10 Key October World War I Events
October during World War I, which ended 100 years ago, was, to use a technical term in the history profession, crazy. Here are 10 reasons why:
10. October Revolution (1917). Let’s start with the one nearly every intelligent layman has heard of: the October Revolution in Russia. The October Revolution was, despite its name, merely a continuation in a long struggle for power between Bolshevik socialists and their many enemies in post-Czarist Russia. The details of October are far too dense for this list, but one interesting fact about the October Revolution is that the revolution happened in November according to the Gregorian calendar (which is what most of the world uses today). At the time of the revolution, though, the Russians still used the old Julian calendar, and the events of their power grab happened in October. The Soviet Union adopted the Gregorian calendar in 1918, but for some reason the Soviet intelligentsia kept the name “October Revolution.”
9. Jubilee Exhibition in Norway (1914). The Norwegians threw a huge World’s Fair in 1914 that lasted for six months (May-October), and drew more than 1.5 million visitors. The reason for the jubilee was the centennial of Norway’s 1814 constitution (which is still in effect today, making it the second-oldest continuous constitution in the world, after the American one). One of the most popular attractions was an African village exhibition. World War I began at the end of July of 1914, right smack dab in the middle of Norway’s Jubilee, but that didn’t stop people from visiting Kristiania, as Oslo was known until it was renamed in 1925. The final day of the World’s Fair was Oct. 11, and more than 100,000 people were estimated to have attended, even though World War I was raging!.
8. Bulgaria enters the war (1915). Bulgaria joined the war on the side of the Central Powers in October of 1915, after Germany and Austria-Hungary convinced the Balkan state to join them and the Ottoman Empire against the West and Russia. This was no easy feat, though, because Bulgaria had spent centuries trying to secede from the Ottomans, and the latter two were bitter enemies. A Bulgarian-Ottoman marriage was made easier, though, after Bulgaria’s former anti-Ottoman allies ganged up on Bulgaria and took a bunch of its territory. Revenge was sweet for Bulgaria when it declared war on Serbia in October of 1915.
7. Siege and fall of Antwerp (1914). Antwerp, the cultural capital of Belgium, and one of Europe’s most important ports, came under siege early on in the war against the Central Powers, and it only took 11 days for Germany to overrun the city. The Belgians retreated to the nearby Yser River, where they dug in and held their ground for the remainder of the war. The fall of Antwerp raised alarm bells for the Allies, as they thought it might be a harbinger of things to come, but, for better or worse, the trench warfare of the Belgians and Germans along the Yser River is what came to characterize World War I’s western front.
6. Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition (1914-16). In 1914 a British-Irish explorer named Ernest Shackleton set out to cross the entire continent of Antarctica after Norwegians became the first to reach the South Pole. The expedition failed spectacularly but the crew’s exploits earned the admiration of the press early on (Shackleton was knighted after his return). In October of 1915, the expedition’s flagship had to be abandoned after it got caught in pack ice and the crew had to survive atop the ice for the remainder of the year. When the expedition set out in 1914, the war had not yet begun and the crew was unaware that the world had descended into madness. Their return to the United Kingdom was hardly noticed. The first successful trans-Antarctic expedition was not accomplished until the mid-1950s.
5. Maritz Rebellion (1914). When the British Empire went to war against the Germans, the Boers in South Africa sought, once again, to establish an independent Boer republic in what is now South Africa by leaving the British Empire and declaring independence in October of 1914. Twelve years earlier, the Boers had lost a war against the British Empire and many were still bitter about the terms of the peace. The Boer rebels used German South West Africa (now Namibia) as a launching pad for their rebellion, but even an alliance with the Germans could not help the Boers in their attempt to re-establish an independent republic. By July of 1915, the Germans had lost their colony and the Boer rebellion had been utterly crushed.
4. Battle of Fort Dipitie (1915). In October of 1915 the United States had managed to keep out of the tragic events going on in Europe, but Washington had still managed to find military action in its backyard, as troops had been sent to Haiti at the behest of the island nation’s dictator, Vilbrun Guillaume Sam. The Battle of Fort Dipitie was a relatively minor affair, with only one Marine being wounded and fewer than 100 people dying altogether, but the entire occupation of Haiti by the U.S. military was frowned upon by most of the American public. The occupation of Haiti inspired decorated Marine General Smedley Butler to write his classic 1935 book War is a Racket.
3. Ottoman Empire captured French submarine Turquoise (1915). The Ottoman capture of a French submarine is noteworthy because the Ottomans are often cast in a poor light. The Empire was often referred to as “the sick man of Europe” in diplomatic talks at the time because it had trouble keeping up with the technological, political, and economic developments of the other states in Europe. However, the Ottoman Navy was the first to have its submarines launch torpedos while submerged, although their submarines were scrapped in 1910 due to poor mechanics. The Ottomans refitted the Turquoise and used it against the Allies until the end of the war. It was returned to France in 1919. The Ottoman Empire was for many centuries the most important trendsetter in naval warfare due to its geographic location (see RealClearHistory’s piece on Ottoman battles), and its navy performed admirably during World War I.
2. Battle of Mahiwa (1917). Fought in mid October between British and German imperial forces, the battle was a Pyrrhic victory for the Germans and highlighted well the reach of the British Empire. A large force of Nigerian and South African troops fought a small force of Germans in German East Africa (what is now Tanzania). Nigeria is in west Africa and, of course, South Africa is in southern Africa, but this does not do the British Empire’s forces justice until it’s realized that the African continent is humongous, and could comfortably fit the United States, China, India, Japan, and the European Union into its territory. The logistics of moving Nigerian and South African troops to East Africa are mind-boggling, but so too is the fact that the British could marshall a multi-ethnic military force under the banner of imperialism. The obstinate refusal of the British to recognize non-Europeans for their deeds in World Wars I and II played a vital role in contributing the collapse of the empire. What if London had simply recognized the efforts of its colonies (both their troops and their general populations) during World War I?
1. Aster Revolution (1918). Another October revolution, this one occurred in Hungary and led to the downfall of Austria-Hungary’s empire and the end of the war. Hungary left the Austro-Hungarian Empire and established a democratic constitution. The revolution got its name from the aster flowers that citizens would place in their hats and on their clothes in support of Hungarian independence and democracy. The secession of Hungary from Austria-Hungary devastated the old empire, and it collapsed as a result. The democratic constitution established by the revolution was short-lived, too, since it was established by Hungarians and for Hungarians, and this did not bode well for people within the Hungarian People’s Republic that were not Hungarian. This reality - of ethno-nationalist sentiments and polyglot communities - in the post Austro-Hungarian world led to lots of problems in Eastern Europe after the war, including the Holocaust.