Monday, August 25, 2014

August 25th, 1914

- Joffre issues General Instruction No. 2 today, which outlines the French strategy in light of the defeat in the Battle of the Frontiers.  The forces on the French left, including the BEF, are to retreat to the line Amiens-Rheims-Verdun, a retreat of over one hundred kilometres.  The massive fortress complex around Verdun is to serve as a hinge, anchoring the centre of the French line, while the left moves counterclockwise like a door.  This means the BEF and the French 5th Army, as the units furthest on the French left, will have the farthest to retreat.  During the retreat, French forces are to fight a delaying action, using quick counterattacks with artillery to keep the Germans off-balance.  As this retreat is underway, additional French forces will be concentrated at Amiens, drawn from the existing French armies between Verdun and the Swiss border.  Once this force is assembled, it would attack the exposed German flank as it passes south and, in conjunction with the BEF and other French armies on the left, envelop and destroy the invading German armies.

- The German 4th Army penetrates Sedan today, and is counterattacked by the French 4th Army to prevent the Germans from crossing the Meuse Rivier.  After bitter fighting and bayonet assaults, the French withdraw at nightfall, and blow the bridges over the river.

- The French launch a major counterattack in Lorraine today, directed towards the German forces advancing between Toul and Epinal.  From the north, 2nd Army's attack is led by Foch's XX Corps, which has already covered itself in glory in earlier fighting, and today retakes three towns and advances ten miles.  From the south, 1st Army achieves similar gains.  Despite earlier victories, the German 6th and 7th armies have sustained heavy losses, and they are thrown back across the Mortagne River and away from the gap at Charmes.  The Germans have no intention of giving up the fight - a breakthrough here might allow the envelopment and destruction of the entire French army - but the wooded and hilly terrain is ideal for the defensive, and the French also benefit from extensive pre-war fortifications.  In essence, the advantages that lay with the Germans when the French invaded Lorraine are reversed now that it is the Germans invading French Lorraine.

- General Joseph-Simon Gallieni is appointed today Military Governor of Paris.  The French government has become suddenly aware that the German advance may threaten the capital itself, and discover that its defenses have been woefully neglected.  Gallieni promises to bring energy and action to the fortification of Paris, and also insists that Joffre assigned several corps to ensure the city can be held.  Joffre demures; he needs all the corps he can to execute his retreat and counter-attack operation, and can hardly afford to have any tied down defending the capital.

- The Belgian army makes a sudden sortie today, fighting the German corps detached from the German 1st Army to cover the city.  Elements of the German corps are thrown back in confusion to Louvain before the sortie is contained and the Belgians retreat to Antwerp.  The sortie, however, would indirectly have an even larger impact on Louvain itself.  This small university town, known as the 'Oxford of Belgium,' had been occupied peacefully by the Germans for almost a week, but in the confusion tonight after the Belgian sortie German soldiers moving through the city believe they have been fired upon by Belgian civilians.  More plausible is that panicked Germans fired on each other in the darkness.  Regardless, German soldiers begin the destruction of Louvain, burning buildings and shooting civilians, which continue for several days.

- General Samsonov of the Russian 2nd Army is informed today that two corps of the German 8th Army have retreated to the fortress of Königsberg, far to the north, convincing him that the only substantial enemy forces before him is the German corps since yesterday.  Samsonov is thus encouraged to continue to advance with his centre, and when the German XX Corps comes under pressure on its flank, withdraws to the north.  Samsonov interprets this as part of an ongoing German general retreat, and continues to orders his forces to pursue.

Unintentionally, Samsonov's advance exposes the flanks of 2nd Army to the Germans.  Most of the German I Corps arrive today on the western flank of XX Corps, though General François ignores an order by Ludendorff to attack, arguing that his artillery has not arrived and an advance would be suicidal.  Meanwhile, XVII and I Reserve Corps continue to march towards their position on the eastern flank of XX Corps.

- Since the Battle of Gumbinnen on the 20th, Moltke has remained concerned about the Russian invasion of Prussia.  Despite the replacement of Prittwitz with Hindenburg and Ludendorrf, it is not yet clear if their plans for operations against the Russian 2nd Army will be successful.  Under pressure from Junkers whose East Prussian estates lay in the path of the Russians, Moltke decides that reinforcements must be sent.  His initial impulse is to take corps from 6th and 7th Armies, engaged in Lorraine.  However, the continued fighting between Toul and Epinal suggests that the armies cannot spare any corps, and moreover the Bavarian corps of 6th Army may not fight with sufficient ardour to save East Prussia.  Instead, Moltke looks to the right wing.  The fall of Namur has freed the two corps that had been beseiging the city.  Instead of rejoining the advance of the right wing, orders are issued for their redeployment to East Prussia.

- Fighting since the 23rd, the Austro-Hungarian 1st Army has turned both flanks of the Russian 4th Army, and the latter, having lost 6000 prisoners and twenty-eight guns, retreats northwards to the Kraśnik positions south of Lublin.  Victory in the Battle of Kraśnik encourages Conrad in his belief that a decisive victory can be won through his invasion of Russian Poland, and he urges the Austro-Hungarian 4th Army, to the east of 1st Army, onwards.  The Russian 4th Army, meanwhile, urges 5th Army on its east to attack southwest to disrupt the enemy 1st Army.

- In the early hours of this morning, the German commander at Kamina in Togoland destroys the nine masts and switchboard of the Kamina wireless station, and at daylight surrenders to the British and Imperial forces.  The Germans are hopelessly outnumbered, but nevertheless surrender before absolutely necessary - for example, they still have over 300 000 rifle rounds.  Moreover, German resistance has not been as stiff as it could have been - most of the colony had been abandoned without a fight, and much of the infrastructure had not been destroyed to impede the speed of the British advance.  The approach of the German commander, instead, had been to concentrate on Kamina, the only vital point in the colony, and otherwise preserve the rest of the colony.  There was only ever one possible outcome to the invasion of Togoland, and instead of destroying the colony in what would have been an obviously futile effort to hold it, a token resistance is instead offered, to preserve the 'benefits' (i.e. infrastructure, etc.) that have accrued to the African population of Togoland under German rule.

- Following its declaration of war on Germany, Japan today declares war on Austria-Hungary.

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