Category: ww1 centenary

November 30 1919, JelgavaThe truce between the Ulmanis government in Riga and the German forces in Latvia was fraying by the fall.  The Latvians and the Allies were both losing patience in the German presence in the area nearly a year after the Armistice.  Goltz attempted to keep them there by claiming that they were actually part of the West Russian Volunteer Army, under the command of one Bermont-Avalov, a committed czarist.  This did not convince anyone, however, and attempts to enlist the Latvians in an invasion of Russia to coincide with the push by Yudenich and the Estonians on Petrograd fell on deaf ears.  In early October, attempting to go through the Latvians instead, Bermont-Avalov pushed his forces ahead to the west bank of the Daugava.

In mid-October, however, the Latvians counterattacked, and by mid-November had reached Jelgava.  Freikorps reinforcements from East Prussia, arriving despite attempts by the German government to stop them, prevented a complete encirclement at Jelgava.  Bermont-Avalov resigned and hoped to hand over control of his forces back to the German Army.  The Germans attempted to negotiate another ceasefire but were rebuffed; on November 26, the Latvians declared that they were at war with Germany.  On November 30, the last Germans were pushed across the border into Lithuania.  The Latvians wanted to pursue, especially once they saw the damage inflicted by the Germans during their retreat, but were dissuaded by the French.  The French also negotiated a ceasefire between Lithuania and the Germans, who crossed back over the border into East Prussia before long.  Germany’s postwar adventures in the Baltic were over, at least until 1939.

Sources include: Prit Buttar, The Splintered Empires

Bulgaria’s territorial losses at Neuilly.

November 27 1919, Neuilly-sur-Seine–After resolving the peace treaty with the Austrians in September, the remnants of the Paris Peace Conference turned their attention to Bulgaria.  The final treaty was signed at Neuilly-sur-Seine on November 27.  In the north, Bulgaria would repudiate the Treaty of Budapest and return to the pre-war borders (settled in 1913 at the end of the Second Balkan War).  In the west, Bulgaria would make some border concessions to Yugoslavia, especially around Strumitsa [Strumica].  In the south, Bulgaria ceded all rights to western Thrace to the Allies, including its only ports on the Aegean.  Thrace’s final disposition would be handled along with the treaty with the Ottomans; in 1920, it was awarded to Greece, which holds it to this day.  Reparations were also imposed on Bulgaria, though it was recognized their ability to pay was limited.  Even the relatively modest reparation schedule imposed by the treaty was quickly reduced in the 1920′s and cancelled altogether during the Depression.

Image Credit: By Ikonact – Own workData:OpenStreetmap, CC BY-SA 4.0,

November 19 1919, Washington–Opposition to the Treaty of Versailles had grown in recent months, spearheaded by Henry Cabot Lodge, leader of the Senate Republicans and chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.  Lodge had put forward fourteen reservations to the treaty (to go along with Wilson’s Fourteen Points).  These largely explicitly reserved powers for Congress that Lodge thought the League Covenant as written might interfere with (most especially the power to declare war), and also rejected the awarding of Germany’s Shantung concession to Japan.

Wilson’s pro-Treaty efforts in his cross-country tour had been too abstract and had little effect, and his leadership all but disappeared after his stroke in early October.  Although it was apparent that the two-thirds majority for ratification was not present, Wilson made no effort to compromise, telling Senator Hitchcock, ranking Democratic member on the Foreign Relations Committee, on November 17:

I am a sick man, lying in this bid, but I am going to debate this issue with these gentlemen in their respective states whenever they come up for reelection if I have breath enough in my body to carry on the fight.  I shall do this even if I have to give my life to it.  And I will get their political scalps when the truth is known to the people.

Hitchcock drafted a note on Wilson’s behalf to Democratic senators, urging a rejection of Lodge’s reservations, but leaving open the possibility of compromise after they were defeated.  Wilson deleted this latter suggestion from the note, and furthermore called Lodge’s reservations a “nullification” of the treaty, seemingly equating Lodge to John C. Calhoun.  Wilson was still too weak to sign the note, and it his signature had to be stamped on it 

Shortly after noon on November 19, Lodge, who had obtained a copy of the note, read it on the Senate floor, adding that “comment is superfluous, and I shall make none.”  After five hours of debate, the vote was called on ratifying the treaty with Lodge’s reservations; it was defeated, 39 for to 55 against.  Another vote on Lodge’s reservations, around 10pm, this time called by Democratic Senator Walsh, again failed.  A vote on treaty ratification with no reservations, as favored by Wilson, was rejected, 38 for to 53 against.  An hour later, Lodge secured the passage of a resolution that the United States should negotiate its own separate peace treaty with Germany.  From Lodge’s point of view, the treaty was dead: “the door is closed.  You [Democrats] have done it yourselves.”

Horthy, entering Budapest on horseback, is greeted by city officials.

November 16 1919, Budapest–Under Allied pressure, the Romanian Army evacuated Budapest on November 14, after over three months of occupation.  In what they saw as a just repayment for the occupation of Romania during the war, they took large amounts of supplies, over 1000 locomotives, the entire automobile fleet of Budapest’s post office, and many other items from the capital before leaving.  The Allies hoped Romanian departure from Budapest meant that the conservative civilian government set up to replace Béla Kun’s could establish effective control over the portions of Hungary not still occupied (the Romanians having only withdrawn to the Tisza).  In reality, however, the major beneficiary of the withdrawal was Admiral Horthy, who entered the city on a white charger on November 16, promising the “sinful” city punishment for its support of Béla Kun.  Though the Allies tried to limit its extent in Budapest proper, this marked a marked expansion of the “White Terror” against suspected Bolsheviks–and which in practice led to violence against anyone thought to be on the political left and Hungary’s sizable Jewish population.

Sources include: Istvan Deak, Budapest and the Hungarian Revolutions of 1918-1919.

November 15 1919, Kastornoye–In mid-October, the Reds had seemed to be in a perilous position; Denikin had reached as far north as Orel, and Yudenich was threatening Petrograd.  Soon after, however, the serious threat passed; Yudenich was stopped and thrown back to the Estonian border over the next month, while Orel itself was recaptured on October 20.  Four days later, the Reds took Voronezh, threatening to drive a wedge between Denikin’s army and their base at Rostov-on-Don to the south.  This threat became more manifest on November 15, when Red cavalry emerged from a blizzard to take the railway junction at Kastornoye, between Voronezh and Kursk.  The White forces were now in danger of being encircled, and were forced to retreat with much greater haste–and within seven weeks, they would be pushed beyond the Don.

November 14 1919, Omsk–By November 1919, Kolchak’s White armies in Siberia had largely been spent in unsuccessful offensives.  They were outnumbered, their morale was low, and the arrival of winter meant that rivers no longer posed an obstacle to the advancing Reds.  After the Reds crossed the (still-flowing) Ishim River in early November, Kolchak’s field commander decided he could no longer hold Omsk, the capital of Kolchak’s regime.  Kolchak accepted this, but then changed his mind, replacing the general.  However, a large part of the White forces had already been pulled back beyond Omsk and would not return.  On November 14, two understrength Red regiments managed to go through a gap in the White lines, cross the frozen Irtysh River, and took Omsk, along with 30,000 PoWs and a substantial portion of Kolchak’s supplies.  Kolchak himself managed to escape that morning, along with what remained of Russia’s gold reserves.  The fall of Omsk largely ended Kolchak as a serious threat; within a month,

Novonikolayevsk [Novosibirsk], on the Ob 450 miles to the east, had fallen.

Sources include: Evan Mawdsley, The Russian Civil War; J.D. Smele, White Gold: The Imperial Russian Gold Reserve in the Anti-Bolshevik East, 1918-? (An Unconcluded Chapter in the History of the Russian Civil War)

November 14 1919, Stockholm–The Nobel Committee had only sporadically awarded prizes during the war, and only resumed doing so in earnest a year after the armistice, in some cases attempting to make up for lost time.  On November 14, the committee awarded the 1918 Physics Prize to Max Planck (for his foundational work in quantum mechanics), the 1919 Physics Prize to Johannes Stark (for his eponymous effect in atomic spectra), and the 1918 Chemistry Prize to Fritz Haber (for the synthesis of ammonia).  The latter award was especially controversial in the Allied nations, as Haber had been instrumental in the creation of the German gas warfare program.  All three had strongly supported Germany’s war effort, with Max and Planck lending their signatures to the Manifesto of the Ninety-Three that denied German atrocities in Belgium.

Haber, born to a Jewish family, would leave Germany in August 1933, staying in Cambridge for a short time.  His reception there was mixed; while some had helped arrange his invitation there, others (including, most notably, Ernest Rutherford) would have nothing to do with him due to his efforts in gas warfare.  Max Planck had attempted to intervene on Haber’s behalf in Germany, but otherwise largely kept his head down during the Nazi years, eventually being forced out of leadership positions in 1938.  Stark, on the other hand, fully embraced the Nazis, rejected Einstein’s relativity for being too Jewish, and was briefly imprisoned during the denazification efforts after the war.

November 1 1919, London–The British had had numerous code-breaking successes during the war against Germany, most notably with the decryption of the Zimmermann Telegram by the Royal Navy’s “Room 40.”  After the war, it was unclear what would become of these efforts.  To ensure that the hard-won knowledge and techniques gained during the war would not be dispersed and lost, Lord Curzon recommended that a small effort continue during peacetime, combining the Army’s and Navy’s efforts.

On November 1, the Government Code & Cypher School was officially founded, merging Room 40 with its British Army equivalent, M1b.  The “school” name was chosen as a cover term by the Foreign Office, which would take charge of GC&CS within a few years.  Military intelligence operations having been considerably reduced since the Armistice, the organization initially employed less than 100 people.  GC&CS  is well-known today for its successes against Enigma in World War II, when it was based out of Bletchley Park.  After the war, it was renamed to the even more anodyne “Government Communications Headquarters” (GCHQ), and its efforts continue to this day.

Sources: Patrick Beesly, Room 40; Wikipedia.

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.