May 23, 1918 – British Prepares to Send Troops to Russia
Pictured – The Allied base camp in Archangel in late 1918.
In April a small force of Royal Marines had landed at the Arctic city of Murmasnk, with the local soviet’s approval, to defend munitions stores in the city against potential German attack. Relations between Lenin and the Allies had been cordial then; now they were downright frosty. In towns like Murmasnk and Archangel in northern Russia the British had left tons of war supplies to help the Russian military between 1914 and 1917. With the Tsar gone, the British asked the Bolsheviks to pay up, demanding £757 million pounds in total for war goods. Lenin repudiated all his debts. Furious and also horrified that all these weapons might fall into enemy hands, the British sent troops to Russia. In May the War Cabinet OK’d sending a further 600 to Murmasnk and 500 men to Archangel.
Llloyd George wrote in his memoirs that he meant this force to “prevent the military stores at Murmansk, Archangel, and Vladivostok
falling into enemy hands; to succour the Czecho-Slovak troops in the Urals and
Vladivostok, and enable them to reconstitute an anti-German front in
combination with the pro-Ally Cossacks and other Nationalist forces in Russia,
or to withdraw safely and join the Allied forces in the West.“
May 22, 1918 – Congress Passes Sedition Act
Pictured – Loose lips sink ships!
In May 1918 Congress passed the controversial Sedition Act, which made it a crime not only to spread information about the US war effort, but to say anything that “promoted the success of the country’s enemies.” The law was aimed at socialists, pacifists, and other Americans who did not support the war effort and imposed harsh penalties for trivialities like insulting the flag or the president. Those prosecuted could face fines of up to $10,000 or 20 years in jail. One of the law’s first victims was an army sergeant who received 30 years for mocking Wilson and because witnesses claimed he had toasted to the health of the Kaiser. As in Europe, the First World War saw an enormous growth of state power in the United States.
The pilot and observer of a British R.E.8 recce plane look over a map with their CO before takeoff.
May 21, 1918 – American Yacht Fights Off U-Boat
Pictured – USS Christabel, who proudly bears a white star on her smokestack as credit for one submarine defeated.
A little ship became an unlikely hero on May 21 1918 when the armed yacht USS Christabel drove off a German submarine attacking an Allied convoy. The former civilian yacht served as the rear guard for a slow British steamer convoy sailing through Quiberon Bay, in the heart of U-boat hunting territory when Lieutenant Commander M.B. McCord spotted an oil slick in the water, a sign that a German sub was prowling around.
McCord’s fast ship sailed over and dropped depth charges, which exploded but seemed to hit nothing. Two hours later, a lookout spotted a periscope rising from the water. This time McCord’s depth charges struck home when a “very violent” explosion rose up through the water. The German submarine was mortally wounded but managed to reach Spain, where the crew were interned. One American sailor named Daniel Sullivan earned the Medal of Honor for jumping on a depth charge which accidentally fell on deck and securing it before it could detonate.
May 20, 1918 – Germany Sends Aid to Russian White Forces
Pictured – Soldiers of the Volunteer Army in South Russia in 1918.
The Russian Civil War is a baffling topic for historians. Although in collective memory it is often seen simplistically as a battle between monarchist Whites and communist Reds, in reality it was an anarchic conflict with many factions that constantly switched sides. One example: the White movement was a loose confederation of governments, armies, and warlords who all wanted to topple the Bolsheviks. Rather than re-instating the Tsar the initial reason for many of the White armies to form was rejection of the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk and a continued desire to fight the Germans.
Meanwhile the Germans had encouraged Lenin’s revolution from afar and then made peace with the Bolsheviks. By May 1918, however, socialist revolution looking likely to spread through Russia and into the Central Powers’ empires. Suddenly the Bolsheviks became more potential threat than ally. At the same time, the Allies considered whether the Bolsheviks might make more useful allies against Germany than the scattered and poorly-organized Whites. In May Germany send thousands of rifles and fifteen million roubles to the Volunteer Army, a warband of officers and Cossacks in South Russia. Before the sides of the Russian Civil War had even taken shape they are already being mixed up.
May 19, 1918 – Conference of the Suppressed Nations in Prague
Pictured – From one empire to many nations.
On the heels of anti-Austrian mutinies in the Hapsburg military, and then a humiliating treaty making Austria subservient to Germany, a provocatively named Conference of the Suppressed Nations opened in Prague. A chief source of pressure on the aging empire was the American President Wilson’s Fourteen Points, which promised ethnic self-determination and thus gave encouragement to the “submerged nations” of Eastern and Central Europe. A worrying note for young emperor Karl was that the break-up of the empire was becoming a cross-class movement, with the working-class supporting a Bolshevik-style revolution and the bourgeoisie turning to nationalist politics.
A British bomber soars over the clouds.
May 18, 1918 – Strategic British Bombing Campaign Begins Over Germany
Pictured – The Airco DH.4 was Britain’s main bomber of the war. It was also the craft flown by W.E. Johns, the author of the famous Biggles stories.
In April, Prime Minister David Lloyd George promised to wreak revenge on Germany, paying it back for its bombing raids over England “with compound interest.” The campaign began on May 18, 1918, when 33 RAF bombers hit Cologne, killing 110 civilians. The next night 28 superheavy Gotha bombers retaliated on London, killing 48 people.A ten-year-old schoolboy named Desmond Flower watched the killers maneuver far overhead. The German flyers had to pass across several belts of anti-aircraft defenses the British has positioned around the city.
The guns “barked continually at the giants lumbering overhead;” Flower remembered. “Shell fragments pattered down like rain, but that would never prevent father from parading around outside to see what was going on, however much we impolred him to come in. One night I stayed awake for a long time listening to a bomber groaning round and round trying to find a way out of the box barrage in which it was caught; it did not succeed – when it was shot down the droning stopped and I went back to sleep.”
Europeans – both civilians and airmen – were getting a taste of the bombing wars which would define their 20th century.
Captured revolutionaries are executed by firing squad after the end of the Finnish Civil War in 1918.
May 17, 1918 – Finnish Civil War Ends with White Victory
Pictured – German troops guard Red prisoners. The experienced German soldiers sent to aid the Finnish nationalists were crucial to their victory.
On May 16th the Finnish Civil War ended. Official victory was pronounced when nationalist White troops occupied a Russian coastal fortress in Karelia. The White leader Baron Carl Gustaf Emil Mannerheim claimed liberation had been achieved from foreigners. While the Finnish revolution was an offset of the October revolution, in truth the Bolsheviks had been uninvolved. The next day Mannerheim led a parade through the streets of the capital.
Revolutionary resistance had been broken weeks before after a German division landed in-country and helped defeat Red forces at the Battles of Tampere and Helsinki in April. These bloodied German troops made all the difference in destroying the enthusiastic but under-gunned Finnish Red army.
No negotiations were made or peace treaties signed. The nationalists led by embarked on a brutal campaign of counter-revolution that killed 10,000 Finns and foreigners accused of being Reds. A further 80,000 were interned in concentration camps, where 12,500 perished of starvation or died when the Spanish flu swept across Europe. The scale of the White terror was not acknowledged until the 1960s.