August 1918 marks the beginning of the 100 days offensive that will bring an end to the war on the Western Front. An Allied army under British command mounts a successful offensive east of Amiens. The attack advances up to nine miles the first day, a day General Ludendorff will later call “the black day of the German Army.” As the Allies follow up with a series of frequent attacks at different locations along the front, the Germans fall back to the Hindenburg Line. In a Crown Council at Spa, the leaders of the Central Powers agree that they must seek a negotiated settlement, but only “after the next success in the west.” On the recommendation of his Jewish superior officer, Corporal Adolf Hitler is decorated for bravery. In the United States, outspoken opponents of the draft are sentenced to long prison terms. The Bolshevik revolution in Russia is under intense pressure as British, French and American troops land in Vladivostok on the Pacific coast of Siberia and in Arkhangelsk and Murmansk in the Russian Arctic, and as British forces move north from Persia and India to secure the Baku oil fields and lines of communication in the Caucasus and Turkestan. Lenin makes additional concessions to Germany and barely survives an assassination attempt.
Operation Michael, the first of the German offensives made possible by Russia’s exit from the war, was mounted in March. It fell short of its goal of capturing the important railroad center of Amiens, and left the Germans defending a large salient east of the city. In the early morning hours of August 8 Allied forces under the command of General Sir Henry Rawlinson mounted a major attack on the salient. Preparations for the attack were undertaken with the greatest secrecy, and the Germans, who were expecting an attack near Ypres, were taken by surprise. British, Canadian, Australian and French infantry left their trenches without any preliminary artillery bombardment and, following tanks and a rolling artillery barrage, advanced along the Somme battlefield of two years ago. Unlike the protracted and largely futile battle of 1916, however, this time the Allies advanced as much as nine miles the first day and took thousands of prisoners, reflecting a significant weakening of German discipline and morale. The Allied offensive was marked by the most successful use to date of combined infantry, armored, and air power, with even mounted cavalry deployed successfully to exploit breakthroughs on the relatively level, solid ground. By August 10 the Germans had recovered from the initial surprise and managed to reestablish a defensive line. Field Marshal Haig, commanding the British forces, told Marshal Foch that a pause was necessary, advice that led to a clash with Foch, who wanted the offensive to continue. After a brief pause, British and French forces renewed the offensive on August 20-21, and on August 31 Australians under the command of General John Monash crossed the Somme and captured Peronne and Mont St. Quentin. Ludendorff ordered a general withdrawal on the Somme front, pulling back to the defensive fortifications of the Hindenburg Line, and also withdrew from the Lys salient in Flanders that resulted from April’s Operation Georgette.
In the immediate aftermath of the initial German defeat on the Somme, Kaiser Wilhelm convened a conference of the Central Powers at Spa, the resort town in Belgium where he has established his headquarters. After a pessimistic briefing by General Ludendorff, the Kaiser responded “We are at the end of our effectiveness; the war must be ended.” Ludendorff agreed, but told the Kaiser that by assuming a defensive strategy Germany might eventually force the Allies to sue for peace. Foreign Minister von Hintze argued for an immediate diplomatic initiative. Chancellor von Hertling attempted to summarize the group’s conclusion by announcing that Germany must be prepared to seek peace, but only “after the next success in the west,” an event no one present was willing or able to predict with confidence. When the Austro-Hungarian leaders arrived later that day, they were told that while “the possibility of a decisive blow does not exist,” it was not a good time to try to open negotiations. Later in the month, however, Austro-Hungarian Foreign Minister Count Burian advised Germany that his government would make a separate peace overture to the Entente.
The Iron Cross is a German military award for valor. On August 4, following the German retreat from Soissons following the Blucher-Yorck Offensive, the German regimental commander presented the Iron Cross, First Class, to Corporal Adolf Hitler, who among his other duties had served as a messenger carrying dispatches to and from the front lines. The award, an unusual honor for a soldier of Hitler’s low rank, was given for “personal bravery and general merit.” It had been approved on the recommendation of Lieutenant Hugo Gutman, Hitler’s Jewish company commander.
Franklin D. Roosevelt, the American Assistant Secretary of the Navy, has been in Europe since July 21, when he was greeted in Portsmouth by Vice Admiral William Sims, the Commander of U.S. Naval Forces in Europe, and Rear Admiral Sir Allan Frederick Everett, the Naval Secretary to the First Lord of the Admiralty. After ten days in England, during which he was received by the King at Buckingham Palace, Roosevelt and his party were taken across the English Channel to Dunkirk aboard a British destroyer. They traveled by train to Paris, where they were received by President Poincare, Premier Clemenceau and other dignitaries. On August 4 Roosevelt embarked on a tour of the front, which included stops at Chateau-Thierry, Belleau Wood and Verdun. On August 8 he continued by rail to Rome where he conferred with Prime Minister Vittorio Orlando and Foreign Minister Baron Sonnino. Returning to France, he toured anti-submarine bases on the Atlantic coast and inspected a battery of naval guns being prepared for use in land warfare. He visited King Albert in Belgium before returning to Great Britain, where he traveled to Inverness and inspected the North Sea mine barrage and the British and American battleship squadrons in the Firth of Forth. He is scheduled to return to the United States in early September.
In Chicago on August 30, the largest federal criminal case in American history came to an end when Judge Kenesaw Mountain Landis returned verdicts of guilty against William D. (“Big Bill”) Haywood and other leaders of the International Workers of the World (“I.W.W.” or “Wobblies”) for urging its members and others to oppose the war and resist the draft. Judge Kenesaw Mountain Landis sentenced Haywood and fourteen of his chief deputies to twenty year prison terms. Other sentences ranging from ten years to ten days were imposed on other defendants.
The next day, President Wilson signed the new manpower bill into law. All men between the ages of 18 and 45 must register for the draft by September 12. The new law greatly expands the pool of potential draftees from the previous age range of 21 through 31.
Irving Berlin’s musical revue “Yip Yip Yaphank” opened last month at Camp Upton, the Army recruit depot at Yaphank, Long Island that forms the backdrop for the songs in the show. On August 19 it moved for a limited run to the Century Theatre on Central Park West. To the delight of the audience, the cast, including the “chorus maidens,” is made up entirely of soldiers from Camp Upton. Here Arthur Fields sings one of the most popular songs in the show, every soldier’s lament, “Oh, How I Hate to Get Up in the Morning” (click to play):
The Bolshevik revolution in Russia is under siege on many fronts. When the month began, Japanese troops occupied the Pacific Coast port of Vladivostok, and anti-Bolshevik Russians assisted by the Czech Legion controlled most of the Trans-Siberian Railroad. In its weakened state following the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk and Russia’s withdrawal from the war, Lenin’s government has turned increasingly to Germany for protection against domestic and foreign threats. Russia’s erstwhile allies, in turn, have moved to support anti-Bolshevik forces, to protect large supplies of war materiel stockpiled in Russian ports in Siberia and the Russian Arctic, and to secure Russian oil fields and lines of communication with British India. British, French and American troops occupied the ports of Arkhangelsk and Murmansk on the White Sea on August 3 to safeguard Allied supplies and defend against a threatened German attack on the Murmansk-Petrograd Railroad. On August 15, as Allied forces advanced up the Dvina River and Bolshevik forces withdrew from Arkhangelsk, another Allied contingent was put ashore at Onega Bay to block their retreat.
On August 16 British troops stationed in Persia occupied the port of Baku on the Caspian Sea, the center of an important oil producing region, with the goal of forestalling its occupation by the Ottoman Turks and gaining control of the Trans-Caucasian Railroad. Other British troops moved north from India to Turkestan, where they joined forces with anti-Bolshevik forces in central Asia. American and Japanese forces landed in Vladivostok. The American mission is to safeguard Allied war supplies, but the Japanese, under separate command, view their mission more expansively. On August 26 they joined Czech troops in attacking the Red Guard and driving them back from the Ussuri River.
Under pressure from Germany following the assassination of the German ambassador last month, Lenin’s government has agreed to a demand by Germany that German troops be allowed to guard its diplomatic posts in Russia. On August 27, conceding further German demands, Lenin entered into a Supplement to the Brest-Litovsk Treaty agreeing to give Germany control of all Russian naval assets in the Black Sea, to recognize the independence of Georgia, and to withdraw from Estonia and Livonia, thereby ceding control of the remainder of the Baltic coast to Germany. Russia also agreed to pay Germany an additional indemnity of six billion marks and to supply 25 percent of Baku’s oil production to the Central Powers once the oil fields are back in Russian hands. Germany agreed that it will not attack Petrograd if Russia drives Entente forces from the country, but in a secret clause Russia agreed that if it fails to do so Germany may intervene.
Domestic threats to the Bolshevik regime are not limited to factions supported by the Allies. Its most dangerous enemy might be the Left Socialist Revolutionaries (LSR), who advocate continuing the war against the Entente and bitterly oppose the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk. The LSR was responsible for last month’s assassination of the German ambassador and its opposition grew more intense this month with the additional humiliation of the Supplementary Treaty. Its threat to the regime peaked on August 30 when an LSR member shot Lenin as he was leaving the Mekhelson Armament Works in an industrial suburb of Moscow. The Cheka, the Soviet Secret Police, arrested Fanny Kaplan, who has confessed to the crime and insisted she acted alone. Lenin was seriously wounded, and his survival is uncertain. Less uncertain is the fate of Miss Kaplan.
August 1918 – Selected Sources and Recommended Reading
American Review of Reviews, September and October 1918
New York Times, August and September 1918
Books and Articles:
Scott Berg, Wilson
Britain at War Magazine, The Fifth Year of the Great War: 1918
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
John Dos Passos, Mr. Wilson’s War
Kenneth S. Davis, FDR: The Beckoning of Destiny
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 IV: The Stricken World 1916-1922
Ann Hagedorn, Savage Peace, Hope and Fear in America, 1919
August Heckscher, Woodrow Wilson: A Biography
Godfrey Hodgson, Woodrow Wilson’s Right Hand: The Life of Colonel Edward M. House
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
Anthony Lewis, Make No Law, The Sullivan Case and the First Amendment
Bruce Lincoln, Passage Through Armageddon: The Russians In War and Revolution 1914-1918
Arthur S. Link, Woodrow Wilson and the Progressive Era, 1910-1917
Robert K. Massie, Nicholas and Alexandra
Robert K. Massie, The Romanovs: The Final Chapter
G.J. Meyer, A World Undone: The Story of the Great War, 1914 to 1918
G.J. Meyer, The World Remade: America in World War I
Ted Morgan, FDR: A Biography
William Mulligan, The Great War for Peace
Michael S. Neiberg, The Path to War: How the First World War Created Modern America
Patricia O’Toole, The Moralist: Woodrow Wilson and the World He Made
Edward J. Renehan, The Lion’s Pride: Theodore Roosevelt and His Family in Peace and War
Jonathan Schneer, The Balfour Declaration: The Origins of the Arab-Israeli Conflict
David Stevenson, Cataclysm: The First World War As Political Tragedy
David Stevenson, With Our Backs to the Wall: Victory and Defeat in 1918
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, 1916-193
Geoffrey C. Ward, A First Class Temperament: The Emergence of Franklin Roosevelt
Geoffrey C. Ward and Ken Burns, The Roosevelts: An Intimate History
The West Point Atlas of War: World War I
This article is reprinted from the Centennial Countdown to the Great War blog published by Dennis Cross. Read the original post and access an archive of previous posts at: