halialkers: Anzaea in brighter colors, blotches orange mouth, diagonal right arm/thumb, semicircle left arm (Anzaea)
The last entry of this series on WWI, yippee-ki-yay, motherfuckers! ^.^
 
Anyhow, the German Empire as noted had run into a buzzsaw at the Second Battle of the Marne, when US, UK, and French troops had defeated their strategic offensive. The German Empire at this time still retained a large number of troops in the East, intending to exploit its conquests carved from Russia. It had set for itself a desperate gamble and lost, while the Allied Hunger Blockade was by now causing high mortality in German civilians (as was the Spanish Flu but that's for the first entry in The Center Cannot Hold). The German offensive had failed, and now the Allies, under Ferdinand Foch, assumed their own offensives. This Hundred Days Offensive saw use of armor, infantry, artillery, and air power to strike at the Germans and push them back in a continual, endless retreat. Only Erich Ludendorff, Silent Dictator of Germany, was blind to the encroaching process and reality of defeat, the other generals saw damn well what was going on and were panicking about it.

This retreat and sequence of Allied victories lasted from August of 1918 to November of 1918. Complicating matters was the role of the 14 Points, used by Europeans as a means to limit the gravity of defeat and by the Germans assumed to be the basis of negotiations where the Allies saw them as starting points  to be neutered and watered down (UK and France) and the starting point to be expanded upon (USA). These victories were a testament to improved skill on the part of Allied generalship, and the statement that due to not being driven over the Rhine that the Germans were not defeated is a blatant lie. The Germans had indeed been curbstomped. They were not driven into Germany in 1918 because it was not necessary. By the time of the Armistice Request and the November fighting the German military was on the verge of disintegration ala Russia-in-1917, and would have fallen apart in a similar pattern. The Allied advance regained all ground gained by the Germans, but had reached the area of Mons by 11 November, which is when the Armistice, having already been set in date, went into effect. The triumph seems less total than WWII because WWII was a total war of annihilation, WWI was a total war of exhaustion, the defeat in scale was more than equivalent.

And with this, I finish WWI. Now, for a gif (for non-sighted Calvin and Hobbes dancing):


halialkers: Anzaea in brighter colors, blotches orange mouth, diagonal right arm/thumb, semicircle left arm (Anzaea)
This is the first entry in a new subseries, named "The Future Casts Its Shadow." In this subseries the Turkish War of Independence will receive full attention as WWII in embryo. The process of creating Turkey, however, was contemporaneous with the collapse of the Ottoman Empire. In the Ottoman Empire losses in terms of battle losses and surrenders had mounted through the war, and the start of the Arab Revolt and the attempts in Transcaucasia by Armenians of the old Russian Gubernaia of Erevan to grab parts of eastern Anatolia under claims that territory where Armenians were a minority were rightfully Armenian were bringing that empire down. It would not be long before the withdrawal of Ottoman power (which during 1918 had a temporary period of hegemony due to the collapse of the Russian Empire and the first stages of the Russian Civil War) created no less than two rival states on that Empire's fringes, while the retreat after the offensives in Mesopotamia and Palestine that began was both gradual and assuredly continual.

The combination of military defeat and the collapse of the CUP's last shot at Ottomanism brought about the capitulation at Mudros, the start of a process that would culminate in a foreshadowing of WWII: defeat of a power with insufficient means to enforce a draconian treaty and will on the part of that power to restore its power leads to a multi-sided war where the winning state is a militarized dictatorship. The Turkish War of Independence in this sense is a prototype of WWII, but one where the fascist-equivalent state won. That process will be covered in this series, as will the expansion of the British Empire in the Blood In Rivers Running Deep (Israel-Arab Wars) and in general (A Terrible Beauty is Born). Russia's Civil War is in the Red Storm Rising subseries, and the whole will from this point blend into the broader series, The Center Cannot Hold.

Last but not least, the end of the Western Front and the start of The Center Cannot Hold, where the first entries will chronicle the convoluted political chaos of the Weimar Republic. China's Civil War, incidentally, will receive coverage in a subseries called "All Under Heaven Burns Red."
halialkers: Anzaea in brighter colors, blotches orange mouth, diagonal right arm/thumb, semicircle left arm (Anzaea)
The fighting in and around Salonika is fraught with irony, not least because it involved the UK, which entered to "secure Belgian neutrality" entering the port of a neutral country, and a series of complicated negotiations and intrigue to involve neutral Greece when its attitude to entering WWI was "Do Not Want." At the same time the fighting was drawn into the Third Balkan War and Serbian desires to reclaim territory belonging to the Serb state. The result was what the Germans termed "their largest internment camp", a huge Allied army immobilized by rank intrigues, changes of command, and by militarily rational acts that politically invalidated Allied claims to hold any kind of moral high ground. On this front the Allies opposed both the Austro-Hungarians and the Serbs, and the fighting had been mostly stagnant and relatively small-scale and primarily intrigue among the Allied high command at the expense of the war against the Central Powers.

By 1918 Bulgaria was in an odd bind of having accomplished all its military objectives, having been screwed by the German treaty with the Romanians, and unable to quit the war quite as it would have wished to have done so. By 1918, too, the Allies were much-improved in tactics and operational skills, and were under General Franchet D'Esperey (known to British Empire troops as "Desperate Frankie"), while as noted Bulgaria's enthusiasm for the war had well......virtually collapsed. The result was a massive offensive known as the Battle of Monastir, which saw the Allies inflict sufficient defeat on Bulgaria that it, 29 September, was the first of the Central Powers to seek an armistice at Saloniki. This offensive was a tactical, operational, and strategic success, and with it began the collapse of the Central Powers and the end of the war. The first of the Central Powers had fallen, and the end of the war was approaching.
halialkers: Man with wing-like clothes on plane-thing caption "I reject your reality and substitute my own," (I reject yours for mine is better)
Cookies for anyone that gets the reference here.

In the Second Battle of the Marne, from 15 July-6 August 1918 the Germans failed to capture Paris and the Allies once again threw their offensive back. Here, in this fight, the illusion of 1918 on the part of the Terrible Two was to be permanently dispelled. The German offensive was already running out of steam, and this was confirmed again in the course of the fighting here, when the Germans sought to push past the Marne against a mixture of French, UK, and US troops. The fighting raged for two days and the German offensive stalled east of Reims on the first day, but west of it only on the second. The stalling came from both exhaustion on the part of the Germans and superior Allied use of their reserves, as US troops were beginning to actually take roles in combat that mattered.

As had been previously noted, nowhere did the German offensives achieve their actual objectives, and nowhere did the Germans actually seriously damage Allied positions anywhere on the Front. The Allied ability to use their reserves had proved critical in forcing the disjointed and herky-jerky process of German action in the spring, and in the attempt to cross the Marne the Germans finally were forced to accept what had already begun prior to that as final. Then, the next day, 19 July the Allies began a dramatic attack. Under Ferdinand Foch in a matter of approximately a couple of weeks the Allies regained what for the Germans had taken moving Heaven and Earth to capture.

It's worth noting given the myth of the lethal trench war that the highest casualties on the Western Front were in 1914 and 1918 when the war was mobile. For US, French, UK, Belgian, and German troops alike to fight on a WWI battlefield where ammunition flew freely in the open was extremely lethal, trenches were an effective means of *preserving* lives. This is a forgotten element of precisely *why* the Germans were running so low on manpower by 18 July, though the costs of Foch's victory were equally steep for the Allies.

With this Second Battle of the Marne, however, we see the US Army starting to play major roles in fighting, and we see the beginning of the end. The next entries shall chronicle the fall of Bulgaria, the armistice with the Ottoman Empire, and then the end of both Habsburg and Hohenzollern dynasties, culminating with 11/11/11/18, the end of one war and one of the most profound moments in 20th Century history......
halialkers: Picard looking left and gesturing with caption "WTF is this shit?" (WTF is this shit)
For the Germans, the 1918 offensive was the moment where if they were going to win, now was the time to really go and do it. Their weapons were at their strongest, and they had a temporary window of opportunity to capitalize on superior numbers. With this they would strike the first time with Operation Michael, aimed at capturing Amiens as a prelude to reaching the English Channel and dividing the Allies. This was intended to foster division between the Allied armies and thus to strengthen Germany's positions. This was the plan. What actually happened was after an overpowering bombardment the Germans made great gains in the wrong sectors, failing to capture Amiens, and continued Operation Michael too long, derailing their own plans, while the French put up a better showing than the British.

The next offensive, Operation Georgette, was thus smaller and weaker than intended, and to add insult to injury it, too, failed. The Germans again made great, sweeping gains in all the wrong sectors and failed to capture their objectives, while the Allies established a unified command structure under the French general Ferdinand Foch. Too, in both offensives German Stormtroopers (and yes, Virginia, these stormtroopers really could aim and hit somebody) were inadvertantly fostering the creation of Allied reserves that left Germany weaker and the Allies stronger even as the Germans were winning.

The last offensive, Operation Blucher-Yorck, made its initial gains off of the successes of the other two, having the strongest bombardment of all the offensives (artillery was the most decisive single arm, after all, of the Western Front) and striking British armies exhausted and depleted from defending against the other two offensives. Most ideas of the German almost-victory-that-never-was come from here. Once more the offensive failed to capture its actual objectives, and this time the German generals screwed up far more: they sought to transform this into an offensive to capture the French capital, Paris. The next entry will cover the Second Battle of the Marne, where it all went south, and then the Long Dark Night's Endgame will be covered, followed by the transition into the interwar era, which happened at different rates in different places, as well as the peace treaties.

I would be remiss if I did not note that Blucher-Yorck is when the US Army first played a major role in the World Wars. In the Belleau Wood region US forces, both Army and Marines, were essential in reducing the momentum of the Germans, in fighting such as that at Chateau-Thierry. US troops, however, reflected the inexperience of their leadership and made basic errors European armies did not by this phase in the war. This fighting is where the Marines got their nicknames of the Devil Dogs, and the Marines here sustained higher casualties than in some of their more infamous WWII battles, reflecting both US inexperience and the sheer sanguinary nature of the Western Front. Incidentally, I might note that serving in this region were some of the WWII famous/infamous sorts, Dugout Doug and Blood and Guts Patton, Patton in particular learning nothing whatsoever and Dougie Doug learning all the wrong lessons.

For the USA the Belleau Wood campaign, where over the course of June the German offensive slowed was crucial, but the first US troops to serve in Combat were USCT regiments which served under French command during the war. In something that speaks volumes of US policy and handling of race during this time, Pershing who was so reticient to allow US troops to serve under European command had no problem with the 92nd and 93d divisions doing so. In another commentary this was the test of Booker T. Washington's ideals of civil rights, though how his idea of blacks distinguishing themselves and winning rights by that means (an over-simplification but then this whole thing lumps months into one post) met reality is for the Interwar era series, the Center Cannot Hold.

Almost done with WWI ^.^
halialkers: Anzaea in brighter colors, blotches orange mouth, diagonal right arm/thumb, semicircle left arm (Anzaea)
In examining the mythology of Germany in WWI, there is a myth that the Germans almost won the war in the West in 1918, and that they were defeated in a far less clear and decisive result than what happened historically. The reality is that Germany's victories here were built from the first on an inherently flawed idea, and the idea itself as the history of the offensives here will show was not at all properly executed. The Germans were focused on a strategic concept, what of it did exist, that involved splitting the Allies across the entirety of the Front. The tactics were an extension of Brusilov-Hutier infiltration tactics. Here the Germans had as a net benefit a primitive, rudimentary submachine-gun, and had adopted the Stalhelm that WWII made infamous. Indeed outside context 1918 photos actually could be mistaken for photos of WWII soldiers.

The plan that was actually designed revolved around a concept of destroying the British army in a succession of staggered offensives, Michael, George, Blucher, Yorck, and Gneisenau. These offensives were to be preceded with far more organized and effective artillery bombardments, and all focused on being limited in goals, time, and scale to tactical objectives. Again, in military science tactics is the level of fighting battles, operations a pattern of battles, strategy the goal tactics and operations achieve, grand strategy the concept of winning wars. In this offensive the Germans chose to fight battles alone with no real purpose. This was a bad, bad concept of warfare as it meant they would do well and get nothing from it. Further complicating matters these infiltration tactics were to be done by the best, hardiest, brightest soldiers left. Meaning the fighting would reduce them to cannon fodder for the initial successes, leaving Germany's defense in what even the high command considered relatively low-quality troops. Above all this was the single shot for a strategic victory. If this failed, Germany's war was over.

This plan is not in itself a good one, however this is not what was really fatal in 1918. German defeat as it evolved as will be shown was what happened when it was unable to adhere even to its own poorly-conceived plans. In this there is a direct precursor of Operation Barbarossa in WWII: a bad idea worse-executed, the combined result enabling initially dramatic gains to start falling apart. Germany was completely trounced in this war, and this is why they were.
halialkers: Raven in Blue hood, glowing white eyes, right hand with palm stretched upward (Raven)
Through 1917 aerial warfare became ever-more sophisticated. Combat became far less dependent on individual fighter-pilots and far more focused on developing formations of ever-more-sophisticated planes. By 1917 airships as a tool of strategic bombing were going the way of the dodo, though the most severe WWI raids are pinpricks by the standard of later wars. Bombers in WWI were far less accurate than the none-too-accurate WWI versions, and this essentially showed strategic bombing was a great big lie in WWI. Unfortunately nobody except Hitler realized this going into WWII. By 1917 both sides had an increasingly diverse and specialized set of airplanes, and were developing tools and methods of air power.

In Allenby's campaign there's the first aerial interdiction campaign in military history, and it was an utter and unmitigated success, bringing the British Jerusalem by Christmas as they'd sought. For both sides at least local air superiority was a crucial prerequisite for a successful offensive. There was no means now to attack on the ground without control of the sky, and by 1917 it was becoming more lethal to be a pilot tan it was to serve on the ground on all fronts. Aerial attack was integrated with ground combat well before armor was, and ironically air power suffered from the first from a drastic and ultimately disastrous overestimation of what it was reasonably possible for it to do. Suffice to say that b 1917 aerial combat was no longer experimental, it was now a combat arm in its own right as sophisticated as any of the others.
halialkers: Raven in Blue hood, glowing white eyes, right hand with palm stretched upward (Raven)
With the fall of German Southwest Africa (today called Namibia), the war in Africa was left to East Africa, where a mixture of South African and Rhodesian troops continued a vain attempt to capture General von-Lettow Vorbeck. This is by another irony *the* most mobile theater of World War I, fought with machine guns and rifles as a giant irregular war. Lettow-Vorbeck's concept of war here is a direct precursor to that which will pop up again and again in the 20th Century: irregular-conventional warfare, neither purely guerrilla war nor purely conventional war. The fall of Kilimanjaro, however, marked a new phase of this war where the Allies would find themselves devoting literally astronomical efforts to capture one guy waging guerrilla war in the bush.

Despite the misconception that WWI was a purely European war, the war in East Africa actually wound up lasting longer than the war in Europe. Thus through 1917 the South Africans and Rhodesians kept trying to get Lettow-Vorbeck and they kept failing, even though he was having to home-make his own weapons. More ironically but typically the role of African porters in keeping both sides supplied was generally neglected by everybody on all sides. If you wish to see one root of de-colonization, here it is: without black porters neither WWI alliance would have been able in any sense of the word to sustain the war. With them they did, then their role was written out and they were made to be far more voluntary than was reality. More interestingly Lettow-Vorbeck was a complete exception, in terms of ruling blacks in Africa both the British and German Empires were rather monstrous as a general rule and for blacks there was very little to choose from between one evil overlord and the other evil overlord.
halialkers: Godzilla, Heisei. Right profile view one arm outstretched. (Set Molotov)
The First Battle of Cambrai figures significantly in the evolution of combined-arms warfare in terms of later warfare, though it crucially was not the first time that massed armor was used in a WWI Battle. That was actually the Nivelle Offensive. This battle, however, would play into the hands of Haig's critics. To emphasize an irony here, however, Sir Douglas Haig was actually an enthusiast for massing armor, he just did not have armor with sufficient speed and striking power to achieve operational or strategic breakthroughs. This engagement, ironically, followed the same patterns as French use of massed armor: breakdowns and artillery reduced the relevance of armor early on the fighting, slowing that armor down and bringing the battle into a simple artillery and infantry fight.

First Cambrai's early gains did not continue in terms of the later course of the battle and it was a mutual display of tactical skill to no strategic or operational purpose. The fighting here is more important in terms of its evolution by virtue of Liddel Hart (who incidentally is also part of the Sherman as Prophet mythology) having used it to create a British concept of combined-arms lightning warfare. The actual First Battle of Cambrai that happened in November and December of 1917 is for this reason less relevant than the warping of its earliest phases for historical purposes, the nature of the fight was to permit the Allies to establish the tactics that would bring them victory in 1918. However as 1917 came to an end, the Germans were to open negotiations for an armistice with the Bolshevik Council of People's Commissars, the Sovnarkom, the first Red Russian government (in the course of the Red Storm Rising subseries there will be three, Sovnarkom, the Russian Soviet Federated Republic, and the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics), an armistice that as will be detailed will bring up a few of the more controversial details of 1918. Next Africa and Lettow-Vorbeck, then the air war, and then into 1918 and the last year of the war. It feels good to actually be getting somewhere with this now. *David Caruso sunglasses* 
halialkers: (Default)
This is where the Long Dark Night series blends into Blood In Rivers Running Deep, the subseries about the Israeli-Arab and Israeli-Palestinian wars. The Ottoman Empire had declared war in 1914 on the Allies, and would have a serial string of defeats at the hands of Russian generals such as Yudenich. It would also defeat British offensives in 1915 and 1916. In 1916, however, the Ottomans attempted to make gains at Persian expense, while the stalemate near the Suez Canal meant the British would build up for renewed offensives. The British, however, had found the old Empire to be a far more formidable enemy than it was made out to be. This is one reason that they appealed to Zionists and to Arab nationalists both. This and the Israel-Palestine scenario have already been covered, this is about the strictly military aspects of the renewed British offensives here.

From March onward the British Empire had tried to crack through Ottoman defensive lines, and twice, in March and in April, the attacks would fail. This failure owes more to Ottoman strength than British weakness, and the two failures also represent the problems of warfare, a psychologically and physically exhausting activity, in the desert in an age before motorized vehicles to strengthen striking power and enhance speed. In both cases as in the Western Front the Ottomans improved their defenses through all engagements. Use of Arab irregulars contributed relatively little to British victory, just as the appeal to the Zionists did two things, jack and shit, and jack left town long before the third battle. The Ottoman regulars bulldozed aside any attempted assaults by irregulars, and excepting certain circumstances this is the norm of irregular warfare, conventional and guerrilla warfare serve two very different purposes.

British victory was due to overwhelming numbers, 10:1, depletion of their enemies due to the prior battles, six months of preparing and working through all staff issues, to Allenby being that rare 20th Century democratic general who was really, really good at maneuver warfare and due to the other offensive begun at this same time in Mesopotamia, which forced Ottoman troops into a continual withdrawal. The result of the Third Gaza Offensive, including the first great aerial interdiction campaign (in everyday speech death from above, lots and lots of death from above) in human history was that the British punctured the Ottoman lines at Gaza and then would move upward, capturing Beersheba and by Christmas Day Jerusalem, surrendered in a famous scene by priests, rabbis, and imams walking up to the British Army (that sounds like the lead-in to a joke, doesn't it?). Up next Cambrai, Africa, and WWI in the air, then 1918 and the end of the WWI series and the start of the next supra-series, the Center Cannot Hold.
halialkers: Godzilla, Heisei. Right profile view one arm outstretched. (Set Molotov)
The Battle of Caporetto was one of the greatest German tactical triumphs of this particular war. I should note for all I do in terms of growling at the traditional myth of the German Marty Tzu I would never knock the tactical virtuosity of the Germans in either world war. Tactically they were perhaps the best armies of both wars, so in terms of winning battles they did very well indeed. Through 1917 the last battles of the Isonzo had droned onward and the Habsburgs had finally realized they were about to get curbstomped in another Battle of the Isonzo. With this, they appealed to the Germans, who set up an offensive with poison gas, heavy artillery, and the second major use of infiltration tactics against an Italian army that after eleven headlong attacks into superior firepower on the high ground was understandably just a wee bit demoralized.

When the Germans struck they wiped out an entire Italian army, pushing the Italians very far south in one of their great triumphs. Here and in the Romanian phase of fighting mentioned in a prior entry one Erwin Rommel of the Wurtemberger army managed to score major triumphs. Rommel was a brilliant junior officer, and exemplified all that was good and all that would ultimately lose the Germans both wars. Here and in Romania his contributions to German victory were profound, and it was a curiosity of Rommel's experiences that he was always in WWI theaters where the fighting was able to be more mobile, not static and high cost for minimal gain. This inclined him to make good use of the German, all-tactical concept of combined-arms warfare in the next war.

For all its tactical brilliance Caporetto left the Central Powers no closer to a strategic victory than that alliance had been before it. Instead strategically the Central Powers were overextended and unable to transform a tactical victory into a strategic one in a peripheral theater against the same yokels who would do so much to inadvertantly aid the Allies in WWII. As I said, this is classic German world wars warfare: brilliant tactically but reflecting an inability to focus strategically or conduct offensives above the purely tactical level, so that their armies won a battle but had no idea how to make this into winning the war. Up next Cambrai, Africa, and the war in the air, then 1918. Almost done with WWI, w00t!
halialkers: Godzilla, Heisei. Right profile view one arm outstretched. (Set Molotov)
From August into November the Allies would find themselves in a curious position in Ypres. Their advances were tactically inexorable and irresistible. The Germans were steadily forced to yield territory like Langermarck, the Menin Road, and the Polygon Wood. The Germans were in short being tactically defeated, but beyond winning the battle at a prohibitive cost, nothing seemed to be happening. Adding to the misery was a sequence of rains and a viscous mud in Ypres that ensured soldiers were often exhausted simply from marching before a shot was fired. The battle was one of continual small-scale tactical actions that saw the new Allied armies achieve successively by the end of the offensive the objective of the first day of the offensive. This tactical success, however, was bewailed at the time as being evil, without regard for cost or human life. This is not accurate, this was not the bloodiest battle of the war, nor were any other WWI generals as callous as Cadorna.The problem was that it was another attrition battle in a terrain that steadily wore down and exhausted soldiers without even having to have fighting to do that, and that this created a psychological state of endless, serial enervation and exhaustion.

The battle ended with an Allied tactical success but one sees here a problem of how the WWI generation wins victories: a victory can be as psychologically devastating as a defeat. And by the time the Allies had soldiered through here, the war was already turning successively darker. Upcoming, Great October and the escalation of Russia's Civil War with Echelon/Railway War, Caporetto, the three Battles of Gaza and capture of Jerusalem, the advance into Mesopotamia, WWI in Africa, in the air, and Cambrai. The Long Dark Night is coming to an end, but the story of the Red Dawn and Communism's transformation from pariah ideology sanctioned by pariah state into an ideology that swallows half of Europe and the greater part of Asia is starting. In the event, World War II is not a strictly European war, and its origins have nothing to do with the Long Dark Night, as will be related later on. And as will also be shown the problems of Soviet historiography and its truth or lies starts from the very beginning.
halialkers: Godzilla, Heisei. Right profile view one arm outstretched. (Set Molotov)
In September on the Russian Calendar, October in the Western calendar, the percolations of the first major White defeat in the Russian Civil War grew. Under Trotsky the Bolsheviks had won one of their first, crucial victories. The Russian calendar by this point was 11 days behind the Western one, due to changes in the Julian Calendar, thus Lenin's speech on 3 April in Russia was 14 April in the West. The July Days were from 27 July-31 July, Kornilov's Putsch in August. By this time the Bolsheviks had been first barred from power and then savior of Russia from revolt (whether or not Kornilov actually meant a revolt is irrelevant, the appearance that he did was all that was needed). As the situation in Russia further deteriorated, the complex amassing of power in Russia would create problems through to November, concurrent with the Battle of Ypres. The Bolsheviks under Lenin and Trotsky were to amass ever-growing influence over the ever-radicalizing Soviets, who were a rival and contradictory government to the Provisional Government. This division at the heart of Russia's policies was compounded by a growing clash of urban workers, who were initially increasingly drawn to the Bolsheviks, and the Social Revolutionary peasants who wanted Land and Bread.

Thus as Haig's armies soldiered through the mud of Ypres, finding themselves drawn into a seemingly endless, bitter slog through mud and artillery fire, Russia's emerging chasms marked the tilt to the end of the Provisional Government and the dawn of the new, more terrible era. The core of my WWII series, provisionally named Red Dawn, is seen here in the steady weakening and marginalization of a Provisional Government of banal, ordinary moderates, increasingly supplanted by a close, paranoid group of former underground members who believed they and they alone could short-circuit Marxism's paths of history built on a distorted view of Western Europe's history. As the West's loathing of warfare slowly consolidated itself in the bloodsoaked mud of Flanders in Russia the replacement of dynastic regimes of nobles, monarchs, and princes with the new, more terrible, and more savage era of ideological-totalitarian republics proceeded on its courses, un-noticed by all save Russian liberals. Keep this in mind as I go through Paeschendaele that as Third Ypres is droning onward, the Triumphal March of Soviet Power and the rise of the Soviet Union is starting.
halialkers: Godzilla, Heisei. Right profile view one arm outstretched. (Set Molotov)
Beginning in July of 1917 the British would embark on the Third Battle of Ypres, also known as Paeschendaele, which would last into October. This offensive was in part the product of a growing crisis for the British. Russia was clearly beginning to dissolve, as its Civil War had begun and the process whereby Russia became the Soviet Union was to begin. French armies due to the mutinies were unwilling to attack, their willingness to defend was not wise to put to the test. The continual debacles on the Isonzo showed Italy was still the goat of Europe, unable and unwilling to successfully break through the Austro-Hungarian defenses. The war by this point was seeing the first stages in the evolution of the modern combined-arms approach to the offensive, armor, infantry, artillery, and air forming a single, irresistible team. The use of creeping barrages in Verdun and the recognition that loose-formation approaches were both necessary and a positive good were steps in this process. The infancy of armored warfare was another step, as was the recognition of an approach via staggered, limited offensives as opposed to attempting to win it all in one go. As the World War II series will show it's this broad-front approach that worked best for both sides then, the WWI generation also had to learn this the hard way.

As the Battles of Messines and Vimy Ridge showed the Allies were starting to make significant progress in this, however their generals drew the conclusion that magnifying the scale would increase the results. In war as in so much else, this ain't necessarily so. After Messines the two sides took six weeks to recuperate and prepare for the next major offensive. Ironically Sir Douglas Haig, derided as Britain's John Bell Hood/Luigi Cadorna wanted to launch a massed armored attack on the World War I style but his subordinates considered it impractical. Whether or not the slower WWI armor would have done much is debatable, as the later fight at Cambrai seems to back Haig's subordinates. The offensive again was designed to be one of attrition and relatively little else, the British slowly accelerating their aerial preparation of the offensive and attempting to find a sufficiently large rock hidden in their fist to belt the Germans with.

For their part 1917 sees the first employment of German defensive doctrine as it appears in both world wars, strong, intricate lines, lightly-held forward outposts, defensive firepower emphasized via machine-guns that are placed densely and with interlocking fields of fire (meaning soldiers advancing face more than one machine gun spitting rivers of death and trying to kill them that all support each other), and intending to exhaust Allied advances before attacking in their own right. The intention was akin to what actually happened in the WWII Battle of Kursk. The reality of this opening of a third fight in the Ypres Bulge was that the British wound up making gains more than the Germans expected, pushing through on 31 June through 2 August, but the exhaustion and enervation from a contested, bloody advance meant a German counterattack nullified most of these gains at the start. Despite prior promises on the part of Haig and Gough to stop this battle if things like this portended extended attrition warfare, the offensive continued on. This was militarily sound but one of many reasons Douglas Haig is now a goat of WWI, not one of its heroes.

Paeschenadaele will become one of the archetypal WWI battles, and its kindred experiences with Verdun and the Somme will create much of the standard tropes of World War I history.
halialkers: Genghis Khan frontal view in feathered headdress, red robes (Ashari)
The Battle of Messines, in June of 1917 offers an interesting parallel with the US Civil War Battle of the Crater. Both occurred in the second-to-last year of a major war, both offered quite a bit in concept, both fell rather shorter in reality. The one difference is that the Battle of Messines was a tactical victory for the winning side of the war, but it ensured the offensive it was a prelude for would be a strategic and tactical disaster. World War I was in the Western Front a gigantic siege war of sorts, both sides having adopted trenches, ever-more-powerful use of artillery, grenades, and hand-to-hand implements like bayonets and shovels. One traditional method in siege warfare is mining, digging beneath enemy lines and blowing them sky-high. This method had added a different and secondary nature to World War I where the massive offensives aboveground were matched by continual, bloody assaults belowground.

In the Battle of Messines the British sought to make gains in the Ypres Salient, where twice the Germans had attacked in the effort to straighten their lines and twice failed, though in both cases the Germans held the high ground. The mine, when it erupted, had the same cataclysmic impact as at the Crater, but due to a much more efficient reaction on the part of the British and vastly improved tactical handling the British army won a brilliant success in a week-long battle that saw relatively limited losses. Unfortunately for Britain it drew from this by far the wrong conclusion......which will lead two entries from now to the start of the Paeschendaele set of entries. The WWI powers never really realized that on the Western Front the only possible means of success were tactical, the means did not exist for strategic or operational success. In everyday speech this means successful WWI generals were able to be brilliant battle-winners but WWI never favored people who thought at levels of operations or campaigns due to absence of technology that favored such actions. Paradoxically WWI is the result of technological progress making armies slower, where the armies of Napoleon's time moved exceptionally fast and those of WWII would also. As the WWII series will show this was due not to military factors in a combat sense but due to a pair of underappreciated elements in a logistical/strategic sense.
halialkers: Self-portrait, right side of my face. Best drawing of me yet! (Vishori)
Vimy Ridge, however, was the northern end of a broader, larger-scale offensive that had been intended as a diversionary offensive to aid the Nivelle Offensive, which as recounted temporarily put a damper on any French offensive actions on the Western Front for the duration of 1917. The broader battle was intended to draw away German reserves and make more moderate gains, where the French were extremely, ludicrously over-optimistic, however all the same the tactical innovations seen at Vimy Ridge meant in the opening phase of the offensive British troops on both sectors made unexpectedly large gains. Then Nivelle's Offensive fell apart and the British, now realizing they had to fight the Germans and the Ottomans simultaneously with little help from the French or US forces, were to allow their own offensive to degenerate into a series of local struggles for individual hills and copses.

Arras, however, represented the first steps in the tactical evolution to the superb co-ordination of infantry, artillery, air power, armor, and to an extent still cavalry that would bring the Allies to victory in 1918, as the Allies evolved, developing the concepts, and resolved the technical difficulties required to launch successfully the offensives of 1918. Again, in World War I success depended on tactical virtuosity, at least on the Western Front, so strategy was less relevant here than it was in other wars.
halialkers: (Default)
The First World War introduces a rule that will recur in the Second: Canadian troops perform exceptionally well by Dominion standards and are the most ready and willing to fight for the British Empire. The ANZACs provided the core of Aussie and Kiwi nationalism in the fighting in the Dardanelles (though more of them in the event served on the Western Front), for Canada World War I would become an essential element in the birth of Canadian nationalism. In this regard the Battle of Arras, which will be covered in an entry on the broader pattern of the battle, is an essential step forward. It marked the first phase of Allied fighting in 1917, a year when the British Empire was virtually alone in actually fighting the Germans (as the other fighting did not do anything to win the war, unfortunately, which is one reason it tends to be overlooked). But for Canada, the essential role in this was the Battle of Vimy Ridge.

For the first time all four Canadian corps in the British Western Front forces were formed into a single unified force (this at a time when the prospect of conscription was creating a political crisis on the Canadian home front), and they were assigned to capture the Vimy Ridge, part of the German positions on Arras that had been held for some time beforehand. The Arras Offensive was initially intended on the broad scale to provide a diversion for the French Nivelle offensive, with the Canadian goal in capturing Vimy Ridge to limit German enfilade fire. In military terms enfilade fire is a fancy term for being able to shoot soldiers like fish in a barrel, with equivalent casualties, as the side that secures this can fire far more lethal firepower far faster than its own enemies can use as counters against it.

The Canadian forces assigned to this offensive were to establish an attack plan of the sort that had worked for Brusilov against Austria, and would work for the Germans at Riga and at Caporetto, and would ultimately bring the Allies victory in 1918: soldiers would advance with air superiority  as a prerequisite, using a creeping barrage, staggered offensives in loose order, and careful co-ordination of all arms, having prepared carefully a full-scale plan of assault that took into account the full nature of potential German counteractions. This reflects one crucial difference between World War I and World War II: the great World War I generals were all brilliant tacticians, because communications limited anything possible beyond the operational level, the great World War II generals had to be much wider-ranging in terms of military skill. As a result General Byng, commander of the British forces at Vimy Ridge, unleashed an offensive that in four days captured Vimy Ridge from the three German divisions of General von Falkenhausen, who was forced to retreat, a success that due to low casualties and the actual nature of territorial gains was unprecedented thus far on the Western Front.

Byng's victory, a triumph of Canadian generalship, established a tradition of superb Canadian fighting that would see further development in the Second World War. it was also the first major tactical victory for the Allies in the West since the Battle of the Marne.
halialkers: The daemon-sultan at the nuclear chaos (Abraxas)
And now for the great bulk of readers on my FL with regard to this series I come to the other big event of April 1917 for World War I, European history, and ultimately world history: the entrance of the United States of Woodrow Wilson into the First World War. The United States of America would become a superpower after the *Second* World War, however it was not one after the first. The major significance of US entry into World War I was twofold, one, the USA had in the period 1914-6 gained an increasing power as creditor over the major European economies, which would contribute immeasurably to the Great Depression post-war, and two, the USA was the first major non-European Great Power to intervene decisively on a European battlefield (Japan intervened decisively on Asian battlefields and never tried to develop or particularly wanted to have trans-Oceanic naval or ground power).

Woodrow Wilson was overall a President with an Andrew Jackson-style mixed legacy, he was indisputably essential to the modernization of key sectors of the US economy, such as the Federal Reserve, an income tax, and to consolidating progressive reforms of both TR and William Howard Taft. In other ways, like Jackson, he was a racist, authoritarian prick, a George W. Bush-style idealist with equally disastrous ultimate legacies for everyone concerned, including the USA. Wilson's history of the United States (he was a relatively prolific writer) was part and parcel of the film Birth of a Nation, and in the war as will be related Wilson did some very bad things in the USA at home. Further amplifying how much of a dick Wilson was, he re-segregated a Federal government de-segregated by Theodore Roosevelt, and would insist very much on having segregated US forces in World War I and trying to keep all-black units out of combat.

In the prior sequence of events leading into US entry, Wilson's attempts at fair and balanced neutrality progressively turned into pro-Allied policies, insisting that the Germans cease and desist with Unrestricted Submarine Warfare, but always fell short of direct intervention. This was hardly universally popular at the time, and TR in particular was a vehement critic of this, at one point indicating his view that if the USA wanted to do what Wilson wanted, impose its particular brand of idealism across the world, it must actually fight to do so. The German decision to resume USW and thus starve Britain out of the war was the ultimate motivator for Woodrow Wilson to re-enter the war, the affair of the Zimmerman Telegram, an attempt to further draw the USA into the Mexican Revolution was just icing on the cake.

With US entry, too, it's crucial to differentiate World War I from World War II in two essential, key aspects:

First, militarily the USA had absolutely nothing to do with the ultimate Allied victory. US troops were supplied primarily with Anglo-French weapons, and General Pershing's myopic insistence on US troops only being led by US commanders meant that US forces would have no military role in 1917 and a belated one in 1918. The USA economically was the key factor that permitted the Allies to withstand the growing economic crisis involved in paying for the war, and this is where US contributions were essential. Militarily the USA didn't do much of anything.

Second, the USA of World War II was by contrast to the USA of World War I involved from the first in Allied strategy, in World War I the USA didn't have any approach remotely equivalent to this, and it approached WWI in a much more haphazard fashion. This is the reason *why* the Terrible Two would come up with the ultimately disastrous ideas they did for the offensive of 1918.

So now, in World War I, April 1917, Lenin's rise is starting and the USA's finally gotten into WWI. The Yanks are going Over There, Russia's getting Outta There.

halialkers: (Default)

General Nivelle, alas, in his offensive, which would last from Apriil 16th to May 9th accomplished two things: he ruined his career and he removed the French army for a time from being willing to fight. His offensive had emerged as part of a broader Allied offensive, involved as noted overpowering artillery bombardments, with both infantry and armor advancing. He promised the war would end with his offensive. Instead the Alliies made greater gains than expected against a prepared German resistance, but took over ten times the casualties (10,000) which Nivelle had predicted. Ironically Nivelle's tactics really did begin the process whereby the Allies would ultimately win the war, but he promised his April attack would end the war in one sweep, the failure to do so led both to his sacking and to the outbreak of what are usually termed mutinies.

By comparison to what happened in Russia in this year and in Germany and Austria-Hungary in 1918, and by military justice standards these were not technically mutinies. Too, a myth has emerged that these soldiers did not want to fight. This also is not quite accurate. What they wanted was better treatment, such as higher pay, stronger defensive lines, not being treated as lambs led to the slaughter. There were no instances of soldiers shooting officers, and none of these soldiers were unwilling to go on with the war.  At the same time this happened, the industrial workers in France proper, whose status was relatively nightmarish due to the catastrophe of German advances and territorial gains, and had been so in the ever-stronger French state of WWI, were engaging in a mass general strike.

This combination led to the emergence of Petain, who was to seek to calm these disturbances down. This he would ultimately succeed in, but the disturbances actually for a time worsened after his appointment. The major result of these mutinies was to leave the war for the rest of 1917 in the hands of the British, who would gradually and by degrees begin to discover the individual elements of the Allied victory of 1918, co-ordinated infantry and artillery, the punching power of the infantry enhanced by air power and massed armor. This process, too, would be prolonged and bloody and produced mixed results: the emergence of Canadian nationalism, the archetypal Hollywood WWI battle, and the first use of a massed column of armor in the world wars......

halialkers: (Default)
The Terrible Two, Paul von Hindenburg and Erich Ludendorff, would provide the first example why modern warfare should never be left solely to soldiers (Imperial Japan in WWII is the second). This is not, however, to detract from their tactical brilliance. They exemplify the Germany of the world wars: tactically brilliant, strategically a bunch of bumbling imbeciles. Their first decision reflects this. As a means to shorten the overall German lines on the Western Front (militarily front lines that are too long are weaknesses. Salients are both weak and vulnerable, and one tactical error is usually to leave one), they executed one of the most brilliant tactical withdrawals in history. Pay attention to these next few lines: the German occupation zone included the great bulk of French industry, so as the Germans withdrew they did everything possible to wreck the Hell out of it, and in the process did a very good job.

This process derailed the planned offensive of General Nivelle. It must be noted that Nivelle was the hero of French victory at Verdun. He had been the first in the Allies to use a creeping barrage successfully, and his bonuses from a political standpoint were many. For one thing he did did not speak French alone, he spoke English. For another in contrast to Sir Douglas Haig he got along much better with PM Lloyd-George. For a third he promised to halt his offensive immediately if it did not produce a crushing victory, though of course he expected only a crushing victory. Nivelle's concept was that of a crushing artillery bombardment, amplified by co-ordination betweeen the artillery and infantry, in an overpowering rush sufficient to secure a war-winning breakthrough. Then the Germans shifted their frontlines and this unfortunately did not lead him to change his plans. Further adding to the ominous signs for the allies, this offensive would begin in April, one month after the Tsar of Russia had fallen overnight.....

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