21/6/1919 Götterdämerung: the scuttling of the German fleet

On the 16h of June, Germany was given three days to either accept Allied peace terms or face the war’s renewal. That deadline has since been extended to the 23rd, and now the world waits on tenterhooks to see whether fighting is about to resume.

After the armistice in November the German fleet set sail to be interned by the British. It is now at Scapa Flow in the Orkneys, manned by a German skeleton crew and closely guarded by the British. The German sailors are deliberately kept isolated, forbidden from visiting the shore or fraternising with their British counterparts, a source of some annoyance to radical German sailors who had hoped to spreading revolutionary sentiment to the British.

The German sailors have now got wind of the Allied ultimatum. They know that the endgame is approaching. Whether his country accepts or rejects the Allied terms, Reuter, the German commander, knows that his ships will never return to Germany but will instead be either sunk or divided out among the Allies. He decides therefore to preserve his fleet’s honour by ordering the scuttling of his ships.
The scuttling is scheduled for today. At Reuter’s order, the German ships raise their ensigns and below decks men open the sea cocks, letting water flood in. As the ships begin to list it dawns on the British observers what is happening. The British race to try and save the ships, forcibly boarding them to close the sea cocks, shooting any German sailors who get in their way. Nine German sailors are killed and 16 wounded, some after they have abandoned ship; they will be the last men killed in the First World War. However the British are too late: only one of the 16 German battleships is saved.

The German crews escape from their ships in lifeboats and are now imprisoned by the British as prisoners of war. Fremantle, the British commander at Scapa Flow berates Reuter for his dishonourable behaviour, though he later notes that he felt that the German had successfully “preserved his dignity when placed against his will in a highly unpleasant and invidious position”.

The Allies view the German fleet’s scuttling as yet another sign of the Teutons’ treacherous nature. However the British in particular are secretly relieved. They had feared that the Paris Conference would insist on the division of the German ships among the Allies, which would have undermined British naval dominance. Now Britannia can continue to rule the waves.

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The Derfflinger sinks (BBC News – Scapa Flow scuttling: The day the German navy sank its own ships)

German sailors after abandoning their sinking ship (Plymouth Scuba Diving Submerged Productions – Scapa Flow – The German Valhalla)

19/6/1919 Another defeat for the Red Army as Tsaritsyn falls to the Whites

The Denikin‘s Volunteer Army is pushing northwards from its base in the far south of Russia. Forces led by May-Mayevsky have already advanced into Ukraine, capturing Kharkov and defeating elements of both the Red Army and the anarchist army of Nestor Makhno. Meanwhile another force under the command of Wrangel is driving towards the Volga. Wrangel’s men undertake a forced march across the steppe, today arriving at Tsaritsyn. Local Soviet forces greatly outnumber Wrangel’s army, but they are shocked by the sight of the tanks with which he has been supplied by the British and by the fighting spirit of he men. Those of the Soviets who can flee, leaving behind a vast store of munitions.

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Pyotr Wrangel (Wikipedia)

map (Wikipedia: Kharkiv Operation (June 1919))

17/6/1919 Turkey’s prime minister fails to charm the Paris Conference

The Allies are waiting to see whether the Germans will finally accept the peace terms, with Foch ready to invade Germany if they fail to do so. In the meantime, the work of the Paris Conference continues. Today the Allied leaders hear Damad Ferid Pasha, the Turkish prime minister. He attempts to ingratiate himself with the Allies by laying all the blame for Turkey’s entry into the war and the terrible massacres of the Armenians onto the Ottoman Empire’s three leaders in 1914, Enver, Talaat and Djemal (all of whom have conveniently fled into exile). It would be wrong, he says, to punish the Turkish people as a whole for their crimes. Accordingly he rejects any talk of dismembering the Turkish Empire.

The Turkish prime minister’s presentation does not have a positive effect on the Allies. Lloyd George see Ferid Pasha’s speech as little more than a joke, while Wilson declares that he has “never seen anything more stupid”; he states that he is now in favour of Constantinople being taken from the Turks. The Allies moreover are determined that there will be a reckoning for the crimes committed against the Armenians; the Turkish people will have to accept responsibility for the actions of their leaders.

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Damad Ferid Pasha (Wikipedia)

17/6/1919 The Epsom riots: rampage of the Canadians

Following the armistice last November, the Allies were able to demobilise many of their soldiers, but they still have large numbers of men under arms. The armistice was only a pause in the fighting and large Allied armies need to be maintained in case the war needed to be renewed. This has however led to a certain sulkiness on the part of the men who have not been demobilised, as they mostly want to return to civilian life as soon as possible.

This sulkiness on the part of the servicemen can sometimes cross over into unruliness, leading to a breakdown in discipline. Canadian soldiers based at Epsom in Surrey, near to London, are among those who are fed up of still being in uniform and have taken to increasingly loutish behaviour. Two Canadian soldiers are arrested after a brawl, but their comrades decide to free them. Today several hundred soldiers attack the police station in which the two are held. They secure the release of the two soldiers, serving up a thrashing to the greatly outnumbered policemen. The Canadians then rampage through the town, smashing windows and destroying property.

One of the policemen, Sergeant Thomas Green, is beaten with an iron bar. He falls into unconsciousness and later dies of his wounds.

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Epsom police station after the riots (Wikipedia)

Thomas Green (Surrey Live – The Epsom Riot: The story of one of Britain’s forgotten police tragedies)

16/6/1919 An ultimatum to Germany: sign the peace treaty or face renewed war

It is now nearly six weeks since the Germans were presented with the Allied peace terms. Since then there has been grave disquiet in Germany, with many feeling that their country is being roughly treated. The draft treaty’s provision that Germany bears the responsibility for starting the war is particularly galling, as are the reparation payments being demanded. Some in Germany have talked of rejecting the Allied terms and resuming the armed struggle, but wiser voices (including Groener, the army’s chief of staff) have pointed out that this would be a recipe for disaster. Since the armistice the German army has fallen into a parlous state while the Allies now occupy bridgeheads across the Rhine; in the event of the war’s resumption then the Germans would be unable to stop an Allied advance into the heart of their country.

Nevertheless, the Germans still have not signalled that they are willing to sign the peace treaty. On the Allied side it is starting to look as though the Germans are playing for time. And Allied leaders fear that time is not on their side, that if the final peace is delayed much longer they will not be able to restart the war. Much of the victorious Allied armies of last year have now been demobilised, with only 39 divisions of the 198 from November remaining on the Western Front. The remaining soldiers are understandably keen to return home as soon as possible, and war-weariness is increasingly gripping the home fronts, where people want their menfolk returned and a reduction of the wartime tax burden.

The Allies therefore decide to push the issue while they still can. Brockdorff-Rantzau and the rest of the German delegation are summoned to be informed that Germany has three days to agree to the Allied terms. If the Germans do not accept then the Allies will renew the war.

It is thought likely that the Germans will follow Brockdorff-Rantzau’s urgings and reject the treaty. But the Allies are ready for this eventuality. The British are ready to renew their naval blockade in all its harshness. And Foch, the supreme Allied commander, has made plans for an invasion of the German heartland.

image source:

Marshal Ferdinand Foch (Wikipedia)

15/6/1919 The Austrian authorities strike against Communist would-be revolutionaries

In April a Communist coup failed in Vienna, but the Hungarian communist regime of Béla Kun still hopes to spread their brand of socialism to neighbouring Austria. Kun sends Ernst Bettelheim as his representative to Vienna, charged with preparing the Austrian Communists to seize power. Bettelheim installs a new leadership of the KPÖ (the Communist Party of Austria) and draws his plans. He hopes that Austria will fall into Communist hands through an uprising of KPÖ cadres and disgruntled elements of the Austrian army, supported by an invasion from Hungary.

Alas for the onward march of Communism, it is not to be. Informers reveal Bettelheim’s plans to the authorities, and they now strike to pre-empt the Communist putsch. Between last night and this morning the police have rounded up most of the KPÖ’s leadership (though not Bettelheim himself), coming close to decapitating the party. Today Communist demonstrators march to the jail where the prisoners are being held, hoping to free them and make good the revolution, but the police fire into the crowd, killing 20 people and driving the rest from the streets. This appears to be the end of Austria’s Communist revolution: Soviet Hungary must battle on alone.

15/6/1919 Alcock and Brown conquer the Atlantic

It is barely 15 years since the first aeroplane took to the skies. Since then aviation has progressed in leaps and bounds. The recent war has seen a further rapid development of the aeroplane, as each nation struggled to build new aircraft that could more effectively best their enemies. As a result the aeroplane now is almost unimaginably more advanced than the primitive model flown by the Wright Brothers at Kittyhawk.
Today an astonishing new chapter in aviation opens. Yesterday British aviators John Alcock and Arthur Brown took off from Newfoundland. Their goal is to successfully cross the Atlantic, thereby earning a place in the history books and a prize of £10,000 being offered by the Daily Mail. And today, after 16 hours in the air Alcock and Brown crash land safely near Clifden in the west of Ireland. Their journey has been a difficult one, with cloud making navigation difficult and inclement weather at times threatening to force them down into the sea, but they have succeeded in their mission. The Atlantic has been conquered.
After a civic reception in Galway, Alcock and Brown take the train to Dublin, where they receive a rapturous welcome from excitable students of Trinity College Dublin. They will proceed on to England to claim their prize.

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Alcock and Brown taking off in Newfoundland and their aeroplane after crash landing in Connemara (Wikipedia)

Trinity students fête Alcock and Brown on their arrival in Dublin (Century Ireland)