Category: first world war

Attorney General Palmer’s House Bombed

Attorney General Palmer’s house, at 2312 R St NW, pictured after the bombing.

June 2 1919, Washington–On the night of June 2, followers of the anarchist Luigi Galleani detonated bombs in eight cities across the United States.  Two were injured and two were killed, one of whom was one of the bombers, Carlo Valdinoci.  Valdinoci was “blown to butcher’s meat” by the bomb he had planted in front of Attorney General A. Mitchell Palmer’s house near Dupont Circle.  Palmer and his family escaped the blast with no more than a few cuts, but Palmer was clearly shaken by the event.  Assistant Secretary of the Navy Franklin Delano Roosevelt rushed from his house across the street to help Palmer, finding that he had reverted to using the thees and thous of his Quaker upbringing.

That Quaker past had heretofore tempered his enforcement of the Espionage Act.  After the bombing, however, he saw it as his duty to root out anarchists, Bolsheviks, and other subversives.  Together with his eager young subordinate J. Edgar Hoover, he would instigate America’s first Red Scare.  Galleani himself would be deported by the end of the month.

Sources include: Cameron McWhirter, Red Summer.

Germans First Hear Peace Terms

Ulrich von Brockdorff-Rantzau, Germany’s Foreign Minister for much of the first half of 1919, pictured the year before.

May 7 1919, Versailles–The Germans had been summoned to the peace conference in late April.  They had hoped, as had originally been anticipated by all parties, that the last few months had been the Allies preparing their peace terms, and now would come the time for the actual peace negotiations.  The German delegation brought with it crates upon crates of material to back up these negotiations that they were never to have.

On May 7, the German delegation was brought to the Trianon Palace Hotel.  Clemenceau told them: “The hour has struck for the weighty settlement of oura account.  You asked us for peace.  We are disposed to grant it to you,” before outlining the major features of the peace deal: Germany would lose her colonies, parts of Silesia, and the Polish Corridor.  Danzig would become a free city, the Saar would be effectively a French protectorate, the Rhineland would be occupied for over a decade, Germany would owe a large reparations bill, the League of Nations would not include Germany among her initial members, and that the war had been “imposed upon [the Allies] by the aggression of Germany and her allies.”

The head of the German delegation, German Foreign Minister Brockdorff-Rantzau, gave an angry speech during which he insisted on remaining seated; it did not help that his interpreters did a poor job of translating his words.  In particular, he rankled at “the demand…that we shall acknowledge that we alone are guilty of having caused the war….Such a confession in my mouth would be a lie.”  His words misrepresented the treaty (which never used the word “guilt”), and had almost certainly been prepared before he had even seen the text of the treaty. Lloyd George snapped an ivory letter-opener in two during the speech; Wilson called it “the most tactless speech I have ever heard.  The Germans really are a stupid people. They always do the wrong thing.”  Balfour was more generous, saying merely that “I make it a rule never to stare at people when they are in obvious distress.”

The mood among the German delegation, and back in Germany, was that of shock and anger, especially at the Americans, whom they had hoped would spare them.  In the final weeks before the terms of the treaty were published, an American observer noted: 

The Germans have little left but Hope.  But having only that I think they have clung to it–the Hope that the Americans would do something, the Hope that the final terms would not be so severe as the Armistice indicated and so on.  Subconsciously, I think the Germans have been more optimistic than they realized….When they see the terms in cold print, there will be intense bitterness, hate and desperation.

Sources include: Gregor Dallas, 1918: War and Peace; Margaret MacMillan, Paris 1919.

Allies Reach Agreement on Tsingtao at Chinese …

The Japanese delegation at the peace conference; Makino, whose speech approving of the League Covenant revealed that some sort of deal had been made, is seated on the left.

April 28 1919, Paris–Japan entered the war to secure German territories in China and the Central Pacific, which they had done swiftly by the end of 1914.  Her participation in the war afterwards had been limited mainly to her navy and the Allied intervention in Siberia.  In the years since 1914, Japan had attempted to gain Germany’s concession around Tsingtao by demanding it directly from the Chinese, though this ultimately had not worked, and now she was hoping to gain it at the peace conference, where she was one “Big Five” nations.  The Chinese, also one of the Allies, wanted their own territory back, however, and they had plenty of sympathizers, especially among the American delegation.  The Americans were suspicious of Japanese motives in China and the Pacific, and Wilson’s principle of self-determination would favor China’s claim to Tsingtao.

However, this ideal ran up against both the political realities of the conference, and, more fundamentally, deep-seated American racism.  Another one of Japan’s goals at the peace conference was the insertion of a clause on racial equality into the covenant of the League of Nations–that all member nations treat citizens of other member nations equally, regardless of race.  The United States, fearing that this would force them to accept Japanese and Chinese immigration, rejected the proposal on April 11.

The rejection of the racial equality clause, however, meant the Japanese needed to be given some other concession to stay in the peace conference.  With the Italians having just walked out, a Japanese departure could threaten to kill the peace conference altogether.  In late April, the Big Three and Japan came to an agreement: Japan would take over Germany’s economic rights around Tsingtao, but would pull out their occupation forces, let other nations use the port, and hand over political authority to the Chinese government “soon.”

On April 28, while a freak snowstorm was raging outside, Japanese delegate Makino gave a milquetoast speech approving of the final ratification of the League of Nations charter, without any mention of the racial equality clause.  The Chinese immediately realized they had been sold out; Wellington Koo told Wilson’s translator that he would only sign the treaty if given a direct order to do so by his government.  Also in the dark had been the rest of the American delegation, who had not been informed of the deal by Wilson.  Gen. Bliss nearly resigned when he found out, sending Wilson a stern note with the backing of the rest of the American delegation:

If it be right for a policeman, who recovers your purse, to keep the contents and claim that he has fulfilled his duty in returning the empty purse, then Japan’s conduct may be tolerated….Peace is desirable, but there are things dearer than peace, justice and freedom.

Sources include: Margaret MacMillan, Paris 1919.

Saar Basin to be Made League of Nations Mandat…

The Saar basin.  Another French claim to the area was from the founding of Saarlouis by Louis XIV in the 17th century.

April 13 1919, Paris–The French, who had seen much of their country occupied by the Germans for four years, wanted compensation for their losses and assurance that Germany could not threaten them again.  One of their demands was for the coal-rich Saar basin, just north of Alsace-Lorraine.  The area had been French before Napoleon’s Hundred Days, but was now entirely populated by Germans.  Wilson told Clemenceau: “You base your claim on what took place 104 years ago.  We cannot readjust Europe on the basis of conditions that existed in such a remote period.”  He was, however, more receptive to the argument that France needed compensation for the German destruction of its coalfields in Flanders.

Ultimately, Lloyd George suggested a compromise: the French would get ownership of the coal mines, and the League of Nations would technically administer the area.  France would get their coal without annexing any German-populated land.  Eventually, after Wilson threatened to returned to America, the French agreed and the details were finalized on April 13.  In fifteen years, a plebiscite would be held to determine the area’s future; ultimately, over 90% voted to join Nazi Germany in 1935.

Sources include: Margaret MacMillan, Paris 1919.  Image Credit: By Original uploader was User:Splee at en.wikipedia – Transferred from en.wikipedia to Commons., CC BY-SA 3.0

Saar Basin to be Made League of Nations Mandat…

The Saar basin.  Another French claim to the area was from the founding of Saarlouis by Louis XIV in the 17th century.

April 13 1919, Paris–The French, who had seen much of their country occupied by the Germans for four years, wanted compensation for their losses and assurance that Germany could not threaten them again.  One of their demands was for the coal-rich Saar basin, just north of Alsace-Lorraine.  The area had been French before Napoleon’s Hundred Days, but was now entirely populated by Germans.  Wilson told Clemenceau: “You base your claim on what took place 104 years ago.  We cannot readjust Europe on the basis of conditions that existed in such a remote period.”  He was, however, more receptive to the argument that France needed compensation for the German destruction of its coalfields in Flanders.

Ultimately, Lloyd George suggested a compromise: the French would get ownership of the coal mines, and the League of Nations would technically administer the area.  France would get their coal without annexing any German-populated land.  Eventually, after Wilson threatened to returned to America, the French agreed and the details were finalized on April 13.  In fifteen years, a plebiscite would be held to determine the area’s future; ultimately, over 90% voted to join Nazi Germany in 1935.

Sources include: Margaret MacMillan, Paris 1919.  Image Credit: By Original uploader was User:Splee at en.wikipedia – Transferred from en.wikipedia to Commons., CC BY-SA 3.0

A British soldier of the Royal Garrison Arti…

A British soldier of the Royal Garrison Artillery soldier shaking hands with a French soldier wearing a sheep- or goatskin jacket, Maricourt, September 1916.

Lieutenant Colonel Oliver C. S. Watson, VC, DS…

Lieutenant Colonel Oliver C. S. Watson, VC, DSO – George Spencer Watson, 1917.

Habsburgs Leave for Swiss Exile

March 23 1919, Eckartsau–On the same day as the Armistice with Germany, Emperor Charles proclaimed that “I renounce all part in state affairs.”  This was not an official abdication, however, and Charles privately saw himself as the rightful Emperor of Austria and King of Hungary.  Charles and his family remained in his palace in Eckartsau, east of Vienna, while the Austrian government (which was seeking a union with Germany) grew increasingly impatient with the uncertainty.  On March 15, Chancellor Renner demanded that Charles officially abdicate, and threatened him with exile or imprisonment if he did not do so.  

Eckartsau was under the protection of a small group of British soldiers under Lt. Col. Strutt, sent there under the personal initiative of King George V; King George did not want to see another fellow monarch be killed due to revolutionary upheaval.  Strutt convinced Renner to drop the demand for an abdication by pretending that he had the authority to withhold food supplies.  He also persuaded Zita and Charles that exile in Switzerland was the best option for them: “A dead Habsburg is no good to anyone, whereas a live one, with a family, may yet be.”

On March 23, under British guard, Charles, Zita, Otto, and 22 other Habsburgs left Eckartsau by train.  They arrived in Switzerland the next day.  Charles soon signed a private manifesto (backdated to just before his final departure) declaring that he did not renounce his claim to the throne, and that the Austrian government was illegitimate.  On April 3, the Austrian government confiscated all Habsburg lands and barred all Habsburgs from the country until they renounced their claim on the throne.  Charles would never return; Otto would not return until 1966.

Habsburgs Leave for Swiss Exile

March 23 1919, Eckartsau–On the same day as the Armistice with Germany, Emperor Charles proclaimed that “I renounce all part in state affairs.”  This was not an official abdication, however, and Charles privately saw himself as the rightful Emperor of Austria and King of Hungary.  Charles and his family remained in his palace in Eckartsau, east of Vienna, while the Austrian government (which was seeking a union with Germany) grew increasingly impatient with the uncertainty.  On March 15, Chancellor Renner demanded that Charles officially abdicate, and threatened him with exile or imprisonment if he did not do so.  

Eckartsau was under the protection of a small group of British soldiers under Lt. Col. Strutt, sent there under the personal initiative of King George V; King George did not want to see another fellow monarch be killed due to revolutionary upheaval.  Strutt convinced Renner to drop the demand for an abdication by pretending that he had the authority to withhold food supplies.  He also persuaded Zita and Charles that exile in Switzerland was the best option for them: “A dead Habsburg is no good to anyone, whereas a live one, with a family, may yet be.”

On March 23, under British guard, Charles, Zita, Otto, and 22 other Habsburgs left Eckartsau by train.  They arrived in Switzerland the next day.  Charles soon signed a private manifesto (backdated to just before his final departure) declaring that he did not renounce his claim to the throne, and that the Austrian government was illegitimate.  On April 3, the Austrian government confiscated all Habsburg lands and barred all Habsburgs from the country until they renounced their claim on the throne.  Charles would never return; Otto would not return until 1966.

Lettow-Vorbeck Returns to Berlin

Lettow-Vorbeck rides into Berlin.

March 2 1919, Berlin–After his surrender in Abercorn in late November, the remaining 114 white German soldiers (and 194 civilians) attached to Lettow-Vorbeck’s force were taken to Dar-es-Salaam, from where they departed for Rotterdam on January 17.  On March 2, he arrived in Berlin and paraded his troops to the Brandenburg Gate, which had been decorated in their honor.  He was hailed as an undefeated hero of the war; the human cost his four-year campaign wreaked on East Africa was never mentioned.  Far-right groups would attempt to co-opt Lettow-Vorbeck’s efforts to further their stab-in-the-back myth, and he would become briefly embroiled in their schemes; his military career ended in 1920 due to his peripheral involvement in the Kapp Putsch.  Hitler attempted to appoint him as Ambassador to the Court of St. James, but he declined.

Back in Africa, Lettow-Vorbeck’s askaris and porters remained in prisoner-of-war camps for some time, where the influenza pandemic would kill many of them.  The survivors were sent back to their homes by the British, and they would receive no compensation from either side, though Lettow-Vorbeck did make attempts to raise money on their behalf.  Upon his death in 1964, the West German government very belatedly agreed to make payments to the remaining askaris, who were identified by asking them to go through the old German rifle drills once more.

Sources include: Byron Farwell, The Great War in Africa.