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100 Years On – Armistice

Negotiations that led to the end of hostilities on the Western Front began after the German military began to melt away in the face of Allied advances, as well as the abdication of both the German and Austro-Hungarian emperors.  Beginning on November 8, 1918, German representatives attempted, but failed, to soften the harsh demands the Allied Powers presented them.

After only minor changes, the armistice was signed at 5 AM on November 11, 1918.  It took effect at 11 AM that morning, the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month.  German forces soon began the final evacuation of their remaining forces in Belgium and France.  Other terms of the armistice agreement included the occupation of the Rheinland, surrender of naval, ground, and air forces, and the continuation of the blockade of Germany.

Later, a myth that the German Army was not defeated in the field, and had been “stabbed in the back” by the civilian government became popular. This, however, was belied by the fall of the Hindenberg Line and general retreat of German forces in the face of the 100 Days Offensive.  It is possible, maybe even likely, that the German Army would have rallied had it been pushed back across the Rhein. But the inability of the German economy to sustain its armed forces, much less replace what it was abandoning on the field, would have made even that a desperate, and likely short-lived, reprieve from total collapse.

As the guns finally fell silent across Europe, Asia, and Africa and the last man died, the world could count the war’s cost.

 

100 Years On – Abdication

On November 9, 1918, Friedrich Wilhelm Viktor Albert von Hohenzollern, King of Prussia and Emperor of Germany, abdicated his throne and ended monarchy in Germany.  Over the course of the war, the increased influence of the military, especially that of Ludendorf and Hindenburg, atrophied the power of the Kaiser.

Eventually, as revolution raged in the streets of Berlin and other German cities, Kaiser Wilhelm II was informed that the army would not fight to keep him on the throne.  His abdication was quickly followed by the creation of a republic in Germany.  Wilhelm lived out his days in exile.

Wilhelm had been a bombastic keystone in the arch of monarchy that stretched over pre-war Europe.  Many, including me, place at least partial blame for the initiation of the to his belicose support of Austria-Hungary during the crisis of 1914.

The Great War ended soon after the departure of Wilhelm from the stage.  The republic that replaced him was ill-fated, and it was replaced in its turn by an even worse dictatorship.

 

 

100 Years On – Mutiny!

On October 29, 1918, members of the German High Seas Fleet refused orders to prepare the fleet for one final battle against the British Navy.  Their activities ranged from work stoppages to outright mutiny and sabotage.

Initially, ringleaders were rounded up and imprisoned, and Navy leaders felt that the situation had been dealt with.  However, a growing number of sailors, allied with unions and socialist political groups, continued to conspire against the German government.

Finally, in the first week of November, an open revolt broke out in many parts of Germany.  Military units from the North Sea to Bavaria joined with civilians to overthrow the German government, eventually bringing down Kaiser Wilhelm himself.

100 Years On – Flu

In the second half of 1918, the second and largest wave of deaths caused by a worldwide flu pandemic built to a crescendo that killed more people than World War I.   While its origin is open to debate, it was soon rampant in every part of the world.

The conditions at training posts in the United States and in the battlefields of the First World War were almost tailor-made for the spread of the flu.  Soldiers on both sides of the trenches were falling to the illness in droves by the time the war ended.  When they returned home after the Armistice, the virus went with them to all the corners of the globe.

The Spanish Flu, in three waves that stretched between 1917 and 1920, killed between 50 and 100 million people worldwide.  To put that in perspective, if a similar outbreak were to occur now, it would kill between 230 and 380 million people.

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.

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