10 Wars Sparked by the End of WWI



On November 11, 1918 — “the eleventh minute of the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month” — an armistice took effect that ended the fighting of World War I in the air, land, and sea. Finally, the war was over. It had taken the lives of millions, and maimed millions more. While Germany and its allies stopped fighting, there was not total peace. The war had destroyed the old European ways and the European Empires of old had crumbled. From their ashes new wars broke out, some even before the November 11 Armistice stopped the battle against Germany.

10. Allied intervention in Russia

World War I destroyed a key British and French ally, the Russian Czarist Regime. In 1917, three years into WWI, the Russian Empire ceased to exist and the Allies watched in horror as first, the new Russian government made peace with Germany, and then Lenin and the Soviets (Red Russians) seized the country. While officially invading Russia to protect Allied war material Canadian, American, British, Japanese, Czech Legion soldiers, and many more fought and died in a shadow war against communism.

The confused goals and purpose of the intervention and varied motives of the armies in Russia doomed the venture. For example, the Japanese wanted to expand their Empire and influence into Russian Siberia. The Americans wanted to check Japanese expansion while everyone was supporting their favorite anti-communist forces (White Russians) that became more and more brutal until their Russian allies were reduced to glorified warlords. As the years dragged on the soldiers became more and more demoralized and near mutinous. The Allies pulled out of Russia by 1920, although the Japanese stayed in Russian Siberia until 1922.

9. Iraqi revolt against the British

Lawrence of Arabia promised the Arabs that if they helped overthrow the Turks, they would get to determine their own destiny. They helped the allies do exactly that but were betrayed when the French and British carved up the Arab world between them. One of the new nations created by the British Imperialists was the “Mandate” of what would become Iraq. Seeing that they were ruled by puppet regimes, they rebelled again — this time against their former allies, the British. The United Kingdom, however, was broke, and couldn’t afford another war. Winston Churchill, then the war secretary, implemented a novel strategy: “aerial policing.”

While still requiring boots on the ground, with total British control of the skies the Royal Air Force could bomb the Iraqi rebels and the villages that supported them from the safety of the air. Within a few months, the rebellion was over and the Iraqi people subdued. The campaign went so well that the British commanders became convinced that not only could air power defeat armed Iraqi tribesmen, but whole industrial nations. Decades later, the same commanders pushed to bomb Nazi Germany into submission and to those ends used hundreds of bombers to firebomb Hamburg and Dresden off the map. While they killed 600,000 Germans, “RAF’s strategic bombing campaign alone could not force Germany’s surrender.”

8. Polish-Ukrainian War

Poland was once a European superpower before it was dismembered in the 18th century by the Russian, German, and Austrian Empires. World War I saw all three in various forms of defeat, allowing Poland to emerge from their ashes. Quick to assert itself between 1918 and 1921, the Second Polish Republic went to war more than six times with all of its neighbors. As the Soviets retreated from South Russia it created a power vacuum, and just before WWI ended a newly created state — the Western Ukrainian People’s Republic (WUPR) — declared its existence as well as another Ukrainian German puppet regime further East.

Poland saw these as threats and the newly restored Polish state quickly invaded, as it wanted the lands for the new Polish state. When WUPR crumbled Poland attacked Ukraine proper. The Poles won a quick victory as independent Ukraine quickly crumbled. In addition to the Polish Army Ukraine faced internal strife as well as Soviet attacks. By 1921 the Red Army controlled what remained of Ukraine and it became a Soviet Republic in the USSR in 1922.

7. Armenia vs. Azerbaijani (and Turkey, Georgia, and the Soviets)

Mostly under control of the Turkish Ottoman Empire, Armenia and its people endured one of the first modern genocides when, during WWI, the Turks killed 1.5 million Armenians. As the war ended the two Empires that controlled the historical region of Armenia retreated. To the West, the Turkish Empire collapsed, and to the East the Russian Empire slipped into civil war. As the Ottomans left the area, Armenia and the neighboring region of Azerbaijani decided to settle some ancient feuds. In 1918 this would set the stage for the Armenia-Azerbaijani War that is still simmering 100 years later. In December 1918, Armenia also fought a short battle — the Georgian-Armenian War — with its northern neighbor, Georgia. During this time Armenia became a cause celebre, and almost became an American mandate.

While the world decided how to help Armenia, a revolution in Turkey saw the rise of nationalists who overthrew Ottoman control and launched a victorious military campaign against Armenia. Exhausted from years of fighting the surviving Armenian forces, demoralized from their defeat at the hands of Turks, they were no match against the Soviet forces who eventually crushed the Armenians and merged them into the Transcaucasian Socialist Federative Soviet Republic. Along with Soviet Russia, Soviet Ukraine, and Soviet Byelorussia, it was one of the four republics that became the Soviet Union in 1922.

6. Baltic States

With Russia in the throes of Revolution, the Baltic states of Latvia, Estonia, and Lithuania saw their chance to declare independence. Once Germany was defeated, however, the new Soviet Regime sought to establish control over the former Russian provinces.

With the help of anti-communist forces and the powerful British Royal Navy, the three were able to fight off the Soviets and maintain their freedom. The Soviets never forgot and during WWII seized the three states. They remained under Soviet control until the fall of communist USSR in the ’90s.

5. Turkish War of Independence

The Ottoman Empire was once viewed as the greatest threat to European civilization, but by the 1900s was seen as the sick man of Europe. During WWI it saw some victories but by the end of the war faced total defeat and surrendered. The Allies circled like vultures and cut up most of the Ottoman Empire between them, leaving a small rump state. Turkish nationalists led by Mustafa Kemal Atatürk rallied against this overthrowing the old Ottoman order. The British and French were alarmed by this new Turkish threat and armed the Greeks as a proxy army against Kemal.

Initially they were successful, regaining most of Western Turkey that hadn’t been under Greek control for thousands of years. The Turks regrouped, made alliances with the Soviets and bought off the French by backing their control over Syria. Isolated when the British didn’t back them, the Greeks were forced out of Turkey and Kemal ripped up the WWI surrender and signed the new Treaty of Lausanne on July 24, 1923, establishing Turkey’s modern borders.  In October of the same year, the Republic of Turkey was declared. The last sultan, Mehmed VI, had already left the capital on November 17, 1922.

Under Ottoman control, the region had a long history of Greek and Turkish settlements and migration. Due to years of war, the new nations of Turkey and Greece decided to push for a purer ethnic makeup so in the 1923 Treaty of Lausanne that ended the war, there was a provision for population exchange1.2 million Greeks from Kemal’s new Turkey moved to Greece while 355,000 Muslims from Greece moved to Turkey.

4. German Revolution of 1918-19

In Russia a revolution overthrew the Russian Tsar, and then Lenin and his communists seized control. After Germany’s WWI defeat, in Germany, too, there was a revolution that overthrew the Kaiser: the Revolution of 1918. The communists hoped to duplicate the communist success in Russia with an uprising in Germany. Led by Karl Liebknecht and Rosa Luxemburg, they called themselves Spartacists after Spartacus, the legendary leader of the famous slave rebellion in the ancient Roman Republic. The uprising started on January 4, 1919, and was initially backed by a general strike with hundreds of thousands of participants. The revolution soon became bogged down with infighting and most people went home.

While the Spartacists bickered the German government controlled by the moderate Social Democratic Party of Germany (SPD) recruited ex-soldiers into a militant strike group called “Freikorps.” On January 6, the SPD unleashed them on the Spartacists and easily defeated them, The revolt was considered over when their leaders were arrested and beaten to death on January 15. The SPD continued to exist until it was banned by Hitler. After the war, it returned and is still involved in German elections winning 153 seats in 2017 election, the second biggest party behind Angela Merkel’s party.

3. Polish-Czechoslovak border conflicts

Several new nations emerged after WWI and some of them struggled with each other over border disagreements. Some solved their problems diplomatically, while others like Poland and Czechoslovakia sent their new armies to spill blood. As Poland and Czechoslovakia emerged from the Austrian-Hungarian Empire, they both wanted the area of Cieszyn Silesia, or the Duchy of Teschen. It was highly valued by both countries due to rich coal deposits and important Railway line which linked the Czech with Slovakia lands.

The resulting war lasted seven days before other nations pressured an end to the fighting while allowing Czechoslovakia to annex more land, much to the chagrin of Poland. Decades later as the Nazis swallowed up Czechoslovakia, Poland too took upon itself to kick the Czech nation while it was down and annexed parts of Czechoslovakia with Hitler.  

2. Irish War of Independence

During WWI the Irish infamously started an uprising, the Easter Rebellion, to overthrow British rule. It lasted five days from April 24 to April 29, 1916. Even though the British were deeply invested in the trenches of the Western Front they were able to divert enough soldiers to quickly crush it. The uprising and resulting crackdown by British forces awakened the Irish nation, setting the stage for the Irish War of Independence.

The Easter Rebellion taught the Irish that they couldn’t fight the British in a conventional war so they sparked a guerrilla uprising from 1919 to 1921. Through raids, bombings, and targeted assassinations they were able to force the British Empire to the negotiating table that eventually saw the creation of a self-governing Irish state, having its own army and police. Northern Ireland was not included in the new Irish state, which sparked continued Irish warfare decades later.

1. Polish-Soviet War

Poland saw conflict with all of its neighbors but of these wars, none was as serious as the battle between it and communist Russia, the Polish-Soviet War. As communist forces emerged victorious in the Russian Civil War they sought to regain regions once controlled by Imperial Russia. At the same time, Poland looked to expand its influence and territory, also wanting to set up a friendly anti-communist Ukranian State.

The two forces slammed into each other and Lenin’s Soviets were initially able to push Polish and their White Russian allies all the way to Poland’s capital, Warsaw. It was only there, in August 1920 during the Battle of Warsaw, that Poland was saved from the jaws of defeat and soundly defeated the Soviet forces. As the Poles chased the Soviets east, Lenin’s communists sued for peace, settling Poland’s eastern borders on March 18, 1921, with the Peace of Riga.

Jon Lucas covers WW1 live, 100 years ago. You can follow the action on Twitter, Tumblr or Instagram

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