It’s July 1917, three years since another July spun the world into global war. A major Russian offensive ends in defeat, retreat, and massive demonstrations in the streets of Petrograd, forcing a change in the revolutionary government. A political upheaval in Germany leads to the resignation of Chancellor Bethmann-Hollweg and Foreign Minister Arthur Zimmermann. King George V visits the British Army on the Western Front. While he is there German bombers attack London; when he returns he changes the name of the Royal Family. In the Near East, Arab tribes led by Lawrence of Arabia capture the important Red Sea port of Aqaba. Winston Churchill rejoins the British Cabinet as Minister of Munitions. The British Army begins another major offensive at Ypres. An American Army battalion marches through Paris and visits Lafayette’s tomb. A large convoy of American troops arrives safely in France after a crossing contested by German U-boats. An accidental explosion sinks a dreadnought at Scapa Flow. In the United States the Secretary of War sets up a system of press censorship, then backs down in the face of fierce criticism. General Pershing says he wants a three million man Army by 1919. Compulsory military service begins as the first numbers are drawn in the draft lottery. Exports are prohibited without a license. Race riots explode in East St. Louis.
The month began with a major offensive by the Russian Army in Galicia which, after initial success, was driven back by German counterattacks. As the Army’s morale collapsed and its retreat became a rout, unrest in Petrograd and other major cities intensified. In spontaneous demonstrations, later joined by the Bolsheviks, workers and soldiers poured into the streets on July 16 (July 3 on the Russian calendar) to protest the the Provisional Government and its continuation of the war. Two days later General Brusilov was relieved as Commander-in-Chief of the Army, replaced by General Lavr Kornilov, Commander of the Petrograd garrison. On July 21, Prince Lvov was replaced as Prime Minister by Alexander Kerensky, who continued as Minister of War. Two days later the Council of Workmen’s and Soldiers’ Delegates voted to give Kerensky unlimited powers for the reestablishment of public order. Kerensky has appealed for public support, sending troops to put down the uprising, which he claims is the work of German agents. In a statement to the press he said he will “save Russia and Russian unity by blood and iron, if argument and reason, honor and conscience, are not sufficient.” In the ensuing crackdown the Bolshevik leader Leon Trotsky has been imprisoned and Vladimir Lenin has fled to Finland.
Germany has a new government. On July 6, Matthias Erzberger, the leader of the Center Party, rose in the Reichstag and made a controversial peace proposal. Outlining the country’s military weakness, he argued that Germany should attempt to make peace on the basis of a renunciation of all territorial ambitions and a return to the pre-war status quo. When a peace resolution incorporating Erzberger’s proposals passed the Reichstag on July 19, Generals Hindenburg and Ludendorff threatened to resign, forcing the resignation of Chancellor Bethmann-Hollweg and Foreign Minister Arthur Zimmermann. The new Chancellor, Georg Michaelis, has refused to consider any peace initiative, saying “I do not consider that a body like the German Reichstag is a fit one to decide about peace and war on its own initiative during the war.” There is little doubt that Hindenburg and Ludendorff are now firmly in control of German war policy.
From July 3 to 14, King George V, accompanied by the Prince of Wales, visited British troops on the western front. Accompanied by General Sir Herbert Plumer, he explored the battlefields where his Army had struggled a year earlier in its offensive on the River Somme. Then he climbed the heights of Messines Ridge and Vimy Ridge, recently occupied by British forces.
Anti-German sentiment has been building in Great Britain for some time, and the Royal Family’s German name, Saxe-Coburg and Gotha, has become something of an embarrassment. Making matters worse, Gotha bombers began attacking London earlier this year, and while the King was in France the largest raid of the year killed thirty-seven Londoners. On July 17, shortly after his return to England, the King issued a Royal Proclamation announcing that “We, out of our Royal Will and Authority, do hereby declare and announce that as from the date of this Our Royal Proclamation Our House and Family shall be styled and known as the House and Family of Windsor.” The new name is widely popular. When the change was announced, the Times stated approvingly that “the King could not have chosen a more appropriate name for his Royal House than that of Windsor, which . . . has been associated longer than any other Royal residence with the fortunes and the lives of the Kings and Queens of England.” At the same time, the King revoked the British titles held by members of the Royal Family who are fighting for Germany.
Since October of last year British Army Major T. E. Lawrence has been in the Hejaz, encouraging and advising Arab tribes loyal to Prince Faisal who are in rebellion against Ottoman rule. On July 6, Arab forces accompanied by Lawrence attacked and seized the Red Sea port of Aqaba, a Turkish stronghold at the northern end of the Gulf of Aqaba, which marks the eastern boundary of the Sinai Peninsula. Lawrence then journeyed across the Sinai desert to the Suez Canal and on to the headquarters of the British Egyptian Expeditionary Force in Cairo. There he informed General Edmund Allenby in person of the capture of Aqaba and gained commitments for additional British support for the rebelling Arab tribes. The capture of Aqaba provides the British with a valuable supply port and base of operations in support of Prince Faisal’s rebel forces operating against the Turks.
On the night of July 9 in the Royal Navy’s anchorage in Scapa flow, a mysterious explosion destroyed the dreadnought battleship H.M.S. Vanguard, a veteran of the Battle of Jutland. The ship sank almost instantly, killing over 800 British sailors.
Winston Churchill, the former First Lord of the Admiralty, was excluded from the coalition government formed by Prime Minister Asquith in May 1915 as the failure of the Dardanelles campaign was becoming apparent. Churchill served in the minor Cabinet position of Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster until November 1915, when he resigned from the Cabinet to join the Army on the Western Front. He commanded a battalion of the Royal Scots Fusiliers near Ploegsteert until March 1916, when he returned to Westminster and resumed his seat in Parliament as an opposition back-bencher while defending his conduct of the Dardanelles campaign and participating in the proceedings of the Dardanelles Committee of Enquiry. The new Prime Minister David Lloyd George is an admirer of Churchill’s, and on July 17 of this year, despite the opposition of several other members of the Government, he brought Churchill into the Cabinet as Minister of Munitions, the post formerly held by Lloyd George himself. As British constitutional practice requires when a member of Parliament joins the cabinet, Churchill returned to his constituency to seek reelection, and on July 29 the electors of Dundee returned him to Parliament. He will take his seat on the Government bench on August 1. As part of the same Cabinet reorganization, Sir Eric Campbell Geddes will replace Sir Edward Carson as First Lord of the Admiralty and Edwin Samuel Montagu will become Secretary of State for India, the post held until recently by Austen Chamberlain.
On the last day of July, following a two-week artillery barrage that surpassed in intensity even the one that preceded last year’s Somme offensive, an Allied army under the command of British General Sir Hubert Gough launched another offensive in the Ypres Salient. The objective is the capture of the important railway junction at Roulers. The attack, strongly advocated by General Sir Douglas Haig, was finally approved by the British War Policy Committee despite opposition from French Generals Foch and Petain and serious reservations voiced by the Prime Minister and shared by the new Minister of Munitions, Winston Churchill.
The first American troops to arrive in Europe are about to commence training. A battalion was in Paris on July 4, and all Paris turned out to greet them in an Independence Day parade celebrating American entry into the war. American flags flew from public buildings, hotels, residences, taxicabs and carts, and American flag pins decorated horses’ bridles and pedestrians’ lapels. The Republican Guard Band executed a field reveille beneath General Pershing’s windows at 8:00 a.m. and accompanied him through throngs of spectators to the Invalides, where American troops were drawn up with a detachment of French Territorials at the Court of Honor. In the chapel before the tomb of Napoleon President Poincare presented Pershing with American flags and banners. The Americans then passed in review before Poincare, Marshal Joffre and other dignitaries to the strains of “The Star Spangled Banner” and the “Marseillaise” and shouts of “Vive les Americains! Vive Pershing! and Vivent les Etats Unis!” The parade continued across the Alexander III Bridge to the Place de la Concorde, then down the Rue de Rivoli past the Tuileries Gardens to the tomb of the Marquis de Lafayette at Picpus Cemetery, near the Place de la Nation. In a brief ceremony Lt. Col. Charles E. Stanton of the General’s staff delivered a speech that ended as he turned to the tomb and announced “Lafayette, we are here!”
On July 3 Secretary of the Navy Josephus Daniels announced “with the joy of a great relief . . . the safe arrival in France of every fighting man and every fighting ship.” He revealed that the transports carrying American troops and supplies had been twice attacked by German submarines, which had been beaten off by the U.S. Naval escorts. One of the U-boats was reported sunk and the other damaged and possibly destroyed.
In a proclamation dated July 9, exercising powers granted under the Espionage Act, President Wilson forbade all exports of food, fuel and war supplies without a license issued by the Exports Council, the agency he created last month by executive order. The proclamation took effect July 15.
On the Fourth of July, news organizations in the United States learned of an order of Secretary of War Newton D. Baker that all dispatches from correspondents in France to news organizations in the United States were to be diverted to the War Department before being delivered to their addressees. The Associated Press was informed that a dispatch sent from France was in the possession of the Committee on Public Information, of which George Creel is the Chairman, and that the Associated Press could have it if it sent for it. Upon further inquiry, it was learned that any cable addressed to an American newspaper would be sent to the War Department and turned over to the Creel Committee which would have men on duty capable of promptly reviewing and censoring the dispatch. Remarkably, the War Department assumed this authority despite the decision of Congress in considering the Espionage Act to deny the President the censorship power he had requested on the ground that it would violate the Constitutional guarantee of freedom of the press. The reaction to the War Department’s order in Congress and the press was immediate. A three-column headline at the top of the front page of the next day’s New York Times read “Baker Seizes News Dispatches, Ignoring Congress and Constitution.” That day Mr. Creel presided over a meeting of the Committee on Public Information at which Secretary Baker, Secretary of the Navy Daniels and Secretary of State Robert Lansing were also present. After the meeting it was announced that the emergency on account of which the order had been issued (presumably the arrival of American troops in France) having passed, the order would be revoked.
General Pershing has estimated that the American war effort will require a one million man Army by 1918 and three million by 1919. The new selective service law is the principal means of achieving those goals. The draft began on July 20 with a ceremonial drawing of the first numbers in the Senate Office Building on Capitol Hill. The lottery was organized and supervised by Provost Marshal General Enoch Crowder and Adjutant General Henry P. McCain. At 9:32 a.m. Secretary of War Baker gave a brief speech, then after being blindfolded inserted his hand into a glass bowl filled with numbers written on slips of paper. He drew number 258, meaning that registrants assigned that number in each of the 4,557 Selective Service Registration Districts will be among the first to be notified to report for duty. Other dignitaries followed, and the drawing of numbers continued until the early morning hours. In all over ten thousand numbers were drawn.
Race riots broke out in East St. Louis, Illinois on July 2, fueled mainly by white residents’ anger about importation of black laborers from the South, who are believed to be taking jobs away from white workers, sometimes as strikebreakers. Thousands of white men rampaged through the Negro sections of the city, dragging passengers off streetcars, setting buildings afire and shooting or hanging residents as they tried to flee. Hundreds of African Americans were given refuge at City Hall and the Police Station, and hundreds of the ringleaders were arrested and detained. The state militia was called out and military rule was proclaimed that evening. Before the riots were brought under control, dozens of men, mostly black men, had been killed and many more injured. The federal government played no role in restoring order. Although staff lawyers in the Department of Justice concluded that there was sufficient basis for federal intervention under the Civil Rights Act of 1866 and the Federal Penal Code, Attorney General Gregory told President Wilson on July 27 that “no facts have been presented to us that would justify” any federal action.
July 1917 – Selected Sources and Recommended Reading
American Review of Reviews, August and September 1917
New York Times, July 1917
Books and Articles:
Scott Berg, Wilson
Britain at War Magazine, The Fourth Year of the Great War: 1917
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
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
Nicholas A. Lambert, Planning Armageddon: British Economic Warfare and the First World War
Arthur S. Link, Wilson: Confusions and Crises, 1915-1916
Arthur S. Link, Woodrow Wilson and the Progressive Era, 1910-1917
Robert K. Massie, Nicholas and Alexandra
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
Michael S. Neiberg, The Path to War: How the First World War Created Modern America
Edward J. Renehan Jr., 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
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, 1916-1931
Geoffrey C. Ward and Ken Burns, The Roosevelts: An Intimate History
The West Point Atlas of War: World War I
The following 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: centennialcountdown.blogspot.com