June 23, 1918 – Austrians Retreat from the Piave River
Pictured – A motley band of Austro-Hungarian troops on the Piave. Their defeat there was the beginning of the end for the Hapsburg Empire.
On June 15 the Austro-Hungarian Army launched an offensive on the Italian front which caught the Allies by surprise and drove them back from their defensive line on the Piave River. On June 23 the Austrians were in retreat.
After some fierce fighting, the Italians had regrouped with help from British and French divisions that had been placed to stiffen the lines. Fifty airplanes from the new Royal Air Force also harried the Austro-Hungarian attackers with strafing runs. Allied weight of numbers and a better operational plan won the victory, with the Italians drawing the Austrians deep into their lines before hitting them hard with a counter-attack by reserve divisions. Despite a personal plea by Emperor Karl I to maintain the bridgehead over the Piave, the under-supplied and outgunned Austrians withdrew. By the next day all their men had retreated over the Piave, leaving behind over one hundred thousand casualties they could ill afford.
June 22, 1918, Salsk–The Volunteer Army had successfully regrouped and recuperated after the Ice March of the late winter and Kornilov’s death in battle in April. On June 22, Denikin’s 9000-man force once again began attacking the Soviets, striking at a rail junction just south of the Don. Although Soviet forces in the larger Kuban and north Caucasus area outnumbered the Volunteer Army more than ten-to-one, the Whites had some distinct advantages. The Cossack population of the area had largely turned against the Soviets; many Kuban Cossacks joined the Volunteer Army, while the Don Cossacks under General Krasnov had recovered after Kaledin’s suicide and retaken Novocherkassk. The Germans had also entered the area, having occupied Rostov in early May, and were on friendly terms with Krasnov’s Cossacks. This cut off Soviet forces from the most direct routes to the rest of Russia, and in their first few weeks of operations in late June and early July, the Volunteer Army was able to cut off the rest as well; the Soviets in the north Caucasus would be on their own until after the armistice.
Pictured – Locals gather to look at the wreckage. The crash killed 86 people and is one of the worst train accidents in US history.
A tragedy took place in Hammond, Indiana, on June 22 1918 when a freight train collided with a stopped train carrying the Hagenbeck-Wallace Circus. The circus had just completed several performances in Michigan City, and the dissembleed tents and performers, and their families. had boarded the train for another journey. Fortunately the animals were loaded on a different train.
At 4 AM while most of the circus performers slept, a freight train arrived at the station, but its engineer had fallen asleep. His train plowed into the circus train, which caught fire because of the kerosene lanterns used inside. The aftermath of the crash was a nightmare, with over 200 injured and 84 dead, most of them too badly burned for their bodies to be identified.
Arthur Griffith (1871-1922), a Sinn Féin politician who won a by-election in County Cavan on June 20, in part due to the party’s strong stance on conscription. Like all Sinn Féin MPs, he would not take his seat in Westminster.
June 21 1918, Dublin–Two months after Lloyd George announced his plan to enact both conscription and Home Rule in Ireland, it was clear that the plan had failed. Almost every segment of Irish society, from its politicians to its churchmen, had rejected conscription, and saw the offer of Home Rule for the tactic it was. Irish republican nationalists had been emboldened by the effort, and Sinn Féin had won two by-elections in the last month. The German offensives that had driven far into British lines in March and April had passed, and their attacks on the French had stalled as well. The necessity for conscription in Ireland was also fading as more American soldiers crossed the Atlantic every week. On June 21, Lloyd George abandoned the dual effort for conscription and Home Rule. Subtler efforts to encourage Irish participation for the war effort continued, including a plan to appeal to Irish Catholic leaders to encourage men to join the French army to help defend their fellow Catholics on the continent.
Pictured – A robbed butcher’s shop in Berlin. All the Central Powers faced a hunger crisis by the end of the Great War.
British and American newspapers carried word of large bread riots in Vienna on the solstice, claiming that 100,000 Austrian workers had gone on strike. That week the Hapsburg government had reduced food rations in the city; citizens were limited to three ounces of bread a day, according to one paper. The rest of Austria’s meager stockpile had to go to the army in Italy. Even there Italian soldiers reported they could entice Austro-Hungarian soldiers to surrender merely by offering them food. But at least the soldiers could count on regular rations: for the average Viennese worker the daily amount of calories had fallen from 2,845 to 1,293.
June 20 1918, Montello–After five days, the Austrian offensive had captured several bridgeheads across the Piave, but had failed to break the Italians. They had suffered over 100,000 casualties, and with their river crossings constantly under attack from Allied planes and artillery, many of the wounded could not be evacuated back across the river. Italian counterattacks had been held off so far, but that was no guarantee that would hold. It was clear that the Austrians would make no further forward progress, but there was considerable debate as to how to proceed. Many generals wanted to dig in and prepare for another offensive, launching from the Montello bridgehead. Boroević recognized the Montello’s tactical value, knew that it held no value if they would never launch another offensive anyway. It would also take a significant commitment of troops they did not have to fully secure the Montello from Italian counterattack. On June 20, Boroević cabled Chief of Staff Arz and Emperor Charles: “As the Monarchy…has loyally fulfilled its duties as an ally…and cannot face the risk of remaining…I propose to withdraw…behind the Piave.”
Emperor Charles’ other commanders largely concurred with Boroević’s assessment; Arz informed him that another attack would not be possible for at least a month, and in the meantime they would have to hold off Italian counterattacks. The Germans also implicitly weighed in, asking for six Austrian divisions for service in France. That evening, Emperor Charles ordered a withdrawal back across the Piave. The Austrians would not attack Italy again.
Sources include: Mark Thompson, The White War; Randal Gray, Chronicle of the First World War; David Stevenson, With Our Backs to the Wall.
June 20, 1918 – Britain Drops Conscription in Ireland
Pictured – The Catholic Church and Irish politicians joined together in a “solemn league and covenant pledge” to oppose conscription.
Dublin Castle ended its abortive attempt to introduce conscription into Ireland on June 20, 1918. The call for Irish conscription had become a fiasco for the British government, with thousands of Irish rallying behind the Church and politicians who opposed compulsory service. Ireland had supplied many volunteers to the British army, but had been and now remained exempt from conscription. The Crisis undermined support for the British in Ireland more than the Easter Rising; in a by-election in East Cavan that day Arthur Griffith of Sinn Féin triumphed.