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.

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