Category: world war i

Hungarians Set Up Slovak Soviet Republic

The establishment of the short-lived Slovak Soviet Republic.

June 16 1919, Prešov–The Hungarians had made considerable gains in Slovakia since going on the offensive there in late May.  The Allies in Paris were growing increasingly frustrated with Hungary, but were divided on what to do and had little real authority in the area.  The French wanted the Romanians to cross the Tisza and overthrow Béla Kun by force, but the Americans were worried that this would lead to an irreversible expansion of Romania.  Ultimately, they settled on a series of sharply-worded telegrams to Hungary, Romania, and Czechoslovakia, sent on June 12.  The Allies had decided on Hungary’s borders, and all three countries would withdraw their forces behind their new frontiers; these decisions could not be changed “by the unscrupulous use of military methods.”

On June 16, the Hungarians, likely in response, decided to resort to political methods instead, setting up a Slovak Soviet Republic in the areas they had taken.  This made the conflict in Slovakia technically an internal Slovakian matter, separate from the question of the Hungarian-Slovakian frontier.  This did not satisfy the Allies, however, and the Hungarians (by now also suffering reverses in the field) agreed to withdraw from Slovakia entirely; the Slovak Soviet Republic would last only three weeks.  Hungarian hopes that the Romanians would also adhere to Allied demands and pull back from the Tisza were not fulfilled.  Hungary’s establishment of the Slovak Soviet Republic and subsequent withdrawal only managed to alienate Hungarian nationalists, who had supported Béla Kun’s regime not out of affection for communism, but because they thought he offered the best hope for preventing the loss of territory to Hungary’s neighbors.

Sources include: Margaret MacMillan, Paris 1919; Glenn E. Torrey, The Romanian Battlefront in World War I.

Allies Issue Final Peace Terms, Ultimatum

June 16 1919, Paris–The last-minute British doubts about the treaty ultimately led to few changes–mainly a plebiscite in Silesia and a promise of an eventual plebiscite in the Saar.  On June 16, the final text (though at some points corrected in red ink) was delivered to the German delegation, which was informed that they had five days to accept the terms in full: “They must sign or the armistice is at an end,” in Bonar Law’s words.  It was by no means clear that the Germans would sign the treaty; German popular opinion was staunchly against it, though there was no appetite for a resumption of the war, either.  Regardless, the Allies were ready to drive east from their Rhine bridgeheads, if necessary.

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

First Trans-Atlantic Flight

The crash landing site in County Galway.  An extensively rebuilt version of the plane is now on permanent exhibit at the Science Museum, London.

June 15 1919, Clifden, County Galway–The German Gotha raids on London had led to demands for a British response.  However, the first British long-range bombers had only just been completed by the end of the war–the Handley-Page V/1500 (which would later be used to bomb Kabul instead) and the Vickers Vimy.  The end of the war led to a search for peacetime applications of these aircraft, and one soon presented itself.  Lord Northcliffe’s Daily Mail re-issued its prize offer for a Transatlantic flight, and multiple teams, including both Handley-Page and Vickers aircraft, began planning for an attempt.

Ultimately, the Vickers team won.   Their plane, equipped with extra fuel tanks in place of bomb racks, took off from St. John’s, Newfoundland, on the afternoon of June 14, while the Handley-Page team was still conducting their final rounds of tests.  The two pilots, Alcock and Brown, had both flown during the war but had been captured, Alcock by the Turks in September 1917, and Brown by the Germans in November 1915 (though he was repatriated via Switzerland in 1917).  Alcock had begun planning for a Transatlantic flight while in captivity.

After a difficult flight through bad weather, the two arrived over Ireland the next morning and crashed while landing in County Galway, having mistaken a bog for a field.  They had flown nearly 16 hours, traversing nearly 1900 miles. The pair were treated as heroes for their accomplishment, and were awarded the Daily Mail prize by Air Minister Winston Churchill.

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.

British Doubts on the German Terms

June 1 1919, Paris–The Germans had responded to the proposed peace terms on May 29, objecting to the harsh reparations, the loss of territory, and the general inconsistency of the terms with the Fourteen Points, on the basis of which they had agreed to the Armistice.  The French, not unjustly, thought the terms were largely in concordance with the expectations set by the initial Armistice, which had included the occupation of the Rhineland and the internment of the High Seas Fleet; one leading liberal politician thought the German response only expressed German “indecency and lack of conscience.”  Anticipating that the Germans might reject the deal altogether, there was a halfhearted French effort on June 1 to set up an independent buffer state in the Rhineland; having little local support however (and no support from France’s allies), it collapsed quickly without having gone past the most preliminary stage.

The Americans, and especially the British, however, found merit in the German reply.  Henry Wilson wrote that “the Boches have done exactly what I forecast—they have driven a coach and four through our Terms, and then have submitted a complete set of their own, based on the 14 points, which are much more coherent than ours.”  Lloyd George had already been having regrets regarding the harshness of the German terms, and called together the British Empire delegation on June 1 to discuss the matter.  The most ardent voices against the terms as written were the South Africans.  Smuts, despite having been a leading voice for increasing the reparations bill owed to Britain, said that it would be “practically impossible for Germany to carry out the provisions of the Treaty.”  Botha reminded the British of the peace that had ended the Boer War, where Botha had been on the losing side and the British the winning: “On that occasion it was moderation which had saved South Africa for the British Empire, and he hoped on this occasion that it would be moderation which would save the world.”

The other delegation members unanimously agreed that Lloyd George should return to the Council of Four and begin work on changing the German terms–adjusting her borders with Poland, reducing the reparations bill and the duration of the occupation of the Rhineland, and ensuring Germany’s swift entry into the League of Nations.

Clemenceau and Wilson, however, refused to budge.  Clemenceau had already made too many compromises, and Wilson was in no mood to renegotiate terms that the British had “insisted on at the time of the writing of the treaty.”  Ultimately, despite two weeks of effort by the British, all they were able to secure was a plebiscite in a region of Silesia that would otherwise have been awarded to Poland.

Sources include: Margaret MacMillan, Paris 1919.

Wilson Supports Klagenfurt Plebiscite

May 31 1919, Paris–The problem of new Yugoslav-Austrian border continued to vex the Peace Conference.  The Italians, continuing their adamantly anti-Yugoslav stance, wanted all of the Klagenfurt area to remain in Austrian hands.  The Yugoslavs began to worry that the Big Three would side with the Italians on the issue to avoid having to make concessions elsewhere, in Turkey or on the Adriatic coast, and their negotiators began to soften their position.  On the ground, however, Slovene and Serbian forces launched another offensive on May 29.  The Allies demanded an immediate ceasefire, but this took well over a week to implement, by which time the Yugoslavs had secured most of the disputed area.

The American and British preferred solution was a plebiscite; the area’s inhabitants would vote on whether to join Austria or Yugoslavia.  Wilson outlined his proposal to the peace conference on May 31, for once able to apply his principle of self-determination quite literally.  The Yugoslavs strenuously objected–there was a clear Slovene majority, and a plebiscite was unnecessary.  Secretly, they were quite worried they would lose the plebiscite; the area had much stronger ties to Vienna than to Belgrade.  Eventually, a two-part plebiscite was decided upon. The southern, more Slovene part would vote first; if they voted to join Yugoslavia, then the northern, more German part would hold a similar vote.

Hungarian Offensive into Slovakia

Thicker lines: the borders of Hungary within the Austro-Hungarian Empire.  Thinner lines: borders after the peace process fully resolved in 1920.  Brown: areas taken by the Romanians in April.  Pink: areas taken by the Hungarians in May and June.

May 29 1919, PrešovAfter the Romanians reached and stopped at the river Tisza, the Hungarians turned their attention north to the Czechoslovaks.  They were able to make some gains during May, separating the Czechoslovak army from the Romanians.  On May 29, they launched a major offensive, taking large sections of southern Slovakia.  Hungarian morale was buoyed by this success–as hoped, Béla Kun’s government was pushing back into areas they thought of as rightfully Hungarian.

Sources include: The Romanian Battlefont in World War I. Image Credit: Kovács Ádám, CC BY-SA 2.5

British Imprison Young Turk Ministers on Malta

May 28 1919, Constantinople–The Ottoman Empire’s loss in the war opened the possibility that those responsible for the Armenian Genocide would be brought to justice.  The highest-placed culprits, including Enver, Talaat, and Djemal Pasha, had fled to Germany in early November, but many remained.   The new Ottoman government was eager to pin the blame on the Young Turks in an attempt to distance themselves from the regime that had brought them into the war and carried out the genocide.  However, the separation between the old and new governments was not as wide as they claimed; two members of a committee organized to investigate the genocide had been implicated themselves.

The Allies had never truly made up their mind about how to deal with the war crimes of their enemies.  The Peace Conference in Paris had recommended the creation of a High Court under the League of Nations that would try those involved, and the British largely proceeded on this basis.  The French, and many in the British Foreign Office, were cooler to this idea and preferred that the Turks try their own.  Nevertheless, the British were embarrassed by the fact that the Turkish government could clearly not be trusted to hold the trials themselves.  On May 20, after mass demonstrations, 41 prisoners had been released, and many others had conveniently escaped.  Further demonstrations threatened to storm the prison and release the remaining captives.  To keep them out of reach of the Turkish government and people, the British sent the remaining prisoners to Malta on May 28.

British Air Raid on Kabul

An aerial photo of Kabul taken during the air raid.

May 24 1919, Kabul–The British had repulsed the initial Afghan attacks across the border, but efforts to push across the Khyber Pass towards Jalalabad had been stymied by low supplies, poor morale, and Afghan attacks elsewhere.  One undisputed advantage the British did have, however, was airpower, allowing them to harass retreating Afghan forces.  On May 24, they extended their reach with a raid on Kabul by a Handley Page V/1500.  

The Handley Page V/1500 was the British response to the German Gothas, designed to reach Berlin from airfields in Britain.  A mission was planned for the last days of the war (including a refueling stop in newly-friendly Prague), but mechanical problems delayed it until the Armistice took effect.  One of the bombers was flown to India the next month (the first flight to India from Britain, albeit with several intermediate stops).

The Handley Page dropped twenty bombs on Kabul, four of which hit Amanullah’s palace.  The air raid apparently shook Amanullah’s resolve, and a week later he requested an armistice while strongly criticizing Britain’s actions:

It is a matter of great regret that the throwing of bombs by Zeppelins on London was denounced as a most savage act and the bombardment of places of worship and sacred spots was considered a most abominable operation, while now we see with our own eyes that such operations were a habit which is prevalent amongst all civilized people of the West. 

Allies Conditionally Recognize Kolchak’s Gover…

May 23 1919, Paris–The Allies had largely given up on reaching out to the Red government in Moscow; their last half-hearted attempted, an offer of food aid via Norwegian intermediaries, was sternly rebuffed in mid-May.  On May 23, they decided instead to provide provisional recognition to Kolchak’s government in Omsk.  The Allies did specify that this was conditional on Kolchak establishing some form of democratic government, despite his earlier dismissal of what remained of the Constituent Assembly; Kolchak would pay some lip service to these requests, but did little to act on them.

Churchill would write that “the moment chosen was almost exactly the moment when that declaration was almost certainly too late.”  Kolchak’s Ufa offensive had ground to a halt in muddy conditions in April, and Red forces under Mikhail Frunze had launched a counterattack on April 28.  By the time the Allies decided to recognize Kolchak’s government, his forces had almost been pushed back to Ufa.  The Allies could do little to aid him directly (the only link to the outside world being via Vladivostok), and in fact their recognition of Kolchak likely harmed the more successful White efforts on other fronts, by tying them explicitly to Kolchak’s reactionary, Russian nationalist policies.

Sources include: Margaret MacMillan, Paris 1919; Evan Mawdsley, The Russian Civil War; Randal Gray, Chronicle of the First World War.