Friday, August 15, 2014

August 15th, 1914

- Joffre issues Special Instruction No. 10 at 7pm this evening, regarding the operations of the 3rd, 4th, and 5th Armies.  The first two are to concentrate on the forthcoming offensive through the Ardennes, while 5th Army is to have one corps facing northeast to support the advance.  The rest of 5th Army, however, is to advance northwards into the triangle between the Meuse and Sambre Rivers, south of Namur, to cover the northern flank of the French line against German forces moving through Belgium.  It is the first acknowledgement by Joffre that the German invasion of Belgium necessitates alterations to Plan XVII, and reflects both intelligence indications from Belgium and the pressure of General Lanrazac of 5th Army.  However, Joffre's focus remains on the offensives undertaken by 1st through 4th Armies - he still believes that few Germans will move west of the Meuse, and indeed welcomes the notion of a strong German right wing, as he believes it means the centre at the Ardennes will be weakened, where the main French attack will shortly commence.

- The advance of the French 1st and 2nd Armies continues into Lorraine.  The Germans continue to fall back as planned, which gives the impression to the French commanders that their tactics and strategy are working.  However, there are indications that not all is well.  When the Germans do stand and fight, the French infantry take terrible losses, while German artillery are causing additional casualties.  The 2nd Army commander reports that defended positions require extensive artillery bombardment - this contrasts with pre-war doctrine, which believes that superior French morale and elan can defeat any defending force.  However, the continued German retreat ensures that no reassessment of tactics occurs.

- Field Marshal Sir John French meets French President Raymond Poincarè in Paris today.  The British general, unable to speak more than a few words of French, informs the French President that the British Expeditionary Force will not be prepared for action until August 24th.  French is taking Kitchener's instructions to heart - wanting to ensure the preservation of his command, he does not wish to risk it in battle until it is fully prepared and unless it is necessary.  Poincarè is horrified - he fears the BEF will not be able to take the field in time.

- The Russian advance into East Prussia begins today when 1st Army crosses the border.  The Russians aim to make a virtue of the delayed advance of 2nd Army, which will not reach the German frontier until August 20th.  Advancing westwards north of the Masurian Lakes, the objective of 1st Army is to force the Germans to battle, and pin them on their front, after which 2nd Army, advancing northwards west of the Masurian Lakes, will attack the Germans on their flank and roll them up.  The plan has several significant flaws.  First, in their haste to attack Germany as quickly as possible to aid their French allies, the Russian armies are advancing without adequate supply.  Second, there is an almost complete lack of communication between the commanders of the two armies and front headquarters, ensuring that each army operates largely in the dark regarding the location and intentions of the other.  Finally, what communications do take place are transmitted in the clear, giving the Germans a vital insight into their enemy's intentions.

- Conrad has his last audience with Emperor Franz Joseph in Vienna today before his departure for the fortress of Przemysl in Galicia, where he will establish his headquarters.  The Emperor's final words were 'God willing, all will go well, but even if it all goes wrong, I'll see it through.'  Not exactly the most inspiring words on the eve of titanic battles that may decide the fate of Austria-Hungary.

- The entirety of Austro-Hungarian cavalry assigned to Galicia crosses over the Russian frontier in an effort to ascertain the dispositions of the Russian army.  In this task they fail completely.  When Russians were encountered, the cavalry dismounted to fight, eliminating their mobility, and in such fights failed to penetrate the Russian screens and thus missed the bulk of the Russian forces.  Moreover, the Austro-Hungarians wore a saddle best suited for the parade ground, but which on campaign rubbed the backs of their horses raw.  Half of the cavalry strength of the Austro-Hungarian army has vanished before the main fighting has even begun.

- The Austro-Hungarian 5th Army finally crosses the Drina River in strength, and advances southeast, where it runs into the Serbian 2nd and 3rd Armies.  The Serbs are entrenched in excellent defensive positions among the rough terrain; Austro-Hungarian soldiers, badly-supplied and poorly-equipped for mountain warfare, advance uphill in blistering heat and under constant fire from Serbian soldiers and guerrillas.  5th Army is unable to make any headway, held up on the Cer plateau, and takes heavy losses.

- Japan submits an ultimatum to Germany, demanding that it turn over its Chinese base at Tsingtao or face war.  The Germans are given seven days to respond.  Japan has been an ally of Britain since 1902, but the ultimatum makes no reference to the alliance.  Instead, the Japanese government has decided to join the war in pursuit of its own objectives, independent of the war in Europe.  Their primary goal is the seizure of Tsingtao, and secondly the conquest of further German colonies in the Pacific.  Japan has no intention whatsoever of getting involved in the fighting in Europe itself.  The British, for their part, appreciate that a Japanese entry into the war will ensure Entente naval supremacy in the Far East, but are wary of Japan's wider goals in China and the Pacific, where they may conflict with not only British interests but those of Australia and New Zealand.

- A small German detachment seizes today the village of Taveta, southeast of Mount Kilimanjaro just inside British East Africa, and an important assembly point for any British advance into German East Africa.

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