15/5/1919 Greek troops land in Smyrna

Without authorisation from the Paris Conference, Italian forces have landed in the Turkish city of Antalya, using it as a base to occupy Bodrum and Marmaris. They are also rumoured to be thinking of landing in Smyrna.

Smyrna has large Greek-speaking population. Venizelos, the Greek prime minister, is close to Britain’s Lloyd George and has been making the case for its cession to Greece. He talks of attacks on Greeks in Smyrna’s vicinity by the Turks and cites the natural affinity with his country of the city’s Greek population.

The Americans are not generally supportive of Turkey being carved up among the Allies, but Lloyd George is very insistent that Smyrna should go to Greece. In the end, Wilson agrees, if only to prevent the troublesome Italians from occupying the port. The Allies authorise a Greek landing in Smyrna, over the objections of Henry Wilson, the British army’s chief of staff, who warns that they may be starting another war whose outcome is uncertain.

Greek troops land in Smyrna today. They receive a warm welcome from the city’s Greek citizens. Initially there is something of a carnival atmosphere, but as the day wears on the mood turns ugly. Some Turkish troops are beaten to death when they try to surrender. Inter-communal rioting breaks out and the town descends into an orgy of violence and looting, with disorder quickly spreading into the countryside around the city.

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Greek troops in Smyrna (Wikipedia: Turkish War of Independence)

21/4/1919 Poland pushes the Red Army out of Vilnius

In January the Red Army forced the Poles to withdraw from Vilna. Since then Piłsudski, Poland’s military commander, has been determined to recover the city. After a series of engagements in which the Poles successfully deceive the Soviets as to their true objective, Polish cavalry race into the city, catching the Reds by surprise. Fighting continues for a few days but by today the city is securely in Polish hands. Unfortunately the victory is then marred by assaults on the city’s large Jewish population, who are believed by many Poles to be in league with the Soviets.

Piłsudski hopes that by occupying Vilna he will create a fait accompli and ensure that the city remains in Polish hands. But he is creating problems for Poland with its northern neighbour. Vilna is known as Vilnius by the Lithuanians, and they see it as the ancient capital of their newly emergent country. Its retention by Poland will poison relations between the two countries.

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Map and Polish troops entering Vilna (Wikipedia: Vilna offensive)

13/4/1919 The Amritsar Massacre

As you’ve probably noticed, this blog has fallen a bit behind and is a few weeks behind events from a hundred years ago. I project that I will catch up with by late April or early May and then will be on track until the conclusion in June.

I am breaking sequence now to mention a terrible event that happened a hundred years ago today, the Jallianwala Bagh massacre in Amritsar, India. India at the time was experiencing an upsurge in nationalist agitation, with Indians hoping to secure the kind of self-governing status that the white dominions of the British Empire had already achieved. Some disturbances had occurred in Amritsar and Colonel Reginald Dyer decided on extreme measures to restore order.

On the morning of the 13th Dyer proclaimed a ban on all public meetings in the city. In the afternoon crowds were gathering in the Jallianwala Bagh square in central Amritsar, a mixture of religious pilgrims and people attending a political rally. Dyer brought a squad of troops to the square and without issuing a warning ordered his men to open fire. They fired continuously for around ten minutes, halting only when their supply of ammunition was almost exhausted.

A subsequent official inquiry counted 379 deaths, including a six week old baby, but the actual number may have been around a thousand, with many more injured.

Dyer was never prosecuted for his actions, partly because he was acting with the broad support of his superiors (in particular Michael O’Dwyer, Lieutenant-Governor of the Punjab). The revulsion generated by his action blighted his career but supporters in Britain raised a considerable sum of money for him that must have allowed him to retire in some comfort. Dyer died in 1927. O’Dwyer was assassinated in London by an Indian nationalist in 1940.

It does seem that lately a certain imperial nostalgia has gripped sections of the British population. If you encounter someone waxing lyrical about Britain’s civilising mission in India, remind them of the Amritsar massacre. It is not even the worst thing the British did in India.


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Jallianwala Bagh massacre (Wikipedia Commons)

15/2/1919 Pogrom in Proskurov: Ukrainian Cossacks massacre Jews

Germany’s defeat has rendered the peace of Brest-Litovsk void, leaving Soviet Russia free to invade territories in the west that it had been forced to abandon. Ukraine in particular is now a zone of war as the Red Army battles against Ukrainian nationalists, other local forces and White armies seeking to overturn the Revolution. The Red Army is enjoying some success, including the capture of Kiev earlier this month. But the fighting is not all going the way of the Soviets. Ukrainian Cossack forces capture the town of Proskurov from the Bolsheviks today. Their leader then orders a massacre of the town Jewish population. His men are happy to oblige, brutally killing more than 1,500 people. Smaller atrocities of this type are occurring all across the country.

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Pogrom victims, Proskurov (The Jewish Voice – February 1919: Horror Comes to Ukrainian Jewish Community in the Town of Proskurov)

Ukraine (Wikipedia: Ukraine Offensive (1919)

10/12/1918 Sarafand: New Zealanders massacre Palestinian villagers #1918Live

The war has ended in the Levant but large number of Allied troops remain in Syria and Palestine. Some of these will be here for some time yet as enforcers of the British or French suzerainty that is succeeding Turkish rule. Most of the Allied troops are however slated for demobilisation, but a shortage of shipping means that the soldiers cannot be transported home just yet.

Relations between the Allied troops and the local Arab population are not always warm. Incidents of thieving and pilfering by rowdy soldiers and light-fingered locals combine with racist assumptions to exacerbate tensions. A particularly unsavoury incident occurs today at the Palestinian village of Sarafand, south of Jaffa. Believing that one of their comrades had been murdered by Palestinian from the village, New Zealand troops first formed a cordon around Sarafand and then stormed the village. After driving out women, children and elderly men, the New Zealanders then set upon the remaining menfolk of the village with cudgels and bayonets. Several dozen Palestinians are killed, possibly more than a hundred.

Allenby, the British commander, is furious when he learns of the massacre. However, the New Zealanders and other nearby units refuse to co-operate with inquiries into the matter, making it impossible to identify the individuals responsible. The ANZAC murderers remain unpunished.

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ANZAC troops at Sarafand (Stuff: Old words cast fresh light on Anzac atrocity)

15/9/1918 Massacres in Baku as the city falls to the Turks

Turkish forces are advancing in the Caucasus, hoping to recover territories lost to Russia in previous wars. They are also seeking to assist their ethnic kinfolk in Azerbaijan, where fighting is taking place between Azeri nationalists on the one hand and a motley alliance of socialists, Armenians and a British intervention force on the other.

A Turkish attempt to capture Baku in August was repulsed with the aid of a British formation led by Lionel Dunsterville, but now the reinforced Turks have another go. Under the command of Nuri Pasha, brother of war minister Enver Pasha, the Turks rout the defenders and storm the city.

Disorder in Baku in March saw atrocities committed against Azeris living in the city. Now it is the turn of the city’s Christian population, with Armenians in particular being subjected to massacres by the victors. In some respect the slaughter is revenge for events of earlier in the year, but it is also a continuation of the extermination of the Armenians that the Turkish authorities have been implementing over the last number of years.

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Turkish troops on the move (Wikipedia)

29/4/1918 Vyborg: victory for Finland’s Whites tainted by mass murder #1918Live

The Finnish Civil War is now in its endgame. Many of the Red leaders have by now fled to Russia. After the losses of Tampere and Helsinki, the only remaining centre of Red power is Vyborg in the east of the country, but today it too falls to the Whites after several days of fighting. Some Red Guards manage to break through enemy lines and head off towards Russia but large numbers are captured by the Whites.

Vyborg sees a number of unsavoury episodes. The Reds executed some White prisoners before the town’s fall. Now the victors take their turn, summarily executing some of their captured Red Guards. The Whites also kill members of Vyborg’s Russian community, seeing them as Red sympathisers.

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Captured Red Guards after the battle (Wikipedia: Battle of Vyborg)

Victims and perpetrators of the massacre (Wikipedia: Vyborg Massacre)