Report from the Fronts #38: December 1917

The battle of Cambrai came to an end on 7 December, and the Western Front was then otherwise “quiet.”  On the same day the US Battleship Division 9, commanded by Rear Admiral Hugh Rodman, reached the Grand Fleet anchorage at Scapa Flow, adding four American dreadnaughts to the fleet.  America at first resisted dividing its fleet, but First Sea Lord Jellicoe (who would resign on the 26th) convinced the American admirals by revealing in April the massive losses in merchant shipping in 1917 – 600,000 tons per month – which would lead to starvation in Britain by the end of the year.  The British requested older coal burning ships because of the shortages of oil, and the Americans sent the Delaware, Florida, New York and Wyoming.

USS Wyoming

USS New York

USS Delaware

USS Florida

Rear Admiral Hugh Rodman

 

Off in the east Russia was making its peace with the Central Powers.  On 5 December a Russian delegation signed a general truce with the Central Powers at the fortress of Brest-Litovsk (the rest of city was in ruins) in Belarus and began negotiations for an armistice.  The Soviet team was a motley crew, inasmuch as it involved representatives of all the social groups supporting the Revolution (soldiers, sailors, workers, etc. – a peasant was recruited off the street at the last minute), but two Bolshevik luminaries were present: Leon Trotsky (assassinated in August 1940) and Lev Kamenev (shot in August 1936).

Kamenev arrives

Kamenev

Trotsky

Trotsky arrives

Brest-Litovsk conference

The delegation was led by Adolph Joffe (committed suicide in November 1927 after being refused permission to travel abroad for medical treatment), an ally of Trotsky, and his position was soon improved by sending home many of the social group representatives, such as the sailors.  On 15 December an armistice was signed, and on the 22nd negotiations for a peace treaty began, a much harder row to hoe for the Russians.  They wanted no “annexations or indemnities,” but the Central Powers had territorial ambitions galore and non-Russian provinces were already opting out of the prostrate Russian Empire.  Courland, Poland and Lithuania, already occupied by the Germans and Austrians, wanted independence, which Finland declared on 6 December; the Moldavian Democratic Republic (Bessarabia) was declared on the 15th.  And proclaiming the principle of self-determination made it difficult for the Bolsheviks to argue against these developments.

Adolph Joffre

Meanwhile, it was becoming clearer where the new Russian republic was heading.  Back in July the Provisional Government had accepted the idea of Constituent Assembly, but Kerensky wanted to wait until the war, which he wished to continue, was over.  The October Revolution (in November) changed that, inasmuch as the Bolsheviks demanded immediate peace, and elections were held in November.  Unfortunately for Lenin, a split among his allies, the Social Revolutionaries, meant the Bolsheviks could be a minority in the Assembly, and it would not be convened until January.

To the south the British outside Jerusalem were fending off Turkish counterattacks at the beginning of December, and on the evening of 8 December the Ottoman Seventh Army moved north, evacuating Jerusalem but for a small force on the Mount of Olives.  The next day British units entered the city, which surrendered, and the Turks on the Mount were defeated.  On 11 December Allenby entered the city through the Jaffa Gate, on foot in order to show respect for the holy places.  From the 26th to the 30th the Turks, reinforced by units from further east (which would make Baghdad easier to capture), attacked the British positions but were repulsed.

British guard at the Jaffa Gate

Allenby at the Jaffa Gate

The British enter Bethlehem

The surrender of Jerusalem

Allenby enters Jerusalem

On 17 December London gave assurances to Hussein bin Ali, the self-proclaimed King of Hejaz, concerning the independence of the Arabs following the war.  This assurance was, however, in direct contradiction to the Sykes-Picot agreement of 1916, which handed the areas outside the Arabian Peninsula to the British and the French, and on 23 November the Bolsheviks had published the text of Sykes-Picot and other secret treaties (pretty much the only cool thing they would ever do).  Ah, perfidious Albion.

Hussein bin Ali

The Hejaz

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The odds and ends of December: on 7 December the American Congress, possibly in response to Caporetto, declared war on Austria-Hungary, followed by Panama on the 10th, which surely convinced the Austrians that they were doomed.  And on 1 December the last German troops were squeezed out of German East Africa, but Lettow-Vorbeck would carry on the war in Portuguese Mozambique.

The socialist Meyer London, the only man to vote against war with Austria-Hungary

And still the war went on.

 

 

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And Speaking of Jutland…Remember 8 June 1967

USS Liberty

USS Liberty

On this day forty-nine years ago the American electronic surveillance vessel USS Liberty was monitoring signals traffic in international waters in the eastern Mediterranean, when she was attacked by Israeli fighters, which strafed, bombed and napalmed the Liberty, killing nine crewmen and wounding others.  Their munitions expended, the planes broke off the attack, and the Liberty radioed for help.  The nearby 6th Fleet twice scrambled fighters, but each time they were recalled within minutes, and about 30 minutes after that the Liberty was attacked by three Israeli torpedo boats, which almost sank the vessel with torpedo hits.  They then closed and strafed the vessel, including life rafts that were being launched.  According to the Israeli military, only then did they identify the ship as American and left the scene at 3:30, returning about an hour later to offer help, which the Liberty refused.  34 crewmen were dead and 174 wounded.

Accident

Accident

Accident

Accident

The Israelis immediately apologized for what they claimed was an accident, and this explanation was immediately accepted by President Lyndon Johnson, though many others in the government were appalled and believed the attack to have been deliberate.  Surviving Liberty crew were instructed never to talk about the incident under threat of court martial, and while many received decorations, all but one citation said nothing about the identity of the attacker.  Captain William McGonagle received the Medal of Honor, but rather than being awarded the decoration in the White House by the President, as is traditional, he received it from the Secretary of the Navy in an unpublicized ceremony at the Washington Naval Yard.

Capt. William McGonagle

Capt. William McGonagle

The Navy conducted by far the briefest investigation of a naval disaster in modern American history and despite immense evidence to the contrary concluded that the attack had been an accident.  A half century and much more evidence later it remains the official policy of both the Israeli and American governments that it was.

Not yet

Not yet

 

 

Our Best Ally and the USS Liberty

Liberty on June 9

          On June 8, 1967, a perfectly clear day, the American electronic surveillance vessel USS Liberty was in international waters about 30 miles northeast of el-Arish in the Sinai Peninsula, monitoring the signals traffic of the Israelis, Arabs and Russians.  At about 2 PM the ship was attacked by Israeli Mirage and Mysteres fighters, which strafed, bombed and napalmed the Liberty, killing nine crewmen and wounding others.  Their munitions expended, the planes broke off the attack, and the Liberty radioed for help.  The nearby 6th Fleet twice scrambled fighters, but each time they were recalled within minutes, and about 30 minutes after that the Liberty was attacked by three Israeli torpedo boats, which almost sank the vessel with torpedo hits.  They then closed and strafed the vessel, including life rafts that were being launched.  According to the Israeli military, only then did they identify the ship as American and left the scene at 3:30, returning about an hour later to offer help, which the Liberty refused.  34 crewmen were dead and 174 wounded.

The Israelis immediately apologized for what they claimed was an accident, and this explanation was immediately accepted by President Lyndon Johnson and his Secretary of War, Robert McNamara.  Many others, including members of Congress and Secretary of State Dean Rusk, were appalled and believed the attack to have been deliberate.  Surviving Liberty crew were instructed never to talk about the incident under threat of court martial, and while many received decorations, all but one citation said nothing about the identity of the attacker.  Captain William McGonagle received the Medal of Honor, but rather than being awarded the decoration in the White House by the President, as is traditional, he received it from the Secretary of the Navy in an unpublicized ceremony at the Washington Naval Yard.  Stating that it was not their intention to “rule on the culpability of the attacker,” the Navy conducted a 10 day investigation, although the chief of the court, Rear Admiral Isaac Kidd, thought the probe would require at least six months.  This was by far the briefest investigation of a naval disaster in modern American history, and the fact that official letters to families of the casualties, stating it was an accident, were sent out the day before the court convened strongly suggests the investigation was a sham.  The Navy of course concluded that the attack had been an accident.  It remains the official policy of both the Israeli and American governments that it was.

Thanks, Israel!

It was not.  Despite the withholding and editing of documents and tapes, particularly by the NSA, the evidence is overwhelming.  Retired Liberty crewmen, who after all were first-hand witnesses, are adamant in their belief that the attacking Israelis knew it was an American ship.  They have pointed out that in their initial flyovers the planes were so close they could see the faces of the pilots, making it difficult to believe the pilots in turn could not see the 13 foot American flag and other identifying marks and the plainly non-Arabic sailors.  Retired members of the intelligence community have stated they knew it was deliberate and that operators on the Liberty actually overheard the Israeli pilots telling their superiors that it was an American vessel.  Vice-Admiral William Martin claimed the fighters were recalled because it was feared the attackers were Russians, an incredible proposition, and defending the Liberty could thus start a war with the USSR.  It is now known that Johnson, who lies about the affair in his autobiography, personally ordered (through McNamara) the planes recalled, unwilling to “embarrass my ally.”  25 American sailors would subsequently die because of that decision.

Attempts in the last four decades to reopen the investigation have been met with government indifference and outright hostility, even towards the aging survivors of the Liberty.  Afraid to level even the mildest criticism against Israel, virtually no American politician will accuse them of deliberately attacking an American vessel.  There is no conclusive evidence, they say, and what possible reason could Israel have to do such a thing?

If there is no “conclusive” evidence (apart from the eyewitness accounts of the sailors and statements of retired officials), it is because the government, despite the Freedom of Information Act, has refused to release box loads of documents pertaining to the attack.  Further, analysts have concluded that a number of the released audio tapes from that day have obvious gaps.  Why would Washington cover up such a blatant attack on Americans?  As the past 45 years have demonstrated, the apparent Israeli stranglehold on American domestic politics has allowed “our best ally” to do whatever she damn well pleases, even if that includes undermining US interests and constantly violating the international law and covenants we have pledged to uphold.  They have spied on us, illegally resold our military technology, interfered in our elections, detained and abused American citizens of Palestinian origin and insulted one American President after another, yet as the recent parade of Republican candidates made startlingly clear, every national candidate must kneel at the altar of Israel.

Israel has continually demonstrated that she has absolutely no concern for anything outside her own interests and is willing even to use Jews living abroad to serve her ends.  Protected by the United States, the Israelis seem to feel they can get away with any sort of behavior, continually violating the sovereignty of other countries (as we now do), maintaining an open season on Palestinian civilians, intercepting and capturing unarmed vessels in international waters and simply murdering people without apology.             This pattern of behavior certainly supports a deliberate assault on the Liberty.  But why?  There are two possible reasons.  Shortly before the attack the Israeli army had summarily executed several hundred Egyptian POWs in el-Arish (the number is disputed but not the massacre) and may well have been concerned that the Liberty, which was in the neighborhood, had gathered evidence of this war crime.  But far more likely is the planned invasion of Syria.  Washington was putting serious pressure (!) on the Israelis, who were dependent upon American resupply, to end the war, but Israel wanted to seize the Golan Heights and was massing forces for an assault on June 9.  If the US learned of this on June 8, the operation could not take place, and here was the Liberty, monitoring all the electronic traffic in the region.  Remove the Liberty and the problem disappears, as in fact happened.  At 3 AM on June 9 Syria accepted a cease fire, and though informed of this, at 7 AM the Israelis seized the Golan, which was subsequently annexed.

Our best ally indeed.