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The Last Century of Sea Power, Volume 1: From Port Arthur to Chanak, 1894-1922

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The transition to modern war at sea began during the period of the Sino-Japanese War (1894–1895) and the Spanish-American War (1898) and was propelled forward rapidly by the advent of the dreadnought and the nearly continuous state of war that culminated in World War I. By 1922, most of the elements that would define sea power in the 20th century were in place. Written by one of our foremost military historians, this volume acknowledges the complex nature of this transformation, focusing on imperialism, the growth of fleets, changes in shipbuilding and armament technology, and doctrines about the deployment and use of force at sea, among other factors. There is careful attention to the many battles fought at sea during this period and their impact on the future of sea power. The narrative is supplemented by a wide range of reference materials, including a detailed census of capital ships built during this period and a remarkable chronology of actions at sea during World War I.

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One The Sino-Japanese War, 1894–1895

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THE SINO-JAPANESE WAR, July 1894–April 1895, fits into the context discussed at the end of the introduction with one crucial exception: the racial dimension. But overall the background is provided by the obvious point of contrast: Japan, by a very deliberate process of imitation, had been able to absorb western organization and methods and to provide itself with a military capability that by the last decade of the nineteenth century marked it as perhaps the most powerful single state in eastern Asia, whereas China’s process of fragmentation had assumed critical—if largely unsuspected—dimensions by this time. The war was not one that was sought by either side1 but arose from events in Korea that possessed singular importance to Japan: the Korean peninsula was potentially the point of invasion—the Mongol expeditions of 1274 and 1281 had shown this—and at the same time it was Japan’s obvious point of entry on the mainland—as witness the Hideyoshi Toyotomi (1537–1598) expedition of 1592–1598. Both China and Japan saw Korea as lying within their own spheres of influence, China by right of historical precedence and Japan in terms of future intent. With the Tientsin Convention of 18 April 1885, the two states had agreed on a treaty that in effect provided for Korean independence but also for their rights of intervention in Korea and the obligation to consult with one another. But war was to come in 1894 as a result of a complicated power-struggle within Korea that prompted separate Chinese and Japanese intervention and that set in train a series of events that led to confrontation.

 

Two The Greco-Turkish War of 1897

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THE GRECO-TURKISH WAR of 1897, which lasted a little more than a month, is one that has all but disappeared from history books: Dupuy and Dupuy’s The Encyclopedia of Military History affords just fifty-six words and numbers to this conflict, and this would seem to be par for the course. There is indeed no disputing the simple fact that this was a war that was of little importance and consequence, and it is a war that has been pushed to the side by the greater conflicts that came over the next twenty-five years. But it was a war that was the one exception in the process of Turkish contraction on the Haemus: it was the only war in the nineteenth-century Balkans in which Turkey was not obliged to cede territory.

What was to become known as the Thirty Days’ War began on 17 April 1897 as the by-product of the situation that had arisen on Crete, where the collapse of Turkish authority and the activities of Greek militias produced a situation that tethered on the brink of civil war and foreign intervention, the great powers not wishing to see any conflict that might lead to a wider war on the mainland.1 The great powers were able to prevent Turkey from sending to Crete army formations that might have restored order if not law but could prevent neither a landing on Crete by a Greek force of some two thousand troops on 15 February 1897 nor a Greek declaration of annexation (16 February). What the great powers were able to do, however, was to demand—under threat of naval blockade of all Greek ports for non-compliance—the Greek withdrawal of its military and naval forces from Crete (2 March), but with one unforeseen consequence: frustrated on Crete, the Greeks sought compensation in Macedonia via the encouragement of rebellion among the Greek population in the area and a dual offensive, to the west in the Epirus from the Arta area and in the east from the Larissa area.2 Confounding this intention, however, were two simple facts of life: the unfolding of events on Crete had given the Turks two months in which to ready themselves for a campaign, and the Turkish Army possessed clear numerical advantage on both sectors but more specifically in the east. In the west the Greeks were able to drive Turkish forces beyond artillery range from Arta and, with Turkish forces withdrawing to positions in front of Philippiada, Greek formations were able to advance some 20 miles/32 km northward, roughly half the distance to Janina, by 25 April.3 By the time they did so, however, the situation in the east had unravelled. The intended Greek offensive in the direction of Elassona had come to nothing with the Greek forces gathered around Mati,4 having been outflanked without ever having managed to get over the border, being obliged to conduct a general withdrawal that ultimately resulted in the whole of the area north of Pharsala, including Larissa, Trikkala, and Karditza,5 being abandoned. This, however, proved only the first part of what was to be comprehensive defeat. With the Greek formations in front of Janina simultaneously forced into a disastrous retreat, the Greek defeats of 15–17 May in front of Domoko and then in the Phurka Pass laid bare the whole of the area to the north of Lamia and the river Sperchcheios.6 With the Turks also securing first Volo and then virtually the whole of the coastal area between Volo and Lamia,7 there was little to prevent a Turkish advance to Athens. It was at this point that great power intervention, and a ceasefire in place from 20 May,8 ensured Greece against the consequences of her own impetuosity and bad judgment. Under Russian brokerage, and after international consultations involving both Greece and Turkey and then those two countries being obliged to negotiate directly with one another, a peace was agreed and a treaty signed on 4 December at Constantinople. The latter provided for a very minor border adjustment in Turkey’s favor, and receipt of a very small—indeed derisory—indemnity. Turkey was not able to register gains that its position of military advantage suggests would have been within its grasp but for the great powers.

 

Three The Spanish-American War of 1898

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PERHAPS, AT THIS DISTANCE in time, the most interesting aspect of the war of 1898 is American attitudes, and specifically the support afforded revolutionary cause against legally constituted and proper authority by the United States; one wonders how congressional motions of this period would be received in Washington today.1 Moreover, there is the small matter of the commission of inquiry that established, on whatever factual basis has never been determined, that the battleship Maine was sunk in Havana harbor on 15 February 1898 by an external explosion, that is, as a result of Spanish malevolence.2 Iraq, the Hussein regime, and arms procurement programs would seem to have an ancestral pedigree in terms of reports that “situated the appreciation” and which presented as conclusive evidence what authority in the United States deemed essential in the pursuit of national interest.

The war of 1898, at least with respect to the war at sea, is a difficult war to summarize because it does not really accord with previous experience or what was to unfold in the first half of the twentieth century. This was not a war that involved genuine naval powers. Spain had long since ceased to be a great power—arguably Trafalgar (21 October 1805) was the last time a Spanish fleet saw battle—and the United States was not yet of such exalted naval status. In light of such facts perhaps the most surprising aspect of the war was that neither side had genuine global reach and capability. Yet even if the two states never took the tide of conflict to the other’s metropolitan homeland, this was a war that reached around the globe. It was a war that did not witness prolonged blockade—there was blockade and it did not accord with the various American-proclaimed rights reference sea-borne trade—there was little blue-water action in terms of a guerre de course, and there were no assault landings. The only military campaign was one that owed more to the American public need for heroes and sensation than to real historical substance.

 

Four The Shifting Balance of Power

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THE SINO-JAPANESE and Spanish-American wars in effect marked the closing of an era. The mark that the world wears is primarily a European mark. The state and the capitalist system were primarily European creations, and a global economy and global war were likewise of European pedigree. The calendar and time are similarly European, and Europeans drew virtually every border in the world, usually with little or no reference to indigenous populations. The Sino-Japanese and Spanish-American wars really marked the apogee of empire: from this time, around 1895–1898, virtually every part of the world other than Europe and North America was under either direct European control or a dominating European influence: as noted earlier, the nineteenth century in South America was known as the British century because the states of that continent found that British money, investments, and trade slotted into place with the end of Spanish empire. By the dawn of the new century there were no areas in which Europeans, and Americans, might establish themselves without war, or the very real prospect of war, with another European power. The conclusive evidence of this truth was provided in the Fashoda crisis of September–November 1898 when France quite deliberately chose not to confront Britain over claims over the Sudan. In a very real sense this was the acid test of extra-European issues: if France was prepared to acquiesce in British primacy on this occasion then there was never going to be an issue that could produce real crisis, at least not between Britain and France. Relations between the two countries were not good, but the simple fact was that France could never afford to challenge Britain outside Europe given its military, industrial, and demographic inferiority relative to Germany. Fashoda, however, was one in a series of events that came together in very rapid succession, and which in very large measure re-wrote naval terms of reference.

 

Introduction

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THE YEARS BETWEEN 1904 and 1922 are all but synonymous with the Anglo-German naval race and the First World War, yet this was a period that saw five major wars involving great powers and two, not one, major naval races. It was a period that opened with the Russo-Japanese War (8 February 1904–6 September 1905) and then moved to the Italian-Turkish (29 September 1911–15 October 1912) and the Balkan (17 October 1912–10 August 1913) wars, the latter in many ways serving as the overture to the First World War (28 July 1914–11 November 1918), which in turn gave rise to a series of wars, the most notable being the Russian Civil War and Allied intervention (December 1917–October 1922). The latter, of course, was accompanied by the Russo-Polish War (April 1920–18 March 1921), and there was also the small matter of the Greco-Turkish War (May 1919–October 1922). Between 1906 and 1914, the unfolding Anglo-German naval race was one of the most important single items on a political and diplomatic agenda that made for an increasing militant and strident assertiveness that went hand in hand with an increasing sense of insecurity on the part of all the powers. Yet the First World War was witness to a second naval race in the Pacific between Japan and the United States, which after 1919–1920 was to be curbed in the attempt by the great powers to craft a new international order that included the first arms limitation arrangements.

 

Five The Russo-Japanese War: The First Phases

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IF ONE ACCEPTS the idea, expounded previously, that the Battle of Manila Bay was the last battle of the Age of Sail, then it would follow that the Russo-Japanese War represented the first naval war of the modern era. This conflict did not witness the employment of aircraft,1 but it obviously embraced a series of actions that marked out the road to Jutland.

In terms of war at sea, there are a number of matters that should command attention and careful consideration, not least the fact that this war was the first in which electronic counter-measures made their appearance: Russian wireless operators first jammed the radio signals of Japanese destroyers operating off Port Arthur in February 1904. It was, moreover, the first war in which mines were of very real significance for the conduct of operations. Both defensively and offensively, mines were to be important in two world wars, as Japan found to its cost in 1945 when American mining and Operation Starvation formed part of the process that completed Japan’s defeat. But, and with exception, probably neither war saw mines afforded the strategic significance registered in the Russo-Japanese War.

 

Six The Russo-Japanese War: The Battle of Tsushima and Its Aftermath

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THE FINAL PHASE of the Russo-Japanese War was witness to three parallel sets of events, namely the culmination of the Japanese offensive into southern Manchuria that resulted in victory at the battle of Mukden (21 February–10 March 1905), the departure (from Libau and Reval on 15 October 1904) of the Baltic force that had reached Madagascar by the time that Port Arthur surrendered, and the onset of what was to become known as the 1905 Revolution within Russia that began with the Bloody Sunday demonstration of 22 January.1 These may have run more or less together but most certainly were not complementary. At the end of the battle for Mukden the Russian Army had incurred another defeat, but it was not yet defeated. Clearly the issues of continuing reinforcement of the armies in Manchuria, the continuation of the war, the role of the navy, and just what might be possible given the tide of civil disorder sweeping Russia vied with one another for position center stage.

 

Seven The Dreadnought Naval Race

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THE RUSSO-JAPANESE WAR was fought at a time when naval warfare was on the brink of fundamental change. From the time of the first navies action had been fought on the surface of the sea, and if this war was not the first to see the employment of the mine and torpedo then this war certainly demonstrated these weapons’ formidable power of destruction. The first flight by a heavier-than-air machine took place at Kitty Hawk, North Carolina, on 17 December 1903, less than two months before the outbreak of this war, and quite obviously pointed to a third dimension of naval war. There were no assault landings in this war but there was the first use of the wireless and the first use of electronic counter-measures. Moreover, there were no central gunnery systems, and actions were fought at ranges that were unprecedented but within ten years had become ludicrously short. Within a service career they were to triple. Range and gunnery were the immediate issues that arose in the wake of this war. In the same year as Tsushima, 1905, the British ordered and laid down a new type of warship, the Dreadnought.1

 

Eight Prelude to the First World War

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THERE WERE TO BE THREE, some would argue four, wars within Europe before the outbreak of general war in July–August 1914, and certainly the first of these, the war between Italy and the Ottoman Empire, was one that has a much-neglected naval dimension. This war has certain aspects that commend it as relevant to the present time, not least in that it was a war begun by a power that saw itself entitled to territory and standing and in defense of certain specific interests, not least the protection of its citizens and commerce at the expense of peoples of different culture, the coastal Moors and Turks and the Arabs of the interior, and it was a war in which the campaign was over very quickly. When the fighting ended the Italian high command was left to ponder the wisdom of the Clausewitzian dictum that it is easy to conquer but hard to occupy.

The Italians were able to secure the major coastal towns of Tripolitania and Cyrenaica in a little more than three weeks, but thereafter two very separate problems came to center stage, namely the bringing of Turkey to terms and making it surrender these provinces and in dealing with local peoples who simply refused to accept Italian conquest. The resistance to Italian conquest and rule continued past September 1931 and was only broken by a ruthless campaign of resettlement and frontier defenses, with all the connotations that the words “concentration camps” entail.

 

Introduction

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OVER THE LAST eighty years, the greater part of historical attention paid to the First World War at sea has been focused on two matters, the Anglo-German confrontation in the North Sea, which inevitably largely concerned itself with the battle of Jutland, and the successive U-boat campaigns against Allied and neutral shipping. Such concerns were wholly understandable. Jutland was only the second fleet action involving steel, steam-powered, warships, and it cast before the reader a host of questions that dominated the inter-war period in terms of professional naval study, while the German recourse to an unrestricted submarine offensive against shipping was similar but with the caveat that by its action Germany embarked upon a course that ensured defeat.

One would suggest that the only other item on the naval agenda, at least for some four decades, concerned the Dardanelles, and on two very separate counts: it was an episode brought to the fore by the self-advertising charlatan named Winston Churchill (1874–1965) seeking personal exoneration from a debacle mainly of his making, and, for the United States and a Marine Corps seeking to ensure its raison d’être, it was the basis of study in considering how a war in the central and western Pacific against Japan would be fought. Matters Mediterranean, however, were seldom afforded much in the way of serious consideration except, perhaps, with reference to three matters: first, the episode involving the battlecruiser Goeben and third-class protected cruiser Breslau at the very start of the war; second, the chaotic state of inter-Allied arrangements within the Mediterranean theater specifically with reference to anti-submarine measures; and third, the Otranto Barrage, and the overwhelming evidence of Allied futility of effort in seeking to implement a wholly misguided concept of operations, again with reference to anti-submarine measures. Beyond the Mediterranean the battles off Coronel (1 November 1914) and the Falklands (8 December 1914) have commanded fleeting attention and no more, and indeed these two actions merit no more, though in terms of the prosecution of the war at sea outside European waters and the North Atlantic these two actions, and specifically the second, do hold a certain relevance.

 

Appendix Part 3.Intro.1 British Trade in the First World War

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OVER THE LAST eighty years, the greater part of historical attention paid to the First World War at sea has been focused on two matters, the Anglo-German confrontation in the North Sea, which inevitably largely concerned itself with the battle of Jutland, and the successive U-boat campaigns against Allied and neutral shipping. Such concerns were wholly understandable. Jutland was only the second fleet action involving steel, steam-powered, warships, and it cast before the reader a host of questions that dominated the inter-war period in terms of professional naval study, while the German recourse to an unrestricted submarine offensive against shipping was similar but with the caveat that by its action Germany embarked upon a course that ensured defeat.

One would suggest that the only other item on the naval agenda, at least for some four decades, concerned the Dardanelles, and on two very separate counts: it was an episode brought to the fore by the self-advertising charlatan named Winston Churchill (1874–1965) seeking personal exoneration from a debacle mainly of his making, and, for the United States and a Marine Corps seeking to ensure its raison d’être, it was the basis of study in considering how a war in the central and western Pacific against Japan would be fought. Matters Mediterranean, however, were seldom afforded much in the way of serious consideration except, perhaps, with reference to three matters: first, the episode involving the battlecruiser Goeben and third-class protected cruiser Breslau at the very start of the war; second, the chaotic state of inter-Allied arrangements within the Mediterranean theater specifically with reference to anti-submarine measures; and third, the Otranto Barrage, and the overwhelming evidence of Allied futility of effort in seeking to implement a wholly misguided concept of operations, again with reference to anti-submarine measures. Beyond the Mediterranean the battles off Coronel (1 November 1914) and the Falklands (8 December 1914) have commanded fleeting attention and no more, and indeed these two actions merit no more, though in terms of the prosecution of the war at sea outside European waters and the North Atlantic these two actions, and specifically the second, do hold a certain relevance.

 

Nine The War in Northern Waters

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THE OUTSET OF WAR provided evidence of the elements of constancy and change in naval warfare. In past conflicts British sea power had been used in three roles: to enforce the close blockade of enemy bases and ports, to clear the seas of enemy warships and trade, and to carry the war in which Britain found itself to enemy overseas possessions. The mine and the submarine by 1912 had forced the British Navy to abandon close blockade in favor of observational blockade, but with reference to the elements of constancy, the outbreak of war in August 1914 saw British sea power set about its historic tasks. In clearing the seas Britain’s positional advantage astride German and Austro-Hungarian sea-borne lines of communication with the outside world ensured that enemy oceanic trade very quickly dwindled. The first six months of war saw 383 German and Austro-Hungarian steamers of 978,152 tons detained, sunk, or captured by the Allies and another 788 ships of 2,970,458 tons seek the security of neutral ports. The two Central Powers lost the services of some 61 percent of their merchant fleets in this single, opening phase of the war.

 

Ten Tsingtao and the Dardanelles

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PASSING REFERENCE WAS made previously to the Japanese operations on the Shantung peninsula and the western Pacific at the start of the war. These operations are ones to which one must return to provide a proper account of proceedings and the context regarding the difficulties of choice that Allied powers faced at this time.

The Japanese landed on Jaluit in the Marshalls on 29 September, the formal occupation of this island being dated 3 October, and landed and secured both Ponape in the eastern Carolines and Yap on 7 October, on Koror and Angaur in the Palau (Pelew) Islands on 8 and 9 October, respectively, on Truk in the eastern Carolines on 12 October, and on Saipan and Rota in the Marianas on 14 and 21 October, respectively.1 It was, by any standard, an impressive performance. Within two months of entering the war Japan had provided the means whereby all German possessions north of the Equator had been secured and the siege of Tsingtao was by that stage approaching its final phase. What is so often missed about this contribution to the Allied cause was the manner in which Japan’s intervention finessed Anglo-French problems.

 

Eleven Naval Support of Operations in Africa

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IN TERMS OF THE WAR outside European waters there were four Allied undertakings in Africa, of which three proved difficult and protracted. The exception was the campaign that saw British and French forces secure Togo, which was literally over in a matter of days. The campaigns in German South West Africa and the Cameroons lasted into 1915 and 1916, respectively, while the campaign in German East Africa came to an end only with the armistice in Europe. The naval dimension of these various campaigns was more or less over within a year of the outbreak of war.1

The campaign in Togoland saw no real naval involvement because it was over within a month, German coastal towns being taken by overland offensives by the British from the west and the French from the east. British forces occupied Lomé on 7 August and reached Amuchu on the 26th, where a German military delegation presented a letter of unconditional surrender, effected the following day when Kamina was occupied; in the meantime, the radio station had been comprehensively wrecked.2 The campaign in the Cameroons was a more substantial affair. The British, following the embarrassment of being obliged to re-embark troops that were put ashore at Victoria, on Ambas Bay, after they had been surrounded by German soldiers (4–7 September), committed the armored cruiser Cumberland, the second-class protected cruiser Challenger, and the third–class protected cruisers Astræa and Sirius, the gunboat Dwarf, the sloop Rinaldo, and various assorted auxiliaries, plus the stores ship Trojan, to a series of actions that resulted in the capture of Doula and Bonaberi and shipping in the two ports and in neighboring creeks on 27 September.3 With reference to the latter, and the Germans sank seven ships in attempts to block the harbors, the British captured nine sea-going steamers of 31,000 tons that were fully laden, six smaller vessels, a trawler, four dredgers, nearly thirty launches, and more than fifty lighters. Of the six smaller vessels four had been sunk but these were raised and returned to service. One, the governor’s steam yacht Herzogin Elisabeth, plus the demilitarized gunboat Soden and the tug Adriana, which were the two of the six not sunk, were armed and entered service with the Royal Navy as the Margaret Elizabeth, Sokoto, and the Sir Frederick, respectively. A floating dock, capable of taking a 1,200-ton ship, was also raised and returned to service.4 The only naval episode of note was the destruction of the Nachtigal, an armed merchantman that was destroyed as a result of explosions induced after being hit by shells when it attempted to ram the Dwarf after dusk on 16 September. The Dwarf survived a glancing blow and was returned to action within a matter of days.

 

Twelve Action in the Baltic

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ONE OF THE STRANGER features of the war at sea during the First World War is the relative effectiveness of the Russian fleets in the Baltic and Black Seas and a quality of performance that contrasts very sharply with the Russian naval performance just ten years before in the Japanese war. A certain care needs be noted lest undue credit is given, most obviously in the Baltic, where the Russian performance was primarily defensive and where offensive success, specifically in terms of submarine operations, was very limited and indeed bordered on the nonexistent, but in essence the situation in the Baltic and Black Seas can be summarized simply. In the Baltic there was for the first three years of war a certain balance in which the Russian fleet, from a position of hopeless geographical inferiority, was able to check a German fleet that was, perhaps very surprisingly, for most of this period numerically inferior to itself. In the Black Sea balance gave way to an increasingly assertive Russian presence. Such was the basis of what would appear to be, prima facie, a paradox. In the Baltic Germany’s losses over three years were most modest even as its grip on the sea and its trade tightened, but Germany’s real victories came after Russia had been defeated; in the Black Sea whatever success the Russian fleet commanded by 1916 did not translate into significant enemy naval and mercantile losses and in any case unraveled in 1917–1918 under the impact of revolution.

 

Thirteen The Black Sea, Otranto Strait, and Other Matters

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THE BLACK SEA in the First World War was very much a secondary theater of operations. For Russia the naval priority had to be the Baltic and the military priority necessarily had to be the German sector of the front between the Baltic and Galicia, while for Turkey the immediate priority always had to be the Dardanelles and the eastern Mediterranean. Both Russia and Turkey were to be involved in major commitments in the Caucasus and indeed for the latter this proved to be the major military commitment of this war, but the naval dimension of the war, in the Black Sea, proved fragmented for reasons that are not immediately obvious.

Neither side began this war with the means to undertake sustained offensive operations. On the Black Sea Russia began this war with just five pre-dreadnoughts plus cruisers, destroyers, and submarines of limited number and dubious range and quality and with its first dreadnoughts, new destroyers, and submarines some one to two years from completion. Russia lacked a balanced, modern fleet, and given the Baltic priority its naval forces in the Black Sea had more or less exhausted their supply of mines by the end of 1914.

 

Fourteen The Legacy of the First World War

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THE END OF THE First World War is given one of two very precise dates, either 11 November 1918 with the conclusion of the armistice or 28 June 1919 with the signing of the Treaty of Versailles. In reality, the signing of the various treaties that were to end the First World War was to prove a protracted process and other conflicts flowed from this war, the most important being the Russian Civil War.

The Russian Civil War began even in the lifetime of the First World War and, paradoxically was not one single civil war. It was a series of wars that fell into four broad categories. First, there were a series of wars involving the Soviet successor state and various non-Russian nationalities intent upon independence. Second, there were a number of civil wars within Russia itself between the Bolsheviks and a bewildering number of opponents, the very diversity of which provided a key to an understanding of why the Bolsheviks prevailed. Third, there was a series of conflicts that were the products of local antagonisms that were not necessarily related to, but invariably became entangled with, the wider Bolshevik/anti-Bolshevik struggle. In outlying areas tribal vendettas, disputes between settlers and local populations, and conflicts between “town” and “country,” and in central Asia long-standing Christian-Moslem hostility, surfaced alongside the main strands of civil war. Fourth, there was also a no less fragmented intervention on the part of the victorious Allied powers. For the most part, these various wars and intervention had run their course by 1920, but it was not until 1922 that the Soviet state acquired possession of the Maritime Provinces and it was not until 1925 that the Japanese relinquished control of northern Sakhalin.

 

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