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The Antarctic Campaign of World War I refers to all actions of World War I which took place on the continent of Antarctica.
Background – September 1914
The War in Europe came as a shock to Antarctica, as the principal alliances (the Allies and the Centrals) did not reflect Antarctic politics. Despite Russia and Britain being allies, their Antarctic colonies had historically been bitter rivals, each trying to claim as much land as possible. Conversely, New Swabia (German Antarctica) was merely a collection of small fishing and logging communities, and it was on good terms with all of the other local colonies.
Nevertheless, when War broke out, German Antarctic troops were immediately mobilized, and prepared to defend the colony against the much larger Russian and British forces.
At first, the fighting was limited, as the Allied command suffered infighting between Russian and British officers. The French in Kerguelen and the Australians in New Vestfold decided to bypass this, and deployed their own troops to fight in New Swabia. It was not until September that the Russians and British managed to coordinate their own troops into a major assault.
Meanwhile, Santiago began strengthening its diplomatic ties to Germany and Austria-Hungary, and on September 1st, 1914, President Esteban Sanchez signed the September Agreement with Austria-Hungary, bringing Santiago into the war as a Central nation. This meant that every Antarctic region except Maudland was now directly involved in the War.
September 1914 – May 1915
September 1914 marked a turning point in the Campaign for several reasons: Santiago entered the war; Russian and British colonies launched their first major assaults; and Aleksander Aiy'ak emerged as the leader of the Katharan Liberation Army.
After Santiago's entry into the war, Kerguelen redirected some of its naval operations towards Santiago's waters; and British and Australian troops began launching attacks on the country via Inner Antarctica. The Santiagano Armed Forces were comparatively small, but they had the advantage of a mountainous border and advanced Shoreline Defences (built by the British during their prior occupation of the area).
The British and Russian assaults began to put pressure on New Swabia, though the German troops proved to be resilient, and fought off the superior forces while suffering very low casualty rates. The Allied leaders effectively resigned themselves to a stalemate, as they didn't want to risk using too many troops in case of a surprise attack - there were constant rumors of a planned Kaiserlichemarine assault on Antarctica.
Aleksander Aiy'ak became the de facto leader of the KLA, an AIP nationalist paramilitary force, seemingly out of nowhere. He was the first leader not to be descended from a K'atharan fief; and he quickly proved himself to be a very skilled tactician. The KLA grew vastly during his leadership, and began instigating much more severe violence in the former Kingdom of K'athar (most of Russian Antarctica as well as British-controlled Grahamsland). They also began to make official "alliances" with the Central Powers, most notably Santiago, and KLA guerrillas began aiding the defense of Santiago against the British, French, Australian and Russian attacks.
The campaign became a constant succession of small firefights; with both sides suffering fairly high casualty rates, but gaining little ground. The KLA heavily disrupted some Russian operations, which weakened the Allies significantly, as the Russians had the highest manpower of any Allied force in the campaign. British and Australian troops continued to press into New Swabia, but were consistently repelled before they made any serious gains. The Kerguelaine navy held down a blockade of several New Swabian and Santiagan cities, though this was occasionally broken by well-armed German supply ships.
May 1915 – April 1916
In May 1915, a faction of the Santiagan Military splintered, and organized a ceasefire with some Allied divisions - known as the Winter Uprising (the Antarctic Winter is the Summer of the Northern Hemisphere). This ceasefire was supported by some Santiagan civilians, who organized a general strike and demanded the resignation of President Sanchez. Sanchez responded by deploying the loyal faction of the Armed Forces against the rebels, which quickly escalated into a Civil War. On October 6th, Sanchez resigned and fled the country, and the rebels declared victory. Colonel Francisco Bodega, the main leader of the rebel Army, was elected President later that year.
Bodega quickly made it known that he did not support the Central Powers, and signed Peace Treaties with Britain, France and Russia. He permitted the German troops in Santiago to return to New Swabia safely, but otherwise kept the country out of the rest of the War. This allowed the Allies to focus solely on New Swabia and the Katharan Liberation Army, and they began to make much larger gains into the German colony. The KLA was more elusive, and retreated into the wilderness of Russian Antarctica, where they knew the terrain, and held off easily against the small Allied force in the area.
In April 1916, Governor Lothar Klinkhammer of New Swabia capitulated to the British and Russians, and New Swabia was fully occupied by Allied troops. A German resistance movement continued to operate in rural New Swabia for years, but it was fairly inconsequential, as the Allied forces cracked down hard on any resistance fighters they found. The British and Australians withdrew almost completely from the Antarctic Campaign, and focussed on other fronts of the War. The Russians continued trying to crush the KLA in West Antarctica, but their troops there were underfunded and understaffed, and most of their efforts were redundant.
In 1917, the Russian Civil War struck Antarctica, and the Russian forces battling the KLA were forced to battle Communist insurgents instead. The Russian colonies quickly disintegrated, and American troops entered the area as peacekeepers. In 1918, American forces, along with remnants of the Russian colonial force, liberated the last POW camps of the war, which were being run by the KLA, and still held many Allied troops (mostly British and Australians).