Sunday, November 23, 2014

November 23rd, 1914

- In France four squadrons of Voisin biplanes, totaling eighteen airplanes, are merged together into 1st Bombardment Group, the first French aerial unit devoted to strategic aerial attacks on Germany.

- For several weeks the British and Dutch governments have been negotiating an agreement regarding the importation of goods to the Netherlands deemed contraband by the British.  The concern of the latter is that such goods after arrival in the Netherlands could easily be shipped across the border to Germany, thus allowing the Germans to circumvent the blockade.  The Dutch, for their part, believe that as a neutral power their global trade should not be impeded.  Today the negotiations result in an agreement to create the Netherlands Oversea Trust, a company composed of Dutch private sector merchants who would help individuals wishing to trade in contraband goods.  A pledge would be extracted from such individuals that the contraband goods were for home or Dutch colonial consumption only, and the Netherlands Oversea Trust would then communicate the pledge to the British who would allow the trade based on the guarantee of the Trust's board of directors.  This system solves many of the concerns of both parties - the British gain a means by which Dutch trade in contraband goods can be regulated, while Dutch merchants gain some security that their goods will not be seized.  Moreover, as the Trust is civilian, the Dutch government is not worried about the arrangement appearing to violate their neutrality by leaning too heavily towards the British.

- East of Lodz the German XXV Reserve Corps and Guards Division is now pulling back northwards in an effort to escape from the Russian encirclement, marching over poor, icy roads.  To the west of the German force the Russian defenders at Lodz are too disorganized from the ongoing fighting with the bulk of the German 9th Army to interfere.  To the south, German cavalry covers the German retreat so successfully that the Russian commander there believes he has won an excellent defensive victory.  To the east Russian cavalry mistakes columns of thousands of Russian prisoners accompanying the retreating Germans as additional German soldiers, believe themselves vastly outnumbered, and do not bother to attack.  So far, then, the Russian army is demonstrating their usual level of competence in attempting to destroy the German corps and division.  Still, the Lovitch detachment from the Russian 1st Army has now advanced far enough to sit astride the line of retreat northwards of the German corps and division, leaving the latter still in great danger of envelopment and destruction.

- It is only today that the last units of the Austro-Hungarian army arrive by train opposite central Poland.  The two weeks it has taken the army to redeploy by rail from Galicia to east of Breslau is testimony to the poor state of Austro-Hungarian railways and the dysfunctional logistics that has plagued their armies in the field.

- For the past four days Count István Tisza, Prime Minister of Hungary, has been in Germany discussing the diplomatic relationship with Romania, meeting with Chancellor Bethmann-Hollweg, General Falkenhayn, and others.  The Germans have been applying pressure on Austria-Hungary to cede territory to Romania in exchange for its entry into the war on their side, a stance that Tisza strongly opposes - though willing to give some concessions on language and education to Romanians within the Empire, the lands the Germans propose to yield come from the Hungarian portion of the Empire.  However, the entry of the Ottoman Empire into the war and the initial progress made in the current invasion of Serbia have served to calm German fears regarding the situation in the Balkans, and Tisza returns home confident that he has convinced the German leadership to drop any suggestion of territorial concessions.

- A ceremony is held today in Basra today to formalize the British occupation of the city.  The British are eager to win the active support of Arab tribes in the region, and thus desire to show that as the Ottomans are never to return the Arabs need have no fear of Ottoman reprisals.  But if the Ottomans are not to return, what, exactly, is to become of the region.  Are the Arabs to 'enjoy the benefits of liberty', as the commander of Indian Expeditionary Force D proclaims at today's ceremony, or is the region to be annexed by Britain, as the same commander suggests he said to the assembled crowd in his report on the ceremony to the Secretary of State for India.  Neither option has been seriously discussed, and both raise important issues.  For the British it will prove to have been much easier to occupy Basra than decide what to do with it.

There is also the question of what IEF D ought to do next.  Its initial orders said nothing beyond the occupation of Basra, so are they now simply to stay put?  Sir Percy Cox, IEF D's political officer and an Arab expert, believes that Arab support will only be forthcoming if the British continue to advance up the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers and demonstrate their complete dominance of the region.  To this end, he recommends in a letter to the Viceroy of India that IEF D advance to Baghdad, a much more significant undertaking that simply securing the Shatt al-Arab.  Even though the term has not yet been coined, the British campaign in Mesopotamia takes a first step towards becoming a textbook definition of mission creep.

- At 10am this morning the schooner Ayesha, carrying First Officer Helmuth von Mücke and his fifty-man detachment that escaped from Direction Island after the sinking of Emden, sights the Sumatra coast in the Dutch East Indies.  Ayesha has had an adventurious journey since they set sail two weeks ago.  Given that the schooner was built for a crew of five, sleeping arrangements were at a premium, and most had to sleep in the hold with scrap iron used for ballast, while two small cabins below deck, originally fitted out for sleeping, had to be abandoned to the huge cockroaches that patrolled them.  The water held in iron tanks aboard was discovered to have fouled, forcing the crew to rely on rainfall to avoid dehydration.  The old sails tore repeatedly, meaning much work was spent mending and patching the canvass.  Much of the wooden hull was rotten, so much so that when it was inspected with a knife they had to quickly desist in fear poking the wood would let in the Indian Ocean.

That the Ayesha has survived the nearly eight hundred mile journey from the Cocos Islands to Sumatra is nothing short of a minor miracle, but their tribulations are hardly at an end.  They have no charts of the Sumatra coast, and there is a constant worry of running aground upon some hidden reef or rock.  There is also a keen awareness that warships of the Entente are almost certainly searching the seas for them, and may anticipate them sailing to the Dutch East Indies.  First Officer Mücke, however, has no intention of being captured.  They still have the four machine guns they had brought with them when they had landed on Direction Island, and hole have been cut in the gunwales to mount them.  Though the aged schooner could hardly have looked less like a warship, Mücke has every intention of fighting if confronted by an enemy vessel.  Meanwhile, his intention is to sail up the Sumatra coast to the port of Padang, where he intends to avail himself of international law that allows warships to enter neutral ports for twenty-four hours, during which time he hopes to reprovision.

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