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  Since the outbreak of the war, this part of the North Sea has been patrolled by the outdated armoured cruisers of the Bacchante class.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.

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