Saturday, November 15, 2014

November 15th, 1914

- Though German shelling continues there are no significant infantry actions today in Flanders.  The reorganization of the Entente line pursuent to the agreement on the 13th between Foch and French begins, and a reconstituted British IV Corps, consisting of 7th and 8th Divisions and again commanded by General Rawlinson, enters the line today between III and Indian Corps.  The German army, meanwhile, begins to lay the groundwork for a public explanation of its failure in Flanders, issuing a communique today stating that bad weather has impeded operations over the past few days.

- In Poland only today does General Ruzski of the Russian North-West Front realize that the advance of the German 9th Army is not only the main German offensive, as opposed to a diversion, but that it is poised to seize Lodz and drive into the rear of 2nd and 5th Armies.  He issues orders today for both armies to retreat eastwards and fall back on Lodz.  The battle is now a race between the German 9th Army and the Russian 2nd and 5th Armies to see which can reach Lodz first.

Meanwhile, Conrad is planning an offensive of his own.  In the retreat after the Battle of the Vistula River over the past several weeks, the Austro-Hungarian 1st and 4th Armies have fallen back upon the fortress of Krakow, the former just to the north and the latter just to the northeast.  Conrad orders call for 4th Army to lead with an attack on the Russian 9th Army opposite, to be followed almost immediately by 1st Army advancing into the Russian flank.  Should everything go according to plan, the Austro-Hungarian advance will form a southern pincer that will meet with the German 9th Army east of Lodz to isolate three entire Russian armies.  Like many of Conrad's plans, it ambitious and hopelessly unrealistic.

Further, for the past nine days the Austro-Hungarian 2nd Army has been transferring from the front in Galicia to Prussian Silesia.  The ostensible reason for this redeployment, as Conrad told Hindenburg, was to aid the German 9th Army in its offensive.  In reality, Conrad did not want the Germans to undertake their offensive by themselves, as it would allow Hindenburg and Ludendorff to act without reference to Conrad; instead, if the Austro-Hungarian 2nd Army aided the German 9th Army, Conrad could assert the right to have a say in the progress of the fighting.

The transfer of 2nd Army, however, has been painfully slow, a reflection both of poor Austro-Hungarian staff work and the lack of sufficient railways in Galicia.  Just 12 trains per day are bringing one of 2nd Army's two corps north, while the trains carrying the other have to detour through Budapest.  This stands in stark contrast to the rapid redeployment of the German 9th Army achieved earlier in November, and such logistics are yet another way in which the Austro-Hungarian army is significantly weaker than its ally.

Of crucial importance to the Battle of Lodz is that the slow arrival of the Austro-Hungarian 2nd Army means that it has not come to grips with the Russian 5th Army, which is what allows the latter to disengage and retreat eastward relatively unhindered.  At the same time, the removal of 2nd Army from the Galician front means that Conrad's offensive at Krakow is under a time constraint - he needs to defeat the Russian 4th and 9th Armies before the Russian armies to the east can reach the Carpathians and seize the mountain passes through it, which would give the Russians access to central Hungary.

The line in northern Poland, November 15th, 1914.  Note the advance of the German 9th Army southeastwards between
Lodz and the Vistula, and the Austro-Hungarian 2nd Army slowly coming into the line north of Army Group Woyrsch,
a small German formation designed to cover the gap between 9th Army and the Austro-Hungarians to the south.

- Socialist Benito Mussolini starts a campaign agitating for Italy's entry to the war on the side of the Entente through his newspaper Il Populo d'Italia.  His call for war is based on his belief that it is necessary to fulfill 'Italy's national destiny.'

- Austro-Hungarian forces reach the town of Valjevo in northwestern Serbia today, resulting in celebrations in Vienna.  The successful advance to date, in contrast to the two prior failures, lead General Potiorek to believe that the Serbian army has been thoroughly crushed and no longer posed a significant threat.

The reality is that while it has retreated and suffered losses, the Serbian army is far from finished.  As the withdrawal had been planned in advance, losses were lighter than if the Serbs had fought to the end to hold their advanced position.  Further, the defensive positions on the Kolubara River, which the Serbian army has now retreat to, had been under preparation for several months, and they constituted a formidable obstacle to a further Austro-Hungarian advance.

- Near the Shatt al-Arab several battalions of Indian Expeditionary Force D sortie from their camp at Sanniya and attack an Ottoman force of approximately two thousand that had approached to within four miles of the British camp.  Attacking early in the morning, the Ottoman force is dispersed, the British suffering sixty-two casualties while inflicting one hundred and sixty and taking twenty-five prisoners.  The battle, the first significant engagement with Ottoman forces in Mesopotamia, gives IEF D time to finish disembarking its reinforcements unmolested while also teaching valuable lessons on combat in a desert environment.

- The German East Asiatic Squadron departs Más Afuera today, heading south.  Admiral Spee has decided not to break up his squadron to raid Entente merchant shipping, feeling that to do so would waste valuable coal.  Instead, the five ships of the squadron will stay together as they sail down the Chilean coast.

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