20/7/1917 The Corfu Declaration: plans for a future Yugoslavia

No country is doing very well out of the war but Serbia is having a worse time of it than most. The Central Powers have overrun the country and driven the Serbian government into exile. Occupied Serbia is now a land of famine and pestilence.

Yet the Serbian government in exile, now based on Corfu, is still looking forward to the post-war future. Serb nationalists have long dreamed of uniting all Serbs into single kingdom; this after all was what motivated Gavrilo Princip when he shot Austria-Hungary’s Archduke Franz Ferdinand. Up to now the great power patron of the Greater Serbia project was Russia. With Russia now succumbing to revolutionary chaos, Serbian leaders are having to fine-tune their plans for the post-war settlement.

Some politicians from the other Slavic peoples of southern Austria-Hungary went into exile at the start of the war and began to agitate for the formation of a new country for all the southern Slavs, to be called Yugoslavia. Their aims were antithetical to those of the Serbs, as they want a federal country in which the separate Slavic peoples will enjoy equality while the Serbs want a unified Greater Serbia. But the Yugoslavs fear Italian plans for expansion on the Dalmatian coast and want to use the Serbian army as a counter-weight. The Serbs meanwhile are willing to make concessions now that their Russian patron is no longer able to fight their corner.

So it is that today that Nikola Pašić, exiled prime minster of Serbia, and Ante Trumbić of the Yugoslav Committee issue the Corfu Declaration, proposing to establish a Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes (with the existing King of Serbia becoming the King of the Yugoslavs).

Britain and France are supportive of this new endeavour, but Italian politicians regard it with immediate suspicion. They had entered the war with dreams of establishing an empire on the eastern shores of the Adriatic. Perhaps if Italian armies had spent the last few years winning a string of impressive victories then Italian politicians would be better able to press their claims, but alas, successive failures on the Isonzo have made Allied leaders less receptive to Italian demands.

Text of the declaration

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Page one of the declaration (Wikipedia)

19/7/1917 Kerensky’s star rises as that of the Bolsheviks falls

In Petrograd the excitement of the last few days is fast abating. The radicals seeking to overthrow the Provisional Government have been dispersed. The Bolsheviks are blamed for inciting all the trouble, with Lenin, their leader, apparently revealed as a German agent. With their headquarters seized by the authorities Bolshevik leaders go on the run; those who fail to escape the dragnet find themselves imprisoned in the Peter and Paul Fortress.

Kerensky, the defence minister now deems it safe to return to the city (from which he fled when the trouble started). He is greeted with a guard of honour and presents himself as the national hero who has saved Petrograd by summoning the loyalist troops that quelled the revolt.

However, not everything is going Kerensky’s way. The great offensive he insisted the army stage against the Germans and Austro-Hungarians has been a disaster. Now the Germans are staging a counter-offensive in strength. The Russians are reeling from the onslaught, seemingly unable to offer meaningful resistance. It now looks as though Kerensky’s offensive has broken the Russian army.

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Alexander Kerensky (Wikipedia)

Russians attacked by German cavalry (Metropostcard: The Eastern Front  1917-1919)

19/7/1917 The Reichstag passes its Peace Resolution #1917Live

German parliamentarians are restless. The failure of the U-boat war to bring Britain to its knees has made them unruly. Bethmann Hollweg has been sacked as Chancellor because of his failure to keep the Reichstag in line. Now the politicians take a bold step as Germany’s parliament passes a Peace Resolution supported by the Socialists, Progressives and the Catholic Centre Party. The resolution calls for a “a peace of understanding, for durable reconciliation among the peoples of the world” and rejects “territorial acquisitions achieved by force and violations of political, economic, or financial integrity”. It also calls for the establishment of new international organisations after the war’s end.

The Peace Resolution is no pacifist charter. The politicians support the war’s continuation so long as Germany’s enemies continue to threaten the Fatherland. Nevertheless, the resolution is something of an embarrassment for Hindenburg and Ludendorff (Germany’s effective rulers), as they are very much wedded to a post-war reconstruction of Europe to Germany’s advantage.

full text of the resolution

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Incoming Chancellor Michaelis addresses the Reichstag (Deutscher Bundestag: Kaiserreich 1871-1918)

17/7/1917 Narungombe: a British advance in East Africa thwarted

The war in German East Africa should be coming to an end. The Germans here are heavily outnumbered and completely cut off from Europe. British Empire forces have overrun the colony’s coast but the Germans have retreated inland. Now the British attempt to follow them, under orders from London to eliminate Germany’s last overseas colony as soon as possible.

This is not purely a white man’s war. The British are fielding troops from India and their various African possessions alongside European and white South African soldiers. They have also forcibly recruited a vast corps of Africans to serve as bearers in slave-like conditions. The German army meanwhile is mainly locally recruited Askaris, with a small number of European officers.

British forces attack the Germans today at Narungombe. The Germans here are outnumbered but Lettow-Vorbeck, the overall German commander is racing to reinforce them. The fighting is confused, with brush fires reducing visibility. The Germans inflict heavy losses on the British but Lieberman, the local commander, fears being overwhelmed. He orders a withdrawal, which comes as something of a surprise to the British.

When they join forces Lettow-Vorbeck is furious that Lieberman did not wait at Narungombe for his arrival. Nevertheless the battle has so battered the British that for now they must abandon any further plans to advance.

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Askaris (Delville Wood)

15/7/1917 Santa Maria la Longa: an Italian mutiny suppressed #1917Live

Yesterday a mutiny broke out among Italian troops of the Catanzaro brigade. After suffering in heavy fighting during the recent Tenth Battle of the Isonzo, these men from the far south of Italy had been taken out of the line and based temporarily at the village of Santa Maria la Longa. Expecting to be posted to a quiet sector, the men were shocked to then receive orders to return to the Isonzo frontline. Anger leads to mutiny, which is suppressed by the cavalry and armoured cars. 11 men die in the disturbance, including two officers. The rebels had apparently planned to kill D’Annunzio, stationed in a nearby village, but the warrior poet had been away visiting a nearby airfield.

More men die today. 28 men are executed for their part in the mutiny, 12 chosen at random from the most mutinous company, in accordance with Cadorna‘s directions on how to deal with units that fail in their duty. D’Annunzio watches the executions of the men who would have killed him.

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Benediction for the condemned (from the film Uomini Contro) (La Grande Guerra: Fucilazioni della brigata Catanzaro a Santa Maria la Longa)

13/7/1917 Britain retreats from Ramadi #1917Live

British forces have been attacking the Turkish position of Ramadi in Mesopotamia. Conducted under the unforgiving glare of a burning sun, the attacks have been a failure, with the Turks refusing to be dislodged. Now the British retreat back to their base in Dhibban on the Euphrates, upriver from Baghdad. Along the way they are harassed by pro-Turkish Arab irregulars.

British forces end up taking more casualties from the heat than from enemy gunfire, with many men succumbing to heat stroke and thirst. The failure to take Ramadi brings home the folly of campaigning here in the heart of summer. It will be the autumn before Maude makes any further attempt is made to take Ramadi.

13/7/1917 Chancellor Bethmann Hollweg leaves the stage #1917Live

Germany’s politicians are restive. The dawning realisation that the U-boat campaign is not going to win the war has led to a rising dissatisfaction in the Reichstag. Chancellor Bethmann Hollweg is in an awkward position. He was never a supporter of the U-boat war but has been obliged to defend it on behalf of the army and navy. Now he tries to broker some kind of compromise between the parliamentarians and the regime. He suggests extreme political reforms to the Kaiser: extending the vote to all adult men and bringing Reichstag leaders into the government. But he is unable to convince the Kaiser and he is unable to bring the Reichstag into line, with it becoming apparent that the parliamentarians are about to pass a resolution calling for a compromise peace.

In France or Britain the prime ministers must retain the confidence of parliament to remain in office but in Germany the Chancellor serves at the pleasure of the Kaiser. Kaiser Wilhelm is now little more than a figurehead, with real power lying with Hindenburg and Ludendorff in the army. As far as they are concerned, Bethmann Hollweg has failed in his job of keeping the Reichstag in line. Therefore he has to go. He tenders his resignation. Another of the leaders at the war’s start leaves the stage.

Hindenburg and Ludendorff pick Bethmann Hollweg’s replacement. He is Georg Michaelis, a bureaucrat seen to have successfully administered food distribution in Prussia. He is Germany’s first Chancellor not to be drawn from the aristocracy.

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Theobald von Bethmann Hollweg (Wikipedia)

Hindenburg & Ludendorff (Wikipedia)