Category: the first world war

Mannerheim Made Regent of Finland

Mannerheim (seated) while Regent of Finland.

December 11 1918, Helsinki–After the Whites’ victory in the Finnish Civil War, they decided to make Finland a kingdom.  In a feat of spectacularly bad timing, in October they invited Prince Frederick Charles of Hesse, husband of the Kaiser’s youngest sister, to serve as King of Finland.  Germany’s defeat and the fall of the Kaiser made this arrangement untenable, and in December Frederick Charles renounced the throne without ever having set foot in the country.  Finland was now a kingdom without a king, and its parliament decided to declare Mannerheim, hero of the Civil War, as Regent of Finland, on December 11.  Mannerheim had left Finland after his victory in the Civil War, not wanting to associate further with the Germans whose intervention he had opposed (though they had been instrumental in the Whites’ victory).  Mannerheim was popular among the Whites and, perhaps more importantly, with the Allies, and was able to secure substantial food aid for Finland, often called “Mannerheim bread” in his honor.

In 1919, Finland decided to become a republic, and Mannerheim stepped down as Regent.  He ran for President of Finland, lost, and largely remained out of politics until the 1930′s.

Returning German Soldiers Parade in Berlin

Soldiers of a regiment of the 37th Division returning to Berlin; the placard lists the battles in which the regiment fought (mainly on the Eastern Front).

December 10 1918, Berlin–On December 10, nine German divisions returned to Berlin from the front, and were granted a parade through the Brandenburg Gate.  The details had been carefully arranged between Ebert’s government and the Army–the soldiers would be allowed to keep their arms, but not any ammunition.  Tensions were high in Berlin–soldiers had opened fire on a Spartacist rally on the 6th–and Ebert did not want to add nine divisions of armed soldiers to the mix as well.

The atmosphere was almost that of a victory parade.  The decorations reminded astute observers of 1814, when Prussia’s victorious armies returned after defeating Napoleon the first time.  The black, white, and red flag of the German Empire was to be seen everywhere.  Ebert addressed the troops (though it is likely he was not heard over the noise of the crowd) telling them that “No enemy has vanquished you…you return undefeated from the battlefield.”  This outraged the Allies when they heard of it, and this and similar sentiments certainly contributed to the “stab-in-the-back” myth that Germany was not defeated on the battlefield but by the people and politicians at home (chief among them, ironically, Ebert himself).

As the troops came through the Brandenburg Gate, they found that no way had been cleared for them on the other side; the soldiers simply mixed into the crowd of 100,000.  Thus the German army began its demobilization.

Sources include: Gregor Dallas, 1918: War and Peace.

British Ships Arrive in Tallinn

A sentry on board the HMS Caradoc at port in Tallinn during December 1918.

December 7 1918, Tallinn–The end of the war also gave the Allies a free hand in the Baltic for the first time ever.  Once the German High Seas Fleet was safely interned the British dispatched a small force of five cruisers and nine destroyers into the Baltic “to show the British flag and support British policy as circumstances desire.”  In practice, this meant stopping the Russians from re-establishing themselves in the areas the Germans were now evacuating, most notably Estonia.

The minesweepers meant to accompany the British squadron had to take on more coal in Denmark, while the oil-powered cruisers and destroyers continued on.  On December 5, the cruiser Cassandra struck a German mine off the islands in the Gulf of Riga; 11 men were killed when she sank, while three other ships were forced to return home due to other damage suffered en route.  

The remaining ships arrived in Talinn on December 7, to an enthusiastic reception.  The Estonian government was desperate, and even offered to become a British protectorate in return for troops.  The British had no such plans, but promised guns and ammunition were on the way, and soon began using their ships to shell Russian supply lines and land Estonian troops behind the front lines.  Around the same time, the Estonians were bolstered by the arrival of a contingent of around 2000 Finnish volunteers, veterans of their civil war.

Sources include: Prit Buttar, The Splintered Empires.

Wilson Leaves for Europe

Wilson on board the George Washington.

December 4 1918, New York–Wilson had tried to negotiate a peace before the United States entered the war, had been instrumental in arranging the Armistice that stopped hostilities, and nothing could keep him from being present at the peace conference that would bring it officially to a close.  On December 4, Wilson left for France on board the George Washington (a former German liner seized at the outbreak of war), becoming the first sitting President to visit Europe.  His trip abroad was attacked by his Republican critics as being unconstitutional, even though Taft and Roosevelt had made short trips to Mexico or Panama.

Accompanying Wilson across the Atlantic were two of the other formal US representatives to the peace conference–Secretary of State Lansing and experienced diplomat Henry White.  White was chosen to make sure Republicans were represented in Paris, though he had little connection to the Republicans in Congress.  They would be joined in Paris by the other two representatives, Colonel House and General Tasker Bliss.  Also on board the George Washington were 23 members of The Inquiry (a special study group Wilson had formed in 1917 in preparation for the eventual peace), many state department officials, Wilson’s propaganda chief George Creel, and the First Lady.  Wilson was recovering from a cold when the ship departed New York, and would largely remain until his quarters until the second half of the journey to Brest.

Sources include: Gregor Dallas, 1918: War and Peace, Margaret MacMillan, Paris 1919; Patricia O’Toole, The Moralist.

British and Americans Enter Germany

American troops entering Trier on December 1.

December 1 1918, Trier–The process of extricating the German army from occupied Belgium and Luxembourg had been a slow one.  The last Germans left France on the 26th, and on December 1 the British and Americans crossed the border into the Rhineland.  The British crossed near Eupen (which would ultimately given to the Belgians by the Treaty of Versailles), and the Americans entered Trier at 5:30 AM.  Issues with the German railroads caused a brief delay for a few days afterwards, but they would reach the Rhine within a week.  American troops would remain in the Rhineland until early 1923, the British until 1929.  Further south, the French had already occupied all of Alsace-Lorraine, and prepared for a quick return to the 1870 borders (at least).

Sources include: Randal Gray, Chronicle of the First World War.

Allied Fleets Reach Ukraine

November 26 1918, Odessa–The terms of the Armistice of Mudros opened the Straits to the Allies, giving them reliable access to Russia for the first time since Turkey’s entry into the war (and Allied warships free passage for the first time ever).  The Allied fleet passed through the Dardanelles on their way to Constantinople on November 12, and over the coming weeks the first Allied ships crossed the Black Sea.  By November 26, they were established in force at Odessa, Sevastopol, and Novorossiysk.  There, they took possession of what remained of the German U-boat squadrons that had been based out of Turkey (as required by the terms of the armistice), as well as what remained of the Russian Black Sea Fleet that had chosen to surrender to the Germans rather than scuttle.

In Ukraine, the Allies arrived to a political vacuum; Skoropadskyi’s regime was quickly collapsing as the Germans withdrew, but nothing had been formally organized to replace him.  The French eventually recognized the successors of the 1917-1918 Rada as the proper civilian authority in Odessa, but even their claim was tenuous in a city that was a mix of Ukrainian, Russian, and Jewish populations.  In Novorossyisk, the Allies were welcomed by the Volunteer Army, who hoped the Allies would soon sweep them to victory over the Bolsheviks.  However, the extent of Allied commitment to the Whites was still unclear.  The ostensible reason for Allied intervention so far was the continuation of the fight against Germany–a justification that suddenly vanished with the Armistice.  

Further east, the British had returned to Baku on November 17; part of the new occupying force had left only two months before.  They quickly imposed martial law, and would remain there until August 1919.

Lettow-Vorbeck Officially Surrenders

An African depiction of the surrender at Abercorn.

November 25 1918, Abercorn [Mbala]–By November, Lettow-Vorbeck’s forces had left Mozambique, returning to German East Africa for a short time before heading into Northern Rhodesia [Zambia].  It took time for news of the Armistice to reach Africa, and in fact fighting continued on November 12.  However, a motorcyclist captured that day was carrying a report of the Armistice, and Lettow-Vorbeck was able to confirm it the next day by tapping British telephone calls.  

The South Africans demanded Lettow-Vorbeck’s unconditional surrender under the terms of the Armistice, and asked that he proceed to Abercorn to do so, as the “nearest place at which I can supply you with food.”  On November 25, the final German forces arrived in Abercorn and Lettow-Vorbeck surrendered the last remnant of the German Empire.  At the end of the war, his force consisted of 21 officers, 9 medical and scientific officers, 125 NCOs, 1156 askaris, 1598 porters, and an unrecorded number of women and children.

Lettow-Vorbeck later learned that the terms of the armistice only required the “evacuation” of all German troops in East Africa, rather than their surrender.  However, they were treated extremely well by the British, who had high admiration for their fighting skill after the last four years of war; one British officer even said that “we had more esteem and affection for [Lettow-Vorbeck] than our own leaders.”

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

King Albert (on horseback) makes a “Joyous Ent…

King Albert (on horseback) makes a “Joyous Entry” into Brussels on November 22.  Belgian troops had re-entered the city on the 18th, and the Belgian parliament had returned to the city on the 21st.

Pogrom in Lviv

A synagogue in Lviv burned during the pogrom.

November 22 1918, Lviv–In late October and early November, Austria-Hungary completely broke apart, as each of her subject nationalities declared independence (and/or sought union with nearby countries).  In many cases, however, the borders between the new countries were far from obvious.  On November 1, Ukrainian troops seized control of Lviv, declaring a West Ukrainian People’s Republic.  Lviv itself, however, was a predominantly Polish city (which they called Lwów), though surrounded by mostly-Ukrainian countryside.  Tensions between the Ukrainians and the Poles were already running high after the (smaller) Treaty of Brest-Litovsk with Ukraine in February, which had given Chelm to Ukraine.

Fighting soon broke out between the Ukrainian troops and the local Polish population.  The Poles soon received support from the rest of newly-independent Poland (now under Piłsudski’s leadership), and by November 22 they had forced the Ukrainians out of Lviv.  Reprisals quickly began against not only any remaining Ukrainians, but also against the Jewish population as well, as had so often happened before.  They had attempted to remain strictly neutral during the fighting, defending their own quarter with their own militias, but this only incurred the ire of the victorious Poles.  Over the course of three days, the Poles plundered and ransacked the Jewish quarter, killing at least 73 Jews and raping, wounding, or leaving homeless many others.

The news of the pogrom was widely publicized in the West, in large part due to German efforts–they hoped for a potential backlash against the Poles that would help their cause at the peace conference to come.  An American visiting the city the next year was told:

You see those little holes?  We call them here “Wilson’s Points.” They have been made with machine guns; the big gaps have been made with hand grenades.  We are now engaged in self-determination, and God knows what and when the end will be.

Further east, the rest of Ukraine was still nominally under the control of Hetman Skoropadskyi, though his position had become extremely insecure once the German occupying forces began their evacuation on November 16.  Fighting had already broken out between left-wing groups seeking a restoration of the Rada and the few forces still loyal to Skoropadskyi.

Sources include: Alexander Watson, Ring of Steel.

High Seas Fleet Interned in Britain

The High Seas Fleet on its way to the Firth of Forth on the morning of November 21.

November 21 1918, Inchkeith–The terms of the armistice demanded that the Germans give up the bulk of the High Seas Fleet.  The Americans, not wanting the fleet to end up in British or French hands, proposed that they be interned in neutral ports, but no neutral country wanted custody of a fleet that was well-known to be filled with mutinous and revolutionary sailors.  As a result, the Allies eventually agreed that the ships would be interned at Scapa Flow; they would be watched carefully by the British, but would still be manned by German skeleton crews.

On November 21, 70 German ships arrived off the Firth of Forth and were escorted in, under the eye of 370 Allied vessels, Admiral Beatty, and Admiral Sims.  Hipper to lead his fleet into exile, and left it to a subordinate, Admiral Reuter.  The Allies did not have their guns trained on the Germans, but were ready for action in case the Germans tried something suicidal.  Ultimately, this was unnecessary; the German ships had removed all ammunition before they sailed.  The final German count was a few ships short of what was promised in the armistice: two were left behind with engine troubles, one had struck a mine on the way over, and one was still under construction.

When the sun set at 3:37 PM, the German flag was hauled down on all the interned ships; it would only be raised once more.  Over the next week, the ships were transferred in groups to Scapa Flow, where they would wait while the peace negotiations proceeded.  Three-quarters of the sailors were sent home to Germany early in December, leaving crews large enough for basic maintenance and to navigate at reduced speed.

Sources include: Robert K. Massie, Castles of Steel.