Wednesday, October 29, 2014

October 29th, 1914

- West of the Yser the Germans inch closer to the Belgian line along the railway embankment, approaching to within several hundred yards.  Meanwhile, a shortage of artillery shells prevents a resumption today of the artillery bombardment of Dixmude, though Minenwerfers are used to keep the enemy trenches east of Dixmude under fire.

- The German attack today against Gheluvelt is aimed in particular at the crossroads just east of the village where the Menin Road crosses the road connecting Kruiseecke and Poezelhoek.  Here the British line is held by the left flank of the already much-damaged 7th Division and the right flank of 1st Division, and the trenches here are emblematic of many of the difficulties encountered with British defenses during the battle.  Here the trenches are deep and narrow, and not all are connected.  There is only a single strand of wire protecting the trenches, connected to tins with pebbles to warn of a German attempt to rush the trenches.  No sandbags have been used - indeed, the first large shipment from Britain arrived in France only yesterday.  Observation from the trenches is impeded by the continued existence of buildings and trees, and a lack of communication trenches meant that one position could be overwhelmed without its neighbours realizing it.

- The German artillery bombardment begins at 530am, and the three battalions of the 16th Bavarian Reserve Infantry Regiment advance shortly thereafter.  In the morning fog visibility is limited to forty yards, delaying the British response, and crucially two British machine guns near the crossroads jam.  By 630 the Germans have penetrated the line north of the crossroads, but the British south of the line have no idea the enemy has broken through - indeed, the reserves covering that portion of the line were sent to the rear for breakfast in the belief that no further German advance would be forthcoming.  At 730 four German battalions attack, and after hand-to-hand fighting break through here as well.

Poor communications and the morning fog prevent 7th Division's commander from learning of the defeat until 1015.  As British reserves are finally sent forward, the Germans, instead of advancing into the gap they have formed, turn north and south and attempt to roll up the British lines.  Only at 1130 do the Germans move westward from the crossroads, by which time almost all of I Corps reserves have been committed to rebuilding a British line, and a further five squadrons have been sent by the Cavalry Corps to the south.  The German attack peters out, but a British counterattack in the afternoon fails utterly to regain any of the lost ground.

The result of the day's fighting is that though the Germans are halted short of Gheluvelt itself, the crossroads to the east of the village have been secured, which, due to a dip in the ground there gives the Germans a favourable position for a further attack.  The attack did not accomplish everything that General Fabeck desired, but it did suffice for the major offensive.  For the British, though Haig of I Corps is now focused on holding his line, Sir John French still believes that they and the French should be on the offensive, optimism that he shares with Foch.  They are about to be violently disabused of their hopes.

A British trench near Ypres, October 1914.  Note its rudimentary nature, with no barbed wire, sandbags, trench supports
to prevent collapses, or communication trenches.

- An Order in Council issued today by the British government is another step in the tightening of the blockade against Germany.  It declares a number of items that had previously been conditional contraband - i.e. seizure was discretionary - are henceforth to be absolute contraband, meaning that any ship carrying such goods and destined for Germany will be seized with no exceptions.

- Two days after departing Constantinople, Admiral Souchon and his squadron undertake the real purpose of his sortie - ensuring Ottoman entry into the war on the side of the Germans.  Souchon does this in the most direct way possible - with Goeben and Breslau as the core of his squadron, he sails to the Russian Black Sea coast and proceeds to bombard Odessa, Sevastopol, and Novorossisk this morning.  In addition to damage ashore, a Russian gunboat, minelayer, and six merchant ships are sunk, all done by ships flying the flag of the Ottoman Empire.  As the Ottomans hesitate to join the war willingly, Souchon has decided to force their hand by provoking Russia to declare war on the Ottomans themselves.

- In German Kamerun, the French column that had advanced westward from French Equatorial Africa and occupied the village of Carnot has been experiencing supply problems - the African porters so essential to the movement of equipment have been on half rations, and on the 21st the Europeans were reduced to two-thirds rations.  To avoid starvation, the commander of the column hits on the only real option possible - given the utter impossibility of shipping supplies through the jungle to his present location, he moves the column to where they can scavenge for food.  The column moves further westward into German territory where fertile agricultural lands can be plundered.

-  Off the Chilean coast, while Admiral Craddock and Good Hope, Monmouth, and Otranto depart their anchorage near the Huasco River, Glasgow approaches the port of Coronel.  This afternoon the wireless room aboard Glasgow starts to pick up signals in German code, indicating an enemy warship was nearby.  The captain of Glasgow hesitates to take his ship into Coronel, for fear the sudden arrival of German warships could blockade him in port.  He receives permission from Admiral Craddock to delay entering Coronel to ascertain if the arrival of the German East Asiatic Squadron was imminent.

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