France

Treaty of Versailles: Australia Counts the Cost of WW1

More than a century has now passed since the signing of the infamous Treaty of Versailles, at the former Palace of Louis XIV outside Paris, France on 28 June 1919 – formally concluding hostilities between Germany and the allied powers and marking the end of the First World War. It was here that the full cost of the war would become clear to the nations that had just fought it.

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Australia’s edition of the Treaty of Versailles 1919, including the Covenant of the League of Nations (image via Museum of Australian Democracy)

Australia had initially declared war at 12:45 p.m. on 5 August 1914, as then-Prime Minister Joseph Cook announced to a press gathering in his office that “I have received the following despatch from the Imperial government: ‘war has broken out in Germany'”. However, even before Britain had declared war the previous day, plans were already underway to send an expeditionary force of at least 20,000 men to France.

That Australia was still very much a dominion of the British Empire, coupled with the fact that she had only become a Federation in 1901 and that most Australians were of recent British heritage, created a situation in which the declaration of war was met with enthusiasm and was generally well supported.

Australians would go on to serve in the Occupation of German New Guinea, Gallipoli, Egypt and Palestine, the Western Front, Mesopotamia and the Caucasus.

From a population of fewer than five million, 416,809 men enlisted, of whom more than 60,000 were killed and 156,000 wounded, gassed, or taken prisoner. Along with New Zealand – whose soldiers joined forces with Australians as ANZACs – Australians suffered the highest per-capita rates of casualties of all the British Empire dominions.

With such a relatively small population compared to the other Allied nations, Australia was a bit-part player in the power battles at the Versailles conference. Her representatives at the Paris Peace Conference were Prime Minister Billy Hughes, the Deputy Prime Minister Sir Joseph Cook, and Lieutenant Commander J.G. Latham, Royal Australian Naval Reserve.

Yet the brash determination of Prime Minister W.M. “Billy” Hughes ensured that he made a mark on some of the debates and at the Paris peace conference of 1919. This was the first diplomatic conference on this scale (there were 32 governments represented) at which Australia had independent status. Previously, the Dominions of the British Empire had been represented internationally by London or had attended diplomatic meetings as part of a delegation of the Empire.

However, the “blood sacrifice” of the war just ended had changed the balance of imperial relationships; and after some difficult negotiations with the United States and France, Australia (like Canada, South Africa, New Zealand and India) was granted the right to attend the Paris conference.

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The Australian delegation at the Paris Peace Conference, 1919. Hughes sits front row centre. [AWM A02615]

The question of inter-allied war debts and German reparations was a deeply divisive one, and at Paris it was finally agreed that the Germans should pay for more than actual physical damage to France and Belgium, as was originally suggested by the Americans. But Hughes’s battle to get Germany to pay the full costs of Australia’s war, and for pensions and other veterans’ benefits, was lost. The compromise that was finally hammered out was so unpalatable to Hughes that it was only in the interests of the unity of the British Empire that he finally signed the peace treaty.

The story of German reparations in the 1920s is a long and complex one. Suffice to say that by 1931, when reparations payments finally ended, Australia had received only £5.571 million against a total claim of £464 million – £364 million being for actual war expenditure, and £100 million for the capitalised value of pensions, repatriation and loss to civilian property. Moreover, what Australia had received was largely made up of ships seized in Australian ports and the value of expropriated property in New Guinea.

So Hughes returned to Australia deeply disappointed with the Treaty of Versailles. As he saw it, it was “not a good peace” for Australia but it was a good one for the United States. He said bitterly, “She who did not come into the war to make anything has made thousands of millions out of it. She gets the best ships. She has a good chance of beating us for world mercantile supremacy. She prevented us getting the cost of the war.”

In some ways Hughes’ disappointment was understandable. The quantifiable “spoils of war” for Australia were few and scarcely commensurate with the scale of the losses that Australia had suffered. No one would claim that a mandate to control German New Guinea was worth more than 60,000 dead. But Hughes’s expectations of the peace settlement were unrealistic. The rise of the United States, and the relative decline of the British Empire that Hughes so lamented, could not be reversed. The growth of American industrial might, which would make it a superpower in the twentieth century, was already in train before 1914. It was simply accelerated by the war.

For all his realist attitude to world politics, Hughes struggled to understand that this was not a matter of “injustice”. Long general wars tend to exhaust those who fight them, and they often leave the international balance of power fundamentally transformed. The First World War left Britain and its empire exhausted and in debt, while also shattering three of the dynastic monarchies that had dominated Europe for centuries. The world order which the Great Powers of Europe had gone to war to preserve was over by 1919, and the Treaty of Versailles, with all its flaws, was never going to restore it.

Sands Of Time: The Geology of D-Day

The Rant Foundry Presents: A Special D-Day 75th Anniversary Edition
By JF Dowsett

The June 6, 1944 Allied invasion of France – known as D-Day – was a turning point in the European theater of the Second World War. Upon landing on a 50-mile stretch of Normandy coastline, 150,000 American, Canadian and British soldiers faced the Atlantic Wall, a complex defensive system of fortifications, bunkers, minefields and trenches. Between 1942 and 1944, Nazi Germany had reinforced her European coastal flanks, stationing thousands of troops along the way.

Tschechenigel (Czech hedgehog) at Pas de Calais (image via bunkervliegtuigarcheo.com)

Now 75 years in the past, nearly 10,000 men died that day.

In 1988, American scientists Earle F. McBride and M. Dane Picard visited the infamous Omaha Beach section of the Normandy coast and sampled the sands for microscopic analysis. As they were to write later, “there is more to the legacy than just the memorials: The sand at Omaha Beach retains remnants of the devastation.” When they returned to the lab at the University of Texas at Austin, they were to uncover the legacy that fateful day was to have on the natural environment: a study of the sands “revealed bits of shrapnel, and iron and glass beads that have been reworked by the English Channel’s waters over time, a microscopic record of the battle.”

Magnetic grains discovered in the Normandy beach sediments are the fragments of metallic shells and ammunition, in addition to glass spherules created from melted sand particles caused by the heat from explosions on the shore. Geologists believe that the particulate evidence of the battle will remain locked in the French sands for another 1,000 years.

Omaha Beach sand seen through a binocular microscope. Pastel grains are carbonate rock fragments, carbonate skeletal grains, and iron-oxide-coated quartz grains. Rust coated shrapnel grains are visible in the center of the photo. (image: McBride & Picard)

During the Second World War, the German SS (Schutzstaffel) had a special military geology unit known as the Wehrgeologen which was tasked in 1943 with supervising the construction of the coastal defences or Hindernisbau along the Normandy coast. The obstacles consisted of anti-vehicle as well as anti-personnel devices, featuring an array of concrete, steel, wire, timber and explosives.

Once the United States had been drawn into the conflict, the Allied forces also began using specialized civilian and then later military geologists. In the preparation for the June invasion, British and American geologists studied nearly one million aerial photographs of the Normandy shores, scouring the images for the ideal landing site. British divers had risked their lives in January 1944 collecting soil samples from potential sites, allowing Allied scientists and cartographers to make classified maps of the coast and beaches, displaying the various sediments, currents and other important environmental detail. These maps enabled military planners to select beaches with geological features best suited to a landing, and allowing them to consider such details as the fineness or coarseness of the sand grain, an important factor in maneuverability.

The geologists found what they had been looking for on the beaches between Le Havre and Cherbourg. The Permian-Triassic metamorphic rocks found inland at Normandy turn into the medium-grained sands the invasion planners needed to literally support the landing. The seabound cliffs erode and the rivers and currents deposit their quartz and feldspar on these beaches, delineating a 50-mile stretch of coast. This was divided into five sectors. Three Canadian divisions would land at the Gold, Juno and Sword sectors. Two American divisions would land at the sections of beach named Utah and Omaha.

State-sponsored terror: what is ISIS in Paris?

 French police secure the area as shots are exchanged in St. Denis, France, near Paris, November 18, 2015 during an operation to catch fugitives from Friday night's deadly attacks in the French capital. Credit: Benoit Tessier/Reuters

French police secure the area as shots are exchanged in St. Denis, France, near Paris, November 18, 2015 during an operation to catch fugitives from Friday night’s deadly attacks in the French capital. © Benoit Tessier/Reuters

It isn’t unusual to observe a progression from grief, to outrage, to retaliation after events like those that took place in Paris on November 13th, but it has been interesting to see how quick the escalation from those attacks to increasing the volatile stakes in Syria with air strikes on Islamic militants has taken place. It can safely be assumed that what we have come to know as ISIS now has ‘sleeper cells’ – if indeed the term is still relevant in the new paradigm – that can be found in all major European countries, along with the US, Canada and even Australia – yet this particular attack was carried out in France, further adding to its very recent list of vicious militant atrocities against its civilians.

In a country where national security and intelligence agencies are generally known for their competence, usually working in close cooperation with their NATO allies, it is a staggering prospect to conclude that the French security forces could have missed the preparations for such a carefully planned and well organised attack coordinated across no less than six targets simultaneously, especially given the recent increase in surveillance and powers of detention given to their police and intelligence establishments. However, now that the understandable yet often misguided rage provoked in the populations of France and other Western nations by the terrorist attacks in Paris has begun to simmer down, different analysts and intelligence agencies are now starting to try and establish why that city in particular was selected as the target for these attacks.

This attack was also carried out differently from previous terrorist attacks by ISIS, moving from cars packed with explosives and suicide bombers to intimidate its rivals in the Levant to Paris where we witnessed hostage-taking and raging urban gun battles – more like the attack on the offices of Charlie Hebdo in January – a very different modus operandi for the Middle Eastern group. Its organisers also may have been familiar with the details of the Dubrovka Theater siege in Moscow in 2002. Someone seems to have invested a lot of resources into these terrorists, perhaps in militant training camps in Turkey, Jordan, Syria or even still in Iraq.

 Shi'ite fighters launch a rocket during clashes with Islamic State militants on the outskirts of al-Alam March 8, 2015. Credit: Thaier Al-Sudani/Reuter

Shi’ite fighters launch a rocket during clashes with Islamic State militants on the outskirts of al-Alam March 8, 2015. © Thaier Al-Sudani/Reuters

A common response from commentators and analysts after events such as the Paris attacks is to pose the question of cui bono. Yet to find an answer it is not enough to simply calculate who benefits from the attack, it is also critical to establish which elements of a foreign nature had a conflict of interests with Paris. It is ultimately irrelevant which terrorist group was tasked with the mission of terrorising the French Republic – be it ISIS, Jabhat al-Nusra, or some other form of Salafist radical movement. Often the case when those who carry out terrorist attacks remain ignorant of the fact of who was planning and sponsoring them. Moreover, what was witnessed in Paris on Friday was not a regular attack, but a carefully prepared operation where terrorists were acting simultaneously across different targets, far different from ‘lone wolf’ acts seen in other Western nations. The perception of a ‘new phase’ or increase in the capability of groups like ISIS claiming responsibility is more important and carries more weight than the unlikely reality of such a surge from a single terror group.

The assessment is that a similar attack in Germany would not be possible, where the security system is much tougher and more effective, whereas if terror groups targeted for example Spain or Italy the attack would not have the same impact, since those nations are not permanent members of the UN Security Council.

The legally dubious and militarily indecisive ‘retaliation’ strikes the French Air Force carried out against ISIS positions, striking a total of 20 targets in the Syrian city of Raqqa, testify to the fact that France has so far only assumed who actually organised the Paris massacre, not to mention the dangerously reactionary nature of such strikes and the effect on the already tense situation in the air above Syria. Nowhere near enough time has elapsed to perform a full investigation to uncover exactly the foreign source of the attacks to justify the French Air Force dropping more ordnance in Syria where Russia along with Assad’s forces actually have ISIS on the back foot.

© AP Photo/ French Army

© AP Photo/ French Army

Under the pretext of fighting against terrorism, the United States and its allies militarily intervened into the sovereignty of Syria without the approval from the legitimate government of Bashar al-Assad and without receiving an appropriate UN mandate. It should be noted that out of all the US-led coalition forces operating in Syria, France has previously been leading in the bombing of oil infrastructure facilities occupied by ISIS in Syrian territories as part of the Western coalition flying air strikes over Syrian airspace, a fact openly admitted by the French government. These important facilities have been the most critical assets of ISIS forces, providing the group with virtually unlimited funding, while those Middle-Eastern states or state-supported elements that have been buying oil from terrorists continue receiving huge savings from the black market trade. The Islamic State has been selling crude oil at a price at least half that which can be found at international markets, creating a huge network of smugglers operating in neighbouring countries interested in the preservation of their activities, a multi-billion dollar illicit Mid-East oil industry. According to some analysts, stolen oil has provided ISIS with up to 2 billion dollars a year in profits so far, with cross-border smuggling operations receiving just as much. It has also – not surprisingly – been reported that some smugglers are even selling cheap oil to the Syrian army and Iranian troops deployed in Syria, who are in turn fighting ISIS on a daily basis.

It should also be taken into consideration that this attack took place in the very heart of Paris, full of secret service agents in civilian clothes and police officers that are tasked with ensuring the safety of tourists. France relies heavily on its tourism industry, which accounts four up to 7% of GDP.  It is also a nation with large Arab and African Islamic communities cannot be carried out without the involvement of foreign intelligence agencies. Any terrorist group that would try to infiltrate France under the guise of Syrian refugees to prepare such an attack on its own would surely be uncovered in short matter of time, given the wide communication and coordination required for this incident. The same thing could be said about the terrorist attack on the Russian Airbus over the Sinai.

For France, the foreign state with the keenest interest in preserving the status quo is Turkey, due to the fact that it allows the majority of the stolen oil to be transported across its territory, while Jordan also enjoys a considerably smaller share of the profits from this business. Media sources have indicated that smugglers are connected with Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and a cartel of Turkish businesses. These activities are somewhat common for Ankara, since it used to smuggle Iraqi oil when Saddam Hussein’s regime faced UN sanctions. Turks and Kurds alike – especially the Kurdistan Democratic Party – were already profiting from transporting Iraqi oil from Dohuk across Turkish territory, bringing a flood of heavy-duty trucks with hidden tanks filled with diesel fuel from refineries in Mosul, Kirkuk and Baiji. This resulted in signs for ‘diesel fuel from Iraq’ appearing along most Turkish highways, where residents could buy fuel at half-price. Smuggling was carried out by merchant tanker owners as well – transporting oil and fuels from illegal refineries in Shatt al-Arab, across the Persian Gulf to the United Arab Emirates.

This raises the possibility that some elements of foreign state apparatus have decided to target France over its policies. Turkey is one suspect, however unlikely as it would present a high political risk for Erdogan, and Ankara’s secret services are not nearly as competent as other possible states. Another possible player – Qatar, an incredibly rich gulf state with efficient enough security forces trained by American, British and French experts and is still closely associated with the most effective intelligence service in the Middle East – the British MI6. Qatar has also been providing extensive amounts of financial support to ISIL and Jabhat Al-Nusra. Doha has been frustrated with the indecisiveness of the French government in the fight against the Syrian regime, despite formerly taking a leading role in the fight against Muammar Gaddafi in Libya. After being struck by the terrorist attack in Algeria in 2013 and the need to carry out a military operation in Mali against the local branch of al-Qaeda, Paris officially declared that its main priority in the efforts to combat international terrorism would lie in the region of the Maghreb and the Sahara Sahel – in other words, in the areas where it used to maintain colonies. Roughly 95% of the immigrants in France originate from these regions, primarily from Algeria, Morocco and Tunisia. Representatives of those states are numerous amongst ISIS ranks, with many holding French passports.

French relations with Qatar were also strained by Paris’ reluctance to apply pressure on Lebanon and lack of opposition to a deal with Iran on its nuclear program.

There are certain factors that inevitably bring agencies like the British MI6 into consideration. A historical mistrust exists between England and France, British jealousy of to the strong Franco-German axis within the EU, and a growing desire within the UK government to withdraw from the EU, due to its financial and immigration problems. Border policies are seen by Whitehall as too liberal in the EU, which leads to flows of refugees from the Middle East reaching Britain through France. Should Britain leave the EU it will be able to dramatically tighten border controls, while weakening the united Europe as a whole. In addition, MI6 involvement in such attack would correspond well with the aspirations of the UK’s primary strategic partner – the United States, which perceives a strong united Europe as a growing rival. The leaders of the EU – namely France and Germany – have also started drifting towards Russia’s position on the crisis in Ukraine, which challenges Washington’s position in that conflict.

While it may be improbable that state actors in the UK would be directly organising such attacks, it does not in theory prevent British security services from assisting a friendly state, such as Qatar, to facilitate terrorist operations that would progress shared goals in Syria and elsewhere in the region.

It is unlikely that any investigation into the terrorist attacks in Paris will provide answers as to which entities facilitated the alleged terror cell to establish, organise, coordinate and operate so effectively. However, what is important is that they have gone some way already to achieving the goals of terrorism – Europe is further alarmed and weakened, and there is an acceleration of the gradual disintegration of the Union. European dependence on the United States has also sharply increased in the aftermath of the attack – therefore one cannot expect the leading EU countries including France and Germany, to change their positions over Russia and the Middle East in the foreseeable future.

For Peace In France

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The Rant Foundry would like to take this opportunity to express deep sympathy and the most heartfelt condolences to the citizens of Paris and the people of France; the families and loved ones of the victims of the November 13th attacks, those continuing to live in fear for their safety, those who will be called upon in these times of emergency.

Throughout the last century the gentle and proud people of France, the authors of so much that symbolises the aspirations and desires of those that call ourselves civilised and  cultured, have been subjected to unspeakable violence and acts of terrorism often swept over their picturesque country by forces beyond their control. War has cast its shadow across the nation for so much of its recent history and now the dread spectre of terror rises.

Our hearts go out to all French men, women, and children – may you find the strength to endure and overcome.

Vive la France!

Every Man Remembered

EveryManRemembered

The Royal British Legion, a welfare agency for all British Armed Forces, operates a memorial website titled Every Man Remembered which has the daunting mission of keeping alive the memory of every soldier that fell in the First World War, and inviting the public to register a virtual ‘poppy’ as a commemoration for every grave.

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Registering a commemoration for David Dowsett who was killed in the Battle of Passchendaele, during the Third Battle for Ypres on 8 August 1917 Age 36.

The information on casualties from the First World War has been supplied by The Commonwealth War Graves Commission which was established by Royal Charter in 1917 and maintains the graves and memorials of the 1.7 million men and women of the Commonwealth Service nations who died during both world wars at 23,000 locations in 153 countries.

“Disability, homelessness, bereaved and desperate families, poverty – these were typical issues in Britain after the First World War. Today, The Royal British Legion resolves similar issues – providing practical and immediate support to injured veterans and bereaved families, helping people into jobs, into homes and offering them hope for the future. The Legion is committed to helping those who serve with the British Armed Forces today as well as those who have served in the past, now and for as long as they need us, whether that is for a few weeks or for many years.”

Lest we forget.

 

Battle of Passchendaele

Third Battle of Ypres July-November 1917

In this photograph five Australian soldiers, members of a field artillery brigade, march along a duckboard track over mud and water amongst gaunt bare tree trunks in the devastated Chateau Wood, a portion of one of the battlegrounds in the Ypres salient.  We are looking from the devastated castle park, belonging to Château de Hooge at Ypres, where the frontline with trenches moved back and forth many times from 1914-1918. The castle was heavily shelled on the 31st of October 1914, killing the staff of the three British divisions using it as headquarters and subsequently the ruins were conquered several times by each side. Hooge is now a memorial site.

Photo by Frank Hurley.