Tuesday, September 30, 2014

September 30th, 1914

- Elements of Maud-huy's detachment move through Arras today and push eastwards on the road to Douai.

- At Antwerp the forts of Waelhem and Lierre to the south of the city are the focus of German bombardment.  In addition, the main waterworks for Antwerp, located behind Fort Waelhem, are destroyed, inundating the Belgian trenches in the and greatly reducing water supply for those civilians remaining in the city.

Meanwhile, the Belgian Prime Minister issues a formal request for military assistance to the British and French.  While Joffre is willing to send a small force of territorials and marines, he is unwilling to part with any of his regular divisions, and views the Belgian request through the lens of the ongoing battle in France - his hope is that the Belgians will retreat to extend the Entente line north of Arras.  The British response is to offer to land the 7th Infantry Division and 3rd Cavalry Division on the Belgian coast to reinforce the western flank of the Belgian defenders along the Scheldt River.  These divisions are composed of Regular Army battalions that had been scattered around the Empire at the outbreak of war garrisoning points such as Gibraltar, Malta, and Egypt.  These units had been recalled in August and assembled in Britain in preparation for dispatch to the continent, and the two divisions together formed IV Corps, under the command of General Henry Rawlinson.

- Yesterday the ships under the command of Admiral Craddock descended on Orange Bay in the Magellan Straits after receiving word from the British consul at Punta Arenas that the German light cruiser Dresden had been coaling there.  Finding the bay empty, but with indications that Dresden had been there recently, Craddock orders his ships today to return to the Falklands Islands to coal.

Monday, September 29, 2014

September 29th, 1914

- As the number of corps assigned to the French 2nd Army increases, the northernmost are formed into a separate detachment under the command of General Louis de Maud-huy.  While Castlenau will continue to supervise the fighting in Picardy and along the Somme, Maud-huy's assignment is to execute an flanking manouevre, pivoting on Arras.  As of today Maud-huy's detachment consists of X Corps north of Albert, four cavalry divisions southeast of Arras, and reserve infantry divisions at Arras and Lens respectively.

To the east of Arras, the town of Douai is falls to a German attack this afternoon, the scratch force of English and French soldiers having to fight their way out.

- Field Marshal Sir John French informs Marshal Joffre of his intention to relocate the British Expeditionary Force to the far left of the Entente line in Flanders and Belgium.  The latter is cautiously accepting of the move - the logic of placing the British closer to their supplies and reinforcements is not lost on him.  Joffre remains concerned, however, about Sir John French's intentions - will placing him at the end of the line and so close to Britain reawaken his desire for self-preservation over co-operation?  Also, Joffre tells French that the redeployment must be undertaken one division at a time, as the bulk of the French railways are occupied with the transfer of French corps north to 2nd Army, and that on arrival the British must be prepared to go into battle at once, as opposed to waiting for the entire BEF to arrive before advancing.

- Just south of Antwerp, Fort Wavre has been so damaged by constant German bombardment that at 6pm its garrison is evacuated.  This, plus the destruction done at Fort Waelham, demonstrate unmistakably to the Belgian government that the survival of the fortifications protecting Antwerp can be measured in days.  As such, the Belgian army begins to make preparations to evacuate the city.  They intend to establish a new base at Ostend on the Channel coast, and withdraw through the corridor between the Dutch border and the Schelde River.  Two pontoon bridges at Antwerp itself allow some to cross to the north bank of the river, and though a railway bridge twelve miles west of Antwerp is within range of German artillery, trains are able to pass at night with their lights extinguished.  Today, the first to leave Antwerp are the wounded, untrained, and prisoners - the field army itself will remain as long as control of the city can be reasonably contested.  To cover the retreat corridor, the Belgian 4th Division is at Termonde on the Schelde, and Belgian cavalry patrol the river line.  These intentions are conveyed by the Belgian Prime Minister to the British and French governments, emphasizing that the decision to withdraw the government and field army from Antwerp will come when the Germans break completely through the first line of forts and are in position to attack the inner defenses of the city.

Sunday, September 28, 2014

September 28th, 1914

- After initial setbacks, the French XXI and X corps have solidified a defensive line east of Albert along a line Maricourt-Fricourt-Thiepval.  Realizing that 6th Army has been checked before Amiens, Falkenhayn today orders Rupprecht to attack to the north towards Arras in another effort to get around the flank of the Entente line.

- The siege of Antwerp begins in earnest today with the first major bombardment of its forts by the Germans.  Falkenhayn has decided that Antwerp must be captured to ensure the security of the German right wing as it extends northwards into Flanders.  Commanding the besiegers is General Hans von Beseler, whose III Reserve Corps consists of second-rate divisions and brigades, and is deemed insufficient to cross the Scheldt River to the west of the city to invest it completely.  However, von Beseler also has at his disposal 173 heavy guns, and it is expected that the artillery will repeat its performances at Liège and Namur and crush the fortifications from long-range.  Specifically, the first to be targeted are the forts of Wavre and Waelham to the south of Antwerp, to breach the outer defense line and allow the infantry to advance.  The German bombardment is able to proceed entirely unmolested, as the Belgian artillery pieces lack the range to hit the German mortars.  The attack is thus little more than target practice.

- Having failed to cross the Niemen River, the German 8th Army begins a withdrawal back towards the German border, as maintaining their current position would leave them in an exposed salient while not diverting Russian forces from Poland and Galicia.  The Russian 1st and 10th armies begin a pursuit of the retreating Germans, and General Rennenkampf of the former shows energy that had been lacking in August.

- Having completed its assembly north of Krakow, the German 9th Army begins its advance northeast today in the direction of Ivangorod and Moscow.  As of yet Ludendorff has no idea that the Russians are redeploying four armies to precisely the same place.

The Eastern Front, September 28th to November 1st, 1914.
- In a speech today South African Prime Minister Louis Botha declares that if South African forces do not attack and occupy German South-West Africa, then the British will bring in other Imperial forces, such as the Australians or Indians, to undertake the operation.  The statement is aimed at Boers uneasy with the invasion, suggesting that since it is going to happen it might as well be done to the benefit of South Africa directly.

- As they approach Tsingtao, Japanese forces seize today the first defensive line.  They had been thinly held, however, and the Germans conduct an orderly retreat to the second defensive line in the Hai Po valley.

Saturday, September 27, 2014

September 27th, 1914

- The German XIV Reserve Corps comes into the line north of II Bavarian Corps, and begins to advance on Albert.  Opposite them the French XXI and X Corps are arriving north of the Somme River.

- The Belgian army continues to hold the fortifications at Antwerp, the 'national redoubt', but there are growing concerns about the state of its defenses.  There are two rings of forts surrounding Antwerp on the southern bank of the Scheldt River - an outer line of eighteen forts between seven and nine miles from the city, and an inner line of older forts.  However, the forts have not been modernized, and are vulnerable to high-arcing plunging fire, precisely the type the Germans had used at Liège and Namur.  Thus the Belgians realize that to hold Antwerp for a prolonged period of time in the face of a German effort to capture the forts requires that the German siege mortars be kept out of range.  For the past two days, two divisions of the Belgian army have sortied south of the city to push the Germans back, but despite local successes the Belgians have been forced back to the first line of forts south of Antwerp.  Their sortie, at least, has helped convince the besieging Germans that the north bank of the Scheldt to the west of the city is too well-defended to attack, leaving an overland line of communication between Antwerp and Flanders.

The defenses of Antwerp, September 1914.
- After a day spent bombarding Russian positions, elements of the German 8th Army attempt to cross the Niemen River this morning.  However, the pontoon bridges are blasted by Russian artillery, and the crossings fail to secure bridgeheads at great cost.

- Realizing the enemy has abandoned Duala in German Kamerun, the British expedition offshore begin to land 2500 soldiers of the West African Frontier Force and seize the town.

This cover of the satirical magazine Kladderadatsch, published today, reflects the
continuing optimism on the home front.  The caption translates as 'The Traffic in
Foreigners is Picking Up!', and shows representative figures from all of Germany's
enemies touring Berlin as prisoners.  This reflects the suppression of knowledge about
the German defeat at the Marne earlier this month, the army stating publicly that it was
merely a redeployment of forces.  It is also worth noticing in the cartoon how each
figure utilizes stereotypes to represent its nation, including the usage of racial imagery.

Friday, September 26, 2014

September 26th, 1914

- Though fighting continues south of Péronne, Rupprecht decides to use his II Bavarian Corps to outflank the French line from the north.  The Bavarians, having entrained at Metz on the 18th and marched from the railhead at Valenciennes, seize Bapaume today, but collide with the French XX Corps moving in the opposite direction, and heavy fighting ensues.

Falkenhayn has also ordered attacks to be undertaken along the Aisne River to pin the Entente armies there and prevent the further movement of units north.  Launched primarily by 7th Army, the attacks fail to make significant progress while suffering heavy casualties, especially in fighting with the British Expeditionary Force, and have no substantial impact on Joffre's redeployments.

- Winston Churchill today visits the headquarters of the British Expeditionary, and while there the First Lord of Admiralty discuss future operations with Sir John French.  Churchill assures the Field Marshal that should the BEF be redeployed to Flanders and Belgium, it would be supported by the Royal Navy via the Channel.  This assurance calms French's fears, and he now agrees that the BEF should be moved north.

- West of Verdun, the offensive of General Mudra's XVI Corps comes to a halt, having advanced approximately eight kilometres along a twenty kilometre stretch of the front over the past week.  The Germans have captured the main town of the region - Varennes-en-Argonne - and more importantly have seized the heights at Vauqois.  From this position artillery observers are able to keep watch on the Verdun to Paris railway line, and guns in the rear are now close enough to hit a portion of the tracks.  Once observers have pinpointed the coordinates, it becomes possible for German artillery to hit trains attempting to pass to Verdun.  This limits train movement to night, and only when the track has been repaired after prior bombardments.  This effectively severs the last rail line to Verdun - though it can be reached by road from Bar-le-Duc, it strains the supply situation at the most important French fortifications on the Western Front.

- The Lahore Division of Indian Expeditionary Force A arrive in Marseilles today, having sailed from India via the Arabian Sea and the Suez Canal.  IEF A also includes a second division - the Meerkut Division - and a cavalry brigade, which are scheduled to arrive in France in several weeks, their delay resulting from the presence of the German light cruisers Emden and Königsberg in the Indian Ocean.  Each division consists of three infantry brigades, which in turn contain one British and three Indian battalions.  These units are drawn from the peacetime Indian Army, and are being deployed to France to serve with the British Expeditionary Force.

Indian soldiers parade in Marseilles, September 26th, 1914.
- At Duala in German Kamerun, the small German garrison abandons the city and retreats inland.  They well understand that holding the port in the face of British naval power is impossible, but they do not intend to retreat far, in order to continue to pose a threat to the anticipated British occupation of Duala and force the British to continue to maintain a significant presence to hold it.

- Along the Orange River on the southern border of German South-West Africa, an advance guard of Force A has crossed the river at Sandfontein, consisting of three hundred men and two artillery pieces.  Though the South African government has learned that the main German force is not opposing the recent landing at Lüderitz but rather moving on the Orange River, but has not informed General Henry Lukin, commander of Force A.  Thus his advance guard is unsupported, and the Germans today sweep down and, having encircled the South Africans, capture the entire force after a brief firefight.

The defeat reflects the hasty improvisations necessary to put the three forces into the field at an early date, and the lack of adequate communications between them.  This is overshadowed, however, by Lukin's insistence that Force B ought to have advanced simultaneously, in order to divide the German defenders.  General Maritz of Force B insists that his force is still unready to move, being insufficiently trained.  Such disobedience does not reflect well on his loyalty to the South African government, despite the collapse on the 15th of the first acts of insubordination.  Defense Minister Smuts now faces the prospect of dealing with a recalcitrant general with a body of soldiers under his command.

- The German East Asiatic Squadron today arrives at the island of Nuku Hiva in the French Marquesas Islands.  With its lack of defenders and isolated position, Admiral Spee has his ships stop to coal and take on fresh provisions.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

September 25th, 1914

- Near Roye the timely arrival of the 3rd Cavalry Division to support IV corps stabilizes the line, and the German 6th Army is blocked from isolating the French 2nd Army from Paris. However, Castlenau informs Joffre this evening that while his line extends north to the Somme River near Bray-sur-Somme, he has no further reserves.

Joffre meanwhile continues to shift forces to the north - XI Corps is today redeployed from 9th Army on the Aisne River to Amiens.

- Just south of St.-Mihiel sits the fort of Camp des Romains, and today it comes under attack by German forces.  After an overwhelming bombardment German infantry storm and capture the fort.  The fall of Camp des Romains solidifies the German hold on the St.-Mihiel salient, though French reinforcements prevent further gains.  Army Detachment Strantz has carved out a large salient, piercing the fort line between Verdun and Toul and, thanks to its bridgehead over the Meuse at Chauvoncourt, severing one of the two remaining rail lines connecting Verdun to the rest of France.

The German attack on the fort at Camp des Romains,
September 25th, 1914.

A portion of the ruined fort at Camp des Romains after its capture by the Germans.

- The force of Montenegrins and Serbs that crossed into Bosnia two days ago returns to Serbia today, after General Potiorek utilized fortress troops and units of the Austro-Hungarian 6th Army to threaten their flank.  In halting this move, however, the use of part of 6th Army has meant that the push into Serbia has come to a halt.

- A small British naval force centred on the cruiser Cumberland sits today off of Duala, the most important port on the coast of German Kamerun, having spent the past several weeks clearing German obstructions from the shipping channels.  Its commander issues an ultimatum demanding the surrender of Duala, the capture of which is central to British strategy, especially in light of the defeat over the past month of efforts to advance into the colony overland from Nigeria - the denial of ports by which German commerce raiders can be resupplied.

German Kamerun, 1914.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

September 24th, 1914

- Finding the planned advance on Amiens blocked, General Rupprecht decides to attack on his left in an effort to isolate the French 2nd Army from Paris.  XVIII Corps, joined in the line today by XXI Corps, launch a major offensive at Roye, and the French IV Corps is forced back over five miles.  The ferociousness of the German attack forces the French 2nd Army onto the defensive.  To the north of the German XXI Corps, I Bavarian Corps also comes into the line this evening, pushing the French out of Péronne.

- General Henry Wilson, Deputy Chief of Staff of the British Expeditionary Force, suggests today that the BEF should be redeployed north to Flanders and Belgium, as by taking its place once again on the left flank of the Entente line it will be closer to the Channel ports from which its reinforcements and supplies are derived.  Sir John French, however, is concerned that such a movement might leave the BEF exposed - at present such a move would leave it isolated, as the French front line stretches only to Picardy as of this date.

- South of Verdun Army Detachment Strantz occupy the town of St.-Mihiel and cross the Meuse River to capture Chauvoncourt.

- The Russian 4th, 5th, and 9th armies begin to withdrawn from the front lines in Galicia for their redeployment to Ivangorod and Warsaw as part of the planned Russian offensive into Germany.  Due to the length of time it will take the armies to move up the east bank of the Vistula through the fall mud, Ivanov does not anticipate being in position to launch his attack until October 10th.  However, the circuitous line of march of the Russian armies masks their redeployment from German and Austro-Hungarian reconnaissance.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

September 23rd, 1914

- The advance of the French 2nd Army is halted this afternoon by the timely arrival of the German XVIII Corps, which had marched fifty miles in two days since departing Rheims on the 21st.  Further, by this evening reconnaissance has made it clear to General Castlenau that additional German forces are approaching the front lines.  These are XXI and I Bavarian corps of the German 6th Army - both had entrained in Lorraine on September 15th, and have marched to the front from the railheads at Cambrai and Namur respectively.  General Rupprecht had hoped to use these two corps to sweep around the French and move on Amiens, but finds that the French 2nd Army bars the way.

- In the Balkans, a force of Montenegrins and Serbians cross the upper Drina River south of the Austro-Hungarian 6th Army and move into Bosnia.  Their aim is both to inspire rebellion among the Slavic population of the region and relieve the pressure of the ongoing Austro-Hungarian invasion of Serbia.

- In Constantinople Admiral Wilhelm Souchon is today appointed Commander-in-Chief of the navy by the Ottoman government.  Since the best warships of the navy are the two 'bought' from Germany, the appointment makes practical sense.  It also reflects the continuing drift of the Ottomans into the German camp.  Nevertheless, the Ottoman government clings to neutrality - some ministers hope to gain the advantages of German friendship without the risks of war with the Entente.

Monday, September 22, 2014

September 22nd, 1914

The 1st Battalion King's Own (Royal Lancaster Regiment) in the front trench at the Aisne, September 22nd, 1914.  Note the
rudimentary nature of the trench, little more than a ditch in an open field - it is only over time that more complex and elaborate trench systems emerge.

- The French 2nd Army, consisting of four corps and several cavalry divisions drawn from elsewhere on the front, begins its advance towards the line Chaulnes-Roye-Lassigny north of the current end of the front near Noyon.  Immediately opposed to it is only the German II Corps, which had helped halt the attempted advance of the French 6th Army on the 18th.

The advance of the French 2nd Army east from Amiens, September 22nd, 1914.

- As the first units of the newly-formed German 9th Army begins to assemble near Crakow, Grand Duke Nicholas, Commander-in-Chief of the Russian Army, convenes a meeting at Cholm with General Ruzski of North-West Front and General Ivanov of South-West Front.  The Grand Duke's objective is to plan for an invasion westwards from Poland into German Silesia.  His front commanders, however, are focused on their particular responsibilities - Ruzski argues that no advance can be undertaken until East Prussia is neutralized, while Ivanov's concerns is with his armies in Galicia.  The Grand Duke's solution is to put Ivanov in charge of the invasion, leaving General Brusilov with 3rd, 8th, and 11th armies, the latter newly-formed to hold the line in Galicia.  Ivanov three remaining armies - 4th, 5th, and 9th - are to withdraw from the front and move northwards east of the Vistula River before crossing westward at Ivangorod and Warsaw in preparation to invade Germany.  Ivanov is also assigned a reconstructed 2nd Army from North-West Front to cover the northern flank of the advance.

- In Serbia, the Austro-Hungarian armies are struggling to advance out of their bridgeheads on the Save and Drina Rivers.  For the past three days, they have been in pitched battle with the Serbs for the hills around Jagodna.  Though by the end of today the Austro-Hungarian 6th Army has seized the heights, it has cost them 25 000 casualties, and broken their momentum.  Exhausted and demoralized, the two armies are unable to advance further.

- Off the Dutch coast is a region of the southern North Sea known as the Broad Fourteens, so named for its latitude.  Since the outbreak of the war, this part of the North Sea has been patrolled by the outdated armoured cruisers of the Bacchante class.  These patrols were designed to provide early warning of a German sortie into the Channel, but in practice the ships had no combat value - they carried only two 9.2-inch guns and eight 6-inch guns and were manned by reservists with little experience.  So questionable was their deployment that Admiral Keyes referred to them as the 'live bait squadron', and discussions had been held about withdrawing them.  However, as of this morning the patrols were still being undertaken, with three of the cruisers - Aboukir, Hogue, and Cressy - on station off the Dutch coast.

The Broad Fourteens in the North Sea.

Unfortunately, the three British cruisers are not the only ships in the North Sea this morning.  Also present is the German submarine U-9, which has spent the night submerged.  When it rises to periscope depth, its captain is pleasantly surprised to spot the three British cruisers.  The latter are steaming at just ten knots and, not having been warned of any submarine threat, are steaming in a straight line.  U-9 is easily able to approach the British, and at 630am fires a single torpedo to the middle of the three.  It strikes Aboukir amidships, tearing a large hole and flooding the engine room.  The cruiser's captain assumes he has hit a mine, and warns the other two cruisers.  The flooding was uncontrollable, and twenty-five minutes after being struck it capsizes.

The British cruiser Aboukir, sunk today by the submarine U-9.

- Crucially, because the assumption is that Aboukir struck a mine, the other two cruisers take no precautions against enemy submarines.  Indeed, their response is to approach Aboukir and stop to pick up survivors.  This, of course, is the absolute worst thing these ships could have done.  The caption of U-9 can hardly believe his luck, and reloads his torpedo tubes for another attack.  At 655am, just as Aboukir sinks, two torpedoes strike Hogue, which sinks ten minutes later.  Cressy now understood that there was a German submarine in the area, and desperately signaled the Admiralty of its predicament.  Though it attempts to maneouver, a torpedo strikes Cressy at 715am, followed by a second at 730am.  It rolls over until it was upside down before sinking at 755am.  An hour later two Dutch steamers arrive and pick up survivors, and destoyers from Tyrwhitt's force arrive at 1045.  Overall, however, almost 1400 British sailors are lost.

In less than an hour and a half, U-9 sank three British cruisers, and returned to Wilhelmshaven to a hero's welcome.  It is the greatest German naval accomplished of the war to date - the submarine's captain is awarded the Iron Cross, 1st Class, and the entire crew is awarded the Iron Cross, 2nd Class.  In Britain, there is shock at the sudden loss of the three ships.  The Times assumes that it had been the work of an entire group of submarines, as opposed to just one.  There is widespread condemnation of the Admiralty, and it inspires several policy changes.  In addition to halting patrols in the Broad Fourteens, ships are henceforth ordered not to stop to pick up survivors of ships that are torpedoed or strike a mine.  It also raises the anxiety of Admiral Jellicoe - if a single submarine can so easily dispatch three large armoured cruisers, what might they do if they catch the dreadnoughts of his Grand Fleet at sea?

- The German East Asiatic Squadron approaches Papeete, the capital of Tahiti, this morning.  There are five thousand tons of coal in the port, and Spee hopes to seize this and other supplies.  However, the French at Papeete have been warned by Bora Bora of the presence of the German ships, and by the time the squadron arrives they have set fire to the coal and fled to the hills.  Deprived of his coal, the squadron sinks a small French gunboat in the harbour and silences the few artillery pieces that fire on them.  They depart this afternoon, having fired off some of their ammunition for no benefit.

- Tonight the German light cruiser Emden approaches to within three thousand yards of the port of Madras in India.  Switching on its searchlights, the Germans fire 125 shells into the Burmah Company's oil tanks in thirty minutes, destroying almost half a million gallons of kerosene.  Emden then departs before the British can respond, disappearing once again into the Indian Ocean.

- In conformance with the Admiralty's instructions of the 18th, Rear Admiral Craddock departs the River Plate with the modern light cruiser Glasgow, the outdated cruiser Monmouth, and the armed liner Otranto, bound for the Magellan Straits.  Despite the Admiralty's assertions, however, Craddock still suspects that the German East Asiatic Squadron is coming east to South America.

- Today four airplanes of the Royal Naval Air Service, flying from an airfield near Antwerp, attempt the first bombing raid of the war against German Zeppelin sheds located at Cologne and Düsseldorf.  Two aircraft are assigned to each target, but in dense fog only one finds its target, dropping three 20-pound bombs at Düsseldorf.  Two failed to explode, and the third fell short, though it injured some German soldiers.  Even if all four had been successful in finding their targets, it is unlikely they would have been able to do significant damage, and they were unable to carry more than a few small bombs.  Moreover, they were slow - none flew over 100mph - and defenceless - if German aircraft were encountered, the only way the pilots could return fire would have been with pistols.  They had also lacked the range to reach their targets, having to refuel at an advanced airbase specifically set up for this purpose by armoured cars of the Belgian army.  However, from such humble beginnings strategic bombing would grow in importance over the years and decades.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

September 21st, 1914

- After yesterday's failed attacks, General Heeringen of the German 7th Army orders another push by VII Reserve Corps against the British positions opposite.  The corps commander, however, refuses, replying that 'the daily repetition of attack orders could not obtain any success.'  Indeed, full-scale offensive actions by either side have petered out, and the front line becomes increasingly static.  This does not mean there is no fighting - skirmishes occur regularly, and artillery fire is near constant - but there is a growing recognition that neither side is able to break through the enemy lines, which have not shifted to a significant degree since September 14th.  Thus though fighting continues along the Aisne, the Battle of the Aisne, in terms of efforts to break through the enemy positions, has effectively come to a end.

- Today Joffre orders Foch to postpone further attacks by 9th Army, and that artillery fire should be limited.  The French army is starting to experience a shortage of artillery shells, a crisis that will in time afflict all of the major combatants.  In each case, peacetime estimates of the number of shells an artillery piece would use prove to be significantly wide of the mark.  For the French, each of their approximately three thousand 75mm guns began the war with 1244 shells each.  All of this starting ammunition has been fired off by today - the very effectiveness of the '75s' results in more and more requests from the infantry for additional fire support.  The current daily production of 75mm shells, however, is only twenty thousand, or between six or seven shells per gun.  Such a paltry amount could easily be shot off even when major operations were not underway, so the only way Joffre could stockpile shell reserves for major attacks was to reduce artillery fire at other times.

- The German 8th Army reaches the Niemen River today at three points - near Kovno, near Miroslav, and north of Grodno.  However, the Russian 1st Army has been able to cross to the east bank of the river, and has had time to prepare defenses.

- In Galicia, Conrad orders a further retreat, ordering his armies falling back to the Dunajec River, a tributary of the Vistula River.  Here the 2nd, 3rd, and 4th armies are to entrench, with 1st Army being detached to co-operate with the German 9th Army assembling to the north.  The pursuing Russian armies today isolate the Austro-Hungarian fortress of Przemysl, and the 150 000 defenders find themselves under siege.  Otherwise, however, the advance of the Russians is slowing to a halt - September rains have turned the roads into mud, making rapid movement impossible.  Further, the Russian armies are increasingly crippled by supply shortages - there are few railways connecting Galicia with Russia, meaning supplies have to be shipped by horse and cart.

Thus the retreating Austro-Hungarian armies are granted a brief reprieve from Russian pressure.  However, the damage has been done - out of 1.8 million soldiers mobilized at the beginning of August, over 400 000 have become casualties in the fighting in Galicia alone.  Moreover, casualties have been heaviest among the German regiments that constitute not only the elite but also the most loyal units of the Austro-Hungarian army.  These losses cannot be replaced, and increasingly the army has to rely on the non-German regiments whose loyalty is always in doubt.  Finally, many regiments have lost their pre-war junior officers, for whom the rank and file felt a sense of comradeship - replacement officers, unknown and often speaking only German, increase the sense of alienation among the masses of soldiers.  As a result, the Austro-Hungarian army can never completely recover the strength lost in the Galician battles over the first two months of the war.  Conversely, though the Russians have suffered heavy casualties - over a quarter of a million - their massive manpower reserves mean they can absorb far greater losses than the Austro-Hungarian armies could ever hope to.

- In the South Pacific the German East Asiatic Squadron approaches Bora Bora in the Society Islands, owned by France.  Admiral Spee hopes to reprovision from the island, and though Bora Bora is undefended, he would much prefer to acquire food and supplies without force - if attacked, the French islanders might prefer hiding or burning supplies rather than see them seized by Germans.  He thus attempts another ruse - his ships will simply act as if they are not Germans.  Flying no identifying flags, the squadron leisurely approaches Bora Bora, where they are met offshore by several French officers.  Spee ensures that the French officers interact only with German sailors who themselves speak French or British, and imply that they are a British squadron patrolling the Pacific.  The French officers are completely fooled - they gladly offer supplies to the German ships, who pay in cash.  Further, under subtle prodding, they discuss the port defences at Papeete, vital information for the Germans as it is their next target in their journey towards South America.  As they depart, the French fire a salute from one of the antiquated cannons on the island; the cheeky response of the squadron is to raise the German ensign before disappearing over the horizon.

- As the British begin to formalize their naval blockade of Germany, a crucial question is what to do with neutral-flagged ships in the North Sea, whose cargo may be destined for Germany either directly or indirectly (unloaded at a neutral port and shipped overland to Germany).  The desire to halt all trade with Germany needs to be balanced with the opinion of neutral countries, especially the United States, as Britain depends on foreign trade, especially of foodstuffs, for its economy.  Today the British government publishes an expansion of its contraband list of items that will be seized if found on a neutral ship.  Among the goods that will now be seized are rubber, magnetic iron ore, copper, and glycerine, all important components of munitions production.

- The finance minister of France today requests that the Banque de France, the country's national bank, advance a further 3.1 billion francs to support the war effort.  By effectively printing more money, without having to acquire equivalent gold reserves, it gives the French government flexibility to meet the monetary demands of war, but creates inflationary pressure.

Saturday, September 20, 2014

September 20th, 1914

- Along the Aisne River the Germans undertake a series of major attacks against the positions of the BEF and the French 5th and 6th armies.  In particular, the German VII Reserve Corps of 7th Army, having just arrived at the front, throws its full strength against the British.  After initial gains, the British are able to recover the lost ground by nightfall, though at a cost of 1800 casualties.  On both sides, the French armies are also able to hold their ground.

- The second part of Falkenhayn's planned assaults on the flanks of Verdun begins today when Army Detachment Strantz launches its attack south of the French fortifications.  Advancing across the Woëvre, a flat plain between the Moselle River to the east and the Meuse River to the west, the detachment's objectives are to reach the Meuse River, secure a position on the nearby hills, and cut one of the two railways that connect to Verdun that remain under French control.  Despite the importance of this stretch of the front line, it is poorly-defended, with only the 75th Reserve Division present.  The region was at the border between two French armies - 3rd to the north and 1st to the south - who both had higher priorities and had their attention focused elsewhere.  Finally, the ongoing redeployment of forces from the east to the northwest by Joffre had left areas such as this with insufficient defenders.  Thus the German attacks this morning are overwhelmingly successful - the forward defensive lines are all captured and the 75th Reserve Division is shattered beyond repair.  The Germans thus advance southwestward into the gap they have blown in the French line.

The German attacks on the flanks of Verdun, September 1914.
The large salient created by the attack towards St. Mihiel is
clearly visible, and in the northwest is the attack begun
yesterday by XVI Corps.

- As the diminished German 8th Army advances into Russia towards the Niemen River, the right wing reaches the fortifications at Ossowietz today, and begin to besiege them.

The region between East Prussia and the Niemen River in Russia, location
of the advance of the German 8th Army after the Battle of the Masurian

- The funeral of J. H. De La Rey is held today in Lichtenburg, South Africa.  Among the speakers is C. F. Beyers, who was beside De La Rey when he was shot.  The latter's death having derailed their plans, Beyers urges his fellow Boers in the crowd to obey the decision of Parliament regarding the invasion of German South-West Africa.  J. C. G. Kemp feels likewise - he attempted unsuccessfully to rescind his resignation from the army.  With Lt.-Col. Martiz of Force B unready at present to revolt with his men, it appears that the prospects of a rebellion against the government have fizzled out.

- The German light cruiser Königsberg, after several weeks in the Indian Ocean, launches a surprise raid on Zanzibar off the west African coast.  She fortuitously catches the British light cruiser Pegasus in the harbour repairing her boilers.  Unable to sail, Pegasus is rapidly destroyed by Königsberg.

Friday, September 19, 2014

September 19th, 1914

- At Rheims the return of the French X Corps stabilizes the line - though the Germans remain in control of the high ground north and east of the city, the French hold the fort at La Pompelle to the southeast.  The hardening line leaves Rheims in French hands but easily within German artillery range.  At the centre of the city sits historic Rheims Cathedral, whose construction began in 1211 and for centuries had been the location where the kings of France were crowned.  The French today are using the cathedral to house German wounded, and its towers were draped in the flags of the Red Cross.  Nevertheless, the cathedral is targeted by German gunners along with the rest of the city - at 4pm, a shell strikes the northwest tower, setting fire to the wooden scaffolding that had been erected in peacetime as part of the cathedral's restoration.  The spreading fire melts the leaden roof, and molten lead ignites straw in the nave below, killing a dozen German prisoners.  The fire also spreads to the Archbishop's Palace, consuming irreplaceable Roman and Gothic tapestries.  Though the stone edifice of the cathedral remains, its interior is gutted, and medieval stain-glass windows are shattered.  The devastation of Rheims Cathedral receives worldwide attention, and is seen as yet another example of German barbarism and disdain for Western civilization.  The bombardment of the cathedral and the city will continue for years to come.

A German shell strikes Rheims Cathedral, Sept. 19th, 1914.

- West of Verdun, XVI Corps launches the first part of Falkenhayn's two-pronged offensive on the flanks of the town's fortified zone.  Attacking south into the heavily-forested Argonne, XVI Corps uses overwhelming artillery fire targeted precisely on the French trenches.  Most of the French defenders are killed or scattered, and the German infantry methodically advance into the abandoned positions.

- General Hausen of 3rd Army retires today on the grounds of ill-health, replaced by General der Kavallerie von Einem, formerly of VII Corps.

- Army Detachment Gaede is formed at the far southern end of the Western Front, in the Vosges near the Swiss border.  It consists of only three Landwehr brigades under the command of General Hans Gaede, and covers what a quiet sector on the front, as its hilly and wooded terrain makes it particularly unsuitable for offensive operations.

- The first South African attack in German South-West Africa occurs today when Force C lands at Lüderitz on the coast.  They encounter no resistance, as the Germans, fearing the guns of the Royal Navy, have abandoned the town and retreated inland.  However, with three aircraft they are able to monitor the movements of the South African force.

- David Lloyd George, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, addresses a packed crowd this evening at Queen's Hall, London.  He has long had a reputation as a dazzling speaker, and brings his full oratorical powers to bear to justify British participation in the war.  Britain, Lloyd George argues, was honour-bound to come to the aid of Belgium through the guarantee of independence the British government had given almost a century ago.  This view of honour is contrasted with the action of Germany:
She [Germany] says treaties only bind you when it is to your interest to keep them.  'What is a treaty?' says the German Chancellor.  'A scrap of paper.' . . . Have you any of those neat Treasury 1 pound notes?  If you have, burn them; they are only 'scraps of paper.'  What are they made of?  Rags.  What are they worth?  The whole credit of the British Empire.
We are fighting against barbarism.  But there is only one way of putting it right.  If there are nations that say they will only respect treaties when it is to their interest to do so, we must make it to their interest to do so for the future.
Britain is not fighting to preserve the balance of power or the integrity of the Empire, says Lloyd George, but rather on behalf of the underdog, a much more appealing basis:

That is the story of the little nations.  The world owes much to little nations - and to little men.  This theory of bigness - you must have a big empire, and a big man - well, long legs have their advantage in a retreat.  Frederick the Great chose his warriors for their height, and that tradition has become a policy in Germany.  Germany applies that ideal to nations; she will only allow six-feet-two nations to stand in the ranks.  But all the world owes much to the little five feet high nations.  The greatest art of the world was the work of little nations.  The most enduring literature of the world came from little nations.  The greatest literature of England came from her when she was a nation of the size of Belgium fighting a great Empire.  The heroic deeds that thrill humanity through generations were the deeds of little nations fighting for their freedom.  Ah, yes, and the salvation of mankind came through a little nation.  God has chosen little nations as the vessels by which he carries the choicest wines to the lips of humanity, to rejoice their hearts, to exalt their vision, to stimulate and to strengthen their faith; and if we had stood by when two little nations were being crushed and broken by the brutal hands of barbarism our shame would have rung down the everlasting ages.
Lloyd George concludes by emphasizing the transformative effect he sees the war having on British society:

May I tell you, in a simple parable, what I think this war is doing for us?  I know a valley in North Wales, between the mountains and the sea - a beautiful valley, snug, comfortable, sheltered by the mountains from all the bitter blasts.  It was very enervating, and I remember how the boys were in the habit of climbing the hills above the village to have a glimpse of the great mountains in the distance and to be stimulated and freshened by the breezes which came from the hilltops, and by the great spectacle of that great valley.
We have been living in a sheltered valley for generations.  We have been too comfortable, too indulgent, many, perhaps, too selfish.  And the stern hand of fate has scourged us to an elevation where we can see the great everlasting things that matter for a nation; the great peaks of honour we had forgotten - duty and patriotism, clad in glittering white; the great pinnacle of sacrifice pointing like a rugged finger to Heaven.  We shall descend into the valleys again, but as long as the men and women of this generation last they will carry in their hearts the image of these great mountain peaks, whose foundations are unshaken though Europe rock and sway in the convulsions of a great war.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

September 18th, 1914

- The advance of the French IV and XIII Corps along the Oise River is halted today by the German IX Reserve Corps, aided by the arrival of II Corps, which was pulled from the Aisne front expressly for the purpose of extending the German flank northwards.  An entrenched army needs fewer soldiers per mile to hold the line, which allows both sides to send forces into the open spaces north of Compiègne without fatally weakening their existing defensive positions.  Indeed, this points to one of the paradoxes of trench warfare - it was adopted in September 1914  to facilitate, not hinder, further mobile operations by making more forces available to outflank the enemy.  The problem, of course, is that this is equally true for both sides, so the 'mobile' formations created by both inevitably run into each other, and trench warfare replicates itself in order to provide further 'mobile' operations.  Thus trench warfare spreads like a virus along the Western Front, ironically from a desire of both sides to continue a war of movement.  It also feeds the perception of the generals that trench warfare is a temporary phenomenon (i.e. present only to facilitate future mobile operations, at which point trenches will no longer be needed) as opposed to becoming a permanent fixture.

- Further east, German attacks near Rheims continue to push back the French defenders.  Today the Germans seize high ground east of the city, including the forts at Berru and Nogent-l'Abbesse.  The French X Corps, which had begun to march west to join the effort to envelop the German flank past 6th Army, is ordered to return to Rheims to contain the German push.

- Joffre today scales back offensive operations along the Aisne River, it becoming clearer by the day that traditional frontal assaults by infantry on entrenched and prepared German positions are not achieving significant results.  Meanwhile, General Castlenau's new 2nd Army begins to assemble near Amiens.

- The redeployment of the German 6th Army is planned today at a conference at OHL in Luxembourg between Falkenhayn and Rupprecht.  The first corps will arrive on September 21st and bewill be tasked with sweeping away any French infantry between Roye and Montdidier.  A second corps will arrive on September 23rd, and with further units trickling in subsequent days 6th Army as a whole is to turn the enemy flank.  Rupprecht, however, is concerned that the French will be undertaking similar redeployments from east to west, and will benefit from having an intact railway system to move their units faster.  Thus both Falkenhayn and Rupprecht agree that German attacks must be undertaken along the existing front line to tie down French forces and prevent them from redeploying in time to stymie 6th Army.  In addition to further assaults between Compeigne and Rheims, two operations are planned in the Verdun sector.  The first, to be undertaken by the Crown Prince's 5th army, is to attack into the Argonne Forest to the west of Verdun.  The second is an offensive aiming to drive between Verdun to the north and Toul and Nancy to the south by capturing St. Mihiel and reaching the Meuse River.  To facilitate the second operation, the left wing of the 5th Army, comprising those forces southeast of Verdun, is formed into Army Detachment Strantz, named for General Hermann von Strantz, commander of V Corps.  By forming this detachment, there will be a separate command staff for each attack.  In addition to forcing the French to keep significant forces in the east, the operations aim to isolate the fortifications around Verdun, which are the strongest in France and form a key 'hinge' of the French line.

- General Ludendorff meets today with General Conrad at Neu Sandec in Austrian Galicia today.  The relationship between the two allies is frosty at best - Conrad blames the failures of his armies in Galicia on a perceived lack of support from Germany, and spends much of the meeting lecturing Ludendorff.  The German army, conversely, believes that Tannenberg demonstrates that it has done more than its share - if nothing else, Ludendorff is convinced of his own genius - and that Conrad and the Austro-Hungarian army have demonstrated particularly impressive ineptitude.  Indeed, so dismissive are the Germans of their putative allies that they have not even bothered to inform Conrad that Moltke has been replaced by Falkenhayn.

Despite the atmosphere of recrimination, agreement is reached for the next stage of operations.  The defeat of the Austro-Hungarian armies in Galicia potentially exposes German Silesia to Russian invasion, which necessitates a German response.  Ludendorff convinces Falkenhayn that a major German force is needed immediately, so 8th Army in East Prussia is reduced to two corps and the remainder redeployed near Cracow to form a new 9th Army of four corps, a reserve division, and a cavalry division.  At Ludendorff's insistence Hindenburg is to directly command 9th Army with himself as Chief of Staff, and while command of 8th Army is transferred to General Richard von Schubert, Hindenburg and Ludendorff are to remain in a supervisory role over their old command.  Conrad, meanwhile, agrees to assign the Austro-Hungarian 1st Army to co-operate with the German 9th Army, while the rest of his armies, after completing their retreat, will, it is hoped, go back over on the offensive.

Falkenhayn's conception of the role of 9th Army is simply to occupy the Russians and help their Austro-Hungarian allies survive - his attention is still primarily on the Western Front, seeking a decisive decision there.  Hindenburg and Ludendorff, however, believe that the most effective route to victory is on Eastern Front.  Their plan for 9th Army is to undertake a major offensive to seize the Russian fortress at Ivangorod and advance on Warsaw, seeking to crush the Russian armies just as they had done at Tannenberg.  They believe that they should have priority for reinforcements, and they begin bombarding not only Falkenhayn but also the Kaiser for additional units for the East.  Falkenhayn thus finds the duo of Hindenburg and Ludendorff to be rivals, not subordinates, and the latter are able to leverage the prestige gained from Tannenberg to raise their profile.  German high command is thus fundamentally divided on grand strategy, divided between West and East.

- In London, the British Admiralty has fallen for Admiral Spee's deception at Samoa four days earlier, and believes that the German East Asiatic Squadron is returning to the West Pacific.  Today they signal Rear Admiral Craddock in the South Atlantic with revised instructions: 'Situation changed  . . . Gneisenau appeared off Samoa on 14th and left steering NW.  German trade on west coast of America is to be attacked at once.  Cruisers need not be concentrated.  Two cruisers and an armed liner appear sufficient for Magellan Straits and west coast.  Report what you propose about Canopus.'  Crucially, the signal says nothing about the modern armoured cruiser Defence - the Admiralty has decided that with the German East Asiatic Squadron sailing westward, it is not needed in the South Atlantic, and can be retained on its present station in the Mediterranean.  Craddock, however, assumes that Defence is still on its way, believing quite reasonably that if the Admiralty had changed its mind, it would have let him know.

- In China, the main portion of the Japanese expeditionary force sent to capture the German enclave at Tsingtao lands at Laoshan Bay, thirty miles from their objective.  The Japanese aim is to assemble overwhelming force, especially in terms of artillery, before advancing on the German positions.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

September 17th, 1914

- The French 6th Army attacks today along its front, reclaiming the ground lost to the Germans in recent days.  6th Army also undertakes the first attempt to outflank the German line from the north, as IV and XIII Corps are pushed northwards along the Oise River in the direction of Noyon.  They soon run into the German IX Reserve Corps, just arrived from Belgium to cover the exposed flank of 1st Army, and their advance slows.

To the east, General Bülow launches the attack agreed to yesterday by Falkenhayn.  Though the right of the BEF is able to hold, the Germans are able to push the French 5th Army southwards, capturing the high ground at Brimont, just 9000 yards north of Rheims.

Machine gun position of the 1st Battalion, The Cameronians outside a wood
 at Venizel on the Aisne, September 17th, 1914.

- Though most of the German 6th Army is to be redeployed to northern France, some units are to remain to hold the line in Lorraine.  Today, those units are formed into Army Detachment Falkenhausen, named for its commander, General Freiherr von Falkenhausen, formerly commander of the Ersatz Corps.  In this context, an 'army detachment' is precisely that - a detached portion of an army under a separate commander and assigned different tasks.  It reflects Falkenhayn's intention that the front south of Nancy is to be largely quiet, as units are transferring to the open northern flank.

- In Galicia, though the armies of Austria-Hungary have retreated to the San River, they find it provides no security.  With superior numbers, the Russians are still able to move on the Austro-Hungarian flanks (8th Army from the south and 9th Army from the north), and have crossed the San River in multiple places.  Given the deteriorating situation, Conrad today orders the retreat of his four armies in Galicia to continue.  In doing so, he is breaking contact with Przemysl, the largest Austro-Hungarian fortified zone in Eastern Europe and comparable to Verdun in France.  With its large garrison, it now awaits the approach of the Russians.

- The governor of German New Guinea has been facing an increasingly impossible situation in his defense of the colony since the landing of the Australians six days earlier.  In addition to being overwhelming outnumbered and without any prospect of reinforcement, he feels he can no longer rely on the loyalty of his indigenous soldiers, and his German soldiers are increasingly waylaid by dysentry and malaria.  As such, the German governor surrenders New Guinea to the commander of the Australian expedition, delivering the entirety of the colony, both its islands and the mainland, to Australian occupation.

- In Australia, Labour party leader Andrew Fisher becomes Prime Minister after his party emerged victorious from the recent election which had been called just before the outbreak of war in Europe.  Fisher is fully committed to supporting the British war effort - in a campaign speech on July 31st, he had famously declared that Australia will defend Britain 'to our last man and our last shilling'.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

September 16th, 1914

- Along the Aisne River the day dawns with heavy rain and mist, and desultory attacks by the Germans and French around Craonne amount to nothing.  Instead, the bulk of the day is spent throwing artillery shells at each other.

- Falkenhayn, in conference with Bülow, agrees to the latter's proposals along the Aisne front between Soissons and Rheims.

- As the retreating Austro-Hungarian armies cross the San River, they pass the massive fortifications at Przemysl, one of the most important fortified positions on the Eastern Front.  As 3rd Army, most shattered of the Austro-Hungarian armies, passes the city its new commander is forced to warn his neighbouring armies of the breakdown of discipline among his soldiers: 'Whole regiments are streaming into Przemysl; they are famished; they are looting shops and committing excesses.'

Monday, September 15, 2014

September 15th, 1914

- Along the Aisne, the Germans launch significant counterattacks, and hardest hit is the French 6th Army, pushed almost back to the river by nightfall, and neighbouring British divisions to the east also suffer, though I Corps is able to largely hold its gains of yesterday.  North of Rheims the French 5th Army attacks  this morning, but achieve only negligible gains.  His 9th Army checked along the Suippes River, even the naturally-aggressive Foch writes of 'great resistance' to Joffre today.

- The battles along the Aisne stretch westward to the Oise River between Compeigne and Noyon.  Here the front lines peter out, and beyond to the west and north lies territory largely devoid of military forces.  Indeed, moving north from Noyon one does not encounter a significant military force until Antwerp, where the Belgian Army is contained by German forces.  The small military presence that does exist in this space consists of small cavalry detachments and a few reserve divisions, not nearly enough to hold any position in strength.  For several weeks this area has been home to small skirmishes and hit-and-run raids, but as the armies grapple along the Aisne this void starts to draw the attention of both sides.  It offers the potential of a decisive victory to the army that can arrive first and turn the flank of the enemy.  The movement of forces into this gap becomes known as 'The Race to the Sea.'  To a significant degree, it is a race of logistics - who can move the greatest forces the quickest.  In this the French, with their intact railway network, have an advantage opposed to the Germans who are still repairing the lines damaged during their advance.  However, the limits of logistics means that armies arrive a division or a corps at a time, instead of all at once, leading to piecemeal commitment of forces.

- New Chief of the General Staff Erich von Falkenhayn formulates his strategy for further operations today.  His focus remains on the Western Front, where 1st through 5th and 7th armies are to hold the present line, and launch counterattacks if able to tie down French forces.  Believing that Nancy cannot be taken, the bulk of 6th Army is to depart Lorraine and head north.  Some units are to support 1st Army on the western flank of the German line.  He also desires to expedite the capture of Antwerp, to secure the northern flank of the German line and free the forces currently covering the city to redeploy elsewhere.  Most of 6th Army, however, is to deploy in the area of Maubeuge to conduct operations westward and perhaps turn the northern flank of the French lines and achieve a decisive victory.  Thus, despite the defeat of the Marne, Falkenhayn still believes that the German army can achieve a decisive victory in the west.

- Joffre's gaze is also turning to the empty spaces on the map north of Noyon.  Today he disbands the existing 2nd Army in Lorraine, its remaining forces absorbed by 1st Army to the south.  Instead, General Castlenau is brought west where he will command a new 2nd Army that is to assemble in the vicinity of Amiens and the Somme River, consisting of units drawn from the old 2nd Army as well as from 1st Army and a cavalry corps drawn from 5th Army.

- In East Prussia the German 8th Army crosses the border in pursuit of the Russian 1st Army.  The Russians offer no significant resistance beyond rearguard actions, General Rennenkampf willing at present to trade space for time to recover from the Battle of the Masurian Lakes.

- In Serbia, the Austro-Hungarian 5th Army has managed to secure several bridgeheads across the Drina River, though the Serbian defense remains intact.

- In South Africa, despite the efforts of Prime Minister Botha and Minister of Defence Smuts, the flame of rebellion briefly flickers today.  Though the precise intentions of the conspirators remain ellusive, it is clear that a number of leading figures within the South African armed forces and the Boer community have decided to oppose the invasion of German South-West Africa, approved by the South African Parliament in the past week.  Within the army they include Commandant-General C. F. Beyers, Major J. C. G. Kemp, and Lieutenant-Colonel S. G. Martiz, the latter assigned by Beyers to command Force B of the invasion expedition.  They also count among their numbers Boer ex-generals C. R. de Wet and J. H. De La Rey, the latter a prominent and popular political figure.  This morning Beyers and Kemp submit their resignations from the South African army to Smuts.  Though likely intended to be the signal for a rebellion, what happens next derails everything.  As Beyers and De La Rey drive to Johannesburg in the afternoon, they fail to stop at a police checkpoint, and a police officer, mistaking De La Rey for a member of sought-after gang, shoots and kills him.  Though accidental, the death of De La Rey shocks Beyers and the others.  De La Rey had believed in an almost mystical destiny for himself as the saviour of the Boer people, who would lead them to independence.  His death, on the contrary, strikes his companions as perhaps a contrary judgement on their intentions.  Whatever their intentions had been, the others take no further action this day.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

September 14th, 1914

- This morning French and British units on the north bank of the Aisne River advance against the German defence lines.  The latter has dug in along the crest of the plateau, rendering their trenches almost invisible until the French and British are almost upon them.  The French 6th Army fights its way up the heights before being checked by the Germans at the crest.  The greatest success of the day is achieved by the BEF's I Corps under General Haig, which secured a position on the plateau, though it was short of the Chemin des Dames road.  To its right the French 5th Army attacked in the direction of Craonne, but was largely unsuccessful.  Further east the French 9th and 4th armies were also coming up against the main German line of defence.

By the end of today's fighting, it has become clear to the French and British generals that the German retreat has ended, and that the enemy intends to hold its present positions.  Tonight, Joffre issues a new directive to his armies instructing them that methodical attacks will need to be undertaken to achieve further advances, and than any position gained will have to be fortified immediately against possible German counterattacks.

- This evening General Lyncker conveys to Moltke the Kaiser's order to report himself sick.  Despite his anxieties, Moltke wants to remain in command, but not only have most of his fellow officers lost confidence in him, but crucially so has the Kaiser.  Wilhelm's trust in Moltke never really recovered from the fatal interview of August 1st, and failure in the West has eroded whatever remained.  He had demonstrated indecision and hesitancy, and plagued by a chronic pessimism.  Indeed, it can be said that he cracked under the pressure of the culminating moment of his military career - he found himself paralyzed by the significance of each choice he had to make.  Of course, defeat at the Marne is not just Moltke's responsibility, but as the Chief of the General Staff he is ultimately responsible, and becomes the needed scapegoat for failure.

Moltke, though he is no longer in command, is not formally relieved of his post.  The German high command does not wish to admit that it has been defeated in the West, which a public dismissal of Moltke just days after the Marne would indicate.  Indeed, public pronouncements in Germany never admit that the Germans lost the Battle of the Marne - it is depicted as a mere redeployment preceding further offensive operations.  Thus the unwillingness of the German army to admit to itself that it was defeated on the Marne, and all the consequences that entails, is mirrored by the German public.

Moltke's replacement is Minister of War Erich von Falkenhayn.  Young at only fifty-three years of age, he owes his appointment in part due to his friendship with the Kaiser.  However, Falkenhayn is more than an imperial toady - he is a Prussian Junker who has commanded a Guards regiment, shown skill as Minister of War, and has a reputation for energy and decisiveness.  Moreover, since he does not give up the post of Minister of War and had already been at OHL, his ascension to command can be obscured.

- Considering the Russian defeats in East Prussia, scapegoats are necessary.  With General Samsonov dead, the next logical target is General Zhilinskii, who as commander of North-West Front was responsible for 1st and 2nd armies.  He is dismissed from his post today, replaced by General Ruzski, formerly of 3rd Army.  He brings to his new command the caution and hesitancy he showed in the recent battles in Galicia.

- The attack of the Austro-Hungarian 5th Army, still struggling to cross the Drina River, has achieved at least one objective - responding to the attack, the Serbian 1st Army returns across the Save River this morning to support the Serbian defense.

- The British armed merchant liner Carmania arrives at 11am this morning at Trinidad Island, 600 miles off the Brazilian coast in the south Atlantic.  It had been ordered to investigate the island on the suspicion it is being used as a coaling base by German raiders.  Sure enough, it spots three German ships at the islands - two colliers busy transferring coal to the German armed merchant liner Cap Trafalgar.  The two colliers promptly flee the scene, while the first battle in history between ocean liners is fought.  Carmania significantly outguns Cap Trafalgar - the former has eight 4.7 inch guns to the latter's two 4-inch guns.  Within an hour the German ship has taken a ferocious beating, and sinks at 150pm.  Carmania, with significant damage itself, including five holes at the waterline, is unable to taken on survivors of Cap Trafalgar, but does not interfere when one of the German colliers returns to pick up the lifeboats.  Carmania for its part limps to Gibraltar for repairs.

- The German East Asiatic Squadron arrives at Samoa just before dawn this morning, but finds the harbour empty except for two American sailing ships.  Sending landing parties ashore to attempt to recapture the island would have been futile, so the squadron departs without firing a shot.  Radio intercepts indicate that the wireless station at Apia, outside the range of the squadron's guns, is broadcasting the presence of the German ships.  Admiral Spee thus decides on a simple ruse - though his ultimate destination is the west coast of South America, he sails northwest until out of sight of Samoa before turning eastward.  This deception works - the British believe that the German East Asiatic Squadron is returning to the west Pacific.

At the same time as the Germans are sailing away from Samoa, the British search for the enemy squadron is stepped up.  A signal is sent to a British squadron currently in the River Platte under the command of Rear Admiral Christopher Craddock.  The original mission for Craddock's squadron was to hunt the German light cruiser Dresden in the South Atlantic, but today his assignment changes.  The Admiralty informs Craddock that the German East Asiatic Squadron may be heading to the Straits of Magellan to pass into the South Atlantic.  Craddock is to leave sufficient ships to deal with Dresden while sailing with a force capable of sinking Scharnhorst and Gneisenau.  Reinforcements are also being sent - the slow pre-dreadnought Canopus and the modern armoured cruiser Defence.

- In the Indian Ocean, the German light cruiser Emden is terrorizing British trade, having sunk eight merchant ships near Calcutta.  In response, all merchants in the Bay of Bengal were ordered to remain in port - precisely the disruption of trade that Emben's captain had hoped for on detaching his ship from the rest of the German East Asiatic Squadron.

Saturday, September 13, 2014

September 13th, 1914

- After closing up to the Aisne River yesterday, today the British and Entente armies attempt to force a number of crossings.  For the most part, the Germans do not defend at the river's edge, but rather are positioned on the heights to the north, and pouring accurate artillery fire down on advancing Entente forces.  Most of the bridges over the Aisne have been destroyed, and the heavy rains have left the river deeper than usual, so much of the day is spent by engineers constructing and maintaining pontoon bridges over which infantry and artillery can pass.  They do so under constant bombardment, and take heavy losses.

Nevertheless, at several places Entente units are able to secure bridgeheads across the Aisne.  The French 6th Army faces the German 1st Army frontally and is unable to cross at Soissons due to artillery fire.  They are, however, able to do so further west, about halfway between Soissons and the confluence of the Aisne and the Oise Rivers at Compiègne.  To the east, by nightfall most of the BEF is across the Aisne and on the slopes leading up to the plateau to the north.  Further upstream much of the French 5th Army had gotten across the Aisne, though the key crossing at Berry-au-Bac remained in German hands at nightfall.  5th Army also liberates Rheims today, cavalry patrols entering the city at 6am.  Despite liberating several villages outside Rheims, the French advance is halted just north of the city, as 9th Army is unable to get across the Suippes River in strength.  Crucially, Rheims remains in range of German artillery.

As the British and French get across the Aisne, the first units of the German 7th Army, transferred from Lorraine, arrive to man the front between 1st Army to its west and 2nd Army to its east.  Thus the gap that had existed between the two German armies, and which played such a decisive role at the Marne, has been closed before the British and French were able to exploit its existence.  The German retirement from the Marne has thus achieved its foremost objective - close the gap before the Entente can take advantage of it.

German dead after the retreat across the Aisne.

- The open space to the northwest of the German 1st and French 6th armies appears to be the ideal place for cavalry to operate and potentially turn the flank of the enemy.  In practice, cavalry proves unsuitable to this task.  Crucially, the issue is not defensive weaponry, but the pace of operations.  The first six weeks of the war in the west have demonstrated that cavalry divisions are all too quickly worn out.  The rapid retreat in August, then the turn back northwards after the Marne, has left cavalry units, and in particular their horses, exhausted.  Shoes for the horses frequently broke, stops for water were forbidden to maintain the pace of movement, and fodder was often nowhere to be found.  Thus, even before the advent of trench warfare in the West, the cavalry was demonstrating that it could not execute the responsibilities it had been given - reconnaissance, flank protection, and screening.  Today, General Sordet's Cavalry Corps, after an operation along the Oise River in the direction of Soissons, returns to French lines today exhausted and without having accomplished anything.

The front lines along the Aisne River Sept. 13th to 14th, 1914.

- The Russian 1st Army crosses over the German border and returns to Russian territory.  Though having to give up all of its gains of August, the retreat has preserves 1st Army, and ensures that it does not suffer the same fate as 2nd Army.  The escape does come with a price - 1st Army has suffered 100 000 casualties in the Battle of the Masurian Lakes.

For Ludendorff, the battle has been a frustrating one.  Though the Russians have been driven from German territory, the timely retreat of the Russian 1st Army stymied any attempt to annihilate it.  He is critical of François' management of I Corps, but in practice the issues that prevented an encirclement of the Russians - advancing units outrunning supply, fatigue, delays in bringing up reinforcements, the arrival of enemy reserves - are endemic to battles in the First World War.  Further, the German 8th Army, though victorious, has been bloodied as well, suffering approximately 70 000 casualties.

- The Austro-Hungarian 5th Army attempts a second time to cross the Drina River, hoping to take advantage of the success of XVI Corps to the south.  Heavy rain hampers operations, and forces that do make it across the Drina find themselves under accurate fire from Serbian artillery.

- The British submarine E9 today torpedoes and sinks the German light cruiser Hera off the Frisian coast.

Friday, September 12, 2014

September 12th, 1914

- The German 1st and 2nd armies today cross the Aisne River, which flows east to west before entering the Oise River and Compiègne.  To the north of the Aisne runs a long plateau several hundred feet above the river valley, and ending on average a mile north of the river.  The western portion of this ridge is known as the Chemin des Dames after an east-west road named for the daughters of Louis XV.  It is on the southern edge of this plateau that the Germans stop their retreat.  Four weeks of constant movement is now at an end - as an example, III Corps of 1st Army has marched 653 kilometres since August 17th.  Here the German soldiers begin to dig in, expecting the British and French armies following them will attack.  This is the first appearance of a phenomenon that will in time become synonymous with the Western Front.  At this time, the trenches are crude affairs - little more than glorified ditches.  It takes time to learn how to construct the most effective trenches, using shelters, support trenches, zig-zagging trenches, etc.  Of course, learning how to build trenches takes much less time than learning how to successfully attack them.

- As the Germans dig in north of the Aisne, the British and French are closing up to the river itself.  With most of the bridges blown, much of the day is spent in long-range artillery duels with German guns on the opposite banks.  With continuing rain and poor visibility, the Entente armies are not yet aware that the Germans have stopped their retreat and are digging in.  They are preparing to cross the Aisne tomorrow, and hope remains that the advance will continue - Joffre today dispatches two divisions to the French 6th Army on the far left of the line, hoping the additional strength will allow it to envelop the western flank of the German 1st Army.

- This afternoon retreating German units evacuate Rheims, withdrawing to higher ground just north of the city.

- The Belgian sortie from Antwerp, begun on the 9th, comes to an end today, as the Belgian army retreats back behind the city's fortifications.  Though they Belgians were unable to hold any ground, the sortie necessitated the redirection of several German divisions to contain it, a key aim of the move.

- Russian Foreign Secretary Sergei Sazonov issues today to Britain and France his 'Thirteen Points', which embody the war aims of the Russian government.  According to Sazonov, 'the principle objective . . . should be to strike at German power and its pretensions to military and political domination.'  To this end, Sazonov called for the formation of a Polish state under Russian overlordship and which would included eastern Posen from Germany and western Galicia from Austria-Hungary.  Russia itself would take the portion of East Prussia around the Niemen River from Germany and eastern Galicia from Austria-Hungary.  Russia also supported the war aims of its allies - France was to receive Alsace-Lorraine and any neighbouring portions of Germany it desired, and Serbia was to acquire Bosnia-Herzegovina and most of the Dalmatian coast.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

September 11th, 1914

- At 4am, Moltke departs OHL to visit the headquarters of 3rd through 5th armies.  At 5th Army, its commander Crown Prince Wilhelm assures Moltke that the situation is satisfactory, and paints an overly-rosy picture of the previous days' assault.  At 11am he arrives at 3rd Army headquarters, where General Hausen argues that his force can hold its ground, despite several divisions being pushed back by Foch's 9th Army.  Moltke, however, is concerned that the overstretched 3rd Army is barely combat effective.  Just before 1pm Moltke arrives at 4th Army headquarters, where Duke Albrecht says he is confident he can hold his position and can loan units to 3rd Army to his west to shore up Hausen's line.  While there, however, a message from Bülow arrives, stating that indications are the French are driving on Vitry-le-François, which poses a grave threat to 3rd Army.  Moltke again gives in to his innate pessimism - fearing that 3rd Army is about to be shattered, he orders 3rd through 5th armies to retreat in conformity with 1st and 2nd Army.  Thus the retreat of German forces now encompasses all those west of Verdun.  Ground bitterly fought over and won in recent days is now yielded to the enemy and, his defeat now comprehensive, Moltke returns to the gloom of OHL.

The Germans are able to make good their retreat, as, despite a series of short, sharp fights between cavalry and German rearguards, the exhausted British and French forces remain unable to bring the bulk of the German armies to battle.  A sudden rainfall and cold snap further impedes the Entente advance, deep mud slows horse-drawn carts and artillery.  Clouds and mist, meanwhile, prevent aerial reconnaissance, leaving the Entente commanders in the dark as to German dispositions.  Crucially they are in the dark as to whether the Germans are in a disorganized rout or are conducting a well-managed retreat and likely to halt and fight in the next couple of days.  Overall, the British and French forces advance only fifteen kilometres.

- In Lorraine, under pressure from the counterattack of the French 2nd Army, the German 6th Army falls back from before Nancy.  Advancing French columns are able to reoccupy villages that the Germans had spent so much blood capturing in the previous week, and the Germans have left behind mountains of ammunition along with large numbers of wounded in their retreat.  However narrowly, the German threat to Nancy has been driven off, which allows Joffre to redeploy units as necessary from his right to his left.

- With the Austro-Hungarian 1st Army in full retreat, and the Russian 5th Army pouring around his northern flank unopposed, the commander of the Austro-Hungarian 4th Army orders a retreat to the southwest today to avoid encirclement.  With two armies now retiring, even Conrad is able to realize that his armies in Galicia have suffered a decisive defeat, and understands that the continued advance in particular of the Russian 5th Army threatens their annihilation.  Facing the inevitable, Conrad orders all of his armies to retreat to the San River.  The retreat is chaotic and disorderly - no preparations had been made for a retreat, believing it would demoralize the soldiers, so roads are overcrowded and massive amounts of food and supplies have to be burnt as there is no transportation available to move them westwards.  Total casualties for both sides combined in the Battle of Rawa-Ruska are approximately 150 000.

The Austro-Hungarian retreat after the Battle of Rawa-Ruska, Sept. 11th to 26th, 1914.

- The Australian Squadron arrives this morning off Rabaul on the island of New Pommerania (modern New Britain), capital of the German colony of New Guinea (the colony also included Kaiser Wilhelmsland on the island of New Guinea itself, and other surrounding islands).  Naval reservists are sent ashore, and while Rabaul was undefended, a small force of German reservists and indigenous soldiers impeded the Australian advance to the wireless station at Bitapaka, the capture of which was a key reason for the invasion.  After several hours of fighting, the German force is defeated, and the wireless station occupied.

German New Guinea.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

September 10th, 1914

- At 1240pm, Lieutenant-Colonel Hentsch returns to OHL in Luxembourg, and presents his report of his journey to Moltke.  He assigns blame for the retreat to General Kluck, whose withdrawal of III and IX Corps to the Ourcq had created the gap through which the British had advanced.  Perhaps to preempt criticism of himself, he claimed that 1st Army had already issued orders to retreat, and Hentsch's role was limited to indicated the direction in which they should withdraw.  At present the retreat was limited to 1st and 2nd armies - 3rd Army was expected to be able to regroup south of Châlons-sur-Marne, while 4th and 5th armies could remain in place.

On hearing Hentsch's report, Moltke's mood temporarily revives - the withdrawal will close the gap between 1st and 2nd armies, after which they can go back over to the attack, and the rest of the armies will not have to yield their gains.  Hentsch suggests to Moltke that he visit 3rd through 5th armies (but not 1st or 2nd) to see for himself their situations, and the Chief of the General Staff agrees to set out tomorrow morning.  Moltke also places Kluck under Bülow orders for their withdrawal, implicitly assigning blame to Kluck for the gap that opened between the two.

If Moltke's mood has improved, his fellow officers at OHL are all too aware that a successful retreat is hardly something to be celebrated, given the objective of the German army in the West at the start of the campaign.  Nor do they hesitate to assign blame, as General Moritz von Lyncker, chief of the Military Cabinet, commented today: 'In sum, one must appreciate that the entire operation - that is, the encirclement [of French forces] from the north and northwest - has been utterly unsuccessful.  Moltke is totally crushed by events; his nerves are not up to the situation.'

- As the German right withdraws, Joffre understands that the rapid pursuit of the enemy is now essential.  As he states in his Particular Instruction No. 21 issued today, 'to affirm and exploit the success, it is necessary to pursue energetically and leave the enemy no respite: victory depends on the legs of our infantry.'  The French armies, however, are exhausted from weeks of constant marching followed by the intense fighting along the Marne.  Many simply lack the physical strength to pursue the retreating Germans as quickly as necessary to catch the retreating Germans.  Today the most rapid advance is undertaken by the BEF - not surprising, given that it was much less involved in the fighting of the Marne than the French armies on either flank.  I Corps engages in severe fighting with the German rear-guard near Château-Thierry, taking two thousand prisoners.  However, the rear-guard does its job, allowing the bulk of the retreating German forces to avoid battle.

- In German ranks, the bitter disappointment at the order to retreat has not led to despair or disorder.  As exhausted as the German soldiers are, units remain intact and responsive to instructions from their commanding officers.  Already thoughts are turning to the next phase of the campaign.  Understanding that the war will now be longer than expected, orders are issued for the retreating soldiers to bring with them all equipment that might be of military value - in what could be seen as stereotypical Prussian efficiency, the dead are to be stripped of their weapons, ammunition, and even uniforms so they can be reused in the battles to come.

The retreat of the German armies from the Marne, indicated by the empty blue arrows above, September 10th to 13th, 1914.

- West of Verdun, Crown Prince Wilhelm, commanding 5th Army, orders a final attack on the French 3rd Army opposite.  His objective is to silent the dreaded French 75s, and decides to emulate the attack of Hausen's 3rd Army and launch a nighttime bayonet attack.  At 2am, in a cold rain, a hundred thousand German soldiers with bayonets fixed rush towards the French positions.  The attack is a dismal failure.  From the start, the artillery of two French corps slaughter the advancing Germans with rapid and accurate artillery fire, and at 745am the French counterattack, driving back the panicked and disorganized Germans.  The defeat breaks the offensive potential of 5th Army - among junior officers, leading from the front, casualties today are as high as 40%.

- In Lorraine the French 2nd Army launches a counterattack against the German 6th Army opposite.  In bitter combat the Germans begin to be pushed back.  The mobility of the French 75mm artillery pieces is a vital advantage, allowing them to keep up with the advancing infantry.

- In East Prussia I Corps seizes the town of Lyck as it advances to the northeast.  However, supply problems are bedeviling François' corps, and he is having trouble getting reserve forces to the front line.  Moreover, Rennenkampt of the Russian 1st Army is conducting a skilled retreat, shifting forces along his front to keep the pursuing Germans off-balance, and the Russians are withdrawing out of the envelopment that was briefly threatened by the attack of I Corps.

The retreat of the Russian 1st Army from the Battle of the Masurian Lakes, September 10th to 13th, 1914.

- Conrad today makes his first visit to the frontline, visiting 3rd Army.  His brief exposure to the plight of that force does little to raise his awareness of the difficulties his armies are facing and the nature of modern warfare.

- The German light cruiser Emden, detached from the German East Asiatic Squadron to raid commerce in the Indian Ocean, captures its first ship, the Greek collier Pontoporos.