Thursday, May 31, 2018

May 1918


In May 1918, the Central Powers claim a victory over another of their Eastern Front enemies when they sign the Treaty of Bucharest with Romania.  The Czech Legion, trying to reach Vladivostok on the Trans-Siberian Railway, comes into open conflict with the Bolsheviks.  In a conference at Spa, Kaiser Wilhelm and Emperor Charles of Austria-Hungary agree to a long-term alliance, economic agreements, and a common high command. On the Western Front, the German Army mounts its third major offensive in as many months, attacking the Allied lines on the Chemin des Dames and advancing to the Marne, where the American Army's Third Division helps halt the German advance at Chateau-Thierry.  Americans conduct their first offensive operation of the war at Cantigny.  In Great Britain, the House of Commons defeats a motion by former Prime Minister Asquith to conduct a parliamentary inquiry into charges made against the government in a letter from a British general.  RMS Moldavia, a British transport carrying American soldiers, is torpedoed and sunk by a German U-boat in the English Channel.  The Royal Navy tries again to block U-Boat access to the sea at Ostend, this time with more success.  The United States Congress enacts the Sedition Act, forbidding the use of disloyal or abusive language about the government in time of war, and the Overman Act, giving the President broad authority to reorganize federal agencies by executive action.  Declaring that “politics is adjourned,” President Wilson urges Congress to stay in session through the campaign season.  Air mail service begins between New York City and Washington, D.C.

*****


Signing the Treaty of Bucharest

Romania declared war on Austria-Hungary on August 27, 1916, and invaded Hungary the next day.  It enjoyed some initial success advancing through the Carpathian passes, but within days Germany declared war and Bulgaria invaded from the south.  By October the German Army had gained the upper hand, and by December it had occupied Bucharest (see the August, September, October and December 1916 installments of this blog).  With Russian assistance, Romania was able to remain in control of much of the country including the mouth of the Danube, but last year's Bolshevik Revolution and Russia's exit from the war earlier this year has forced Romania to agree to terms largely dictated by the Central Powers.  Under the terms of the Treaty of Bucharest, signed May 7, the Romanian Army is to be demobilized except for skeleton forces on the frontiers of Bessarabia and Moldavia.  The provinces of Southern and Northern Dobrudja are to be separated from Romania, the former to be restored to Bulgaria and the latter to be occupied by the Central Powers.  Territorial disputes between Romania and Austria-Hungary, including the Carpathian passes, are resolved in Austria-Hungary's favor.  The treaty provides for free navigation of the Danube, including by warships of the Central Powers.


Czechoslovak Soldiers on a Troop Train in Siberia

As the Czech Legion struggles to reach the Pacific Coast of Russia on the Trans-Siberian Railway, it has been hindered by the limited capacity and poor condition of the tracks, with traffic congestion made worse by German and Austro-Hungarian prisoners heading west on the same tracks to be repatriated.  On May 14 a confrontation at Chelyabinsk led to the storming of the railway station and occupation of the city by the Czech Legion.  From there the Legion is moving east, overthrowing local Bolshevik governments and occupying key points along the railway.



General Petain

Continuing his push to win the war in the west while Germany still has a manpower advantage, General Ludendorff attacked the Allied positions on the Chemin des Dames.  Beginning with a 4,000-gun artillery barrage in the early morning hours of May 27, Operation “Blucher-Yorck” pushed the Allied forces back fifteen miles by the end of the following day.  By May 29 the German Army had crossed the Aisne and Vesle Rivers and captured the railway center of Soissons, though not before the French had destroyed an important railway tunnel leading into the city.  By May 30 Ludendorff's army had reached the Marne River at Chateau-Thierry, where French forces under the command of General Philippe Petain, with the help of the American Third Division, have so far succeeded in stalling the German advance.

On May 12, Kaiser Wilhelm hosted a conference at his Spa headquarters with Emperor Charles of Austria-Hungary. The emperors agreed on a long-term alliance including economic coordination and a military convention establishing a common high command and standardization of uniforms and weapons.  Charles agreed to an early offensive in Italy timed to support the German campaign in France.  A military and customs union of the two nations is contemplated, but the political chaos in Austria makes that impractical at present.


American Soldiers Going Over the Top at Cantigny

While Operation Blucher-Yorck was unfolding on the Chemin des Dames, the American Army mounted its first major offensive action on the salient created in March by Germany's Operation Michael.  The village of Cantigny, strategically located on high ground on the western edge of the salient, provides a commanding view of the surrounding countryside.  Units of the First Division attacked in the early morning hours of May 29 after a two-hour artillery barrage.  Before the day was over they had driven the Germans from the village, and over the next two days successfully defended it against numerous German counterattacks.  


General Wood

Major General Leonard Wood is a medical doctor and career Army officer who served as Army Chief of Staff from 1910 to 1914.  In the Spanish-American War he was the officer in command of the First Volunteer Cavalry Regiment, nicknamed the "Rough Riders," which attacked and occupied Kettle and San Juan Hills.  Theodore Roosevelt was his second in command and rode his resulting fame to the presidency.  After the outbreak of war in Europe, General Wood was a leader of the "preparedness" movement in the United States, which President Wilson resisted until political pressure forced him to endorse it in 1916.  After the declaration of war on Germany, General Wood was a leading candidate to command the American Expeditionary Force, but was passed over in favor of General Pershing.  The highest ranking officer of permanent grade in the regular Army, General Wood commanded the 89th Division at Camp Funston as it trained for deployment to Europe, and in preparation for that deployment undertook a military mission to Europe to observe and inspect military operations on the Western Front.  On the eve of his division's planned departure, however, he received new orders to assume command of the Western Military Department in San Francisco, a purely administrative office that does not include command of any troops.  His personal appeal to President Wilson on May 28 was unavailing.  Many believe that political considerations, including General Wood's close relationship with former President Roosevelt and his prominent identification with the preparedness movement, played a part in the decision to deny him a combat command.


 Major Lufbery

The foremost American "ace" died in action this month.  Raoul Lufbery was born in France, immigrated to the United States, and joined the United States Army.  After his Army service, he returned to France, and when war broke out he joined the French Air Force.  When the United States declared war, he joined the United States Army Air Service, received a major's commission, and was given command of the 94th Aero Squadron.  On May 19, flying a French Nieuport, he was shot down and killed in an aerial fight with a large, heavily armored German biplane over the Moselle River.  Called a "flying tank," the two-engine German aircraft was manned by two machine gunners in addition to the pilot.  Apparently impervious to bullets fired by the Americans, it was attacked without success by six American planes in addition to Lufbery's.  Since the beginning of the war, including his service with the French Air Force, Major Lufbery is credited with seventeen victories over enemy aircraft.


 General Maurice at the Allied Conference in Paris Last Year

In Great Britain, the Lloyd George government has survived a serious cabinet crisis.  On May 6, Major General Sir Frederick Barton Maurice, until recently Director of British Military Operations, sent a letter to the editor of the Daily Chronicle in which he challenged the accuracy of several answers given in the House of Commons by Prime Minister Lloyd George and Chancellor of the Exchequer Bonar Law to questions about British Army troop levels in France and the Near East.  He said his letter "is not the result of a military conspiracy. . . .  the last thing I desire is to see the government of our country in the hands of soldiers," and he asked that it be published "in the hope that Parliament may see fit to order an investigation."  In the House of Commons, former Prime Minister Herbert Asquith moved for the appointment of a special committee to inquire into General Maurice's statements.  The government replied that Asquith's motion would be regarded as one of censure, requiring the government to resign.  In presenting his motion on May 9, Asquith denied that he was seeking censure of the government.  He pointed out that in the almost eighteen months since he had left office he had "given no adverse vote on any question against the government," and that if he wanted to ask the House to censure the government "I hope I should have the courage and candor to do so in a direct and unequivocal manner."  In a fiery response, Lloyd George insisted that the credibility of the government was at stake and insisted that General Maurice and his office were the source of any misinformation.  Apparently unwilling to undermine the government at a critical point in the war, the House defeated Asquith's motion 293-106, a margin made more comfortable by the decision of Conservative backbenchers to support the government and of Irish Nationalist members, who would likely have supported the motion, to stay in Dublin.



RMS Moldavia

RMS Moldavia, a British troopship carrying American soldiers en route to France, was torpedoed and sunk in the English Channel on May 23.  The ship was in convoy, and nearby destroyers were able to rescue most of those on board, but fifty-three lives were lost.


 HMS Vindictive Scuttled in Ostend Harbor

Last month's attempt by the Royal Navy to block U-Boat access to the English Channel and the North Sea at Ostend failed because the buoys marking the approach to the harbor had been moved, causing the blocking ships to run aground before reaching their destination.  Another attempt was made on May 9 using two obsolete cruisers, HMS Sappho and HMS Vindictive, the latter a veteran of last month's raid on Zeebrugge, as blocking ships.  This time the attacking force ignored the buoys, using the land for navigation.  Despite a boiler explosion that forced Sappho to retreat to Denmark and artillery fire that destroyed Vindictive's bridge and killed her commanding officer, Vindictive was able to reach the harbor entrance where she was scuttled, blocking access to the sea for all but small boats.


Uncle Sam's New Powers

On May 16 President Wilson signed a "sedition bill" strengthening last year's Espionage Act (see the June 1917 installment of this blog).  Among other things, the new legislation imposes severe criminal penalties for the use of "any disloyal, profane, scurrilous, contemptuous, or abusive language about the form of government of the United States, or the Constitution of the United States, or the military or naval forces of the United States, or the flag of the United States, or the uniform of the Army or Navy of the United States, or any language intended to bring [any of those] into contempt, scorn, contumely, or disrepute."  The new legislation passed the Senate on May 4 by a vote of 48-26 over the objection of a number of Republicans led by Henry Cabot Lodge who argued that it violated the Constitution's guarantee of free speech.  It had easier going in the House, where it was approved on May 7 with only one member, Socialist Meyer London of New York, voting no.

Shortly after Senator George Chamberlain (Dem., Ore.) introduced legislation to create a "war cabinet" and a new cabinet position of Director of Munitions, President Wilson announced his strong opposition to that proposal and supported instead legislation introduced by Senator Lee Overman (Dem., N.C.) giving the President broad powers to reorganize the Executive Department by executive order.  (See the February 1918 installment of this blog).  The Overman Act became law on May 20.


Representative Kitchin

President Wilson made a surprise visit to Capitol Hill on May 27 to address a joint session of Congress. He urged new tax legislation to raise additional revenue for the war effort, focusing on war profits, incomes and luxuries as the principal targets.  He said that taxation was preferable to borrowing to finance the war, and that the request was particularly urgent because he had just been informed that "the expected drive on the western front" had begun.  "The consideration that dominates every other," he said, "is the winning of the war."  He told the Congress it should remain in session through the summer and fall, rejecting the suggestion of some that revenue legislation should be postponed until after the November elections.  He said "politics is adjourned.  The elections will go to those who think least of it, to those who go to the constituencies without explanations or excuses, with a plain record of duty faithfully and disinterestedly performed."  After the President's appearance, Representative Claude Kitchin (Dem., N.C.), the Chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, said he would convene the Committee within the next few days.  "The commander in chief has spoken," he said.  "It is our plain duty to do as he asks."


 Taking Off From Washington

The first regular airplane mail service was inaugurated on May 15 between New York and Washington, D.C.  Simultaneous flights in both directions were scheduled by the U.S. Army using Curtis "Jenny" biplanes.  Lieutenant Torrey Webb departed Belmont Park, on Long Island just outside New York City, at 11:30 a.m with 144 pounds of mail.  He arrived at 12:30 in Philadelphia, where he relayed the mail to Lieutenant J.C. Edgerton, who flew it to Washington, landing at the Polo Grounds in Potomac Park at 2:50 p.m.  The flight in the other direction was less successful.  Lieutenant George Boyle got lost after taking off from Potomac Park and crash landed in Maryland, twenty-five miles from Washington.  The plane waiting for him in Philadelphia, piloted by Lieutenant Howard Culver, departed on schedule without the mail from Washington.  It arrived at 3:37 at Belmont Park, where the mail was transferred to a special train that delivered it at 4:12 to the main Post Office at 33rd Street and Eighth Avenue.

With less fanfare the next day, the New York to Washington mail flight took off from Belmont Park and headed toward Philadelphia.  This time it encountered fog that forced an emergency landing at the old Bridgeton race track in New Jersey.  The mail was picked up by a motor truck and carried to the nearest railroad.

The Post Office has announced that the Washington-New York air route will be in operation every day except Sundays and when weather conditions make flying dangerous.  The 24-cent postage includes special delivery after the letter's arrival in the destination city.


*****


May 1918 – Selected Sources and Recommended Reading

Contemporary Periodicals:
American Review of Reviews, June and July 1918
New York Times, May and June 1918

Books and Articles:
A. Scott Berg, Wilson
Britain at War Magazine, The Fifth Year of the Great War: 1918
Winston S. Churchill, The World Crisis 1911-1918
John Milton Cooper, Jr., Woodrow Wilson: A Biography
John Milton Cooper, Jr., The Warrior and the Priest: Woodrow Wilson and Theodore Roosevelt
John Dos Passos, Mr. Wilson's War
David Fromkin, A Peace to End All Peace: Creating the Modern Middle East, 1914-1922
Martin Gilbert, Churchill: A Life
Martin Gilbert, The First World War: A Complete History
Martin Gilbert, A History of the Twentieth Century, Volume One: 1900-1933
Martin Gilbert, Winston S. Churchill Volume IV: The Stricken World 1916-1922
Ann Hagedorn, Savage Peace, Hope and Fear in America, 1919
August Heckscher, Woodrow Wilson: A Biography
Godfrey Hodgson, Woodrow Wilson's Right Hand: The Life of Colonel Edward M. House
Roy Jenkins, Churchill: A Biography
John Keegan, The First World War
David M. Kennedy, Over Here: The First World War and American Society
Ian Kershaw, To Hell and Back: Europe 1914-1949 
Anthony Lewis, Make No Law, The Sullivan Case and the First Amendment
W. Bruce Lincoln, Passage Through Armageddon: The Russians In War and Revolution 1914-1918
Arthur S. Link, Woodrow Wilson and the Progressive Era, 1910-1917
Robert K. Massie, Nicholas and Alexandra
G.J. Meyer, A World Undone: The Story of the Great War, 1914 to 1918
G.J. Meyer, The World Remade: America in World War I
Michael S. Neiberg, The Path to War: How the First World War Created Modern America
Jonathan Schneer, The Balfour Declaration: The Origins of the Arab-Israeli Conflict
David Stevenson, Cataclysm: The First World War As Political Tragedy 
David Stevenson, With Our Backs to the Wall: Victory and Defeat in 1918
J. Lee Thompson, Never Call Retreat: Theodore Roosevelt and the Great War
Adam Tooze, The Deluge: The Great War, America and the Remaking of the Global Order, 1916-1931
Geoffrey C. Ward and Ken Burns, The Roosevelts: An Intimate History
The West Point Atlas of War: World War I

Monday, April 30, 2018

April 1918


In April 1918, Germany renews its offensive on the Western Front, attacking this time in Flanders.  As German forces advance to and across the Lys River, British Field Marshal Haig orders his troops, with their "backs to the wall," to “fight to the end.”  Marshal Foch is given command authority over all Allied Armies on the Western Front.  American troops turn back a German attack at the village of Seicheprey, near St. Mihiel.  The “Red Baron” Manfred von Richthofen, Germany’s leading ace and commander of the “Flying Circus,” dies when his airplane is shot down over France.  Gavrilo Princip, the Bosnian Serb whose assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife Sophie in Sarajevo in 1914 set in motion the events that led to the outbreak of war, dies of consumption in an Austrian prison.  Revelation of an earlier unsuccessful attempt by the Emperor of Austria-Hungary to make a separate peace leads to the resignation of his Foreign Minister, Count Czernin.  American President Woodrow Wilson, opening the Third Liberty Loan Campaign in Baltimore, calls for “force to the utmost” to win the war.  British and Japanese marines land in Vladivostok.

*****


Operation Georgette

Still attempting to capitalize on its temporary manpower advantage, Germany mounted another offensive this month on the Western Front.  Originally named Georg and envisioned as a major operation to capture the railway junctions of Ypres and Hazebrouck and drive the British Army to the channel coast, it was scaled back (and renamed "Georgette") in the wake of Operation Michael.  The initial German attack on April 9 succeeded in routing the Portuguese Army on the sector of the front defending Estaires.  By the next day the Germans had captured Estaires and established a bridgehead across the River Lys. 


Field Marshal Sir Douglas Haig

Continuing the Georgette offensive, the Germans attacked to the northwest, capturing Armentieres, Ploegsteert Wood and most of Messines Ridge, and threatening the railway junctions of Ypres and Hazebrouck.  As his armies were forced to retreat, British Field Marshal Haig told his troops on April 11 that “every position must be held to the last man …. With our backs to the wall and believing in the justice of our cause, each one of us must fight to the end.”  Allied resistance stiffened, aided by French reinforcements and a breakdown in German discipline caused in part by looting opportunities.  The German attack, initially directed toward Hazebrouck, shifted its focus to the Flanders Hills, where the Germans captured Mount Kemmel on April 25.  They failed to follow up, however, and by month's end Operation Georgette had lost its momentum.


 Marshal Foch

Last month in a conference at Doullens, the British and French agreed to give Marshal Ferdinand Foch coordinating authority over military operations on the Western Front.  On April 3, in a conference at Beauvais, the British and French, joined this time by American General Tasker Bliss, went a step further, agreeing to give Marshal Foch actual command authority with the title "General-in-Chief of the Allied Armies."


 The St. Mihiel Salient and Seicheprey

The American Army fought its first battle on April 20 at the village of Seicheprey, on the southern edge of the St. Mihiel salient.  Until then this had been a relatively quiet sector of the front, defended by the 26th Infantry Division, the "Yankee" Division, made up of National Guard units from New England.  German Storm Troopers mounted a surprise attack in the early hours of the morning, driving the Americans from the village.  After a day of fierce hand-to-hand fighting in which the Americans suffered heavy casualties, the Germans withdrew from the village to their original lines, either forced to retreat by the Americans' vigorous defense or satisfied with having conducted a successful raid.  The village was left in ruins.


 Baron Manfred von Richthofen



The Red Baron's Last Flight

Baron Manfred von Richthofen, the "Red Baron," was shot down and killed this month over the Somme.  He took off on Sunday morning, April 21, to engage a squadron of Sopwith Camels on an offensive patrol.  He was pursuing one of them, piloted by Lieutenant Wilfred "Wop" May, at a low altitude when another Camel, this one piloted by Captain Arthur "Roy" Brown, dove on him and fired a machine gun burst.  Richthofen crash landed, and was dead when rescuers reached him and pulled him from his cockpit.  He had been shot in the chest, possibly by Captain Brown and possibly by ground fire.  Baron Richthofen was the commander of the German squadron called the "Flying Circus" because of its brightly colored aircraft (Richthofen's, of course, was red).  He succeeded to the command of the squadron when the previous commander Oswald Boelke died in combat in 1916.  Boelke developed many of the tactics later used by Richthofen.


The Entrance to Zeebrugge Harbor After the Raid

On St. George's Day, April 23, the Royal Navy conducted simultaneous raids on the Belgian ports of Zeebrugge and Ostend.  The purpose of the raids was to block access to the North Sea from the Bruges Canal, the principal route of German destroyers, torpedo boats and U-boats to the open sea.  At Zeebrugge, under cover of a smoke screen, the cruiser HMS Vindictive landed an assault force on the mole protecting the harbor while two obsolete submarines filled with explosives aimed for the viaduct connecting the mole to the shore.  One of the submarines reached its objective and blew up the viaduct as the assault force attacked the guns on the mole.  The main object of the operation, meanwhile, was carried out by three obsolete cruisers filled with cement.  As they raced toward the canal entrance, one ran aground but the other two made it into the canal entrance and were scuttled by their crews, who escaped in dinghies.  The raid succeeded in impeding traffic through the canal for a few days, but the Germans were able to dredge a new channel that enabled passage around the sunken ships at high tide.  Unlike the Zeebrugge raid, which was a partial success, the raid on Ostend was a failure.  The German commander, anticipating a possible nighttime attack, had moved the buoys marking the approach to the harbor, causing the cement-filled cruisers to run aground before they reached their objective.


Gavrilo Princip On His Way to Court in 1914

Gavrilo Princip was the Bosnian Serb who shot and killed Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife Sophie, Duchess of Hohenberg, in Sarajevo on June 28, 1914, the event that triggered the Great War.  (See the June 1914 installment of this blog.)  Because he was only nineteen years old at the time of the assassination, he could not be sentenced to death under Austrian law.  He was sentenced instead to a twenty-year prison term, and on April 28 he died of tuberculosis in a prison hospital in Theresienstadt.


 Emperor Charles I


Count Czernin

Archduke Franz Ferdinand's assassination left his nephew Charles next in line for the Austro-Hungarian throne, and Charles became emperor when his grandfather Franz Joseph died in November 1916.  Shortly thereafter, Charles began efforts to bring the war to an end.  Using his brother-in-law Prince Sixtus of Bourbon-Parma as an intermediary, he sent a secret letter to Premier Clemenceau of France proposing peace terms favorable to France and acceptable to Austria-Hungary but unlikely to find favor with Austria's principal ally Germany.  The peace initiative, in which Austrian Foreign Minister Count Czernin was involved, went nowhere.  Over a year later, in the midst of mutual charges between Austria-Hungary and France regarding responsibility for the continuation of the war, Clemenceau released the letter.  The ensuing political crisis led to Count Czernin's resignation on April 14.


Douglas Fairbanks Holds Charlie Chaplin Aloft on Wall Street

On Saturday, April 6, the anniversary of America's declaration of war on Germany, the Third Liberty Loan Campaign began.  In Baltimore, President and Mrs. Wilson joined Cardinal Gibbons and others in reviewing a parade of 12,000 troops from the 79th Division of the National Army, which had marched downtown from Camp Meade.  The President and his party joined in the cheering that greeted several regiments of Negro soldiers as they came into view led by a Negro band.  As it reached the reviewing stand, the band took up a position directly in front of the President and played "Over There" and other military and popular airs.  That evening the President addressed a crowd of 15,000 inside the Fifth Regiment Armory.  He ended his speech by declaring that America accepts Germany's challenge of force, to which there is "but one response possible from us: Force, force to the utmost, force without stint or limit, the righteous and triumphant force which shall make right the law of the world and cast every selfish dominion down in the dust."  

On the next business day, April 8, hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers attended Liberty Loan meetings and demonstrations throughout the city.  The biggest was on Wall Street, where motion picture stars Douglas Fairbanks and Charlie Chaplin entertained a massive crowd from the steps of the Sub-Treasury Building.


Japanese Troops in Vladivostok

The withdrawal of Russia from the war has stranded the Czech Legion, a force of approximately 100,000 men who joined the Russians to fight the Austro-Hungarians and advance the cause of Czech independence.  An agreement by the Bolshevik government to allow safe passage of the Czech Legion out of the country has broken down, and the Legion is fighting its way across the Trans-Siberian Railway to Russia's Pacific coast.  To secure the eastern terminus of the railway and to safeguard Allied supplies stockpiled there, British and Japanese troops landed in Vladivostok on April 5.  Japanese detachments of three to ten men are now patrolling the Japanese section of the city, and tents have been erected at the end of the Chinese street and in the churchyard of the Japanese church.  When the Vladivostok Council of Soldiers' and Workmen's Delegates protested to the Consular Corps, the American and British Consuls consented to receive them as representatives of the Council, but the Japanese Consul agreed to deal with them only as private persons and the French Consul refused to see them at all.  Meanwhile, the presence of the potentially hostile Czech Legion in central Russia has caused the Bolshevik government to remove the former Tsar Nicholas II and the rest of the imperial family from Tobolsk, where they have been imprisoned since last year, to the city of Yekaterinburg in the Ural Mountains.



*****


April 1918 – Selected Sources and Recommended Reading

Contemporary Periodicals:
American Review of Reviews, May and June 1918
New York Times, April and May 1918

Books and Articles:
A. Scott Berg, Wilson
Britain at War Magazine, The Fifth Year of the Great War: 1918
Winston S. Churchill, The World Crisis 1911-1918
John Milton Cooper, Jr., Woodrow Wilson: A Biography
John Milton Cooper, Jr., The Warrior and the Priest: Woodrow Wilson and Theodore Roosevelt
John Dos Passos, Mr. Wilson's War
David Fromkin, A Peace to End All Peace: Creating the Modern Middle East, 1914-1922
Martin Gilbert, Churchill: A Life
Martin Gilbert, The First World War: A Complete History
Martin Gilbert, A History of the Twentieth Century, Volume One: 1900-1933
Martin Gilbert, Winston S. Churchill Volume IV: The Stricken World 1916-1922
Ann Hagedorn, Savage Peace, Hope and Fear in America, 1919
August Heckscher, Woodrow Wilson: A Biography
Godfrey Hodgson, Woodrow Wilson's Right Hand: The Life of Colonel Edward M. House
Roy Jenkins, Churchill: A Biography
John Keegan, The First World War
David M. Kennedy, Over Here: The First World War and American Society
Ian Kershaw, To Hell and Back: Europe 1914-1949 
W. Bruce Lincoln, Passage Through Armageddon: The Russians In War and Revolution 1914-1918
Arthur S. Link, Woodrow Wilson and the Progressive Era, 1910-1917
Robert K. Massie, Nicholas and Alexandra
G.J. Meyer, A World Undone: The Story of the Great War, 1914 to 1918
G.J. Meyer, The World Remade: America in World War I
Michael S. Neiberg, The Path to War: How the First World War Created Modern America
Jonathan Schneer, The Balfour Declaration: The Origins of the Arab-Israeli Conflict
David Stevenson, Cataclysm: The First World War As Political Tragedy 
David Stevenson, With Our Backs to the Wall: Victory and Defeat in 1918
J. Lee Thompson, Never Call Retreat: Theodore Roosevelt and the Great War
Adam Tooze, The Deluge: The Great War, America and the Remaking of the Global Order, 1916-1931
Geoffrey C. Ward and Ken Burns, The Roosevelts: An Intimate History
The West Point Atlas of War: World War I

Saturday, March 31, 2018

March 1918


It's March 1918.  The nation whose mobilization against Austria-Hungary and Germany propelled Europe into the World War in 1914 is now the first nation out of the war.  Rid of the Tsar and under a new Bolshevik government, Russia signs without negotiating or even reading the humiliating Treaty of Brest-Litovsk.  Then, recognizing the geographical vulnerability of Petrograd, the Bolsheviks move their capital to Moscow.  Germany, now free to concentrate on the Western Front, mounts a major offensive in France.  The long-range "Paris Gun" begins raining destruction on the French capital.  British Minister of Munitions Winston Churchill, in France when the German offensive begins, returns to Whitehall and joins a War Cabinet meeting, then returns to France and tours the front with Premier Clemenceau.  As their armies are driven back, the Allies give Marshal Foch the responsibility of coordinating military operations on the Western Front.  Great Britain and France appeal to the United States to speed movement of American troops to Europe and to use them to reinforce Allied units already in the field rather than wait for independent American units to be formed.  Great Britain encourages Japan to send troops to Vladivostok to safeguard Allied war supplies and secure the eastern terminus of the Trans-Siberian Railroad.  Daylight Saving Time begins in the United States.  Bernard Baruch is made Chairman of the War Industries Board with broad powers to govern production, purchase and delivery of war supplies.  A virulent strain of influenza breaks out at Fort Riley, Kansas.


*****


 The Conference at Brest-Litovsk

The Treaty of Brest-Litovsk was signed on March 3, bringing an end to the war between Russia and the Central Powers.  Recognizing that it was out of military options and preferring to be perceived as the victim of cruel aggression rather than as party to a dishonorable agreement, the Bolshevik government of Russia refused even to negotiate, instructing its representatives to sign whatever was presented to them.  The actual signing, therefore, was an anticlimax.  Russian Foreign Minister Trotsky did not appear in Brest-Litovsk, and resigned his position on March 8.  German Foreign Secretary Richard von Kuhlmann was also absent, in Bucharest negotiating the terms of Rumania's withdrawal from the war.  In the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk, Russia surrendered vast amounts of territory, comprising her most productive agricultural and mineral resources and over one-third of her pre-war population, including Poland, White Russia, the Baltic States, Finland, and the Ukraine.  She also agreed to surrender most of her naval bases on the Baltic and to disarm her Black Sea fleet.  Her Bolshevik government, meanwhile, concerned about the vulnerability of Petrograd to attack, moved the capital to Moscow on March 9.  On March 5, Foreign Minister Trotsky told the Associated Press that the Russian government was prepared to withdraw as far as the Ural Mountains if necessary rather than risk the defeat of the revolution.


A German "Tank" In Roye On the First Day of the Offensive

Russia's capitulation has freed Germany to concentrate its military resources on the Western Front.  In addition to the soldiers and equipment now available for redeployment, Germany has large supplies of artillery pieces, machine guns and other combat equipment captured from the Russians during the recent advance.  Movement of troops, weapons, ammunition and supplies from east to west has been facilitated by improvements made to the German railway system since the war began.  The British and French armies have been weakened by the protracted struggles at Verdun, the Somme, and Passchendaele, and the Italians are still recovering from Caporetto.  The United States has been in the war for almost a year, but at the beginning of the month had only six divisions in France.  The German offensive on the Western Front began on March 21 with massive artillery bombardments followed by attacks designed to drive the British from the Somme and the French from the Aisne, positions that have remained largely unchanged since the war of movement ended in the fall of 1914.  The Germans crossed the Somme on March 24, then drove the French back from the Aisne and captured Montdidier on March 27.  On March 26, in a conference at Doullens, the Allies agreed to give Marshal Foch authority to coordinate the action of all the Allied armies on the Western Front.  Lacking actual command authority, he urged General Gough, the commander of the British Fifth Army, to take a stand in front of Amiens, and General Petain, the commander of the French Army, to ensure that no gap opened between the French and British forces.  Nevertheless the German advance continued until March 30, when British, Canadian and Australian troops halted the German advance on Amiens and mounted a successful counterattack at Moreuil Wood.
 

The German Long-Range Gun in Action

Beginning at eight o'clock on the morning of March 23, Paris was bombarded by 240 mm shells fired from behind German lines, over 100 kilometers (62 miles) away.  Because ordnance experts believed no gun in existence was capable of delivering a 240 mm shell that far, many at first wondered whether the attack had been carried out by unseen aeroplanes or by secret gun emplacements near Paris.  The possibility that the shells might have been fired from a French or British gun seized by traitors or mutineers was also considered.  It now appears, however, that the Germans have developed a gun of extremely long range, capable of reaching Paris from well behind German lines.  In a Swiss magazine article published March 30, a German authority says Paris is being bombarded by a gun with a barrel twenty meters long and a projectile that attains an altitude of thirty kilometers (18.6 miles) before descending like a meteor on its target about three minutes after being fired.  The gun was in action again on March 29, bombarding a Paris church during Good Friday services and killing seventy-five worshipers.  More bombardment on Easter Sunday afternoon killed one Parisian and wounded another.


 Churchill and Lloyd George

When the German offensive began, Winston Churchill was in France on his fifth visit to the front since becoming Minister of Munitions last July.  He returned immediately to London and reported to Prime Minister Lloyd George on March 23, joining a meeting of the War Cabinet later that day.  On March 28, at the Prime Minister's request, Churchill returned to France to assess the ability of the French to mount a vigorous counterattack to relieve pressure on British forces and prevent a German breakthrough.  He went directly to Premier Georges Clemenceau in Paris, and on March 30, as British forces mounted their counterattack at Moreuil Wood, Churchill and Clemenceau visited French and British positions on the front line.


Lord Reading

On March 23, Lloyd George sent a telegram to Lord  Reading, his ambassador in Washington, directing him to explain to President Wilson that the British "cannot keep our divisions supplied with drafts for more than a short time at the present rate of loss" and that Britain would be "helpless to assist our Allies if, as is very probable, the enemy turns against them later."  The telegram told Reading to "appeal to President to drop all questions of interpretation of past agreements and send over infantry as fast as possible without transport or other encumbrances. . . . [I]f America delays now she may be too late."  Lord Reading went at once to the White House, where the President received him and asked what he could do.   Lord Reading asked him to tell General Pershing that American troops already in France should be sent as reinforcements to British and French units without waiting until they were numerous enough to form brigades or divisions of their own.  Wilson replied that he had the constitutional authority to decide the question, and that he would issue the necessary orders.

On March 27 Lloyd George sent another telegram to Lord Reading, this one for public consumption.  At a dinner in his honor at the Lotos Club that evening, Lord Reading read the telegram to the assembled guests.  It read "We are at the crisis of the war.  Attacked by an enormous superiority of German troops, our army has been forced to retire."  Although "the dogged pluck of our troops has for the moment checked the ceaseless onrush of the enemy," the battle "is only just beginning."  "The French and British are buoyed with the knowledge that the great Republic of the West will neglect no effort which can hasten its troops and its ships to Europe," but it is "impossible to exaggerate the importance of getting American reinforcements across the Atlantic in the shortest possible space of time."  After reading the telegram, Lord Reading gave an extended speech, interrupted by frequent and enthusiastic applause, in which he saluted the United States for joining the British and French in "a war in which the very sacred principles upon which humanity is based are at stake."  He said "we are as resolute as ever . . . that, come what may, we will fight on as we are fighting for liberty -- that which is dearer even than life itself," and rejoiced that "we can now walk with you in the path which all humans with great ideals would wish to tread."  Lord Reading was followed by speakers who expressed their strong support for the sentiments he had expressed, including New York Governor Charles Whitman and former Governor and Supreme Court Justice Charles Evans Hughes, the 1916 Republican Party candidate for president.


Lord Robert Cecil

The Bolshevik takeover in Russia and the ensuing withdrawal of Russia from the war have had consequences beyond freeing Germany to concentrate its military efforts on the Western Front.  War supplies shipped by the Allies to Russia are now stranded in Siberia and in the Arctic regions of Russia near Finland.  In addition, a force of Czech and Slovak partisans, recruited by the Russians to fight against Austria-Hungary in the interest of Czechoslovak independence, is struggling to reach the Pacific coast so it can rejoin the war.  On March 8 British Minister of Blockade Lord Robert Cecil urged Japan to take necessary steps to safeguard Allied interests on the Pacific coast of Russia, potentially including occupation of Vladivostok, the eastern terminus of the Trans-Siberian Railroad.  France and Italy are believed to support the British request, but President Wilson has advised the British and Japanese governments that the United States does not believe conditions in Russia justify Japanese intervention.


 Moving the Clocks Forward in the Capitol

On the last Sunday of March (March 31 this year), pursuant to legislation President Wilson signed into law on March 19, all clocks in the United States were set forward one hour.  The nation has been assured that the "daylight saving plan," which several European countries have already adopted, will go into effect without any disorganization or impairment of existing conditions.  Trains will run as usual, and every other feature of daily life will remain unchanged.  Americans simply moved their clocks forward before going to bed Saturday night and should now be able to forget about daylight saving until the last Saturday of October, when the process will be reversed and  the nation will return to "sun" time.  Among the promised benefits of daylight saving time are conservation of coal, gas, and other sources of heat and light; improved health due to the additional hour available for recreation every day; and improvement in the training conditions for the fighting forces.



Bernard Baruch

While the Overman Bill expanding the President's powers to reorganize and coordinate government agencies is pending in Congress (see last month's blog post), President Wilson has decided not to wait for its passage but to do as much as possible by executive action.  On March 5 he announced the reorganization of the War Industries Board under the chairmanship of Bernard N. Baruch.  In a letter delivered to Mr. Baruch the day before, the President outlined the new functions of the Board, which include making the final determination of all questions of priority in production and deliveries to all agencies of the United States Government and to the Allies.  As Chairman, Mr. Baruch is vested with the sole authority to determine all questions except the determination of prices, with the other members of the Board acting "in a co-operative and advisory capacity."  In the determination of prices the Chairman is to be governed by the advice of a committee including other members of the Board as well as the Chairman of the Federal Trade Commission, the Chairman of the Tariff Commission, and the Fuel Administrator.  "In brief," the letter concludes, Mr. Baruch's new responsibilities mean that he "should act as the general eye of all supply departments in the field of industry."


 The Influenza Ward at Camp Funston

An Army cook at Camp Funston, Kansas was diagnosed with influenza on March 4.  By month's end, hundreds more soldiers at the base, which is a major training ground for American troops on their way to Europe, have reported sick.


*****


March 1918 – Selected Sources and Recommended Reading

Contemporary Periodicals:
American Review of Reviews, April and May 1918
New York Times, March and April 1918

Books and Articles:
A. Scott Berg, Wilson
Britain at War Magazine, The Fourth Year of the Great War: 1917
Winston S. Churchill, The World Crisis 1911-1918
John Milton Cooper, Jr., Woodrow Wilson: A Biography
John Milton Cooper, Jr., The Warrior and the Priest: Woodrow Wilson and Theodore Roosevelt
John Dos Passos, Mr. Wilson's War
David Fromkin, A Peace to End All Peace: Creating the Modern Middle East, 1914-1922
Martin Gilbert, Churchill: A Life
Martin Gilbert, The First World War: A Complete History
Martin Gilbert, A History of the Twentieth Century, Volume One: 1900-1933
Martin Gilbert, Winston S. Churchill Volume IV: The Stricken World 1916-1922
Ann Hagedorn, Savage Peace, Hope and Fear in America, 1919
August Heckscher, Woodrow Wilson: A Biography
Godfrey Hodgson, Woodrow Wilson's Right Hand: The Life of Colonel Edward M. House
Roy Jenkins, Churchill: A Biography
John Keegan, The First World War
David M. Kennedy, Over Here: The First World War and American Society
Ian Kershaw, To Hell and Back: Europe 1914-1949 
W. Bruce Lincoln, Passage Through Armageddon: The Russians In War and Revolution 1914-1918
Arthur S. Link, Woodrow Wilson and the Progressive Era, 1910-1917
Robert K. Massie, Nicholas and Alexandra
G.J. Meyer, A World Undone: The Story of the Great War, 1914 to 1918
G.J. Meyer, The World Remade: America in World War I
Michael S. Neiberg, The Path to War: How the First World War Created Modern America
Jonathan Schneer, The Balfour Declaration: The Origins of the Arab-Israeli Conflict
David Stevenson, Cataclysm: The First World War As Political Tragedy 
David Stevenson, With Our Backs to the Wall: Victory and Defeat in 1918
J. Lee Thompson, Never Call Retreat: Theodore Roosevelt and the Great War
Adam Tooze, The Deluge: The Great War, America and the Remaking of the Global Order, 1916-1931
Geoffrey C. Ward and Ken Burns, The Roosevelts: An Intimate History
The West Point Atlas of War: World War I

 

Wednesday, February 28, 2018

February 1918

In February 1918 the Bolsheviks, now in control in Russia, decide to pull out of the war at any cost rather than risk losing their revolution.  Germany exploits Russian weakness by increasing its demands and sending its armies forward until Russia capitulates.  In the United States, the President replies to statements made by leaders of the Central Powers in response to his "Fourteen Points," and adds four more.  The British Parliament debates and defeats a pacifist's proposed response to the speech from the throne.  President Wilson, facing a domestic challenge, opposes a Senate proposal to create a War Cabinet to direct the war effort, but supports his own proposal to give himself more power to do so.  The workless Monday rule is suspended after less than a month.  SS Tuscania, a British troop ship carrying American soldiers to Europe, is attacked by a U-boat and sunk off the coast of Ireland.


*****


 Nikolai Bukharin

The negotiations in Brest-Litovsk reached a critical stage this month.  In January the Central Powers presented a series of non-negotiable demands, which included German occupation of vast swaths of territory formerly part of the Russian Empire.  Having prolonged the negotiations as long as he could and faced with a hopeless military situation, Trotsky recessed the talks and returned to Petrograd to confer with Lenin.  They were joined by Nikolai Bukharin, the editor of Pravda, the party's official newspaper, and a powerful member of the Bolshevik Central Committee.  Trotsky advocated a policy of "no war, no peace," by which Russia would simply cease fighting and break off negotiations, refusing to sign any treaty or other agreement, and hope that political pressure in Germany would prevent a resumption of hostilities.  Bukharin wanted to go on the offensive in support of a revolution of the proletariat, still hoping to inspire the working classes of Germany and Austria-Hungary to overthrow their governments.  Lenin opposed both, arguing that in the absence of a widespread proletarian revolution offensive military operations were impossible, and that either Bukharin's offensive or Trotsky's "no war, no peace" strategy would result in a military defeat that would endanger the revolution, which he regarded as far more important than any other consideration.  At a meeting of the Bolshevik Central Committee Lenin agreed to adopt Trotsky's strategy with the understanding that if it failed Trotsky would not oppose Lenin's position in favor of an immediate peace rather than a revolutionary war.



The Central Powers and Ukraine Sign the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk

Also in the conference at Brest-Litovsk was a delegation from the Rada, a parliamentary government that was set up in the Ukraine after the overthrow of the Tsar.  After the Bolsheviks seized power and entered into negotiations with the Central Powers at Brest-Litovsk, Germany invited the Rada to send delegates to represent the Ukraine.  A separate peace would result in Austria-Hungary and Germany having access to the abundant grain resources of the Ukraine, relieving the impending famine in those countries.  The Bolshevik delegation, of course, does not recognize the Rada and denies its authority to speak for the Ukraine.  The Bolsheviks' insistence that the Ukraine is part of Russia and subject to the authority of the Petrograd Soviet is supported by the fact that Bolshevik troops have moved into the Ukraine and now effectively control that territory.  The strong hand at Brest-Litovsk, however, is held by the Germans, who are more than willing to enter into a separate agreement with the Rada, and against whom the Bolsheviks, whether in the Ukraine or elsewhere on the Eastern Front, are virtually powerless.  On February 9 the Central Powers' delegations at Brest-Litovsk formally recognized the Rada delegation as the representative of Ukraine and signed a separate peace that gave Germany and Austria-Hungary the right to buy Ukraine's entire grain surplus.

On February 10, at his residence at Bad Homburg, Kaiser Wilhelm replied to the Burgomeister of Homburg's announcement of the peace agreement with the Ukraine.  He acknowledged that the German people "have gone through hard times" and that "the world . . . has not been on the right path."  He said that "Germans, who still have ideals, should work to bring about better times," and that Germany will "seek in every way" to "bring peace to the world."  He said peace has now been achieved "in a friendly manner with an enemy which, beaten by our armies, perceives no reason for fighting longer, extends a hand to us, and receives our hand."  He warned, however, that "he who will not accept peace . . . must be forced to have peace.  We desire to live in friendship with neighboring peoples, but the victory of German arms must first be recognized."


German Troops Advancing Into the Ukraine

As the Kaiser was speaking, Trotsky was in Brest-Litovsk informing the Central Powers of Russia's new policy of "no war, no peace."  General Hoffmann reacted with disbelief, sputtering that such a thing was "unheard of ... unheard of!", and left for Bad Homburg to confer with the Kaiser.  The meeting took place on February 13 and included, in addition to General Hoffmann and the Kaiser, Chancellor von Hertling, Foreign Minister von Kuhlmann, and General Ludendorff.  Hertling and Kuhlmann argued against resuming hostilities, preferring to concentrate Germany's military effort on the Western Front, but the generals argued strongly for an immediate offensive, and the Kaiser agreed.  On February 18 fifty-three divisions advanced against essentially undefended Russian positions from Pskov and Petrograd in the north to the Ukraine in the south.  For the Russians the only choice now was between Bukharin's revolutionary war and Lenin's insistence on saving the revolution by capitulation.  At a meeting of the Bolshevik Central Committee in Petrograd, Trotsky honored his promise not to oppose Lenin if his "no war, no peace" policy failed, and a  narrow majority voted with Lenin to accept Germany's terms.  Lenin sent a telegram that night informing Berlin of the Committee's decision.  Five days passed before an answer was received, and when it came it presented a list of additional demands, including the withdrawal of Russian troops from all of the Ukraine, Finland, Courland, Estonia and Latvia, and recognition of the Rada as the legitimate government of Ukraine.  At Lenin's insistence, the Central Committee voted to accept the additional conditions without further negotiation.  On February 26, when the Germans received word of the Russian acquiescence, they halted their advance on Petrograd.

The events of February have answered, or at least clarified, many of the questions that were raised by last year's revolutions in Russia and were still unanswered when the month began.  First, it is now clear that Russia's allies Great Britain, France and Italy will have nothing to do with the Brest-Litovsk negotiations.  Second, the parties to those negotiations must now recognize that the Christmas Day declaration of "self-determination, no annexations, and no indemnities" was a false hope from the beginning.  Third, the Bolsheviks' hope for a revolution of the proletariat in Germany and Austria-Hungary has been abandoned, at least within any time frame that would affect the negotiations.  Fourth, Russia has now shown that it will do whatever it must to get out of the war, and Germany has demonstrated a determination to take full advantage of Russia's weakness by forcing the issue militarily.  Finally, Austria-Hungary, eager as it is to find a way out of the war, has decided not to pursue a separate peace and will adhere for the time being to its alliance with Germany.


 
Lord Reading

In the United States, President Wilson has again traveled to Capitol Hill on short notice to address a joint session of Congress.  After notifying Vice President Marshall and Speaker Clark the morning of February 11, he appeared in the House chamber at noon that day.  Those present included French Ambassador Jules Jusserand and the new British Ambassador, Rufus Isaacs, Viscount Reading, Lord Chief Justice of England.  Lord Reading arrived in Washington on February 10 to assume his new duties as Ambassador and High Commissioner, an assignment that includes powers greater than those of his predecessor Sir Cecil Spring Rice.  He continues for the time being to hold the post of Lord Chief Justice.

The occasion for the President's visit to Congress was not Russia's "no war, no peace" policy, which was announced only that day in Brest-Litovsk, but the January 24 statements made by German Chancellor von Hertling and Austro-Hungarian Foreign Minister Count Czernin in response to the President's "fourteen points" address of January 8.  The President complimented Czernin, noting that his statement, which he said was "uttered in a very friendly tone," finds in the fourteen points "a sufficiently encouraging approach to the views of his own government to justify him in believing that it furnishes a basis for a more detailed discussion of purposes by the two governments."  Von Hertling's statement, in contrast, is "very vague and very confusing" and "leads it is not clear where."  The President accused Hertling of ignoring his own Reichstag, which passed resolutions on July 19 that "spoke of the conditions of a general peace, not of national aggrandizement or of arrangements between state and state."  Mr. Wilson went on to articulate four principles that he said should be applied in any attempt to arrive at a general peace:

"First -- That each part of the final settlement must be based upon the essential justice of that particular case and upon such adjustments as are most likely to bring a peace that will be permanent,
"Second -- That people and grievances are not to be bartered about from sovereignty to sovereignty as if they were mere chattels and pawns in a game, even the great game, now forever discredited, of the balance of power; but that,
"Third -- Every territorial settlement involved in this war must be made in the interest and for the benefit of the populations concerned, and not as a part of any mere adjustment or compromise of claims among rival states; and
"Fourth -- That all well-defined national aspirations shall be accorded the utmost satisfaction that can be accorded them without introducing new or perpetuating old elements of discord and antagonism that would be likely in time to break the peace of Europe, and consequently of the world."

Having stated these principles, the President placed the responsibility for continuing the war squarely on the German military.  He said that until "a general peace erected upon such foundations . . . can be secured we have no choice but to go on.  So far as we can judge, these principles that we regard as fundamental are already everywhere accepted as imperative except among the spokesmen of the military and annexationist party in Germany. . . . [T]his one party in Germany is apparently willing and able to send millions of men to their death to prevent what all the world now sees to be just."  The President concluded his address with the assurance that "no word of what I have said is intended as a threat. . . . The power of the United States is a menace to no nation or people.  It will never be used in aggression or for the aggrandizement of any selfish interest of our own.  It springs out of freedom and is for the service of freedom."

In a speech in the Reichstag on February 25, Chancellor von Hertling replied.   He said he "can fundamentally agree" with Wilson's four principles, with a single reservation: "These principles must not only be proposed by the President of the United States, but must also be recognized by all states and peoples."  "Unfortunately," he said, "there is no trace of similar statements on the part of the leading powers of the Entente.  England's war aims are still thoroughly imperialistic and she wants to impose on the world a peace according to England's good pleasure.  When England talks about the people's right of self-determination, she does not think of applying the principle to Ireland, Egypt, and India."  Back at the White House on February 28, President Wilson met with Secretary of State Lansing and Colonel House over a long lunch to discuss the Chancellor's speech and the German advance into Russia.



Sir Cecil Spring-Rice

Sir Cecil Spring-Rice, the British Ambassador to the United States who was recalled last month, was on his way back to Great Britain when he died in Ottawa on February 14.  He was a long-time friend of Theodore Roosevelt, and officiated as best man at Roosevelt's wedding in 1886.


 Foreign Secretary Balfour

The British Parliament on February 13 debated and defeated a motion to amend the response to the speech from the throne.  The amendment was proposed by Richard Holt, a radical member of Parliament, who moved to insert language expressing regret that "prosecution of the military effort is to be the only immediate task of the Government."  Speaking in support of his amendment, Holt asked whether President Wilson's four points set forth in his February 11 address to Congress represented the policy of the British Government and its European allies.  If so, he said, the government should reassemble the War Council at Versailles or elsewhere and make an announcement to that effect.  Foreign Secretary Balfour, speaking in opposition to the amendment, said that the conclusion already reached by the War Council was correct, and that nothing in the recent statements by Chancellor Hertling and Foreign Minister Czernin gave any indication of satisfying Allied war aims.  Although President Wilson had detected a difference in tone between the two statements, "when you leave the tone and come to formulated definite propositions you will not find them in Count Czernin's speech, and, so far as I am aware, President Wilson did not profess to find them."  Two weeks later, in a reply to von Hertling, Balfour restated his position, telling Parliament "I should be doing an injury to the cause of peace if I encouraged the idea that there is any use in beginning these verbal negotiations until something like a general agreement is apparent in the distance and until the statesmen of all the countries see their way to that broad settlement which, it is my hope, will bring peace to this sorely troubled world."


*****



Senator Chamberlain

In Washington, Congress and President Wilson are dealing with competing proposals to assign and allocate power and responsibility for the conduct of the war.  Last month Senator George Chamberlain (Dem., Ore.), the Chairman of the Senate Military Affairs Committee, introduced bills that would create a War Cabinet to direct the prosecution of the war and create a new post of Director of Munitions.  Chamberlain argued in a speech to the National Security League that hearings before his Committee indicated that "the military establishment of America has broken down" because of "inefficiency in every department of the United States Government."  On the day the bills were introduced, the President issued a statement attacking Chamberlain and minimizing the committee hearings as insignificant.  Although Senator Chamberlain has been one of his staunchest supporters, the President pulled no punches.  He said that Chamberlain's claim "was an astonishing and absolutely unjustifiable distortion of the truth," and that he was "bound to infer that that statement sprang out of opposition to the Administration's whole policy rather than out of any serious intention to reform its practices."  The President gave a strong endorsement to Secretary Baker, who defended the War Department's record in testimony before Senator Chamberlain's committee.  In his testimony, Secretary Baker denied the charge that the Department had no war plan, saying the plan was to assist the Allies in every way by responding to their needs as they defined them.  Some Congressmen and military experts have found this unsatisfactory, arguing that a war plan should include provisions for calling up a specific number of troops and supplying them with arms, ammunition, clothing, shelter, and transportation to Europe.

On February 1 eleven Democratic senators were invited to the White House.  President Wilson told the senators that he was absolutely opposed to the Chamberlain bills and would accept no compromise.  He told them he was entirely satisfied with the present organization of the War Department and urged the senators to do what they could to put an end to the discussion, which he said would suggest the country was divided and create a bad impression on America's allies.


Senator Overman

Debate on the Chamberlain bills began on February 4.  On February 6, Senator Lee Overman (Dem., N.C.), Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, introduced legislation to give the President sweeping powers to "coordinate and consolidate" government agencies.  The Overman Bill, which was drafted in the White House and has the President's full support, goes far beyond the Chamberlain bills in its proposed delegation of authority, but unlike Senator Chamberlain's proposal its principal thrust is to delegate legislative power to the President rather than assign executive power to a War Cabinet.  The Overman Bill as introduced would give the President power to "make any such re-distribution of functions among executive agencies as he may deem necessary, including any functions, duties and powers hitherto conferred upon any executive department, commission, bureau, agency, office, or officer," to "co-ordinate and consolidate" functions, and to "employ by executive order any additional agency or agencies and to vest therein the performance of such functions as he may deem appropriate."

The Overman Bill was greeted with astonishment on Capitol Hill, several senators saying "we might as well abdicate."  By the end of the month, however, it appeared that a modified version might be acceptable as a substitute for Senator Chamberlain's proposal, which because of the President's opposition is unlikely to become law.  Among other things, the Overman Bill would expand the authority of the War Industries Board to include some of the powers the Chamberlain bills would assign to the War Cabinet and the Director of Munitions.

Other issues raised by Senator Chamberlain are addressed in separate legislation.  The pending War Department Bill, for example, authorizes the appointment of two new assistant secretaries.  One of the new positions, to be charged with overseeing all industrial work and purchasing for the Army, is expected to be filled by Edward R. Stettinius, a partner at J.P. Morgan & Co.

*****


Director-General McAdoo

Last month Fuel Administrator Garfield issued an order requiring industries east of the Mississippi to suspend operations on Mondays to conserve fuel.  Mr. Garfield rescinded the order on February 13, citing a "vast improvement" in conditions, an improvement he attributed to the imposition of priorities for coal deliveries imposed by Treasury Secretary McAdoo in his capacity as Director-General of Railroads.  Also rescinded was the order requiring theaters, cabarets and other places of amusement to close on Tuesdays.  McAdoo issued a statement the same day supporting the suspension, but emphasizing the continuing need to reduce coal consumption, especially in the New England states which are still experiencing shortages due to railroad congestion.

*****

SS Tuscania

SS Tuscania, a Cunard luxury liner, was converted to a troop transport when the war broke out.  On February 6 it was under way from Hoboken to Liverpool carrying 2,179 American troops, mostly National Guardsmen from Michigan and Wisconsin, when it was torpedoed and sunk by a German submarine off the north coast of Ireland.  Most of those on board were rescued and put ashore at Buncranna, about ten miles north of Londonderry, and Larne, about fifteen miles north of Belfast, but 210 passengers and crew were lost.



*****


February 1918 – Selected Sources and Recommended Reading

Contemporary Periodicals:
American Review of Reviews, March and April 1918
New York Times, February and March 1918

Books and Articles:
A. Scott Berg, Wilson
Britain at War Magazine, The Fourth Year of the Great War: 1917
Winston S. Churchill, The World Crisis 1911-1918
John Milton Cooper, Jr., Woodrow Wilson: A Biography
John Milton Cooper, Jr., The Warrior and the Priest: Woodrow Wilson and Theodore Roosevelt
John Dos Passos, Mr. Wilson's War
David Fromkin, A Peace to End All Peace: Creating the Modern Middle East, 1914-1922
Martin Gilbert, Churchill: A Life
Martin Gilbert, The First World War: A Complete History
Martin Gilbert, A History of the Twentieth Century, Volume One: 1900-1933
Martin Gilbert, Winston S. Churchill Volume IV: The Stricken World 1916-1922
Ann Hagedorn, Savage Peace, Hope and Fear in America, 1919
August Heckscher, Woodrow Wilson: A Biography
Godfrey Hodgson, Woodrow Wilson's Right Hand: The Life of Colonel Edward M. House
Roy Jenkins, Churchill: A Biography
John Keegan, The First World War
David M. Kennedy, Over Here: The First World War and American Society
Ian Kershaw, To Hell and Back: Europe 1914-1949 
W. Bruce Lincoln, Passage Through Armageddon: The Russians In War and Revolution 1914-1918
Arthur S. Link, Woodrow Wilson and the Progressive Era, 1910-1917
Robert K. Massie, Nicholas and Alexandra
G.J. Meyer, A World Undone: The Story of the Great War, 1914 to 1918
G.J. Meyer, The World Remade: America in World War I
Michael S. Neiberg, The Path to War: How the First World War Created Modern America
Jonathan Schneer, The Balfour Declaration: The Origins of the Arab-Israeli Conflict
David Stevenson, Cataclysm: The First World War As Political Tragedy
J. Lee Thompson, Never Call Retreat: Theodore Roosevelt and the Great War
Adam Tooze, The Deluge: The Great War, America and the Remaking of the Global Order, 1916-1931
Geoffrey C. Ward and Ken Burns, The Roosevelts: An Intimate History
The West Point Atlas of War: World War I