Corfu Declaration and the birth of Yugoslavia

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Corfu Declaration (Source: Wikipedia)

In 1916, the Serbian Parliament in exile decided the creation of the Kingdom of Yugoslavia at a meeting inside the Municipal Theatre of Corfu, Greece. The declaration was signed near the end of World War I on the island of Corfu on 20 July 1917, by the Yugoslav Committee of politicians in exile, that represented Slovenes, Croats and Serbs living in Austria-Hungary and the representatives of the Kingdom of Serbia, with political sponsorship of Great Britain and France, under their avowed principles of national self-determination.

The Declaration as the first step toward building the new State of Yugoslavia envisaged a parliamentary monarchy under the Karađorđević dynasty, with indivisible territory and unitary power, with the three national denominations and the Latin and Cyrillic alphabets equal before the law, religious freedom and universal suffrage. It provided for a Constituent Assembly to establish a Constitution that would be the origin of all powers.

“This State will be a guarantee of their national independence and of their general national progress and civilization, and a powerful rampart against the pressure of the Germans”, the Declaration concluded.

The two chiefly responsible for devising the wording of the Corfu Declaration were the Serbian Prime Minister Nikola Pašić and the Croatian exile Ante Trumbić, who worked to overcome official Serbian resistance. Pašić and the Serbian Court Party had remained intent upon the simple expansion of a Greater Serbia by means of unilateral territorial gains to be derived from a beaten Austro-Hungarian Empire. The outbreak of the February Revolution in Russia had withdrawn Serbia’s Major Power champion from the diplomatic table. Pašić compromised, signed the Declaration and began to work behind the scenes in an attempt to discredit the Yugoslav Committee, lest the Allied Powers regard the Committee as the rightful government-in-exile at the coming Armistice.

As a consequence, the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes was created on December 1, 1918. Trumbić was named Foreign Minister, and Pašić found himself temporarily out of power.

(Edited from Wikipedia)

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Kerensky Offensive

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Eastern Front 1917 (Source: Wikipedia)

The Kerensky Offensive (Russian: Наступление Керенского), also called the July Offensive (Russian: Июльское наступление), was the last Russian offensive in World War I, taking place in July 1917. In the offensive, the Russian army was aided by the Kingdom of Romania.

The offensive was ordered by Alexander Kerensky, Minister of War in the Russian provisional government, and led by General Brusilov. Such a decision was ill-timed, because, following the February Revolution, there were strong popular demands for peace, especially within the army, whose fighting capabilities were quickly deteriorating.

Discipline within the Russian Army had reached a point of crisis since the Tsar’s abdication. The Petrograd Soviet’s Order No. 1 tremendously weakened the power of officers, giving an overriding mandate to “soldier committees”. The abolition of the death penalty was another contributing factor, as was the high presence of revolutionary agitators at the front including Bolshevik agitators, who promoted a defeatist agenda (and whom Kerensky tolerated considerably more than conservative agitators).

Riots and mutineering at the front became common and officers were often the victims of soldier harassment and even murder. Furthermore, the policy of the new government towards the war effort was one of fulfilling obligations towards Russia’s allies, as opposed to fighting for the sake of total victory, thus giving soldiers a less credible motivation to fight.

However, Kerensky hoped that an important Russian victory would gain popular favour and restore the soldiers’ morale, thus strengthening the weak provisional government and proving the effectiveness of “the most democratic army in the world”, as he referred to it.

Starting on July 1, 1917 the Russian troops attacked the Austro-Hungarian and German forces in Galicia, pushing toward Lviv. The operations involved the Russian 11th, 7th and 8th Armies against the Austro-Hungarian/German South Army (General Felix Graf von Bothmer) and the Austro-Hungarian 7th and 3rd Armies.

Initial Russian success was the result of powerful bombardment, such as the enemy never witnessed before on the Russian front. At first, the Austrians did not prove capable of resisting this bombardment, and the broad gap in the enemy lines allowed the Russians to make some progress, especially against the Austro-Hungarian 3rd army. But the German forces proved to be much harder to root out, and their stubborn resistance resulted in heavy casualties amongst the attacking Russians.

As Russian losses mounted, demoralization of infantry soon begin to tell, and the further successes were only due to the work of cavalry, artillery and special “shock” battalions, which General Kornilov had formed. The other troops, for the most part, refused to obey orders. Soldiers’ committees discussed whether the officers should be followed or not. Even when a division did not flatly refuse to fight, no orders were obeyed without preliminary discussion by the divisional committee, and even when the latter decided to obey orders it was usually too late to be of any use.

The Russian advance collapsed altogether by July 16. On July 19, the Germans and Austro-Hungarians counterattacked, meeting little resistance and advancing through Galicia and Ukraine as far as the Zbruch River. The Russian lines were broken on July 20 and by July 23, the Russians had retreated about 240 kilometres (150 mi) (Vinny). “The only limit to the German advance was the lack of the logistical means to occupy more territory”.

The Russian provisional government was greatly weakened by this military catastrophe, and the possibility of a Bolshevik coup d’état became increasingly real. Far from strengthening Russian army morale, this offensive proved that Russian army morale no longer existed. No Russian general could now count on the soldiers under his command actually doing what they were ordered to do.

This offensive helped the start of the July Days, and also affected the situation in Romania. Russo-Romanian forces, which first broke the Austro-Hungarian front at Mărăşti in support of the Kerensky Offensive, were stopped.

One further fight took place between the Germans and the Russians in 1917. On September 1, 1917 the Germans attacked and captured Riga. The Russian soldiers defending the town refused to fight and fled from the advancing German troops.

(Edited from Wikipedia)

Greece declares war on the central powers after the abdication of King Constantine I

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Eleftherios Venizelos, Prime Minister of Greece (Source: Wikipedia)

Greece had signed a defense treaty with the Kingdom of Serbia in 1913 that obliged Greece to come to Serbia’s aid if it were attacked from the Kingdom of Bulgaria. When Bulgaria began mobilization against Serbia in 1914, the Greek Prime Minister Eleftherios Venizelos believed that he could get Greece to join the war on the side of the Allies if they landed 150,000 troops in Salonika.

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A portrait of Constantine I of Greece circa 1921 (Source: Wikipedia)

Venizelos failed to bring Greece into the war on the Allied side. His explanation that this was because King Constantine I was a “German sympathiser”. The king and the anti-Venizelists (opponents of the prime minister) were opposed to joining the war and argued that the Serbo-Greek Treaty was void if one of the great powers fought alongside Bulgaria. However, British, Australian and New Zealand ships and troops were allowed to use the island of Lemnos as a base from which their attack on Gallipoli was mounted in 1915. Venizelos was unconstitutionally removed from office by the king on 5 October 1915, only to return to the political scene in October 1916.

Venizelos invited a joint Franco-British (and later also Russian) expeditionary force, formed in part by withdrawals from Gallipoli, transforming Salonika into an Allied military base. (Keegan 253) Forces began to arrive on 3 October 1915. In the early summer of 1916, the Athens government under King Constantine handed over Fort Rupel to the Germans, believing it a neutral act, though claimed as a betrayal by the Venizelists. Nonetheless, the Allies still tried to swing the official Athens government to their side. From their positions in Greece, Allied forces (British, French, Russian, Italian, and Serb troops) fought the war from Greek territory, engaging Bulgarian forces when they invaded Greece in August 1916 in the Battle of Struma.

In August 1916, Venizelist officials staged a coup d’état that prompted Venizelos to leave Athens. He returned in October 1916 and set up a rival government in Thessaloniki, the so-called Provisional Government of National Defence. Entente and Venizelist efforts to persuade the “official” royal government in Athens to abandon its neutrality and join them failed, and relations irreparably broke down during the Noemvriana, when Entente and Venizelist troops clashed with royalists in the streets of the Greek capital. The royalist officers of the Greek Army were cashiered, and troops were conscripted to fight under Venizelist officers, as was the case with the Greek Navy.

Still, King Constantine, who enjoyed the protection of the Russian Tsar as a relative and fellow monarch, could not be removed until after the February Revolution in Russia removed the Russian monarchy from the picture. In June 1917, King Constantine abdicated from the throne, and his second son, Alexander, assumed the throne as king (despite the wishes of most Venizelists to declare a Republic).

Venizelos assumed control of the entire country, while royalists and other political opponents of Venizelos were exiled or imprisoned. Greece, by now united under a single government, officially declared war against the Central Powers on 30 June 1917 and would eventually raise ten divisions for the Entente effort, alongside the Royal Hellenic Navy.

(Edited from Wikipedia)

London bombed

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Contemporary illustration of a Gotha crew in action (Source: Wikipedia)

The best-known German strategic bombing campaign during World War I was the campaign against England, although strategic bombing raids were carried out or attempted on other fronts. The main campaign against England started in January 1915 using airships. From then until the end of World War I the German Navy and Army Luftstreitkräfte mounted over 50 bombing raids on the United Kingdom. These were generally referred to as “Zeppelin raids”: although both Zeppelin and Schütte-Lanz airships were used, the Zeppelin company was much better known and was responsible for producing the majority of the airships used. Weather conditions and night flying conditions made airship navigation and maintaining bombing accuracy difficult. Bombs were often dropped miles off target (one raid on London actually bombed Hull) and accurate targeting of military installations was impossible. The civilian casualties made the Zeppelins an object of hatred, and they were dubbed “baby-killers”. With the development of effective defensive measures the airship raids became increasingly hazardous, and in 1917 the airships were largely replaced by aeroplanes.

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Gotha G.IV in flight, the same model of plane used to bomb London in 1917 (Source: Wikipedia)

On 25 May, the German air force commenced Operation Turkenkreuz, sending 23 Gothas to bomb London. Two were forced to turn back over the North Sea due to mechanical difficulties and cloud over London caused the remaining bombers to divert to secondary targets at the Channel port of Folkestone and the nearby Shorncliffe Army Camp. The raid resulted in 95 deaths and 195 injuries, mostly in Folkestone. In Shorncliffe, 18 soldiers (16 Canadian and two British) were killed and 90 were wounded. Nine Royal Naval Air Service (RNAS) Sopwith Pups engaged the bombers near the Belgian coast as they returned, shooting one down.

A second attack on 5 June was diverted to Sheerness in Kent but a third raid on 13 June, was the first daylight raid on London, causing 162 deaths and 432 injuries. Among the dead were 18 children, killed by a bomb falling on a primary school in Poplar. This was the deadliest air raid of the war and no Gothas were lost.

News of the raid was received enthusiastically in Germany and Brandenburg was summoned to Berlin to be awarded the Pour le Mérite, Germany’s highest military honour. On taking off for the return journey, the engine of his aircraft failed, Brandenburg was severely injured and his pilot, Oberleutnant Freiherr von Trotha, was killed.

The reason for the relatively large numbers of casualties seems to have been ignorance as to the threat posed by aerial bombardment of a city in daylight. Lt. Charles Chabot, a Royal Flying Corps (RFC) pilot on leave recorded that: “…Raids hadn’t become a very serious thing and everybody crowded out into the street to watch. They didn’t take cover or dodge”.

As there had been little planning, early attempts to intercept the Gothas were ineffective. Large numbers of British aircraft were put into the air but were unable to climb high enough to engage the bombers. Captain James McCudden was part of the engaging force of 92 aircraft but due to the limited performance of his machine, had no success in intercepting the bombers.

Further attacks by both Airships and the new Gotha heavy bombers continued on English shores.

(Edited from Wikipedia)

Battle of Mount Ortigara

The Battle of Mount Ortigara was fought from 10 to 25 June 1917 between the Italian and Austro-Hungarian armies for possession of Mount Ortigara, in the Asiago Plateau.

The Italians decided to launch an offensive because the Strafexpedition of the previous year had improved the Austrian defensive positions, whence the Italian armies of Cadore, Carnia and the Isonzo could be threatened.

The battle was prepared with considerable means (300,000 men with 1,600 artillery guns) concentrated on a short segment of the front just a few kilometers long. However, although the Italians enjoyed a 3-to-1 numeric superiority in both men and guns, as they faced 100,000 Austro-Hungarians with 500 guns, the attack still presented several problems:

  • The Austrian positions were very strong.
  • The arc formed by the opposing lines was such as to favor the Austrian artillery.
  • The Italian lines were overcrowded, which made it difficult to maneuver.
  • The Austrians expected the offensive, so there was no surprise.

The attack began on 10 June and after fierce and bloody fightings the Italian 52nd Alpine Division managed to capture the top of Mount Ortigara.

The Austro-Hungarian command promptly sent many trained reinforcements. On 25 June, the 11 Italian battalions guarding the summit were attacked by Austrian shock troops which retook it, the strenuous Italian resistance notwithstanding.

The 52nd Division alone suffered about half the Italian casualties. General Ettore Mambretti, commander of the Sixth Army, was considered responsible for the heavy casualties and removed from command.

(Edited from Wikipedia)

Battle of Messines (1917)

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Battle of Messines 1917 (Source: Wikipedia)

The Battle of Messines (7–14 June 1917) was an offensive conducted by the British Second Army, under the command of General Sir Herbert Plumer, on the Western Front near the village of Messines in West Flanders, Belgium. The Nivelle Offensive in April and May had failed to achieve its more ambitious aims, had led to the demoralisation of French troops and dislocated the Anglo-French strategy for 1917. The offensive at Messines forced the Germans to move reserves to Flanders from the Arras and Aisne fronts, which relieved pressure on the French. The tactical objective of the attack at Messines was to capture the German defences on the ridge, which ran from Ploegsteert (Plugstreet) Wood in the south, through Messines and Wytschaete to Mt. Sorrel, to deprive the German 4th Army of the high ground south of Ypres. The ridge commanded the British defences and back areas further north, from which the British intended to conduct the Northern Operation, an advance to Passchendaele Ridge and then capture the Belgian coast up to the Dutch frontier.

The Second Army had five corps, of which three conducted the attack and two remained on the northern flank, not engaged in the main operation; the XIV Corps was available in General Headquarters reserve. The 4th Army divisions of Gruppe Wijtschate (Group Wytschaete) held the ridge, which were later reinforced by a division from Gruppe Ypern (Group Ypres). The battle began with the detonation of 19 mines beneath the German front position, which devastated the German front line defences and left 19 large craters. This was followed by a creeping barrage 700 yards (640 m) deep, protecting the British troops as they secured the ridge with support from tanks, cavalry patrols and aircraft. The effectiveness of the British mines, barrages and bombardments was improved by advances in artillery survey, flash spotting and centralised control of artillery from the Second Army headquarters. British attacks from 8 to 14 June advanced the front line beyond the former German Sehnen (Oosttaverne) line. The Battle of Messines was a prelude to the much larger Third Battle of Ypres, the preliminary bombardment for which began on 11 July 1917.

 

(Edited from Wikipedia)

The Nationalist Party win Federal election 1917

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Portrait of William “Billy” Hughes (1862–1952) leader of the Nationalist party in Australia and Prime Minister (1915-1923) (Source: Wikipedia)

Federal elections were held in Australia on 5 May 1917. All 75 seats in the House of Representatives and 18 of the 36 seats in the Senate were up for election. The Nationalist Party of Australia (a result of a merger between the Commonwealth Liberal Party and National Labor Party) was in power and led by Prime Minister of Australia Billy Hughes who was defending his new government against his old party, the Australian Labor Party (ALP) now led by Frank Tudor.

Hughes, had become Prime Minister at the head of the ALP when Andrew Fisher retired in 1915. The Australian Labor Party split of 1916 over World War I conscription in Australia had led Hughes and 24 other pro-conscription Labor MPs to split off as the National Labor Party, which was able to form a minority government supported by the Commonwealth Liberal Party, led by Joseph Cook.

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Francis “Frank” Tudor, leader of the Australian Labor Party (1916 – 1922) (Source: Wikipedia)

The newly formed Nationalists won a decisive victory, securing the largest majority government since Federation. The ALP suffered a large electoral swing against it, losing almost seven percent of its vote from 1914. The swing was magnified by the large number of former Labor MPs who followed Hughes out of the party.

(Edited from Wikipedia)