25/11/1918 Germany’s last field army surrenders as Lettow-Vorbeck lays down his arms #1918Live

The Western Front armistice also obliged Lettow-Vorbeck‘s army in east Africa to lay down its arms. Lettow-Vorbeck had been unable to prevent much larger Allied forces from overrunning German East Africa but the Allies in turn have been unable to eliminate Lettow-Vorbeck’s force (which consists of mostly African troops (known as Askaris) led by European officers). Lettow-Vorbeck’s men have retreated into the interior of the colony, striking back against the Allies where they can but always retreating away from enemy forces strong enough to destroy them. Lettow-Vorbeck has also carried the war into enemy territory, launching raids into Portuguese Mozambique and more recently the British colony of Northern Rhodesia.

It is easy to romanticise Lettow-Vorbeck’s army as a plucky David taking on the Allied Goliath, but the reality is a bit less appealing. The Germans are supporting themselves by looting food from the local civilian population, so his army leaves famine and devastation in its wake. Ludwig Deppe, a doctor serving with Lettow-Vorbeck, ruefully notes: “We are no longer the agents of culture; our track is marked by death, plundering and evacuated villages, just like the progress of our own and enemy armies in the Thirty Years War”; hundreds of thousands of civilians may have died from famine and disease. The Allies meanwhile have press-ganged enormous numbers of African porters to support their armies, under-feeding them and bringing them to areas where they have no resistance to the local diseases, with the result that the porters have been dying at a higher rate than soldiers on the Western Front; at 45,000 men (soldiers and porters) killed, losses from British East Africa amount to some 12% of the adult male population.

While the armistice obliged Lettow-Vorbeck to surrender, there was the problem of how to let him know the war was over. Lettow-Vorbeck is completely cut off from Germany and has no radio with which to communicate with Berlin. However Lettow-Vorbeck learns of the armistice when an Allied dispatch is captured. Initially the Germans think that the war in Europe must have ended with German victory but gradually the harsh reality of defeat dawns on them. Finally today at Abercorn in Northern Rhodesia, Lettow-Vorbeck and his men surrender to the British. His army is now tiny, just 155 Germans, 1,168 Askaris and several thousand more porters. The German officers are allowed keep their swords and pistols pending transportation back to Europe.

Lettow-Vorbeck’s surrender, by an anonymous Tanzanian artist (Wikipedia: Paul von Lettow-Vorbeck)

Paul von Lettow-Vorbeck (Badass of the Week)

The war against German East Africa (Wikipedia: German East Africa)

9/11/1918 Erzberger remonstrates with Foch, in vain #1918Live

On the Western Front the Allied advance continues. The Germans are mostly retreating rather than fighting and the Allies are being slowed more by the booby traps and destruction the Germans have left behind than by German resistance. Nevertheless the recovery of Belgium continues, with Tournai and Ghent today liberated by British and Belgian troops respectively.

In the forest of Compiègne armistice negotiators are trying to bringing the war to an end. The German team is still reeling from the unexpected harshness of the terms presented by Foch yesterday. Now Erzberger, the lead negotiator, asks again for an immediate ceasefire so that the German army can be deployed home to prevent revolutionary chaos. Foch brushes him off once more: German disorder is a problem for Germany and there can be no ceasefire until all the terms are agreed. Erzberger for his part is still waiting for word from Berlin as to whether the terms can be accepted, so he is unable to agree the Allied terms. The war therefore will continue.

2/11/1918 Italy presents its armistice terms to Austria-Hungary

Austria-Hungary is being torn apart by disaffection within and defeat on the battlefield. The Allies are now advancing up the Balkans, pushing the Austro-Hungarians from territories they have occupied since 1915. Today French and Serbian troops liberate Belgrade, which brings them to the pre-war frontier with Austria-Hungary. Now of course the Empire’s southern Slav territories are seceding in the hope of forming a new state with Serbia, the very nightmare that Austria-Hungary’s leaders went to war in 1914 to prevent.

On the Italian front the army is in a state of collapse. Italian troops are pressing eastward and are now across the Tagliamento. The forced evacuation of Monte Grappa meanwhile has allowed the Italians to push northwards into the Asiago plateau. The Austro-Hungarians seem incapable of further resistance here and are surrendering in large numbers; one British division attached to the Italian army here manages to capture some 20,000 prisoners for the loss of only 150 of their own men killed or wounded.

In Trieste the Austrian governor has fled the city after being informed by Vienna that it is being abandoned. And in the Villa Giusti outside Padua Austro-Hungarian negotiators are presented with Italy’s armistice terms. The Austro-Hungarian army must cease fighting, surrender half its artillery and demobilise. The Austro-Hungarians must also evacuate the territories promised to Italy by the Treaty of London and place their transport network at the Allies’ disposal. They have until midnight tomorrow to accept or reject the terms.

image source (Metropostcard – Belligerents and Participants in World War One: The Kingdom of Italy pt1)

1/11/1918 Maintaining the pressure on the Western Front

Allied efforts are continuing on the Western Front, notwithstanding all this talk of an imminent armistice. In the Argonne the Americans are still plugging away. Contrary to Pershing‘s wishes, the fighting here has turned into an attritional meat-grinder, but with more US troops arriving in France every day this plays to American strengths. Although losses have been heavy, the Americans have pushed the Germans back some 15 kilometres and are now more or less out of the bleak forest. Their French allies on the left, who are more experienced and may also be fighting in easier terrain, have made even more progress. Now the French and Americans seek to press on towards Sedan, a rail hub whose capture will make the whole German position in France and Belgium untenable.

Further to the north, British and Canadian forces are also pressing the Germans. In concert with the Belgians they are now advancing towards Ghent. The Germans are still inflicting casualties but the boot is very much on the Allied foot. German troops defending positions under attack now pretty much know that if they do not retreat they will die where they stand; seeing the war as lost, many are choosing to retreat rather than to throw away their lives.

map (A Year of War – Frank’s Diary 1917-1918: Up the Line to Maurois – November 2nd, 1918)

27/10/1918 Italian troops surge across the Piave as Hungary moves towards independence

Italian attempts to take Monte Grappa have thus far been unsuccessful, with the Austro-Hungarian defenders inflicting heavy casualties. But Emperor Karl is not complacent and knows that his Empire is on its last legs. Mutiny and indiscipline are now rife within the army, with reserves refusing to move to the front and units seeing their numbers deplete through desertion. At home the various nationalities within the Empire are increasingly restive and making preparations for independence. In Budapest today a national committee is formed, headed the nationalist leader Károlyi and made up of socialist and radical politicians. The committee claims to be the sole legitimate voice of the Hungarian people and announces a raft of reforms, including Hungarian independence, an end to the war and a massive expansion of Hungary’s restrictive franchise (including the granting of votes to women).

At the front the military situation takes a turn for the worse. Austro-Hungarian positions continue to hold on Monte Grappa, but declining flood waters on the Piave now allow the Italians to launch the second stage of their offensive, an amphibious assault across the river. Supported by British troops, the Italians are able to establish themselves on the east bank, linked back to the west by rickety pontoon bridges. Initially the Austro-Hungarians are able to contain the bridgeheads but British troops successfully spearhead a breakout. With enemy resistance weakening, it now looks like Italy’s hour of victory is at hand.

Bridge across the Piave (Italian Ministry of Defence: La battaglia di Vittorio Veneto)

26/10/1918 Aleppo falls to the British

Separated from Germany and Austria-Hungary by the fall of Bulgaria, Turkey too is on the brink of requesting an armistice from the Allies. Meanwhile the Allied advance in Syria continues. Damascus has already fallen and now the British take Aleppo. From here they will be able to press on into Turkey’s Anatolian heartland should the war continue.


The pursuit from Damascus (Wikipedia)

Aleppo (Wikipedia)

23/10/1918 With British help, the Italians prepare to cross the Piave #1918Live

The Italian front has been quiet since the failed Austro-Hungarian attempt to cross the Piave in June. Now that the war looks like it will soon be ending, Prime Minister Orlando of Italy is desperately prodding Diaz, the army commander, to attack. Orlando fears that if Italy sits out the war’s end then it will be robbed of its rightful share of the spoils of victory.

After some foot-dragging, Diaz is now ready to attack. Tomorrow is the big day, with his men to launch a two-pronged attack: northwards against Monte Grappa and eastwards across the Piave. And the Italians will not be fighting on their own. After the Caporetto disaster British troops were sent to bolster the Italian defence and now these will assist in the crossing of the Piave. Although tomorrow is the day of the main assault, British troops make their first moves today, occupying islands in the wide channel of the river that will be used as jumping off points for the attack on the east bank.

Boroevic, the Austro-Hungarian commander, knows an attack is coming but is pessimistic about his army’s ability to contain it. The unrest and disaffection the now grips the Empire is also felt in the army; some units are already refusing to obey orders or move up to the line. But Boroevic is still loyal to the Habsburg dynasty. His main hope now is that he will be able to extract enough loyal troops from the maelstrom to assist Emperor Karl in suppressing his enemies within the Empire.