Thursday, August 14, 2014

August 14th, 1914

- As of today all of the forts north and east of Liège have fallen, opening the roads north of the city and allowing 1st Army to begin its advance.

- The first major French offensive begins today, as 1st and 2nd Armies begin their advance into Lorraine.  1st Army is tasked with the capture of Sarrebourg (sixty kilometres east of Nancy) and Donon (twenty-five kilometres south of Sarrebourg), the latter a key German defensive position covering a valley in the Vosges.  To its left, 2nd Army was to advance towards Morhange (forty-five kilometres northeast of Nancy) while covering the northern flank of 1st Army.  To the south, the newly-formed Army of Alsace, consisting of VII Corps and additional divisions, was to advance again on Mulhouse.

Opposing them are the German 6th and 7th Armies, with orders to gradually retire in the face of the French attacks.  From the perspective of the Schlieffen Plan, a French attack here was welcome news - the further east the French moved, the farther away they would be from Paris and northern France, where, it was believed, the war would be decided.  Thus the first day of the offensive sees Donon captured and French forces advance ten miles towards Sarrebourg.  Both French and German commanders believe the fighting is going according to plan.

Operations in Lorraine, Aug. 14th to 20th, 1914.

- To the north of the French attack into Lorraine, 3rd and 4th Armies are preparing for their own offensive into the Ardennes, which 5th Army is to support.  However, the commander of 5th Army, General Charles Lanrezac, is increasingly nervous about developments in Belgium.  Unlike Joffre, he believes that the German attack on Liège indicates that the focal point of the German effort will be an invasion through Belgium to descend on France from the northeast.  If true, 5th Army is the only French formation in position to contest the German advance.  Lanrezac desires to re-orientate his army to face north, and advance to defensive positions along the Sambre and Meuse Rivers southwest of Namur.  To date Joffre has dismissed Lanrezac's concerns, seeing the German invasion as only a minor operation - indeed, it is to be welcomed, as German forces in Belgium will be cut off once the offensive through the Ardennes is successful.

Lanrezac decides to visit Joffre's headquarters today to put his case directly to the commander of the French Army.  Joffre is still not impressed - he and his staff suggest that there are no German forces west of the Meuse, and that Lanrezac should focus on the upcoming offensive.  Indeed, in Joffre's mind Lanrezac is exceeding his authority by questioning the strategic basis for the plan of operations - it is for Joffre, not Lanrezac, to draw conclusions regarding the main push by the Germans.  Lanrezac departs Joffre's meeting pessimistic about the course of the campaign.  Back at his headquarters, he receives an intelligence report stating that there are now eight German corps across the Meuse.  Angry at this confirmation of his fears, he fires off an aggressive message to Joffre, insisting that the Germans are coming through Belgium in strength.

- Field Marshall French, Wilson, and other officers of the British Expeditionary Force arrive at Amiens, where the BEF will de-train prior to marching up to its assembly point at Maubeuge.

- The German East Asiatic Squadron, consisting of the armoured cruisers Scharnhorst and Gneisenau and the light cruiser Nürnberg, departs Ponape eastward in the direction of the Marshall Islands, while Emden sails southwest towards the Indian Ocean.

- South African Minister of Defence J. C. Smuts meets today with the senior officers of the armed forces, and encounters opposition to the suspected campaign against German South-West Africa, especially from the Commandant-General, C. F. Beyers, and two district commanders, J. C. G. Kemp and S. G. Maritz.  Smuts handles the meeting to ensure there are no resignations, believing that it is better to keep such opposition within the army, in contrast to their leaving and potentially raising the flag of rebellion.

- Conrad has allowed 2nd Army on the Serbian frontier to establish bridgeheads across the Sava at Mitrovica and Sabac, in support of the advance of 5th Army to its right.  General Putnik, commander of the Serbian Army, nevertheless realizes by this day that the main Austro-Hungarian attack will be coming from 5th Army, and that 2nd is a mere diversion.  Moreover, this conclusion is reinforced by signals intelligence passed on by the Russians that 2nd Army will soon depart for Galicia.  Putnik is thus able to redeploy his three armies westward against the Austro-Hungarian 5th Army without fear of being taken in the flank.  Thus 5th Army, stumbling across the Drina, is about to advance into almost the entirety of the Serbian army.

- In Constantinople, Enver Pasha emphasizes in discussion with the German ambassador that the Emir of Afghanistan was willing to launch an invasion of India.

- Moltke today sends a telegram to Count Georg von Waldersee, Chief of Staff to the German 8th Army: 'When the Russians come, not defence only, but offensive, offensive, offensive.'  The note reflects the differing priorities of 8th Army, the only German formation assigned to East Prussia at the start of the war.  Strategically, it is responsible for holding off the Russians until the success of the Schlieffen Plan will allow for the redeployment of most of the German army to the East.  To accomplish this, however, requires 8th Army to also go on the attack - the Russians have superior numbers, so a purely defensive approach could allow the Russians to overwhelm 8th Army.  Instead, General Maximilian von Prittwitz und Graffron, commander of 8th Army, is prepared to use the broken terrain of East Prussia to its advantage.  The Masurian Lakes in particular are impassable by sizeable formations, and thus Prittwitz hopes to use interior lines to defeat the Russians in detail by focussing his forces either north or south of the lakes.  Such a plan requires strong nerves to temporarily leave the other side of the lakes uncovered.  Moreover, Moltke's telegram also speaks to the larger understanding that a German offensive in East Prussia is desirable to relieve Russian pressure on their Austro-Hungarian allies.

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