Monday, October 31, 2016

October 1916

In October 1916, as the presidential election campaign continues in the United States, no part of the world is untouched by the war.  A German U-Boat pays a visit to Newport, Rhode Island, where it makes and receives courtesy calls on American officers, then returns to sea and sinks nine merchant ships off the North American coast.  Six Americans are killed when a German submarine attacks an armed British merchant ship in heavy seas off the coast of Ireland.  On the Western Front, the French retake Fort Douaumont, the first of the fortifications at Verdun that fell to the Germans when they began their assault in February.  On the Somme, bloody fighting continues without significant gains by either side.  The Italian Army launches the eighth battle of the Isonzo and attacks Austrian troops in the mountains of the Trentino.  Continuing their offensive against Romania, German armies force the Romanians to abandon all the gains they have achieved since declaring war in August.


President Wilson Campaigning in New Jersey This Month

The American presidential campaign is in full swing.  President Wilson left Shadow Lawn on October 3 for a visit to Omaha to join in the semi-centennial celebration of Nebraska statehood.  At the Omaha Auditorium on October 5, he told a capacity crowd that America has stayed out of the war "not because she was not interested, but because she wanted to play a different part."  He said "there is as much fight in America as in any nation in the world, but she wants to know what for."  On the same day Elihu Root, the former Secretary of State, Secretary of War and Senator from New York, addressed a Republican Club rally in Carnegie Hall.  He said the Wilson administration had failed to impress its opponents, whether Germany, Mexico, or the railroad unions, with the true spirit of America, and that the Republican Party and its nominee Charles Evans Hughes represented patriotic Americanism.  Back at Shadow Lawn on October 7, President Wilson attacked the Republican Party as one "with no proposals upon which all could unite," a disunited party which "cannot avow its purpose" and is "shot through with every form of bitterness, every ugly form of hate, every debased purpose of revenge, and every covert desire to recover secret power."  Referring to former President Roosevelt, he warned that "if the Republican Party should succeed, one very large branch of it would insist upon what its leader has insisted upon, a complete reversal of policy ... [which] can only be a reversal from peace to war."

Hughes Campaign Button

In Louisville, Kentucky on October 12, Wilson's opponent Charles Evans Hughes answered a heckler by saying that if he had been president when Germany published its warning to Lusitania passengers he would have warned Germany that an attack on the ocean liner would have meant the immediate termination of diplomatic relations.  Referring to the American response in February 1915 to Germany's declaration of unrestricted submarine warfare, Hughes accused President Wilson of not living up to his own strong words in response to the initial submarine threat.  Hughes said that, unlike Wilson, "when I said 'strict accountability' every nation would have known that that was meant."  On October 16 in Omaha, he responded to Wilson's charge that a victory of the Republican Party would mean the country would be ruled by "secret power" wielded by an "invisible government."  He said it is not the Republicans but the Democratic administration of President Wilson that has been governed by "mysterious influences" that do not represent the desires or interests of the American people.  In a reference to Colonel House, the president's unofficial but highly influential adviser, Hughes said "I desire government through two Houses and not three."

U53 in Newport Harbor

A German U-Boat, U53, made a surprise visit to the United States on October 7, entering Newport Harbor escorted by an American submarine it encountered as it approached Narragansett Bay.  After being guided to an anchorage at the naval base, the German submarine captain exchanged courtesy calls with Admiral Austin Knight, commander of the Naval War College, and Admiral Albert Gleaves, commander of the destroyer forces, and delivered a letter addressed to German Ambassador Count Johann von Bernstorff.  He told the American officers he had sufficient water, provisions and fuel, and was back at sea within a few hours.  Within the next two days, U53 sank nine merchant ships off the coast of North America.  Last May's Sussex Pledge to observe "cruiser rules" was obeyed in every case, and all those aboard the merchant ships were rescued.  After conferring with Secretary of State Lansing, President Wilson has decided to take no action.

Ambassador Gerard

The presence of U53 in American waters coincided with a visit to the United States by the American ambassador to Germany, James W. Gerard.  On October 10, within a few hours after his arrival in New York on the Scandinavian-American liner Frederick VIII, he met with Secretary of State Lansing at Colonel House's residence in New York.  The Secretary then departed for Shadow Lawn, President Wilson's summer residence at Long Branch, New Jersey, where he conferred with the president about reports that the German government is under pressure to resume unrestricted submarine warfare against merchant and passenger shipping.

On October 28, a German submarine torpedoed and sank two British steamships in heavy seas off the coast of Ireland.  One of them, S.S. Marina of the Donaldson Line, was an armed merchant ship with 49 Americans aboard, six of whom were drowned.  The attack appears to have been without warning, violating the Sussex Pledge.

General von Mackensen

War on the European continent continued on multiple fronts.  On October 24, after a two-day artillery barrage, the French Army at Verdun recaptured Fort Douaumont, taking 6,000 German prisoners.  On the Somme, the village of Le Sars, recently captured by the British, was lost to a German counterattack and then retaken five days later.  The Italian Army advanced in the Trentino, regaining the northern slopes of Mount Pasubio, and launched another offensive at the Isonzo River, capturing some 5,000 Austrian prisoners.  In the Balkans the offensive against Romania continued.  On October 19, German Army troops under the command of General August von Mackensen broke through the Romanian defenses at Dobrudja, and three days later entered the port city of Constanta, erasing the gains of the Romanian Army since it entered the war.

October 1916 – Selected Sources and Recommended Reading

Contemporary Periodicals:
American Review of Reviews, November and December 1916
New York Times, October 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
Ian Kershaw, To Hell and Back: Europe 1914-1949
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
Merlo J. Pusey, Charles Evans Hughes
Jonathan Schneer, The Balfour Declaration: The Origins of the Arab-Israeli Conflict 
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
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