Category: eastern front

An Austro-Hungarian sentry in a snow-covered…

An Austro-Hungarian sentry in a snow-covered trench on the Torzburg Pass (Bran Castle), winter 1916-1917.

Revolts Among Former PoWs in Hungary

The leaders of the Judenburg revolt being led to their execution on May 16.

May 20 1918, Pécs–The end of the war in the East meant that German and Austro-Hungarian prisoners of war were now slowly being repatriated to their home countries.  This was a major source of manpower for the struggling Austro-Hungarian armies, as more than 2.1 million men prepared to return.  However, the Army was highly concerned that the PoWs might bring back Bolshevik ideas with them from Russia, and established a quarantine system for them.  They were held in camps with poor rations and little or no new clothing for several weeks while the authorities determined whether they had deserted or were Bolsheviks, before being eventually granted four weeks’ leave at home.  This pervasive message of mistrust towards the returning PoWs did not increase their enthusiasm for the war effort.  This was compounded by the continuing food shortage, which did not spare the regular army.

In the late spring, there were many mutinies among units with high proportions of returned PoWs.  On May 12, a group of 1200 Slovene soldiers (normally some of the Empire’s most loyal troops) ransacked the town of Judenberg.  One of the ringleaders rallied others in the barracks to the cause:

Come on lads, get dressed.  We’re going home.  We’re doing it not just for us but as a favor to the comrades at the front.  The war has to be ended now….Whoever’s a Slovene should come with.

On May 20, around 1500 troops of the 6th Infantry Regiment, which contained many returned Serb PoWs, refused to be sent to the front seized the arsenal and food stores in Pécs.  The local miners armed themselves and joined the revolt as well; it would take three loyal Hungarian regiments to suppress them.

Today in 1917: Germans Allowed to Fire on US Warships

Today in 1916: Ernest Shackleton Reaches South Georgia
Today in 1915: Germans Refuse to Surrender in South-West Africa

Sources include: Randal Gray, Chronicle of the First World War; Alexander Watson, Ring of Steel.

Austro-Hungarian trenches and barbed wire sy…

Austro-Hungarian trenches and barbed wire system in snow-covered Volhynia, Poland, date unknown.

Austro-Hungarian trenches and barbed wire sy…

Austro-Hungarian trenches and barbed wire system on the River Siret, July 1917.

That’s a lot of barbed wire.

German officers surveying no man’s land with…

German officers surveying no man’s land with scissor binoculars from a trench on the Siret River during the Romanian campaign, c1916.

Czechs Fight Hungarians and Bolsheviks in Chel…

A train car used by the Czech Legion.

May 14 1918, Chelyabinsk–The sudden end of the war in the East had left many soldiers from both sides stranded in Russia. 

German and Austro-Hungarian PoWs were trying to make their way back west. Meanwhile, soldiers from various nationalities oppressed by the Central Powers that had volunteered to serve alongside the Russians now had to figure out where to go.  The bulk of the Polish volunteer forces in Russia surrendered to the Germans (many not without a fight).  Most of the Czech forces were determined to keep fighting, and reached an agreement with the Bolsheviks in March to leave Russia via the Trans-Siberian Railway to Vladivostok (followed by a long sea voyage to the Western Front).

On May 14, Czechs heading east clashed with a group of Hungarian PoWs heading west in Chelyabinsk in the Urals.  Representatives of the local Soviet arrested some of the Czechs involved; their fellow Czechs soon liberated them from jail and took over the town.  This was the first direct confrontation between the Czechs and the Bolsheviks, though tension had been growing for some time.  The Bolsheviks had held up the Czechs’ trains and tried to confiscate their weapons.  They were also worried that they were trying to turn them around and force them to surrender to the Germans, as the Poles had done; this was not helped by efforts to divert them towards the northern port of Arkhangelsk (though this was actually done at the behest of the Allies).  The Bolsheviks, meanwhile, were worried that the Czechs were Allied agents and would be used to overthrow them.  The incident at Chelyabinsk helped to confirm both sides’ suspicions of each other. 

Today in 1917: Modest Italian Gains on the Isonzo

Today in 1916: Patton Kills Pancho Villa’s Second-in-Command
Today in 1915: Exposé on Shell Shortage Appears in The Times of London

Sources include: Evan Mawdsley, The Russian Civil War; Orlando Figes, A People’s Tragedy.

Treaty of Bucharest

Romanian PM Marghiloman, a noted pro-German politician, signs the Treaty of Bucharest.

May 7 1918, Bucharest–Under threat of invasion from the Central Powers, the Romanians had signed a preliminary peace at Buftea around the same time as Brest-Litovsk.  The conclusion of a final peace treaty took another two months, largely due to disputes between the Central Powers.  Austria wanted additional concessions along the border, but were forced to temper their demands by the Germans.  The more thorny problem was the division of Dobruja, which the Romanians had agreed to give up in its entirety.  Ultimately, the Bulgarians were given what they had lost in 1913 and then some, but the rest of the Dobruja, from Constanța north, was placed under a condominium to be jointly administered by all four of the Central Powers; the Romanians could keep the marshy Danube delta itself.  

The economic and political concessions remained much the same as in the preliminary peace, and the Central Powers would continue to occupy most of the country for the duration of the war.  The Romanian army, which had only partially demobilized after Buftea, would now fully do so, except for around four divisions required to keep order in newly-annexed Bessarabia. After significant lobbying from the Central Powers’ own Jewish populations, the Treaty of Bucharest also forced Romania to recognize their 250,000 Jews as full citizens, with all the rights and privileges thereof, and allowed them to organize their own schools.  There were still loopholes in this provision, requiring Jews to either prove that their parents had been born in Romania or that they had participated in the war effort, and the ultimate implementation of this provision into Romanian law was so Byzantine that it was effectively not adopted before the end of the war made the Treaty of Bucharest void.

Although Romania would ratify the treaty officially in July, King Ferdinand refused to sign it, and would abrogate it entirely in the final days of the war.

Today in 1917: Falkenhayn Sent to the Ottomans


Today in 1916: Serbian Government Reorganizes in Salonika
Today in 1915: Sinking of the Lusitania

Sources include: Glenn E. Torrey, The Romanian Battlefront in World War I; N.M. Gelber, The Problem of the Rumanian Jews at the Bucharest Peace Conference, 1918

Germans Confront Polish Troops in Ukraine

General Józef Haller (1873-1960), pictured c. 1918.  Commander of the Polish II Corps, he managed to fake his own death during the battle and escaped imprisonment.  He fled to France, commanding Polish troops there in the final month of the war.

May 6 1918, Kaniv–Protesting the Central Powers’ treaty with Ukraine that gave the latter concessions at Polish expense, a number of Austrian Polish Legion troops mutinied and crossed over to the Russian side of the front in February.  There, they joined with the Polish II Corps, a military unit comprised of Russian Polish troops formed in the aftermath of the October Revolution.  They refused to lay down their arms, and steadily headed east, further into Ukraine.  The Germans, advancing through the Ukraine, had no particular desire to fight the Poles, and instead got their puppet government in Poland, the Regency Council (which had replaced the last puppet government in August), to order the Polish II Corps to halt, hoping that nearby German troops could disarm it without controversy.

On May 6, the Germans issued an ultimatum to the Polish II Corps, demanding that it surrender.  The Poles refused, and the Germans brought in more reinforcements and attacked the Polish positions on May 10.  The Poles successfully resisted for a day, but realizing they were surrounded and essentially out of ammunition, accepted a German ceasefire offer.  Most of the Polish soldiers were placed in German PoW camps, though a few thousand, including its commander, managed to escape.

Today in 1917: First Night Attack on London by Airplane


Today in 1916: Djemal Pasha Hangs Arab Nationalists
Today in 1915: Costly Allied Attack at Gallipoli Gains Only 500 Yards towards Krithia

German troops in the captured Russian trench…

German troops in the captured Russian trenches in the woods near Jakobstadt (Jēkabpils), September 1917.

Prince Abdul Halim and his brother, heirs to…

Prince Abdul Halim and his brother, heirs to the Ottoman throne, with the Austro-Hungarian officers during their visit to the Eastern Front.