Friday, November 21, 2014

November 21st, 1914

- Today a flight of British Avro 504 aircraft take off from an airfield near Belfort, located in southeast France near the Swiss border.  The aircraft fly 125 miles across Bavaria to the city of Friedrichshaffen, the location of the Zeppelin works.  They drop several 20lb bombs that damages some machinery, though missing a new Zeppelin under construction.

- At and west of Lodz the German 9th Army has spent several days grappling with the Russian 2nd and 5th Armies without making any progress.  The situation to the east of Lodz, however, is completely different.  This was the one part of the line where the Germans arrived before the retreating Russians.  Here there was the German 25th Reserve Corps and Guards Division, and finding no significant resistance before them they had moved to implement Ludendorff's original plan - i.e. isolate Lodz to cut off the two Russian armies.  Thus over the past few days the German corps and division have marched first south past Lodz, and then west, believing themselves to be enveloping the Russian defenders.  In reality, it was the Germans who were being enveloped.  Today the westward movement of 25th Reserve Corps and Guards Division is halted by Russian reinforcements rushed from west of Lodz, while their path south and east were blocked by other Russian units.  Further, there were no German units to their north, which meant that the Russian 1st Army, sweeping south from the Vistula River, might be able to block the escape of the two German units.  After a promising beginning to his offensive, Ludendorff is now confronted with the potential envelopment and destruction of a significant part of 9th Army.

The Battle of Lodz, November 21st to 24th, 1914.
- Over four days of bitter fighting near Krakow, the Austro-Hungarian 4th and 1st Armies have failed to achieve any significant success.  Conrad, however, remains optimistic - the local victories that have occurred have been interpreted as signs of imminent strategic success, and radio intercepts appear to suggest the Russian commanders opposite are desparate for reinforcements.  Further, it was generally believed that the German advance on Lodz would force the Russian armies at Krakow to retreat.  Thus at 330pm Conrad issues orders to 4th and 1st Armies for continued vigorous attacks and a ruthless pursuit of the anticipated Russian retreat.  Again this is an instance of seeing what one wants to see - Conrad believes victory is at hand near Krakow because he must win this battle as quickly as possible.  To the southeast, the Russian 3rd Army is marching westwards south of the Vistula, and the Russian 8th Army has advanced into the Carpathian Mountains, and is on the cusp of seizing several key passes that would allow a Russian offensive into Hungary itself.  A rapid victory at Krakow is essential to allow for the redeployment of forces to the Carpathians to prevent a Russian march on Budapest.  Conrad is seeing at Krakow what he needs to happen to allow him to save the Carpathian passes - not unusually, his powers of perception are failing him.

- The French ambassador to Russia has an audience with the Tsar today, during which he elaborates on the war aims of France.  The recovery of Alsace-Lorraine is naturally essential, but the ambassador declares that France must extend its influence over the Rhineland, to ensure that Germany can never again pose a deadly threat to France.

- Though the news of the Ottoman abandonment of Basra reached Indian Expeditionary Force D yesterday evening, the occupation of Basra remains no easy task: the infantry have a thirty-mile march ahead of them, while movement by water is hindered by a number of ships sunk by the Ottomans in the Shatt al-Arab to block British vessels.  As several British ships attempt to manoeuvre past the obstructions, they are met by a steam launch carrying the leading citizens of Basra as well as British residents, both representing the large commercial community of the port.  They plead with the British vessels to occupy Basra as quickly as possible, as from the moment the Ottomans withdrew yesterday the inhabitants of Basra have been enthusiastically looting their stores.  Thus the initial occupation of Basra is as much to defend private property as for any other reason.  Several British sloops are able to make their way through the sunken Ottoman ships and anchor off Basra, sending landing parties ashore to dismantle the Ottoman field guns left behind and clear looters from the port area.  The initial landing has a limited effect - once the population realizes that the occupying force is only a few groups of sailors, not a large army, they eagerly resume looting.

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