Wednesday, November 12, 2014

November 12th, 1914

- Though the German breakthroughs of yesterday have been contained, there is still great concern among British commanders early this morning.  The German Guards regiments still hold the old British trench line between Polygon Wood and the Menin Road, and an attempt in the pre-dawn hours to launch a counterattack is abandoned after Brigadier-General Charles Fitzclarence of 1st Brigade is killed reconnoitring the enemy position.  General Haig informs Field Marshal French that his position is extremely precarious, I Corps current manpower being more than 80% below peacetime establishment.  The BEF commander is able to send 1st Cavalry Division to assist, given the lack of German effort yesterday in the area around Messines.

Though the British situation is dire, it is if anything worse on the German side.  The attacking units of yesterday suffered appalling losses - 1st Guard Regiment, for example, suffered in excess of eight hundred casualties alone.  The fresh divisions of Plettenberg's Corps, having launched the most determined assaults, have suffered the greatest losses.  The attacking power of Army Group Linsingen has been irretrievably broken - Winckler's Division spends today entrenching as opposed to resuming yesterday's attacks.  The British lines are not attacked today, and though on the northeast portion of the Ypres salient a surprise attack by the Germans on the French IX Corps forces the latter back six hundred yards, there is never any real risk of a German breakthrough here.

- Joffre issues instructions today to his army commanders, emphasizing the importance of constructing strong trench lines and defenses.  This was not, however, an acceptance by Joffre that the French army was to go over to the defensive; instead, stronger defenses meant fewer soldiers were needed to man the trenches, which freed up units to be placed in reserve to counter a German attack, or for use in future offensive operations.  Again, the emphasis on trench construction is meant to facilitate, not impede, a return to a war of movement.

- A conference advocating the complete prohibition of alcohol during wartime is held today at Caxton Hall, London, presided over by the Archbishop of Canterbury.  The call is based in part on the belief that drunk workers do not make good munitions workers.  There is, however, also a gender component - it is feared that as more working-class women enter the factory to replace men gone off to war, they are more likely to succumb to the temptation of alcohol, long a staple of male working-class culture.  The fear here is that these women will become less feminine, a common concern when normative gender roles are in flux due to the war, and the desire is to minimize the disruption - women may be needed to work like men, but heaven forbid they start drinking like men.

- Throughout the 19th-century, a cornerstone of Russian foreign policy was the acquisition of Constantinople and the straits of the Bosphorus and Dardanelles, so as to have year-round access to the world's oceans, which Russia did not have from its Baltic or Pacific ports.  Equally, the British in the 19th-century consistently opposed the Russian claim on the basis that it would disrupt the balance of power, and thus Britain spent much of the last century propping up the Ottoman Empire.  Naturally, with the Ottomans now included among their enemies, the British feel no great desire to prolong their existence.  More important now is keeping the Russians onside, and the promise of the Straits is surely extra motivation to continue in the war.  Besides, there are plenty of other parts of the Ottoman Empire that the British have their eyes on, so a concession here can be balanced by an acquisition there.  Thus today the British government informs the Russians that they support the claim of the latter to the Straits in any postwar settlement.

- In South Africa Christian de Wet has raised a commando of about 3500 in the Orange Free State, but more have flocked to the Government.  Prime Minister Botha leads one commando of several that attempt to surround de Wet's force in Mushroom Valley.  Due to a miscommunication between the Government units the rebel commando is able to escape, but leaves behind a number of dead and wounded as well as 250 prisoners.  De Wet is determined to continue the rebellion - his son Danie had been killed in a skirmish with government soldiers on the 9th.  However, Botha today issues a promise of a pardon to any rebel who surrenders by the 21st, which begins to thin the ranks of the rebels.

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