Monday, November 03, 2014

November 3rd, 1914

- At Ypres General d'Urbal orders another French attack between Zonnebeke and Langemarck, to be undertaken by the 17th, 18th, and 31st Divisions.  Unfortunately for the French, the Germans opposite have been reinforced by units that formerly were along the Yser, but whose presence there is no longer required due to the flooding.  Not only is the French advance halted, but at Bixschoote they are actually forced backward, the village falling to German hands once more.

For the BEF there are no major enemy attacks today, though there is the usual sniping and shelling.  General Haig attempts to compose a corps reserve, but so thin is his line that only three hundred men can be found.  He also pulls some of his artillery back from the fighting, as there is no point in exposing them to shellfire when they lack sufficient ammunition to return fire.

On the German side Prince Rupprecht of 6th Army concludes that unless Army Group Fabeck is reinforced, no decisive success could be achieved at Ypres.  To this end, he transfers more heavy artillery to Army Group Fabeck and allots it all of the ammunition assigned to 6th Army as a whole.  He also issues orders for further reinforcements - 2nd and Bavarian Cavalry Divisions from 6th Army reserve are reassigned immediately to Army Group Fabeck, while several units elsewhere on the Western Front are instructed to redeploy to the Ypres battlefield.

- The Kaiser's edict that the High Seas Fleet is to remain on the defensive in the North Sea, issued in the aftermath of the Battle of the Heligoland Bight, does not extend to the battlecruisers, and thus an operation is ordered for four light cruisers to lay mines along the Norfolk coast, escorted by four battlecruisers under Admiral Franz von Hipper.  The warships departed yesterday afternoon, and by dawn are are off the port of Yarmouth.

Yarmouth on the Norfolk coast of Britain.

As the light cruiser Stralsund lays a line of mines, the German force stumbles upon the British minesweeping gunboat Halcyon, on patrol off Yarmouth.  The Germans immediately open fire, and indeed all four battlecruisers target Halcyon and the destroyer Lively that comes to her aid - this is the first time any have sighted an enemy ship in wartime, and are eager to get their shots in.  The problem is that with all of the shell splashes, it is impossible to tell which shells were fired from which ship, making accurate spotting impossible.  At 740am Hipper decides that he is wasting his time going after such small warships, and turns to disengage.  The battlecruisers fire a few shells in the direction of Yarmouth, but succeed only in rearranging sand on the beach.  The only achievement of the raid comes when a British submarine strikes one of the German mines and is lost.

The response of the Admiralty to the initial report from Halcyon is to do nothing - no one can believe that the battlecruisers of the High Seas Fleet would sail into danger just to lob a few shells onto an English beach.  The prevailing assumption is that it must be a diversion from another, more significant German operation.  Thus for several hours no warships are ordered to pursue the Germans as they wait for the other shoe to drop.  By the time they realize there is no other shoe, Hipper and his force have made their escape.  There is no small amount of public commentary on the apparent ability of the Germans to sail to the English coast and escape.  At the Admiralty it is decided to redeploy the Grand Fleet back to Scapa Flow - if it stays in its bases on the west coast of Scotland and the north coast of Ireland, it is simply too far away to respond to German action in the North Sea.

On the German side, the results were disappointing - when the Kaiser awards Hipper an Iron Cross for the operation, the latter declares, 'I won't wear it until I've done something.'  The apparent ability of the German force to escape without being intercepted, however, is encouraging should further such operations be undertaken in the future.

- At the Admiralty Fisher convenes a meeting of naval officials and private shipbuilders to launch an emergency shipbuilding effort.  Fisher's focus is on increasing the number of orders to the greatest amount possible, and in particular wants a significant expansion of the submarine force.  To the Director of Contracts he threatened 'to make his wife a widow and his house a dunghill if he brought paper work or red tape into the picture; he wanted submarines, not contracts . . . if he did not get them within eight months, he would commit hara-kiri.'  Commodore Roger Keyes, present at the meeting, laughs at Fisher's remark, at which point the latter turns on Keyes with a ferocious glare, saying 'If anyone thwarts me he had better commit hara-kiri too.'  Such are Fisher's management techniques.

- Ludendorff begins today to plan for the next phase of operations in Poland.  Falkenhayn believes that the chief of staff of Ober Ost is merely developing a local counter-attack, but such mundane operations are beneath Ludendorff, who only plans campaigns of sufficient breadth and audacity as suits his genius - at least, that's how Ludendorff sees it.  His plan is to shift the bulk of 9th Army from the Krakow area to between Posen and Thorn to the northwest of Russian Poland, and attack towards Lodz, taking in flank the anticipated Russian invasion of Germany.

- In an effort to dissuade the Ottomans from entering the war on the side of German, the British government decides on a display of naval power, to illustrate Ottoman vulnerability should they stand against the Entente.  Two British battlecruisers and two French battleships steam to the entrance to the Dardanelles and bombard the Ottoman fort protecting it, destroying its magazine.  The effort makes no difference, however, as the war party are now in control in Constantinople.

- At dawn Scharnhorst, Gneisenau, and Nürnberg of the German East Asiatic Squadron enter the harbour at Valparaíso, while Leipzig and Dresden remain at sea escorting colliers.  Admiral Spee and the men of his ship receive a rapturous welcome from the German community in the city, including from hundreds of German sailors on merchant ships who volunteer to join the squadron.  Spee, however, is aware that, despite the crushing victory two days ago, there are still obstacles before his squadron.  Both of his armoured cruisers used half of their ammo at Coronel, and there is no possibility of resupply short of returning home.  Moreover, there could be no doubt that the British would redouble their efforts to hunt down and destroy his squadron.

Meanwhile, today the telegram from the British consul at Valparaíso, reporting the presence of the German East Asiatic Squadron but not of the battle, arrives at the Admiralty.  Fisher urges reinforcements for Craddock's squadron, and a signal is sent to Craddock informing him that Defence was en route to join his warships.  It was the order Craddock had long waited to receive, but of course it was no use to him now.  As Churchill was later to write, 'we were already talking into the void.'

- Near Tanga the disorganized landing of Indian Expeditionary Force B continues this morning - the beach is a mass of confused and demoralized soldiers, battalions being hopelessly mixed up.  An attempt begins at 430am to advance on Tanga with the first units landed, but co-ordinated progress in the dense bush proves impossible, and they are back at the beachhead by 10am.

At the same time, inland Indian Expeditionary Force C attempts its advance on German positions at Longido just south of Mount Kilimanjaro.  After initial fighting checks IEF C short of its objective, it is forced to withdraw after its supply arrangements collapse and the soldiers are left without water.

The failure of IEF C allows Colonel Lettow-Vorbeck to deploy all but three of his companies of Schütztruppen to Tanga.  By this evening Lettow-Vorbeck has arrived himself at the port and undertakes a personal reconnaissance of the British beachhead by bicycle.  With seven companies now available, and a further two scheduled to arrive tomorrow, he decides to hold a line east of Tanga before the British while positioning his reserves on his right to take the enemy in their flank.

- For the past month, the Japanese force beseiging Tsingtao has been steadly advancing in the face of determined German resistance.  In conducting their offensive, they apply the lessons learned during the Russo-Japanese War of 1904-5 - instead of throwing their men against the German defences, they have conducted a methodical artillery bombardment, digging trenches as close to the enemy lines as possible, and attacking at night.  The result is that the stout defences of Tsingtao are falling one by one.  After seizing Prince Heinrich Hill earlier in October, since the 31st the Japanese have been bombarding the inner defences and the port itself, and today an assault carries the Japanese forces into position to assault the inner line of trenches protecting the last German forts on three hills just northeast of Tsingtao itself.

The defenses of the German naval base at Tsingtao in China.  As of today the besieging Japanese are just before the
'Inner Line of Trenches' marked on the map.

- Today the 'Manifesto of French Universities' is published in the French press.  Endorsed by the faculty councils of all French public universities, the Manifesto is a line-by-line repudiation of the German appeal of October 4th, posing provocative questions including: Which nation had wanted war?  Which nation had violated Belgian neutrality?  Which nation had burned Louvain and bombarded Rheims cathedral?  It is another salvo in the dispute over the origins and conduct of the war, in which the academic and intellectual elite vie with the most strident nationalists in their condemnation of the enemy.

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