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.

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