<– Part 174 – November 18, 1917  | Part 175 – November 25, 1917 |  Part 176 – December 2, 1917 –>

Cambrai salient in the north, facing the Bourlon Ridge

Members of the 16th Battalion, Royal Irish Rifles, on November 20 at Cambrai

On the Western Front, following careful planning, artillery calculations, and the massing of nearly 450 tanks, the British launched an offensive at dawn November 20 towards Cambrai. However, the Germans were aware of an imminent attack and the use of tanks. Although enjoying great success at first, with the Hindenburg line being penetrated at depths approaching 5 miles in places, the mechanical failure of tanks, together with improved artillery and infantry tactics, has led to the British forces bogging down. Near the center, British tanks under the command of George Montague Harper encounted a German unit trained in anti-tank tanks; this, combined with Harper’s unorthodox use of his own tank tactics, led to nearly 80 tanks being taken out by artillery. The west flank also lost 180 tanks (mainly mechanical failures), although reaching its objectives at the cost of 4,000 casualties, taking 4,200 Germans prisoners. This advance has accomplished more in 6 hours, and with far fewer casualties, than 3 months of fighting at Ypres. German reinforcements have begun to arrive and are contesting British gains in the center, which has formed a salient pointing towards the Bourlon Ridge (the primary objective). British forces are becoming exhausted, and are grinding through reinforcements, while the German reinforcements entrenched on the ridge are holding their positions. Rumors of a German offensive operation began November 23.

At Nebi Sawmil, in Palestine, fighting shifted to alternating offensives, exhaustion, counter-attacks, reinforcements, and repeat; for both sides. British assaults ended November 24, having made considerable gains towards Jerusalem.

Following his Pyrrhic victory at Mahiwa, the 1,800 German East African forces (mainly colonial troops) under Paul Emil von Lettow-Vorbeck invaded Portuguese East Africa for food. Although warned November 25 at 7am that a German attack was imminent, Portuguese troops at Ngomano were caught unawares, due in large part to distracting artillery fire from the Germans that allowed them to slip behind the Portuguese lines and attack from the rear. Losing 200 soldiers, including most of their officers, the remaining 700 Portuguese surrendered. German losses were minimal, and they have raided much-needed supplies.

In Russia, a Constituent Assembly was elected, which included mandatory delegates from the major parties. Following this election, only one Bolshevik and 7 Soviet Revolutionary delegates were among the dozens elected. Fortunately for the Bolsheviks, however, the SR is only a shadow of its former power, and now is in league with the Bolsheviks.

<– Part 173 – November 11, 1917  | Part 174 – November 18, 1917 |  Part 175 – November 25, 1917 –>

View from the peak of Monte Grappa towards the Austro-Hungarian lines

The Russian Bolsheviks took Moscow November 13 following a week of street fighting, in which nearly 700 civilians were killed by indiscriminate artillery fire. In spite of this, public opinion for the Bolsheviks is largely positive.

Italian forces have been ordered to hold the defensive line at Monte Grappa and on the Piave river, halting their retreat. Austro-Hungarian forces, with support from the German Alpenkorps, are attempting to take the summit.

In France, following a series of military blunders and political infighting, Georges Clemenceau has been named Prime Minister, replacing Painlevé. Clemenceau was a vocal critic of the (now previous) administration’s handling of the war, and is vehemently opposed to any peace settlement that does not benefit France.

The Judean Hills in 1917

In Palestine, at the Mughar Ridge, two corps of British Empire forces assaulted two Ottoman armies holding a defensive line approaching Jerusalem. British infantry advances, with cavalry charges, succeeded in breaking the Ottoman flanks & center, while a further cavalry maneuver by the British took the Turk’s rearguard position. The Turk’s link to Jerusalem has been cut. The British lost 1,200 while the Turks lost 10,000 in prisoners alone.

Sketch of British operations towards Jerusalem

The following day, November 14, the advancing Egyptian Expeditionary Force’s flank was caught out in the open by an Ottoman rearguard entrenched on a ridge. The New Zealand Mounted Rifles, around 1,500 strong, advanced against the similarly-sized force supported with machine guns and artillery. An Ottoman bayonet charge failed, while British cavalry AND infantry bayonet charges into hand-to-hand combat succeeded in breaking the center. The Allies lost 200 men to the Turk’s 500.

The British are forcing the advance into the Judean hills, despite the area favoring defense, to keep the Ottomans off-balance and unable to fortify their position.

“[A]ll the armies that have sought to take Jerusalem have passed this way, save only that of Joshua. Philistine and Hittite, Babylonian and Assyrian, Egyptian and Roman and Greek, Frankish Knights of the Cross, all have passed this way, and all have watered the hill of Amwas with their blood.”
— R. M. P. Preston, of the Desert Mounted Corps

On November 17, the ANZAC and British forces attacked the Ottomans at Nebi Samwil (“Tomb of Samuel”), a vital advance to Jerusalem. British forces have begun encircling Jerusalem and taking key supply lines into the city.

USS Nicholson in 1915

U-58’s crew abandoning ship

A German force of minesweepers, supported by several German cruisers, destroyers, and battleships was ambushed at the Heligoland Bight for the second time by several British cruiser squadrons. Despite losing one minesweeper, the German forces retreated, laying an ‘expert smokescreen.’ Maneuvering was difficult for both sides due to the naval minefields. One cruiser on each side was damaged.

While on convoy escort in the Atlantic, the US destroyers Fanning and Nicholson spotted the periscope of U-58 and dropped depth charges, forcing the sub to surface. After firing on the sub, it surrendered. The crew was taken prisoner as the sub sunk. These ships are the first to sink an enemy sub. The commanders of the vessels, Lt. Arthur S. Carpender and LtCdr. Frank D. Berrien, each received the Navy Cross.

On November 18, the British commander in Mesopotamia, General Maude, died of cholera. William Marshall has replaced him and halted operations for the winter.

<– Part 172 – November 4, 1917  | Part 173 – November 11, 1917 |  Part 174 – November 18, 1917 –>

Map of the Second Battle of Gaza

New York Times headline, November 9, 1917

Following two British defeats approaching Gaza, a new commander launched a night attack last month, and following a gradual series of Ottoman trenches being taken, Ottoman supplies to the city being cut off, and a continual bombardment beginning October 27, British forces entered Gaza November 7, finding the village abandoned. Casualties amounted to 2,700 British to 1,500 Ottomans, including 300 captured. Elsewhere in Southern Palestine, victorious British forces at Beersheba push on to Tel el Khuweilfe, in the Judean hills. British cavalry charges throughout the region have been successful in breaking Ottoman defenses.

2nd Moscow Women Death Battalion, the final defenders of the White Palace

Following growing disillusionment with the Provisional Government of Russia, in Petrograd, Bolshevik forces assaulted Kerensky’s government on November 7, helped by the arrival of pro-Bolshevik marines and other sailors. Red Guard forces elsewhere took key military, government, and other key facilities. The Bolshevik forces were held up at the Winter Palace, where the government was supported by 3,000 soldiers. During the evening, groups of soldiers left, while a cruiser fired a blank shot towards the palace at 9:45.

By 2am on November 8, the Bolsheviks entered the palace, and the government surrendered. In all, minimal resistance during this October Revolution (the Russians still use the old-style calendar) led to a nearly-bloodless revolution. The center & right wing soviets are protesting this “illegal” taking of power by the leftist Bolsheviks and walked out of the assembly – Leon Trotsky mocking them with, “You are pitiful isolated individuals; you are bankrupts; your role is played out. Go where you belong from now on – into the dustbin of history!” Vladimir Lenin was elected the new Russian leader later that day; on November 9 the Mensheviks (center-right) declared Georgia an independent republic. Protests against the Bolsheviks began November 10, and the following day Kerensky himself entered Petrograd with a Cossack force and demanded the garrison to surrender, who refused. Kerensky then fired on them before withdrawing – a fatal mistake, as this is exactly what the deposed Tsar would have done.

Armando Diaz in 1921

Luigi Cadorna

On November 8, Armando Diaz was appointed Chief of the General Staff of the Italian army, following Luigi Cadorna’s disaster at Caporetto, called “the greatest defeat in Italian military history.” Italian forces continue retreating towards the Piave river and Monte Grappa.

On November 10, British forces finally reached Passchendaele at 8am, following the third stage’s beginning only two hours earlier. The Third Battle of Ypres is over, with most objectives reached, although still just short of the Passchendaele-Westrozobeke Ridge line. With winter approaching, fighting is expected to wind down. In this latest iteration of Ypres, 300,000 Allies and 300,000 Germans were casualties

<– Part 171 – October 28, 1917  | Part 172 – November 4, 1917 |  Part 173 – November 11, 1917 –>

At Passchendaele, part of the Third Battle of Ypres, the Allied second stage was launched October 30. While the southern and center divisions reached their objectives, stiff German resistance in the northern sectors prevented the Canadians there from doing more than consolidating what gains they had later that evening. A small attack the evening of November 1 was successful in closing up the lines and preparing for the final stage.

At Caporetto, the 25km German breakthrough area at the Twelfth Battle of Isonzo, Italian forces were ordered October 30 to withdraw across the Tagliamento river. They completed their withdrawal after 4 days, with the Germans having established a beachhead just behind the retreating forces, prompting another retreat order for the Italians. Only a heroic defense on October 29-30 at Pozzuolo by two Italian brigades – one infantry, the other cavalry – prevented the German army from cutting off the Italian army’s retreat. With the German supply lines stretched nearly to breaking, German junior officer, Erwin Rommel, who received the Prussian Pour le Mérite for his heroism in the battle, lamented that his “poorly fed troops” would have been much more successful had the supply lines kept up.