|Silver threepenny piece 1917|
The epicentre of the Russian revolution was St. Petersburg, but all along the Eastern Front, from the Baltic in the north west to collapsing Roumania in the east, the effects were being felt.
The USA was steadily building and training a new army for the Western Front and also moving her fleet westwards. In central and south America some states were declaring against the Central Powers, pushed from their neutrality by ham-fisted Austrian and German diplomacy.
Late 1917 saw a mixed picture for the British military forces. The greatly enlarged British army was in a state of near exhaustion on the Western Front, apparently still unable to find sufficient reserves to relieve the hard pressed men. Such 1917 victories as there had been - at Arras, Ypres and Cambrai -came at tremendous cost. the great potential of tanks had been demonstrated at Cambrai, but Haig and his generals were aware of the transfer of German reinforcements from the Eastern Front to Western for some sort of campaign in early 1918. Elsewhere, the British army had had a much better year in Mesopotamia and Palestine.
|King George V Wytschaete Ridge|
July 1917, marking Britain's most
outright victory of 1917 - Messines.
On 29th November an Act of Parliament brought a third service, the Royal Air Force, into being. This brought the Royal Flying Corps and the Royal Naval Air Service (both developing rapidly) under a single command, and led to further growth and development in 1918.
Lloyd George had just passed his first anniversary as Prime Minister, and he had consolidated his own position and that of his war cabinet. But it had been a trying year. Not only had the enormous losses on the Western Front depressed the people, but also the shortages resulting from UUW, and the increasing German air raids on civilians. Further pressure for a negotiated peace came with the publication on 29th November of a letter by the respected Lord Lansdowne, a former Foreign Secretary. He called for a revision of war objectives and an genuine search for peace, and his letter found support on both sides of the Channel (and of the Atlantic). However, Lloyd George was standing firm for outright victory (despite his concerns about Haig as C-in-C), and his government was performing well by a number of war effort metrics.The Army had increased by more than 800,000 men in 1917; more than 1.5million more men and women had been added to the war production efforts (Woolwich Arsenal, which employed 11,000 men in 1914 now had almost 100,000); more than one million acres of land had been put into food production since UUW started; aircraft production was up by 250%, and ship, timber and guns production had all increased dramatically. By these and other measures the government, working with an efficient administration, had increased productivity and kept the population fed.
|Sir Maurice Hankey - first|
Cabinet Secretary, and
quintessential Civil Servant.
Right at end of the year, there was a surprise change at the top of the Admiralty. Geddes, the new First Lord, dismissed Jellicoe as First Sea Lord, replacing him with Sir Rosslyn Wemyss. This was partly as pay back for the slow Admiralty response to the UUW threat (See Post 3/9/2017), but was a hard blow for the noble Jellicoe to take. Under similar pressure was the army C-in-C, Douglas Haig. Unity of army command would be mandated by the emerging Supreme Allied War Council, and Haig was nobody’s first choice.
By year end, the Bolsheviks had made their power grab and Kerensky had fled from St. Petersburg. The event - like the February Revolution - had been relatively bloodless (the horrors of the Red Terror and the Civil War were still to come), but political chaos and uncertainty were everywhere.
Cessation of the (Imperialist) war had been the Bolsheviks' most consistent policy, and preliminary negotiations between them and the Germans began as soon as November 21st (4th December, Julian)*. These soon became the Brest-Litovsk Conference, which dragged on for several months before ending with the infamous Brest-Litovsk Treaty in 1918. Negotiations also involved Austria-Hungary, Bulgaria and Turkey. Lenin sent Trotsky to lead for the Bolshevik government with instructions to stymie and buy as much time as possible. Gradually, the political uncertainty was creating ramifications across the Russian empire. Nationalist ambitions were emboldened, and independence was declared by several in rapid succession – Ukraine (20th November); Estonia (28th November); Finland (6th December), and Moldavia (23rd December).
North and South America
The USA had no standing army, and was making strenuous efforts to recruit, train and transport one to Europe for early 1918 (although see earlier Post 9/3/2017 for Pershing’s forces in Mexico at the USA declaration of war). General Tasker H Bliss, Chief of Staff of the US Army had joined the embryonic Supreme Allied War Council in Versailles. The American fleet was actively supporting the British navy by the end of the year. A detachment of the fleet had joined Beattie’s Grand Fleet at Scapa Flow, and American destroyers were an integral part of the anti-UUW forces stationed in and around Ireland.
President Wilson was building his own peace proposals, and influencing previously neutral central and southern American neighbours to declare for the Allies. By the end of 1917, Panama, Ecuador and Cuba had declared against the Central Powers, and Argentina had expelled the German Ambassador after U-boats sunk three of their merchant ships.
Germany’s isolation was increasing.
*Cessation of hostilities between Russia and Germany began in a piecemeal way on 2nd December. An armistice was signed on 15th December