Category: the great war

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.

Racist Violence Shuts Down Chicago

A white mob hunting for black victims during the Chicago riots.

July 29 1919, Chicago–Although not as enshrined in law as in the Jim Crow South, de facto segregation was very much the reality in Chicago, including at the city’s lakeshore beaches that hot July.  The beach at 25th Street was for blacks; the beach at 29th Street for whites.  A group of black men and women attempted to swim at the 29th Street beach on Sunday July 27th, as they were well within their legal right to do, but were driven off with rocks by an unruly group of whites.  Around the same time, a group of black boys were headed for an inlet around 26th Street (featuring both hot and cold water from nearby factory runoffs), but overshot it and drifted south towards the 29th Street beach.  A white man began throwing rocks at them from the shore; one of them hit Eugene Williams on the forehead, causing him to lose his grasp on the raft.

Black men from the 25th Street beach rushed over to try to rescue Eugene, who did not know how to swim, but it was too late.  Soon, his body was recovered and brought on shore at the 29th Street beach.  The other boys on the raft identified the rock-thrower, one George Stauber, but the police officer on the scene, George Callahan, refused to arrest him, or to let black police officers arrest him either.  The black crowd and the police presence grew; the crowd demanded that Stauber and Callahan be handed over, but police refused.  Around 6 pm, a black man opened fire at the police; a black police officer returned fire and killed the shooter.  The crowd attacked whites at the scene, wounding nine.  Rumors spread quickly and white mobs soon formed across the city, attacking any black passersby they could find, wounding 38.

Violence against Chicago’s black population continued on the night of the 28th; when police showed up, the mobs quickly dispersed and then reformed a few blocks later.  Blacks retaliated against the few whites they could find in the city’s “Black Belt,” and attempted to defend themselves against threats both real and imagined.  A crowd of 1500 marched on an apartment building just outside the Black Belt where they thought a sniper was shooting at blacks.  Police searched the building and found nothing, but the crowd did not disperse.  When a brick was thrown at the police, they reacted with gunfire, killing three.

By July 29th, 17 people had been killed or mortally wounded, and at least 243 seriously injured, 70% of them black.  The same day, the city’s transit workers went on strike after contract negotiations fell through.  This left black workers without any means to commute without walking or driving through white areas of the city where they would be risking their lives doing so; they mostly stayed home.  Some who tried to go in anyway with concealed weapons for protection were arrested under a city ordinance, less than a month old, banning concealed carry. White workers who attempted to get to work were confronted by the worst traffic the city had ever seen; with the police busy on the South Side, nothing could be spared for traffic management.  The absence of police downtown also let violence spread there as well, even in the daytime; mobs led by white soldiers and sailors attacked whatever blacks they could find in the Loop.

Political leaders largely stood by as the crisis unfolded.  Mayor Thompson did not to ask for help from his rival in the Illinois GOP, Governor Lowden; Governor Lowden did not want to send in troops unless Thompson asked for them, despite fearing the consequences of another East St. Louis on his watch.  Neither wanted to appeal for federal aid, neither from President Wilson (a Democrat) nor General Wood, in command of all troops in the Midwest (another possible Republican rival for their 1920 ambitions).

Only on the night of July 30 did Mayor Thompson ask for state aid, by which point the Black Belt was running out of supplies and was, in several parts, burning due to fires set by white arsonists.  By the time order was largely restored on the 31st, 38 people had been killed and at least 537 severely injured.

Sources include: Cameron McWhirter, Red Summer.

Hungarians Launch Offensive Against Romania

The Hungarian offensive across the Tisza, and Romanian counterattacks a few days later.

July 20 1919, Szolnok–After withdrawing from Slovakia under Allied pressure, the Hungarians turned their attention back to the Romanians, who had occupied all of Hungary east of the Tisza.  This was contrary to Allied démarches, which had placed the Hungarian-Romanian frontier a considerable distance east of the river.  The Hungarians hoped they could liberate some of their territory without Allied interference; this was bolstered by their military successes against Czechoslovakia, and hope that the Russians might attack Romania from the rear–even though the Reds in Ukraine had far more pressing concerns to the East.

On July 20, the Hungarians crossed the Tisza, achieving some measure of surprise and securing several bridgeheads.  In some areas, they made considerable gains, advancing up to 50 kilometers.  However, this was mainly because the Romanians had decided to concentrate most of their forces well behind the river.  On July 24, the Romanians counterattacked and quickly drove the Hungarians back; Hungarian morale had never really recovered since they pulled out of Slovakia.  The Hungarian offensive had convince the Allies that Béla Kun’s government was still a threat to the general peace, and they gave the go-ahead to the Romanians to cross the Tisza and remove it by force.

Sources include: The Romanian Battlefront in World War I.  Image Credit: By Renard – own work based on:C. Kiriţescu: Istoria războiului pentru întregirea României, Vol. II, ed. Romania Noua, 1923, pp. 587 ( Pygmy Wars: Soviet Hungarian War 1919 (, CC BY-SA 4.0,

Allies Broker Estonian-German Truce

Col. Alexander (center) pictured in 1920 in his role as commander of the Landeswehr.

July 3 1919, Riga–Since the German defeat at Cēsis, Estonian forces had slowly been pushing the Germans south towards Riga, reaching the northern outskirts, where the Daugava met the Gulf of Riga, on July 2.  German efforts to initiate a truce had been rebuffed, but soon found support from two sources–the Allies, who just wanted this conflict to be over, and Ulmanis’ Latvian government (which had been exiled by the Germans in April) which was none too thrilled at the prospect of Estonians entering Riga.

A truce went into effect on July 3.  The Baltic German Landeswehr and the German Freikorps units would withdraw well beyond the Daugava, and the Germans were to return to Germany (though Goltz would attempt to delay this for as long as possible).  The Landeswehr would be placed under the command of the British Colonel Alexander (who would play a more prominent role in the Mediterranean campaigns of the next war).  The Estonians would withdraw back to Estonia, while Latvian troops loyal to Ulmanis would return to Riga, which they did in the next few days.

Sources include: Prit Buttar, The Splintered Empires.

Terms of the Treaty of Versailles

June 28 1919, Versailles–After more than five months of negotiations, the terms of the peace treaty with Germany had been signed by Germany and (almost) all the Allies.

The first article of the Treaty was dedicated to the League of Nations, which Wilson saw as its most important feature.  Initial members of the League would be all the Allied signatories of the treaty, as well as most neutral countries.  Not initially invited were the defeated Central Powers (including Hungary), as well as Mexico, Costa Rica, the Dominican Republic, Luxembourg, Albania, Ethiopia, or any part of the former Russian Empire (including Finland).

The League’s overall structure was largely similar to the later United Nations’; an Assembly with one vote per country, and a Council with the Big Five (the UK, the US, France, Italy, and Japan) as permanent members and four other members chosen by the Assembly (to begin with, Belgium, Brazil, Spain, and Greece).  Decisions, by default, had to be unanimous; like with the UN, this gave the permanent members veto power, but it also gave it to the temporary members as well, and to any country for matters to be considered by the Assembly; this would prove to be a problem in the decades to come. The League would be headquartered in Geneva.

The Council was charged to formulate plans for arms reductions.  League members would "undertake to respect and preserve as against external
aggression the territorial integrity and existing political independence
of all Members…the Council shall advise upon the means by which this
obligation shall be fulfilled.“  Disputes between members were to be submitted to inquiry by the Council or arbitration, rather than war.  If war should occur anyway, it would be considered an act of war against all other League members, resulting in (at least) an embargo and blockade against that country; the Council would recommend what forces countries would contribute in any military effort.

German colonies, as well as Ottoman territory in the Middle East, would officially fall under the auspices of the League.  However, the day-to-day governance would fall to one of the Allied powers, holding a mandate over them on behalf of the League.  The degree to which the local population was to have any say in their self-determination would vary; more so in the Middle East, less so in Central Africa, and very little in Southwest Africa [Namibia] (which South Africa effectively annexed) and in Germany’s former colonies in the Pacific.

Additionally, League members were to endeavor to “maintain fair and humane conditions of labour,” ensure “just treatment” of their colonial subjects, help to prevent and control the spread of disease, and “secure and maintain freedom of communications and transit and equitable treatment for the commerce of all Members.”  Furthermore, the League was to supervise agreements against drug and human trafficking, to regulate arms trading, and the Council was to draw up plans for arms reduction.

The rest of the treaty dealt with Germany more directly.  Alsace-Lorraine was to be returned to France.  A large swath of territory was to be given to Poland in the east (cutting off East Prussia except by sea), and small regions were awarded to Belgium and Czechoslovakia.  A plebiscite would be held in northern Schleswig, in areas annexed by Prussia in 1864, to decide whether the region would rejoin Denmark or stay with Germany; if it decided to rejoin Denmark, another plebiscite would be held in southern Schleswig.  Three other plebiscites (two in East Prussia and one in Upper Silesia) would be held in territories disputed between Germany and Poland.  Danzig would become a free city; while it would govern itself, Poland would have free use and service of its port, and full control of its railroads, waterways, and communications.  The territory around Memel, near Lithuania, was to be handed over to the Allies, who would determine its final disposition.

France was to receive ownership of the coal mines in the Saar basin.  The Saarland itself would be under League control, and in 1934 would hold a plebiscite on whether to join France, join Germany, or continue under League administration indefinitely.  If it chose to join Germany, Germany would have to buy the mines back from France in gold within a year. Luxembourg would exit the German customs union.

Germany was prohibited from building, mobilizing, or maintaining any military forces, fortifications, or infrastructure west of the Rhine or 50 km to the east of it.  Doing so would be considered a “hostile act…calculated to disturb the peace of the world.”  All already-existing fortifications in that area were to be dismantled.  Additionally, fortifications and harbors on Heligoland and Dune (in the North Sea) are to be destroyed, and Germany will dismantle all fortifications on her Western Baltic coast, to ensure that she cannot disrupt the free passage of trade there.  Germany is to allow all countries’ ships, civilian or military, passage through the Kiel Canal on equal terms.

Germany was to respect Austrian independence unless the League Council said otherwise.  Germany was to completely repudiate the treaties of Brest-Litovsk and Bucharest that it had signed with Russia, Ukraine, and Romania the previous year.

All German colonies would be handed over to the Allies, who would determine their final disposition as mandates under the League of Nations.  Japan would receive the German concession in Shantung (around Tsingtao); all China would receive is an end to the indemnity payments owed Germany due to the Boxer Rebellion, and a return of the German concessions in Hankow [Hankou] and Tientsin [Tianjin].  It is little surprise China refused to sign the treaty.

The German army was to be reduced to no more than 100000 men and 4000 officers, with civilian support staff no more than a tenth of pre-war levels.  There would be no conscription and no system of mobilization.  Military missions could not be sent abroad. The treaty also made attempts to prevent paramilitary organizations: “associations of every description…must not occupy themselves with any military matters.”  This proved exceedingly difficult to enforce.  Severe limits were placed on stores of munitions and ammunition; any manufacture thereof would have to be approved by the Big Five.  Import of any war materiel was prohibited.  Germany was forbidden to have any chemical weapons, and would disclose the full details of their wartime chemical weapons program to the Allies.  The manufacture or import of armored cars or tanks was prohibited.  After October 1, 1919, Germany could not have any military air force whatsoever.

German troops in the Baltic were to be returned to Germany when the Allies deemed it fit; in the meantime, they were not to interfere with the Baltic states’ defense nor seize supplies to send back to Germany.

The German Navy would be reduced to no more than 6 pre-dreadnought battleships, 6 light cruisers, 12 destroyers, and 12 torpedo boats–no submarines, no battlecruisers, and no dreadnoughts.  Any ships beyond this number were to be handed over to the Allies or scrapped. The Navy could consist of no more than 15000 men.  Any German ships outside of Germany now no longer belonged to Germany; since the scuttling of the High Seas Fleet at Scapa Flow, however, there were far fewer ships in this category than anticipated.  Germany would sweep all the mines in the North Sea east of 4° E.

All remaining prisoners of war and interned civilians (by this time, mostly German) were to be repatriated “with the greatest rapidity;” the French and British ultimately had different ideas as to what that phrase meant, and many would not be returned from France until 1920.  Some prisoners who had been kept in Siberia would not be returned until after the end of Allied intervention there in 1922.

The Allies were to hold military tribunals to try Kaiser Wilhelm II and other German war criminals.  These provisions were largely moot, however; the Netherlands refused to extradite the Kaiser, and the Allies did not really attempt to make Germany extradite other war criminals.  A few were tried in Germany; fewer were convicted; none served more than a few days of their sentence.

As justifications for war reparations, “Germany accepts the responsibility of Germany and her allies for causing all the loss and damage to which the Allied and Associated Governments and their nationals have been subjected as a consequence of the war imposed upon them by the aggression of Germany and her allies.”  Germany was to compensate the Allies for all the damage done to the Allied civilian population and property, for Belgium’s war loans (including interest), pensions to disabled veterans and their dependents, wartime payments to relatives of mobilized soldiers, and any expenses relating to the occupation of the Rhineland.  The amount to be paid was not specified in the treaty, but was to be determined by an Allied commission by May 1921; in the meantime, the Germans were to pay 20 billion marks. 

General Smuts signed the treaty on behalf of South Africa, but left an official note in protest of the harsh reparations terms–this despite the fact that he authored the pension-related terms.

The Germans were also to make in-kind payments of farm equipment, animals, and merchant ships, to replace wartime losses.  Additionally, Germany was to provide large amounts of coal and chemicals to France, Belgium, Italy, and Luxembourg.  Louvain’s library was to be replenished with works from Germany.  Loot seized during the Franco-Prussian war was to be returned (though many French battle flags were burned in Germany in the days before the signing of the treaty, to the consternation of the French).  The control of most German submarine cables was to be given to the Allies.

The payment terms (though not technically the overall sum) could be modified based on Germany’s ability to pay.  Germany would also receive credit for the in-kind payments, as well as property lost due to Germany’s border changes (Alsace-Lorraine excepting).  

Germany was not to impose higher customs duties on the Allies than they would on any other country.  Germany was to take action against counterfeit goods, and recognize “regional appellation” of wine and spirits.  In other words, the Treaty of Versailles codified that Champagne refers only to sparkling wine from Champagne.  The Elbe, Oder, Niemen, and Danube were made international rivers; Czechoslovakia was to be given 99-year leases for free zones in Hamburg and Stettin to give that country some form of access to the sea.

The occupation of the Rhineland and three bridgeheads across the Rhine would continue to ensure German cooperation with the terms of the treaty.  The northern region would be evacuated after five years, the central after ten, and the southern after fifteen; these could be extended if “the guarantees against unprovoked aggression by Germany are not considered sufficient.”

Sources include: Margaret MacMillan, Paris 1919.

Battle of Romanovka


Members of the 31st Infantry regiment (one platoon of which was at Romanovka) hiking near Vladivostok on April 27.

June 25 1919, Romanovka–Although the war in Europe had been over for months, and the signing of the final treaty with Germany was days away, Allied soldiers were still fighting and dying in Russia.  In the early morning of June 25, an encampment of an American platoons at Romanovka, about 30 miles east of Vladivostok, was attacked by Bolshevik and partisan forces.  The Americans had not anticipated a threat, and believed themselves on good terms with the local Russians, and had only had one sentry posted that night.  Distracted by preparations for reveille, he had not seen the Russians approach.  They opened fire on the American tents and inflicting heavy casualties.  The Americans were eventually able to find cover, return fire, and drive the Russians off.  

In response, over the next few weeks, the Americans moved back in to the Suchan Valley to the east, critical for its coal mines supplying the Trans-Siberian Railroad.  The 24 Americans killed at Romanovka, most in the first few minutes of the attack, were a large proportion of the American combat deaths during the United States’ intervention in Siberia.

Sources include: Gary Mead, The Doughboys.

Germany Agrees to Sign the Peace Treaty

Gustav Bauer, German Prime Minister (Chancellor after the Weimar Constitution was adopted in August).

June 23 1919, Paris–After two tense days, President Ebert had finally managed to form a government under Gustav Bauer of the SPD, in coalition with Erzberger’s Zentrum party, on June 22.  The National Assembly agreed that evening to sign the treaty, on condition that Sections 227-231 be struck; these were the clauses on Allied military tribunals for the Kaiser and German war criminals, and on “the responsibility of Germany and her allies for causing all the loss and damage to…the Allied and Associated Governments…as a consequence of the war imposed upon them by the aggression of Germany and her allies.”

The Allies quickly rejected this reservation, however: “The German government must accept or refuse, without any possible equivocation, to sign the treaty within the fixed period of time.”  On the morning of the 23rd, they made it clear that there would be no further extension of the deadline; the scuttling of the German High Seas Fleet had hardened the Allied position.  The outcome was only made clear once General Groener

(Hindenburg having left him this thankless job)

told the government  that a resumption of the war would be “hopeless” and that the Army advocated that the treaty be signed.  The National Assembly approved the treaty in full that afternoon, and by a broader margin resolved that the patriotism of those who voted for the treaty, in order to prevent an Allied invasion occupation of the country, would not be doubted.

Official word reached Paris at 5:40 PM, only 80 minutes from the deadline; a resumption of the war was only narrowly averted.

Sources include: Margaret MacMillan, Paris 1919.

High Seas Fleet Scuttled in Scapa Flow

The Bayern sinking at Scapa Flow.

June 21 1919, Scapa Flow–The possible resumption of the war, should the Germans reject the Allied ultimatum to sign the peace treaty, would also have severe consequences for the German High Seas Fleet, interned in Scapa Flow in the Orkneys.  Disarmed, the ships had no capability to defend themselves, and the British had made plans to seize the ships immediately upon the expiry of the ultimatum at 7PM on June 23rd.  The Germans were bound by the armistice not to sink their own ships to prevent this, but a resumption of the war would necessarily mean an abrogation of the armistice, and Admiral Reuter was under standing orders not to let the ships fall into enemy hands, and drew up plans on June 17 to scuttle the ships if it should prove necessary.

Reuter’s communications with the outside world were kept extremely limited; on June 20, he first heard of the Allied ultimatum via a three-day-old newspaper, and of its expiration at noon on June 21.  He did not hear of the 55-hour extension of the ultimatum, and made plans to scuttle the fleet accordingly.

At 11:20 AM on June 21, Reuter confirmed his orders by flag signal.  At noon, the time that Reuter believed the armistice had expired and that Germany was once again at war, the High Seas Fleet raised the Imperial German ensign and the scuttling began.  The British attempted to do what they could to stop it, but the majority of their ships were out of the harbor on a training exercise and were unable to make it back before 2:30 PM.  The British began shooting at the Germans in their lifeboats, hoping to force them to return to and save their vessels.  Nine Germans, including the captain of the dreadnought Markgraf, were killed.

Fifteen dreadnoughts and four battlecruisers were sunk, starting with the Friedrich der Grosse at 12:16 PM and ending with the Hindenburg at 5PM.  Of the dreadnoughts, Only the Baden remained above water; she was beached by the British before sinking.  Of the cruisers, five sank and three were beached; of the destroyers, 32 sank and 18 were saved by the British.  The surviving 1774 German sailors and officers, having committed a hostile act, were treated as prisoners of war.

The British were officially outraged at the armistice-violating scuttling.  Privately, however, they were relieved.  The British had not wanted the German ships (the Grand Fleet was large enough as it was), but neither did they want other countries to get any of them; First Sea Lord Wemyss wrote: “I look upon the sinking of the German fleet as a real blessing.  It disposes once for all the thorny question of the distribution of these ships.”

The surviving ships were distributed among the British, Americans, French, and Japanese; the Baden was sunk as a target ship in 1921.  Many of the sunken ships were salvaged for scrap between the wars, but many remain on the seafloor today.  Since World War II, steel from the German ships has occasionally been used to produce sensitive scientific equipment; as it was forged before 1945, it contains no radionuclides from atmospheric atomic testing.

Sources include: Margaret MacMillan, Paris 1919; Robert K. Massie, Castles of Steel.

German Government Resigns

German Prime Minister Scheidemann of the SPD (1865-1939), who resigned on June 20 after just over four months in office.

June 20 1919, Berlin–The German government was deeply divided by the Allied ultimatum.  While

Brockdorff-Rantzau claimed the Allies were bluffing, most realized that an Allied invasion was indeed imminent, one that could not be effectively resisted by what remained of the German Army.  The treaty, especially its clauses on war guilt, were so odious to many, however, that they felt they could not bring themselves to sign even under the Allied threat.  Hindenburg told the government that “as a soldier I can only prefer honorable defeat to a disgraceful peace.” On June 20, Scheidemann’s government resigned; President Ebert tried to follow suit, but was narrowly convinced not to.

Forming a new government willing to sign the treaty would be a difficult matter, however; while the SPD and Erzberger’s Zentrum were largely in favor of signing, albeit with reservations on the war guilt clauses, their coalition partners in the liberal DDP were staunchly opposed.  Realizing that an acceptance of the treaty could not occur in the time allotted, the Allies extended the ultimatum deadline by two days, to 7PM on the 23rd.  To avoid a resumption of the war, the Germans would need to form a new government and agree to Allied terms by then.

Sources include: Margaret MacMillan, Paris 1919.

Orlando Out in Italy

(From left to right) Foch, Clemenceau, Lloyd George, Orlando, and Sonnino at the Paris Peace Conference.

June 19 1919, Rome–Orlando’s dramatic walkout from the peace conference in April had gained the Italians little; in fact, the only likely beneficiary of the move was Japan.  Orlando returned in early May and found the Big Three no more receptive to Italian ambitions in the Adriatic.  An offer to renounce Italian claims on Fiume in exchange for much of the rest of the Dalmatian coast was flatly rejected by Wilson.  A possible compromise eventually emerged: making Fiume a free state (like Danzig) and giving Italy the ports of Zara [Zadar] and Sibenico [Šibenik].  However, Orlando eventually rejected this as well.

On June 19, Orlando’s time ran out; his government lost a vote of confidence on his foreign policy.  His successor, Francesco Nitti, though brought into power due to frustration at Orlando’s inability to win concessions in Paris, was in fact far more focused on domestic affairs and willing to make compromises in the east.  A solution would not arise before the main peace conference broke up, and Italy’s border with Yugoslavia would not be settled until late 1920.

Orlando, now out as PM, would not return to Paris to sign the final treaty.  The rest of the delegation remained, however.  Sonnino, one of the chief architects of Italy’s entry into the war, would sign the treaty on Italy’s behalf, even though he was no longer Foreign Minister under Nitti’s new government.

Sources include: Mark Thompson, The White War; Margaret MacMillan, Paris 1919.