Category: the great war

November 1 1919, London–The British had had numerous code-breaking successes during the war against Germany, most notably with the decryption of the Zimmermann Telegram by the Royal Navy’s “Room 40.”  After the war, it was unclear what would become of these efforts.  To ensure that the hard-won knowledge and techniques gained during the war would not be dispersed and lost, Lord Curzon recommended that a small effort continue during peacetime, combining the Army’s and Navy’s efforts.

On November 1, the Government Code & Cypher School was officially founded, merging Room 40 with its British Army equivalent, M1b.  The “school” name was chosen as a cover term by the Foreign Office, which would take charge of GC&CS within a few years.  Military intelligence operations having been considerably reduced since the Armistice, the organization initially employed less than 100 people.  GC&CS  is well-known today for its successes against Enigma in World War II, when it was based out of Bletchley Park.  After the war, it was renamed to the even more anodyne “Government Communications Headquarters” (GCHQ), and its efforts continue to this day.

Sources: Patrick Beesly, Room 40; Wikipedia.

October 14 1919, OrelDenikin’s offensive towards Moscow reached its apex on October 14 by taking the city of Orel.  Although still 240 miles from Moscow, the loss of the city caused a fair amount of panic among Red leadership, who quickly ordered the highest priority be given to the defense of the approaches to Moscow, especially Tula and its armories.  Yudenich’s offensive against Petrograd also caused severe worries; Trotsky would write that Lenin thought the city was lost, though Kamenev disputes this.  Regardless, reserves had to be divided between the defense of both Moscow and Petrograd.

Unfortunately for the Whites, however, their efforts on other fronts were not going as well as they were for Denikin and Yudenich.  The Allies had pulled out of northern Russia entirely, their last forces leaving Murmansk on October 12.  While the Whites remained in control there, they no longer posed any threat to Petrograd from the north, having long since pulled back from Lake Onega.  The Finns adamantly refused to help Yudenich or the Whites in Northern Russia, and the Poles and Lithuanians were preoccupied with each other.  In Siberia, Kolchak’s forces had long since lost all their gains from the spring, and an offensive toward the Tobol in September gained some ground but failed to make any dent in the Reds’ numerical superiority.  Denikin’s capture of Orel and Yudenich’s march on Petrograd were to prove the high water mark of the White offensives in 1919.

Sources include: Evan Mawdsley, The Russian Civil War

Yudenich (center-left) and his staff.

October 10 1919, Kingisepp–Yudenich’s White Army had built up its strength since the spring, and launched a second, more serious offensive against Petrograd on October 10.  The Reds, more concerned with Denikin’s offensives in the south, which by mid-October were approaching Orel, were taken by surprised, and Yudenich’s forces made considerable gains, and reached Tsarskoe Selo, on the southern outskirts of Petrograd, by the 20th.  However, Yudenich’s force had considerable weaknesses.  It only numbered around 18,000 men, with little artillery support, and was marching on a city that was largely opposed to its aims.  Though caught off guard, the Reds in the area still outnumbered the Whites considerably.  As time passed, the Red numbers only increased; the Whites failed to secure the railway line running to Moscow, allowing Trotsky to bolster Red defenses to at least 73,000 men by the end of the month.

Yudenich also had little support from anyone else.  The Royal Navy lent what help it could in the Gulf of Finland, and the British provided six tanks (as they had at Tsaritsyn), but little else; Lloyd George’s appetite for continued British involvement in Russia had run out.  The Estonians helped some along the coast, but were again unable to secure the Krasnaya Gorka fortress.  Yudenich had hoped for Finnish support, and Mannerheim was in favor of lending it, but the Finnish government believed (with reason) that a White victory would pose more of a threat to their independence than a Red one; Kolchak, nominally in charge of all White forces, had pointedly refused to recognize Finnish independence.

The Reds counterattacked on October 21, and by mid-November Yudenich had been driven back to the Estonian border.  But the attack had succeeded at drawing Red forces away from Moscow at a critical time.

Sources include: Evan Mawdsley, The Russian Civil War; Prit Buttar, The Splintered Empires.

October 2 1919, WashingtonAfter cancelling his national pro-League tour for hyealth reasons, Wilson was back in the White House and slowly recovering by September 28.  However, on the morning of October 2, Wilson suffered another, major stroke, paralyzing much of the left side of his body.  Secretary of State Lansing, who was in New York, arrived at the White House the next day and was given some sense of his condition by the President’s doctor, Admiral Grayson.  Lansing raised the point that if the President were unable to “discharge the Powers and Duties” of the Presidency, that Vice President Marshall should discharge them instead, as he had in a limited capacity while the President was in Paris for the Peace Conference.  Grayson and Wilson’s other aides refused to allow any suggestion that the President was incapacitated.

By October 4, Grayson and other doctors realized the extent of the permanent damage caused by the stroke to the President’s motor and mental functions, along with other continuing short-term threats to his health.  They believed that the public, or at least the Cabinet, deserved to know the full truth, but Edith Wilson insisted otherwise.

On October 6, the Cabinet met to consider the issue of the President’s incapacity.  Lansing was in favor of taking some sort of action, but the rest of the Cabinet preferred to wait to see if Wilson’s condition improved.  They were swayed to this opinion by Grayson, who painted a rosy picture of the President’s mental state.  The Constitutional question (the 25th Amendment was nearly 50 years in the future) was also thorny–who would decide that the President had an “Inability”?  Given this uncertainty, and Edith’s and Grayson’s determination to keep Wilson’s true condition concealed, the United States remained effectively without a President.

Sources include: Patricia O’Toole, The Moralist.

The twelve men sentenced to death, on the basis of “evidence” compelled by torture, a month after the massacres of hundreds of blacks in Phillips County.  Their death sentences would eventually be overturned, but some would not be released from prison until 1925.

October 1 1919, Elaine–The Red Summer of racist violence and the Red Scare of fear of Bolsheviks and anarchists reached their most violent climax in Phillips County in the Arkansas Delta in early October.  On the night of September 30, two police officers (and a “trusty,” a high-ranking black prisoner) arrived by car at the Hoop Spur church, site of a local meeting of the Progressive Farmers and Household Union of America.  The group, limited to a few counties in Arkansas, was attempting to organize for higher cotton prices for black sharecroppers, who were often paid far less than white farmers for the same product.

The police fired on the meeting, according to all present in the church (the police officers claimed they were shot at first).  The meeting had armed guards ready after weeks of threats against the Union, and fired back, eventually killing one officer and wounding the other after a firefight.  Another white man arrived by car a few minutes later, and was shot at and injured before driving off.  Local officials claimed the shootout was part of a general black insurrection organized by the IWW or other radical labor organizations, and called for posses on the morning of October 1.  The call was quickly answered.  Ed Coleman, a 79-year-old sharecropper, recalled:

When the morning had come, I saw about 200 white men in cars shooting down the Negroes and sent us word that they were going to ‘kill every nigger’ they could find in the county…And at 11:30 that day we saw near 300 armed white men coming and we all ran back of of the field….We was still running and made it to the woods, where we were hid all night and all the next day.

Appeals to Little Rock for aid against the supposed black insurrection were quickly answered.  Governor Brough had had a disappointing week; a planned appearance with President Wilson on the 27th had been cancelled with only a day’s notice due to the President’s ill-health.  On October 1, Brough called the Secretary of War and sent him a telegram:


The troops arrived the next day.  Unlike other episodes of violence during the Red Summer, the Army was not a moderating influence.  Calling themselves the “Phillips County Expeditionary Forces,” they fully participated in the violence.  In one incident, recalled by a white landowner, they set a black prisoner on fire before shooting him.  Over four days of violence, likely over 200 blacks were killed, and over 450 rounded up and arrested, many of whom were tortured.

A “Committee of Seven,” composed of local political and business leaders, took charge of the county, and declared the events the result of “a deliberately planned insurrection of the Negroes against the whites,” telling the county’s black population on October 7 that

The trouble at Hoop Spur and Elaine has been settled.

Soldiers now here to preserve order will return to Little Rock within a short time.

No innocent negro has been arrested, and those of you who are at home and at work have no occasion to worry.  

All you have to do is remain at work just as if nothing had happened.

Phillips County has always been a peaceful, lawabiding community, and normal conditions must be restored right away.


Stay at home—Go to work—Don’t worry!

122 black men were indicted, and 12 were sentenced to death in early November.  After years of legal battles by the NAACP, the convictions were overturned, in part due to a landmark 1923 Supreme Court case, Moore v. Dempsey.  Justice Holmes, writing the majority opinion, found that the use of torture to obtain evidence in the case, along with the threat of “an immediate outbreak of the mob” looming over the trials deprived the defendants of their rights of due process under the Fourteenth Amendment. 

Sources include: Cameron McWhirter, Red Summer.

Wilson, pictured in late September upon his arrival back at Washington’s Union Station after the cancellation of his tour.

September 26 1919, Pueblo–For over three weeks, Wilson had been crossing the country to give speeches advocating for the League of Nations and ratification of the Treaty of Versailles.  The strenuous pace had not been good for his health, and was not aided by what he perceived as a betrayal by Secretary of State Lansing.  On September 12, one of the aides at the Paris Peace Conference had testified before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, relating that Lansing had said, “I consider that the League of Nations at present is entirely useless.  The great powers have simply gone ahead and arranged the world to suit themselves.”

At a speech on September 25 in Pueblo, Colorado (his second that day, after a speech in Denver), one of Wilson’s Secret Service agents noticed Wilson struggling through his speech, and was worried that the President might collapse.  Nevertheless, he got through it, ending with typical Wilsonian notes:

There is one thing that the American people always rise to and extend their hand to, and that is the truth of justice and of liberty and of peace.  We have accepted that truth, and we are going to be led by it, and it is going to lead us, and through us, the world, out into pastures of quietness and peace such as the world never dreamed of before.

Shortly after leaving Pueblo, Wilson complained of a severe headache, but seemed to recover after a short rest and walk.  While on the way to Wichita that night, Wilson woke his wife, Edith, telling her that he was “terribly sick.”  He struggled for breath, his face twitched, and he was severely unwell.  Edith would write with the benefit of hindsight decades later:

…something had broken inside me; from that hour on, I would have to wear a mask–not only to the public but to the one I loved best in the world; for he must never know how ill he was, and I must carry on.

Wilson wanted to continue with his speaking tour in Wichita the next day, but Edith, backed up by Wilson’s aides, told him that the tour was over.  Wilson, on the verge of tears, told one of his aides, “My dear boy, this has never happened to me before.  I felt it coming on yesterday.  I do not know what to do.”  It is likely that Wilson had suffered a minor stroke, likely not his first one, that night.

At 9AM, a Wilson aide announced to the press corps that the trip was cancelled due to Wilson’s “nervous exhaustion;” Wilson’s speech in Pueblo was to be the last public appearance of his Presidency.

Sources include: Patricia O’Toole, The Moralist (includes image credit).

A labor leader speaks to strikers in Gary, Indiana.

September 22 1919, Gary–Labor activism had a sharp uptick after the end of the war across many countries, including the US.  The end of wartime production had adversely affected the economy without bringing an end to war-related price increases.  Pressure for a strike among US steelworkers increased in 1919.  While the AFL as a whole was reluctant to support one, they feared that they would lose steelworkers from AFL membership if they did not.  A vote in August was massively in favor of a strike, slated to begin on September 22 if demands were not met.  Elbert Gary (of judiciary fame), the head of US Steel, refused to meet with steelworkers’ representatives, and Wilson, pre-occupied with his pro-League of Nations tour, was unable to arrange negotiations.

The strike began as scheduled, on September 22, with over 300,000 steelworkers participating.  General public opinion was not with the strikers, however, as labor action was often tied to the threat of Bolshevism, a view not discouraged by Attorney General Palmer.  Any efforts at federal mediation were stymied by Wilson’s incapacitation, and US Steel was free to attempt to break the strike, with the help of scabs and local police. Violence against strikers in Gary, Indiana led to an intervention of US Army troops under General Leonard Wood and a declaration of martial law in the city.  The AFL as a whole provided limited support to the strike, and the strikes slowly ended, officially collapsing in early January with a major defeat for the steelworkers.

D’Annunzio (center, with cane) in Fiume with some of his legionaries.

September 13 1919, Fiume [Rijeka]–While the final peace treaty with Austria had been signed (though not by Yugoslavia or Romania), the final border between Italy and Yugoslavia had yet to be decided.  The Big Three (Wilson especially) had made it clear that Italy would not receive Fiume; this failure had brought down Orlando’s government.

Italian ultra-nationalist Gabriele D’Annunzio decided to force the issue by seizing Fiume himself.  On September 12, D’Annunzio and around two thousand similarly-minded Italians marched into Fiume from Ronchi dei Legionari and claimed it on behalf of Italy.  The Italian government denounced the action and would announce a blockade of Fiume, but tacitly the military lent D’Annunzio their support.  The Italian commander of the Allied garrison in Fiume withdrew the garrison and let D’Annunzio have the city.  General Badoglio, in command of Italian troops in and around Trieste, covertly gave aid to D’Annunzio and his forces.

While negotiations between Italy, Yugoslavia, and the other Allies continued for over a year, D’Annunzio maintained his proto-fascist “endeavor” in Fiume, embarrassing all sides involved.

Sources include: John R. Schindler, Isonzo; Mark Thompson, The White War; Randal Gray, Chronicle of the First World War.

Austrian Chancellor Renner addressing delegates at the treaty signing ceremony.

September 10 1919, Saint-Germain-en-Laye–The final treaty with Austria was signed over two months after the treaty with Germany.  By this point, most of the major players at the peace conference had gone home; Tasker Bliss signed for the Americans, and Balfour and Bonar Law for the British.

The treaty was in many respects quite similar to the German one.  It included the Covenant of the League of Nations.  Austria, like Germany, assumed “responsibility” for the war that they “imposed” upon the Allies.  Austria similarly renounced the Brest-Litovsk treaties.  War criminals were to be handed over to Allied military tribunals (though none ever were). Her army would be limited to a small size (30,000 men) and strict limits would be imposed on paramilitary forces and munitions production.  Tanks, armored cars, chemical weapons, and air forces were forbidden.  Like Germany, Austria was specifically forbidden from having submarines, despite now being landlocked.

Specific to the Austrian treaty, of course, was the matter of Austria’s borders:

  • South Tyrol and the Austrian Littoral (including Trieste) would be awarded to Italy.
  • Large parts of modern-day Croatia and Slovenia would be awarded to Yugoslavia; the final border in the Klagenfurt area would be decided by plebiscite.  The question of the final Italian-Yugoslavian border (including Fiume) would be deferred to a later treaty.
  • Bohemia and Moravia would be given to Czechoslovakia, Galicia to Poland, and Bukovina to Romania.
  • Austria’s small concession in Tientsin [Tianjin] was to be returned to China.
  • On the other hand, Austria would gain some land from Hungary along their mutual border (now the Austrian state of Burgenland).  This included the city of Sopron, though this would eventually be returned to Hungary in a 1921 plebiscite not called for by the treaty.

Nationality and citizenship was complicated by the many changes in borders.  For the most part, people would acquire the citizenship of the country in which they now resided, with a six-month to one-year grace period if they wanted to revert to another citizenship.  In the areas gained by Italy, however, this mostly applied just to those born in the areas in question.

Austria, Yugoslavia, Czechoslovakia, and Romania were treaty-bound to protect national minorities.

Austria, no longer having a coast, would officially surrender her entire navy to the Allies.  This included any ships on the Danube as well, excepting three police patrol boats.

Austria had its independence guaranteed by the League of Nations, and she was in fact forbidden from giving it up voluntarily.  In particular, she could not join Germany nor be represented in the German government (as the new German constitution called for).

Austria gave up any rights to Schleswig (whose status was to be decided by plebiscite between Germany and Denmark); in practice she had lost those rights after the 1866 war with Prussia, anyway.

While Austria owed significant reparations, the Allies “recognise that the resources of Austria are not adequate;” ultimately, Austria would pay no reparations beyond property surrendered by other terms of the treaty.

Massachusetts State Guards, about to be assigned to police duties in Boston.

September 9 1919, Boston–The war had brought with it large price increases, often without a commensurate increase in wages, especially among public sector workers such as police.  Many police departments across the country began to unionize and to join Samuel Gompers’ AFL.  On August 15, the Boston Police Department joined the AFL; shortly thereafter, Boston Police Commissioner Edwin Curtis suspended various police union leaders from duty.  The mayor urged compromise, setting up a commission under James Storrow (for whom Storrow Drive is now named), that recommended that the Commissioner recognize the police union, but that the union disaffiliate itself from the AFL and renounce the right to strike.  Curtis rejected this outright and extended the suspensions of the union leaders.

In response, the Boston Police went on strike on the evening of September 9; nearly three-quarters of the force did not report to work.  The next morning, on request from city leadership, Massachusetts Governor Calvin Coolidge dispatched a force of around 5000 State Guards (nearly 3 times the size of the Boston Police) to take over law enforcement duties in the city.  Not used to police duty, they killed eight people over the next few days; a ninth was killed in a skirmish between striking and strikebreaking police.

A general strike in support of the police was considered, but there was not sufficient support for the move; on September 12, Gompers urged the police to return to work and hoped a decision on the police union could be deferred.  In response, Governor Coolidge stated: “There is no right to strike against the public safety, anywhere, anytime.”  The next day, Commissioner Curtis fired the striking workers and began hiring replacements, mostly newly-returned war veterans.  The State Guard would remain on police duty in Boston until late December while the new police force was being recruited and trained.