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)

12/3/1918 Turkey recovers Erzurum and presses on towards the Caucasus #1918Live

In eastern Anatolia Turkish forces are advancing to recover the territory lost since the war started and to occupy the three lost provinces promised to them by the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk. The Turks also want to stake their claim to as much of the Russian territory south of the Caucasus as possible. That the Turks should be expending so much effort here when they are under pressure from the British in Palestine might seem strange, but Enver Pasha, Turkey’s war minister and paramount leader, sees this as a chance to restore the prestige of the Ottoman Empire. Enver also wants to rescue Turkic peoples of the Caucasus from the horror of government by Christians.

A good command of logistics has not been a strong point of the Turkish army, so it should be difficult for it to maintain this rapid advance. However Turkish troops are able to sustain themselves on what the Russians have abandoned. Today Turkish forces recapture Erzurum, whose loss in 1916 was a terrible blow. They find the city abundantly stocked with supplies left behind by the Russians, supplies the Turks can now use as they press on towards the pre-war frontier.

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Erzurum after abandonment by the Russians (Wikipedia: Schlacht von Erzurum)

20 February 1918 – Schlachtstaffeln?

German plans to use ground attack aircraft in support of Ludendorff‘s spring offensive.


Unlike tne famous Jastas, one of the lesser known German aerial formations is the Schlachtstaffeln (often abbreviated to Schlastas), which make up about 10% of german formations at this point. They had originated as security flights for the Fliegerabieilungen who carried out reconnaissance.

As the war progressed, their two-seaters transitioned into more of a ground-
attack role aircraft specially designed for that role were introduced.

With the preparations for the forthcoming German offensive in full swing, an entire section of the new German attack doctrine issued in January 1918 was devoted to air support for the ground

That doctrine was underlined by a document issued today specifically dealing with the and their control under divisional command in the initial stages of the attack. It lays out the role of the squadrons as “flying ahead of and carrying the infantry along with them, keeping down the fire of the enemy’s…

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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’)

8/3/1918 Bombing Paris, preparing for the spring offensive #1918Live

On the Western Front the Allies are waiting for Ludendorff‘s spring offensive, when the Germans will try to win the war before the Americans show up in strength. The British and French do not know where the blow will land or when the Germans will attack but they know the day is coming soon. The tension is mounting, with every soldier posted to the front knowing that the next day could be his last.

The Germans are doing their best to pile the pressure on the Allies, striking at the morale of not just the men at the front but also the civilians at the rear. Zeppelin raids on Britain continue, but the British also face intermittent attacks by giant Gotha aeroplanes, though the air raids have failed to cause the level of devastation and panic Germany’s leaders would like.

The Germans are also intermittently bombing Paris. Tonight in a particularly large attack the Germans drop 90 bombs on the city, causing much damage and apparently leading to some 200,000 people fleeing the city. Thirteen people lose their lives.

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Gotha G.IV bomber (Wikipedia: German strategic bombing during World War I)

Air raid on Paris, 30 January 1918 (Geographical Imaginations: Is Paris Burning?)

5/3/1918 Germany’s food crisis #1918Live

Germany remains in the grip of a food crisis. The British blockade has closed off international sources of food and the diversion of resources to the war effort has led to a decline in Germany’s own agricultural production. Some three million agricultural workers have been drafted into the army, as have large numbers of horses, with the loss of the latter depriving farmland of their fertilising manure. Since 1913 the area of cultivated land has fallen by some 15% while grain yields have collapsed, falling at least 30%.

The result of this fall in food production has been spiralling prices and shortages. The authorities have responded by introducing price controls and rationing, but these have not been entirely effective and have fuelled a burgeoning black market. Those who have the money to do so are able to source what they need on the black market or by under the counter sales from food suppliers. Everyone else is going hungry, fuelling the country’s internal divisions.

For all that many Germans are not getting as much food as they would like, the authorities’ counter-measures are at least keeping actual starvation at bay. However the shortages of food are weakening the German population, which is seeing a considerable increase in mortality over the normal peacetime rate. This affects particularly the old, the infirm and those who are not receiving extra rations thanks to their involvement in war work.

Germany’s leaders fear that the food situation will eventually cause a social explosion. The peace treaty with Russia should mean that more food will be accessible from Ukraine, which should improve things, but the war cannot be allowed to go on indefinitely. Last year the Germans gambled on the U-boats as a means of bringing the war to a swift end. That failed and, worse, brought the USA into the Allied camp. Now Ludendorff is hoping that his imminent spring offensive will win the war for Germany before American troops arrive in strength and the food situation at home leads to revolution.

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French postcard showing hungry Germans turning on the Kaiser (Metropostcard – Themes of World War One:
Food and the Great War  pt4)

4/3/1918 Private Gitchell takes ill #1918Live

The United States is trying to build up an army for the war in Europe. Across the country camps have sprung into being to receive and train newly drafted soldiers. One of these is Camp Funston in Kansas, now housing thousands of these new recruits. One of these is Private Albert Gitchell. This morning he reports to the infirmary as too ill to perform his duties, suffering from a headache, fever and a sore throat. Some class of influenza is diagnosed.

Private Gitchell had been working as one of Camp Funston’s mess cooks. His work brought him into contact with a great many other soldiers. By lunchtime more than a hundred of his comrades have reported sick with similar symptoms.

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Influenza ward at Camp Funston, later in the month (Wikipedia)