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100 Years On – End of Unrestricted Submarine Warfare

On October 20, 1918, the German Empire ended its program of unrestricted submarine warfare.  Off and on through out the war, German U-Boats had attacked shipping destined for Allied countries without warning.  This reduced the risk to the German boats and crews, but increased the loss of life on targeted ships.  The resumption of the tactic in 1917 was a calculated move to knock Great Britain out of the war before the United States could mass sufficient forces after they declared war.

In four years, German submarines sank over 4000 Allied and neutral ships, with a tonnage in excess of 8,000,000 tons.  Losses to the German fleet was 178 U-Boats and about 5000 sailors.

100 Years On – Attention to Orders

After having previously destroyed a number of enemy aircraft within 17 days he (Second Lieutenant Frank Luke, Jr.) voluntarily started on a patrol after German observation balloons. Though pursued by 8 German planes which were protecting the enemy balloon line, he unhesitatingly attacked and shot down in flames 3 German balloons, being himself under heavy fire from ground batteries and the hostile planes. Severely wounded, he descended to within 50 meters of the ground, and flying at this low altitude near the town of Murvaux opened fire upon enemy troops, killing 6 and wounding as many more. Forced to make a landing and surrounded on all sides by the enemy, who called upon him to surrender, he drew his automatic pistol and defended himself gallantly until he fell dead from a wound in the chest.

 

100 Years On – Megiddo

From 19 to 25 September, 1918, British, Indian, and allied Arab forces routed Ottoman forces in what was the last major campaign in the Middle East.  While this was an offensive that ranged across vast sections of modern-day Israel, Syria, and Jordan, it has been christened The Battle of Megiddo. Ottoman forces were routed at Nablus, Amman, and Sharon.

The lessons of four hard years of fighting are evident in how British General Allenby fought this campaign.  The coordinated use of artillery and infantry, along with armored cars, aircraft, and cavalry, penned in and overwhelmed the Turks.  Out of almost 35,000 Ottoman troops assembled at the beginning of the campaign, only 6,000 escaped death or capture.  In contrast, British and allied forces lost about 1,100 dead and missing, and less than 5,000 wounded, out of a force of over 70,000 soldiers and irregular troops.

The impact of this campaign, and the Middle Eastern front it was a part of, on the modern world cannot be overstated.  Immediately after Megiddo, Damascus and the other Ottoman strong points in the area collapsed.  The loss of so much territory and its resources hastened the eventual collapse of Ottoman Turkey itself.  The lines drawn and the countries formed in the war’s aftermath led to almost a century of conflict.

100 Years On – 100 Days Offensive

After stopping the Germans at the Second Battle of the Marne and pushing them back, the Allies unleashed the final offensive on the Western Front, the 100 Days.  Starting on August 8, 1918, British, French, and American divisions threw themselves at German lines, tearing wide breaches in long-held trench lines and capturing thousands of prisoners and hundreds of guns.

The first battle, Amiens, opened with 30,000 German casualties on its first day, compared to about 6,500 for the Allied forces.  German forces were pushed back and began to withdraw to the Hindenburg Line, giving up the gains they had made in the spring.

Other titanic battles met with similar success, causing the veritable collapse of German forces in France and Belgium.

Over the coming weeks, German lines slowly drew back, until the final climax of the Armistice on November 11.  By then, over a million men on the Allied side were killed, wounded, or missing, while the Germans lost almost 1.2 million, in the final onslaught on the Western Front.

100 Years On – End of the Romanovs

On the night of 16 to 17 July, 1918, Tsar Nicholas II of Russia, who had abdicated his throne following the first Russian revolution in 1917, was executed by Communist forces in the Russian city of Ekaterinburg. Additionally, his wife, children, and several servants were also shot, clubbed, and stabbed to death by their Communist guards.  Their bodies were looted, stripped, disfigured, and buried in a concealed grave.

Since his abdication, Romanov and his family had been kept in increasingly harsh and isolated conditions.  In the end, their world had shrunk to several rooms and a small courtyard.  Under constant guard, they were even forbidden to speak with their guards or look out the window.

Communist Red Army leaders feared that the Romanovs would be a rallying point for opposing White Forces in the burgeoning Russian Civil War.  At the time of the execution, White elements were drawing near to Ekaterinburg, and the Communists moved to prevent the Tsar’s liberation.

After consulting with authorities in Moscow, including Lenin and Dzerzhinsky, the local Communist leader replaced the guards surrounding the Romanovs with men who swore to kill the tsar, if ordered.   A site outside the city was carefully prepared so that the family’s remains could be hidden.

The Romanovs were taken to small cellar room, were informed of the decision to execute them, and killed.  After the family was murdered, their bodies were burned and buried.  At first, the Communists announced only that Nicholas was dead, leaving many to hope that the rest of his family, including his son, had survived.  Soviet leaders suppressed any discussion of the Romanovs for decades.  It was not until the 1970’s that their bodies were discovered, and not until afte the turn of the next century that they were given a decent burial.

The death of Nicholas and his heirs brought the end of a 300 year dynasty.  It was only one of the first atrocities committed by the Soviets, but it is a stain on their history that will live forever.

100 Years On – Second Marne

On July 15, 1918, the German Army in France began its final offensive of the war.  In two major pushes against British, American, and French forces, the Germans were able to establish a bridgehead across the Marne, but met stiff resistance by Allied defenders.

Combined Allied action, including the use of tanks, bombers, and several fresh American divisions, stopped the German offense.  Both sides had learned lessons in the years of fighting.  French defenses in the first hours of the attack were arrayed so that their soldiers were not open to German bombardment in the front lines.  In the counterattack, the Allies were able to coordinate their plans and movements in a concerted effort to throw the Germans back.

By early August, the Germans were pushed back across the Marne and back to their original positions.  This action was followed by the final Allied offensives of the war, which saw the Germans begin to slowly lose the territory they had held since 1914.

100 Years On – Belleau Wood

Alternate Title – “Retreat? Hell, we just got here!”

In early June, 1918, elements of the American Expeditionary Force, including the 5th and 6th Marine Regiments,  halted an attack by several German divisions that threatened to cross the Marne River and threaten Paris.  By the end of the month, at a cost of almost 2000 dead, the Marines had cleared the Germans out of Belleau Wood.

Fighting was close, vicious, and intense.  On multiple occasions, combat was reduced to fists and bayonets.  In one instance, an American attack went the wrong way in fog, got cut to pieces by German defenders, yet still managed to wreck the units opposing them.  Several American units lost most, if not all, of their officers and sergeants, yet the soldiers and Marines fought on.

On June 26, Belleau Wood was finally cleared of German resistance, ending a protracted, bloody battle.  Allied casualties came to almost 10,000 dead and wounded, while total German casualties are not known.

 

100 Years On – First Flu Victims

On March 11, 1918, Private Albert Gitchell, a cook at Fort Riley, Kansas, was diagnosed with what later became known as the “Spanish Flu“, the first of hundreds to fall ill at the isolated post, and the first of millions to suffer in the United States.  In both training camps on the plains of North America and the trenches of Flanders and France, cramped quarters, bad sanitation, and poor nutrition conspired to create a perfect environment for a pandemic.  Some believe that the flu may have even helped to tip World War I toward the Allies in its last months, as German and Austrian soldiers and civilians were hit with the epidemic earlier than their opponents.

Whether the disease, which would impact billions of people worldwide as sick soldiers returned home from World War I, originated in the United States or in Europe is a matter of controversy.   What is not controversial is the number of people that the flu sickened and killed.  Scientists estimate that between 50 and 100 million people worldwide perished due to influenza or secondary infections like pneumonia in 1918 and 1919.

The first wave, which hit in the spring of 1918, was mild compared to what would come later.  How different societies reacted to having thousands of people, especially the young and strong, die, is an interesting study for those who realize that such things will happen again.

100 Years On – Armistice in the East

On December 15, 1917, a general armistice between the Russian Communist government and the Central Powers went into effect.  Effectively, Russian participation in the war was over.  Negotiations toward a peace treaty began, and would conclude in March of 1918 with the Russians ceding vast tracts of land to Germany, Austria, and the other members of the Central Powers.

The Bolsheviks had swept into power with a promise to end the war, and their almost abject surrender of the western portion of their country in order to fulfill it gave Germany an opportunity to move men and weapons to the Western Front for the fighting of 1918.

100 Years On – October Revolution

On the 7th of November, 1917, Communist forces in the Russian capital of Saint Petersburg seized critical infrastructure and government buildings.   The following day, the Winter Palace, which housed the government installed after the abdication of Tsar Nicholas II earlier that year, fell to the Communists.  Within weeks, the Bolshevik arm of the Communist Party had taken over control of the government, including the military, and the Russian Civil War was underway.  Fighting would continue until  1922, leaving the Bolsheviks in control of the new USSR.  It would be almost 70 years until the USSR and the nations it came to dominate would shake off

Over a century of revolution, oppression, and genocide, more than 100 million people worldwide would fall victim to the quest to establish and support Communism.  Words like ‘gulag‘, ‘holodomor‘, ‘killing fields,’ and ‘cultural revolution‘ have come into our lexicon.  Productive regions of our world have been turned from breadbaskets into basketcases, all in the name of seeking the perfect Communist state.  Over a billion people still live under the yoke of Communism.

I am hard pressed to name a movement that has caused such widespread human misery. We are still haunted by the consequences of the October Revolution, and I am afraid that our children and grandchildren will still have to deal with them.

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