Category: world war one

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.

Regular

We thrash the black fellows with whips. Every nigger who is impudent to a soldier gets a hiding… I can’t say how many I’ve belted and knocked out.

Victor Ault of the Australian 23rd Battalion while training in Egypt, showing the average Australian attitude to the “lesser races”. Quoted in Peter Stanley’s Bad Characters, p34.

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.

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.

Baltic German Offensive Retakes Riga

Baltic German forces on a bridge over the Daugava in Riga.

May 22 1919, Riga–Rüdiger von der Goltz had set up his own puppet government in western Latvia in April, and it remained in power despite Allied objections.  In May, he decided he was ready to take the rest of Latvia from the Reds, who had held Riga since the start of the year.  He received some encouragement from the government in Berlin; Foreign Minister Brockdorff-Rantzau hoped that victories over the Reds would prove useful in convincing the Allies that a crippled Germany would not be in their best interests.  Officially, the offensive was to be a Latvian one; however, most of the troops involved were Baltic Germans or Freikorps units from Germany, and Latvian-speaking forces would only play a subsidiary role.

The Germans attacked at dawn on May 22, taking the Reds by surprise.  By noon, they had reached the Daugava, and in the afternoon they crossed the river with four machine guns and took Riga.  Five months of Red rule had not been kind to the city, and even the Germans were welcome amid food shortages and political terror.  Of course, the Germans then proceeded to carry out a white terror of their own, shooting many suspected Bolsheviks in the coming days.

Red forces put up stiffer resistance south of the city, backed by an armored train, but they too were forced to retreat beyond the Daugava by the end of the day.

Sources include: Prit Buttar, The Splintered Empires.

Foch Prepares for Invasion of Germany

May 20 1919, Paris–The initial hostile German reaction to the peace terms raised the distinct possibility that Germany might refuse them.  If this were to occur, it would almost certainly mean an end to the Armistice and a resumption of hostilities against Germany.  Much the same had happened in 1918; Russia’s exit from Brest-Litovsk led to a German invasion of Russia eight days later.  Although the Allies had demobilized much of their forces, they still had a considerable presence in the Rhineland, far more than the Germans had to oppose them.  On May 20, Foch sent out the orders for an invasion of Germany in the event the Germans rejected the peace terms; 42 Allied divisions would strike out from the Rhine bridgeheads into central Germany.  Simultaneously, the Royal Navy would resume the total blockade of Germany, which had been eased in the spring to allow food shipments.

Sources include: Margaret MacMillan, Paris 1919.

Wilson Agrees to US Mandate in Armenia

May 14 1919, Paris–The Allies were well aware of the Armenian genocide, from reports of both survivors and neutral observers, and there was strong public support for the Armenian cause in the Allied countries.  Although the Armenians had secured their independence the previous year at Sardarabad, they still faced threats from the Soviets to the north and the Turks still occupied large amounts of territory that had had considerable Armenian populations before the genocide.  The Armenians recognized they needed outside protection, especially now that their usual patron, the Russians, could no longer be relied upon.

In late February, an Armenian delegation to Paris asked for recognition, large territorial concessions from Turkey, and protection under the United States.  On May 14, Wilson agreed that the United States would take on Armenia as a mandate under the League of Nations.  The proposed area was huge, stretching as far as the Mediterranean (and thus running into French claims in the area, though Clemenceau did not object).  This was a promise that Wilson must have known he could not fulfill; he had even previously told the Supreme Council that “he could think of nothing the people of the United States would be less inclined to accept than military responsibility in Asia.”  The Senate, under Republican control, would certainly not agree to an American mandate over territories of a power they had never been at war with.

Sources include: Margaret MacMillan, Paris 1919.

Council of Four Approves Czech-Austria Border

May 12 1919, Paris–While the German peace terms were largely complete and had been presented to the Germans themselves, the Allies were still working out the terms for Austria and the other Central Powers.  In part this was because Italy had left the peace conference for a while (though they had since returned with little fanfare), but largely this was because the other Central Powers posed little threat –Germany, still intact, had to be handled quickly; Austria, a rump of its former self, could be put off until later.

On May 12, the Council of Four (once again including Italy) agreed on the present border between Austria and Czechoslovakia.  The new borders left around 3 million German-speakers in Czechoslovakia, but many of these were in the Sudetenland on the German border, far away from Austria.  While Austria claimed these areas, they could not effectively govern them without unifying with Germany, which the Allies were unwilling to consider.  The German delegation was busy with the German peace terms, and had little time to consider the Austrian terms as well; Brockdorff-Rantzau would only mention the Sudeten Germans once, in passing.  As for the Sudeten Germans themselves, many of them preferred the relative stability of Czechoslovakia to the instability of the new left-wing governments in Germany and Austria; the example of nearby Munich was not far from their minds.

Sources include: Margaret MacMillan, Paris 1919