AskHistorians Reddit WWI Contest Winners

In Military History, Featured

Alongside our commemorative blog series for Armistice Day we ran a competition on the AskHistorians Reddit group. Their users came up with some great questions and answers, making it very tricky to come up with the winners. However, after spending an evening reading through all the posts we have decided upon the winners.

Best Question Winner - k_hopz

"Is Auschwitz possible without the Somme, without Verdun?"

I've stated this question a little differently than I normally do my questions here on AH, in that I'm looking to stimulate some debate, rather than garner a targeted answer.

A little background, this question is a paraphrased sentiment that World War I historian Jay Winter has offered on several occasions, both in writing and in person, as he did at two presentations he gave at my University in commemoration of the Centennial last year. Essenitally, Winter argues the following:

The number killed is so extraordinary that it indicates a certain kind of numbing of sensibilities, a change in the legitimacy of states to promote mass death as a normal phenomenon. Without the Somme and Verdun, there wouldn't have been Auschwitz. Bodies stacked like matchsticks — soldiers saw that in the First World War.

So, to those of you who study cultural representation and the Great War in memory, do you agree or disagree?

Quote taken from Winter interview with the LA Times, found here.

To read the answer it received, click here

Best Answer Winner - thefourthmaninaboat

Throughout the competition thefourthmaninaboat responded to several naval questions.  Here is just one of his excellent responses:

Q: What was going on in the Eastern Mediterranean during the First World War? Were the Ottomans at all able to contest British naval dominance?

A: The Ottoman navy was completely unable to challenge the Anglo-French domination of the Mediterranean. Their fleet was vastly outnumbered, and quite outclassed. It also had to deal with the Russian Black Sea Fleet. Instead, most of the fighting was conducted through mine warfare and submarines, as well as the forts of the Dardanelles. The Ottoman Navy was very strongly influenced by the German Navy - many of its heavier units had originally been German, and it had several senior German officers. Many of the Ottoman Navy's more adventurous actions were initiated by these officers.

Minelaying was an important part of the Ottoman strategy for defending the Dardanelles. Mines within the strait sank three pre-dreadnought battleships - the British Irresistible and Ocean and the French Bouvet, and damaged the British battlecruiser Inflexible. Submarine-laid minefields were also used, with one sinking the Titanic's sister ship Britannic in the Kea Channel.

Submarine warfare was carried out by both sides in the Eastern Mediterranean. The Ottomans had no submarines, but the Germans railed or shipped several U-boats in to form an effective squadron at Constantinople. They also operated against targets in the Eastern Mediterranean from bases in the Austro-Hungarian Empire. The flotilla at Constantinople mainly operated in the Black Sea, but U-21 had two major successes while sailing to join it. It sank the British pre-dreadnoughts Triumph and Majestic in May 1915. Both battleships were operating in support of the Gallipoli landings. Several French warships would also be sunk by submarines in the Eastern Mediterranean, including the battleship Gaulois and cruiser Amiral Charner. Transports and merchant ships would also be targeted, including HMT Royal Edward, a troop transport sunk with over 800 casualties. Allied submarines were also used effectively in the Eastern Mediterranean, with several subs making it through the Dardanelles to wreak havoc in the Sea of Marmora. One of the first attempts was that by the British submarine B11, which snuck through to sink the old battleship Mesudiye before returning. The first successful attempt to reach the Sea of Marmora was made by the Australian AE2, which spent five days there before being forced to surface and scuttle by a combination of mechanical failures and an Ottoman torpedo boat. She would be followed by several British and French submarines, including the very successful E11, which would sink the battleship Barbaros Hayreddin and multiple steamers and transports. Her commander would win the Victoria Cross for his exploits.

There were very few surface engagements between Allied and Ottoman ships. The first, minor, incident came on the 27th April 1915. As the Gallipoli landings were underway, the Ottoman navy sent a force to support their troops on the peninsula. This included the ex-German battlecruiser Goeben, renamed Yavuz in Ottoman service. Yavuz was sighted by balloon spotters and aircraft from the Allied fleet, and engaged by HMS Queen Elizabeth. This engagement was inconclusive, with Yavuz quickly moving out of range. She would make a similar attempt on the 30th, but would be seen off by HMS Lord Nelson. A second would come on the night of the 12th May. A Turkish destroyer, the Muavenet-i Milliye, crept down the Dardanelles into Morto Bay on the south-western tip of the Gallipoli peninsula. Several British ships, which had been supporting the landings, were moored there. Deceiving the British ships on guard, Muavenet-i Milliye fired several torpedoes, three of which hit the battleship Goliath. Goliath quickly capsized and sank. Yavuz would make a final sortie on the 20th January 1918. Accompanied by her constant companion, the light cruiser Breslau (Midilli in Ottoman service), she would exploit the poor Allied watch on the Dardanelles to raid the Aegean, and if possible, the Allied base at Mudros. Leaving the Dardanelles, Yavuz engaged a British force at Imbros, sinking two monitors. As the Ottoman force left Imbros, it ran onto a minefield. Midilli was sunk, and Yavuz received heavy damage. She withdrew, and was beached in the Dardanelles. The British made spirited attempts to destroy her, including the use of monitors and submarines. However, these were futile, and Yavuz would be towed off, to serve with the Turkish Navy until 1950.

Naval aviation also made a start in the Eastern Mediterranean. The British seaplane carrier Ben-My-Chree accompanied the force to the Dardanelles. While her aircraft were mostly used for spotting the fall of gunfire, she carried two Shorts 184 torpedo bombers. These became the first aircraft to sink a ship, with one torpedoing a supply ship damaged by HMS E14 on the 11th August 1915. On the 17th, both aircraft pulled off successful attacks, with one torpedoing a supply ship, and the other hitting a tugboat. Ben-My-Chree would be sunk by shore batteries in 1917, but the experience gained from her was formative for the RNAS and Fleet Air Arm. Bombers would also be used against the beached Yavuz in 1918, including the giant Handley Page Type O/400.

Pot Luck Winner - b1uepenguin

Thank you for everyone who took part, and we hope that the three winners enjoy their copies of Prit Buttar's latest book Germany Ascendant: The Eastern Front 1915. 

If you'd like to look at the complete thread, click here.

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