December 1917

December 1917

Western Front

The British were forced onto the defensive along the Bourlon Ridge during the Battle of Cambrai on the 28th November 1917. By the 3rd December 1917 the Germans had captured La Vacquerie and the British withdrew to the east bank of the St. Quentin canal. The British hold of Bourlon Wood was now precarious as the Germans had captured Bonavis giving them a line looping from Quentin Ridge to Marcoing. Field Marshal Sir Douglas Haig ordered a partial retreat and by the 7th December 1917 all British gains were abandoned except for a portion of Hindenburg Line around Havrincourt, Ribécourt and Flesquiéres. The cost of the battle was high with both British and German forces taking casualties in the region of 40,000 men on each side. However, the initial British success showed that even the strongest trench systems could be overcome by a surprise attack using the capacity to combine infantry, artillery, tanks and aircraft in attacks. The German counter-attack also confirmed the effectiveness of Artillery, trench mortars and the evolving storm-trooper tactics.

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All further engagements on the Western Front settled into quietness owing to the inclement weather of the winter. However, in the spring of 1918 hostilities would begin again.

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Other Theatres

At the Italian Front on the 4th December 1917, the Second Battle of Monte Grappa began. The Austrian chief of staff General Franz Conrad von Hötzendorf tried to take Monte Grappa through the Piave Line during the second phase of the Battle of the Piave. The Austrian heavy artillery lagged behind the attacking force and the men were exhausted. The Austrian high command, accepting the advice of the Germans, suspended the operation on the 24th December 1917. The Caporetto Offensive was finally ended on the 30th December 1917. The Germans gradually withdrew their military forces from Italy to prepare for their large spring offensive of 1918 on the Western Front. All of the German forces had withdrawn by the 30th December 1917.

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The United States of America declared war on Austria-Hungary on 7th December 1917. The United States had declared war on Germany on the 6th April 1917. The declaration was at the request of the President Woodrow Wilson. Both the Chambers of the US Congress were in favour of the war against Germany. The U.S. House of Representatives voting 373 to 50, and the U.S. Senate 82 to six in favour. The US had not engaged in any warfare against the Austro-Hungarian nation and therefore the declaration of war against Germany did not include Austro-Hungary. However, Wilson was worried about the Austro-Hungarian involvement in Italy, and American military planners believed it might soon be necessary to deploy American forces to shore-up Italian defences against robust Austrian gains. On the 7th December 1917, the House Joint Resolution 169 was adopted by the House of Representatives in a vote of 365 to 1, and by the Senate in a vote 74 to 0. The president signed the declaration later that day. Two days later, Austro-Hungary terminated diplomatic relations with the United States and requested, in a diplomatic note delivered to the chargé d’affaires of the United States embassy in Vienna, that American diplomats depart the country.

 

The 1917 Canadian federal election was held on the 17th December 1917, to elect members of the Canadian House of Commons. The election resulted in Prime Minister Sir Robert Borden’s Unionists government being re-elected with a strong majority. His party had secured 153 seats, while the opposition Sir Wilfred Laurier’s Liberals secured 82 seats.  The election was fought mainly on the issue of conscription, and the disagreement on whether men should be conscripted to fight in the war. It also brought out many issues regarding relations between French and English Canadians. After the Battle of the Somme, Canada was in desperate need to replenish its supply of soldiers. However, there were very few volunteers to replace them. The recruiting effort had failed, and Canada turned to its only unused option, which was to introduce conscription. Almost all French Canadians opposed conscription, as they felt their loyalty was to Canada, not France or England. Generally English Canadians supported the war effort because of their ties to the British Empire. A considerable rift was caused between the French and English Canadians owing to the conscription crisis of 1917. The Military Service act was passed, after Borden announced, on the 29th August 1917, that he would introduce the act allowing the government to conscript men across the country if the Prime Minister felt it was necessary.

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Eastern Front

On the 15th December 1917, a preliminary armistice was signed between the Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic (RSFSR) on the one side and the Central Powers on other. The RSFSR was led by Vladimir Lenin who had successfully revolted against Alexander Kerensky’s ineffective Provisional Government. The armistice took effect two days later, on the 17th December 1917. By this agreement Russia de facto exited the Great War. The armistice was preceded by two ceasefire agreements. The first was a local agreement reached at Soly on the 4th December 1917 between the Russians and Germans on the Eastern front. It superseded any local ceasefires or truces already agreed to, and was to in effect from 6th to 17th December 1917. A fuller ceasefire encompassing all the Central Powers was signed at Brest-Litovsk on the 5th December 1917, the day after the agreement with Germany at Soly. The preliminary armistice, whereby hostilities ceased, lasted until the 17th February 1918.

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Middle East

By the 1st December 1917, the fighting for Jerusalem was almost over. The Turkish Seventh Army attacked Nebi Samwill and were repulsed with heavy losses. The Turkish Army had failed to win any ground as a result of their counter-attacks, and the advancing British troops were successfully replacing their tired comrades who were well entrenched close to Jerusalem. Tired British forces were relieved by the 2nd December 1917. Both sides began to adjust and improve their lines. The British increased the number of attacking forces, and by the 7th December 1917 had arrived at the Turkish defence line located in Bethlehem.  Bad weather prevented any further advance. The following day the Turkish army had retired, and on the evening of the 8th December 1917 the British continued their advance to find the way completely cleared of Turkish defenders. During almost continuous rain on the 8th December 1917, Jerusalem ceased to be protected by Turkish troops. The British launched the final advance taking the heights to the west of Jerusalem on the 8th December 1917. The Turkish Seventh Army retreated during the evening and the city surrendered the following day, through a letter to the British from the mayor of Jerusalem Hussein Al Husseini. The letter stated that Turkey hoped the British would protect the holy places. The Turkish Army briefly held the Mount of Olives on the 9th December 1917 but were overwhelmed by the 60th Division the following afternoon. On the 11th December 1917, two days after the official surrender and exactly six weeks after the fall of Beersheba, General Sir Edmund Allenby, commander of the Egyptian expeditionary Force (EEF), made his formal entry into Jerusalem on foot through the Jaffa Gate. He entered on foot rather than on horse to show his respect for the holy place. Among the units to accompany him on his formal entrance were the Australian 10th Light Horse Cavalry and a representative troop of New Zealand Mounted Rifle Brigade. Allenby was the first Christian conqueror of Jerusalem since the Crusades. Many of Allenby’s soldiers were deeply conscious that they were fighting on sacred soil, and some viewed themselves as modern-day crusaders, but their leader was aware that many of his soldiers and workers were Islamic and therefore played down any notion of a crusade. One final Turkish attack against the British on the 29th/30th December 1917 was repulsed and all the British objectives were secured along the whole front. The Capture of Jerusalem gave the Allies reason to celebrate, as the Great War now was drifting into temporary stalemate. The Western Front had slowed down owing to the severe winter weather conditions. On the Italian Front both sides were exhausted, and  Russia was seeking an armistice with Germany on the Eastern Front.

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