November 1917

November 1917

Passchendaele

 

The Second Battle of Passchendaele began on 26th October 1917 with the first of three separate attacks. After Crest Farm had been captured on the 30th October 1917, the battle continued after a seven-day pause. Three rainless days from the 3rd to 5th November 1917 eased preparations for the next stage. The First and Second Canadian Divisions began the assault on the morning of the 6th November 1917. In fewer than three hours, many units reached their final objectives and Passchendaele was captured. The Canadian Corps launched a final assault on the 10th November 1917, and gained control of the remaining high ground north of the village near Hill 52, this then established the final line for the winter, which brought the Battle of Passchendaele to an end. At the end of the Battle of Passchendaele, from July to November 1917, the total combined casualties were approximately 500,000. After the fighting was over, General Kiggel, who was Field Marshal Sir Douglas Haig’s chief of staff, saw the battlefield below the Passchendaele Ridge for the first time.  There have been disputed rumours that he broke down in tears and making the comment “Good God, did we send men to fight in that?”  How true that statement was will never really be known, but coupled with the line from the poem “Memorial Tablet” by Siegfried Sassoon it sums up the battle.

“I died in hell – they called it Passchendaele”

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Western Front

The Battle of Cambrai began at dawn on the 20th November 1917. Rather than a preliminary bombardment to support the infantry attack, a shortened barrage was employed. Pre-registration of over 1000 guns provided the necessary surprise attack. To protect the infantry as they advanced, tanks were used to crush through the barbed wire. However, despite efforts to preserve secrecy, the Germans had received sufficient intelligence to be on moderate alert. An attack with the assistance of tanks was anticipated on Havrincourt. The British attack consisted of six infantry divisions and five cavalry divisions. On the unbroken ground nine tank battalions amounting to 496 tanks assisted the infantry against two German divisions. The plan had been proposed in May 1917, and was designed to trap the German troops between the River Sensee and the Canal du Nord. The cavalry would seize the St. Quinten Canal crossings, then exploit north-east with the objective being the high ground around Bourlon Wood. On first day the British penetrated 5 miles along a 6 mile front. The reduced November daylight hours and blown canal bridges stopped any further advance, and the 51st (Highland) Division was held up at Flesquieres village. The village was taken the following day. Field Marshal Sir Douglas Haig visited the battlefield on the 21st November 1917 and thought the attack to be “feeble and uncoordinated”. He allowed the attack to continue on Bourlon Wood, after his intelligence officers told him the Germans would not be able to reinforce the area for 48 hours. British GHQ intelligence had failed to piece together the warnings they had received that the German counter-attack would be forthcoming. The British captured the wood on 23rd November 1917, but German counter-attacks had begun and re-took the Bourlon Ridge. Using new sturmtruppen (Stormtrooper) tactics the Germans had made their first counter offensive against the British since 1914. The final British effort was on the 27th November 1917 by the 62nd Division aided by 30 tanks. Early success was soon reversed by a German counter-attack. The British were forced onto the defensive on the 28th November 1917, after having achieved a 9 mile wide by 4 mile deep salient along the crest of the ridge. The battle continued into December 1917.

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Other Theatres

At the Battle of Caporetto, having received the order to retreat on the 30th October 1917, the Italians took four days full days to cross the Tagliamento River. By this time the German and Austro-Hungarian armies were following closely on their heels. By the 2nd November 1917, a German division had established a bridgehead on the Tagliamento. About this time, however, the rapid success of the attack caught up with them. The German and Austro-Hungarian supply lines were stretched to breaking point and consequently they were unable to launch another attack to isolate part of the Italian army against the Adriatic. Chief of Staff General Luigi Cadorna was able retreat further and by the 10th November 1917 had established a position on the Piave River and Mount Grappa. Caporetto was called “the greatest defeat in Italian military history” and Italian losses were enormous. There were 10,000 killed, 30,000 wounded and 265,000 taken prisoners. Morale was so low among the Italian troops that most of these surrendered willingly. A vast quantity of Italian stores and equipment was lost including artillery pieces, machine guns and mortars. In contrast, the Austro-Hungarians and Germans only sustained 70,000 casualties. Between 5th-7th November 1917, the allied powers held a conference at Rapallo in Italy to form a Versailles based Supreme War Council. In the wake of the severe Italian setback at Caporetto fresh aid was promised to the Italians. The Supreme War Cabinet at Versailles was planned to co-ordinate allied policies and actions. Following the defeat at Caporetto, Italy’s allies Britain and France sent eleven divisions to reinforce the Italian front, and insisted on General Cadorna’s dismissal for a less stubborn commander. Cadorna was known to have maintained poor relations with the other generals of his staff and was detested by his troops as being too harsh. Cadorna had been directing the battle 20 miles (32 km) behind the front and retreated another 100 miles (160 km) with the Italian Army retreating. Cadorna was forced to resign on the 8th November 1917, and replaced by Armando Diaz, as Chief of General staff by the new Prime Minister Vittorio Emanuelle Orlando. Italy accepted a more cautious military strategy, and Diaz concentrated his efforts on rebuilding his shattered forces. The First Battle of the Piave was fought between the 10th November 1917 and 25th December 1917. The Austro-Hungarian army, supported by German units, tried to bring about the final collapse of Italy. The offensive was repulsed, marking a turning point in the Great War on the Italian front. After the Caporetto defeat on the 24th October 1917, the Italian army retreated to the Tagliamento line. Paolo Botelli’s government collapsed and Botelli was replaced as Prime Minister by Vittorio Emmanuelle Orlando. The new prime minister met with the French and British prime ministers, Paul Painlevé and David Lloyd George in the new Allied Supreme War Council at Rapallo on the 5th to 7th November 1917 and Peschiera on the 8th November 1917 to discuss contingency plans to prevent a general collapse on the Italian front. On the 5th November 1917 the Italian army withdrew from the Tagliamento to the Piave River. The Italian position appeared desperate. The Italians had only thirty three Divisions which represented approximately 50% of the available fighting forces and they were to defend the Piave line against fifty Austro-Hungarian and German divisions supported by 4,500 guns. Painlevé and Lloyd George dispatched reinforcements of eleven divisions in total. As Allied reinforcements reached the Italian front they realised that the situation was serious, but not desperate. Italian pride had been badly shaken, but Italian soldiers seemed determined to redeem themselves. The First Battle of the Piave was staged over two phases, with the first phase being from the 10th – 26th November 1917. General Franz Conrad von Hötzendorf, Austrian chief of staff, tried to take Monte Grappa on the 11th November 1917 and break through the Piave line before it was reinforced by Allied units. The Grappa was a naturally strong defensive position, and the Italians managed to hold their positions by mounting determined counter-attacks in freezing winds and dry snow conditions. On the 22nd November 1917, the German Sturmtruppen (assault troops) took the Monte Tomba, but the offensive had lost steam by then. The Battles for the Piave and Monte Grappa continued into December 1917.

On the 9th November 1917, German Lieutenant Erwin Rommel was awarded Germany’s highest award, the order of Pour le Mérit, for his actions at Caporetto The medal known as the ”Blue Max” was awarded for leading his battalion against the 1st Italian Infantry Division and capturing 10,000 Italian troops.

…………..

On the 2nd November 1917, British Foreign Secretary Arthur James Balfour wrote a letter to Baron Lionel Walter Rothschild, expressing the British government’s support for a Jewish “National Home” in Palestine. The support for the Zionist movement emerged from the government’s concern surrounding the direction of the Great War. By mid-1917 Britain and France were in a stalemate with Germany on The Western Front. The Gallipoli campaign in the Dardanelles had failed spectacularly.  On the Eastern Front, the fate of Russia was uncertain as the early spring revolution had toppled Czar Nicholas II. The provisional government was struggling to maintain the country’s war effort against Germany and Austro/Hungary. The USA had just entered the war on the Allied side, but it would not be until 1918 that sizable American forces would arrive in Europe. Against this backdrop, the government of British Prime Minister David Lloyd George made the decision to publically support Zionism. The motives behind this were various. Britain’s leaders hoped that a formal declaration in favour of Zionism would help gain Jewish support for the Allies in neutral countries, the United States and especially in Russia. Lloyd George had come to see British dominance in Palestine as an essential post-war goal. The establishment of a Zionist state in Palestine would accomplish a land bridge between Egypt and India.

…………..

“The Tiger”, Paul Painlevé resigned as French Prime Minister on the 13th November1917 and was succeeded by Georges Clemenceau. On the 7th September 1917, Painlevé was asked to form a government, and was forced to deal with weighty issues. These issues included the Russian Revolution, the American entry into the war, the failure of the Nivelle Offensive, quelling the French mutinies and relations with the British. He was also a leading voice at the Rapallo Conference, in Italy, that anticipated a unified Allied command. He proposed Ferdinand Foch as the French representative. On his return to Paris he was defeated and on the 13th November 1917 he resigned. Clemenceau was appointed Prime Minister at one of the darkest hours of the French war effort during the Great War. He discouraged internal disagreement and called for peace from his senior politicians, as victory seemed to be elusive. There was little activity on the Western Front as the Allies appeared to be waiting for American support to arrive. Simultaneously, Italy was on the defensive and Russia had virtually stopped fighting. In France, the government had to deal with increasing demonstrations against the war, a scarcity of resources and the air raids causing damage to Paris as well as undermining the morale of its citizens. It was also believed that many politicians secretly wanted peace.

The Second Battle of Heligoland Bight, in the North Sea, was an inconclusive naval engagement between British and German squadrons on the 17th November 1917. A strong force of cruisers under Vice Admiral Trevelyan Napier was sent to attack German minesweepers, which were clearing a channel through British minefields in the Heligoland Bight. The intentions of the German force had been revealed by British Naval Intelligence, allowing the British to mount an ambush. The German sweepers were escorted by a group of cruisers and torpedo-boats under Rear Admiral Ludwig von Reuter. The action began at 7.30 a.m., roughly 65 nautical miles west of Sylt, when “HMS Courageous” sighted the enemy, and opened fire at 7.37 a.m. In order to cover the withdrawal of his minesweepers, von Reuter, with four light cruisers and eight destroyers, engaged the Royal Navy units. The battle developed into a stern chase as the German forces, skilfully using smoke-screens, withdrew south-east at speed, under fire from the pursuing British ships. Both sides were hampered in their manoeuvres by the presence of naval minefields. The British ships gave up the chase about 9.30 a.m. as they reached the edge of the known minefields. At about the same time the light cruisers came under fire from two German Kaiser-class battleships, which had come up in support of von Reuter’s ships. “HMS Caledon” was struck by one shell which did minimal damage. Able Seaman John Henry Carless of “HMS Caledon” won a posthumous Victoria Cross for bravery while manning his gun despite being mortally wounded.  Shortly after the British forces withdrew. At the end of the battle the British had one light cruiser damaged and the Germans had one light cruiser damaged and one minesweeper sunk.

……………..

In the East African Campaign, the German army had withdrawn its forces from German East Africa on the 18th October 1917. The Germans had defeated the British at the Battle of Mahiwa and ran very short of supplies. To find supplies the Germans decided to invade Portuguese East Africa to the south and supply themselves with captured materials.  Germany had declared war on Portugal on the 9th March 1916, and therefore felt justified with the invasion of Portuguese East Africa in hopes of acquiring sufficient supplies to continue the war. The German commander, General Emil von Lettow-Vorbeck made plans to attack the Portuguese garrison across the river at Ngomano. The Portuguese force was a native contingent led by European officers under Joao Teixeira Pinto, a veteran with experience of fighting in Africa. When the Portuguese began arriving at Ngomano on the 20th November 1917, Pinto had at his disposal 900 troops with six machine-guns and large supplies but his inexperienced force was no match for von Lettow-Vorbeck’s troops, which crossed the river with between 1,500 and 2,000 veterans as well as a large number of porters. At 07.00 a.m. on the 25th November 1917, the Battle of Ngomano began when the Portuguese garrison at Ngomano received word from a British intelligence officer that an attack was about to commence. Having been forewarned the Portuguese commander had been able to begin preparations for assault. However, he had planned on receiving frontal assault and when the force came under attack from the rear he was completely surprised. The Portuguese attempted to entrench themselves in rifle pits. The Germans had discarded most of their artillery and machine-guns due to lack of ammunition. Despite the chronic ammunition shortage von Lettow-Vorbeck was able to move four machine-guns up close to the rifle pits. The inexperience of the Portuguese proved to be their downfall. German casualties were extremely light. Taking heavy casualties, having lost their commanding officer, and finding themselves hopelessly outnumbered, the Portuguese finally surrendered. The Portuguese had suffered a massive defeat and by failing to prevent von Lettow-Vorbeck’s force from crossing the Rovuma allowed him to continue his campaign until the end of the war. With the captured Portuguese equipment the Germans managed to completely resupply their force. Von Lettow-Vorbeck armed his troops with Portuguese and British weapons after having abandoned and destroyed German weaponry for which he had no ammunition.

 

Eastern Front

On the 6th-7th November 1917 the Vladimir Lenin led Bolsheviks launched a second Russian revolution of the year. In the Julian calendar the revolution took place on 24th -25th October, which is why the event is also referred to as the October Revolution. In the aftermath of the February Revolution, power was shared between the weak provisional government and the Petrograd Soviet. Prime Minister Alexander Kerensky’s government in Petrograd had almost no support in the city, even though Kerensky had distributed arms to the Petrograd workers. Only one small force, a subdivision of the 2nd company of the First Petrograd Women’s Battalion, known as the Women’s Death Battalion, was willing to fight for the government against the Bolsheviks, but this force was overwhelmed by the numerically superior pro-Bolshevik forces, defeated and captured. It took fewer than 20 hours for the Bolsheviks to seize the government. Kerensky escaped the Bolsheviks and fled the country and eventually arrived in France. He never went back to Russia again. After the bloodless coup d’état in Petrograd, Lenin formed a new government and he became the virtual dictator of the first Marxist state in the world.

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Middle East

Following the capture of Beersheba on the 31st October 1917, the way was open to Jerusalem for the British forces. The Turkish defenders began to retreat from Gaza toward Jaffa along the coast in order to re-establish a new defensive line. A series of battles were successfully fought. The Battle of Tel el Khuweilfe was fought between the 1st and 6th November 1917, with the Turkish forces having to retreat further. A British cavalry charge at the Battle of Sharia on the 7th November 1917, a second cavalry charge at the Battle of Huj on the 8th November 1917 and the Battle of Mughar Ridge on the 13th November 1917, constituted a grave setback for the Turkish army and the Ottoman Empire. The charge at Huj was claimed to be one of the last British cavalry charges during the Great War. The Turkish forces suffered another defeat on the 14th November 1917 at the Battle of Ayan Kara, which enabled the British to occupy Jaffa on the 16th November 1917. In the meantime, the Turkish commander, German General Erich von Falkenhaym, moved his Headquarters from Jerusalem to Neblus on the 14th November 1917. The Turkish army withdrew into the Judean Hills. The British advance toward Jerusalem began on the 17th November 1917, the same day as the Battle of Nebi Samwil started. The advancing British infantry was blocked at Biddu by Turkish forces entrenched on the height of Nebi Samwil, dominating Jerusalem and its defences. This hill, the traditional tomb of the Prophet Samuel, was taken by the British on the 24th November 1917. Several counter–attacks by Turkish forces failed during the following days but they had fought the British infantry to a standstill. The British suffered well over 2,000 casualties, and there are no estimates of Turkish casualties, but the vital road link from Jerusalem to Nablus was still in Turkish hands. On the 24th November 1917, the Egyptian Expeditionary Force (EEF) commander, General Edmond Allenby, ordered the relief of the infantry and cavalry divisions involved. In order to move such large formations a pause was unavoidable and further attacks were discontinued but von Falkenhaym and his Turkish Army took notice of the temporary cessation of hostilities. During the latter part of November 1917, the Turkish forces counter-attacked over various fronts which resulted in virtual stalemate. In the meantime the main British forces advanced along the Jaffa-Jerusalem road during a pause in the winter rains, which allowed the supporting artillery to move up.  The Battle for Jerusalem continued into December 1917.

Passchendaele

 

The Second Battle of Passchendaele began on 26th October 1917 with the first of three separate attacks. After Crest Farm had been captured on the 30th October 1917, the battle continued after a seven-day pause. Three rainless days from the 3rd to 5th November 1917 eased preparations for the next stage. The First and Second Canadian Divisions began the assault on the morning of the 6th November 1917. In fewer than three hours, many units reached their final objectives and Passchendaele was captured. The Canadian Corps launched a final assault on the 10th November 1917, and gained control of the remaining high ground north of the village near Hill 52, this then established the final line for the winter, which brought the Battle of Passchendaele to an end. At the end of the Battle of Passchendaele, from July to November 1917, the total combined casualties were approximately 500,000. After the fighting was over, General Kiggel, who was Field Marshal Sir Douglas Haig’s chief of staff, saw the battlefield below the Passchendaele Ridge for the first time.  There have been disputed rumours that he broke down in tears and making the comment “Good God, did we send men to fight in that?”  How true that statement was will never really be known, but coupled with the line from the poem “Memorial Tablet” by Siegfried Sassoon it sums up the battle.

“I died in hell – they called it Passchendaele”

————————————————-

Western Front

The Battle of Cambrai began at dawn on the 20th November 1917. Rather than a preliminary bombardment to support the infantry attack, a shortened barrage was employed. Pre-registration of over 1000 guns provided the necessary surprise attack. To protect the infantry as they advanced, tanks were used to crush through the barbed wire. However, despite efforts to preserve secrecy, the Germans had received sufficient intelligence to be on moderate alert. An attack with the assistance of tanks was anticipated on Havrincourt. The British attack consisted of six infantry divisions and five cavalry divisions. On the unbroken ground nine tank battalions amounting to 496 tanks assisted the infantry against two German divisions. The plan had been proposed in May 1917, and was designed to trap the German troops between the River Sensee and the Canal du Nord. The cavalry would seize the St. Quinten Canal crossings, then exploit north-east with the objective being the high ground around Bourlon Wood. On first day the British penetrated 5 miles along a 6 mile front. The reduced November daylight hours and blown canal bridges stopped any further advance, and the 51st (Highland) Division was held up at Flesquieres village. The village was taken the following day. Field Marshal Sir Douglas Haig visited the battlefield on the 21st November 1917 and thought the attack to be “feeble and uncoordinated”. He allowed the attack to continue on Bourlon Wood, after his intelligence officers told him the Germans would not be able to reinforce the area for 48 hours. British GHQ intelligence had failed to piece together the warnings they had received that the German counter-attack would be forthcoming. The British captured the wood on 23rd November 1917, but German counter-attacks had begun and re-took the Bourlon Ridge. Using new sturmtruppen (Stormtrooper) tactics the Germans had made their first counter offensive against the British since 1914. The final British effort was on the 27th November 1917 by the 62nd Division aided by 30 tanks. Early success was soon reversed by a German counter-attack. The British were forced onto the defensive on the 28th November 1917, after having achieved a 9 mile wide by 4 mile deep salient along the crest of the ridge. The battle continued into December 1917.

—————————————————

Other Theatres

At the Battle of Caporetto, having received the order to retreat on the 30th October 1917, the Italians took four days full days to cross the Tagliamento River. By this time the German and Austro-Hungarian armies were following closely on their heels. By the 2nd November 1917, a German division had established a bridgehead on the Tagliamento. About this time, however, the rapid success of the attack caught up with them. The German and Austro-Hungarian supply lines were stretched to breaking point and consequently they were unable to launch another attack to isolate part of the Italian army against the Adriatic. Chief of Staff General Luigi Cadorna was able retreat further and by the 10th November 1917 had established a position on the Piave River and Mount Grappa. Caporetto was called “the greatest defeat in Italian military history” and Italian losses were enormous. There were 10,000 killed, 30,000 wounded and 265,000 taken prisoners. Morale was so low among the Italian troops that most of these surrendered willingly. A vast quantity of Italian stores and equipment was lost including artillery pieces, machine guns and mortars. In contrast, the Austro-Hungarians and Germans only sustained 70,000 casualties. Between 5th-7th November 1917, the allied powers held a conference at Rapallo in Italy to form a Versailles based Supreme War Council. In the wake of the severe Italian setback at Caporetto fresh aid was promised to the Italians. The Supreme War Cabinet at Versailles was planned to co-ordinate allied policies and actions. Following the defeat at Caporetto, Italy’s allies Britain and France sent eleven divisions to reinforce the Italian front, and insisted on General Cadorna’s dismissal for a less stubborn commander. Cadorna was known to have maintained poor relations with the other generals of his staff and was detested by his troops as being too harsh. Cadorna had been directing the battle 20 miles (32 km) behind the front and retreated another 100 miles (160 km) with the Italian Army retreating. Cadorna was forced to resign on the 8th November 1917, and replaced by Armando Diaz, as Chief of General staff by the new Prime Minister Vittorio Emanuelle Orlando. Italy accepted a more cautious military strategy, and Diaz concentrated his efforts on rebuilding his shattered forces. The First Battle of the Piave was fought between the 10th November 1917 and 25th December 1917. The Austro-Hungarian army, supported by German units, tried to bring about the final collapse of Italy. The offensive was repulsed, marking a turning point in the Great War on the Italian front. After the Caporetto defeat on the 24th October 1917, the Italian army retreated to the Tagliamento line. Paolo Botelli’s government collapsed and Botelli was replaced as Prime Minister by Vittorio Emmanuelle Orlando. The new prime minister met with the French and British prime ministers, Paul Painlevé and David Lloyd George in the new Allied Supreme War Council at Rapallo on the 5th to 7th November 1917 and Peschiera on the 8th November 1917 to discuss contingency plans to prevent a general collapse on the Italian front. On the 5th November 1917 the Italian army withdrew from the Tagliamento to the Piave River. The Italian position appeared desperate. The Italians had only thirty three Divisions which represented approximately 50% of the available fighting forces and they were to defend the Piave line against fifty Austro-Hungarian and German divisions supported by 4,500 guns. Painlevé and Lloyd George dispatched reinforcements of eleven divisions in total. As Allied reinforcements reached the Italian front they realised that the situation was serious, but not desperate. Italian pride had been badly shaken, but Italian soldiers seemed determined to redeem themselves. The First Battle of the Piave was staged over two phases, with the first phase being from the 10th – 26th November 1917. General Franz Conrad von Hötzendorf, Austrian chief of staff, tried to take Monte Grappa on the 11th November 1917 and break through the Piave line before it was reinforced by Allied units. The Grappa was a naturally strong defensive position, and the Italians managed to hold their positions by mounting determined counter-attacks in freezing winds and dry snow conditions. On the 22nd November 1917, the German Sturmtruppen (assault troops) took the Monte Tomba, but the offensive had lost steam by then. The Battles for the Piave and Monte Grappa continued into December 1917.

On the 9th November 1917, German Lieutenant Erwin Rommel was awarded Germany’s highest award, the order of Pour le Mérit, for his actions at Caporetto The medal known as the ”Blue Max” was awarded for leading his battalion against the 1st Italian Infantry Division and capturing 10,000 Italian troops.

…………..

On the 2nd November 1917, British Foreign Secretary Arthur James Balfour wrote a letter to Baron Lionel Walter Rothschild, expressing the British government’s support for a Jewish “National Home” in Palestine. The support for the Zionist movement emerged from the government’s concern surrounding the direction of the Great War. By mid-1917 Britain and France were in a stalemate with Germany on The Western Front. The Gallipoli campaign in the Dardanelles had failed spectacularly.  On the Eastern Front, the fate of Russia was uncertain as the early spring revolution had toppled Czar Nicholas II. The provisional government was struggling to maintain the country’s war effort against Germany and Austro/Hungary. The USA had just entered the war on the Allied side, but it would not be until 1918 that sizable American forces would arrive in Europe. Against this backdrop, the government of British Prime Minister David Lloyd George made the decision to publically support Zionism. The motives behind this were various. Britain’s leaders hoped that a formal declaration in favour of Zionism would help gain Jewish support for the Allies in neutral countries, the United States and especially in Russia. Lloyd George had come to see British dominance in Palestine as an essential post-war goal. The establishment of a Zionist state in Palestine would accomplish a land bridge between Egypt and India.

…………..

“The Tiger”, Paul Painlevé resigned as French Prime Minister on the 13th November1917 and was succeeded by Georges Clemenceau. On the 7th September 1917, Painlevé was asked to form a government, and was forced to deal with weighty issues. These issues included the Russian Revolution, the American entry into the war, the failure of the Nivelle Offensive, quelling the French mutinies and relations with the British. He was also a leading voice at the Rapallo Conference, in Italy, that anticipated a unified Allied command. He proposed Ferdinand Foch as the French representative. On his return to Paris he was defeated and on the 13th November 1917 he resigned. Clemenceau was appointed Prime Minister at one of the darkest hours of the French war effort during the Great War. He discouraged internal disagreement and called for peace from his senior politicians, as victory seemed to be elusive. There was little activity on the Western Front as the Allies appeared to be waiting for American support to arrive. Simultaneously, Italy was on the defensive and Russia had virtually stopped fighting. In France, the government had to deal with increasing demonstrations against the war, a scarcity of resources and the air raids causing damage to Paris as well as undermining the morale of its citizens. It was also believed that many politicians secretly wanted peace.

The Second Battle of Heligoland Bight, in the North Sea, was an inconclusive naval engagement between British and German squadrons on the 17th November 1917. A strong force of cruisers under Vice Admiral Trevelyan Napier was sent to attack German minesweepers, which were clearing a channel through British minefields in the Heligoland Bight. The intentions of the German force had been revealed by British Naval Intelligence, allowing the British to mount an ambush. The German sweepers were escorted by a group of cruisers and torpedo-boats under Rear Admiral Ludwig von Reuter. The action began at 7.30 a.m., roughly 65 nautical miles west of Sylt, when “HMS Courageous” sighted the enemy, and opened fire at 7.37 a.m. In order to cover the withdrawal of his minesweepers, von Reuter, with four light cruisers and eight destroyers, engaged the Royal Navy units. The battle developed into a stern chase as the German forces, skilfully using smoke-screens, withdrew south-east at speed, under fire from the pursuing British ships. Both sides were hampered in their manoeuvres by the presence of naval minefields. The British ships gave up the chase about 9.30 a.m. as they reached the edge of the known minefields. At about the same time the light cruisers came under fire from two German Kaiser-class battleships, which had come up in support of von Reuter’s ships. “HMS Caledon” was struck by one shell which did minimal damage. Able Seaman John Henry Carless of “HMS Caledon” won a posthumous Victoria Cross for bravery while manning his gun despite being mortally wounded.  Shortly after the British forces withdrew. At the end of the battle the British had one light cruiser damaged and the Germans had one light cruiser damaged and one minesweeper sunk.

……………..

In the East African Campaign, the German army had withdrawn its forces from German East Africa on the 18th October 1917. The Germans had defeated the British at the Battle of Mahiwa and ran very short of supplies. To find supplies the Germans decided to invade Portuguese East Africa to the south and supply themselves with captured materials.  Germany had declared war on Portugal on the 9th March 1916, and therefore felt justified with the invasion of Portuguese East Africa in hopes of acquiring sufficient supplies to continue the war. The German commander, General Emil von Lettow-Vorbeck made plans to attack the Portuguese garrison across the river at Ngomano. The Portuguese force was a native contingent led by European officers under Joao Teixeira Pinto, a veteran with experience of fighting in Africa. When the Portuguese began arriving at Ngomano on the 20th November 1917, Pinto had at his disposal 900 troops with six machine-guns and large supplies but his inexperienced force was no match for von Lettow-Vorbeck’s troops, which crossed the river with between 1,500 and 2,000 veterans as well as a large number of porters. At 07.00 a.m. on the 25th November 1917, the Battle of Ngomano began when the Portuguese garrison at Ngomano received word from a British intelligence officer that an attack was about to commence. Having been forewarned the Portuguese commander had been able to begin preparations for assault. However, he had planned on receiving frontal assault and when the force came under attack from the rear he was completely surprised. The Portuguese attempted to entrench themselves in rifle pits. The Germans had discarded most of their artillery and machine-guns due to lack of ammunition. Despite the chronic ammunition shortage von Lettow-Vorbeck was able to move four machine-guns up close to the rifle pits. The inexperience of the Portuguese proved to be their downfall. German casualties were extremely light. Taking heavy casualties, having lost their commanding officer, and finding themselves hopelessly outnumbered, the Portuguese finally surrendered. The Portuguese had suffered a massive defeat and by failing to prevent von Lettow-Vorbeck’s force from crossing the Rovuma allowed him to continue his campaign until the end of the war. With the captured Portuguese equipment the Germans managed to completely resupply their force. Von Lettow-Vorbeck armed his troops with Portuguese and British weapons after having abandoned and destroyed German weaponry for which he had no ammunition.

 

Eastern Front

On the 6th-7th November 1917 the Vladimir Lenin led Bolsheviks launched a second Russian revolution of the year. In the Julian calendar the revolution took place on 24th -25th October, which is why the event is also referred to as the October Revolution. In the aftermath of the February Revolution, power was shared between the weak provisional government and the Petrograd Soviet. Prime Minister Alexander Kerensky’s government in Petrograd had almost no support in the city, even though Kerensky had distributed arms to the Petrograd workers. Only one small force, a subdivision of the 2nd company of the First Petrograd Women’s Battalion, known as the Women’s Death Battalion, was willing to fight for the government against the Bolsheviks, but this force was overwhelmed by the numerically superior pro-Bolshevik forces, defeated and captured. It took fewer than 20 hours for the Bolsheviks to seize the government. Kerensky escaped the Bolsheviks and fled the country and eventually arrived in France. He never went back to Russia again. After the bloodless coup d’état in Petrograd, Lenin formed a new government and he became the virtual dictator of the first Marxist state in the world.

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Middle East

Following the capture of Beersheba on the 31st October 1917, the way was open to Jerusalem for the British forces. The Turkish defenders began to retreat from Gaza toward Jaffa along the coast in order to re-establish a new defensive line. A series of battles were successfully fought. The Battle of Tel el Khuweilfe was fought between the 1st and 6th November 1917, with the Turkish forces having to retreat further. A British cavalry charge at the Battle of Sharia on the 7th November 1917, a second cavalry charge at the Battle of Huj on the 8th November 1917 and the Battle of Mughar Ridge on the 13th November 1917, constituted a grave setback for the Turkish army and the Ottoman Empire. The charge at Huj was claimed to be one of the last British cavalry charges during the Great War. The Turkish forces suffered another defeat on the 14th November 1917 at the Battle of Ayan Kara, which enabled the British to occupy Jaffa on the 16th November 1917. In the meantime, the Turkish commander, German General Erich von Falkenhaym, moved his Headquarters from Jerusalem to Neblus on the 14th November 1917. The Turkish army withdrew into the Judean Hills. The British advance toward Jerusalem began on the 17th November 1917, the same day as the Battle of Nebi Samwil started. The advancing British infantry was blocked at Biddu by Turkish forces entrenched on the height of Nebi Samwil, dominating Jerusalem and its defences. This hill, the traditional tomb of the Prophet Samuel, was taken by the British on the 24th November 1917. Several counter–attacks by Turkish forces failed during the following days but they had fought the British infantry to a standstill. The British suffered well over 2,000 casualties, and there are no estimates of Turkish casualties, but the vital road link from Jerusalem to Nablus was still in Turkish hands. On the 24th November 1917, the Egyptian Expeditionary Force (EEF) commander, General Edmond Allenby, ordered the relief of the infantry and cavalry divisions involved. In order to move such large formations a pause was unavoidable and further attacks were discontinued but von Falkenhaym and his Turkish Army took notice of the temporary cessation of hostilities. During the latter part of November 1917, the Turkish forces counter-attacked over various fronts which resulted in virtual stalemate. In the meantime the main British forces advanced along the Jaffa-Jerusalem road during a pause in the winter rains, which allowed the supporting artillery to move up.  The Battle for Jerusalem continued into December 1917.

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