Saturday, April 30, 2016

April 1916

It's April 1916.  In the twenty-first month of the Great War, the Allies continue to struggle. The British government's attention is temporarily diverted from the Western Front to its own soil as an uprising by Irish nationalists in Dublin costs the lives of British soldiers, many of them Irish, as well as Irish rebels.  On the Western Front the assault on Verdun continues and a squadron of American pilots, later named the Lafayette Escadrille, begins operations.  Preparations continue by the British for the attack along the Somme and by the Russians for an offensive against Austria-Hungary on the Eastern Front.  Great Britain and France agree to divide the Ottoman Empire into areas of control and spheres of influence.  The United States sends a tough note to German about submarine attacks on civilian ships.  General Pershing's expeditionary force clashes with Mexican troops deep in Mexican territory.  The presidential election season draws near.


Sir Roger Casement

After decades of controversy and escalating threats of violence on both sides, the Irish Home Rule Bill was passed in the summer of 1914, but its implementation was delayed by the outbreak of war.  Strong opinions have continued to be held, however, on both sides of the issue.  Nationalists seeking home rule, or better yet independence, for Ireland are bitterly opposed by Unionists, who insist that Ireland must remain a part of the United Kingdom governed by the Parliament in Westminster.  Extreme Nationalists have gone so far as to regard the World War as an opportunity to further the cause of Irish independence by enlisting the aid of Great Britain's enemy Germany.  One of them, Sir Roger Casement, persuaded the German government to ship weapons and ammunition to Ireland to support an uprising.  On April 21 the German ship SS Libau, disguised as a Norwegian freighter, was intercepted by Royal Navy warships off the coast of County Cork and scuttled by its crew.  The same day Casement, having been transported to Ireland in a German submarine, was arrested after being put ashore in Tralee Bay on the coast of Kerry.  He has been taken to Dublin to await trial for high treason.

The General Post Office After the Uprising

The Nationalist uprising went ahead without Sir Roger Casement and without the German weapons aboard the Libau.  On the day after Easter, April 24, Nationalist rebels led by Patrick Pearse and James Connolly mounted attacks on government buildings including Dublin Castle, City Hall, Trinity College, and the General Post Office on Sackville Street.  The rebels made the General Post Office their headquarters, and Pearse stood on its steps to read a "Proclamation of the Irish Republic" declaring the island's independence.  British troops were caught unawares at first, but were able to bring in reinforcements and, after several days of fighting, to regain control of the city.  The General Post Office building was destroyed by fire.  132 British soldiers and 64 rebels lost their lives in the rising, along with over 250 civilians.  The rebel leaders are in custody.

General Petain

If the purpose of the German attack on Verdun, which began in February, was to inflict painful losses on the French Army, it has succeeded.  By the end of March the fighting around Verdun had cost 89,000 French casualties, but at the cost of 81,607 German dead and wounded.  This month the fighting has continued with undiminished intensity as the German Army renewed attacks on both sides of the River Meuse.  April began with a German assault on the village of Vaux, east of the Meuse, and a declaration by the Kaiser that "this war will end at Verdun."  On April 9 the Germans made another attempt to capture Mort-Homme, on the west bank, but were driven back with heavy losses as the French commander, General Henri Philippe Petain, rallied his troops in his order of the day: "Courage! on les aura!" ("Take courage, we'll get them!").  Elsewhere on the Western Front, a squadron manned largely by American pilots called the Escadrille Americaine was deployed in Luxeuil-les-Bains on April 20.

General Brusilov

Elsewhere in Europe, Russian General Aleksei Brusilov on the Eastern Front and British General Sir Douglas Haig on the Western Front are planning major offensives to relieve German pressure on Verdun.  Russian attacks that began last month at Lake Naroch have been thrown back by German counterattacks.  On April 10 an attempt to observe a truce on Russian Orthodox Easter ended when over a hundred Russian soldiers who crossed into the Austrian lines to fraternize were taken prisoner.  Italian offensives in the Dolomites have made small gains with heavy losses; Punta Serauto, a 9,715-foot peak, changed hands twice before being retaken on April 14 by Italian troops under the command of Captain Menotti Garibaldi, grandson of Giuseppe Garibaldi, the hero of Italian unification in the 1860's.  Entente forces on Salonika were reinforced in mid-April by Serbian troops transported from Corfu by French and British troopships. The Turks, unsuccessful in operations against the British in the Sinai and the Russians in the Caucasus, achieved a significant victory in Mesopotamia.  An Anglo-Indian force under the command of Major General Sir Charles Townshend has been under siege in Kut Al-Amara since January, after being turned back at Ctesiphon the month before.  The Turks have defeated several attempts by British forces to relieve the siege, and the annual floods this month have made any further relief attempts impossible.  The British garrison of more than 9,000 troops surrendered on April 29.

 Map Showing Agreed Areas of Control (Influence): Blue (A) is French, Red (B) is British

The Allies' military losses to the Ottoman Empire at Gallipoli and in Mesopotamia have not discouraged them from planning for the aftermath of Turkey's defeat.  British and French diplomats Sir Mark Sykes and Francois Georges-Picot have negotiated a secret agreement by which their countries are to share the fruits of victory in Asia Minor.  In Petrograd on April 26, they presented it to Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Sazonov, who agreed.  The agreement (now the Tripartite Agreement) provides that after the Ottomans are defeated France will assume control of the area along the Mediterranean coast known as the Lebanon with its capital at Beirut and of a separate, nominally sovereign, state of Syria with its capital at Damascus.  Britain will govern southern Mesopotamia as far as Baghdad, as well as the Mediterranean port cities of Haifa and Acre, the planned terminals of a pipeline and railway from the Mesopotamian oil fields.  Russia will control the Black Sea straits, Constantinople, and eastern Anatolia.  Palestine will be under the joint protection of Great Britain, France and Russia.

Sussex Passengers After the Attack

Last month's torpedoing of the Sussex has elicited a strong response from the United States.  On April 18, a note that amounted to an ultimatum was delivered by the United States to Germany.  It points out that several unarmed ships, not just the Sussex, have been attacked by German submarines recently, and threatens to sever diplomatic relations unless Germany abandons "its present method of submarine warfare against passenger and freight carrying vessels."  It stops short of demanding cessation of all submarine attacks on commercial shipping, insisting instead that Germany agree to abide by what in effect are traditional "cruiser rules," requiring passengers and crew members to be removed to a place of safety.  In one respect, however, it expands last year's demand after the sinking of the Arabic.  That demand was limited to passenger ships, while this one includes all commercial shipping, including merchant vessels.

During last month's confrontation over the Gore-McLemore Resolution, President Wilson promised Senator Stone that he would consult congressional leaders before taking any step that might lead to war,  Despite that promise, he decided to send this note first and inform congressional leaders after the fact.  The note was delivered at 6:00 p.m. on April 18, Congressional leaders were informed the following morning, and the President addressed Congress that afternoon.  He told Congress he had taken the action "with the keenest regret" but "in the confidence that it will meet with your approval and support" because "we cannot forget that we are in some sort and by the force of circumstances the responsible spokesmen for the rights of humanity, and that we cannot remain silent while those rights seem in process of being swept utterly away in the maelstrom of this terrible war."

General Pershing Crossing Into Mexico, Followed by his Aide, Lieutenant George S. Patton

As the month began, General Pershing's punitive expedition was being drawn deeply into Mexico as Pancho Villa retreated to the Parral district in the far southern part of the state of Chihuahua.  Conditions imposed on the promised use of the Mexican railways has rendered them virtually useless, so as Pershing moved south his supply situation became critical, requiring thousands of troops to maintain lines of communication and to occupy numerous intermediate locations in Mexican territory.  As the presence of American troops became more visible to the local population, political resistance within Mexico increased.  On April 12 a "flying squadron" of about 100 troops from the 13th Cavalry Regiment commanded by Major Frank Tompkins entered Parral to purchase supplies.  Local residents became openly hostile, shouting "Viva Villa" and throwing rocks and other missiles at the Americans.  As the American soldiers retreated, the mob was joined by Mexican government soldiers, who fired on the Americans and harassed them during a fighting withdrawal.  Two American soldiers were killed and six, including Major Tompkins, were wounded.  Over forty Mexicans were killed.

Major Tompkins and his "Flying Squadron"

On the same day as the Parral incident, the Mexican government presented a note to the United States government stating that American forces should be withdrawn from Mexican territory altogether.  It rejected the earlier suggestion of agreement on a mutual right of hot pursuit on the ground that Villa's band had been dispersed and the Mexican government was now capable of eliminating the threat.  As Mexican Army troops moved to oppose any further advance to the south, Pershing withdrew to Namiquipa, approximately 180 miles north of Parral.  President Wilson and Secretary Baker, anxious to avoid anything that might lead to further military conflict with the Mexican government "Carrancistas," are willing to withdraw American troops to the border areas but not to leave Mexican territory altogether until Villa is captured.  They have sent Army Chief of Staff General Hugh Scott and General Frederick Funston, Pershing's immediate superior, to meet in Juarez with Mexican General Alvero Obregon to try to reach agreement on the deployment of American troops.  The American negotiators are insisting on maintaining United States forces in Mexico at a location agreeable to the Carranza government, while General Obregon, acting pursuant to his instructions, is insisting on withdrawal of all American Army forces from Mexico.

On April 13, in the midst of the diplomatic crises with Germany and Mexico, President Wilson addressed his fellow Democrats at the annual Jefferson Day banquet in Washington.  He said "God forbid that we should ever become directly or indirectly embroiled in quarrels not of our own choosing ..., but if we should ever be drawn in, are you ready to go in only where the interests of America are coincident with the interests of mankind ...?  Are you ready for the test?  Have you courage to go in?"  The audience answered with a resounding "Yes!"

 The Former (and Future?) President

The presidential nominating conventions are scheduled for June.  The Republican and Progressive Parties will meet in Chicago on June 7, the Democrats a week later in St. Louis.  There is little doubt that the Democrats will nominate President Wilson for a second term; he has not announced his candidacy but has allowed his name to be placed on the ballot in primary states, and there are no other announced candidates.  On the Republican side, former President Roosevelt has not allowed his name to be placed on any primary ballots, telling his party leaders they should not nominate him unless they consider it in the interest of the Republican Party and the United States to do so.  In a meeting with a small group of Republicans at Sagamore Hill, he told them they should not expect him to "pussy foot on any single issue" and that he expected every citizen to be "pro-United States first, last, and all the time, and no pro-anything else at all."  Later in the month, after President Wilson's address to Congress describing the Sussex note, Roosevelt issued a statement in which he recalled the note sent fourteen months ago warning Germany that it would be held to "strict accountability" for the destruction of American ships or the lives of American citizens.  He said that if that note "meant anything it meant at least what the present note means," but that the president's actions since then have been "such that Germany did not believe that the note meant anything and acted accordingly."  He said it was "unpardonable" that instead of standing behind the "strict accountability" policy with a strategy of true preparedness, Wilson had followed a "diluted mush and milk policy" that left the American people unsure whether the administration was "retreating or adventuring, threatening or preparing for further concessions."

Hughes as Governor of New York

New York Governor Charles Evans Hughes was appointed to the Supreme Court in 1910.  Unlike most other prominent Republicans, therefore, he was able to avoid taking sides in the 1912 split between the regulars and the progressives in the party.  Again this year, his position as a Supreme Court Justice allows (indeed arguably requires) that he avoid any brush with electoral politics.  At the time of his appointment to the Court (by President Taft), Hughes was considered a progressive governor, so he has some appeal to both sides.  This year he has insisted that he is "entirely out of politics."  He has not only refused to allow his name to be entered in any primaries but has rejected any suggestion that he might be interested in the nomination and has steadfastly refused to make any comments of a political nature.  This, of course, makes him a formidable candidate.

Karl Liebknecht

In a major speech in the Reichstag on April 5, Chancellor Bethmann-Hollweg argued that Germany was fighting a defensive war, and disclaimed any ambitions for territorial conquest.  He insisted, however, that post-war Belgium must be a Flemish nation, free from French or British domination, and that Poland must be freed from the grip of Russia.  He derided as "fanciful" any claim that Germany had designs on the Americas. Reviewing the military situation, he took satisfaction in the failure of the Allied expedition in the Dardanelles, the success of the Serbian campaign, the unsuccessful attempts by the British to relieve their garrison at Kut-Al-Amara, and the success of German and Turkish forces in turning back Russian attacks in Galicia and Eastern Anatolia.  He declared that British efforts to starve Germany were bound to fail because "thanks to the organizing powers of the whole nation, Germany is equal to the task of distribution of food supplies" and "in cases in which there is a real shortage the German nation is able to make use of moral reserves which enable us to lower our standard of life, which has risen remarkably during the last decades."  All the party leaders, including Friedrich Ebert for the Social Democrats, supported the Chancellor's speech.  Karl Liebknecht, an outspoken member of the anti-militarist wing of the SDP, provoked an angry response from the other deputies when he interrupted the Chancellor to insist that the German people were not free, and had never wanted war.

Vladimir Lenin

The Second Socialist International met at Kienthal, Switzerland. from April 24 to 30.  The attendees were virtually unanimous in their denunciation of the war.  A rare exception was Vladimir Lenin, a delegate from the Russian Bolshevik Party, who argues that the war is a necessary intermediate step on the road from capitalism to socialism.

April 1916 – Selected Sources and Recommended Reading

Contemporary Periodicals:
American Review of Reviews, May and June 1916
New York Times, April 1916

Books and Articles:
A. Scott Berg, Wilson
Britain at War Magazine, The Third Year of the Great War: 1916
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
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 III: The Challenge of War, 1914-1916
Richard F. Hamilton and Holger H. Herwig, Decisions for War, 1914-1917
August Heckscher, Woodrow Wilson: A Biography
Godfrey Hodgson, Woodrow Wilson's Right Hand: The Life of Colonel Edward M. House
Paul Jankowski, Verdun: The Longest Battle of the Great War
Keith Jeffrey, 1916: A Global History
Roy Jenkins, Churchill: A Biography
John Keegan, The First World War
David M. Kennedy, Over Here: The First World War and American Society
Nicholas A. Lambert, Planning Armageddon: British Economic Warfare and the First World War
Arthur S. Link, Wilson: Confusions and Crises, 1915-1916 
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
Malise Ruthven, The Map ISIS Hates, New York Review of Books June 25, 2014
Jonathan Schneer, The Balfour Declaration: The Origins of the Arab-Israeli Conflict 
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