19/5/1917 Faisal sends his agents north into Syria

Thanks to a steady inflow of British arms and money the Arab Revolt is now pretty secure in its dominance of the Hejaz region of the Arabian Peninsula. The Turks still have a garrison in place in Medina but it is unable to contest control of the region with the rebels. British aeroplanes are bombing the railway line to Medina, keeping the Turks there too undersupplied to bother the Arabs.

To the discomfiture of his British patrons, Emir Hussein of Mecca has declared himself King of the Arabs. Now his son Faisal prepares to extend his father’s writ north into Syria. He sends his cousin Nasir ibn Ali and other trusted associates to reconnoitre the region. They are to make contact with the rural tribesmen and also with the Arab nationalists in Damascus.

Travelling with Faisal’s men is British intelligence officer T.E. Lawrence, who has been liaising between Faisal and the British in Cairo. Lawrence has become sympathetic to the Arab cause. By now Lawrence is aware of the Sykes-Picot Agreement, in which Britain and France agreed to divide the Middle East between them. Lawrence dislikes the French and hopes to assist Faisal in staking a claim to Syria before the French are able to establish themselves there.

image sources:

Faisal ibn Ali (Ruth’s Jordan Jubilee)

T.E. Lawrence (Wikipedia)

18/5/1917 America introduces conscription

US warships have arrived in Europe to join patrols against the U-boat menace. President Wilson knows however that if the war is to be brought to an end it will be done so on land. Here the USA is at a considerable disadvantage. The country’s army amounts to just 145,000, insignificantly small compared to the great armies of Europe.

In order to make a difference in Europe, the American army will have to be expanded. Today the President signs into a law the Selective Service Act, which allows for conscription. Even so, it will be some time before the army will have been built up to a level that can take on the Germans. Given the task facing the Americans, that of building a large modern army almost from scratch, some wonder whether the USA will be able to deploy troops to Europe in strength before 1919.

In keeping with the traditions of the United States, draftees will be segregated by colour.

image source (Wikipedia)

17/5/1917 As the Battle of Arras ends, Haig’s thoughts turn to Ypres

The Battle of Arras is now over. The battle began as a diversion, an attempt to draw German attention away from the French offensive in the Chemin des Dames sector. Great initial successes were achieved but as the battle went on it became more like the typical Western Front meat-grinder battle.

The offensive should have been wound down once the French offensive began, but when it became apparent that the French were suffering a disaster in the Chemin des Dames Haig kept the attacks going. Now though the battle is at an end. The British and their Commonwealth allies have suffered just under 160,000 casualties. German losses are around 130,000.

With Arras over, Haig is now free to plan for his summer offensive, a planned major assault on the German lines at Ypres in Flanders. Haig hopes to break through the German lines and clear them from the Belgian coast, eliminating the German naval bases that have been threatening Allied shipping in the Channel.

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Canadian machine gunners, Vimy Ridge (Wikipedia)

15/5/1917 Tenth Isonzo: Cadorna changes tack

Cadorna had high hopes that this time after a heavy bombardment his men would be able to smash through the Austro-Hungarian lines. But on the Carso Plateau the enemy has put up stiff resistance. Since the infantry attacked yesterday the Italians here have suffered some 25,000 casualties.

The Italians have made more progress further to the north, though nothing like the promised breakthrough. Cadorna now decides to concentrate efforts here, even though the terrain does not make a breakthrough likely. His intention now is to let Capello, the local commander, seize more of the high ground and consolidate his gains, after which his artillery will be transferred back to the Carso for a renewed attempt to break through the Austro-Hungarians and press on to Trieste.

image source (Emerson Kent)

14/5/1917 Tenth Isonzo: the infantry attack

After subjecting the Austro-Hungarians to a bombardment of an intensity not yet seen on the Italian front, now Cadorna sends his infantry forward. In this Tenth Battle of the Isonzo, the Italians are hoping to seize the high ground beyond Gorizia, with ambitious plans to then roll up the Austro-Hungarian lines.

With their fighting spirit buoyed up by pep talks from the Futurist poet Filippo Marinetti, the Italians manage to storm the position known as Hill 383, albeit after suffering horrendous casualties from the vastly outnumbered but determined enemy. They are unable to take Mount Kuk, but the Italians manage to storm Mount Sabotinio. However, the fighting then becomes one of attack and counter-attack as the Austro-Hungarians and Italians struggle to deny each other the summit.

The Italians are also attacking on the Carso plateau, down towards the coast, hoping to smash through the depleted Austro-Hungarian positions here. Unfortunately the Habsburgs are able to contain the Italians thanks to a combination of dogged resistance by the infantry and murderously accurate artillery fire.

At the end of the first day it looks suspiciously like this battle of the Isonzo will be much like the previous ones, with the Italians making only minimal gains and taking enormous casualties. Nevertheless the attacks will continue tomorrow.

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Soldiers (La Grande Guerra e i Giovani di Trezzano Sul Naviglio)

14/5/1917 The Battle of Otranto

On land the Italians are making their tenth attempt to break through the Austro-Hungarian defences at the Isonzo. At sea though it is Austria-Hungary which is attacking. Their target is the Otranto Barrage, the Allied blockade of the mouth of the Adriatic at the Straits of Otranto. Drifters, mostly British, patrol here, trailing nets in which they hope to catch enemy U-boats; larger ships are ready to support the drifters in case of enemy action.

Led by Commander Horthy, an Austro-Hungarian flotilla sails out at night to attack the drifters, sinking 14 of them and damaging another four. An Allied squadron comprising British, French and Italian ships gives chase, trying to prevent Horthy’s ships from escaping back to port. However the Austro-Hungarians also bring up reinforcements. In the fighting that follows, the Austro-Hungarians see one of their cruisers suffer heavy damage (with Horthy himself severely injured) but the Allies have the worst of it, losing two destroyers.

The battle shows the Allies that they cannot be certain of complete control of the Adriatic. However there are no great consequences of the action. The Otranto Barrage remains in operation, but it also continues to be a a rather ineffectual barrier to German and Austro-Hungarian submarines.

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The Castle of Otranto (Echoes form the Vault)

SMS Novara, Horthy’s flagship (Wikipedia)

Horthy, seriously wounded (Wikipedia)

12/5/1917 Tenth time lucky on the Isonzo?

Since the Italians joined the war in 1915 they have launched nine offensives against the Austro-Hungarians on the Isonzo line. All have failed, apart perhaps from the Sixth Battle, which saw Italy capture frontline town of Gorizia.

Now shelling begins for the tenth offensive. The Italians have built up their artillery, doubling the number of medium and heavy guns available a year ago. They now have 3,000 guns at the Isonzo, a smaller concentration than would be seen on the Western Front, with less shells for them to fire, but this is still capable of blasting the Austro-Hungarians with an intensity never before seen on this front. Cadorna hopes that this time after a short artillery bombardment the infantry will be able to smash through the enemy and achieve the breakthrough that has long eluded him.