17/7/1917 Narungombe: a British advance in East Africa thwarted

The war in German East Africa should be coming to an end. The Germans here are heavily outnumbered and completely cut off from Europe. British Empire forces have overrun the colony’s coast but the Germans have retreated inland. Now the British attempt to follow them, under orders from London to eliminate Germany’s last overseas colony as soon as possible.

This is not purely a white man’s war. The British are fielding troops from India and their various African possessions alongside European and white South African soldiers. They have also forcibly recruited a vast corps of Africans to serve as bearers in slave-like conditions. The German army meanwhile is mainly locally recruited Askaris, with a small number of European officers.

British forces attack the Germans today at Narungombe. The Germans here are outnumbered but Lettow-Vorbeck, the overall German commander is racing to reinforce them. The fighting is confused, with brush fires reducing visibility. The Germans inflict heavy losses on the British but Lieberman, the local commander, fears being overwhelmed. He orders a withdrawal, which comes as something of a surprise to the British.

When they join forces Lettow-Vorbeck is furious that Lieberman did not wait at Narungombe for his arrival. Nevertheless the battle has so battered the British that for now they must abandon any further plans to advance.

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Askaris (Delville Wood)

17/7/1917 Petrograd: a second Russian Revolution?

In Petrograd morning readers of Pravda, the Bolshevik newspaper, are greeted by an unusual sight: the paper has a gap on the centre of its front page where the leading article has been cut out. Pravda went to press with a front page editorial urging readers to be wary of joining in the demonstrations that threaten to overthrow the Provisional Government. Overnight though senior Bolsheviks have had a change of heart, deciding that they must back the radical workers and soldiers (and their own rank and file) or risk losing all credibility with them. It is too late to change Pravda‘s editorial so they manually excise the now embarrassing article from all issues.

Meanwhile the streets are in the hands of the radicals. The Kronstadt sailors have arrived in town, boosting the numbers of the revolutionaries. Bolshevik leader Lenin has also returned to the city. The Kronstadters and other radicals flock to hear Lenin speak, expecting him to order them to seize power. But Lenin seems wrong-footed by the speed of events; his speech is curiously hesitant and disappoints his audience.

Intermittent fighting continues through the day as the radicals exchange fire with small numbers of army officer cadets, cossacks and other counter-revolutionaries. A revolutionary crowd assembles outside the Tauride Palace, where the Petrograd Soviet is based. The crowd want the Soviet to take power but the Soviet leaders wary of taking on the burden of government. The crowd becomes restless. Socialist Revolutionary leader Viktor Chernov is sent out to calm the crowd but manages to inflame its anger. “Take power when it’s handed to you, you son of a bitch!” shouts a furious worker, waving his fist in Chernov’s face. He starts to be manhandled and is only able to escape when the Bolshevik Trotsky intervenes on his behalf.

The crowd at the Tauride Palace begins to disperse. For want of anything better to do the Kronstadt sailors seize the Peter and Paul Fortress but it begins to look at though the revolutionary moment is passing.

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A crowd on Nevsky Prospect scatters as shooting breaks out (Wikipedia)

16/7/1917 Petrograd erupts

Unrest has been building in Petrograd. Now it erupts. Revolutionary soldiers and radicalised workers take to the streets. They have had enough of the Provisional Government and want rid of it. Some are calling for executive power to be assumed by the Petrograd Soviet (which now has delegates from all across Russia) while others have less focussed demands. The radicals send messengers to the Kronstadt naval base, calling on the sailors there to join them in the capital’s streets. The workers of the city’s industrial areas are also summoned to the city centre.

The streets are largely in the hands of the radicals, but they still resistance from Cossacks, some loyalist soldiers and conservative militiamen. Shots ring out across the city, with it not always being clear who is firing on whom.

The events have the Bolsheviks in a quandary. Lenin is away in Finland. Many of the Bolshevik rank and file are actively involved in the unrest, hoping to use it to overthrow the Provisional Government. But the leadership are more cautious, fearing the consequences of premature action. They send a message to Lenin, calling for his urgent return. Leading Bolsheviks Zinoviev and Kamenev write a front page editorial for tomorrow’s Pravda, the party newspaper, calling for restraint.

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Revolutionaries (The Internationalists: 1917 – The July Days)

Factory workers summoned to the streets (BBC Eduction: the July Days)

15/7/1917 Tension builds in Petrograd

Unrest is building in Petrograd. Plans to send fractious army units to the front have led to the affected soldiers plotting in turn to overthrow the Provisional Government. Anarchists have joined in these plans for a second revolution. So too have elements of the Bolsheviks, though that party is divided. The junior elements and members of the party’s Military Organisation are supportive of the soliders but Lenin and other leaders are more cautious. However Lenin is away in Finland suffering from exhaustion, unable for now to provide firm leadership.

Tonight a fund-raising concert is held to purchase anti-war propaganda for the soldiers to bring to the front. The concert is addressed by two Bolshevik sympathisers, Leon Trotsky and Anatoly Lunacharsky. They repeat Lenin’s slogan: “All power to the Soviets”, proposing to hand over power to the workers’ councils that have sprung up across Russia. The crowd is fired up and a sense of imminent insurrection spreads.

The Provisional Government meanwhile faces problems of its own. The government has reached a compromise with the Ukrainian Rada, effectively recognising the autonomy of Ukraine. This is a step too far for the Kadets (the Constitutional Democrats), who are already irked by the government’s failure to crack down on industrial unrest and land seizures by the peasantry. The Kadet ministers resign from the government in protest.

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Leon Trotsky (In Defence of October: Trotsky in January 1917)

15/7/1917 Santa Maria la Longa: an Italian mutiny suppressed #1917Live

Yesterday a mutiny broke out among Italian troops of the Catanzaro brigade. After suffering in heavy fighting during the recent Tenth Battle of the Isonzo, these men from the far south of Italy had been taken out of the line and based temporarily at the village of Santa Maria la Longa. Expecting to be posted to a quiet sector, the men were shocked to then receive orders to return to the Isonzo frontline. Anger leads to mutiny, which is suppressed by the cavalry and armoured cars. 11 men die in the disturbance, including two officers. The rebels had apparently planned to kill D’Annunzio, stationed in a nearby village, but the warrior poet had been away visiting a nearby airfield.

More men die today. 28 men are executed for their part in the mutiny, 12 chosen at random from the most mutinous company, in accordance with Cadorna‘s directions on how to deal with units that fail in their duty. D’Annunzio watches the executions of the men who would have killed him.

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Benediction for the condemned (from the film Uomini Contro) (La Grande Guerra: Fucilazioni della brigata Catanzaro a Santa Maria la Longa)

13/7/1917 Britain retreats from Ramadi #1917Live

British forces have been attacking the Turkish position of Ramadi in Mesopotamia. Conducted under the unforgiving glare of a burning sun, the attacks have been a failure, with the Turks refusing to be dislodged. Now the British retreat back to their base in Dhibban on the Euphrates, upriver from Baghdad. Along the way they are harassed by pro-Turkish Arab irregulars.

British forces end up taking more casualties from the heat than from enemy gunfire, with many men succumbing to heat stroke and thirst. The failure to take Ramadi brings home the folly of campaigning here in the heart of summer. It will be the autumn before Maude makes any further attempt is made to take Ramadi.

13/7/1917 Chancellor Bethmann Hollweg leaves the stage #1917Live

Germany’s politicians are restive. The dawning realisation that the U-boat campaign is not going to win the war has led to a rising dissatisfaction in the Reichstag. Chancellor Bethmann Hollweg is in an awkward position. He was never a supporter of the U-boat war but has been obliged to defend it on behalf of the army and navy. Now he tries to broker some kind of compromise between the parliamentarians and the regime. He suggests extreme political reforms to the Kaiser: extending the vote to all adult men and bringing Reichstag leaders into the government. But he is unable to convince the Kaiser and he is unable to bring the Reichstag into line, with it becoming apparent that the parliamentarians are about to pass a resolution calling for a compromise peace.

In France or Britain the prime ministers must retain the confidence of parliament to remain in office but in Germany the Chancellor serves at the pleasure of the Kaiser. Kaiser Wilhelm is now little more than a figurehead, with real power lying with Hindenburg and Ludendorff in the army. As far as they are concerned, Bethmann Hollweg has failed in his job of keeping the Reichstag in line. Therefore he has to go. He tenders his resignation. Another of the leaders at the war’s start leaves the stage.

Hindenburg and Ludendorff pick Bethmann Hollweg’s replacement. He is Georg Michaelis, a bureaucrat seen to have successfully administered food distribution in Prussia. He is Germany’s first Chancellor not to be drawn from the aristocracy.

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Theobald von Bethmann Hollweg (Wikipedia)

Hindenburg & Ludendorff (Wikipedia)