoming final offensive in Flanders but had then reinforced it in the hope of provoking a general collapse of the enemy. That failed to materialise and now the Germans are left with another salient sticking out into enemy lines.

Ludendorff has decided to delay the Flanders offensive again. His men now launch Operation Gneisnau, intended to join up the two salients created by the earlier offensive in the Somme sector and Blücher-Yorck. Although intended as another diversion, with the additional goal of shortening the German lines, the Germans hope that this will be the blow that breaks the Allies and leads to a triumphant march on Paris.

The French have been forewarned of this attack by deserters, but the local commander has deployed his men poorly and the German assault overwhelms the Allied frontline. German troops push forward some six miles and capture more than 8,000 prisoners. Is the day of victory at hand?

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map; the French 3rd army bore the brunt of the Gneisnau attack (Mental Floss WWI Centennial: America’s Fighting Debut)

8/6/1918 The Komuch: an anti-Bolshevik government in Siberia, supported by the Czechoslovaks

An agreement between the Bolsheviks and the Czechoslovak Legion to transport the Czechoslovaks out of Russia via Vladivostok has broken down. After initially chasing the Red Guards from Chelyabinsk, the disciplined Czechoslovaks are taking over ever more towns along the Trans-Siberian Railway.

The Legionnaires initially declared themselves neutral in Russia’s civil war. Today however they find themselves attacking the Samara, capital of the Volga region, on behalf of the Komuch (the Committee of Members of the Constituent Assembly). Dominated by members of the right faction of the Socialist Revolutionary Party, the Komuch is an attempt to revive the Constituent Assembly, the elected parliament suppressed by the Bolsheviks in January.

The Czechoslovaks easily rout the Bolshevik defenders of Samara. Now the Komuch establishes itself there. Its leaders hope to unite democratic and moderate opposition to the Bolshevik government in Moscow, in contrast to the more reactionary aspirations of Denikin and Alexeev further west. The Czechoslovaks meanwhile hope that an overthrow of the Bolsheviks will speed their rejoining of the war against Germany and Austria-Hungary.

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The Komuch: Ivan Brushvit, Prokopiy Klimushkin, Boris Fortunatov, Vladimir Volsky (chairman) and Ivan Nesterov (Wikipedia)

7/6/1918 Influenza spreads its tentacles

Since Albert Gitchell took ill in March this strange new strain of influenza has spread across the world. The disease is rarely lethal, certainly no more so than a normal winter flu, but it is extremely infectious and makes those it afflicts too sick to do anything for long periods, sometimes up to several weeks. Even after the worst of the illness has passed, victims are left in a weakened state, making basic tasks a struggle.

The influenza has arrived on the Western Front, where it appears to hit the Germans harder than the Allies. In the month of May their army suffers some 77,000 cases, more than all the Allies put together. These losses may have cost Ludendorff victory in the spring offensives (though he still hopes to end the war with a final assault in Flanders). But temporary losses of manpower in all the armies are considerable. The public remains largely unaware of the scale of the epidemic as military censorship keeps references to flu in the armies out of the newspapers. However in neutral Spain, where no censorship of this kind is in place, the newspapers report freely on the disease’s depredations. News of the Spanish king and members of his cabinet having been struck ill, as well as large numbers of people in Madrid, mean that in the public mind the disease is associated with Spain. People begin to talk of it as the Spanish flu.

It is not just in Europe and North America that the flu is spreading its dominion. It has also made its way to China, where its effect on police ranks in Peking has forced the closure of the city’s banks.

6/6/1918 US troops halt one German offensive as Ludendorff prepares another #1918Live

German forces have made unprecedented gains since the start of the Blücher-Yorck offensive in the Chemin des Dames sector, the third phase of Ludendorff‘s spring offensives. Standing now on the Marne, German troops are closer to Paris than at any point since 1914. But it becoming apparent that the offensive has failed: the Allies have not collapsed and are now beginning to contain the Germans. In a worrying development for the Germans, American troops are starting to appear at the front in strength. Today American troops go into battle in Belleau Wood, successfully blocking the German advance there. This marks the end of the German offensive.

Allied troops are buoyed by the appearance of the American troops. It is a sign that they have weathered the storm and that the tide is turning in their favour. For the Germans, it is a sign that time is running out. The spring offensives were meant to end the war before the Americans arrived in large numbers. Now they are starting to take their place in the battle line.

So what next? Ludendorff’s hope remains that a new offensive in Flanders will destroy the British army and force the French to make peace. Yet he remains fixated on the gains achieved by Blücher-Yorck and by the first of the spring offensives in the Somme sector. These have created two salients sticking into the Allied lines. Now he plans a new offensive to join the two together, shortening German lines and also paving the way for an advance on Paris itself.

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American troops attack (Wikipedia: the Battle of Belleau Wood)

map (First World War.com: The Third Battle of the Aisne, 1918)

4/6/1918 Trotsky: “Long Live Civil War!”

The revolution in Russia has not brought an end to the country’s problems. The cities are now facing severe shortages of food, which have led to prices spiralling out of reach of ordinary people in the cities. With wages failing to keep pace, many are reduced to selling their possessions to raise money. Ever increasing numbers of women are finding themselves obliged to take up prostitution.

The food crisis has a number of causes. The Russian railways are in a state of collapse, while many trains arrive in the cities empty, their cargoes of grain pilfered en route. The peasants meanwhile are reluctant to sell food at the fixed prices being offered by the Bolsheviks, which have been rendered derisory by inflation.

An effect of the crisis is that Russia’s cities are emptying out as people head to the countryside to be closer to food sources. This exodus appears to affect all classes of society, particularly the labouring poor who have only arrived in the cities relatively recently and have closer links to the land. Meanwhile those who continue to live in the cities are nevertheless spending increasing amounts of time in the countryside, seeking to trade goods for food with farmers (a phenomenon seen also in Germany and Austria-Hungary).

The response of the Bolsheviks to this crisis is to institute a state grain monopoly. Armed cadres are being sent to the countryside to seize the peasants’ surplus in order to feed the cities. Today Trotsky addresses a Soviet assembly, defending the grain seizures as a necessary civil war. “Civil war has to be waged for grain […] Yes, long live civil war! […] Civil war in the name of direct and ruthless struggle against counter-revolution!”

4/6/1918 Pemberton Billing wins “Cult of the Clitoris” libel trial #1918Live

Noel Pemberton Billing, MP and patriotic publisher, is being sued for libel by Maud Allan, an actress and exotic dancer. Pemberton Billing had already asserted that 47,000 British sexual deviants in prominent positions are being blackmailed by the Germans to sabotage the war effort. Then in his journal The Vigilante Pemberton Billing published a further article entitled ‘The Cult of the Clitoris‘, asserting that a Miss Allan’s private performance of Oscar Wilde’s Salome is a front for meetings of some of these 47,000 treacherous practitioners of unnatural vice.

Pemberton Billing defends himself at the libel trial. Proceedings at times become farcical. Pemberton Billing has claimed the existence of a Black Book listing all 47,000 of the degenerates being blackmailed by Berlin. It is somehow impossible to produce a copy of this book, despite the fact that numerous persons claim to have seen it. Eileen Villiers-Stuart, called as a witness in Pemberton Billing’s favour, asserts that listed in the Black Book are none other than Herbert Asquith, the former prime minister, as well as his wife, Margot (whom Pemberton Billing has previously accused of being Miss Allan’s lover). When the presiding judge orders Villers-Stuart to leave the witness box, she retorts that his own name is also included in the Black Book. Another witness makes much of Miss Allan’s decision to perform Oscar Wilde’s degenerate play on the Sabbath.

Pemberton Billing gains from the atmosphere of crisis engendered by Germany’s offensives in France. Today the trial ends; Pemberton Billing is cleared on all points. He receives a standing ovation from the court’s public gallery and then from a patriotic crowd gathered outside the court.
In some respects the trial is reminiscent of Mata Hari‘s conviction in France last year on espionage charges. Maud Allan has lost her case but she is perhaps lucky that she is not sent to the firing squad as a scapegoat for military failures.

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Noel Pemberton Billing (Wikipedia)

Maud Allan (Socialist Review: Homophobia in the First World War)

see also: Noel Pemberton Billing (Spartacus Educational)

1/6/1918 Roderic Dallas is promoted too late

Pilots from across the world are flying for the Allies on the Western Front. One of these is the Australian pilot Roderic “Stan” Dallas, who has been flying combat missions since December 1915. Flying a variety of aeroplanes Dallas has notched up an impressive number of kills, though unlike some other fighter aces he has never been too concerned about formally registering his victories. His official tally stands at 39, though it could be much higher.

Dallas has risen through the ranks to become a squadron leader. His courage and solicitude for his comrades appear to have made him popular with his subordinates. Today he is promoted again to colonel, a rank that means he will no longer fly combat missions. However when notice of his promotion reaches his base, Dallas is in the air on a solo patrol. He does not return to learn of his promotion, as finds himself engaged by three Germans flying Fokker Triplanes. Dallas is shot down and killed over no man’s land.

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Roderic Dallas (Wikipedia)