Sunday, November 29, 2015

November 29th, 1915

- Conrad orders the Austro-Hungarian navy to institute a permanent patrol of the Albanian coast to disrupt enemy troop transports and supplies crossing the Adriatic to support the retreating Serbian army.  To accomplish this, two Novara-class light cruisers, six Tátra-class destroyers, and six T-74-class torpedo-boats - the fastest and most modern light warships in the Austro-Hungarian navy - are deployed to the naval base of Cattaro near Montenegro.

- Having informed their allies of their intent to retreat to the Adriatic coast of Albania, the Serbian governments issues an urgent request to the Entente governments for them to send food and fodder to San Giovanni di Medua (the nearest port to Scutari) and Durrazo (on the coast just west of Tirana), where the bulk of the Serbian army and accompanying refugees will be arriving.  However, the Italian decision several days earlier to only send supplies to Valona in southern Albania mean that Serbs that reach the northern Albanian coast, already starving, will need to march a hundred miles further south.

- West of Görz Italian attacks concentrate on the enemy line at Oslavija, and this afternoon they manage to capture stretches of the enemy trench north and south of the village's church.  The Austro-Hungarians, however, are able to fall back to a new trench line several hundred yards to the rear, containing the Italian advance.  A major effort is also made once more against Mt. San Michele, and other than a small stretch of trench to the west of St. Martino the Italians are repulsed all along the line.

Saturday, November 28, 2015

November 28th, 1915

- Falkenhayn meets today with German industrialist Walther Rathenau, former head of the Kriegsrohstoffabteilung (War Materials Section), and the latter argues that the war can only be won through a decisive victory on the Western Front, where Germany's most important enemies are to be found.  Moreover, Rathenau believes that an offensive there can succeed, given what he sees as the deficient national character of the French.  In both sentiments Rathenau's views are in general accord with those of Falkenhayn - the German chief of staff is increasingly convinced that a major offensive should be undertaken on the Western Front in 1916, and that in targeting the French the superior morale and resolve of the German soldier, as compared to his French counterpart, will be of vital importance.

- With the Serbian campaign having been brought to a successful conclusion, Mackensen is once again the man of the hour.  Yesterday, Kaiser Wilhelm II telegrammed Mackensen with his congratulations and appointed him proprietary colonel of 129th (Third West Prussian) Infantry Regiment, an honour usually reserved for members of the royal family.  Today, Emperor Franz Joseph conveyed his deep personal gratitude to the German field marshal for his leadership.

- Today the Serbian government, having crossed northern Albania, reaches the city of Scutari, near the Adriatic coast.

- Along the Isonzo River Italian forces once again launch major attacks on Austro-Hungarian positions west of Görz and on either flank of Mt. San Michele, which achieve no more success than the attacks of prior days.  The constant assaults in terrible weather are wearing on the survivors; Austro-Hungarian defenders note an increased willingness of Italian infantry to surrender when counterattacked.  This only exasperates Cadorna's fear of the breakdown of discipline, and today he issues a circular to the Italian army listing four measures to be used at the first sign of cowardice or indiscipline by Italian infantry in battle, which culminate in firing artillery on 'recalcitrant' soldiers.  These measures are also not mere threats - when a number of soldiers from the Pistoia Brigade attempt to surrender in the face of a harsh Austro-Hungarian counterattack today, other Italian soldiers are ordered to shoot them.

Friday, November 27, 2015

November 27th, 1915

- Conrad and Falkenhayn meet at Pless today to discuss next steps in the Balkans with Serbia now defeated, and the Austro-Hungarian chief of staff strongly wants to invade Montenegro and Albania.  Falkenhayn, however, views the offensive in the Balkans as having run its course, with the land link to the Ottoman Empire now opened.  Though he is willing to entertain the idea of attacking Montenegro - its forces had after all fought alongside the Serbs in the recent campaign - he does view Albania as worth the time or effort.

- There is again desperate fighting west of Görz near Oslavija and the heights of Podgora, and in a heavy assault on the latter the Austro-Hungarian defenders, having run out of grenades, resort to hurling rocks at their attackers.  The Italians are repulsed, though the extent to which this can be attributed to the flying stones is unclear.

Thursday, November 26, 2015

November 26th, 1915

- The French retreat from southern Serbia begins today when 122nd Division pulls back across the Tcherna River.

- After several days of lower-intensity fighting, the Italian 2nd Army undertakes another major effort west of Görz.  At Oslavija, Italian infantry advances four times in the morning and twice more in the early evening - on each occasion the Italians fail to reach the Austro-Hungarian line.  A major effort is also undertaken to seize Point 240, the highest on the heights at Podgora, but after a four-hour bombardment the Italians are repulsed in hand-to-hand fighting by the Austro-Hungarian 5th Mountain Brigade.

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

November 25th, 1915

- As the Serbian army begins the most arduous stage of its retreat, the high command publishes the following:
The only way out of this grave situation is a retreat to the Adriatic coast.  There our army will be reorganized, furnished with food, arms, munitions, clothing, and all other necessities which our allies will send us, and we shall again be a fact with which our allies must reckon.  The nation has not lost its being, it will continue to exist even though on foreign soil, so long as the ruler, the government, and the army are there, no matter what the strength of the army may be.
The retreating columns of the Serbian army are accompanied by thousands of civilians, including most parliamentary deputies, political party members, and university.  The retreat of the Serbian is far more than a military exercise - in many respects, it is the political and intellectual heart of the Serbian nation that is making its way into the mountains of Albania towards the Adriatic Sea.

A Serbian column crossing a bridge in Albania during the retreat to the Adriatic coast.

- The French naval attaché in Rome reports to his government today that, given the recent sinking of the schooner Gallinara and the steamer Palatino and the proximity of northern Albania to the Austro-Hungarian naval base at Cattaro, the Italian minister of marine has decided that supply convoys crossing the Adriatic Sea should be routed to Valona in southern Albania.  This route will be farther from Austro-Hungarian naval bases and thus convoys here will be less likely to be intercepted.

- On the Italian Front an Austro-Hungarian counterattack early this morning regains the trench on the northern slope of Mt. San Michele lost yesterday, though heavy artillery fire forces the Austro-Hungarian infantry to abandon much of the position in the course of the day.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

November 24th, 1915

- Elements of the German IV Reserve Corps and the Bulgarian 9th Division capture the city of Priština today, and though they take a large number of prisoners, the Serbian army itself is already gone, moving towards Prizren en route to the Albanian coast. Moreover, Mackensen realizes that a large-scale pursuit was simply no longer possible.  The terrible conditions inhibited supply and had already forced some formations to go on half rations, while others found their way blocked by a combination of weather and terrain: the Austro-Hungarian 10th Mountain Brigade finds its way blocked by a 4921-foot mountain with the only track around completely iced over, and thirty men had already frozen to death.  Reluctantly, Mackensen declares an end to the Serbian campaign today.  Bulgarian forces in the area will follow the Serbs towards Prizren, but this effort is half-hearted.

The Germans under Mackensen and Seeckt have accomplished in less than two months what the Austro-Hungarians failed to do in three attempts last year under General Potiorek.  Serbia has been occupied at a cost of approximately 67 000 casualties, a mere pittance compared to the losses endured to gain a mile or two on the Western Front.  Moreover, a solid land link had been opened with the Ottoman Empire, allowing the movement of much-needed supplies in particular to the latter.  The only blemish to the effort has been the escape of the Serbian army itself.  Though barely a viable military force at this point, it still exists, and once the current trial of reaching the Adriatic Sea has past it may yet have the opportunity to recover and return to the fight.

- The Italian 3rd Army continues its efforts to capture Mt. San Michele today, and manages to seize a stretch of the enemy line on the northern slope, while to the south there is back and forth fighting near St. Martino that ultimately results in no ground gained by either side.

- Falkenhayn meets today with Enver Pasha in the Austro-Hungarian city of Orsova, where the Ottoman minister of war offers to provide forces to aid a German offensive either in France or Russia.  While Falkenhayn is impressed with Enver's generosity, he declines the suggestion, believing that the Ottoman army would not be suited to operations in the climate of northern and central Europe.  Falkenhayn's decision may also have been influenced by any Ottoman detachment needing to pass through Bulgaria to reach the Western or Eastern Fronts, a movement that would be problematic at best considering the longstanding enmity between Bulgaria and the Ottoman Empire - as recently as three years ago the two countries had been at war.

Monday, November 23, 2015

November 23rd, 1915

- The head of the Directorate of Military Aviation at the War Office in London today authorizes the expansion of the Royal Flying Corps, which currently stands at thirty-one (fourteen in France) squadrons, to sixty, with squadron strength increasing from twelve to eighteen.  In France these squadrons are to be formed into brigades, with the ultimate aim of having one brigade tied to each army of the British Expeditionary Force.

- As the German 11th Army was overrunning Serbia, the Russian high command had struggled to do something to aid its ally, General Alexeiev being cognizant that having complained of French and British inaction during the Great Retreat of the summer, the Russian army could hardly do nothing when the situation was reversed.  Prompted by officials at the foreign ministry, he had deployed a new 7th Army on the Black Sea Coast, intended for amphibious operations against the Black Sea coast.  The Russian navy, however, had vetoed the project, and so today Alexeiev orders 7th Army redeployed to eastern Galicia and begin planning, with 9th Army, for an offensive against the Austro-Hungarian armies opposite.  In addition to 'doing something', there is a vague confidence at Stavka that the Austro-Hungarian army, having shown its inability repeatedly during the war, will collapse, and perhaps a victory here will convince the Romanians to join the war on the side of the Entente.

- Given the lack of reinforcements, General Sarrail feels that his position in southern Serbia is not tenable, given that the Bulgarians significantly outnumber his force.  Further, the ongoing collapse and retreat of the Serbian army negates the rationale behind his operations in the Vardar River valley.  As such, today he issues orders to the three French divisions in southern Serbia to withdraw south.

- Overnight elements of the Austro-Hungarian 4th Mountain Brigade launch an attack to regain the small stretch of the line that remains in Italian hands after their capture of it on the 20th.  Their assault, however, runs smack into an Italian advance of their own; the two attacking forces mutually repulse each other, both falling back to their starting positions.

- An Austro-Hungarian squadron of the light cruisers Helgoland and Saida plus escorting destroyers sortied towards the Straits of Otranto overnight, aiming to interrupt the Entente transport of supplies across the Adriatic Sea to the Serbs via northern Albania.  They intercept two Italian ships - the motor schooner Gallinara and the small steamer Palatino - carrying flour and sink both.

- The Russian dreadnought Imperatritsa Maria, escorted by the cruiser Pamiat Merkuriya and ten destroyers, bombards the Ottoman port of Zonguldak, the first occasion in which the new Russian warship fires its guns in anger.

The Russian dreadnought Imperatritsa Maria.