Wednesday, October 22, 2014

October 22nd, 1914

- The battle intensifies between Ypres and the Channel.  In the pre-dawn hours, the German 26th Reserve Infantry Regiment of III Reserve Corps closes up to the Yser River just south of Schoore.  By using the bayonet to clear out Belgian outposts east of the river, the defenders on the west bank have not been alarmed.  Using the cover of night, engineers bridge the river at two places, and by dawn most of two battalions are on the west bank.  The Germans are able to resist Belgian counterattacks, but the small bridgehead comes under fierce and sustained artillery fire, preventing reinforcement during the day.  Only after nightfall can additional German soldiers get across the river.

- To the south, a monumental attack is launched by the Germans against the British I and IV Corps.  The British line around Ypres today forms a semi-circle, and it is against its northern and eastern portions that the attack falls.  The bulk of the German XVI Reserve Corps, assisted by a division of XXIII Reserve Corps, throws itself against the line held by the British 1st Division between Bixschoote and Langemarck, while to the southeast the British 2nd Division spends most of the day under a heavy artillery bombardment before the Germans attempt to rush the enemy trenches at dusk.  Further south, 7th Division of IV Corps is assaulted by the German XVII Reserve Corps south of Zonnebeke.

The trial of the four reserve corps consigned to the attack by Falkenhayn is now at hand.  They form up for the advance, officers, some on horseback, in front, with the soldiers in massed ranks.  The volunteers of the corps have had time only to learn the most basic parade-ground maneouvres, while those with prior military training have either forgotten the bulk of it or learnt it so long ago as to be practically useless.  There are only a sprinkling of officers and NCOs through the corps who have seen combat in this war, and thus the infantry advance in the mass formations of peacetime - they have not gained the knowledge learnt at great cost over the past few months of the realities of the modern battlefield.  The instructions for the formations are simple - advance and overwhelm the enemy.  As they march into battle, some of the units begin to sing 'Deutschland über Alles' or 'Die Wacht am Rhein.'  In part they do so as a recognition signal - so inexperienced are they that they fear firing on their own soldiers, so singing the two great German patriotic songs is an unmistakable signal of their identity.  The singing also, however, reflects the great patriotism amongst in particular the volunteers, those who rushed to enlist in August 1914.  These volunteers, many high school and university students, sometimes with their teachers alongside, represent the pinnacle of German war enthusiasm - they march into battle because they choose to, believing in the righteousness of their cause and the irresistibility of their advance.

Their singing reaches the British soldiers huddling in their meagre trenches opposite.  As the Germans advance, flags flying in near-perfect parade-ground formation, the British open fire.  The patriotism and enthusiasm of the German volunteers meets the fire of machine guns and rifles, and the result is never in doubt.  Huge swathes are cut through the German ranks - the British regulars, trained to fire fifteen aimed rifle shots a minute, fire between 500 and 600 times today.  Hundreds and hundreds of Germans are wounded and killed as they attempt to march to the British line.  Now the inexperience of the reserve corps manifests itself in another way - they do not know when enemy fire is too intense to continue.  Not knowing better, they continue to advance long after it becomes painfully obvious to those with battlefield experience that all further attacks will accomplish is pile the German bodies higher.  Even when the Germans pull back, they simply reform and advance again.  In some cases they get as close as fifty yards to the British trenches, a range at which no British regular could possibly miss.  Even some of the British officers cannot help but admire the courage of the Germans in continuing to attack.  But as the past few months have shown, courage against the machine gun can have only one outcome.

The German attacks accomplish nothing of strategic significance.  The small village of Kortekeer is taken on the front of the British 1st Division, but no breakthrough is achieved and the British are quick to plan a counterattack.  By nightfall the sound of singing has been replaced by the piteous moans of the wounded and dying.  British soldiers peering through the twilight sees the fields before them covered by fallen Germans.  Here and there a wounded German, sometimes variously with arms or legs missing, attempts to crawl to safety.  Many of the German formations have lost half or more of their strength.

From today's attacks, and ones by the reserve corps in subsequent days, a legend will grow in Germany - the Kindermord, or Massacre of the Innocents.  The proportion of the reserve corps composed of young volunteers is inflated, such that the attack is depicted as the ultimate expression of German patriotism.  Far from being seen as a defeat, the  Kindermord comes to be celebrated as the triumph of national will, of how no trial, however arduous, can extinguish the flame of German patriotism.  The anniversary of the Kindermord comes to be celebrated each year in wartime Germany as a symbol of the unshakeable will of the German people and faith in ultimate victory.  After the war, the Kindermord will be appropriated by the right, including the Nazis, for whom the Battle of Langemarck, as the Germans call it, becomes a key touchstone for the celebration of German militarism and the patriotism that was betrayed by the 'stab in the back.'

The reality of the Kindermord is more prosaic - the soldiers of the reserve corps die miserable deaths, often without even seeing the enemy or firing a shot.  For many, the rude introduction to the realities of modern warfare become the last few seconds of their lives.  They believed they were marching to victory; instead they advanced into oblivion.

The German assaults on the British lines around Ypres, October 22nd and 23rd, 1914.

- Along the line held by the British II Corps, an early morning German attack catches the 1st Battalion, Cheshire Regiment in the open digging trenches, and within a matter of minutes their numbers are reduced from 382 to 153.  The battalion falls back and the Germans advance until held by reserve British forces.  In light of the increasing pressure, and concerned about remaining in touch with French cavalry to his north, General Smith-Dorrien orders II Corps to withdraw tonight to a reserve trench line stretching from the La Bassée Canal to Fauquissart.  The retreat is completed overnight without interference from the Germans.

The southern portion of the line held by the British, October 1914.  The thick red line is indicative of the line to which
II Corps withdrew to overnight.

- This afternoon Germans launch a major attack on the village of St. Laurent, just east of Arras, under the eyes of the Kaiser, who has arrived to witness the fall of the city.  The French Alpine Division, reinforced by cavalry that had just arrived, fight a desparate battle, and heavy fighting continues into the evening as the two forces struggle over the ruins of the village.

- This morning the old pre-dreadnought Canopus arrives at Port Stanley in the Falklands.  Its captain confirms to Rear-Admiral Craddock that his ship is capable of only 12 knots, and further that it cannot leave port again until he had fixed the ship's condensers and cleaned its boilers.  Craddock sees Canopus as no value to his command, but still feels himself bound by the earlier Admiralty orders to attack the German East Asiatic Squadron.  In the back of his mind is the escape of the Goeben and Breslau in the Mediterranean in the first days of the war.  There, Admiral Troubridge had decided against engaging the German ships with his inferior squadron, and he had been widely criticized, with some calling into question his honour and courage.  Craddock will not allow this to happen to himself - to his friend Admiral Hedworth Meux he writes today that 'I will take care I do not suffer the fate of poor Troubridge.'  The only course of action consistent not only with Admiralty orders but also with the dictates of honour is that he sail with his squadron, without Canopus, to fight the German East Asiatic Squadron.  He does so knowing that there is little chance of success - to the governor of the Falklands he states that he will not see him again.  Thus this afternoon Craddock aboard Good Hope slips out of harbour sailing westward, to join Glasgow, Monmouth, and Otranto where they will seek out battle, while Canopus is ordered to follow when possible with three colliers.  Thus the reverberations of the escape of the Goeben and Breslau continue to echo.

- Enver Pasha today transmits the Ottoman war plan for hostilities against the Entente to Germany.  It was not a monumentally-detailed plan for mobilization and operations in the vein of one produced by the German General Staff.  Indeed, it is not readily apparent that Enver sought any professional advice in developing it.  Instead, the plan contains six 'options' for war, though not in any particular order.  First, the 'new' Turkish fleet would bombard the Black Sea ports of Russia.  Second would be the declaration of holy war against the Entente, inspiring their Muslim subjects to rebellion.  Third, the Ottomans would hold the line in the Caucasus, tying down Russian units.  Fourth would be an offensive against Egypt, possibly by XII Corps, seizing the Suez Canal as its first phase.  Fifth, if Bulgaria entered the war the Ottomans would join with them in attacking Serbia.  Finally, the possibility is raised of deploying Ottoman forces to the north Black Sea coast.

The importance of the document does not rest with its detailed plans for military operations, of which there are very few details given.  Instead, the Ottoman war plan is designed primarily as a political document to demonstrate to the Germans the value of Ottoman military support.  In particular, the invasion of Egypt, the option given the most detail in the plan, accomplishes something that the Germans themselves cannot - attack the British Empire directly.  Thus by emphasizing Ottoman military potential against Britain, they enhance their stature in the eyes of the German General Staff.  Pre-war dismissals by German officials of the military value of the Ottoman army give way to tantalizing and enticing possibilities of striking deadly blows against the British.

- In South Africa, the Boer dissidents decide to rise in rebellion against the government.  They do so in protest of the war, the invasion of German South-West Africa, and conscription.  They also draw support from landless Boers who fear the growing urbanization of the country will drive them into the cities and into the working-class, and those who feel the traditional Boer values of egalitarianism and republicanism are under threat.  However, the rebellion divides the Boer populace, and significant pillars of the community, including both the Dutch Reformed Church and J. B. M. Hertzog, leader of the National Party, giving the Boer Rebellion the character of a domestic dispute among Boers, as opposed to a unified Boer uprising against British occupation and colonization.

- In August the German ports of Dar es Salaam and Tanga in their East African colony were declared to be open cities, but today the British announce that they are voiding the agreements.  They have developed plans for a two-pronged offensive against the northern portion of the colony, both utilizing units of the Indian Army - Detachment B of the Indian Expeditionary Force is to land and seize Tanga, while Detachment C will advance overland to Moshi.  Once both towns are taken the British will control both ends of the railway that connects the two, placing them in position to advance on the central railway in the colony.  The same railway, however, gives the defending Germans the ability to rapidly shift forces between the two threatened points.

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