30/12/1917 Germany and Austria’s winter of hunger #1917Live

Germany and Austria-Hungary have had a good year on the battlefield, effectively knocking Russia out of the war and crippling Italy while Germany repelled enemy attacks on the Western Front. At home though things are more problematic. The British blockade and the wartime decline in agricultural production have led to food shortages. In Germany no one is starving as such, but civilian mortality rates are around a third higher than in peace time. Because food is being funnelled to the army and to workers in war industries, those deemed surplus to the war effort are getting the least to eat and so are vulnerable to illness and malnutrition.

The situation is worse in Austria-Hungary. The railway network is less extensive, making it harder to transport food to where it is needed, and the authorities have been less successful at organising an effective distribution of food. Agricultural Hungary has also restricted the transfer of food to the industrial regions of Austria. Large numbers of people are going hungry and actual starvation is a real threat to the urban poor.

Germany’s U-boat campaign was meant to bring the war to a victorious end but instead it has brought the USA into the war against the Central Powers. The leaders of Germany and Austria-Hungary fear the indefinite continuation of the war will lead to revolution. Emperor Karl of Austria-Hungary wants an immediate peace on whatever terms he can get, but Ludendorff in Germany is determined that any peace must be a victorious one. He is preparing for a spring offensive on the Western Front, gambling that he can knock Britain and France out of the war before the Americans arrive in strength. Then Germany will not have to face another hunger winter.

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Food queue, Vienna (1915) (The World of the Habsburgs)

28/10/1917 Caporetto: as Italy reels, Britain and France promise help #1917Live

The German-led offensive at Caporetto has left the Italians reeling. Italian troops are retreating to the Tagliamento river, some in good order but many in a state of rout. German and Austro-Hungarian troops press on, hoping to exploit their success. Today they advance beyond the pre-war frontier, recovering all of the ground lost to the Italians, including Gorizia, which fell to the Italians last year in the Sixth Battle of the Isonzo.

But help may be on its way for the Italians, as the British and French agree to send six divisions to Italy. Given the parlous state of the country and its army, these reinforcements will not be enough to stop the enemy onslaught, but they do at least signal that Italy is not being abandoned.

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Italian prisoners under guard in Gorizia (Trono e Altare: 28 ottobre 1917, liberazione di Gorizia)

Emperor Karl inspects his victorious troops (Trono e Altare: 28 ottobre 1917, liberazione di Gorizia)

19/9/1917 As Eleventh Isonzo draws to a close, Austria plans to strike back #1917Live

After initial gains the eleventh Italian assault on the Isonzo has turned into another slogging match. The Austro-Hungarian decision to retreat to the eastern edge of the Bainsizza plateau has paid off: the Italian advance has been contained. After a series of massed attacks fail to break through Italy’s Cadorna orders his men to halt and assume a defensive posture. The battle is now over.

Italian losses have been great: they have taken some 166,000 casualties, with 25,000 losses in a series of fruitless attempts to take the mountain of San Gabriele. Two thirds of the units involved in the battle are now at half strength or less. Cadorna trumpets the battle as a victory on the basis of the early gains achieved, but a few more victories like this will break the Italian army.

The situation on the other side of the hill is not so good either. At 140,000, Austro-Hungarian casualties are also very high. Their army on the Isonzo is smaller than the Italians so the proportionate losses are greater.

Boroevic, the Austro-Hungarian commander, Boroevic fears that the next Italian offensive will cause the collapse of his line. However Emperor Karl has promised him that the next battle will be a counter-offensive against the Italians. Now he prepares to approach the Germans, to ask them to supply more troops for the Eastern Front that will allow him to send more Austro-Hungarians from there to the Isonzo.

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Italian position on the Carso (Storia e Memoria di Bologna: 11 Battaglia dell’Isonzo (History and Memory of Bologna: 11th Battle of the Isonzo))

24/8/1917 11th Isonzo: Austria-Hungary retreats

Italian attacks have made little progress in their attacks on the Carso plateau, on the southern end of the Isonzo line. Now the Italians scale back their efforts here to concentrate on the Bainsizza plateau to the north, where the they have made considerable gains. This however allows the Austro-Hungarians to begin transferring men from the Carso to aid their hard-pressed comrades to the north.

Following a conference between Boroevic, their commander, and Emperor Karl, Austro-Hungarian troops on the Bainsizza today withdraw to the eastern edge of the plateau. Fearing annihilation if they remain in place, the Austro-Hungarians hope that they will be able to contain the Italians from their new lines.

The Italians are used to the Austro-Hungarians holding positions to the last man. The Austro-Hungarian withdrawal happens before dawn, in silence and great secrecy. Failing to realise what is happening, the Italians then shell the now empty Austro-Hungarian positions.

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Fanciful image of Austro-Hungarian troops repelling an Italian attack today (Worldwar1.com, The St. Mihiel Trip-Wire: October 2013)

22/8/1917 Crisis on the Isonzo

Previous offensives on the Isonzo have seen mixed results for the Italians. This time though they are making great progress on the Bainsizza plateau near Gorizia. The Austro-Hungarians here appear unable to halt the onslaught. The Italians roll forward, capturing some 11,000 prisoners and many artillery pieces.

The Austro-Hungarian crisis is so grave that Emperor Karl arrives today at the headquarters of Boroevic, the local commander. Boroevic’s instinct is always to defend every inch of ground to the last man and to stage desperate counterattacks to recover any ground lost. These tactics have contained previous Italian offensives, albeit at considerable cost to the Austro-Hungarians. However the risk now is that if this tactic is continued, the Austro-Hungarians on the Bainsizza will be wiped out, leaving the Italians a clear path into the heart of the Habsburg Empire.

Karl prevails on Boroevic to change tactics. The Austro-Hungarians will retreat to more readily defensible positions. To sugar the pill, he promises Boroevic that the next battle will see the tables turned, with Austria-Hungary launching an offensive against the Italians.

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Boroevic and his staff (Cro-EU: Hrvatska / Boroevic Svetozar v. Bojna)

3/8/1917 Kerensky shuts down the Finnish parliament but loses Czernowitz to Austria #1917Live

Kerensky has been emboldened by the recent failure of radicals to overthrow the Provisional Government. Now the Russian Prime Minister flexes his muscles, arranging for loyal troops to shut down Finland’s parliament, the Sejm. The Sejm had a socialist majority following elections earlier this year and it recently passed a resolution declaring Finland’s effective independence from Russia. This unilateral separation is unacceptable to Kerensky (and to many on both right and left in Russia); his shutting down of the unruly Finnish parliament is widely supported in Russia. Even in Finland many conservatives support the measure, fearing that without the link to Russia the Finnish socialists would be uncontrollable.
Kerensky finds it harder to bend the army to his will. He has appointed Kornilov as its commander in chief and accepted his demands for the reintroduction of the death penalty for desertion. But Kornilov’s attempts at repression are a failure. The army continues to disintegrate and the Germans and Austro-Hungarians continue their advance that began with their counter-attacks against Kerensky’s offensive. Now they recover the Galician town of Czernowitz, captured by the Russians in Brusilov’s offensive last year. The Russian army looks increasingly unable to prevent further advances by the enemy.

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The Eastern Front (Wikipedia)

Emperor Karl of Austria-Hungary salutes the liberators of Czernowitz (Wikipedia)

2/7/1917 Emperor Karl frees Austria-Hungary’s political prisoners

Emperor Karl of Austria-Hungary is attempting political reforms in an effort to revitalise popular support for the Empire. He has revoked some emergency powers and curtailed the powers of the army within Austria. There is also talk of relaxing censorship. And today he undertakes the bold step of declaring an amnesty for all political prisoners. The amnesty sees thousands of malcontents released into society, from socialist radicals to nationalists seeking greater rights or outright independence for their particular part of the Empire.

Karl hopes that releasing the political prisoners will allow for a fresh start in relations between the regime and the peoples of Austria-Hungary. But the effect is not quite what he hoped for. Many German-speaking Austrians are shocked to see political prisoners from other nationalities released, fearing that this will strengthen centrifugal forces. And the large numbers of prisoners released only serves to emphasise how repressive the regime has previously been. In Bohemia and Moravia the release of over a thousand Czech prisoners is a particular boost to nationalist elements that were already on the rise. And Karl’s renunciation of the imprisonment of the regime’s political enemies now leaves it looking weakened.

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Emperor Karl (Wikipedia: Croatia during World War I)