Sunday, November 30, 2014

November 30th, 1914

- To both sides on the Western Front, the trench system is both unprecedented and unexpected - neither side thought they would be fighting such a static war, and indeed expectations remain that trench warfare is but a phase which will soon pass.  In the meantime, as both sides try to find tactical solutions to the problem of attacking trenches, they first draw on their experience and pre-war training, which suggests that trench warfare is most similar to the conduct of sieges, the latter involving prolonged fighting before extensive defenses.  Thus in the initial months of trench warfare both sides attempt to apply the tactics for conducting sieges to operations on the Western Front.  For example, today Joffre issues a communication to all army commanders instructing them to dig their trenches to within 150 yards of the German lines.  This is precisely what the standard approach to siege warfare is, and Joffre hopes the order will have the same benefit - the closer the infantry are to the enemy when they attack, the less time it will take them to cross the killing zone between the lines and reach the enemy positions.  While the order reflects the fact that generals did look for ways to break the deadlock that did not involve the repetition of the same tactics over and over again, it also is indicative how these same generals were in many ways prisoners of their own experience and training, whereas the conditions of trench warfare required entirely new ways of thinking on the battlefield.

- A British fishing trawler in the North Sea makes a remarkable discovery when it hauls in its catch - a lead-lined chest in amongst the fish.  The chest is from a German minelaying destroyer which had been sunk off the Dutch coast on October 17th, and within the chest is a treasure worth more than gold to the British Admiralty.  It includes secret charts of the North Sea showing the operational grid the Germans use to plot the location of warships, and a codebook intended for communication with warships overseas.  These two finds, in combination with earlier breakthroughs, allow the British to decypher German wireless signals, a vital advantage to the war at sea.

- As the Russian 3rd Army continues to advance westwards towards Krakow, the Austro-Hungarian Chief of Staff issues orders today for another offensive.  Despite the battering 4th Army has taken in recent weeks, Conrad orders it back on to the attack - the movement of the Russian 3rd Army has opened a gap between it and the Russian 8th Army in the Carpathians to the southeast, and his intention is that the southern wing of 4th Army will move into this gap and then pivot northward to hit the southern flank of the Russian 3rd Army.

- The Serbian army completes its evacuation of Belgrade today as elements of the Austro-Hungarian 5th Army approach the city.  General Potiorek has ordered his other units to halt, both to recover from the recent fighting and to resupply.  The retreating Serbs had thoroughly destroyed transportation infrastructure as they retreated through November, and the Austro-Hungarians have outrun their supplies and are encountering all manner of shortages.

- Orders are issued for a detachment of Indian Expeditionary Force D, including two and a half infantry battalions, to embark on four river steamers, where they will be escorted by two warships and two armed steamers up the Shatt al-Arab.  Their orders are to land on the riverbank opposite of Qurna, clear that side of the river of the enemy, and then move on Qurna itself.

- Ayesha sets a course westward into the Indian Ocean and, satisfied that the schooner is leaving for good, the Dutch warship De Zeven Provincian halts its pursuit.  The German crew are sailing to a point in the eastern Indian Ocean where they hope to rendezvous with a German merchant ship.  While at Padang it was impermissible for any of the crew to meet with sailors from the German merchant ships alongside, First Officer Mücke happened to say several times quite loudly that his ship would be at this point in the Indian Ocean for several weeks.  His hope is that one of the German merchant ships, motivated by patriotism, will meet them there and allow Ayesha's crew to transfer to the steamer for the next stage of the journey back to Germany.

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