Saturday, November 01, 2014

November 1st, 1914

- Despite the ground gained yesterday east of Ypres, Army Group Fabeck failed to achieve the desired breakthrough.  General Fabeck decides that while the offensive will continue, its focus will shift slightly.  After failing to exploit the temporary breach in the British line at Gheluvelt yesterday, today's attacks will be launched between Messines and Wytschaete.

On the Entente side, the French plan three attacks, to be undertaken in large part to relieve the pressure on the British - the first from north of Wytschaete, the second from Zonnebeke, and the third a diversionary attack by the rest of IX Corps.  Each of these attacks fail to accomplish anything today, but they also speak to the growing importance of French forces in the Ypres salient.  The past two week have severely reduced the BEF's strength - of its eighty-four infantry battalions, nine have fewer than a hundred men, while another thirty-one have between one and two hundred.  In comparison, a full battalion would have just over a thousand men.  There are also very few reinforcements in Britain that can be sent immediately to the front - the only regular army units not yet in the fight are the battalions of 8th Division, assembling in Britain after being located around the Empire on the outbreak of war.

The main German attack begins at 1am by nine battalions of the 6th Bavarian Reserve Division.  At Wytschaete the British are outnumbered twelve to one, and by 245am the village is in German hands.  More importantly, as the battle continues German units begin to infiltrate between British positions on the ridge between Wytschaete and Messines, as the defenders here are too few to man an entire trench line at once.  Those British soldiers who remain on the ridge at dawn realize they are in danger of encirclement, and pull back.  By 735am the Germans are in possession of the middle part of the high ground.  This outflanks the British defenders still clinging to the village of Messines itself, and they are ordered to retreat at 9am.  The British fall back to the next line of high ground to the west,  while shelling their former trenches at Messines to impede the German occupation of them.  A British counterattack manages to re-enter Wytschaete later in the day, but otherwise the Entente line here has been pushed back.  On the other hand, the German victory is merely a tactical one, as though the British retreat they are not routed, and a new defensive line stands in the Germans' way.

- The Kaiser arrives near the front today, visiting several cavalry divisions near Courtrai and Lille.  The British intercept several messages regarding his journey, but misinterpret his itinerary to suggest that he will be much closer to the front.  British artillery prepare an appropriate welcome at the villages where they think the Kaiser will be during the day.

The fighting around Ypres, November 1st to 4th, 1914.

- Behind the front, Lord Kitchener is meeting President Poincarè, Joffre, and Foch at Dunkirk to discuss the course of the war.  Kitchener informs them that there are no substantial British reinforcements available until the spring of 1915, as he will not send untrained men into battle.  However, subsequently the size of the BEF will expand rapidly as the 'New Armies' of wartime volunteers come into the field.  Also, know of the sometimes-testy relationship between Joffre and Sir John French, Kitchener offers to replace the latter with General Sir Ian Hamilton.  Joffre declines, believing (ironically, given his own record) that changing the BEF's commander in the middle of a battle would not work out.  Unfortunately for Kitchener, this offer very quickly reaches the ears of Field Marshal French, which earns Kitchener the enduring emnity of the latter.

- By today the German 9th Army has fallen back to the line from which it had started its advance into Poland just over a month ago.  Despite Ludendorff's claims of success, and the generally confused nature of the fighting, the Battle of the Vistula River is a Russian victory - it can hardly be otherwise when the Germans were the attackers and they end the battle where they started.  Nevertheless, the past month have shown the continuing logistical and command problems plaguing the Russian army - the attempt to pursue the retreating Germans has completely broken down, and today it is formally called off.

As for Falkenhayn, his attention remains firmly fixed on the Western Front, and is willing to leave matters on the Eastern Front in the hands of Hindenburg and Ludendorff.  As such, Hindenburg is today appointed commander-in-chief of all German forces in the east, with Ludendorff as his chief of staff and the command to be known as Ober Ost.  General Mackensen is also promoted to take command of 9th Army.

- With the entry of the Ottoman Empire into the war almost inevitable after the events in the Black Sea, the Shah of Persia, its eastern neighbour, declares the neutrality of his state.  The statement, however, is more theoretical than practical.  Though Persia is nominally independent, both Britain and Russia have significant interests and influence within it.  The newest dreadnoughts burn oil, not coal, and with the oilfields of southern Persia being a key source for the Admiralty, the British government controls them through owning a majority share of the Anglo-Persian Oil Company.  To the north, Russia already has five thousand soldiers garrisoning Persian Azerbaijan, seeing the endemic instability of the region as necessitating Russian control.  The Shah himself is only 17 years old, and lacks an effective army to maintain internal order.  Persian neutrality means little when major combatants sees their interests as necessitating intervention within its borders.

- At Coronel the British light cruiser Glasgow slips out of port at 915am, and meets the rest of Craddock's squadron just after 1pm.  The four ships then spread out in a line, sailing north in search of the supposedly-isolated Leipzig.  The German East Asiatic Squadron is doing much the same thing in pursuit of Glasgow, except moving south.  At 420pm Leipzig and Glasgow sight each other, drawing both squadrons together.

The approach of the German East Asiatic Squadron to Chile and the Battle of Coronel, November 1st, 1914.

Upon confirming the presence of the entire German East Asiatic Squadron, Craddock knows that his force is markedly inferior to the Germans.  He decides, however, to fight - first, his armed merchant liner Otranto was not fast enough to escape; and second, he felt bound by the Admiralty's orders to engage the enemy.  Craddock turns his squadron around so that both forces are sailing southwards, roughly parallel to each other.  With the sun setting to the west, Craddock hopes to force an action when the sun is blinding the eyes of the German gunners, giving the British a window of opportunity.  At 618pm Craddock aboard Good Hope signals the rest of his ships to follow him in closing with the Germans.

Spee, however, knows just as well as Craddock the impact the setting sun can have, and when the British ships turn to close the gap, he orders his ships to simply turn as well, maintaining the distance between the two squadrons.  Thus the sun sets without a single ship being fired, and now all of the advantages are with the Germans - the British are now silhouetted against the twilight sky.  At 650pm the Germans turn towards the British, and open fire at 704pm.

Craddock never had a chance.  Despite the rough seas, the excellent marksmanship of Scharnhorst and Gneisenau, honed to near-perfection in peacetime gunnery exercises, is immediately obvious.  The third salvo of Scharnhorst strikes Good Hope, destroying one of its 9.2-inch guns, and henceforth the German armoured cruisers pour accurate and rapid fire on Good Hope and Monmouth.  The British attempt to fire back, but most of their 6-inch shells fall short and the single 9.2-inch gun remaining operational on Good Hope can hardly hope to win the battle by itself.  In less than an hour Good Hope is reduced to a flaming wreck, and having absorbed thirty-five hits from Scharnhorst, explodes and sinks at 750pm.  Monmouth survives only an hour more, sinking at 858pm.  As Spee's focus is naturally on the two largest opponents, both Glasgow and Otranto are able to make their escape in the night.

All aboard Good Hope and Monmouth, including Craddock, are lost.  On the German side, only Gneisenau was hit even once by shells that exploded, and it suffered no serious damage and only three sailors were slightly wounded.  Glasgow manages to warn Canopus sailing north with the squadron's colliers of the disaster, and the survivors escape southwards.  The German East Asiatic Squadron has won a notable and completely-lopsided victory at the Battle of Coronel, the first significant defeat of British warships at the hands of the enemy for a century.

The Battle of Coronel, November 1st, 1914.

- As in Canada, the outbreak of war saw thousands of volunteers come forward in Australia and New Zealand.  However, the continued presence of German cruisers in the Pacific and Indian Oceans required that the convoy carrying the volunteers be delayed until sufficient escorts could be assembled.  Today, protected by British, Australian, and Japanese warships, thirty-eight transports carrying almost 21 000 Australian and just under 8500 New Zealand soldiers departs Australia today.  Their destination is Egypt, where they will undergo training.

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