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Fighting on Alpine Peaks – Call for Self Determination I THE GREAT WAR Week 130

Fighting on Alpine Peaks – Call for Self Determination I THE GREAT WAR Week 130

Great empires ruled much of Europe when the
war began. These empires had, of course, many religious,
ethnic, or national minorities as parts of them, but in a great many cases those minorities
and their interests were not given equal rights or were actively repressed, but as the war
has progressed we see more and more the rise of nationalism and demands for self determination. I’m Indy Neidell; welcome to the Great War. Last week the Romanian campaign came to an
end, with the rival forces now facing each other across the Sereth River. Kaiser Wilhelm decided that he would bring
back unrestricted submarine warfare and Russia got a new Prime Minister. It was the height of a very cold European
winter, and during January 1917, there was no theater of the war more affected by weather
than the Italian one. Along much of the lines it was in mountainous
territory, sometimes thousands of meters high, and the terrain and the weather prevented
most action except sudden violent bursts of artillery. I was reading, though, about a small action
in the Vallarsa this winter that I thought I’d share because it illustrates the unique
nature of this front. The Italians were attacking a peak called
Luma, and the Alpini and Bersaglieri had scaled the mountain on rope ladders. Once over the crest, there was a furious battle
on the mountaintop. “Their (Austrian) resistance was specially
keen around the fearful natural fortifications called the Tooth, consisting of spires and
slender ledges and abounding in caverns… One of the spectacular sights of the day was
an Alpini perched on his spire of the tooth, who kept the Austrian machine gunners from
their task, pelting them with rocks every time they set to work.” I thought that was a good image to put in
your minds. That lone Italian fighting off machine gunners
with a barrage of rocks. Just a good illustration of how bizarre this
war really was. This week on that front, though, there was
a concerted attack. On the 18th, after a violent artillery barrage,
the Austrians attacked Italian positions near Frigido on the Carso, south of Gorizia. Italian rifles stopped the attack before it
could really get going. The attacks this week on the Western Front
were also fairly small scale. Canadian troops carried out a successful raid
this week there, northeast of Cité Calonne, penetrating as far as the second German trench
lines on a front of close to a kilometer, wrecking the German dugouts and causing heavy
losses. 100 men and several machine guns were captured. Canadian troops, Cossacks, Zouaves, Indian
soldiers, you could now see, though, that in addition to just fighting, national aspirations
were becoming a larger part of the war. The Arab Revolt was gaining momentum in the
Arabian Peninsula. British officers, including Lawrence of Arabia,
were leading Arab raids on positions near Yenbo on the Red Sea. Czechs, Slovaks, Poles, and more, were planning
their national futures, should Austria-Hungary collapse. Many Jews were hoping for Jewish autonomy
in Palestine once the Ottomans were defeated. At the beginning of the week came an Allied
declaration from Rome, promising to strive for the liberation of all the peoples of Austria-Hungary,
naming Poles, Czechs, Slovaks, Slovenes, Croats, Serbs, and Romanians. US President Woodrow Wilson would say in his
State of the Union address that a united Poland should be a product of the war, with access
to the Baltic. The Tsar actually gave support to that this
month. Yep, after a century of being Poland’s overlords,
the Russians were possibly willing to liberate them in search of military and popular support. And someone else was looking for national
support this week. Dr. Alfred von Zimmermann, recently appointed
German Foreign Minister, had a plan where if resuming unrestricted submarine warfare
brought the US into the war, Germany could maybe win Mexico’s alliance against the
US. On January 19th, in a coded telegram to his
minister von Eckardt in Mexico City, Zimmermann wrote that with generous German financial
support, Mexico could reconquer the territory it had lost to the US- Texas, New Mexico,
and Arizona. This was the Zimmermann telegram, and we’ll
hear more about it soon. Mexico was neutral, but neutrality hadn’t
stopped either side from trying to influence nations. Allied occupation had caused great public
uproar in neutral Greece. In fact, over the past month, the Greek situation
had occupied French Commander Maurice Sarrail’s thoughts as much as the Bulgarian army opposing
him did. Allied Troops were sent to occupy the five-mile
“neutral zone” between the Greek Royalist and Venizelist spheres of influence. The French established posts in this zone
to keep the peace between those hostile sections of the Greek nation. This zone reached the sea at Ekaterini, where
other allied troops were building roads and piers. Also this week in Greece, the Greek government
accepted the allied ultimatum from December 31st that consisted of several humiliating
terms before the Allies would lift their naval blockade. So that would come to an end. Another thing that had ended was the Romanian
campaign last week. Now, this campaign is often overlooked today
or dismissed as a minor side note, but the Germans certainly viewed it as a major triumph. In just four months, all of Wallachia and
Dobrogea had been occupied and Bucharest had fallen. The Romanian army had been crushed and only
huge Russian support allowed its remnants to remain in the war. The major medals and awards for the campaign
went to German Chief of Staff von Hindenburg and Field Marshal August von Mackensen. But General Erich von Falkenhayn was pretty
resentful over this. Hindenburg received the Grand Cross of the
Iron Cross for directing the campaign, and Mackensen got the same for taking Bucharest. Falkenhayn did not begrudge Mackensen that
medal, but he was pretty pissed that high command was getting credit for his work. He believed his 9th army had borne the brunt
of the fighting. It had crossed a mountain range and several
rivers, and destroyed three enemy armies, and all critical decisions were made by he
and his staff. Falkenhayn’s biographer later wrote that
they would make decisions and then telegraph high command, who would then write directives
based on what Falkenhayn had already decided to do. And that was a lot, according to Falkenhayn,
(Prelude to Blitzkrieg) “It is really not an exaggeration, if one were to say that this
lengthy force march across Wallachia is one of the greatest achievements in military history”. But you know, Falkenhayn had been sacked as
army chief of staff just last August, and the mere fact that he had even gotten a chance
to salvage his reputation was pretty unheard of. And anyhow, the German official history has
nothing but praise for his actions in Romania, in juxtaposition to its criticism of his work
while chief of staff. And Mackensen as well was nothing short of
lavish in his praise of Falkenhayn and the Romanian Campaign. Falkenhayn wanted another field command, but
Hindenburg just didn’t want him around. Don’t know if you remember or not, but he
had hated Falkenhayn as Chief of Staff and had labored to have him removed. He would soon convince the Kaiser to send
Falkenhayn to the Ottoman Empire to command Army Group F on the Palestine Front. We’ll maybe see more of him down there. And here are some notes to end the week. On the 19th, after ten days continuous fighting,
the British finally clear the right bank of the Tigris below Kut. Germany announced recently that total losses
inflicted at sea by subs and mines in November were 191 ships totaling 408,500 tons. Of those, 138 ships of 314,500 tons were allied
while 53 were neutral. None were American, though here’s an interesting
American sidenote- The French Aviation Corps section containing
American volunteers brought down 21 German planes the past six months, and by this time
four Americans, that I know of, had been killed while flying for the Allies. Kiffin Rockwell, shot down over the Thames
in September, Norman Prince, who died from wounds a week after taking them, Antony Jannus,
killed flying for the Russians in October, and Ruskin Watts, who flew for the British,
missing since September, presumed dead. And the week comes to an end, with small actions
in Italy and the west, Falkenhayn feeling slighted, and a telegram to Mexico that would
prove somewhat of a game changer. And in all of the empires waging this war,
the rise of nationalism and indeed, the active courting of minorities by imperial heads of
state. Places like New Zealand, Australia, or Canada
that before the war had been seen as far-away colonial backwaters, had now proven themselves
as brave and independent forces. Poles, Czech legions, and Bosnian battalions
had shown their value and wished to be recognized as nations, should the conflict ever end,
and they were beginning to receive major support. This was a huge change in mindset from just
two years ago and showed that, no matter how the war ended, the map of Europe would be
very different indeed. If you want to learn more about one of these
colonies, click here for our Canada special. Our Patreon supporter of the week is David
Kettler. If you want to read more about World War 1,
check out our amazon store. See you next time.

100 thoughts on “Fighting on Alpine Peaks – Call for Self Determination I THE GREAT WAR Week 130”

  1. Germany be like "Sure, let's send a telegram to Mexico offering them half of the United States if they join us and we win the war! This won't backfire on us at all!"

  2. my great grandfather enlisted into the US army in 1917 with dreams of fighting in Europe. instead he got sent to Arizona to watch the border. I guess I should thank Zimmerman for that. 🤔

  3. I'm guessing the Alpini throwing rocks a the Machine Gunners was sitting in a perch above them that they couldn't get their guns onto due to the elevation/angle.

    Smart thinking – well done that man!


  5. dear great war team .
    you must know ,that while canada wore the label of "colony" in common and popular refrences. (being as well informed as the team is)
    in 1917 ,it was turning 50 as an independant nation .
    lots of complexity and more than its share of political mythology( canadain style of course.)
    1867 was when several british north american colonies joined together with british encouragement.
    The USA and the recent civil war being a big motivating factor for the colonies and britian. britian wanted the colonies to take more resposibility for their own defence ,
    among other reasons . so they joined together becoming the dominion of canada .
    so the canada that went to war in 1914 never was a colony ,the provinces that made up canada in 1914. they had been the actual colonies . the united provinces of upper canada n lower canada ( quebec and ontario ) were called canada .
    not that it mattered to the british they just called canada the colonies anyways ,and many
    in canada felt simularly . which makes some sence since until 1947 there was no such thing as a canadain citizen .all "canadians" where british subjects ,citizens of the empire.
    another bit of irony ,while recognised as an independant nation for over 100 years .
    final n complete independance didn't happen till 1982 when the queen of canada signed the canadian constitution . which needed aproval by the british government because
    of the british north american act . the laws that actually united the provinces into canada.
    thats why in 1914 canada enter the war automaticlly when great britian declared war .
    while most view canadain history as really boring cause not a lot of war and brinkmanship .its a fasinating example of political proccesses forming a nation without the need for revolution or civil war .
    it points to the complexity of what you are discussing here regarding "nations" or nationalities like the poles , and the idea of an nation state . poland and ukraine ,and czech
    "national identities" and "homelands" existed,but legally they were not poles or ukranians
    but subjects of the empire they lived under.( no wonder they needed score cards to keep up,probably why they remember the grudges so well )
    canada was nation state ,but its citizens british subjects . it has been argued that canadians fighting in france together as units and divisions , a corps ,with the parallel political fighting for it to be under canadian command , forged a national identity for canada . after being a nation state for 50 years .
    crazy eh!

  6. My God. The fighting was so desperate, that Italian soldiers were reduced to throwing rocks at machine guns!?!?! Most shocking was that it actually worked, LOL!!!

  7. Hey guys love the work you are doing I just want to see if you can do a video on the Asian and pacific theatre during the war.

  8. Great Episode, Indy & Co, but I should mention I looked into Ruskin Watts, the American soldier that you mentioned as being MIA and presumed dead. Ruskin Watts was actually taken prisoner by the Germans, and survived the war, living all the way until 1980.

  9. That bit about American aviators got me thinking, do you plan to do a bio on Dale Mabry? He's got so much stuff named after him including a highway he must have been somewhat of a big deal.

  10. Really confused as to why I was always taught that the great German tank generals of WW II like Rommel and Guderian learned their tactics on the 'wide open' Italian front. Nothing I've seen here reflects that kind of battle. Maybe it's still in the future.

  11. I can't believe I'm finally caught up! Anyway thank you Indy, Flo, and the gang for the fantastic work you're doing bringing WWI to light. This is a conflict that has been overshadowed in almost every way by its bigger cousin. Looking forward to two and a half more years of the Great War. Keep it up.

  12. Love the show, it's very helpful and education. However, I have question for the chair of wisdom: From all of the films based off of the first world war, what would you consider to be the most accurate to the reality?

  13. love your show my great grandfather fought in the 123 American regiment question for out of the trenches what kind of entertainment did soldiers have in the trenches

  14. RE: Mexico
    Should mention that Zimmermann played on offended Mexican feelings. Pershing led the American army through Mexico in pursuit of Pancho Villa in 1916 in flagrant violation of Mexican sovereignty.

    RE: The rise of nationalism
    Georg von Trapp, To the Last Salute, wrote that German was the official language of the Austro-Hungarian Navy. Despite that, his Czech sailors only knew one word of German – 'ja'. Made communications tedious because a petty officer had to translate every order.

    RE: Grammar
    "All critical decisions were made by he and his staff." No.
    "All critical decisions were made by him and his staff." Correct.
    Think of it this way: 'by' takes the dative case.

  15. I read 10,000 men died in avalanches in the Alps on one day in December 1916. it was known as the white death. ( Mark Thompson, The White war. ) Not sure if the avalanches were deliberately triggered by explosives.
    This is a great series, especially about lesser known aspects of the war, I hope it continues indefinitely.

  16. im only going to comment on the thumbnail pic cuz the cannon and the engineer looks bad ass and they're like " we're the elite mountain artillery engineers yo" XD

  17. Truth be told nobody in Romania remembers von Falkenhayn. He's not in the history books, not in any documentary and not on any monument. Meanwhile von Mackensen is plastered everywhere.

  18. hey this might be unrelated to the video but I found out yesterday that i'm Dutch, south African,British and Portuguese. so wait that means that my ancestors fought each other in the boer war I suppose since the dutch moved to south Africa

  19. Greate video but you forgot to tell about crismas fighting (5 – 11 january) near Riga where Latvians broke throu German line but where pushed back because Russians didn"t send reserves
    It was realy big moment for Latvians

  20. Poster from 9:19 has the slogan "Armia Polska we FranCYI" (Polish Army in France). Nowadays it would be "Armia Polska we FranCJI". Polish language preserved Old Slavic system of grammar cases, but grammar rules regarding them have slightly changed through the last century.

  21. Considering that the Red Army actually invaded Poland after the war (you know, the same people who withdrew Russia from the "Imperialist War"), I doubt that the Czar would have given Poland any real independence.

  22. Woodrow WIlson was full of shit. He talked about self determination of small nations but when Ireland made the point that that should give us independance from the United Kingdom he said no. Self determination only applied to nations within Germany, Austria-Hungary and the Ottoman Empire, not in any of the aliied countries.

  23. question for out of the trenches. How did Germany track the number of ships they sunk with mines? Seems like that would be hard to do unless they dived down to investigate the immediate area. Thanks and keep up the good work

  24. I'd like to hear your opinion on the film "Flyboys". Obviously, it's a fairy tale version of history, but maybe there's something in the film worthwhile, if not just spreading awareness of The War.

  25. Interesting developments. If I were the Czar and given the bad situation at home and the ever worsening situation at the front I would cut my losses, leave the table and make a seperate peace with the cenral powers right now! Why not? It doesnt seem as if the germans will crumble soon, Romania is out on its feet, the french and british cant really help me out, the United States still havent joined the entente and it seems as if the russian people are very close to the open revolt. And with me having taken personal command of the army I can no longer blame anyone else. "Willy? This is cousin Nicky calling! We need to talk!"

  26. I just got Martin Gilbert's the First World War and it is SOOO interesting, I can see why you guys use it so much and I would recommend it to anyone

  27. Hey Indy! I have a few stories from both my wife's family and my own that I wanted to share. I hope you find these interesting and possibly they'll show up on an "Out of the Ether" episode.

    My wife's family is half Italian, and her grandfather, Santo Rotolo, was originally an Italian army conscript during the Italo-Turkish war. Both he and his brother, Nunzio, saw action during the Libyan campaign and once told his son-my wife's father-that "they had the Arab [bodies] stacked like chord wood". This is all I know of his service there, and I will try to find out more. In 1913, both Santo and Nunzio had been discharged from the military and emigrated to America. Santo had become a carpenter by the time the US entered war, and both he and his brother were drafted. Despite speaking no English, the Rotolo brothers proved old hands when it came to learning drill, which surprised the drill instructors. Sadly, this is about all we know about their service in WWI. The archive that house their service records was destroyed by fire during the seventies and the only thing we have is a citizen certificate of Santo's that says that he earned his American citizenship upon his honorable discharge from the US army. We are proud to say that Santo's son and my father-in-law, Bonaventure, continued in the path of his father, enlisting in the US Army and serving two tours in Viet Nam before being honorably discharged.

    On my side of the family, I had several ancestors serve and one died, though not from enemy action. This was Alvie Newman, a cousin from Sagrada, Missouri. He was inducted into the US army on September 20, 1917 and served in Battery C, 130th Field Artiller, 35th Division. Sadly, his story ends shortly thereafter. He was shipped to Camp Doniphan, Oklahoma, which was the main camp of the 35th Division. He contracted pneumonia, and on January 25th, 1918, died of it. He was 24 years old, and his young wife never remarried.

    One ancestor that saw action and survived was my great-grandfather, Sgt. Joseph Lapsley Kennedy. He was inducted into the US army in Kansas City, Missouri, on June 1st, 1917 and served in Company H, 3rd Missouri National Guard. This was later combined with other units to form the 140th Infantry Regiment in the 35th Division. As an aside, the 35th "Santa Fe" Division was comprised of units from western Missouri, eastern Kansas, and northeastern Oklahoma. After training at Camp Doniphan, Sgt. Kennedy and the rest of the 140th were shipped out to France on April 25th, 1918. They would take part in the Meuse-Argonne offensive, and would return to the United States a year to the day that they had left. Joe Kennedy would be elected to the Missouri state legislature in the 1920's and father two daughters. One of them was my grandmother, Betty Jo.

    My final story is not militaristic in nature, but serves as a window into the general feelings of anti-German sentiment shortly after the United States declared war on Germany. As you mentioned in a previous episode, the German immigrant population was a large one in the Midwest, particularly in central Missouri, along the Missouri River valley. The initial German settlers came during the early 1850's, after the failed revolts of 1848-49 in the German kingdoms. They settled the river valley and it soon became known as the "Missouri Rhineland". Some of these where my ancestors, the Ehlers. They settled in a small town called Cole Camp, and though they fought in the American Civil War on the side of the Union, and became successful farmers, they maintained the old German traditions. One of these was speaking German over English, and this nearly caused the death of my great-great grandfather, Johan Bernhard Ehlers.

    Shortly after 1917, there was (spoiler alert!) a great deal of anti-German sentiment, bordering on hysteria. Shortly after the declaration of war, Johan went south to another town to conduct some business there. When he got there, he found the town in an uproar, the declaration of war having come out a day or two beforehand. Because of this, when Johan asked directions in the little broken English that he knew, the crowd immediately turned on him, crying that they had "one of the Kaiser's boys in their midst!" Johan was taken roughly and restrained, with some in the crowd crying to "String up the Hun!" Meanwhile, Johan was crying out "Nein! Ich bin ein Amerikaner!" and probably not helping his case very much continuing to speak in German! Finally, the crowd relented, but forced him to get a tattoo of an American bald eagle as proof of his loyalty. Apparently being the son of a Union veteran and having lived in America your entire life doesn't get you the same proof of loyalty that a tattoo of an eagle does!

    I hope you enjoyed these stories and I look forward to more episodes. Thanks!

  28. This was seriously a great episode. Way to do the leg work; hell of a good ending!
    I love this show. Thank you so much for what you guys do.

  29. Von Falkenhayn is envious!
    A question the Zimmermann telegram is 100% real? because is for me one way (very advantageous) of USA entry in the war
    is a point of view fiferent

    Great show!

  30. I wonder when Finland would have become independent if not for WW1 -> October revolution. (Spoiler : Finland declared independence December 6th 1917 and was recognized by Soviet Russia,France,Sweden and Germany January 4th 1918.)

  31. The catastrophic avalanches of White Friday killed 10,000 soldiers in one whole day in the Dolomites of the Italian Front.

  32. The image of Mexico depicts a man without his right hand, which is very likely​ to be Alvaro Obregón, a man who became important to History in the 1920s

  33. "the cry for ethnic self determination" is always a construct of some small, armed, elite. the majority of inhabitants of, say, bohemia would still have voted to stay within Austria in November 1918.

  34. Technically Texas wasn't lost to the USA. It won its independence from Mexico and a few years later annexed by the USA.

  35. I think Franz von Papen's antics in North America during the war deserve an entire episode if not a whole channel. He was genuinely insane. Please dedicate a segment of Out of the Trenches to him as he played a significant role in post-war Germany

  36. I see a lot of examples of Americans volunteering as Allies, but were there any Americans who volunteered for the Central Powers?

  37. Awesome video! I have a quetion for out of trenches: what happen when a trench broken in the middle of battle, and how long it takes to repair it? Love the show thank you

  38. just a note: in italian, names of the masculine gender end in O for the singular and I for the plural. when talking about a single Italian Alpine combatant, the correct form is "Alpino". "Alpini" is the plural.

  39. I wonder if Greece stayed neutral, or even joined the Central Powers as Constantine considered, what the relation with the Ottoman Empire/Turkey would be.

  40. "… Something of a game changer…"
    Giant flaming middle finger pointed directly at Berlin starts rising in the west
    … Yeah, uh… yeah. Game changer.

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