The Campaigns Against Russia 1914-1917
The Rulers of the Triple Entente. Nicholas, Once Czar of All the Russians (left), the Only Autocrat among the Allies, Was a Weak Ruler, Much under the Influence of His German Wife and Wonder-Working Priests. But When Revolution Threatened He Is Said to Have Indignantly Repudiated the Traitorous Suggestion of One of His Generals, to Overcome “the Canaille” by Letting in the Germans. King George of England (right) Is More Fortunate. A Sovereign in Name Only, He Occupies a Secure Position in the Hearts of His Countrymen, as the Focusing Point and Symbol of Their Patriotic but Self-respecting Loyalty. History of the World War, Volume 1, 1917. GGA Image ID # 1929cb5f64
There was also fighting on a vast scale in Eastern Europe between the Central Powers and Russia. The Russians began well by two invasions of East Prussia, but the Germans found a Saviour in General Hindenburg, who drove the enemy back into his territories.
Hindenburg then fought his way through Russian Poland into Lithuania and the Baltic Provinces. There were even greater changes of fortune in the struggle between the Austrians and the southern armies of Russia. The Austrians failed to overrun the little Serbian Kingdom and to defend Galicia from invasion.
By April 1915, the Russians were on the crest of the Carpathians, threatening the rich Hungarian plain. But Germany came to the help of her ally, and General Mackensen's victory on the Dunajec in May 1915 completely changed the situation.
Galicia was rapidly recovered, and the Austro-German eastern front was soon pushed forwards from the Romanian frontier to the Baltic near Riga, leaving a great extent of Russian territory in their possession.
There were still ebbs and flows in the tide of eastern warfare up to the summer of 1916 when a notable Russian advance at the expense of the Austrians was made. But Hindenburg now threw such strong forces on to the eastern front that the ill-armed, ill-equipped Russian armies fled rapidly before him.
Ignorance, incompetence, and treachery had sapped the great Russian Empire's resources, and the Tsar, Nicholas II., was powerless to set things right. It was in vain that Romania, after long hesitation, came to Russia's assistance.
Thereupon Bulgaria, which had already joined Turkey in declaring for the Central Powers, helped Austria to crush Serbia and fell upon Romania from the south. Before long, Mackensen overran Wallachia and forced Romania to accept a dictated peace.
Meanwhile, in March 1917, the unhappy Tsar was driven from his throne. But the Russian revolution did not establish a strong government.
Attempts at the constitutional monarchy and a socialist republic proved failures, and power was usurped by a gang of bloodthirsty fanatics called Bolsheviks, who reduced Russia to anarchy.
Long before they made a disgraceful betrayal of their country and its allies in the treaty of Brest-Litovsh (March 3, 1918), German influence had been established over Russia, and her troops were free to join hands with their comrades in the west.
Luckily, the seething confusion that prevailed after the treaty prevented the Central Powers from enjoying the fruits of their victory.
The Dardanelles Failure 1915
The third field of war was opened up when Turkey joined the Central Powers. Her threats against the Suez Canal forced Britain to collect an army in Egypt to safeguard India's means of access.
The khedive of Egypt, who upheld the Turkish cause, was deposed by the British, who declared Egypt a protectorate free from Turkish suzerainty and set up as its Sultan a loyal member of the khedive's house.
A bold design was now conceived of striking at the heart of Turkey by seizing the Dardanelles. But the plan was badly executed. In February and March 1915, a futile naval demonstration showed the old doctrine's continued truth that ships were powerless against land-forts.
The attack also gave the Turks ample warning to prepare for the army that only reached the Dardanelles late in April. The new force was conspicuous for the large proportion of Australian, New Zealand, and British "territorial" troops, which is included.
Their successful landing amidst the greatest difficulties showed that these inexperienced citizen-soldiers were well worthy of fighting side by side with the old army.
Unluckily the initial success of the landing was not followed up. The Turkish lines cooped up the allied force into the narrow peninsula, which separates the Dardanelles from the northern Ægean.
Constantly exposed to shell-fire, suffering cruelly at each gallant attempt to drive the Turks farther back, insufficient in number for their terrific task, and inadequately directed by their higher command, they more than held their own from April to December.
But, in October, Bulgaria's entry into the war enabled Germany to send officers and munitions to stiffen the Turkish resistance. The Greek king, Constantine, a brother-in-law of William II., dismissed Venizelos, who had hoped to send Greek troops to co-operate with the allies and henceforth did all that he dared to help the Germans. At last, the Dardanelles expedition was safely and ably withdrawn.
The War in Armenia, Mesopotamia, and Macedonia
The Turks were attacked in other quarters. Russia conquered from them a great part of Armenia, and an expedition, mainly provided by India, sailed up the Persian Gulf, occupied Basra, and by November 1915, marched within twenty miles of Baghdad. But it was too small and ill-equipped for so great an enterprise.
Finally, the advanced section was besieged at Kut-el-Amara. The efforts to relieve it were badly conducted, and on April 29, 1916, the defenders of Kut became Turkish prisoners.
The double disaster on the Dardanelles and in Mesopotamia reduced British reputation to a low ebb in the East. Nor was any fresh credit won by the occupation of Salonica by a mixed army of the allies.
The Salonica force came too late to save Serbia and was reduced to helplessness by the Greek king's treachery.
The War Between Italy and Austria 1916-1917
A fresh gleam of hope came in May 1916, when Italy, which had remained neutral in 1914, broke away from the Triple Alliance, joined the war. After that, the Italians slowly fought their way over the Austrian frontier towards Trent and Trieste, the chief towns of that "unredeemed Italy" which they hoped to conquer.
The Supremacy of the Seas
Of vital moment to Britain was the struggle on the seas. At first, the Germans wrought much havoc upon allied merchant ships, raided the English coast, and won a pitched battle over a weak British squadron off Chile's coast. But before long British naval supremacy decisively asserted itself.
The mighty fleet, which Germany had equipped to challenge the British sovereignty of the seas, was shut up in the well-protected area of the North German coast, of which Heligoland was the outpost.
Its only serious attempt to break out was rudely checked by admirals Jellicoe and Beatty, whose victory in the battle of Jutland on May 31, 1916, put an end to the war between Dreadnoughts for which both nations were prepared.
The War in the Dominions
The conquest of the German colonies by the British dominions and their allies was the first result of British supremacy at sea. While Japan captured the German strongholds in China, Australia and New Zealand laid hands on those in the Pacific, and British South Africa and India supplied the main force that expelled the Germans from Africa.
German, East Africa resisted the longest but was finally subdued by forces commanded by General Smuts, who, like Botha, the South African Prime Minister, had fought against Britain in the Boer War.
German attempts to stir up rebellion in India, South Africa, and elsewhere failed lamentably and only strengthened the ties which bound together with the British dominions.
The large armies sent to fight in Europe and the East by Canada, which established compulsory service, Australia, New Zealand, and South Africa showed, equally with India's great military efforts in nearly every field of the war, the solidarity of the British Empire.
The Submarine Peril
Worsted on the sea and in the colonies, Germany launched new blows against Britain. The submarine and the mine made a chief triumph was in her discovery of the aggressive use of the submarine against merchant ships, through which she struck a more dangerous blow against British command of the seas than ever Napoleon had done.
The British islands she declared to be blockaded, and all ships faring thither became liable to be blown up by torpedoes or gunfire from unseen enemies.
A new fashion of naval warfare had to be devised to counteract the German power under the seas, which made nugatory British control over their surface. For the first time in history, it made Britain vulnerable despite her insular position.
One result of German policy was the gradual alienation of the neutral powers, and in particular of the United States, which strongly resented such crimes as the sinking of the great Cunard liner the Lusitania (May 7, 1915) and the consequent loss of over a thousand innocent passengers and sailors, both British and American.
The most eminent victim of the new warfare at sea was Kitchener, who perished on his way to Russia, the cruiser on which he was sailing being destroyed, probably by a mine, on a stormy night off the Orkneys.
The German Policy of Ruthlessness
However, the wholesale destruction of non-combatants, both enemies, and neutrals, was part of the deliberate policy of ruthlessness by which Germany believed she would terrorize the world into submission.
Other phases of the same brutality included the imprisonment of British subjects found in Germany at the outbreak of war, the ill-treatment of civilian and military prisoners, and the sending of great airships called Zeppelins later of aero planes to drop bombs at random on British cities.
Though adding immensely to human suffering and increasing the sum of material losses, none of these things had any real effect in altering war's fortunes.
The only serious menace was that of the submarine, which destroyed a large proportion both of British and of neutral merchant shipping, and brought Britain within measurable distance of famine.
Happily, Britain could effectively retaliate by stopping all German sea-borne trade. As time went on, she devised protection measures that made the submarine war very perilous to the German sailors engaged in it.
Moreover, the need to fight the submarine made every merchant ship and seaman in effect a naval combatant. Just as the landsman fought onshore, so did every seafarer fight on the ocean in the national struggle.
The Asquith National Ministry, June 1915
After three years of world warfare, it looked as if it were impossible for either side to secure a real decision. The deadlock in the west and the disasters in the East made men anxious whether all that was possible was being done to bring about victory.
These doubts resulted in two successive reconstructions of the ministry which, though working vigorously, and in some ways successfully, had not always risen to the occasion.
The first reconstruction was in June 1915, when a " National Ministry " was formed in which the politicians of various parties took office under Asquith.
Bonar Law, a Glasgow merchant, who had been Conservative leader since Balfour's resignation of that post in 1911, became Secretary for the Colonies, and Balfour himself First Lord of the Admiralty. Room was also found for several of the Labor Leaders.
At the same time, a Ministry of Munitions was established under Lloyd George, whose efforts soon put an end to the lack of shells, which had stayed our early offensive. Equipment was thus provided for our rapidly increasing armies.
The Dublin Rebellion, Easter 1916
The new ministry did not work much better than its predecessor. It had less unity: its cabinet was even larger, and therefore more incapable of directing war policy, and it suffered from the lack of responsible criticism, as there was no longer a strong opposition.
The war's progress continued to be unsatisfactory, and Lord Kitchener, though doing great work in creating a vast new army, was less successful as head of a great political department.
The millions of soldiers required for the war could not be acquired by voluntary enlistment, and the ministry carried, in January 1916, an act authorizing compulsory service for Great Britain, but excluding Ireland from the Act, in deference to Irish Nationalist opinion.
But the extreme school of Irish Nationalists, called the Sinn Feiners, repudiated Redmond's leadership and declared for the Irish Republic. German intriguers strove to stir up a rebellion, and Sinn Fein played into their hands. On Easter Monday, 1916, there was fierce fighting in Dublin's streets, where the Sinn Feiners were only put down after grievous bloodshed.
Lloyd George Becomes the National Leader
After Kitchener's tragic death, Lloyd George became War Minister. He had already shown gifts of imagination, leadership, and insight that gave him a foremost position among his colleagues and a still greater hold over a public opinion, increasingly impatient of half measures and failures.
Lloyd George soon convinced himself that the methods of Government that had grown up in peacetime were ill-adapted for a struggle for existence. In Dec. 1916, he offered the alternative of extensive changes or his retirement. Thereupon Asquith resigned, and many official Liberals withdrew with him.
The Lloyd George Coalition Ministry, December 1916
Lloyd George became Prime Minister of a comprehensive Coalition, united by the intent to win the war. The conduct of the war was entrusted to a special war cabinet of five, which, it was hoped, would act with the necessary unity and promptitude, while the heads of the great departments were left free to devote themselves to their particular business.
The new government's special features were its creation of new departments to supply war needs, such as controllerships of shipping and food supply, and its inclusion of ministers who had hitherto taken no part in political life.
The Organization of the Nation for War
The new ministry soon brought about a great change. A new spirit was given to the conduct of the war when the headquarters general staff, destroyed by Kitchener, who sent all its chiefs to France, was reconstituted.
Jellicoe was called from the Grand Fleet to do similar work for the Navy, leaving his command at sea to Admiral Beatty. Energetic steps were taken to grapple with the submarine peril, food supply, and replacing the lost merchantmen with new tonnage.
It was found necessary for the State to control the supply of bread, meat, coal, wool, fats, and many other articles in universal use. The crucial problem of labor supply was seriously grappled with, and power was taken to settle compulsorily trade disputes.
The State enormously widened its powers, and in so doing, necessarily made many bad mistakes. But this was the inevitable penalty of our unpreparedness, and, despite much friction, the new system of the subordination of the individual to the needs of society worked sufficiently well to make easier the continued progress of the war.
To end the war by an honorable peace was still a far-away hope, but the spirit in which the nation, with rare exceptions, rose to the emergency destroyed every craven fear of defeat and every wish for a patched-up peace. Thus the greatest crisis of British history was met by exertions worthy of the times.
Successes and Failures in the West 1917
Under these changed conditions, the allies approached the campaign of 1917 with renewed hopes. At first, all seemed to go well. The Somme offensive of 1916 had hit the enemy so hard that in March 1917, he voluntarily withdrew his troops eastwards, staying his retreat on the line between Cambrai and Saint-Quentin, where Hindenburg, called from the East to conquer the west, fortified the elaborate Hindenburg line which was believed to be impregnable.
There was progress too in Artois, whose in April the commanding Vimy ridge was captured, and in Flanders, where the Ypres salient was widened by General Plumer's army storming the Messines ridge in June. Again at Verdun and in Champagne, the French-made slow but decided progress.
These were greater successes than the allies had ever won, but they were still too weak to follow them up. A sharp check on the renewed British offensive happened in November after our arms had penetrated to Cambrai.
Horrified at their losses, the French resolved not to repeat the offensive on a large scale. Worst of all, the Italians received an unexpected check. In October, the Austro-Germans broke through the Italian line at Caporetto and overran the Venetian plain as far as the Piave.
But the Italians, helped by British and French troops, made a gallant recovery, and the Austro-German advance stayed.
The Eastern Victories of 1917
In the west, the war of 1917 began well and ended badly; in the East, it began badly and ended well. Russia made her last vain efforts and slowly drifted out of the war.
However, in Greece King, Constantino's treachery was punished in June by his deposition, and Venizelos as the minister of his successor reconstituted the Greek army and put it at the disposal of the allies.
Yet, Romania's collapse set free large German and Bulgarian troops, and the allied Macedonian force was reduced to inaction. But the army, long kept idle in Egypt, was transferred to the Palestine frontier, were at first natural difficulties and sluggish leadership made its progress slow.
In October, a fresh spirit was put into the army by its new commander, General Allenby, who defeated the Turks between Gaza and Beersheba. In Mesopotamia, a new general, Sir Stanley Maude, avenged the capitulation of Kut by recapturing the scene of the Turkish triumph. On March 15, he penetrated to Baghdad.
T. F. Tout, M.A. F.B.A., "The Campaigns Against Russia 1914-1917," in An Advanced History of Great Britain from the Earliest times to 1918, London: Longmans, Green and Co., 1920.