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.

2 comments:

  1. Warfare is a fascinating subject. Despite the dubious morality of using violence to achieve personal or political aims. It remains that conflict has been used to do just that throughout recorded history.

    Your article is very well done, a good read.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Warfare is a fascinating subject. Despite the dubious morality of using violence to achieve personal or political aims. It remains that conflict has been used to do just that throughout recorded history.

    Your article is very well done, a good read.

    ReplyDelete