Published on 21 May 2015
The big success of the Gallipoli Campaign never came, thousands of soldiers died and so Winston Churchill is forced to resign. At the same time August von Mackensen is pushing back the Russians and forcing them to hide in Przemyśl fortress – the same fortress they just conquered from the Austro-Hungarians a few weeks earlier.
May 22, 2015
May 21, 2015
Strategy Page reviews a new biography of Australia’s General John Monash:
The centennial of the First World War has brought forth renewed public interest and additional scholarly study of that still controversial conflict, variously the last 19th century imperial war and the first modern war. When its great generals are enumerated, one named by relatively few outside the Antipodes is Australian Army Corps commander John Monash (1865-1931), this despite Field Marshal Viscount Montgomery’s declaration half a century after the Armistice that Monash was “the best general on the Western Front in Europe,” and historian Sir Basil Liddell Hart’s even stronger accolade as “the greatest general of World War I by far.” Yet in the three-volume Cambridge History of the First World War, there is not one mention of him.
Monash, it must be said, has not been entirely overlooked. He was knighted in the field by George V (as a Knight Commander of the Order of the Bath) and subsequently given the title Knight Grand Cross of the Order of St. Michael and St. George, and in his homeland his name graces a university (indeed, the publisher of the book under review), a scholarship, a town and even a freeway. Nevertheless, in Maestro John Monash, former Australian Deputy Prime Minister Tim Fischer argues that Sir John has been wronged by history and not given his due. In a breezy hagiography (Fischer vehemently denies that characterization, protesting that his biography is “warts and all,” however, he downplays or dismisses most of the “warts” cited, e.g., other generals also had mistresses, and while he made mistakes at Gallipoli, he learned from them) and advocacy piece, he makes a justifiable case for Monash’s posthumous promotion to field marshal (backdated to 1930). Had he been promptly promoted postwar, rather than in 1929, to general (that is, full or four-star general), Fischer points out logically, he likely would have been promoted by the king one step up in rank to field marshal.
In his account of Monash’s life and military career, Fischer details the many obstacles faced and surmounted by “the most innovative general” of the war. His sobriquet for Monash, “maestro,” comes from Sir John’s comparison of a “perfected modern battle plan” to a “score for an orchestral composition.” Indeed, while some British and French generals were still thinking in terms of cavalry charges, sabers and bayonets, drawing on his engineering background, Monash made concerted use of infantry, artillery, tanks, aircraft and radio in (to quote him) “comprehensive holistic battle plan[s].” His strategy’s success became evident in thwarting Germany’s final westward push and smashing through the Hindenburg Line, in the 93-minute Battle of Hamel and the second Battle of Amiens, which German General Ludendorff later called “the black day of the German Army in the war,” victories achieved while Monash was still a lieutenant general (three stars). “Never has a general who did so much to help win a world war … been so unacknowledged,” affirms Fischer, returning to his theme.
May 20, 2015
Published on 18 May 2015
Mustafa Kemal or simply Atatürk was the founder of the modern, secular Turkish Republic. He earned his stripes as an officer in World War 1 as the defender of Gallipoli against the ANZAC troops. You can find out all about Mustafa Kemal Atatürk during the last years of the Ottoman Empire in our biography.
May 15, 2015
Published on 14 May 2015
The 2nd Battle of Ypres is still going but no side can gain a decisive advantage. The main reason on the British side is a lack of artillery ammunition. Even the delivered shells are not working correctly. But even the German supply lines are stretched thin. At the same time German South-West Africa falls to South African troops under Louis Botha.
May 13, 2015
I saved this post by David Warren, then inconveniently forgot about it until now. Apologies to those concerned, but after a century, a week or two probably don’t make much difference … and perhaps a belated reminder might help keep the event in the minds of a few more readers:
The annihilation of more than a million Armenians (and their descendants) cannot be disputed. The larger estimates seem to be justified. April 24th, 1915, is recalled as a conventional opening event — when leading Armenian figures were arrested in Istanbul, on the pretext that they sympathized with the Russian enemy — but there were events before that. One could mention the Adana massacre of 1909, the Hamidian massacres of the 1890s (hundreds of thousands killed in these), and so forth.
This “Red Sunday” in Istanbul was itself immediately preceded by redder ones in distant Van. The official charge that Armenians were working with the Russians was occasioned by the fact that Russians had come to the aid of the Armenians in Van, threatened with imminent slaughter. In the end, Djevdet Bey, the murderous governor, was anyway able to exterminate more than fifty thousand of the Christians living in that vilayet alone.
Curiously, or not, the events of “Red Sunday,” then many similar as prominent Armenians were rounded up all over the country and sent to holding camps at Ankara from which they would never emerge, is closely connected with the other centenary we are celebrating, today. That is Gallipoli. The Ottoman authorities were acting under the impulse of war, in a moment when they began seriously (and reasonably) to doubt their own survival. But lest this seem an extenuation, it should be remembered that the same authorities had repeatedly turned on the Armenians each time their own global inadequacies had been exposed.
Under the notorious Tehcir Law, a model later for Hitler, all property belonging to Armenians could be seized, and arrangements began for their deportation to — undisclosed locations. These were prison camps which pioneered the methods of Auschwitz and Belsen. Germans and Austrians in the region, as allies of the “Sublime Porte,” were horrified by what they saw, using such descriptors as “bestial cruelty.” There was no possible question that the authorities intended to exterminate, not incarcerate. The Turkish people at large could also see what was happening around them, when not themselves participating in the slaughter. There is no extenuation for them.
The Treaty of Sèvres, after the War, proposed restoration of Armenian native lands within the defunct Sultanate to a new Armenian republic, but in turn triggered another campaign, now by the Turkish nationalists who succeeded the Ottomans. Their law allowed any remaining Armenian property to be seized by the state on the glib ground that it had been “abandoned.” During this later, post-Ottoman phase, perhaps another hundred thousand Armenians were massacred, often in places to which they had fled for safety. Mustafa Kemal “Ataturk,” the great secular Turkish patriot, was direct commander in the later stages of this Turkish-Armenian War, and much progressive effort has been expended washing the blood off his hands.
May 12, 2015
Published on 11 May 2015
World War 1 saw several completely new technologies develop rapidly. The airplane itself was only a few years old but pioneering engineers soon saw its potential for military use. For recognisance and later as fighter or bomber, World War 1 had huge impact on aviation and warfare in general. This special episode gives you an idea about the obstacles that had to be overcome.
May 10, 2015
At War on the Rocks, Jake Hall talks about the pervasive inflence of intoxication during the First World War:
The assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand is often regarded as the proverbial match in the tinderbox where World War I is concerned. The imperial-nationalist tensions surrounding Austria-Hungary’s waning empire, tensions which inspired the assassination and ensuing conflict, were frankly unwarranted, considering the swill these regions were, and still are, trying to pass off as potable spirits. Then again, what’s a tragic war of global scope without tragically misguided motivations at the start? One contributing factor to the war-primed Europe of 1914 sounds oddly familiar. Disenfranchised youth of marginalized states resorting to suicidal violence. It’s easy to see how the seven agents of Ferdinand’s assassination could be lining up to enlist in ISIS today. Youthful, “angsty,” and driven by an unhinged sense of importance and righteousness, it was a 19 year old, Gavrilo Princip, who carried out the clumsy assassination on the streets of Sarajevo. After a failed bombing attempt, failed suicide attempt, and a major security lapse by Ferdinand’s guards, the conspirators succeeded in gunning down the Archduke and Duchess almost by chance. With that act the Serbian nationalists, on a quest for south Slavic unification, killed a couple that were by many accounts lovely people, and started the July Crisis that led to the Great War.
The conflict that followed became the then-largest mobilization of military force ever, until the rematch 21 years later. HG Wells was the first to declare WWI the “war to end war,” and though that designation had contemporary critics, it quickly became a motto for the hostilities. A war to end war seems like an occasion for a drink, no? If it doesn’t, you’ve either never had a drink or you’ve never had a soul. In any case, what follows is an account of which powers were most benevolent during the war, measured chiefly by the alcohol rations secured and distributed to their soldiers. It presumes that the men fighting in the trenches on all sides had drawn short straws in life, and the side most willing to allow a little buzz on the front line exhibited a little humanity.
So how does all this play out in the end? France occupied the role of major supplier to all sides drinking needs. The Germans made large gains at the start of the war, and enabled rear-echelon troops to frequent taverns in their newly conquered territories. Couple that privilege with their substantial liquor rations, and the German rank-and-file were well situated for some time. Ultimately, the British naval blockade started affecting German supplies, which directly cut into their drinking. When the Allies reversed Germany’s advances and ended the war, they virtually ensured the Germans would only be drinking regret and resentment for nearly two decades. The French military was also generous with its rations where allies were concerned, attempting in a small way to soften the hard line the British and American citizens and leadership held with regard to their troops’ drinking. Russia incurred the mother of all hangovers when it finally stopped drowning itself in vodka for a minute, and basically played the role of your friend who passes out at the bar. Final outcome? À votre santé, France.
May 8, 2015
Published on 7 May 2015
Ignoring the warnings and cruising carelessly slow the RMS Lusitania is hit by a torpedo of the German U-Boat U20. Almost 2000 people die during the sinking of the Lusitania, a sister ship of the famous RMS Titanic. At the same time the German and Austro-Hungarian army start a combined surprise offensive in the Carpathians. The Gorlice-Tarnów Offensive is a huge success for German commander August von Mackensen.
May 5, 2015
Published on 4 May 2015
Conrad von Hötzendorf was one of the main figures pushing for war and escalating the July crisis in 1914 leading to World War 1. His failure as commander in chief of Austria-Hungary were staggering but still today some consider him a military genius. Who was this man who polarizes military scholars till today and played such a huge role in the downfall of the Habsburg empire? Find out in our biography.
May 4, 2015
David Warren recently read Margaret MacMillan’s Paris, 1919 and discusses the three leaders who had the most influence over the peace process:
Recently, breezing through Margaret MacMillan’s blockbuster, Paris 1919 (2003) — the kind of book I am apt to pick up from the Salvation Army thrift shop — I considered her mildly revisionist account of the Peace Conference that held the world rivetted through the first six months of that year. Woodrow Wilson, Lloyd George, and Georges Clémenceau are rightly absolved of responsibility for everything that happened in the next twenty years; for there were clowns after those clowns.
I think of them as the “Three Stooges of the Apocalypse.” They were themselves not causes but symptoms of a disease, which for a word we might call post-modernism. President Wilson did the most permanent damage. He was the Barack Obama of that historical moment, enjoying an immense charismatic popularity in Europe. A moral and intellectual simpleton, he had handy to his lips a short list of glib progressive nostrums that appealed to great masses of the war weary.
All three were men of terrific ego, and little substance: models for the new kind of politician that would emerge more fully from the War. Each was from his own peculiarly desiccated cultural background a man largely free of any religious conviction. Wilson had the Calvinist Puritan sensibility, to the degree that he was privately well-behaved; Lloyd George and especially Clémenceau were just old rogues and whoremongers, charming from a distance. Paradoxically, it might have helped had Wilson been more corrupt, and less “principled,” for his principles were exactly those on which post-modern liberalism was awkwardly erected: democracy, equality, bureaucracy, national self-determination, and all the rest of that rot.
To the point, the British and French dealt out pieces of the collapsed Ottoman Empire between themselves like patches on a Monopoly board, except for the Turkey of Ataturk’s fait accompli. Wilson watched with mild distaste while focusing his own efforts on rewarding every poisonous little balkanic European nationalism he could find under a rock. Other problems, like the new Soviet Russia, that could not be painlessly fixed, were progressively ignored. The Old World of aristocratic family orders, above nationalism, was unceremoniously trashed for the new one of seething demagogic republics, and all that would follow from that. It was a Brave New World that would be implicitly, and often explicitly, post-Christian.
May 1, 2015
Published on 30 Apr 2015
Completely underestimating the Ottoman army at the Dardanelles, the British commanders decide to let the ANZACs take the Gallipoli peninsular as a gateway to the Bosporus and Constantinople. After the landing in ANZAC Cove and on Z Beach one thing comes clear though: Mustafa Kemal and his troops will fight for every inch of this piece of rock.
Anno 1865. I look out of my window and observe an officer of the United States Army passing down the street. Anno 1922. Like General Grant, he is without a sword. Like General Grant, he wears a sort of soldier’s blouse for a coat. Like General Grant, he employs shoulder straps to indicate to the army who he is. But there is something more. On the left breast of this officer, apparently a major, there blazes so brilliant a mass of color that, as the sun strikes it and the flash bangs my eyes, I wink, catch my breath and sneeze. There are two long strips, each starting at the sternum and disappearing into the shadows of the axillia — every hue in the rainbow, the spectroscope, the kaleidoscope — imperial purples, sforzando reds, wild Irish greens, romantic blues, loud yellows and oranges, rich maroons, sentimental pinks, all the half-tones from ultra-violet to infra-red, all the vibrations from the impalpable to the unendurable. A gallant Soldat, indeed! How he would shame a circus ticketwagon if he wore all the medals and badges, the stars and crosses, the pendants and lavallieres, that go with those ribbons! … I glance at his sleeves. A simple golden stripe on the one — six months beyond the raging main. None on the other — the Kaiser’s cannon missed him.
Just what all these ribbons signify I am sure I don’t know; probably they belong to campaign medals and tell the tale of butcheries in foreign and domestic parts — mountains of dead Filipinos, Mexicans, Haitians, Dominicans, West Virginia miners, perhaps even Prussians. But in addition to campaign medals and the Distinguished Service Medal there are now certainly enough foreign orders in the United States to give a distinct brilliance to the national scene, viewed, say, from Mars. The Frederician tradition, borrowed by the ragged Continentals and embodied in Article I, Section 9, of the Constitution, lasted until 1918, and then suddenly blew up; to mention it to-day is a sort of indecorum, and to-morrow, no doubt, will be a species of treason. Down with Frederick; up with John Philip Sousa! Imagine what General Pershing would look like at a state banquet of his favorite American order, the Benevolent and Protective one of Elks, in all the Byzantine splendor of his casket of ribbons, badges, stars, garters, sunbursts and cockades — the lordly Bath of the grateful motherland, with its somewhat disconcerting “Ich dien“; the gorgeous tricolor baldrics, sashes and festoons of the Legion d’Honneur; the grand cross of SS. Maurizio e Lazzaro of Italy; the sinister Danilo of Montenegro, with its cabalistic monogram of Danilo I and its sinister hieroglyphics; the breastplate of the Paulownia of Japan, with its rising sun of thirty-two white rays, its blood-red heart, its background of green leaves and its white ribbon edged with red; the mystical St. Saviour of Greece, with its Greek motto and its brilliantly enameled figure of Christ; above all, the Croix de Guerre of Czecho-Slovakia, a new one and hence not listed in the books, but surely no shrinking violet! Alas, Pershing was on the wrong side — that is, for one with a fancy for gauds of that sort. The most blinding of all known orders is the Medijie of Turkey, which not only entitles the holder to four wives, but also absolutely requires him to wear a red fez and a frozen star covering his whole facade. I was offered this order by Turkish spies during the war, and it wabbled me a good deal. The Alexander of Bulgaria is almost as seductive. The badge consists of an eight-pointed white cross, with crossed swords between the arms and a red Bulgarian lion over the swords. The motto is “Za Chrabrost!” Then there are the Prussian orders — the Red and Black Eagles, the Pour le Merite, the Prussian Crown, the Hohenzollern and the rest. And the Golden Fleece of Austria — the noblest of them all. Think of the Golden Fleece on a man born in Linn County, Missouri! … I begin to doubt that the General would have got it, even supposing him to have taken the other side. The Japs, I note, gave him only the grand cordon of the Paulownia, and the Belgians and Montenegrins were similarly cautious. There are higher classes. The highest of the Paulownia is only for princes, which is to say, only for non-Missourians.
H.L. Mencken, “Star-spangled Men”, Prejudices, Third Series, 1922.
April 29, 2015
Published on 27 Apr 2015
Indy takes place in the chair of wisdom again to answer your questions. This week we deal with the outer ends of the Western Front, changes in propaganda and the logistics in the Carpathians.
Leslie Waghorn talks about the history teacher who literally brought trench warfare to life for her and her classmates:
Mr. Barker-James had planned everything to be as accurate as possible. The students would dig the trenches over a series of months. We would sleep outside and we would only be allowed to take clothing and comforts with us that would have been allowed by our “side” at the time. We would eat what they ate, we would sleep on their schedules.
For two months, after school and during our spare periods, we went to Mr. Barker-James’ farm and hand dug trenches. I remember my hands being blistered and by mid-October being miserable with the choice to either wear gloves and not have a good enough grip on the shovel to break through the frost, or do it bare-handed. One day I remember throwing a 17-year-old’s hissy fit, which Mr. Barker-James stopped by reminding me that a mere 80 years before, boys my age had to do this in France, all day, without the luxury of gloves and wool hats, and snacks.
Point to Mr. Barker-James.
When the weekend of the trench warfare scenario came, I remember there were a handful of seniors on the Allied and Axis (my assignment) sides and we were over-run by sophomores who were ready for a weekend of camping. We were offered our first breakfast of a slice of bread, water and a cheese slice. Many decided not to eat it and instead marched the 8 kilometers to his farm on an empty stomach. By the time we arrived, the mood had gone from excitement to exhaustion.
We set up camp, laid out wooden weapons, and started our first patrols. At lunch we were offered what soldiers from our side would have eaten: Hard tack and bully beef. I remember cutting the roof of my mouth on the hard tack and dry heaving as I tried to swallow the fatty bully beef. I couldn’t get it down. I was very hungry, but I knew that was the point.
The first battle we recreated was the Somme. I remember being relieved because it was supposed to be easy for our side, the Germans. The Canadians would walk down the hill, in the trench at the base we would mow them down. At first our side was having fun, enjoying as the refs called their friends out as dead. The ‘dead’ students would then revive and move up to the top of the hill and come down again in the next wave, only to be killed by us again.
I remember a girl stopping at one point and saying, “this sucks.” I asked her why, this was the easy part for us. “We’re just killing them and killing them and killing them. It doesn’t stop. We have to do this for 45 more minutes. Just killing people. It’s depressing.” “That’s the point.” I said. I saw the same light go off in her eyes as it did when Mr. Barker-James had pointed out that my sore hands were nothing to complain about. By giving us the opportunity to be outside of the classroom, and gain a first-hand reflective experience of the actual impact of war (however minor), Mr. Barker-James acted as an educational mediator – not a teacher, and yet, higher ranked than any teacher could be. His lessons instilled critical thinking, reflection, curiosity, and a drive for us to understand, which is considered some of the best sort of teaching around.
H/T to BoingBoing for the link.
April 27, 2015
In The Walrus, Atom Egoyan discusses the fading memories of the Armenian genocide:
They are disappearing. When I arrived in Toronto in 1978 and first became involved with Armenian issues, there were many survivors still alive. Every year on April 24 — the day commemorating the Armenian genocide — we would head to Ottawa. There, survivors would present testimonials, and offer living proof of the systematic campaign of extermination carried out by Ottoman Turks a century ago.
These people would tell their haunting stories — stories that Canadians needed to hear. Unlike the Holocaust, the Armenian genocide has not been universally acknowledged. Turkey — the successor state to the Ottoman Empire — still refuses to admit the historical fact of the event. And with each passing year, there are fewer and fewer survivors left to disprove the deniers with eyewitness recollections.
In the immediate aftermath of World War I, there was hope for accountability. When the Young Turk government collapsed in 1918, many former senior party members fled to Germany, a wartime ally. But the incoming Turkish administration arrested hundreds of those officials who remained in the country — and their collaborators — on suspicion of having participated in the orchestration of the deportations and killings. The suspects were charged with a variety of offences, including murder, treason, and theft. In a series of trials that took place between 1919 and 1920, former Young Turk officials delivered startling confessions and revealed secret documents that outlined the tactics they employed in carrying out their genocidal program.
After the war, the victorious Allies originally had advocated tough punishments for the criminals, as well as an independent Armenian republic in northeastern Turkey. But Turkish nationalists, led by Mustafa Kemal, opposed this. Kemal, who in 1934 was granted the surname Atatürk (meaning “Father of the Turks”), believed the ongoing trials exemplified the desire of foreign powers to tear apart his country. He moved to shut them down and also sought to abrogate the 1920 Treaty of Sèvres, under which Turkey was to recognize Armenia as “a free and independent state.” He promised to help Western nations gain access to the region’s valuable oil fields in return for their support of his cause.