16/11/1917 Georges Clemenceau, France’s latest Prime Minister #1917Live

Another political crisis in France has led to the fall of Painlevé‘s government. Now President Poincaré takes the bold step of inviting Georges Clemenceau to form a government. Clemenceau is an old man, 76 years of age, and a leader of the Radical Party, a secular liberal group that has long been the bane of France’s conservative establishment. Clemenceau has also been a strident critic of the way France’s political leaders have been conducting the war. Handing him the premiership gives him an opportunity to put up or shut up.

Clemenceau is determined that the war must be prosecuted to victory and vehemently opposed to any suggestion of a separate peace with the Germans. He plans immediate moves against pacifist agitators within France, including senior politicians such as the Socialist leader Joseph Caillaux, whom he suspects of seeking to bring France out of the war.

image source:

Georges Clemenceau (Wikipedia)

14/11/1917 Caporetto winds down as Italy manages to hold the enemy at the Piave #1917Live

The German and Austro-Hungarian offensive at Caporetto has smashed the Italians, forcing them to abandon the Isonzo line. They retreated to the Tagliamento but were unable to stop the enemy there. Since then the Italians retreated to the Piave, knowing that if the enemy could not be held here then Venice would fall and the Germans and Austro-Hungarians advance could become unstoppable.

The Germans and Austro-Hungarians however are now finding the going harder. Their stormtroopers are exhausted after the continuous fighting and marching since the offensive’s beginning. Their commanders have failed to plan for the scale of the defeat they have inflicted on the Italians, failing in particular to adequately resource a second attack by Conrad from the Asiago plateau that could have cut off the Italian line of retreat.

With both sides exhausted, the Italians are able to hold the Piave. Italy will be able to stay in the war after all. But the battle has been devastating. The Italians have taken over 300,000 casualties in the battle, with some 294,000 of these captured by the enemy (only 42,000 of the Italian casualties are killed or wounded). Meanwhile another 300,000 troops have been separated from their units and are either trying to make their way home or are wandering aimlessly behind the lines. The Italians have also lost some 3,000 guns, half the army’s complement of artillery pieces. A telling tribute to the rout of its army is the loss by its soldiers of 300,000 rifles. It will be a long time before Italy is able to strike back against the Austro-Hungarians.

Those Italians who surrendered to the enemy may have hoped to quietly sit out the rest of the war. Sadly, for them the nightmare is only beginning. Austria-Hungary struggles to feed its own soldiers and civilians; it has little or no food to spare for this large bag of enemy prisoners. And the Italian government prohibits the transmission of food parcels to those captured by the enemy, who are viewed as little better than traitors. For the unfortunate Italian prisoners, starvation waits.

With the battle winding down, the Germans prepare to withdraw the men and the guns they have lent to the Austro-Hungarians. Soon their stormtroopers will be able to apply their infiltration tactics in France, when Ludendorff launches the battle he hopes will win the war.

image sources:

map (Wikipedia: Battle of Caporetto)

Italian prisoners (Mental Floss WWI Centennial: Disaster At Caporetto)

12/11/1917 As the Bolsheviks’ situation improves, Kerensky departs the stage #1917Live

Lenin‘s Bolsheviks seized power easily in Petrograd but Moscow has proved a tougher nut to crack, with forces loyal to the ousted Provisional Government continuing to resist there. Even in Petrograd the rule of the Bolsheviks remains shaky, with a civil servants’ strike hampering Lenin’s commissars in their takeover of public administration while activists from other left parties grumble at the Bolshevik seizure of power.

Kerensky, the former prime minister, fled the capital as the Bolsheviks replaced his Provisional Government with Sovnarkom, the Council of People’s Commissars. He has found some loyalist troops and sends them to smash the Bolsheviks in Petrograd. But if there is a tide in the affairs of men it has well and truly gone out for Kerensky. A rising by anti-Bolshevik troops within Petrograd is easily suppressed and Kerensky’s force is blocked outside the capital by a revolutionary militia. Fearing that his soldiers will now hand him over to the Bolsheviks, Kerensky disguises himself as a sailor and flees.

The situation in Moscow also begins to improve for the Bolsheviks, with more of the city centre coming under their control. Perhaps Lenin’s government is not about to collapse after all. The world may soon see what a truly revolutionary regime guided by Marxism is able to accomplish.

image source:

Fighting in Moscow (Russia Travel Blog: Moscow destroyed by the Bolsheviks in the autumn 1917) This link features some fascinating pictures of central Moscow in late 1917.

11/11/1917 The Mons Conference: Ludendorff decides to attack the British next year #1917Live

Germany’s U-boat campaign was meant to have forced Britain to make peace by now; instead it has brought the USA into the war against Germany. Although the Americans will not have an army ready to field in Europe for some time, the Germans know that the clock is ticking against them. Yet one unexpected event this year has worked greatly to their advantage: the Russian Revolution. Russia has fallen increasingly into chaos, its armies unable to challenge those of Germany. And now the Bolsheviks have seized power, promising to bring Russia out of the war in the immediate future. This creates an opportunity for Germany: the prospect of bringing its Eastern Front troops to France to win a decisive victory there before the Americans arrive.

Now Ludendorff, Germany’s Quartermaster-General and the effective commander of its army, meets with other generals at Mons in Belgium to discuss strategy for next year. They decide that their spring offensive will target the British defending the Arras and St. Quentin sector. The Germans hope that their infiltration tactics (As seen at Riga and Caporetto) and the large numbers of men they will be able to bring from the east will smash the British, separating them from the French. Ludendorff hopes that this devastating victory will force Britain out of the war, in turn forcing the French to capitulate and bringing the war to a victorious end before the Americans arrive.

9/11/1917 The embattled Bolshevik government decrees land reform, bans the opposition press #1917Live

The Bolsheviks have overthrown the Provisional Government and established their own revolutionary government, the Council of People’s Commissars (Sovnarkom). One the new government’s first steps was to issue a land reform decree, written by Lenin himself, handing over to village communities church and crown lands and land held by private landlords, without the payment of any compensation. This popular measure has been introduced partly to appeal to the left faction of the Socialist Revolutionaries, on whose support the Bolsheviks are currently dependent. As word of this decree filters out across the country it leads to a renewed wave of desertions by soldiers who are keen to return home to take advantage of the land redistribution.

But for now Russia remains in such a chaotic state that the writ of Sovnarkom runs only in Petrograd itself. Even there they are having problems assuming the reins of power, as a civil servants’ strike is paralysing public administration. In Moscow the Bolsheviks have been even less successful in their seizure of power, with fighting continuing in the central district. Today the Bolsheviks suffer a reverse as forces loyal to the Provisional Government evict them from the Kremlin. Perhaps in response to this crisis, Sovnarkom takes the extreme step of banning opposition newspapers. This ban covers not just the papers of rightwing parties like the Kadets but also those of other socialist groups.

image source:

Lenin addressing the Congress of Soviets (Jacobin: From February to October)

9/11/1917 Caporetto: as the enemy advance falters, Italy sacks Cadorna #1917Live

The Italians have been unable to hold the line of the Tagliamento and are now retreating to the Piave, hoping desperately that the Austro-Hungarians and Germans can be held here. The scale of the defeat they have suffered has stunned them and there is real fear that the Piave line too will fall, at which point the enemy would be able to seize Venice and advance across the north Italian plain.

The scale of their victory has also caught the Germans and Austro-Hungarians by surprise. They were hoping merely to push back the Italians and safeguard Austria-Hungary from further attacks this year, only to realise too late that there was a real prospect of destroying the Italian army and knocking Italy out of the war. As a result their exploitation of the initial victories is not what it might be: Conrad‘s men in the Trentino do not attack with sufficient strength to advance into the Italian rear and the main army’s pursuit runs out of steam as the Italians retreat. Of course the Austro-Hungarians and Germans are advancing beyond their supply lines, making it harder for them to maintain momentum.

The Italians also know that reinforcements are on their way from the British and French. As part of the price of this aid, Cadorna is now dismissed as the supreme Italian commander. He does not go quietly. Despite the personal remonstrations of the King, Cadorna refuses to leave his headquarters until a signed dismissal orders arrives. Today at last it does, and Armando Diaz takes over command of the Italian army.

image sources:

The retreat (WorldWar1.com – La Grande Guerra: Caporetto – A Fresh Look)

Luigi Cadorna (Arte nella Grande Guerra: Il generale Luigi Cadorna non merita vie e piazze)

9/11/1917 The Balfour Declaration: Britain gives away Palestine #1917Live

British newspapers today carry reports of a letter sent a week ago by Arthur Balfour, the foreign minister, to Walter Rothschild, a leading member of the British Jewish community. In the letter Balfour states that the British government “view with favour the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people” and promises that Britain will work to facilitate the achievement of this goal. British armies are currently advancing into Palestine, which means that it may soon be possible to deliver on Balfour’s promise.

Although written to a private individual, Balfour’s letter is intended for publication. Zionism, the idea that a Jewish homeland should be established in Palestine, has been attracting increasing support among members of the Jewish community across the world. The British hope that by declaring in favour of Zionism they will be able to boost Jewish support for the war effort in Britain and the USA. They also hope that this Jewish homeland will remain under effective British control, safeguarding the security of the Suez Canal and British interests in the Middle East.

Balfour’s declaration is only the latest in Britain’s promises regarding the disposal of Ottoman territories in the Middle East, following on from the Constantinople agreement with France and Russia, the promise to Sharif Hussein to establish an Arab state in greater Syria, and the Sykes-Picot agreement with France. Unlike the others, Balfour’s declaration has been made publicly.

As with the previous agreements, Balfour’s letter contains no suggestion that the current inhabitants of Palestine will have any say in the disposal of their territory. It does however say that the “civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine” should be respected.

image sources:

The Balfour Declaration as reported in The Times (Wikipedia)

Arthur Balfour

Walter Rothschild in 1895