Category: world war one

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.

Romanians Enter Budapest

Romanian cavalry in Budapest.

August 3 1919, Budapest–After committing their reserves, the Romanians were easily able to drive the Hungarians back to the Tisza.  On August 1, after receiving clearance to do so from the Allies, the Romanians crossed the river, and found little resistance from the Hungarians.  Béla Kun fled for Austria, where he was interned for a time before being sent to Russia.  A more moderate Social Democrat government took over, but it was too late; Romanian cavalry units entered the capital on August 3, and the Romanians would remain until November.  With tacit Romanian approval, the Social Democrats were deposed by more conservative elements, who supported a Habsburg restoration under Archduke Joseph August.  The Allies refused to allow a Habsburg on the throne (or as regent) of Hungary, however.  

The Romanians did not occupy the entirety of the country; they were content to leave portions out the southwest to Admiral Horthy’s National Army.  Horthy remained a rival to the conservative government in the capital, and began a “White Terror” against Communists, Social Democrats, and Jews perceived to have supported Béla Kun.

Sources include: Glenn E. Torrey, The Romanian Battlefront in World War I.

Reds Take Ashgabat

July 22 1919, Ashgabat–The British, in little mood for continued involvement in Russia, pulled their troops out of modern-day Turkmenistan by April 1.  They left behind a large quantity of supplies for the Ashgabat government, but sent no further.  A small mission remained across the Persian border in Mashhad to guard against the Bolsheviks and Afghanistan.  The Red forces in Tashkent were still cut off from Red power in Moscow; despite the defeat of Kolchak’s offensive, his allies in the Orenburg Cossacks still controlled the Trans-Aral railway connecting Tashkent to the rest of Russia.  Nevertheless, they were still able to make significant progress against the forces loyal to the Ashgabat government, taking Ashgabat itself on July 22.  The Ashgabat government had fled to Krasnovodsk on the Caspian; its forces withdrew to Serdar.  In the fall, after the Reds secured control of the Trans-Aral, they were forced back further.

Sources include: C.H. Ellis, The Transcaspian Episode; Evan Mawdsley, The Russian Civil War.

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,

Racist Violence in Washington

A handful of riders from the 3rd Cavalry arriving in Washington, likely on Tuesday the 22nd.

July 19 1919, Washington–On Friday July 18, a nineteen-year old female employee of the Bureau of Engraving claimed that two black men ran into her on the street and attempted to take her umbrella; she quickly ran away and police quickly arrested a suspect.  When, late on the 19th, that suspect was released due to lack of evidence, white servicemen (who were especially livid as the woman was married to a naval aviator) began to riot, attacking black passersby, and driving through black neighborhoods in “terror cars”, shooting indiscriminately out the windows.

Navy Secretary Josephus Daniels (from North Carolina) took no action against the sailors.  Assistant Secretary Franklin Delano Roosevelt, though he apparently “wish[ed] quicker action had been taken to stop” the violence, was soon joking about it, telling a Harvard classmate “With your experience in handling Africans in Arkansas, I think you had better come up here and take charge of the police force.” As violence continued over the subsequent days, the military (which could have stepped in at any time in the Federal district, which at the time had little self-rule) did nothing.  Daniels urged calm, while Secretary of War Baker claimed to have little authority over the situation as many of the rioting men had been recently discharged from the armed services.  Wilson had left the city for a brief vacation late on the 19th, and the District Commissioner (a Wilson appointee) refused to ask for military assistance.

Rioting continued over the next two days.  On Monday, black residents began to fight back, a departure from previous outbreaks of racial violence.  A terror car strafed the Navy Hospital before it was stopped and its occupants arrested.  A black teenager, Carrie Maine Johnson, shot and killed a police officer who broke down the door to her bedroom when searching for a likely non-existent sniper.  William Laney shot into a would-be lynch mob that was pursuing him, killing one; he would be charged with manslaughter and falsely accused of being a violent revolutionary.  Thurgood Marshall later recounted the travails of his father, Willie, who was particularly light-skinned: “The Negroes would run one place, the white folks were running the other.  So he was running back and forth.  Wherever he went, he was wrong.”

On Tuesday afternoon, Wilson (who had called his vacation short due to a case of dysentery) decided to send in over 2000 troops (and a few tanks from Fort Meade) to restore order in the District.  While there was still some violence (and at least one death) that night, the mobs were stopped, and the city was quiet the next day.  Over the four days of violence, at least seven people were killed and hundreds injured.

The Black reaction to the violence in Washington was, in some quarters at least, surprisingly upbeat.  William Trotter, president of the Equal Rights League, returned to the US in late July after a secret visit to France to investigate how African-American soldiers were being treated there.  On July 27, he told a crowd: “We believe that self-preservation is the first law of nature.  Unless the white American behaves, he will find that in teaching our boys to fight for him he was starting something that he will not be able to stop.”

Sources include: Cameron McWhirter, Red Summer

Blockade of Germany Ends

July 12 1919, Weimar–Within two weeks after the signing of the Treaty of Versailles, the National Assembly ratified it.  This removed the final possibility that the war might resume, and with the state of war over, the Allies finally lifted the blockade on Germany on July 12, allowing it to trade freely with the rest of the world for the first time in nearly five years.  While extensive food aid had been provided over the prior few months, only the end of the blockade brought true relief to the food crisis in Germany.

The German ratification of the treaty was understandably swift; the Allies, under no such pressure, could take their time.  Wilson hoped this would not be the case, and had presented the treaty to the Senate in person on July 10.  The initial response was underwhelming, however, especially from the Republican majority, and was not improved by an unimpressive speech that the President stumbled over.

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.

Whites Take Tsaritsyn

A White armored train on the way to Tsaritsyn in June 1919.

June 30 1919, Tsaritsyn [Volgograd]–Denikin’s Volunteer Army had been concentrating on defeating Red forces in the Donbass in the spring; this allowed him to secure his base of operations and recruit a sizable force of Cossacks that had decidedly turned against the Reds due to the genocidal “decossackization” efforts of the Red Terror.  In June, Denikin was able to push out of the Donbass; on June 26, his forces took Kharkov from Makhno’s Black Army of anarchists (who had temporarily allied themselves with the Reds).  Meanwhile, forces under Wrangel pushed north towards Tsaritsyn on the Volga.  An attempt in mid-June to take the city with cavalry alone was beaten off, but his forces were able to seize and repair the railway line linking Tsaritsyn to the Kuban, allowing to bring up reinforcements and heavy equipment.

The reinforcements included six British tanks, which proved highly effective at scaring off the Red defenders and letting the Whites break into Tsaritsyn’s outer defenses.  For the final push on the city on June 30, however, the Whites had essentially run out of petrol for the tanks, and was only able to scrounge up enough for a single tank.  This proved enough, however, and the single tank, under the command of a British officer, led the White forces into the city.  Forty thousand Reds were taken prisoner, along with huge stores of materiel.

The capture of Tsaritsyn did come far later than many Whites would have liked, however.  The Don Cossacks had attempted to take the city in 1918, but were repulsed by Red forces under Stalin (an action memorialized under Stalin’s regime by renaming the city to Stalingrad).  In 1919, Wrangel had strongly urged an offensive towards Tsaritsyn in the spring, hoping to link up with Kolchak’s Ufa offensive; by the end of June, Kolchak’s forces had already been thrown back across the Urals.

Sources include: Evan Mawdsley, The Russian Civil War; Orlando Figes, A People’s Tragedy.

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.

Treaty of Versailles is Signed


The signing of the Treaty of Versailles in the Hall of Mirrors.

June 28 1919, Versailles–The bulk of the peace negotiations took place in Paris, but the signing of the treaty would take place in the Palace of Versailles.  In 1871, the German Empire had been declared in the Hall of Mirrors; 48 years later, the treaty signed in the Hall of Mirrors, it was hoped, would permanently end the threat of German aggression.

At 3PM, the German delegates, two ministers from the new German government were summoned into the Hall of Mirrors, and after some brief remarks by Clemenceau, they were directed to sign the treaty.  Once they did, guns were fired outside to mark the end of the war, five years to the day after the assassination of Franz Ferdinand.  Over the next 36 minutes, the Allied delegations, beginning with President Wilson, signed the peace treaty.  There was one notable absence, however–the Chinese delegation.  The awarding of Germany’s concessions in Shantung to Japan had caused outrage in China, and the government gave no instructions to its representatives in Paris.  Wellington Koo had already decided that he would not sign unless given a direct order, saying “I hope they will not make me sign.  It would be my death sentence.”  Even if he had wanted to sign, however, Chinese students in Paris had assembled around Koo’s hotel, preventing the delegation from going to Versailles.

There were mass celebrations in Paris; in Germany, obviously, the mood was more subdued.   Herman Müller, the German foreign minister, had maintained his composure while in Versailles, but this lasted only until he returned to his hotel: “A cold sweat such as I had never known in my life before broke out all over my body–a physical reaction which necessarily followed the unutterable psychic strain.  And now, for the first time, I knew that the worst hour of my life lay behind me.”

Wilson, his goals accomplished, left Paris that night.  By the next day, Wilson was in the Atlantic and Lloyd George was back in Britain.  The peace conference continued–peace had yet to be established with Austria, Hungary, Bulgaria, or the Ottomans–but the major players had gone home, and important matters would be resolved remotely or at smaller conferences (where Wilson would certainly not be in attendance) from now on.

Stay tuned for a deeper dive into the peace terms later today.

Sources include: Margaret MacMillan, Paris 1919; The New York Times.