Civil War in Finland and Ukraine I THE GREAT WAR Week 183


You’re a politician and your nation is at
war, and the endless bloodshed appalls you. So when you lose faith in your army’s commander,
what do you do? You try and remove his claws. I’m Indy Neidell; welcome to the Great War. Last week an assassination attempt was made
on Lenin in Russia. The Bolsheviks dissolved the constituent assembly,
extinguishing representative government there. Romania redeployed its forces, the British
were bombing Germans on the Western Front, and trouble was brewing in Finland. Well, that trouble continued brewing. On the last day of the week, the order for
the Finnish White Army to engage the Reds was issued. The Red Order of Revolution will be issued
the 26th, and the Finnish Civil War begins. One war was officially ending though. On the 21st, Germany announced an agreement
with Ukraine that their state of war is at an end, troops on both sides would be withdrawn,
and commerce and diplomacy would begin anew. That might sound good, but Ukraine had a whole
lot of other issues. The All-Ukrainian Congress of Soviets in Kiev
had, after the Bolshevik delegation had left, declared its support last month of the Ukrainian
government and rejected Russian ultimatums. The Kiev Bolsheviks had denounced that congress
and scheduled a new one in Kharkov. That Kharkov congress announced the formation
of the Ukrainian People’s Republic of Soviets and called the Rada – Ukrainian Parliament
– an enemy of the people, and declared war on it back on January 2nd. Now on the 22nd, the Rada broke all ties with
Petrograd and the Ukrainian War of Independence began. Also, all this time Bolshevik troops had been
invading from Russia, capturing Kharkov and Alexandrovsk and converging in Bakhmach before
heading to try and take Kiev. There was naval action this week on the other
side of the Black Sea as well. On the 20th, at the entrance to Dardanelles. The Goeben and the Breslau, well, now technically
known as the Yaviz and Midilli, and Turkish destroyers attacked the British near Imbros. His Majesty’s Monitor “Raglan” and the
smaller monitor M28 were sunk. Breslau was then forced into a minefield and
sunk. Goeben struck a mine and was beached, and
then bombarded all week by the British from the air. That same day, two German destroyers were
sunk by British mines in the North Sea, and a German sub sank the British armed steamer
Louwain, killing 224. This week also saw the first meeting of the
Allied Naval Council in London, as well as machinations from London in France. Let me explain. The British High Command was pretty well aware
of the window of opportunity the Germans had the next few months with Russia out of the
war and the Americans not yet arrived in force. British Chief of Staff Wully Robertson warned
PM David Lloyd George that they had to match German troop concentration on the western
front or they might well lose. Thing is, Lloyd George wasn’t heeding those
warnings. He still thought there was a way to win through
Italy or the Balkans, without the British having to take on the Germans on the Western
Front, with all the carnage that would entail. The big offensives of the Somme and Passchendaele
had horrified him and he had – as we’ve said several times – no confidence in Commander
Sir Douglas Haig. Lloyd George also was, as I’ve also said,
keeping hundreds of thousands of able-bodied soldiers in Britain and not sending them to
the Western Front. In fact, War Office returns for January 1st
show 38,225 officers and 607,403 men in Britain fit for duty, and just 150,000 of them would’ve
brought Haig’s divisions up to full strength (German Spring Offensives). I’ll talk a bit more about that now. The thing that held Lloyd George back from
just dismissing Haig was the political necessity of working together with the conservatives,
part of the coalition government since 1915. They supported Haig, and if Lloyd George tried
to dismiss him it would certainly create a political crisis that might even bring down
the whole administration. So to prevent Haig from launching any more
of those huge bloody offensives, he reduced the number of men available. First, he agreed to the French request that
Britain take over more of the front line. This seems fair at first glance since France
did have 3.5 times as much front as Britain, but on the other hand a large part of France’s
sector was inactive and held with a minimal number of troops. The British line had hot spots like Ypres,
Arras, and the Somme. This month, thanks to Lloyd George, Haig was
forced to take over more territory south of the Somme; so now half the German divisions
on the Western Front were facing British ones. And since Lloyd George was preventing troops
from coming over from Britain, Haig had to reduce the number of battalions in a division
from 12 to 9 to operate. The “spare” battalions were used to re-stock
depleted ranks of others. And this, according to Peter Hart, “…demanded
an enormous shakeup of the BEF: relationships hammered out in the forge of war between regimental
officers and brigade staff officers; established methods of working in a crisis, units with
a proud battalion history – all were torn asunder. And all this while the Germans were preparing
their great assault on the Western Front… meanwhile hundreds of thousands of British
soldiers were still engaged in the futile campaigns in Palestine, Mesopotamia, and Salonika.” Strong words. Lloyd George also saw in the recently formed
Allied Supreme War Council another way to bypass Haig. This council was made up of the Allied Prime
Ministers and one military representative from each nation. Now Lloyd George proposed, and received French
support for, the idea of forming an Allied General Staff, without the involvement of
the national Chiefs of Staff. This would bypass Haig and Robertson, and
Lloyd George’s choice for the British advisor was Lieutenant General Sir Henry Wilson, and
on the 23rd, he became British Chief of Staff of the Allied General Staff in France. But even in the field, Haig was now facing
his most serious organizational crisis. He didn’t have enough men to have strong
defense everywhere, and he didn’t know where the German offensive was going to hit. Or when. He had also switched to a defense-in-depth
system that sort of mimicked the German ones of last year, but that had huge manpower implications. The forward zone was still based on the old
lines, but now with machine guns and barbed wire to cover the gaps between outposts. Behind this was the battle zone, which was
also in lines, but had strong redoubts to break up enemy assaults. Then there was the rear zone, 6-10 km back,
which was to be more of the same, but was really only a theoretical construct at this
point. And he had his work cut out for him thinking
of where attacks might come. His priority was in the north, because the
channel ports and the vital railway junction at Hazebrouck were only a few kilometers behind
the lines. General Sir Herbert Plumer, who would return
from the Italian Front, and his Second Army would have basically zero maneuver room here
and would quite simply have to hold if attacked. To their right, Henry Horne’s First Army
had the heights of Vimy Ridge and Lorette Ridge. Next was Julian Byng’s Third Army at Arras,
and lastly General Sir Hugh Gough’s Fifth Army at the Somme area. In that last sector, there weren’t really
any strategic or tactical objectives within dozens of kilometers of the front lines, so
Haig ignored Gough’s requests for reinforcements. If the attack came there, he would have to
fall back to an emergency line on the Somme River. (SEGUE 4)
As for that attack, German Quartermaster General Erich Ludendorff had been considering options
up and down the Western Front for weeks now, and this week on the 21st at the Aresens Conference
he announced his final decision. He ruled out operation GEORG, which centered
on Hazebrouck, as too dependent on the weather – a late spring could delay the attack until
May, which was too late. He thought MARS, which centered on Arras,
just plain too difficult, and both CASTOR and POLLUX near Verdun he had never really
seriously considered at all. This left operation MICHAEL, on both sides
of St. Quentin. “Here the attack would strike the enemy’s
weakest point, the ground offered no difficulties, and it was feasible for all seasons.” He extended Michael’s northern wing to the
Scarpe River. He planned to have 85-90 divisions in reserve
in the west by the end of March. Thing is, the plan didn’t have a definite
limit. It did have the strategic goal of splitting
the British and French, but his generals all asked for specific ground objectives, to which
he replied, “In Russia, we always merely set an intermediate objective, and then discovered
where to go next.” And that, boys and girls, is the end of the
week. Chaos in Finland and Ukraine, action at sea,
British political moves, and German battle plans coming together. You can understand Lloyd George. I mean, after watching this channel, who would
not be shocked by the staggering loss of life at Arras, the Somme, and Passchendaele? But depriving your defenses of men and maneuvering
generals like chess pieces? Assuming I don’t know what’s going to
happen in the future, one thought leaps out at me – this is not gonna end well. If you want to learn more about Douglas Haig
and why his reputation with Lloyd-George was not ideal, you can click right here for our
episode about him. Our Patreon supporter of the week is Devin
Guthrie who was our first Patreon supporter of 2018 – if you want to join Devin and the
thousands of other people supporting us, just go to patreon.com/thegreatwar – every Dollar
counts. Don’t forget to subscribe, see you next
time.

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