Tuesday, November 18, 2014

November 18th, 1914

- The decision of Duke Albrecht yesterday to suspend offensive operations at Ypres is approved today by Falkenhayn.  For several weeks he has been increasingly aware of the growing fatigue within the German army, and clearly even the more limited objectives set in early November, such as Mount Kemmel, could not be seized under present circumstances.  Instead, the German army on the Western Front is to go over on to the defensive - the hope for a rapid and decisive victory over the French is finally abandoned.

As the pre-war strategy has failed to deliver the promised victory in wartime, Falkenhayn and the German General Staff is left searching for alternatives.  Given the results in the west, a shift to the east appears logical, especially as by standing on the defensive reduces the amount of units needed on the Western Front.  Falkenhayn thus informs Hindenburg today that several corps will be shifted from the west to the east, including III Reserve Corps, XIII Corps, II Corps, and XXIV Reserve Corps, the former three coming from Flanders.

There is, however, a crucial difference between Falkenhayn and Hindenburg over what these reinforcements are to accomplish.  Hindenburg and Ludendorff believe that a decisive victory over the Russians is possible, one that will allow Germany to impose its peace terms on Russia.  Falkenhayn is less optimistic - taking his cue from the campaigns of Napoleon, he feels that the most that can be accomplished in the east are local victories.  This, however, is not problematic for Falkenhayn, as he has come to believe that Germany can no longer win a total victory over all of its enemies.  Instead, enough damage should be done to Russia to convince it to agree to a compromise peace based on no annexations, which will allow Germany to focus all of its military might against France and Britain.  If Russia cannot be convinced to sign a separate peace, Germany will inevitably be ground down by a war of attrition against enemies it can not hope to match in numbers.

Falkenhayn's views on a compromise peace, expressed today in a letter to Chancellor Bethmann-Hollweg, falls on deaf ears.   The Chancellor still believes that an absolute victory can be achieved in the east, and in this he has the agreement of Hindenburg and Ludendorff.  The prestige of the latter two grows as victories on the Eastern Front (however embellished by Ludendorff) are contrasted with failures, for which Falkenhayn is blamed, on the Western Front.  Falkenhayn's advice regarding the future direction of the war are rejected, though because of the personal support of the Kaiser there is no question at this time of replacing Falkenhayn.  Instead, the German Chief of the General Staff is left to continue to develop plans to achieve a total victory he no longer feels is within Germany's grasp.

- The German 9th Army arrives today just north of Lodz, but discover the city well-defended.  In something of a miracle, considering the Russian army's well-earned reputation for sluggishness, both 2nd and 5th Army have managed to retreat to the city before the Germans could arrive to seize it.  For 5th Army in particular it is a significant achievement, accomplished by non-stop marching over the past three days.  The result is that the four corps of the German 9th Army at Lodz find themselves facing seven Russian corps, and, as the latter is the supply centre for 2nd and 5th Army, for once it is the Russians who are better-supplied.  Ludendorff, however, orders Mackensen to continue the offensive - he has misinterpreted the Russian move back to Lodz as yet another panicked retreat, not an orderly redeployment.  It is a case of Ludendorff seeing what he wants to sees in the information arriving from the front.  Thus the Germans, despite being outnumbered, attack into the Russian lines.

- Yesterday a Russian squadron of five pre-dreadnoughts, three cruisers, and thirteen destroyers bombarded the Turkish Black Sea port of Trebizond.  On hearing of the attack Admiral Souchon decided to sortie with his 'Turkish' warships Goeben and Breslau in an effort to catch a portion of the Russian Black Sea Fleet.  In thick fog the two squadrons stumble into each other twenty miles off Cape Sarych on the Crimean coast just after midday.  Because of the poor visibility, Goeben does not sight the Russian squadron until it is already within range of the main guns of the latter's pre-dreadnoughts.  This nullifies the advantage Goeben would normally have over pre-dreadnoughts - i.e. that its main armament can fire longer distances.

The Battle of Cape Sarych, November 18th, 1914.  This map gives the Turkish names for Goeben (Yavuz) and Breslau (Midilli).

The Russian flagship Evstafiy hits Goeben with its first salvo, killing twelve Germans and one Turk.  Though Goeben in turn is able to land five hits on Evstafiy, killing thirty-four, Admiral Souchon quickly realizes that the short range - about seven thousand yards - means his ships are heavily outgunned, and he decides to use his superior speed to break off the engagement.  The battle lasts only fourteen minutes, and most of the warships present never fire a shot.  From this battle the Russians draw the conclusion that all of its large warships must operate together to avoid defeat in detail at the hands of Goeben, while for Souchon the engagement reinforces the isolation of his battlecruiser - as a light cruiser, Breslau is of little aid in a large naval battle, and the other warships of the Ottoman navy are of no value whatsoever (had they been present at Cape Sarych they would have lacked the speed to escape).

The Russian pre-dreadnought Estafiy.

- In Russia five Bolshevik Duma representatives are arrested for distributing Vladimir Lenin's Theses on the War calling for the transformation of the 'imperialist war' into a 'civil war' to bring about revolution.  At this point, however, most on the left still support the war effort.


  1. Warfare is a fascinating subject. Despite the dubious morality of using violence to achieve personal or political aims. It remains that conflict has been used to do just that throughout recorded history.

    Your article is very well done, a good read.

  2. Warfare is a fascinating subject. Despite the dubious morality of using violence to achieve personal or political aims. It remains that conflict has been used to do just that throughout recorded history.

    Your article is very well done, a good read.