18/3/1918 Looting the occupied Italian zone #1918Live

After Caporetto the Austro-Hungarians found themselves occupying a large swathe of north-eastern Italy. Many of the people in this zone, both ethnic Italians and Slavs initially welcomed the Austro-Hungarians because of fond local memories of Habsburg rule before the area’s incorporation into Italy in 1866. By now however most have a less favourable view of the Austro-Hungarians. The occupying army has been requisitioning the goods of the civilian population to supplement its own resources. Livestock, foodstuffs and wine, fodder and manure have all already been seized. Now the Austro-Hungarians begin to confiscate clothes and household linen, often leaving civilians with nothing but the clothes on their backs.

As cruel as these efforts are, they are a symptom of the rot eating at the Austro-Hungarian Empire. The food crisis at home is tearing apart the threads linking the different parts of the empire. While the army is better fed than Austro-Hungarian civilians, army rations are still not what could be described as generous. The looting of the occupied zone in Italy is a sign of Austria-Hungary’s weakness.

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Livestock confiscation (MetroPostcard, Themes of World War One: Food and the Great War  pt2)

Italian postcard of hungry Austrian soldier eating a church candle (MetroPostcard, Themes of World War One: Food and the Great War  pt4)

11/3/1918 The food crisis eating at the Austro-Hungarian Empire #1918Live

German civilians are suffering from food shortages. Compared to others in Central Europe however they are enjoying relative abundance. Food rations in German-occupied Warsaw are now half that of what people in Germany are enjoying. Worse, the difficult economic situation there means that few people are able to supplement their rations on the black market.

In Austria-Hungary the food situation remains deeply problematic. The same factors that apply to Germany also apply here: inability to source food or nitrate fertiliser from overseas and a fall-off in the agricultural labour force. The internal division between Austria and Hungary is limiting the transfer of food from agricultural regions to the cities. Moreover Austria-Hungary also has a less developed transportation infrastructure, on which military transport is being prioritised over food distribution. And the authorities in Austria-Hungary seem considerably less effective than their German counterparts in addressing the food issue.

Rations, even in agricultural Hungary, are considerably lower than in Germany. The result, particularly in the empire’s urban centres, is severe malnutrition and instances of actual starvation. One positive effect for the regime is that it deters desertion from the army, as soldiers are the one group in society receiving something approximating to an adequate supply of food. But across the empire, the food situation erodes support for the regime and exacerbates existing tensions between town and city and between the empire’s regions and nationalities.

Copying a German programme and following on from charitable efforts last year, the Austro-Hungarian authorities now initiate a programme to evacuate children from the cities to the countryside, where they will receive better food in return for light work on the farms. This may save these children from severe malnutrition, if not worse, and perhaps work to repair relations between the towns and the countryside. But the overall food situation remains unsustainable. If the war is allowed to continue it will bring about the Habsburg empire’s disintegration.

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Queuing for food in Vienna (The World of the Habsburgs – The food emergency in the First World War as a key social problem: Searching for the ‘enemy within’)

3/3/1918 Brest-Litovsk: Germany and Russia agree a peace treaty #1918Live

Germany’s unstoppable advance in the East has forced the capitulation of Soviet Russia. Today a Soviet delegation signs a peace treaty with the Germans at Brest-Litovsk. The terms are harsh. Poland, Ukraine, Belarus, Estonia, Lithuania and Latvia are all detached from Russia, notionally independent but effectively German colonies.Russia has lost a third of its population, more than half its industry and nearly 90% of its coal mines. Russia has also lost much of its railways and sources of iron ore, as well as the rich agricultural lands of Ukraine. Within Russia itself the treaty grants privileges to Germans: their businesses are immune from nationalisation or other interference by the Bolshevik regime. And Russia must pay an indemnity to the Germany.

Germany has done well out of the treaty, acquiring both the territories in the East it has already overrun and effective control of Ukraine. Austria-Hungary has done less well, having to make do with promises of a share of the grain to be extracted from Ukraine. The other beneficiary of the treaty is Turkey. Russia is obliged not merely to withdraw to its frontiers from before the war but also from the three provinces of Kars, Batum and Ardahan it gained from Turkey in 1878. The future status of the three provinces is to be determined by plebiscite, but one to be conducted by the Turks. Turkish forces are now pushing eastwards to not merely occupy the territory they are being awarded at Brest-Litovsk but as much of Transcaucasia as they can.

Acceptance of the Brest-Litovsk treaty is controversial within Russia. Many leading Bolsheviks oppose the treaty while the support of Trotsky is lukewarm at best (he has resigned as foreign minister to avoid having to sign it himself). The Left faction of the Socialist Revolutionaries, the Bolsheviks’ coalition partner, sees the treaty as turning the country into a German client state; so incensed are the Left SRs that their ministers resign from Sovnarkom (Soviet Russia’s government). But Lenin sees peace as essential to give socialism the breathing space it needs in Russia. With time revolution will spread across Europe, negating the treaty.

For Germany the treaty’s signature is a relief. Grain from Ukraine should alleviate the country’s food problems. And crucially it stops the country’s leaders from having to worry about the Eastern Front. Ludendorff is now free to concentrate on the great offensive he is planning in the West.

images source (Wikipedia)

15/2/1918 Polish anger over Germany and Austria’s treaty with Ukraine #1918Live

Germany and Austria-Hungary have concluded a peace treaty with Ukraine. The terms of the treaty have largely been written for Germany’s benefit and oblige the Ukrainians to supply Germany with much-needed foodstuffs. However a few bones have been thrown to Ukraine. Some territorial adjustments in the east have been made in its favour, with some Austro-Hungarian territories in eastern Galicia being transferred to Ukraine.

This territorial adjustment causes considerable disquiet in Poland. The Poles had hoped that the Central Powers’ victory in the east would restore Poland to some kind of independence. Germany and Austria-Hungary had made promises in that regard, indicating a willingness to create a new Polish kingdom under a German or Austrian prince out of territory that formerly belonged to Russia and Austria-Hungary. But the territory now being given to Ukraine is seen by Poles as integral to this planned new kingdom. They regard its gift to Ukraine as a betrayal and a sign that Berlin and Vienna are not to be trusted.

Cracow, in Austro-Hungarian Galicia, is a centre of Polish national feeling. There has already been some disquiet there over food shortages and the general hardships of the war. Now anger over the Ukrainian treaty brings large numbers out onto the streets. Symbols of the Habsburg Empire are defaced and the German consulate is attacked. The police find themselves unable to maintain order.

Anger over the treaty also sees many Polish officials resign their positions. And a Polish military unit recruited by the Austro-Hungarians mutinies. The Habsburgs manage to suppress the revolt, but with their commander, Józef Haller, some 1,600 of the Poles successfully escape to Russian controlled territory. They hope to fight on the Allies’s side and thereby advance the cause of their homeland.

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Demonstrations in Kraków against the treaty with Ukraine (Poland, the Centenary of Regaining Independence: Polish Roads to Independence)

28/1/1918 A wave of industrial unrest grips Germany #1918Live

Austria-Hungary has seen an outbreak of industrial unrest, with a reduction in the flour ration triggering an upsurge of dissatisfaction at the never-ending privations caused by the war. But the unrest does not progress to a full-scale attempt to overthrow the existing order in the Empire. Austria’s socialists are cautious and are not yet pushing for revolution; they appear to be following the masses rather than leading them. The Austrian authorities are able to placate the strikers by promising increased food rations once peace with Russia leads to improved access to grain from Ukraine.

But now unrest spreads to Germany. War weariness and anger at the erosion of their standard of living lead to an eruption of industrial action in Germany. Mass walk-outs in Berlin spread rapidly to other cities across the country. In the capital industrial action is co-ordinated by Richard Müller and his network of radical shop stewards.

Russia’s Bolsheviks had hoped that the Austrian strikes were a sign that their revolution was beginning to spread into central Europe. The German unrest ignites similar hopes. For the German authorities, this hope is a fear. They are determined to crush the industrial unrest, both to prevent revolution and continue the war but also to show Trotsky and the other Russian negotiators at Brest-Litovsk that revolution in Germany will not save them from having to agree to Germany’s harsh peace terms.

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Strikers demonstrate in Berlin (Poppycock – 24 January, 1918: All We’re Saying…)

19/1/1918 Discontent boils over in Austria-Hungary #1918Live

Thanks to German help, the military situation for Austria-Hungary looks good. The cheeky Serbs have been overrun, Italy has been chastened by the hammer-blow of Caporetto, Romania has sued for peace and the Russians have agreed an armistice and are negotiating a peace treaty. But the empire’s domestic situation is disastrous, with inflation and declining supply of food leading to industrial unrest and tensions between town and country and the empire’s separate regions.

These pressures are now starting to boil over. Austrian authorities recently announced that the already meagre flour ration was being halved. Workers have not taken this lying down: Vienna is now in the grip of a general strike and unrest has spread to Galicia and Bohemia, with workers in Budapest too having downed tools.

In Russia the Bolsheviks take heart from news of the unrest in Austria-Hungary. Their assumption was that socialist revolution would begin in Russia and then spread across Europe and the world. The strikes in Austria-Hungary seem to indicate that revolution is spreading to the heart of Europe, which would mean that Trotsky can abandon his negotiations with the Germans at Brest-Litovsk.

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Cis und Trans (a cartoon suggesting that the greedy Hungarians are starving their Austrian fellows) (Die Welt der Habsburger)

3/1/1918 Hard times for Italian civilians and prisoners of war under Austria

Last year’s Battle of Caporetto saw the Austro-Hungarians conquer a large swathe of territory in northern Italy. Many of the civilians who lived here fled before the Austro-Hungarian advance, but many others stayed in place. This region was only incorporated into Italy after 1866 and folk memories of Habsburg rule were often positive. The local Catholic clergy was particularly keen to see the replacement of Italy’s anti-clerical regime with the more church-friendly Austro-Hungarians.

However, the actual experience of occupation has been less positive. The initial advance of the Austro-Hungarians saw a wave of pillage and abuse by the Habsburg soldiers. Thereafter the Austro-Hungarians established an extractive regime, seeking to take as much food and other resources from the territory as possible. The Austro-Hungarians have seized all of the area’s livestock and are now eyeing up other foodstuffs as well as fodder, manure and general household goods.

Caporetto also saw large numbers of Italian soldiers surrendering to the Austro-Hungarians. The sufferings of these unfortunates is now considerable. Austria-Hungary is beset by food shortages, to the extent that it has recently had to cut the rations of its own frontline troops. Enemy prisoners come last in food queue, so the rations Italian PoWs are receiving are completely inadequate. No no help comes to the captured Italians from their homeland: the Italian government, viewing soldiers who surrender as traitors, has blocked the despatch of food parcels.

The result for the Italian prisoners is starvation. In their camps in Austria-Hungary they are now suffering a higher mortality rate than that of frontline soldiers. So desperate is their situation that when a man dies of starvation, his comrades hide the corpse so that they can continue drawing his meagre ration.

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(Wikipedia: WWI Italian Front)

Italian prisoners, possibly recently captured (Wikipedia: World War I prisoners of war in Germany)