May 18 1918, Cologne–After nearly a year of Gotha raids on London, the British were determined to retaliate against Germany. Although Berlin was out of reach for the Allies, Western Germany was not. On May 18, six British DH4s attacked Cologne in daylight, dropping 34 bombs and causing well over 100 casualties. The attack took the Germans by surprise, and the British even managed to shoot down two German fighters on the return trip. This was not to be an isolated attack–the British were already making plans for a dedicated strategic bombing force, to be led by former RAF head Hugh Trenchard.
May 2 1918, Berlin–Germany’s restrictive voting laws had become a liability, both at home and abroad. The United States repeatedly made the point that they were not at war with the German people, but with the Kaiser and its military autocrats, and even if civilian politicians had not been clearly sidelined, could point to Germany’s laws as evidence; not every man had the right to vote, and those with more property had their votes count more. The massive peace strikes in Germany in January had also called for universal suffrage. In his last months as Chancellor, Bethmann-Hollweg had made moves in the direction of reform within Prussia (containing 60% of Germany’s population), but promised them only on the “successful conclusion of the war.” In July 1917, crucially, he did get the Kaiser to promise equal franchise in Prussia.
Ten months later, however, the promise was as yet unfulfilled. Conservatives were afraid of the consequences of expanding the franchise, and continued to use the war as an excuse to postpone doing so. On May 2, the Prussian Landtag rejected a motion for one man, one vote, universal male franchise, by a unexpectedly large margin of 235-181, despite the support of Chancellor Hertling. Many on the left felt betrayed by both the Chancellor and the Kaiser, and the Allies were able to use the vote as further evidence of Prussian autocracy.
1918 – It’s been just one year ago today that the US entered the war and she sure made wonderful strides. In another year her
weight will be the deciding factor and I’m sure the Germans realize it. They
are making a grand stand play now in the hopes that they can accomplish their
end before America is strong enough to
take hold. Germans will fail and will come in at the short end of this war.”
Photo: in April 1917 when the United States declared war on
Germany, French school children celebrated this action and reflected on its impact on the war’s outcome through writing and
drawing. Source: Vive
l’Amérique! French School Children Welcome Their American Ally National WW1 Museum and
April 5 1918, Collinsville–A year into the United States’ participation into the war, anti-German sentiment was at an all-time high. At the official level, a few thousand German (and even non-German) aliens had been detained and there were extreme controls on the German-language press. In culture and the press, anything German was shunned, and those with German backgrounds attempted to present themselves as as American as possible.
Robert Prager, a German from Dresden who had immigrated to the United States in 1905 at the age of 17, by all accounts embraced American patriotism after war was declared. He began the process of obtaining American citizenship, and even attempted to enlist in the Navy, but was rejected as he had a glass eye. Rarely able to hold down a job long due to his “stubborn, uncompromising personality,” he attempted to become a miner in Maryville, IL, but his application to become a member of the United Mine Workers was rejected. In part, this was due to his personality and health issues, but also due to his socialist politics and, more ominously, because he “looked like a spy.”
After being warned away from Maryville, Prager wrote an angry letter to the union criticizing its president and posted it around town. A mob then dragged him out of his house, wrapped him in an American flag, and paraded him barefoot around the town. Prager was rescued by the police and placed in jail for his own protection. To try to calm spirits, the mayor decided to close the bars in the city early that night. Unfortunately, the crowds at the bars, once they heard a “German spy” was in the jail. went straight to the jail and removed him from the building while the police stood by. They marched him two miles south, forcing him to sing the national anthem, and then lynched him from a tree at 12:30 AM on April 5.
The case soon gathered national attention; Wilson met with his Cabinet about it but decided not to issue an official statement. Germany attempted to pay for Prager’s funeral expenses. Later in the month, eleven men were indicted for Prager’s murder. They were all acquitted; one member of the jury reportedly said “Well, I guess nobody can say we aren’t loyal now.”
“Early this morning, we could hear the big
guns going full blast, and I saw my first air battle,
and it was a thriller — four French planes and two Germans! The French bagged
both of the Huns’ machines, one falling only a short distance from us, and
before dark we saw five more air battles.”
“We walked through a road in the Argonne. It is like spring here
now, and the moon was almost full. As we
went deeper into the woods, the moon seemed to get brighter and brighter, and threw everything into
strong relief. The road was lined on either side with trenches and shell-holes. Finally, we reached a clearing. There
was a German cemetery, where we stopt to look around. In its center was a large
shaft erected to some fallen captain, with little crosses around, each marking
the grave of a German. This is all I saw, but I felt the spirit
of death, absolute and irrevocable. If it had been an Allied cemetery, the
spirits might have talked together of their battles and of the victory they
died for; but the German dead have nothing to say-—dead bodies, mute spirits,
and a lost cause. The very place where they lie is called “Le Mort Homme.”
Argonne itself is dead. The trees still stand with their shattered tops
presented to the sky, giving silent evidence of the barrage that sweeps them
ceaselessly. It is strange to wander through
these woods – the spell of a
strange silence has spread through the forest; no birds sing there and the
quiet that reigns is not the quiet of peace, but is the silence of desolation
Strikers in Berlin in the last days of January 1918.
January 28 1918, Berlin–1918 had begun with no end to the war in sight. Despite an evident desire for peace in Germany, even in the Reichstag, Hindenburg & Ludendorff would hear none of it. Negotiations at Brest-Litovsk were dragging on and seemed likely to impose a punitive peace on the Russians, and the Germans were preparing to continue the war on the Western Front. Attempting to force peace from the ground up, the shop stewards of Berlin organized a massive general strike in the German capital, starting at 9AM on January 28. As many as 400,000 workers across the city (and more in the coming days) walked out of their jobs.
A strikers’ council demanded a peace without annexations or indemnities, the inclusion of the German workers at the peace table, an end to the Hindenburg program, a full democratization of both Prussia and Germany including universal suffrage, and an increased food supply for Berlin. Similar strikes broke out across the country in the coming days, but none with similar duration or intensity as the one in Berlin. The government and military, scared the strike would turn into a popular uprising like the one in Petrograd the previous year, refused to entertain any of the strikers’ demands, arrested the strikers’ leadership, and put factories under military control. The strikers received little support from trade unions or the bulk of the socialists parties in the Reichstag. Within a week, the strike was crushed.
The strike did have major effects in other countries, however. Although disappointed at its failure, Trotsky took it as a sign that revolution might indeed be imminent in Germany and as support for his policy of “no war, no peace” on the Eastern Front. Wilson, noting that the strikes took place so soon after his “Fourteen Points” speech, believed that the German people had been inspired by them and that there was still room to drive a wedge between the German people and their leadership.
January 5 1918, Ahlhorn–Germany’s Zeppelin fleet was now increasingly vulnerable to fighter attack as the war progressed, but two other factors remained as dangerous as they ever had been. Poor weather could cause Zeppelins to be carried wildly off-target, as they had been during the “Silent Raid.” They also remained extremely vulnerable to fire, as their buoyancy was provided by hydrogen. On January 5, a gasoline fire and subsequent explosions destroyed five Zeppelins in their sheds at Ahlhorn, including two ships that had survived the Silent Raid; fifteen crewmen were killed. Sabotage was never ruled out as a cause, but it is more likely that the fire was accidental. The incident further weakened Germany’s Zeppelin fleet and diminished their enthusiasm for the weapon; a few Zeppelin raids would still be conducted on Britain in 1918, but to little effect and with none directed at London.
A 1908 portrait of Georg von Hertling (1843-1919).
October 30 1917, Berlin–Chancellor Michaelis, Bethmann’s replacement, was already deeply unpopular after just over three months in office. He had effectively served as a puppet of Hindenburg and Ludendorff, squashing the Reichstag’s peace resolution. His staunchly conservative politics were also a liability as labor unrest increased on the home front, while the Army blamed him for continued supply problems. He was forced out in late October, and on October 30 was replaced by Georg von Hertling.
Hertling, although 75 years old, was in some ways a fresh face in German politics, becoming the first Catholic and the first non-Prussian to serve as Chancellor. A member of the Centre Party, Hindenburg & Ludendorff hoped that he could serve as a more unifying figure–while still acceding entirely to their wishes. Hertling had turned down the chancellorship when Bethmann resigned out of fear that he would have little real power while Hindenburg & Ludendorff reigned. Soon after becoming Chancellor, he realized that his original assessment was correct. His calls for a peace of reconciliation with the Allies, including a full restoration of Belgian independence, were ignored by Hindenburg & Ludendorff, and Hertling would be little more than a minor annoyance to them for the next 11 months.