Battle of Jutland: May 31st 1916

The Battle of Jutland took place on the 31st May 1916 during the First World War. The battle saw two of the greatest and largest fleets in history come together which saw a huge loss of life and a battle which both sides claimed victory. I enjoy naval history, my family have served in the navy or been in naval disasters, with a relative who died on the Hood when it exploded from a shell from the Bismarck, another who died on the Titanic, and with my Great-Uncle and a Grandfather both being chief-engineers in the Navy and merchant navy, and many others working in Sheppey and Chatham dockyards, the opportunity to write about Jutland was one I could not simply miss. So I hope this brief blog will give an insight into the battle.

The English fleet was classed as the best and the most efficient of the time, however this can be easily contested as just as another Victorian tradition, which Eric Hobsbawm argues; that by the beginning of the 20th century, the navy was tactically and technologically behind other European states, but the idea of Britannia ruling the waves prevailed. This is important to note, as it could be argued that the British were complacent in their ship design because of this belief.

As tensions rose at the end of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th century, it could be seen that England had involved itself with an arms race with Germany before the war had started. J.R. Jones, a leading historian in the field of the Anglo-Dutch Wars of the seventeenth centuries, states that ‘a study of the Rumps reaction to the Dutch decision to set out a massively expanded fleet in 1652 would have warned the Kaiser and Tirpitz that the enlarged High Seas Fleet would be seen in Whitehall as a provocative challenge to be met. The Anglo-Dutch War is an important comparison, as it allows us to see many similarities as well as noting the age-old idea that history repeats itself. So, with both nations building dreadnoughts and super dreadnoughts, it was inevitable that both navies would clash at some point and when both navies met at Jutland, it would be hard to predict who would win.

Before the battle itself is discussed, the location must be analysed. The battle took place in the North Sea, off the coast of Denmark and just below Norway. This battle was important because it would decide who controlled the North Sea, and this is very significant, mainly due to the fact that Germany needed supplies from its colonies and other countries which could only be sent via the North Sea. Therefore if England had won the battle, the Germans would effectively be blockaded, whilst if the Germans had won, then the North Sea would be open to trade and supplies. It can be seen that Jutland was an extremely important battle, and one that could be argued as a turning point in the war.

My details on the battle come from a variety of sources, such as the BBC and the History channel. I will however try to briefly describe what happened that the battle, to give a summary of events. It can be noted that the English did have an advantage in the battle, they in fact enjoyed a ‘numerical advantage over the German High Sea Fleet of 37:27 in heavy units and 113:72 in light support craft.’ This is quite a large difference in numbers, but if you have studied any military history, then you would know that numbers do not necessarily mean victory. However the British Grand Fleet also enjoyed the advantage of having broken German signal codes.

The battle itself can be described in two very distinct phases. The first phase took place at 4:48 p.m. The scouting forces of Vice Admirals David Beatty and Franz Hipper located each other around in the Skagerrak, otherwise known as Jutland, and started a running artillery duel at around fifteen thousand yards. What was noted during this duel was the impressive craftsmanship of the German ships. It was noted that Admirals Hipper’s ships took a severe pounding but survived due to their superior honeycomb hull construction. The German ships were not surprisingly better made the their English counterparts, which would lose three battle cruisers, with the reasons being that there was a lack of antiflash protection in the gun turrets, which allowed fires started by incoming shells to reach the powder magazines. The English Admiral Beatty commentated stating that “[t]here seems to be something wrong with our bloody ships today.” In this first phase, the superiority of the German fleet was made known, even with fewer numbers; they outgunned the British fleet and survived the British firepower. It does question the notion of England ruling the waves, which I argue as a historian was never really the case.

The second phase started at around 7:15pm. Admiral John Jellicoe used the advantage of the fading light to outmaneuver the German fleet and cut them off from their home base, and causing damage to the German flagship. However, the German fleet escaped this hangman’s noose, which can be only described as great seamanship and leadership. However by the end of the battle, losses were heavy, British losses amounted to 6,784 men and 111,000 tons, and German losses to 3,058 men and 62,000 tons. If we look at the battle as terms of what was lost, the British lost, but battles are never that simple, and with the German fleet retreating to port, it allowed the British to keep a blockade on German ports, which would prove disastrous to the German nation, with food supplies running low.

The battle lead Germany to change naval tactics to that of the U-boats and raiding, which reminds us a lot of the Second World War. The Battle of Jutland was the only major naval battle of the First World War, but it was decisive, it saw the British Navy claim the seas, even though the losses on the British side were much higher than that suffered by Germany. Eric Hobsbawm’s idea of the invented tradition seems to be justified by the battle, Britain no longer had the best fleet, Jutland proved that the British ships were inferior to their German counterparts, but the sheer quantity of ships and manpower gave the British a slight advantage. The German admirals were as efficient as their British counterparts. Finally the battle saw a huge loss of life for both sides all because of the arms race that happened a decade before. The rivalry between European states, would lead to the largest and one of the most devastating naval battles in our history.

The role of Portugal and Romania in WW1

This post will discuss the role of the smaller nations that are not usually discussed in WW1 history. I will focus more on Portugal than Romania, but both were heavily affected by the war as well as the flu that hit Europe after the war. Portugal, we must remember has always had close ties with the UK, with trade and military alliances, but in WW1 they tried to remain neutral.

The reason why Portugal found itself allying with the England and France was because of Germany’s U-boat warfare, where they were attacking shipping in English waters. Due to trade between the two countries, the Portuguese were thus affected by this and like America would lose trade because of Germany’s aggressive action in the sea.

Colonial reasons were also another reason as to why they joined the war later on. German and Portuguese troops clashed on the border of Portuguese Angola. Therefore tensions were already there and, it adds to the argument that the First World War was more than just a European conflict. It also shows the Portuguese to still be a colonial power, when we never really think they had much of one!

Portugal would lose around 12,000 men, both Portuguese and African troops from their colonial empire. For a country we know little about in WW1, it can be seen that the number of lives lost is quite staggering. Yes, it is nothing like the amount lost by the British and French troops, colonial or not, but we would then be guilty of putting lives lost just as a statistic!

Although Portugal had been involved in helping the allies during the whole war, they only declared war in March 1916, when tensions had reached breaking point. They would see action on the Western Front in 1917 and would be involved in the fighting.

Romania was allied with Russia and fought against the Central Powers in World War One. Again their involvement was more around 1916-17. There were reasons for why Romania joined the Allies, In return for entering the war in 1916 on the Allied side, the Kingdom of Romania demanded support for its territorial claims over Transylvania, an Austro-Hungarian territory with a Romanian majority. This seems familiar somewhere, perhaps this happens a lot in history, people wanting territory because the people are of one nationality. A certain Lieutenant-Colonel Christopher Thomson, who was sent to Romania to negotiate their entrance in the war, had concerns over their armament and wondered if their joining would hinder the Allied effort. It was however rejected, and the British Government pushed for their involvement.

Romania’s involvement however, cost them dear. Their losses can be added up to 220,000 men. It must be remembered that Romania fought a mainly defensive war, and had to surrender in 1917 when Russia pulled out due to their revolution in October. Romania was therefore all alone and had little choice, signing the treaty of Bucharest in 1917.

Romania however, had the ‘last laugh’, re-entering the war one day before the armistice was signed in 1918, therefore taking part in the treaty of Versailles. A very sneaky and political move by Romania!!

So to conclude, this post is brief, but I cannot tell you each countries involvement in one simple blog post. The aim was to introduce you to the fact that these countries were big participants in WW1 and suffered horrendous casualties as a result. The war was not just between England, France, Germany and Russia, it involved so many other nations and each should be studied to get a more complete picture of the horrific war.

King John: Is History a bit unfair?

Welcome to another Blog post. This may seem weird to you, after all, I’m not really known for my posts on Medieval history (well I’m not known at all really!), but after some of the people at the blog made fun of my lack of writing on this subject, I’d thought I would rise to the challenge and write about something which I remember very well from when I was at school all those years ago. Therefore a post about King John is what I bring you today. My main aim here is to not necessarily open your eyes to any new information, far from it, but to challenge your perspectives on the king who signed the Magna Carta.

So I would assume and argue that most of us know our information about King John from the tales of Robin Hood, you know, those stories which probably were made up, or at least was an amalgamation of a few from different counties, brought together by the print revolution. So even academics who go into this field of study will most likely go in with an already biased interpretation based of a tale which can hardly be trusted for accuracy. So when we look at him, we must remember to try to banish all thoughts of Robin Hood to start with.

When we compare him with his brother, I get the feeling that we praise Richard for really nothing and attack for John for a failing family. Richard was hardly ever in England, and couldn’t even speak the language, how can we then say he was a good king? He was too busy fighting in the crusades to deal with the problems in his own country. Therefore perhaps John inherited a country that was already in trouble. John was well learnt, he studied and could speak the language of the country that he was in charge of. Therefore to class him as a bad king, seems a bit unfair, surely? He at least tried to sort things out unlike his brother.

John also gave more to the poor than those before him, again I’m no expert on this, but I’m sure I have read that John gave the most, so does this show him to be a caring king? He also could be argued to be the founding father of the English navy, although as an early modernist, I find that a tedious claim, as navies really found their footing in the seventeenth century! But he set up ports and saw the construction of some kind of navy that would later have a great impact in our national identity.

The defeats in the army can hardly be put on him, more of an unlucky King, after all if the battles are analysed in detail, it can be seen that perhaps it wasn’t him necessarily being bad, but unfortunate circumstances being the main problem. So perhaps, before we start judging and pointing out fingers and thinking how bad he is, ask ourselves perhaps there were reasons and circumstances that lead to what happened.

I hear you say, what about the Magna Carta, oh that document, the one that poor john is forever known as signing. The document which is known as the start of our constitution, and always quoted somehow. Well I think the circumstances that he was in and the problems he faced made this inevitable, I think that the rising taxes for the failing army and military campaigns would of course cause problems.

To class him as a tyrannical, evil King is unjust, and shows a failure to look at other Kings and Queens of this time, to properly understand the circumstances and to understand the pressures to be a King. I am always hesitant to judge the past by present standards, and you could argue well he has never been liked, but my argument is that his perception of him has always been skewed and when we do proper do an in-depth study, we must not go in with pre conceived ideas.

Interview with Danielle Sellers: Deputy Curator at the Royal Engineers Museum

I recently got in touch with one of the deputy curators at the Royal Engineers museum to ask some questions about museums. As an historian who has found his field of study in memory and nation making, I am very interested in museums and I thought you guys might be interested; so for all you who are thinking about a career in curating, and those who want to know more about how curators work, then go no further!

 

Could you introduce yourself?  What is your job title and what do you do at the museum, and perhaps what is the museum about? 

My name is Danielle Sellers and I am the Deputy Curator (Collections Management) at the Royal Engineers Museum, Library & Archive.  I have worked here for just over three years, starting as the Assistant Curator then moving into my current post about a year later.

As with any Museum the collection is at the heart of all we and it is continuously growing as the history of the Corps progresses. Collections Management is fundamental to our work preserving the collection and making it accessible to all of our users.

Collections Management is the term used for all of the work undertaken on the accurate recording and cataloguing, photographing and scanning, packing and storage, auditing and location control of every item in the collection. The role also involves managing donations offered to the Museum as well as all loans, incoming and outgoing. Hand in hand with these activities is the careful handling and conservation of items as well as the monitoring and controlling of the environmental conditions of our stores and displays.

I also line manage the Assistant Curator and supervise around 40 volunteers in my other role as the Volunteer Co-ordinator.

The Royal Engineers Museum, Library & Archive holds one of the foremost historical military collections in the country. Designated in 1999 as a museum of outstanding national and international significance, it traces the Royal Engineers roots from William the conqueror in 1066, through the Victorian period to modern conflict in Afghanistan. The story also includes the social and biographical histories of the men and women serving in the Royal Engineers as well as the history of their role, responsibilities and experiences within the British Army and the development of British military engineering.

 

What made you want to be a curator? 

There is not a singular moment that made me think this is what I wanted to do, it was more of a gradual realisation. I had a love of Museums and Galleries from an early age and eventually realised that I wanted to immerse myself in this world. Initially I had no clear idea of what area I wanted to focus on but volunteering allowed me to work in a few different areas. I seemed to gravitate naturally to Collections Management, a role that allows direct contact with the collection, the heart of the Museum.

 

What is the most rewarding thing about your job? 

The most rewarding part of my job is getting to work with such an interesting collection, apart from the obvious items you expect to find in a military Museum we also have quite a good World Cultures collection including Chinese Silks, Zulu jewellery and First Nations clothing. One of my favourite parts of the collection though is the photography archive, we have over 600 albums and thousands of loose prints dating from 1850s onwards.

 

What is your most favourite item in the collection? 

That is a very difficult question, it can vary depending on what I have been working on recently. I have already mentioned the photography collection and I am also fascinated by the weapons collection we have. However, there is one item that is always in my mind, it might not be what I would call a favourite but it is an object that has stuck with me since I joined the Museum. One of the first items I catalogued was a French prayer book from the Frist World War that had been used to record a Sappers thoughts and feelings. It was not a journal as such but somewhere he could record the horrors he had seen, he even noted down that if he died while at war he wanted this little book buried with him.

 

What does the RE museum try and present to the public? 

Our role is to preserve and present the military and civil heritage of the Royal Engineers, promote scholarship and provide an excellent, accessible, relevant and stimulating education experience for today’s audience, including the public, students, schools, the Armed Forces and the Corps and to contribute to the recruitment, motivation and inspiration of today’s soldier.

 

You get a lot of items donated to the museum, how do you decide what is valuable to the collection and what isn’t? 

 Yes, the Museum still receives a lot of donation offers, this peaked in 2014 with the Centenary Commemoration with an average of 30 individual offers a month. Deciding what donations to accept into the collection can be complicated and it is very difficult saying no to anything offered to the Museum. You are aware that the material being offered to you is normally very important to the person but unfortunately there is criteria that needs to be met and there is also a physical limit on the amount of material we can store. As such the Museum has a Collections Policy in place which states what we will collect and what we won’t, this also takes into account having the right staffing levels to allow the correct recording, storage and care of the material.

The decision process is taken by the Collections Committee that meets once a month to discuss all items that have been offered to the Museum. Before the meeting each item is looked at in relation to the Collections Policy and the Museum’s database, this is to check that it is in line with the former and that we do not already hold an example in the collection. This information is then taken to the committee and each donation offer is discussed and a decision taken.

 

Museums take on many volunteers, why are volunteers important to a museum? 

Volunteers are incredibly important to Museums due to the variety of experience and outlooks that they offer to the work they are involved with. I would like to think it is a relationship that is mutually beneficial, we can offer relevant experience and development of new skills for those seeking a career in the Heritage industry. While the volunteers provide the additional help to carry out projects that are vital to Museums. For example we undertook an audit of our stored collection and this involved training a team of volunteers in object handling, auditing, cataloguing, photography and packing. It worked very well and changed the way we approach volunteering. I really value the work volunteers carry out and having volunteered for 8 years prior to my first paid Museum role understand how important the relationship is for both participants.

 

What role do you think museums play in society? 

I think the Museum’s role in society is to provide a place to care and preserve national heritage for future generations, creating an environment that is informative and enjoyable, which can educate everyone.

 

Any advice for those wanting to go into the museum and heritage sector? 

 Volunteer, volunteer, volunteer! It might seem obvious but volunteering is vital, qualifications are always going to come first but without volunteer experience you are unlikely to get through to the interview stage. Whilst I have an MA in History of Art I do not have an MA in Museum Studies which is often listed in role descriptions and I know that the practical experience I had was vital in getting my first role in a Museum in lieu of this. Also, if you are unsure what area you wish to work in, for example Collections Management, Exhibitions or Learning then volunteering is a great way of trying these out before embarking on your career.

 

A big Thank You to Danielle for taking the time to answer my questions, and I recommend that if you are ever in Medway, go check out the Royal Engineers museum, it’s a great place!

The Dutch Golden Age: Rise and Fall in 700 words

Welcome to another Blog post, and one about the history of the Netherlands, a country with a very interesting history. In the 20th century, we could assume that it has always been a weak country compared to those around it, France and Germany have seemed to have swamped the country in stature and power. But this was not always the case. The Dutch have a past full of power, trade, money and respect. I will take you back to the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries and briefly explain what the Dutch Golden Age was.

The Netherlands started out as the United Provinces (which included Belgium at this point), well actually from an Early Modern Perspective (sorry my knowledge of Pre-Early modern is a bit hazy, so I won’t try and go back any further!), the country starts from a rebellion against the Spanish. Yes the Spanish used to control what we now know at Belgium and the Netherlands! Why is this, well to sum it up shortly, marriages and inheritance meant that they came part of the great Hapsburg empire, and when that was divided, it became part of the new Spanish empire.

So what we now know as the Netherlands revolted, again to sum up the entire reason….the reformation had taken place in the sixteenth century and those in the northern areas of the United provinces became Protestant. They wanted toleration and did not get any and therefore after many attempts of negotiating, revolt happened. Now during this time, the United Provinces was split, what we know as Belgium and the southern territories were still heavily Catholic and remained loyal to Spain. This would lead to political problems as well as succession from the United Provinces later on.

This happened during the thirty years war, from 1618-48, but for the Dutch it started in 1568, and is often called the eighty years’ war. They were at the end finally recognised as their own country, with their own monarch, William of Orange. But how did they become a great power and when did this happen? Well the seventeenth century saw the Dutch become one of the greatest powers in Europe. The main cause of this is economic. The Dutch took a lot off the Spanish when they succeeded, but unlike the Spanish, who would enter an economic crash, the Dutch were clever merchants would make a vast fortune and at the same time, a formidable navy. One that even the English could not defeat.

This new-found power, would lead the Dutch into a vast amount of problems. Nearby countries such as France and England became jealous of their new-found power and wealth, which would lead to three wars with the English from 1652-78 and the French. This could be argued that it happened because the Netherlands was a republic, something repulsive to the monarchy’s of Europe, but if you look into it deeper, economic tensions was the main reason the nations would come to war.

The decline of the United Provinces happened at the end of the seventeenth centuries. Some historians state it was the power of England and France that forced them to their knees figuratively speaking, I would disagree with that thesis, rather their decline was steady, they could not increase what they already have and so were superseded by England whom invested much into their navy. It was not that the Dutch declined, but more that others just improved.

I can imagine some Marxist historian being repulsed by the government of the United Provinces, after all it was run by the bourgeoisie, but as a historian, the Dutch Golden Age should be studied as one of the first modern states. A remarkable state.  It was unique, it was powerful, it was dangerous to those around it.  It gave birth to some of the greatest statesmen in modern times.  It also saw the rise of one of greatest admirals, Michiel De Ruyter.  The Dutch Golden Age was short-lived, but it was an interesting time and one that should have more attention.  It could be argued that the rise of the Dutch, meant that the English themselves felt threatened,  and therefore the Dutch contributed to the construction of the English Empire.  So I encourage you to go and learn more about this time period, it is certainly very interesting.

General Douglas Haig’s rise to the top

Welcome one and all to another World War One Blog Post. In this post we shall examine one General Douglas Haig (1861-1928). Haig of course is quite a controversial figure, and memory portrays him as commander who valued little of any of those under him. Whilst I may slightly touch on that subject, it won’t be my focus, but rather his rise to power and why he was chosen.

Haig’s military career started in 1884 at the Royal Military College, Sandhurst. His first regiment where he was commissioned was the 7th hussars in 1885, whom would be sent to India. His rise as an officer was quite impressive, becoming captain within three years, whilst finding his taste for staff work at the headquarters of the Bombay army at Poona. However it would only be by 1896 would he be able to enter the staff college, after being failed before on colour blindness as well as failing a maths examination!

Haigs first taste of battle came in 1898, in Sudan, where apparently he rallied the Egyptian cavalry against an attack and before the battle of Omdurman, made an impressive reconnaissance of the area. On returning from the Sudan,

He was appointed a brigade major at Aldershot, interestingly enough, his commander was a certain Major-General John French. The two seemed to have quite a close bond, with Haig apparently loaning French money when he was in problems! The two would serve in the Boer war, and again Haig proved himself, this is good staff work.

So now let us jump forward to 1914, Haig has risen through the commissioned ranks rather quickly and seemed to have done a pretty good job. So what happened next? Well Haig was chief of one of Britain’s corps. The Commander of the whole army was none other than Sir John French, Haigs old ally. Robin Prior and Trevor Wilson state in their biography of Haig that at the first council of war that, ’Haig listened with alarm as French spoke in disregard of the pre-war arrangement whereby the BEF would take its place on the left of the French army and act in unison with it in support of Belgium. French proposed taking his force as an independent unit to Antwerp, where it would assist the Belgians in the defence of that city. Haig argued the contrary: that the small BEF, in a conflict between the giant armies of France and Germany, could not afford to operate separately from the French. That view prevailed.’ Haig’s influence in the war council was already huge, and again his view prevailed. Haig saw French was incompetent when down to military matters, and once again Haig proved himself, when retreating from Belgium, he did so without ‘catastrophe’ for the entirety of the thirteen days. So, Haig was not a completely awful commander, he seems to have shown great skill and tactics in the events so far. His actions would see him promoted to General of the First Army, due to the split of the armies in Belgium and France.

I think the biggest problem with Haig was his unwillingness to change, he was stubborn and kept to very outdated tactics which were not useful in Trench Warfare conditions. However, Haig was a man of his time, and I think most Generals would have followed a similar line of thought even if it does seem absurd to us now, if he had deviated from the task, people in power would probably have thought he had gone mad. A few mistakes that Haig was known to do was as Prior and Wilson note that in, ‘his determination to accomplish great victories Haig too often disregarded key factors such as weather and the condition of the battlefield, placed his objectives beyond the range which his artillery could cover, and incorporated in his schemes a role for cavalry which this arm was helpless to accomplish.’ He wanted to win, but Haig kept sending men to get unrealistic targets and goals, some of which were now irrelevant to the situation at the time.

Haig became Commander-in-Chief in 1915, after the support of Sir French dwindled, and with Haig and other important officers writing to London of their disapproval, Haig was appointed to replace him. Prior and Wilson state that ‘Haig, whose steady demeanour and capacity as a staff officer were everywhere acknowledged, was appointed his successor. Satisfaction, in political as well as military circles, was widespread.’ Then of course we see that a year later, the Somme happened.

My post used a lot from the Oxford Biographical Dictionary online, as that gives a great description of the man himself, so if you need more info, then go to there!  I found it a great help and I hope this gives a small insight into his rise in power. By no means am I saying that he was a good/bad man, when we look at Haig, we must remember what was the norm at the start of the twentieth century.  I think he was very much like most of the generals at the time, and again with memory, we have to put things in context.  Our memory of him comes from hindsight, from modern sources and perceptions, we must see things through the eyes of the time, and although we can say that the tactics used by him and his fellow officers were crazy and outdated, no one had come up with anything better.

The Sinking of the Lusitania 1915

On May 7th 1915, the sinking of one ship would have drastic consequences for Germany, the RMS Lusitania sunk by U-boat 20.  We often associate the sinking of the Lusitania as the reason as to why the US entered to war against Germany.  But is it the main reason and was the Lusitania that significant?  It certainly saw a huge loss of life with around 1200 dead, with 128 of those being American.  Nonetheless, there were other ocean liners sunk whilst ferrying passengers, whom also included US citizens, so perhaps the Lusitania was the last straw?

Was the Lusitania a valid target?  Well this has certainly raised a lot of debate among historians, it is claimed that the ship was carrying cargo of ammunition, specifically riffle cartridges.  Therefore it can be argued that it was a valid military target, maybe the fault should be therefore be pointed at the British for using a passenger liner carrying civilians as a rouse to transport ammunition.  It must also be pointed that German Admiral Hugo von Pohl, who was in charge of the German High Seas Fleet, wrote in February 1915 and declared in the German newspaper Deutscher Reichsanzeiger (Imperial German Gazette) that: “The waters around Great Britain and Ireland, including the whole of the English Channel, are hereby declared to be a War Zone. From February 18 onwards every enemy merchant vessel encountered in this zone will be destroyed, nor will it always be possible to avert the danger thereby threatened to the crew and passengers”.  And that “neutral vessels also will run a risk in the War Zone, because in view of the hazards of sea warfare and the British authorization of January 31 of the misuse of neutral flags, it may not always be possible to prevent attacks on enemy ships from harming neutral ships”.  So Germany had made their intentions clear, and had sent a clear warning to all those travelling.  However heavy British and US propaganda ensured that Germany would receive the entirety of the blame, even though it had made its intentions clear.

The U.S entrance into the war was not because of the Lusitania being sunk by a torpedo, but rather because of the matter of unrestricted submarine warfare.  Wilson had written three notes to the German Government after the sinking of the Lusitania, the third note, on 21 July, issued an ultimatum, to the effect that the US would regard any subsequent sinking’s as deliberately unfriendly.  Later in August 1915, the White Star liner SS Arabic was sunk, killing 44 Americans, this sort of warfare turned Americans attitude to Germany, and helped Wilson get through Congress a decision for war.

Therefore the Lusitania saw a tragic loss of life, and it was another dark event during World War One.  Nonetheless, its sinking was turned into a political tool, and the people who died were to be revenged, or at least that’s how it was to be portrayed.  If the British had stacked it full of ammunition and was warned that ships would be sunk, and still went ahead anyhow, the blame on the loss of life, must be put on both parties, the British and the US and Germany must all share blame for the sinking of the Lusitania.

Of course, some controversies on the sinking will never be solved; did U-20 launch two torpedoes, or just one?  Was their other ammunition on the ship other than riffle cartridges?  We might never know, but there is more to this sinking than meets the eye.  But remember, the sinking did not directly bring the U.S. into the war, it was just one of a few factors!

The English Civil War, an Introduction to the social and political impact

Welcome one and all to a blog post evaluating the Civil war during the 17th century.  Now I assume many of us have heard of Cromwell and Charles I.  One argued to be a tyrannical King and the other apparently the bringer of freedom.  Well both of these judges of character can be easily debated to be the other way round.  Cromwell has much to answer to, I sometimes think him of a genocidal maniac, but perhaps that is too extreme.  Whatever your opinion of him, he is all we talk about regarding the parliamentarians.  Charles however, decided to rule without parliament and tried to rule absolutely, which at the time was unpopular, above all, he appeared to be a Catholic.  Catholics were deemed to be oppressors and loyal only to the Pope, something that many thought would oppress their freedom and rights.  However, Charles is all we really hear about when discussing the Cavaliers (men who sided with the King).  Therefore this post will discuss the social and political impacts of the war, without spending my focus on either Cromwell or Charles!  So lets begin, welcome to the English revolution!

Socially, the Civil war saw 13% of the British population die, either in battle or by diseases that appeared due to the warfare that was happening throughout the nation.  This is a staggering amount of people, considering in relation the First World War saw 3%.  The impacts it would have on communities was devastating, people’s homes destroyed, men needed for farming, now gone, and of course the rise of disease, families were also torn apart, brother against brother, son against father.  The consequences of the war would also change people’s lives.  Military districts were established, and laws passed that closed theatres and of course as we well know, banning Christmas.  Perhaps one of the biggest changes was the establishment of the New Model Army, but this is a term we must be careful using, considering most of this army was still conscripted like the Royalists, they were just better trained and given a stable wage.  This army would allow the King in the future of parliament to control the nation, by force, by the threat of violence.  Perhaps also one may argue that the creation of this army allowed men of different counties to mix, to help solidify the image of being English.  But did much actually change?  Well not really, the war didn’t really affect people’s direct lives, once the war was won/lost, people returned home and carried on with their day-to-day lives, Catholics had to go into hiding, and the Protestants enjoyed a time of risen attendances, but generally people didn’t see much change.  After all, Cromwell would become basically a King in all by name, ruling through the army in which he controlled.  He fought wars with other Protestant states for economic reasons, the same as Charles II would.  After Cromwell’s death, the King was reinstated and life returned to as normal, with a monarch and his parliament.  The thousands of death that happened previously were all for nought.

Politically, we see the only time in British history, where there is no monarch, in a way we see a revolution.  Yes England has revolted many a time, just because it isn’t called one in name, doesn’t mean it is not one!  But the issue is, the civil war did not change much, Cromwell was basically a King, and Charles II returned and took revenge on all those who signed his father’s death warrant.  England had returned to what it what.  In fact, under the Cavalier’s, people who supported the King, it could be argued that they were more progressive than the parliamentarians.  Now I don’t like using the word progressive, it’s a word too often used today, but, what I mean here is that people like Cavendish, the 1st Duke of Newcastle was one of the greatest horse riders in Europe and updated the art of dressage, making it fairer on the horse and therefore was an advocate of animal protection.  Cavendish also allowed his wife to dabble in education, he allowed his daughters to write plays and poetry, which were performed to the King.  Even if some of their practices were questionable, the royalists and Charles II brought stability and continuity, something that the nation craved.

If you are looking for a more important and influential part of British history, may I point you no further than to 1689, and the Glorious revolution!  This saw the Dutch William of Orange and his English wide Mary become joint King and Queen of England, and certainly was a big turning point in English history!  It was really the last time England was ever properly invaded and conquered and saw a Catholic monarch deposed, replaced by Protestants.  The reign and decline of James II is one that could have its own blog post, but in brief, he wasn’t well liked by parliament!

The civil war shows the distaste of Catholics at the time, but also shows the desire of freedom of worship; the King should not impose his beliefs on the nation.  The war however, changed little, perhaps it added a larger resentment to Catholicism, which in turn created a them and us mentality, and further cemented the English identity, one that still is there today, but it wasn’t until the Bill of rights, the glorious revolution of 1689, where we would see change in politics in Britain.  It saw the end to the Anglo-Dutch wars, but it took power from the King, and gave more to parliament, in fact it was probably what the parliamentarians wanted all long.

I would like to end this post however, referring to the picture at the top of this blog post, this is a monument to those who died at the Battle of Naseby, it shows that there can be and has been remembrance of the deaths during the time period, however, there are no names of course!  However, the deaths of the civil war are largely ignored and seen as statistics, perhaps we should focus more on the lives of these men!

The Jewish Migration after WW2

The formation of Israel has often been a talking point in politics.  After the Second World War, the creation of a Jewish state was decided and mass migration of Jewish people went to live in the newly created state.  However, its formation was quite controversial and a lot of blame was put on the British handling of it, even when the facts are to the contrary.

This influx of people caused problems, namely it forced the nation of Palestine to move and it created conflict with the local Arab population.  The British government supported the idea of a separate nation of Israel, but it stuck to the 1939 White paper polices for political reasons.  Therefore it had to act due to the increasing level of illegal immigration coming from Europe.  Like we see today with the immigration coming from the Middle East into Europe, the people crossing the waters were in ill prepared boats, which often sank, with many loosing their lives.  It was up to the British military, namely Bomber Command to go and save the immigrants, their job was to find them in the waters and then report back their location.  My Grandfather did this job, however, a problem came, with terrorism, due to the British not allowing immigration into the region lawfully (for one it would cause problems with the local inhabitants who lived there for centuries), the British bases came under heavy terrorist attacks, even those who had saved the lives of Jewish immigrants.

Between 1945 and 1948, it is estimated that around 100,000–120,000 Jews left Poland alone. Their immigration was largely organized by those who wanted to see a Jewish state, under the group known as Berihah. They were also responsible for the organized emigration of Jews from other Eastern European countries such as Romania, Hungary, Czechoslovakia and Yugoslavia, many of whom were Holocaust survivors.

The whole immigration problem came to a head in 1946, when Etzel bombed the British military Headquarters, killing around 91 people, the city of Tel Aviv was then put under a curfew.  This move was criticised by the U.S, however the U.S. motives must be analysed, due to heavy support for the creation of a Jewish state.  The Labour government of 1947, handed the problem over to the newly created UN and Britain became a peace unit, to ensure the state was created without much trouble.

In 1947, The General Assembly of the United Nations, created the, United Nations Special Committee on Palestine (UNSCOP), to report on ‘the question of Palestine’.  The report would suggest an independent Jewish and Arab state.  This decision would create problems that we still experience today.  War broke out between the communities.  Britain remained as the peacekeeping force, but found itself in the middle of a conflict, with its own forces being attacked.  It would leave in 1948.  The role of the British is often undervalued, and seen as getting in the way, but I do wonder how more bloody it would have been without British involvement.

The Arab League members Egypt, Transjordan, Syria, Lebanon and Iraq refused to accept the UN partition plan, after all, what right did the Jewish population have to suddenly barge their way in and take control?  They proclaimed the right of self-determination for the Arabs across the whole of Palestine. They therefore decided to march all of their forces into what had, until previously, been the British Mandate for Palestine, starting the first Arab–Israeli War.  More would follow

At the end the sudden immigration into old Palestine (modern-day Israel) caused huge problems.  The conflict keeps stirring up, it was only recently did Israel invade Palestine, and of course the deaths and problems with immigration into Europe recently seem very similar to that of the Jewish immigrants moving to Israel.  As my Grandfather experienced, even though he saved their lives, they would turn on the British.  Now this post is not either in favour, nor against immigration, however, the sudden influx of the Jewish people clearly upset the balance in Palestine, and should have been dealt with better by the UN and by the British.  It should be time where we examine the role of the terrorist organisations at the time and just show how utterly pointless they were and the fact they killed hundreds/thousands of lives, for really no reason, they would get their own state, the British government even supported the idea, however, as always, timing is key.

World War One: Fortresses, with a focus on Przemyśl

It can be hard to imagine that during an age of artillery, tanks, machine guns and aircraft that fortresses were still being used.  In fact the fortresses of the 20th century were deadly, Verdun, a line of fortifications that cost hundreds of thousands of lives to take, or Przemyśl, a fortress town being attacked by the Russians who used to old method of starving the defenders.  So this blog post will focus on these two examples, to give a flavour of the impact of fortresses and their importance in WW1.  The majority of the post does focus on Przemyśl, I hope you enjoy the read!

So let’s start with Przemyśl, owned by the Austria-Hungarian Empire, however when sieged it was in enemy territory.  When the Russians won the battle of Galacia in 1914, the Austrians were pushed back, with only Przemyśl standing, defiant in the face of the Russian foe.  There were around thirty miles of trenches, which surrounded the fortress town, including the famous barbed wire, which would entangle a man and kill him.  The garrison of this fortress was an incredible 127,000.  May I hasten to remind you that Winchester’s population is less than 40,000, so that’s three times the city where I study!  The foe, however, were the Russians, who strangely did not outnumber the defenders (this is quite unexpected, it is often thought the attacker needs to outnumber a defender 3:1, which probably explains the Russian generals decision to starve out, rather than to directly attack).

The town was to be sieged twice, the first time, the Russians launching an assault and loosing around 40,000 men, that is an incredible number, however the attack was repulsed and a relief force sent by the Germans managed to puncture through and escort the civilians out, leaving the Austrian army, mixed of different nationalities, left to defend to the town.

The Second siege would start in October 31, 1914, with the German army being pushed pack after the defeat at the battle of the Vistula River.  The Second siege was to be one of starvation and waiting for the defenders.  The relief efforts made by the Germans and Austrians were all to fail.  With heavy artillery, the defenses of the fortress were destroyed and the trenches overran, the Austrian army destroyed anything that would have been useful to the Russians and once an attempted breakout had been stopped, they surrendered on March 22 1915.  They had little choice.

There was once instance of when, a force of 30,000 Hungarian troops, starving, perhaps emboldened by hunger, marched out from the forts which they were garrison in a desperate attempt to raid the Russian food base at Mosciska, 20 miles away.  Their route led them past the strongest of all the Russian artillery positions.  The 30,000 men were annihilated by a bombardment of shells, machine-gun fire and rifle bullets.  It is hard to imagine that out of 30,000 troops, only 4,000 would return, with the rest killed or captured, it was a suicidal mission, nonetheless, people were desperate.

So let us move on to the fortresses at Verdun.  The area immediately around Verdun contained twenty major forts and forty smaller ones that had historically protected the eastern border of France.  They were upgraded in the early part of the 20th century.  The assault was part of the German strategy to bleed France White.  It was believed that the French would not surrender at Verdun, they could not allow these forts to fall. It was a matter of national prestige and dignity, losing them would have led to great humiliation.  The Germans believed that the French would fight to the last man at Verdun, which in turn would mean that the French would lose so many men that the battle would change the course of the war.

In the attempt to control Verdun and its fortresses, over a quarter of a million men lost their lives.  It proved to be unbreakable, the French held.  The figures at the start of the battle were one million German troops against 200,000 defenders.  Again this would seem normal, as the attacker has to outnumber the defender if assaulting directly.  However by the end, Of the 330 infantry regiments of the French army, 259 eventually fought at Verdun.  Did you know the Battle of the Somme was an attempt to relieve pressure on the French at Verdun.  That was its main purpose.

In the end Verdun was to be a bloodbath, with neither side making many gains, and the body count just rising.  The German army did manage to take a few forts, however, as soon as the Somme commenced, it was impractical for the Germans to continue, they couldn’t afford to just through men at forts.

Therefore fortresses were important in WW1 .  They were of course modernized, with the original 19th century fortresses inadequate for the task, with technology, deep tunnels and trenches being added.  They could withstand a certain amount of artillery fire and in some cases appeared impregnable.  The only way to defeat them appeared to be either starve them out or just hope they run out of men before you do.  Like most of WWI, it was attrition that won you the battle.