Sunday, October 26, 2014

October 26th, 1914

- Heavy German assaults on the Belgian left and centre of their line between Nieuport and Dixmude force the defenders back upon the railway embankment.  King Albert pleads for further reinforcements from his allies; with the heavy fighting at Dixmude and to the south, they have none to give.  The Belgian command staff begin to discuss a further withdrawal, and cavalry are posted on bridges to the rear to cover a potential retreat.  King Albert, however, knowing such a withdrawal might unhinge the entire Entente line in Flanders and lead to the destruction of the Belgian army, forbids any retreat.  The Belgians turn to the only other option available - the sea.  Much of the land between Nieuport and Dixmude is below sea level, and the waters are kept out by a series of locks and sluices.  If the locks can be opened at high tide, and closed at low tide, the land can be flooded, making further German assaults impossible.  The trouble is finding any civilians in the area who actually know where the lock cranks are and the order in which they should be opened and closed.  Fortuitously for the Belgians, an elderly lockkeeper named Hendrik Geeraert is found who knows how the lock system works.

- In Dixmude the bitter fighting has continued through this morning, when several battalions of Senegalese soldiers arrive to reinforce the defenders.  The commander of the German XXII Reserve Corps reluctantly orders 43rd Reserve Division back to its starting trenches.  Dixmude is now an utter ruin, and over the past two days of street fighting at least 161 civilians are deliberately killed by the attacking Germans.

- The focus of both Field Marshal French and General d'Urbal remains an attack to the northeast, along the lines attempted over the past few days.  The French IX Corps is to be reinforced by 31st Division today, and General Haig orders an infantry and artillery brigade from 1st Division to support the French.  Again, however, little progress is made.  Given his approaching reinforcements, General Pierre Dubois of IX Corps decides to widen the breadth of his attack to include Poelcappelle and Passchendaele.  This, however, disperses French strength instead of concentrating it.  Moreover, the arrival of 31st Division is delayed by masses of refugees on the road, and only arrives at St. Julien, its assembly point, at 5pm, too late to participate in the day's attack.  Some of the French formations are also badly managed - several wander in front of the British portion of the line, delaying the operations of both.  French infantry struggle to advance under German rifle and artillery fire - at the village of Zonnebeke, the air is filled with clouds of red dust from brick houses annihilated by the explosion of German shells.  At best IX Corps is able to advance between four and five hundred yards.  On their south the British 2nd Division of I Corps make no progress, their advance disrupted early in the afternoon when a false report of an imminent German counterattack arrives at Haig's headquarters.

- At Kruiseecke, the plight of 20th Brigade of 7th Division worsens.  The poorly-sited trenches have been under constant bombardment for thirty-six hours, with great numbers of British soldiers buried by collapsing trenches and sand blown into the air clogging rifles.  The nerves of the defenders are thus already frail when a major German attack by fifteen battalions at 9am.  After bitter fighting Germans begin to infiltrate the British line after 10am, which causes widespread chaos as some Germans shout out 'Retire! Retire!'  Belief that a general retreat has been ordered appears entirely plausible to many of the companies, given the heavy bombardment and enemy attack.  Individually and in small groups, British soldiers withdraw from their trenches and stream to the rear.  Three miles of the front held by 20th Brigade have been lost, and the Germans are able to advance several thousand yards, capturing Kruiseecke in particular and 'caving in' the point of the British salient southeast of Ypres.  7th Division calls on I Corps and the Cavalry Corps for reinforcements, and when General Haig arrives to the rear of 20th Brigade's position he is 'astounded at the terror-stricken men coming back.'  The reinforcements are able to create a new defensive line, and many soldiers of 20th Brigade who broke in the morning regain composure once they are out of the firing line.  Nevertheless, the brigade suffers over a thousand casualties today, and 7th Division as a whole has lost 162 officers and 4320 other ranks over the past nine days of fighting, the losses constituting 44% and 37% of the numbers they arrived in France with.

The salient around Ypres, October 26th to 29th, 1914.

- Along the front of the British II Corps, the German 14th Reserve Division of VII Corps launches a major assault today against the village of Neuve Chapelle.  The weakest point of the British line was held by 2nd Battalion, Royal Irish Rifles, which after two days of constant artillery bombardment and fighting had been reduced to two officers and seventeen soldiers.  Many of this and neighbouring units had been repeatedly buried when trenches collapsed under shell fire.  When the attack is launched at 4pm, the line held by 2nd Battalion, Royal Irish Rifles collapses, and Germans stream through Neuve Chapelle.  The British battalions north and south of the village, however, are able to hold their trenches, and the reserve company of 1st Battalion, Wiltshires manages to plug the gap.  This evening a counterattack is launched by a number of whatever companies could be assembled at short notice, which makes their co-ordination difficult.  By the end of the day, the southern portion of Neuve Chapelle has been recaptured, but the old trench line and a number of houses remain in German hands.

- Over the past few days Conrad's plan for an offensive by the Austro-Hungarian 1st Army in Poland has fallen apart.  The Russian armies moving across the Vistula River have done so north-to-south, so that by the time Russians appear before 1st Army the bulk of the Russian forces are already west of the river.  Thus instead of fighting only a portion of the enemy, 1st Army finds itself outnumbered almost two to one and have suffered forty thousand casualties.  Today Conrad orders 1st Army to retreat to the southwest, joining the German 9th Army in retreat.  The one salvation for the German and Austro-Hungarian armies is that the poor weather and logistical difficulties within the Russian army prevent an aggressive pursuit.

- Today Talat Pasha, the Ottoman Minister of the Interior, orders the governor of the province of Van, located in eastern Anatolia, to remove the Christian Syriac population in Hakk[a]ri near the Persian border.  In Talat's opinion, this population is potentially subversive, and ought to be relocated to western Anatolia where, safely distant from the Empire's borders, they would pose no security risk after the outbreak of war.  Though the order is not implemented at present, it is an ominous portent of the attitude the Ottoman government will take towards ethnic minorities within the state and the measures to be undertaken against those deemed unreliable.

- The German East Asiatic Squadron arrives today at the island of Más Afuera, 450 miles west of Chile.  Though a possession of Chile, it is inhabited only by fishermen, so Admiral Spee ignores the island's supposed 'neutrality' and stops to coal.

- As the old armoured cruiser Good Hope steams up the Chilean coast to rendezvous with Glasgow, Monmouth, and Otranto, Admiral Craddock signals the Admiralty his intention to find and fight the German East Asiatic Squadron, while Canopus has been left behind to convoy colliers.

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