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Operation Faustschlag

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Eleven days war
Part of the Eastern Front of World War I
Kamianets-Podilskyi-1918.jpg

Austro-Hungarian troops enter Kamianets-Podilskyi, Western Ukraine with the city's iconic castle in the background
Date18 February – 3 March 1918
Location
Result Decisive Central Powers victory
Belligerents

 German Empire

 Austria-Hungary
 Soviet Russia
Commanders and leaders
German Empire Max Hoffmann Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic Nikolai Krylenko
Strength
53 divisions

The Operation Faustschlag ("Operation Fist Punch"), also known as the Eleven Days' War,[1] was a Central Powers offensive in World War I. It was the last major action on the Eastern Front.

Russian forces were unable to put up any serious resistance due to the turmoil of the Russian Revolution and subsequent Russian Civil War. The armies of the Central Powers therefore captured huge territories in the Baltics, Belarus, and Ukraine, forcing the Bolshevik government of Russia to sign the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk.

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  • ✪ Operation Faustschlag - Germany Advances In The East Again I THE GREAT WAR Week 187
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  • ✪ 3rd March 1918: Russia and Central Powers sign Treaty of Brest-Litovsk
  • ✪ Backs To The Wall - All Eyes On Amiens I THE GREAT WAR Week 192
  • ✪ Transcaucasia in World War 1 I THE GREAT WAR Special

Transcription

After Russia’s October Revolution, the Eastern Front had gone quiet, as Lenin’s Bolshevik government exited the world war and began negotiating peace terms with the Central Powers. But those negotiations have failed and now, this week, the Eastern Front explodes back to life. I’m Indy Neidell; welcome to the Great War. Last week, Ukraine signed a peace treaty with the Central Powers, but it brought anything but peace. In fact, it caused Leon Trotsky to walk out of the Russian peace negotiations with the Central Powers and Germany to then decide to renew the war against Russia. There was new action in the field as well, as the Ottomans advanced from Anatolia toward the Caucasus. Colonel Morel and his ragtag crew of Russians and Armenians retreated as they advanced. “The retreat occupied 11 days between 14 and 24 February and was carried out with remarkable steadfastness and skill under bitter winter conditions - 40-50% of troops and refugees were frost bitten. The retreating columns - as in Ter-Gukasov’s epic withdrawal from the Eleshkirt Valley half a century before - had to cover thousands of panic-stricken against repeated attacks from the Dersim Kurds.” The Ottoman 36th and 5th Caucasian divisions followed the retreat and occupied Erzincan and Mamahatun. By the 18th, the Ottomans were within 15km of Trabzon. But the main action this week was far to the north. The 18th was the end of the armistice between Germany and Russia and the German army crossed Dvina River, marching on Dvinsk, and also toward Lutsk in Ukraine. These cities were occupied the following day as the whole line advanced, pushing into Estonia. The suddenly desperate Bolsheviks declared themselves ready to sign the “unacceptable” peace conditions dictated by the Central Powers at the Brest-Litovsk conference, but Germany General Max Hoffmann, the military rep at the conference was in no hurry to accept their concession. He now said the acceptance of conditions had to be sent in writing by courier through the German lines to Berlin. The German army advances toward Kiev, Moscow, Petrograd, and Reval with little resistance, occupying Minsk. German troops reach Finland to reinforce the White Guard. In fact, in 124 hours, they advanced 240km on the eastern front. Lenin and Trotsky’s written letter reached Berlin the 21st, but it was rejected and the Germans wrote back demanding even harsher terms than at the conference. They were well aware that Russia’s territorial integrity was disintegrating rapidly. Lenin had been advised the whole time that his army could neither stop the Germans nor defend Petrograd. He had, though, been a bit more grounded in reality than some of his comrades. Last month he had made very clear that it was a mistake to bet the survival of the Russian Revolution on the possibility of one happening now in Germany, which he thought inevitable though not imminent. He thought hoping for such a revolution to save the day was a romantic dream and would lead to Russia’s defeat. Still, most of the Bolshevik leaders preferred resistance to accepting terrible peace terms. Last month, 32 voted for a “revolutionary war” and just 15 for a separate peace. 16 supported Trotsky’s “no war no peace plan” we saw last week, figuring they’d lose more Baltic territory but that was a price worth paying. It wasn’t until after the massive German advance this week that Lenin could actually get a majority for a separate peace. But it wasn’t just the east the Germans were focusing on. Quartermaster General Erich Ludendorff and his staff were also making plans for a gigantic spring offensive in the west. The formal decision that it would be Operation MICHAEL was finally issued February 8th. The basic plan had been issued late last month, and the operation had to be ready to go around March 20th. The 17th army would conduct MICHAEL I, the 2nd army MICHAEL II, and the 18th army MICHAEL III. Number one was planned as an attack from the Cambrai front toward Bullecourt-Bapaume, number two an attack toward Péronne and then north. These would cut off the enemy in the Cambrai salient and then continue northwest and roll up the British. MICHAEL III was to be an attack on both sides of St. Quentin to throw the enemy back over the Crozat Canal and then cover MICHAEL II’s flank. That was last month’s plan anyhow, but there were other side plans still in the works, for example MARS would be launched south of the River Scarpe a few days after MICHAEL began. Thing is, last week at the big German Bad Homburg conference, Ludendorff said something that seemed to betray his belief that this would win the war for Germany, “We must not believe that this offensive will be like those in Galicia or Italy. It will be an immense struggle that will begin at one point, continue at another, and take a long time.” But the plans were still evolving - the day after that conference, the 17th army was told that the main effort of MICHAEL I was on the pivot of the right wing against Arras, and not on the left wing cutting off Cambrai and linking with MICHAEL II, two days later this was overruled and the main attack had to be on the left wing, and the execution of MARS depends solely on the success of the MICHAEL attacks. Another meeting is scheduled for next week at Charleville. However the offensive begins, though, Ludendorff will be facing an army run by a different High Command than before. After a month of political maneuvering to get rid of him, British army Chief of Staff Wully Robertson resigned this week, rather than compromise on actions that he felt would weaken the army. On February 16, 1918, then, Sir Henry Wilson became the new Chief of the General Staff, and Sir Henry Rawlinson became the military rep at the Allied Supreme War Council at Versailles. Here’s a quote from the Great War Generals on the Western Front, “Robertson refused to accept the position at Versailles, for he felt the real power would rest with Wilson in London. Since Wully Robertson lacked the latter’s talent for “mischief”- Wilson’s own term for his relentless drive for self-advancement and backstairs maneuvering- he was probably correct.” Robertson was - and still is - the only soldier in the British army to rise from the rank of private all the way up to Field Marshal. He began his military career in The Queen’s Lancers 1877 at the age of 17- lying and saying he was 18, and passed his officer’s commission in 1888. The British army was actually advancing in the field this week, though far from the Western Front, in Palestine. On the 19th, they were within 12km of Jericho, which they took the 21st. They were now established on a line that threatened the Hejaz Railway. General Edmund Allenby had reached the northern end of the Dead Sea, the lowest part of the earth’s land surface, 1,290 ft below sea level. The Ottomans retreated beyond the River Jordan. The capture of Jericho not only gave Allenby access to the River, but also made possible another plan of his. Let me backtrack. Following the capture of Jerusalem in December, British Prime Minister David Lloyd George had convinced the Allied Supreme War Council that the British should launch a new offensive against the Ottomans in 1918. He then sent Jan Smuts, from the War Cabinet, to Egypt to determine if that offensive should come in Palestine or Mesopotamia. So now, while Smuts is touring Palestine, the fall of Jericho happens, and Smuts endorses Palestine. Allenby said last month that he would like to destroy 10-15 miles of the Ottoman Hejaz Railway, which was a major Ottoman supply route, and some of its bridges, and be in direct touch with the Arab Revolt under Feisal, and then he would accomplish a lot. More and more, Allenby’s plans now, after Jericho, involved a drive on Amman. And earlier I mentioned the Germans reinforcing the Finnish White Guard? Their leader, General Mannerheim, was gathering his army in the north because by the 18th, south Finland was in Bolshevik hands. Mannerheim demanded the evacuation of all Russian troops - red or white - from Finland immediately, on the 23rd. The Bolsheviks will agree to this, since they’ve got much bigger headaches of their own. And the week ends, with the Ottomans advancing in Anatolia, the British advancing in Palestine, and the Germans advancing all along the Eastern Front. You gotta ask yourself, “how did the Russians not see this coming?” Well, hindsight is easy, but still - a majority of the Bolshevik leadership believed, until this week, that either revolution would cripple Germany, or that Germany would accept “no war, no peace”. I suppose that optimism stemmed from the success of their own revolution and rise to power, but Russia is now in big big trouble. Will they accept German peace terms? Will they try to fight? Will they submit and then launch a resistance? Will the Bolshevik government survive? I guess we’ll just have to wait and see. If you want to learn more about one of the driving forces behind the German strategy throughout the war, you can click right here for our episode about Paul von Hindenburg. Our Patreon supporter of the week is the Dead Baron…… yep. Don’t forget to subscribe, see you next time.

Contents

Background

Bolsheviks took power in Russia during the October Revolution and announced that Russia would be withdrawing from war. Talks with the Central Powers started in Brest-Litovsk on 3 December 1917 and on the 17th a cease-fire went into effect. Peace talks soon followed, starting on 22 December.[2]

As negotiations began, the Central Powers presented demands for the territory that they had occupied during the 1914–1916 period, including Poland, Lithuania and western Latvia. The Bolsheviks decided not to accept these terms and instead withdrew from the negotiations, eventually resulting in the breakdown of the ceasefire.[3] Leon Trotsky, head of the Russian delegation, hoped to delay talks until a revolution occurred within Germany, which would force them out of the war.[4]

Trotsky was the leading advocate of the "neither war nor peace" policy and on 28 January 1918 announced that Soviet Russia considered the war over.[5] This was unacceptable to the Germans who were already transporting troops to the Western Front. The German Chief of Staff, general Max Hoffmann, responded by signing the peace treaty with Ukrainian People's Republic on 9 February and announced an end to the cease-fire with Russia in two-days time on 17 February, leading to the resumption of hostilities.[6]

While negotiations were ongoing, Soviet Commander-in-Chief Nikolai Krylenko oversaw the demobilization and democratization of the Russian army, introducing elected commanders, ending all ranks, and sending troops home. On 29 January, Krylenko ordered demobilization of the whole army.[7]

Offensive

The German offensive in Livonia and Estonia.
The German offensive in Livonia and Estonia.
German troops in Kiev, March 1918.
German troops in Kiev, March 1918.

On 18 February, the German and Austro-Hungarian forces started a major three-pronged offensive against the Soviets with 53 divisions. The northern force advanced from Pskov towards Narva, the central force pushed towards Smolensk, and the southern force towards Kiev.[8]

The northern force, consisting of 16 divisions, captured the key Daugavpils junction on the first day.[1] This was soon followed by the capture of Pskov and securing Narva on 28 February.[6] The central forces of the 10th Army and XLI corps advanced towards Smolensk.[6] On 21 February Minsk was captured together with the headquarters of the Western Army Group.[1] The Southern forces broke through the remains of the Russian Southwestern Army Group, capturing Zhitomir on 24 February. Kiev was secured on 2 March, one day after the Ukrainian Central Rada troops had arrived there.[1]

Central Powers armies had advanced over 150 miles (240 km) within a week, facing no serious Soviet resistance. German troops were now within 100 miles (160 km) of Petrograd, forcing the Soviets to transfer their capital to Moscow.[6] The rapid advance was described as a "Railway War" (der Eisenbahnfeldzug) with German soldiers using Russian railways to advance eastward.[9] General Hoffmann wrote in his diary on 22 February:

It is the most comical war I have ever known. We put a handful of infantrymen with machine guns and one gun onto a train and rush them off to the next station; they take it, make prisoners of the Bolsheviks, pick up few more troops, and so on. This proceeding has, at any rate, the charm of novelty.[1][10]

Political impact

As the German offensive was ongoing, Trotsky returned to Petrograd. Most of the leadership still preferred continuing the war, even though Russia was in no position to do so, due to the destruction of its army.[6] At this point Lenin intervened to push the Soviet leadership into acceptance of German terms, which by now had become even harsher. He was backed by other senior communists to include Kamenev, Zinoviev, and Stalin.[9]

After a stormy session of Lenin's ruling council, during which the revolution's leader went so far as to threaten resignation, he obtained a 116 to 85 vote in favour of the new German terms. The vote in the Central Committee was even closer, seven in favour and six against.[10] In the end, Trotsky switched his vote and German terms were accepted;[8] on 3 March, the Bolsheviks signed the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk.[6]

On 24 February, one day before the arrival of German troops to Tallinn, the Estonian Salvation Committee declared the independence of Estonia. German occupation authorities refused to recognize the Estonian government and Germans were installed in positions of authority.[11]

Aftermath

Territories occupied by the Central Powers during and after Operation Faustschlag.
Territories occupied by the Central Powers during and after Operation Faustschlag.

The Bolshevik capitulation on 3 March only ended the advance along a line from Narva to Northern Ukraine, as with the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk the Soviet government gave up all rights to Southern Russia. During the next few months, the southern Central Powers forces advanced over 500 miles further, capturing the whole of Ukraine and some territory beyond.[1]

German operations also continued in the Caucasus and Finland, where Germany assisted the White Finnish forces in the Finnish Civil War.[6] Under the treaty all Russian naval bases in the Baltic except Kronstadt were taken away, and the Russian Black Sea Fleet warships in Odessa were to be disarmed and detained. The Bolsheviks also agreed to the immediate return of 630,000 Austrian prisoners-of-war.[12]

With the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk, Soviet Russia had given up Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Belarus and Ukraine, enabling those territories to develop independently from Russian influence. Germany's intention was to turn these territories into political and territorial satellites, but this plan collapsed with Germany's own defeat within a year.[13] After the German surrender, the Soviets made an attempt to regain lost territories. They were successful in some areas like Ukraine, Belarus and the Caucasus, but were forced to recognize the independence of the Baltic States, Finland, and Poland.[14]

In Ukraine Ukrainian troops took control of the Donets Basin in April 1918.[15] In the same month, Crimea was also cleared of the Bolsheviks by Ukrainian troops and the Imperial German Army.[16][17] On 13 March 1918 Ukrainian troops and the Austro-Hungarian Army had secured Odessa.[16] On 5 April 1918 the German army took control of Yekaterinoslav, and 3 days later Kharkiv.[18] The German/Austro-Hungarian victories in Ukraine were due to the apathy of the locals and the inferior fighting skills of Bolsheviks troops compared to their Austro-Hungarian and German counterparts.[18]

In the Bolshevik government, Lenin consolidated his power; however, fearing the possibility of a renewed German threat along the Baltic, he moved the capital from Petrograd to Moscow on 12 March. Debates became far more restrained, and he was never again so strongly challenged as he was regarding the Brest-Litovsk treaty.[19]

See also

References

  1. ^ a b c d e f Mawdsley (2007), p. 35
  2. ^ Tucker and Roberts (2005), p. 662
  3. ^ Mawdsley (2007), p. 31–32
  4. ^ Tucker and Roberts (2005), p. 662-663
  5. ^ Mawdsley (2007), p. 32
  6. ^ a b c d e f g Tucker and Roberts (2005), p. 663
  7. ^ Mawdsley (2007), p. 34
  8. ^ a b Woodward (2009), p. 295
  9. ^ a b Mawdsley (2007), p. 33
  10. ^ a b Gilbert (2008), p. 399
  11. ^ Parrott (2002), p. 145
  12. ^ Gilbert (2008), p. 402
  13. ^ Mawdsley (2007), p. 37
  14. ^ Raffass (2012), p. 43
  15. ^ (in Ukrainian) 100 years ago Bakhmut and the rest of Donbass liberated, Ukrayinska Pravda (18 April 2018)
  16. ^ a b Tynchenko, Yaros (23 March 2018), "The Ukrainian Navy and the Crimean Issue in 1917-18", The Ukrainian Week, retrieved October 14, 2018
  17. ^ Germany Takes Control of Crimea, New York Herald (18 May 1918)
  18. ^ a b War Without Fronts: Atamans and Commissars in Ukraine, 1917-1919 by Mikhail Akulov, Harvard University, August 2013 (page 102 and 103)
  19. ^ Mawdsley (2007), p. 36-37

Bibliography

This page was last edited on 20 March 2019, at 13:58
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