Category: world war one

Crowds in London observe the two-minutes silence on November 11, 1919.

Passengers at Paddington Station stop and observe the first two-minutes silence on November 11, 1919.

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.

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.

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.

September 3 1919, Washington–With the Treaty of Versailles still stuck in hearings in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Wilson decided to take his case to the people directly.  On September 3, he left Washington for a four-week, ten-thousand mile train tour of the country, planning to give 50 speeches in 21 states.  His personal aide noted that “the president was endeavoring to do in less than one month what no one else, not even William Jennings Bryan, the noted transcontinental tourist, had ever attempted in less than sixty days.”  It was not clear whether his health was up to the task; he found himself deeply fatigued most of the time, and the busy schedule of the trip did not help.  Even if the trip did whip up popular support for the Treaty, it was unclear what impact it would have; the Senate, whose members were elected only every six years, were relatively shielded from popular opinion.

Wilson’s speeches demanded a ratification of the treaty, not only for practical reasons (the uncertainty around it affected business), but mainly for moral ones.  The Treaty would prevent the disaster of another war.  It would help secure liberty and freedom around the world; he framed 1919 as the culmination of the American ideals first promulgated in 1776.  “Let us bind ourselves in a solemn league and covenant of our own…so that men shall always say that American soldiers saved Europe and American citizens saved the world.”  He attacked Lodge and the other “reservationists” in the Senate, telling them to “put up or shut up,” but did little but to anger the Senate; his speeches were more sermon than a call to arms.

A portrait of Pershing featuring his own four gold star insignia as General of the Armies.

September 3 1919, Washington–World War I saw the creation of the first American four-star generals since 1888, when Pershing and Tasker Bliss were promoted to that rank in October 1917.  On September 3 1919, Congress went a step further and created a new rank of General of the Armies of the United States, promoting Pershing to that rank.  Pershing chose to use four gold (as opposed to silver) stars to represent this new rank.  Five star “Generals of the Army” were created during World War II, while Pershing was still alive, and it was clarified that Pershing (as “General of the Armies”) outranked them, if only by seniority.  Around the time of the bicentennial, however, George Washington was posthumously promoted to the same rank, ensuring that the nation’s first president would be the highest-ranked officer in perpetuity, just ahead of Pershing.