Monday, October 20, 2014

October 20th, 1914

- Today severe fighting occurs along the Western Front from the Channel to south of Arras.  In addition to the full weight of the German 4th Army now brought against the Entente lines, Rupprecht's 6th Army also goes over on to the offensive from Menin to Arras.  At the north end, 5th Reserve Division of III Reserve Corps attacks the Belgian line along the Yser, halfway between Nieuport and Dixmude, supported by the entirety of the corps artillery.  On its left XXII Reserve Corps assaults Dixmude, and though several outlying villages are captured the Belgians and French marines continue to hold on.  Further south XXIII Reserve Corps captures Staden after several hours of street fighting, and are able to advance to the eastern edge of Houthulst Forest, the French cavalry of General de Mitry unable to offer sustained resistance.

On the British side, General Haig's I Corps marches from Ypres to a line extending from Bixschoote, on the southern flank of de Mitry's cavalry, to two kilometres north-west of Zonnebeke.  I Corps experiences no fighting today, but General Byng's 3rd Cavalry Division covering its right is pushed back along with French territorial units, Poelcappelle being lost to the German XXVI Reserve Corps in the afternoon and 3rd Cavalry forced to retreat towards Langemarck.  General Rawlinson of IV Corps orders 7th Infantry Division to continue to push on towards Menin, but by early afternoon reconnaissance makes blindingly obvious that Germans are present in overwhelming numbers, and further advance is impossible.  Falling back to their trenches of the night before, 7th Division is assaulted at 2pm and 4pm by units of the German XXVII Reserve Corps, and though the Germans are able to advance within fifty yards, they are unable to break through.

South of IV Corps is General Allenby's Cavalry Corps, which by early morning was aware that the Germans were turning to attack.  Six German cavalry divisions advance northwest against the lines of the British, crossing the Lys River at several points, and the Cavalry Corps retires to a line stretching from near Zandvoorde through Ploegsteert Wood to Messines.  Though the retreat is conducted in good order, General Allenby is aware that his cavalry is significantly outnumbered, and as the horsemen spend the night furiously digging he signals for assistance.

Further south III Corps is assaulted continuously through the day, with infantry attacks interrupting heavy artillery bombardment.  They find themselves facing two German Corps - XIX and XIII, the latter having moved south from above Lille undetected by the British, where they were replaced by the German cavalry divisions attacking the British Cavalry Corps.  The most notable German success comes at Ennetières, where the 2nd Battalion, Sherwood Foresters are wiped out almost to a man when the village is captured and their position outflanked.

North of La Bassée a counterattack is launched on 2nd Battalion, Royal Irish Regiment at Le Pilly on Aubers Ridge.  The failure of the French to capture Fournes the previous day left the battalion isolated, and though they beat back waves of attacks throughout the morning, by mid-afternoon their ammunition is almost exhausted.  Major E. H. E. Daniell orders the remaining soldiers to fix bayonets, and counterattack in an attempt to break out and return to British lines.  The desperate gamble is a disaster, and the battalion is annihilated - of 578 soldiers who went into battle yesterday, only 30 survivors reach British lines this evening.

The assault of the German 4th and 6th armies, October 20th, 1914.

- In Egypt, the anomalous position of the country in relationship to Britain is of increasing concern to the British officials there.  Egypt technically is a province of the Ottoman Empire, and is 'ruled' by the Khedive, or viceroy, an hereditary position since the mid-19th century.  In practice, the Khedive's powers are largely nominal, and Egypt is ruled by the British through the office of Consul-General.  In peacetime this arrangement had largely suited the British, but the war, and in particular the potential Ottoman entry into the conflict, has significant ramifications.  The Ottoman government aspires to make Egypt more than just a nominal part of its empire, and there was widespread anti-British opinion among educated middle-class Egyptians, some looking to the Ottomans while others yearned for outright independence.  The Khedive himself has pro-Ottoman sympathies, and indeed is at present in Constantinople recovering from an assassination attempt.  British officials fear that if the Ottomans enter the war against Britain, as appears increasingly likely, there is a very real possibility of internal unrest.  Thus even before hostilities have commenced between Britain and the Ottomans, steps are being taken in Egypt to preempt any opposition to the war - today public meetings of more than five people are outlawed.

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