Steve Guy

1919: Britain's forgotten war on Russia

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As celebrations commenced at the signing of the General Armistice that ended the First World War, the British army, among others, decided to continue hostilities, this time against the new Soviet Republic of Russia. Steve Guy tells the story of this shady episode in British history.

When the Russian revolution finally toppled the Tsarist autocracy in November 1917 and swept Lenin and the Bolsheviks into power, one of their first acts was to seek a peace settlement with the Central Powers, Germany and Austro-Hungary. In December an armistice was signed, formally ending hostilities on the Eastern Front.

Versailles: the settlement that settled nothing

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US president Woodrow Wilson celebrating the signing of the Treaty of Versailles

The Treaty of Versailles was a vicious project, during which the Great Powers prioritised their own imperialist interests over the rhetoric of a “just and lasting peace”. Steve Guy looks at its consequences.

The Great War had ground on for four long years, and the Allied leaders were caught by surprise when revolution in Germany compelled the military dictatorship of Ludendorff and von Hindenburg to sue for peace in November 1918. As a result, the peace talks only commenced in January 1919, with a commitment by the Allies to producing a “just and lasting peace”. In fact, there were five peace treaties concluded by late 1920. Of the five, the one with Germany, the Treaty of Versailles, levied the most onerous demands on the vanquished foe.

What about no deal?

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Sabby Sagall extols the virtues of remaining in the EU (Feedback, February SR): workers rights; equal pay provision; the 8-hour day. What he doesn’t seem to see is the way in which bosses in Europe as well as this country find many ways round these regulations: the Working Time Directive waiver, women still being paid less than men in practice, while 24-hour shift working patterns are at an all-time high.

The twilight of empires

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Commemorations marking the end of the First World War have made little mention of the suffering endured by people in Eastern Europe. Steve Guy looks at the history in order to redress the picture.

Last November the remembrance ceremonies on the 100th anniversary of the signing of the armistice ending the First World War focussed, understandably, on the campaign on the Western Front. There has been very little mention of the events in the east, even after the recent independence celebrations in Poland, with the participation of the Polish Nazis, or the latest confrontation between Russia and the Ukraine.

Great war on a knife edge

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In spring of 1918 the German military began an offensive against the allies called Operation Michael. Steve Guy details its impact on the strategy of allied forces and the tensions it led to between them.

When the Russian Revolution propelled the Bolsheviks into power in 1917, they made good on their commitment to take Russia out of the war and concluded an armistice with Imperial Germany. But the Germans insisted on imposing onerous conditions on the Bolsheviks who, faced with the overwhelming might of their military machine, were compelled to sign the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk.

Passchendaele: the foulness of their fate

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The battle which came to be known as Passchendaele took place in Belgium in the second half of 1917. Steve Guy describes the horror faced by soldiers crawling through mud that had become like quicksand.

At the south east corner of the town of Ypres stands the Menin Gate, a vaulted arch mausoleum built of red brick and Portland stone and opened in 1927. It is a memorial to the missing British and Commonwealth soldiers from the five battles that took place in the area beyond the town during the First World War, known as the Ypres salient.

"Consider us as having died today or tomorrow"

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The Battle of the Somme started on 1 July 1916 and dragged on until the following November. Steve Guy describes the rigid class divisions between officers and rank and file soldiers and the snobbery of generals such as Haig, that became major features behind the subsequent slaughter.

In the years prior to what became known as the Great War, most of the nations that were to become embroiled in the conflict had standing armies numbering hundreds of thousands. The empires of Austro-Hungary and Tsarist Russia, Germany and France all used conscription — enforced recruitment — in varying degrees, to maintain their numbers.

Remember Germans' role in Middle East

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Simon Guy’s article (“The Use and Abuse of the Arab Revolt”, June SR) is a timely reminder of the role of imperialism in the Great War in the formation of the Arab world today.

However I would just like to point out that it was not inevitable that the Ottoman Empire sided with the Central Powers, but the result of an assiduous campaign by the Germans, heavily subsidised by German finance capital and fronted by Kaiser Wilhelm II.

'Damn the Dardanelles!'

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In December 1915 the evacuation of allied troops from the Dardanelles straits in the Ottoman Empire finally began. A century on Steve Guy looks at the significance of the allies' failed Gallipoli campaign.

A century ago allied troops retreated, defeated, from the shores of Turkey after the eight-month Dardanelles campaign. The allies — Britain, France and Russia — had wanted to carve up the Ottoman Empire — Turkey, the Arabian Peninsula, Mesopotamia (Iraq and Syria) and the area south of the Caucasus mountain range.

The British and French wanted Mesopotamia, which was known to be rich in oil deposits, while Russia wanted Constantinople, which would give it unfettered access to the Mediterranean.

Remember 1915

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It seems like celebrating 70th anniversaries has become very popular recently, and the hoo-hah around VE Day is no exception.

Carefully forgotten is the 100th anniversary of 1915, the second year of the First World War, which most British (and French) military historians and politicians would rather forget.

By August 1915 some 60,000 troops of the British Expeditionary Force were casualties (about 35 percent), while France had lost a staggering 1 million men!

And that’s not to mention the unmitigated disaster on Turkey’s Gallipoli peninsula.

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