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.

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