Saturday, October 31, 2015

October 1915

In October 1915 the World War continues to go badly for the Allies.  General Sir Ian Hamilton, having failed to achieve his objectives at Gallipoli, is relieved of command; his replacement, General Sir Charles Monro, is asked for his opinion regarding the viability of further operations on the peninsula, and recommends withdrawal.  France gains little ground in its offensive in Champagne and Italy mounts another unsuccessful attack on the Isonzo front.  The German Army in Belgium executes British nurse Edith Cavell for assisting Allied soldiers trapped behind enemy lines.  Austria-Hungary mounts another invasion of Serbia, this time assisted by Germany.  Bulgaria chooses this moment to join the war on the side of the Central Powers; Allied forces in Salonika move to assist the Serbs.  The diplomatic crisis over the loss of American lives on the Arabic appears to be resolved as the German government "disavows" the submarine's actions and accepts liability for the death of American citizens.  French Prime Minister Rene Viviani resigns and is replaced by former Prime Minister Aristide Briand.  President Wilson, whose wife died in August 1914, announces his engagement to Mrs. Edith Galt, a Washington widow.   He advocates "America First" in a patriotic address to the DAR, and former President Roosevelt denounces “hyphenated Americans” in a speech to the Knights of Columbus.  The president announces his support for woman suffrage and votes in favor of a suffrage amendment in New Jersey, but opposes amending the federal Constitution.  Mrs. Galt lets it be known that she is opposed to women voting, and New Jersey voters apparently agree, sending the measure down to defeat.  German sabotage is uncovered in the United States.  The Secretary of the Navy announces a major shipbuilding program, landslides force the closure of the Panama Canal, and the United States formally recognizes Venustiano Carranza as president of Mexico.  A wireless voice transmission across the Atlantic is achieved for the first time in history; in addition to Paris, it is heard at receiving stations in San Francisco, Panama and Honolulu. 


General Hamilton

Following the failure of his renewed offensives on the Gallipoli Peninsula, General Sir Ian Hamilton was asked for his opinion regarding the possible evacuation of Allied forces from the peninsula.  When he refused to consider the possibility, saying any such attempt would result in the loss of half his men, the government relieved him of command.  British Secretary of State for War Lord Kitchener asked the new commander, General Sir Charles Monro, for "your report on the main issue at the Dardanelles, namely, leaving or staying."  On October 31 Monro responded with a telegram recommending withdrawal.

At home, the British public continued to feel the effects of the war. German Zeppelins attacked London on October 13, killing 55 and injured 114, mostly civilians.  On October 20 it was officially announced in London that since the beginning of the war German submarines have sunk 183 merchant ships and 175 fishing vessels.

French Artillery in Champagne

On the Western Front, the fighting in Champagne was bloody but inconclusive.  German troops, augmented by forces transferred from Poland, attacked and drove the French out of La Courtine and trenches north of Massiges.  French counterattacks regained much of the lost ground, but the fighting reduced several villages to rubble.  Control of the area is considered important because of a nearby railway between Rheims and the Argonne that the Germans use to supply their trenches.

Edith Cavell

Edith Cavell, a British nurse working at a hospital in occupied Belgium, was arrested along with several others and charged by the Germans with assisting Allied soldiers trapped behind the German lines to escape to neutral Holland.  She was tried by a court-martial, convicted and sentenced to death for treason.  On October 12 she was executed by a German firing squad.  The execution took place despite a plea for clemency by the American legation in Brussels, and elicited widespread international condemnation.  An article in the London Daily News claims that the execution has been a valuable recruiting tool, adding some 10,000 to the strength of the British Army.  In response to the criticism, German Under Secretary for Foreign Affairs Arthur Zimmermann held an interview with the press in which he defended the action of the German authorities in Belgium, saying that strict enforcement of the law is necessary to ensure the security of German military forces in wartime.

Peppino Garibaldi

For the third time since Italy entered the war, Italian forces attacked Austria-Hungary along the Isonzo River.  Again they were unsuccessful.  At month's end, Italy celebrated a minor victory in the Dolomites when Colonel Giuseppe ("Peppino") Garibaldi II, a grandson of the Italian hero of the wars of unification, captured the mountain village of Panettone.

Greek Prime Minister Venizelos

War has flared again in the Balkans, where it started just over a year ago with Austria-Hungary's declaration of war on Serbia.  On October 5 a combined German and Austrian assault on Serbia began with an artillery bombardment across the Danube and Sava Rivers, followed by the crossing of both rivers on October 7 and the occupation of Belgrade on October 9.  To the south, Great Britain and France landed troops at Salonika on October 5 at the invitation of Greek Prime Minister Eleftherios Venizelos.  Venizelos had encouraged the landing, suggesting that such a move would encourage Greece to join the war on the side of the Allies, but a constitutional crisis ensued when he was overruled and dismissed as prime minister by King Constantine, Kaiser Wilhelm's brother-in-law.  On October 11 Bulgaria, encouraged by the apparent failure of Allied offensives at Gallipoli and on the Isonzo, and seeing an opportunity to recover Macedonian territory lost in the Second Balkan War, cast its lot with the Central Powers and attacked Serbia from the east.  On October 14 the Allied troops at Salonika crossed the border into Serbia, but their advance may have come too late to render effective assistance to the Serbs.  Greece has now notified the Allies that it will remain neutral.

 Secretary Lansing

Ambassador Bernstorff

The crisis in German-American relations occasioned by the sinking of the Arabic and the loss of American lives appears to have been resolved.  The September 28 dispatch in which Germany agreed not to contest the claim that the submarine commander acted without provocation and offered an indemnity as a token of "friendliness" was incorporated in a formal diplomatic note, which Ambassador Bernstorff delivered to Secretary Lansing at the Hotel Biltmore in New York on October 2.  After consulting with President Wilson, Lansing let it be known that the note was unsatisfactory and that a breach in diplomatic relations might be the result.  He summoned Bernstorff to the State Department on October 5 and gave him a copy of the German note with the necessary changes penciled in.  First, the note's statement that the submarine commander had acted contrary to instructions was unsatisfactory because it was undercut if not contradicted by the additional  statement that he had good reasons for doing so.  Second, the note's statement of "regret" was not a satisfactory substitute for a disavowal.  Third, the United States would not accept an indemnity offered only as an act of grace.  Later the same day, Bernstorff returned the note with the changes requested.  As revised, the note stated that the German government "does not doubt the good faith of the affidavits of the British officers of the Arabic," and therefore concludes that the submarine's attack was contrary to instructions; it "regrets and disavows this act" and "is prepared to pay an indemnity for the American lives, which, to its deep regret, have been lost on the Arabic."  The revised note omitted Germany's previous insistence that its pledge was conditional on British behavior.  In a letter delivered with the note, Bernstorff told Lansing that "[t]he orders issued by His Majesty the Emperor to the commanders of the German submarines -- of which I notified you on a previous occasion -- have been made so stringent that the recurrence of incidents similar to the Arabic case is considered out of the question."  Bernstorff accepted Lansing's revisions without consulting Berlin, for which he received a severe reprimand from the Foreign Office.  An October 30 note from Foreign Minister von Jagow to Lansing, while approving the settlement, restated the German position in terms that bore a greater resemblance to the October 2 note than to the revised note of October 5.  Von Jagow's October 30 note has not been answered, and probably will not be, since both governments prefer to regard the matter as settled. 

The question of liability for the earlier sinking of the Lusitania, pushed into the background during the Arabic crisis, remains unresolved.  Germany may be less willing to compromise in that case because the Lusitania, unlike the Arabic, was attacked as it was en route to England, and thus more reasonably suspected of carrying war supplies.

Aristide Briand

October has been a month of political upheaval in France.  The lack of military success in Champagne, Flanders, Gallipoli and the Balkans led to a cabinet crisis that began with the resignation of Theophile Delcasse as foreign minister on October 13.  Despite having won a recent vote of confidence, Prime Minister Viviani and the entire cabinet resigned on October 28.  A new coalition government has been formed under the leadership of former Prime Minister Aristide Briand.  Every French political party will be represented in the new government.  Prime Minister Briand will also hold the Foreign Minister's portfolio, and General Joseph Gallieni will be Minister of War.  Former Prime Minister Viviani will remain in the cabinet as Minister of Justice.

President Wilson and Mrs. Galt at National League Park

United States President Woodrow Wilson, whose wife Ellen died as the World War was breaking out in Europe, will remarry this year.  On October 6 he announced his engagement to a Washington widow, Mrs. Norman Galt, the former Miss Edith Bolling.  Although the date of the wedding has not been set, it is expected to take place in December at Mrs. Galt's home.  She and the president met in March and she spent a month this summer as a guest of the president's daughter Margaret at the president's summer home in Cornish, New Hampshire.  On October 8, shortly after the announcement of their engagement, Mrs. Galt and the president visited New York, where they were followed by cheering crowds eager to catch a glimpse of the new "first lady" to be.  Following a tour of the city by automobile they were guests at a dinner given by Colonel House, after which they attended a Broadway play.  The next day they traveled to Philadelphia where they watched the second game of the World Series at National League Park.  Before the game Mrs. Galt said she hoped the Philadelphia Phillies would win, as they had the day before.  It was not to be, however: the Boston Red Sox won that game and went on to win the Series four games to one.

After returning to Washington, President Wilson and Mrs. Galt motored to Baltimore on October 10 to visit the president's brother Joseph.  As in their previous visits to New York and Philadelphia, public interest in the president and his fiancee was great, but because it was Sunday the crowds that followed them were quiet and subdued, marked by murmurs of approval rather than cheers.  As the president's party was entering Franklin Street Presbyterian Church for services, Secret Service men guarding the president stopped a foreigner who was following the president and turned him away, but released him after concluding he was not a threat.  The next day in Washington the president delivered a patriotic address to a meeting of the Daughters of the American Revolution, calling on all politicians to declare whether they were for "America First" and warning against "men who are thinking first of other countries."

In a Columbus Day speech the next day, former President Roosevelt also warned against Americans with divided loyalties.  Addressing the Knights of Columbus at Carnegie Hall, he denounced "those hyphenated Americans who terrorized American politicians by threat of the foreign vote" as being "engaged in treason to the American republic."  He repeated his call for preparedness, arguing for a system of universal service in which "the son of the multi-millionaire and the son of the immigrant who came over in the steerage [would] sleep under the same dog-tent and eat the same grub."  In a scornful reference to the popular song "I Didn't Raise My Boy to Be a Soldier," he said that "if the song had been popular from 1776 to 1781 there wouldn't be anyone to sing it today."

Suffragists Parade in New York City

Woman suffrage continues to be at the top of the American political agenda.  President Wilson announced this month that he supports votes for women but that he is opposed to amending the federal Constitution, preferring to leave it up to each state to decide the question on its own.  (An amendment is necessary to make woman suffrage a Constitutional right because a unanimous Supreme Court decided in 1875, shortly after the Fourteenth Amendment was adopted, that nothing in the Constitution requires states to allow women to vote.)   On October 19 President Wilson cast his vote in New Jersey in favor of suffrage, but the referendum went down to defeat (only men, of course, could vote).  Before the vote, the president's fiancee Mrs. Galt let it be known that she was opposed to women voting.  A few days later, thousands of supporters of woman suffrage expressed a contrary opinion, marching up New York's Fifth Avenue from Washington Square to 59th Street on October 23.  They were cheered on by thousands of spectators who saved their most enthusiastic applause for the New Jersey delegation.  A few days later the New York County Democratic organization, known as Tammany Hall, announced that it would take no part in the woman suffrage campaign on either side of the issue.

Robert Fay

For months mysterious explosions and fires have been breaking out on American ships carrying war supplies to the Allies. On October 24 Secret Service agents arrested Robert Fay, a lieutenant in the German army, and his brother-in-law Walter Scholz.  Explosives and other material found in their apartment in a boarding house in Weehawken, New Jersey have led authorities to believe that they are responsible for designing and installing "rudder bombs" on outbound ships designed to be armed by the action of the rudder over a period of days, and then to explode and disable or sink the ship in mid-ocean.  Their effectiveness is due in large part to the ease with which they can be secretly attached to the ship's rudder post by a diver, making it unnecessary to smuggle explosives aboard the ship.

Secretary Daniels

On October 19 Secretary of the Navy Josephus Daniels announced a major building program that will add 185 ships to the United States Navy over the next five years and cost half a billion dollars in addition to the Navy's regular appropriation.  The program envisions the construction of 10 battleships, 16 cruisers, 50 destroyers and 15 fleet submarines between now and 1921.

The Gaillard Cut Closed by Landslides

Landslides in the Gaillard Cut (formerly known as the Culebra Cut) have forced the closing of the Panama Canal.  On October 6 General Goethals, who submitted his resignation as Governor of the Canal Zone in August, has asked to withdraw it, stating that he wishes to remain at his post indefinitely until the condition of the Canal has improved enough to permit his departure.

Venustiano Carranza

Following their declaration last month imposing a three-week deadline for the warring factions in Mexico to demonstrate that they were entitled to recognition as the legitimate government, the United States and other Latin American countries on October 19 officially recognized the Constitutionalist faction led by Venustiano Carranza.  The next day the United States imposed an embargo on shipments of arms into Mexico other than to the Carranza government.  Bandits led by Pancho Villa continue to operate in northern Mexico, making occasional raids into United States territory.

John J. Carty

The American Telephone & Telegraph Company announced on October 21 a successful transmission of the human voice across the Atlantic Ocean, from Arlington, Virginia to a receiver on the Eiffel tower in Paris, the first wireless voice transmission across the Atlantic.  A few weeks earlier there had been a successful transmission from Arlington to the Mare Island Naval Shipyard, near San Francisco, which was also heard in the Panama Canal Zone and Pearl Harbor, Hawaii.  The later test of a transatlantic communication, delayed due to the war in Europe, was also heard at the far-flung receiving stations on the Pacific.  John J. Carty, the company's chief engineer, traveled to France to represent the company during the experiment.  Carty was also instrumental in the establishment of the first transcontinental telephone connection, inaugurated in January by Alexander Graham Bell and Thomas Watson, who spoke coast-to-coast almost forty years after they held the world's first telephone conversation in 1876.  (See the January 1915 installment of this blog).

October 1915 – Selected Sources and Recommended Reading

Contemporary Periodicals:
American Review of Reviews, November and December 1915
New York Times, October 1915

Books and Articles:
A. Scott Berg, Wilson
Howard Blum, Dark Invasion 1915: Germany's Secret War and the Hunt for the First Terrorist Cell in America
Britain at War Magazine, The Second Year of the Great War: 1915
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
Patrick Devlin, Too Proud to Fight: Woodrow Wilson's Neutrality
M. Ryan Floyd, Abandoning American Neutrality: Woodrow Wilson and the Beginning of the Great War, August 1914-December 1915
David Fromkin, A Peace to End All Peace: Creating the Modern Middle East, 1914-1922
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 III: The Challenge of War, 1914-1916
Richard F. Hamilton and Holger H. Herwig, Decisions for War, 1914-1917
Peter Hart, Gallipoli
August Heckscher, Woodrow Wilson: A Biography
Godfrey Hodgson, Woodrow Wilson's Right Hand: The Life of Colonel Edward M. House
John Keegan, The First World War
Nicholas A. Lambert, Planning Armageddon: British Economic Warfare and the First World War
Arthur S. Link, Wilson: The Struggle for Neutrality, 1914-1915
Arthur S. Link, Woodrow Wilson and the Progressive Era, 1910-1917
G.J. Meyer, A World Undone: The Story of the Great War, 1914 to 1918
J. Lee Thompson, Never Call Retreat: Theodore Roosevelt and the Great War
Barbara W. Tuchman, The Zimmermann Telegram   
Geoffrey C. Ward and Ken Burns, The Roosevelts: An Intimate History
The West Point Atlas of War: World War I