Saturday, October 18, 2014

October 18th, 1914

- Today the German III Reserve Corps launches an attack on the Belgian line between Dixmude and Nieuport.  The land here is low-lying pasture fields, much of which is below sea-level.  A railway connecting the two towns sits only six feet above sea level, and the roads of the region are even lower.  A series of locks at Nieuport drains the Yser River at low tide and keeps the sea out at high tide.

The German attack succeeds in capturing several advanced posts on the eastern side of the river, but fail to secure bridgeheads across the Yser itself.  The Belgian defense is aided by a British naval squadron just offshore, centered on two monitors that bombard the advancing Germans.

- In Flanders there are a number of scattered French units, haphazardly thrown into the fight to plug holes or exhausted after retreating, which include the French marines at Dixmude, several territorial divisions, and a number of cavalry divisions.  Today Joffre organizes these units into a single detachment under the command of General Victor d'Urbal, who will report to Foch.  Of these forces several cavalry divisions under General de Mitry advancing northeast of Ypres occupy Roulers.

Further south, Sir John French orders the British 7th Division of IV Corps to advance on Menin, in co-operation with de Mitry's move towards Roulers.  The division finds itself short of Menin at nightfall, General Rawlinson being concerned of marching beyond his flank support.  The British Cavalry Corps, in the front line between IV Corps to the north and III Corps to the south, is unable to make any progress against a determined German defense west of Comines, and III Corps itself, ordered to advance northeast down the valley of the Lys River, finds itself running to the main German line defending Lille and can make little headway.  Finally, II Corps seizes a bridge just under a mile east of Givenchy, but further progress is halted by German machine gun fire from brick-stacks to the north and a factory to the south that had so far avoided destruction from artillery fire.

- Overall, the deployment and advance of the BEF in Flanders has not achieved its objectives.  Though it has to date covered the northern flank of the French line reaching up from Arras, its attempt to turn the German flank has been painfully slow, and objectives such as La Bassée, to say nothing of Lille, remain out of reach.  Moreover, there is no awareness of the impending German offensive - though information from the Belgians suggests German reserves have been marching west from Brussels, it is generally believed that these are second-class troops who will simply take over portions of the German line.  Indeed, Sir John French's plan remains to continue the advance, and it is believed that the imminent arrival of I Corps, the last to leave the Aisne, will give the attack sufficient weight to push back the Germans, reach Lille, and outflank the enemy.  In reality, this evening the four new reserve corps belonging to 4th Army (XXII, XXIII, XXVI, and XXVII) reach the start line of the planned German attack, arranged north to south approximately ten to seventeen miles east of the Yser and Ypres Canal.  Falkenhayn's grand offensive to win the war in the west is about to begin, and the Entente forces opposite have no idea what is about to descend on them.

- Ludendorff, aware now that 9th Army will not be able to accomplish anything against the Russian numerical superiority in central Poland, issues orders today for 9th Army to retreat beginning on October 20th.  The Russian armies opposite along the Vistula are still not yet fully assembled, but to the south in Galicia the Russians go back onto the attack, recrossing the San River and threatening Przemysl with encirclement again.

- While British strategy regarding German Kamerun has focused on the coast and denying the Germans use of the port of Duala, French strategy has instead aimed at the interior.  The German colony is bordered by French Equatorial Africa to the east and south, and the French were particularly interested in recovering the territory ceded by them to the Germans in 1911 as part of the resolution of the Second Moroccan Crisis.  Thus the first French attacks sees one column advancing westward seize Carnot yesterday, and a second advancing north up the Sanga River takes Nola today.  The advances have been without opposition - in the prior three years the Germans had only begun to integrate the former French territories into their colony, and have left them largely undefended.  Further, though the two attacks were designed to be linked together as one offensive operation, the realities of communication in central Africa - where orders can take weeks to travel from one column to another - makes practical co-ordination impossible.

- At 5pm, the German East Asiatic Squadron, fully coaled and provisioned, departs Easter Island, sailing east to the Chilean coast.

- Yesterday the old pre-dreadnought Canopus left the River Plate, and today its captain signals Admiral Craddock at the Falklands that his ship can only do 12 knots and thus will be unlikely to arrive until the 22nd.  The news is of great concern to Craddock, as it means that adding Canopus to his squadron will slow its speed to 12 knots, which would be far too slow to catch the German East Asiatic Squadron.  Moreover, if they did fight the Germans would be able to use their superior speed to stay out of the range of Canopus' main guns.  The old battleship is thus for all intents and purposes useless to Craddock, he sends the following telegram to the Admiralty: 'I trust circumstances will enable me to force an action, but fear that strategically, owing to Canopus, the speed of my squadron cannot exceed twelve knots.'

In London the telegram is interpreted simply as Craddock informing them of his squadron's speed with Canopus attached, and thus send no reply.  Craddock, however, still feels himself bound by the orders of September 14th to attack the German East Asiatic Squadron.  He is thus faced with an impossible conundrum - keep Canopus and be unable to force battle with the Germans, or leave Canopus behind but be outgunned by the enemy.

No comments:

Post a Comment