Monday, October 27, 2014

October 27th, 1914

- Along the Yser both sides spend the day bombarding each other, the Germans in particular concluding that Dixmude needs another period of intense artillery fire before the town can be seized.  Under the supervision of the elderly lockkeepr Geeraert, this evening the Belgians make a first attempt at opening the locks, but fail due to the low tide level.

- The offensive by the French IX Corps northeast of Ypres continues today, and despite the delayed arrival of 31st Division they again make no significant progress.  Their efforts to advance come under heavy enemy fire from German positions on the high ground at Poelcappelle and Passchendaele, and only the smallest of gains are recorded.  On their right the division and brigade of I Corps in the line are also unable to accomplish anything of note.

- Bitter fighting continues today over the battered remains of the village of Neuve Chapelle, as the British II Corps attempts to recover the lines lost yesterday to the German VII Corps.  General Smith-Dorrien assembles a heterogenous force, which includes Indian troops and French bicyclists and cavalrymen, assault the German defenders repeatedly, which include all twelve battalions of 14th Reserve Division and reinforcements from neighbouring corps.  At 130pm the British attack the northern part of the village, but as the attack falters the Germans launch their own at 230pm in the south of Neuve Chapelle, which pushes the British westward out of the village.  The commitment of the last reserves of II Corps manages to reconstitute the front line, but by this evening Smith-Dorrien is forced to accept the loss of Neuve Chapelle and orders the construction of a new line of trenches to the west.

Though II Corps has managed to hold on, it has been in near-constant combat since its arrival in Flanders, and Smith-Dorrien has repeatedly warned Sir John French that his men are at the end of their endurance.  The BEF commander, who does not have a high opinion of Smith-Dorrien's abilities, nevertheless agrees that II Corps should be withdrawn from the front and replaced by the Indian Corps, the latter having only lent small units as reserves to II and III Corps over the past few days of fighting.

- For the past two days, General Rawlinson's IV Corps has consisted only of 7th Division.  To address this anomalous situation, Field Marshal French decides today to disband IV Corps and reassign 7th Division to General Haig's I Corps.  In part a move to rationalize administration of the BEF, it is also in part a reflection of the belief that 7th Division has under-performed during the battle.  As for General Rawlinson, he and the former IV Corps staff is returned to England to prepare 8th Division for deployment to France.  This has the advantage of removing from Ypres a corps commander that the Field Marshal has had trouble with while ostensibly giving him what he had asked for - he argued on the 25th that IV Corps would not be effective until 8th Division arrived, so now he can expedite their deployment directly.

- General Falkenhayn arrives today at 6th Army headquarters to discuss the progress of operations with Prince Rupprecht.  The German Chief of the General Staff is not pleased with the results achieved over the past week - despite the concentration of forces neither 4th or 6th Army had been able to achieve a decisive success.  Indeed, over the past few days the French and British have been able to go over onto the offensive northeast of Ypres, and though they have not broken through a defensive battle cannot possibly give Falkenhayn the decisive victory he believes is essential to win the war.  In his view, both 4th and 6th Armies have failed, and there is no prospect of imminent success from their efforts.

Falkenhayn, however, is unwilling to give up the initiative and fully go over on to the defensive.  Instead, he seeks a new concentration of force to achieve a breakthrough and victory.  The plight of the new reserve corps of 4th Army since the 22nd have shown the importance of battlefield experience.  Moreover, an analysis of the defensive needs of the rest of the Western Front have raised several instances where, due to the redeployment of French forces to Flanders, German units could be redeployed as well.  As a result, XV Corps from the Aisne and II Bavarian Corps from Peronne are en route to Flanders, and to this force are added 26th Division of XIII Corps, in turn replaced by a reserve division from Metz, and the 6th Bavarian Reserve Division has also just arrived in Flanders (the latter including a certain Corporal Hitler).  These units are organized into a single formation under the command of General Max von Fabeck, formerly commander of XIII Corps, and is to be called Army Group Fabeck.

The new formation is to take its place on the front line south of Menin, in the area currently occupied by the cavalry corps of 6th Army.  Falkenhayn is emphatic that Army Group Fabeck does not belong to 6th Army, and the latter cannot issue or alter orders to the former.  Instead of simply adding reinforcements to the two armies, Army Group Fabeck is to be a single cohesive offensive unit, and the two adjacent armies are reduced to a supportin role while also dispatching artillery to support the Army Group.

Falkenhayn's plan is for 4th and 6th Armies to launch spoiling attacks on October 30th to force the French and British to commit their reserves.  At the same time, Army Group Fabeck is to attack south of Ypres, against the enemy line between Gheluvelt (just northwest of Kruiseecke) and Ploegsteert Wood (north of Armentières).  Its objective is Mont Kemmel, high ground south of Ypres.  Its seizure would break the enemy line and allow the Germans to outflank the enemy positions to the north and south.  Such a success offers to Falkenhayn the potential to drive the enemy from Flanders and occupy the Channel ports, and perhaps tip the military balance on the Western Front in Germany's favour.

- For two and a half months Admiral Wilhelm Souchon and his two warships have been at Constantinople, maintaining the fictin that the two have been transferred to Ottoman control.  There is never any doubt as to where Souchon's true loyalty lies however, and as the Ottoman government continues to prevaricate over whether to enter the war, he decides the time has come for action.  With the collaboration of Enver Pasha and the other pro-German and pro-war ministers, Souchon, in his position as commander of the Ottoman navy, takes Goeben and Breslau, along with an Ottoman cruiser and four Ottoman destroyers, into the Black Sea.  Ostensibly to undertake training, the real purpose of the mission is to provoke Ottoman entry into the war.

- Admiral Craddock's signal of yesterday arrives at the Admiralty in London today.  It is a time of turmoil within the upper echelons of the Royal Navy, as the resignation of the First Sea Lord is imminent.  Thus the news from Craddock, including crucially that Canopus is not with him, is not given the attention it deserves.  Meanwhile, Craddock's four ships rendezvous off the Chilean coast near the mouth of the Huasco River, where Craddock orders Glasgow, his fastest warship, to sail to Coronel to see if any further orders had been dispatched to him.

- The German East Asiatic Squadron, meanwhile, departs Más Afuera today for the Chilean coast.  Admiral Spee has received information from German agents in Chile of the passage of a British warship through the Straits of Magellan, and thus decides for now to keep his larger armoured cruisers out of sight of the shore, while sending all radio transmissions using Leipzig's call sign, to give the appearance that only one German warship was in the area, as opposed to all five.

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