Category: august 1919

Whites Take Odessa and Kiev

White forces entering Kiev in late August 1919.

August 23 1919, Odessa–Although Denikin had, in his “Moscow Directive,” attempted to limit his forces’ advance to the East of the Dnepr, they were still drawn across it anyway.  On August 23, the White forces, supported by what remained of the Black Sea Fleet, landed and took Odessa (which had been in Red hands less than five months and had already alienated its population to the point of revolt).  Around the same time, the whites took Kiev as well.  These came despite orders from the Politburo to Trotsky to hold them “to the last drop of blood” as “the fate of the entire revolution is in question.”  Ultimately, Red forces west of the Dnepr, now penned between the Whites and the threat of a Romanian advance (now that Hungary was out of the way), did their best to extricate themselves from the Ukraine.  The operations spread the White front considerably further west than anticipated, but White forces in the Ukraine still numbered no more than 10-15,000 men.  The bulk of Denikin’s forces were further east, closer to the Volga, attempting to fight off a Red counteroffensive which had already gained around 100 miles, though on narrow fronts.

Sources include: Evan Mawsdley, The Russian Civil War.

Wilson Meets With Senate Foreign Relations Com…

Henry Cabot Lodge, Senate Majority Leader and chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee from March 1919 (when the Republicans gained a majority in the chamber), pictured around 1916.

August 19 1919, Washington–After Wilson presented the Treaty of Versailles to the Senate, Senate Majority Leader Henry Cabot Lodge quickly referred it to his Foreign Relations Committee, where he dragged out the consideration of the treaty as long as possible.  A quick vote on the Treaty, broadly popular with an overwhelming majority of Americans, was not in his best interests.  He spent two weeks reading the text of the treaty out loud, in full, to the committee. On July 31, he finally started hearings on the treaty in the Foreign Relations committee.  The next day, Lodge called for five “reservations” to the treaty, clarifications to how the treaty would apply to the United States, that would not require renegotiation with the other signatories (nor a two-thirds majority in the Senate):

Article 1 of the treaty allowed for any member to depart the League of Nations after two years’ notice provided “all its international obligations and all its obligations under this Covenant shall have been fulfilled at the time of its withdrawal;” Lodge wanted to specify that the United States would be the one to determine whether those obligations had been fulfilled, should the United States choose to withdraw from the League.

Article 10 called for the preservation of “the territorial integrity and existing political independence” of League members against “external aggression,” and the League Council “shall advise upon the
means by which this obligation shall be fulfilled.”  Article 11 called for the League to “take any action that may be deemed wise and effectual to safeguard the peace of nations,” in the event of “war or threat of war.”  Lodge wanted to clarify that only Congress could declare war and send troops abroad, and that the United States could not be drawn into a war by the League without Congressional approval.

Article 15 dealt with arbitration between League members, and stated that “if the dispute between the parties is claimed by one of them, and is found
by the Council, to arise out of a matter which by international law is solely
within the domestic jurisdiction of that party, the Council shall so report, and
shall make no recommendation as to its settlement.”  Lodge wanted to go further, and say explicitly that if the United States considered a matter to be completely domestic, that it would not recognize League arbitration on that matter.

Article 21 explicitly stated that the League Covenant would not affect the Monroe Doctrine, but Lodge wanted a reservation regarding it anyway.

Debate continued for weeks, despite the fact that it was shaping up to a be a party-line vote in the committee.  The ranking Democrat asked that the treaty be sent out of committee.  Lodge, needing to appear to do something, instead asked Wilson to meet with the committee–an unprecedented move.

On August 19, Wilson met with all but one of the committee members in the East Room of the White House.  Most of the discussion centered on Article 10.  Wilson described any obligation to provide military force under Article 10, as “advised” by the League Council, as a moral obligation rather than a legal one.  Senator Warren G. Harding asked Wilson what good was a moral obligation by itself; every nation supposedly obligated could just choose not to participate.  Wilson spoke of the obligation as part of a “national good conscience:”

When I speak of a legal obligation, I mean one that specifically binds you to do a particular thing…Now a moral obligation is of course superior to a legal obligation and, if I may say so, has a greater binding force; only there always remains in the moral obligation the right to exercise one’s judgment.

Harding then asked a more specific question, “to clear my slow mind.”  If Greece or Yugoslavia attacked Italy and the League called for troops, would the United States be committed to do so?  Wilson said that “we would be our own judges.”  Senator Borah of Idaho asked a similar question regarding a German attack on France (which the United States would have a legal obligation to respond to if they ratified a separate treaty they had signed at Versailles with France and Britain), and Wilson gave much the same answer.  That latter treaty would die a quick death in committee, and indeed France would have no help from the United States in 1940.

Discussion then turned to the question of Shantung; America’s betrayal of China on this issue, solely to ensure that Japan would sign the treaty (without having to make concessions on Japanese immigration), was extremely unpopular in the United States, even within the Wilson administration.  Secretary of State Lansing had even told the Foreign Relations Committee that the awarding of the Shantung concession to Japan was not necessary to get them to sign the treaty.  When the members mentioned this to Wilson, he said that his own Secretary of State was mistaken, and that his discussions in the Council of Four had shown otherwise.  Conveniently, the minutes of the Council of Four were still in Paris and were too confidential to be shown to the Foreign Relations Committee.  Wilson assured them that Shantung would be returned to China soon; the Republicans were unconvinced.

The meeting was not a victory for Wilson.  Four days later, on August 23, the treaty suffered its first major defeat.  In a party-line vote, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee called for an amendment (not a reservation) to the Treaty, one that would restore Shantung to China.

Sources include: Patricia O’Toole, The Moralist; Margaret MacMillan, Paris 1919.

British Raid Kronstadt

One of the boats that participated in the raid on Kronstadt, pictured in June.

August 18 1918, Kronstadt–While the Russian threat to Estonia had largely passed, thanks in large part to the intervention of the Royal Navy, the Baltic Fleet in Kronstadt remained a threat.  On August 18, British officer Augustus Agar led a raid on Kronstadt with seven motor boats.  Technically, these boats were under the command of the Foreign Office, not the Royal Navy; while dealing a significant blow to the Baltic Fleet was certainly hoped for, the justification to the Foreign Office was that the attack would serve as cover for the retrieval of one of the last British spies in Russia, Paul Dukes.

Six boats slipped past the Russian sentry boat at the entrance of Kronstadt harbor, while Royal Navy ships waited offshore in case the Russians sortied.  The British sank a submarine support ship and dealt heavy damage to the pre-dreadnought Andrei Pervozvanny (which was eventually scrapped as a result).  They claimed to hit the dreadnought Petropavlovsk as well, though Russian accounts dispute this; she remained in Soviet service until she was sunk by the Germans in September 1941.  Three of the British boats were sunk in the raid, and 24 were killed or captured.  Two men were awarded Victoria Crosses for their role in the raid, out of a total of five awarded during British intervention in Russia; one of the other three had been awarded to Agar himself for a similar raid (on a smaller scale) in June that had sunk the cruiser Oleg.

The planned rendezvous with Paul Dukes never came close to fruition; Dukes was conscripted into the Red Army and eventually escaped via Latvia in September.

Sources include: Prit Buttar, The Splintered Empires.

Erzurum Congress Ends

Mustafa Kemal (center) at the Erzurum Conference.

August 7 1919, Erzurum–The day after Greek forces landed at Smyrna, Mustafa Kemal left Constantinople for Anatolia, hoping to organize a resistance to the Allied carving up of Turkey.  In late July, he assembled a congress of representatives from the Ottoman Empire’s northwestern districts in Erzurum.  Over the course of its meetings, until it dispersed on August 7, it passed many resolutions affirming complete Turkish independence:

  • Turkey would not be carved up into Allied mandates or protectorates (the exact borders of Turkey, as opposed to the Ottoman Empire, were less clear, however).
  • Military occupation of Turkey would be resisted.
  • No special accommodation would be given to non-Turkish minorities, such as the Greeks or Armenians.  The provinces represented at the conference once had substantial Armenian populations, and were considered for inclusion in an Allied mandate of Armenia.  The conference itself was held in what had been an Armenian university before the genocide.
  • A new government would be formed if the one in Constantinople proved incapable of carrying out these measures.

In September, there was a similar conference in Sivas, with attendees from more parts of Anatolia, that largely affirmed these decisions.  Little resulted immediately, however.  The Ottoman Empire was in no condition to resist the Allies militarily, and Kemal had been fired from the Army for his rabble-rousing in July.  Nevertheless, the Erzurum and Sivas conferences positioned him well politically as the leader of the Turkish nationalist movement ahead of Ottoman elections scheduled for December.

Romanians Enter Budapest

Romanian cavalry in Budapest.

August 3 1919, Budapest–After committing their reserves, the Romanians were easily able to drive the Hungarians back to the Tisza.  On August 1, after receiving clearance to do so from the Allies, the Romanians crossed the river, and found little resistance from the Hungarians.  Béla Kun fled for Austria, where he was interned for a time before being sent to Russia.  A more moderate Social Democrat government took over, but it was too late; Romanian cavalry units entered the capital on August 3, and the Romanians would remain until November.  With tacit Romanian approval, the Social Democrats were deposed by more conservative elements, who supported a Habsburg restoration under Archduke Joseph August.  The Allies refused to allow a Habsburg on the throne (or as regent) of Hungary, however.  

The Romanians did not occupy the entirety of the country; they were content to leave portions out the southwest to Admiral Horthy’s National Army.  Horthy remained a rival to the conservative government in the capital, and began a “White Terror” against Communists, Social Democrats, and Jews perceived to have supported Béla Kun.

Sources include: Glenn E. Torrey, The Romanian Battlefront in World War I.