Wednesday, November 05, 2014

November 5th, 1914

- In Flanders General d'Urbal recieves instructions from General Foch that, as per communications from Joffre, the possibility of a decisive breakthrough north or south of Ypres had all but disappeared, given the time the Germans have had to entrench in their current positions.  Conversely, indications at present suggest the Germans have themselves abandoned hopes for a breakthrough.  Instead, it would be preferable to withdraw troops from the fighting to reconstitute reserves for the French army elsewhere.

The one thing Foch does not do is order d'Urbal to cease his attacks on the German lines.  In the absence of such orders, attacking is precisely what d'Urbal does.  For his efforts today precisely no ground is gained, and indeed Hill 75, just to the west of Messines, is captured by the Germans today.

On the British front it is finally possible this evening to relieve 7th Division and 3rd Brigade, 1st Division, replacing the former with battalions drawn from II Corps and the latter with 6th Cavalry Brigade.  7th Division epitomizes the struggles faced by the BEF and the losses they have suffered.  It has been in near-constant combat, and under continual shelling, since October 19th, and of the 12 522 officers and men who comprised the division when it landed at Ghent on October 12th, only 4149 men remain when it is pulled out of the line today, which includes 2000 soldiers sent as reinforcements over the past month - its commander has been heard to joke darkly that he is a divisional commander without a division.

Nevertheless, the prevailing mood at BEF HQ is that the worst has now past.  Field Marshal French and his corps commanders meet today to discuss the disposition of the BEF over the winter and the provision of leave arrangements.

This optimism, of course, is completely unfounded, as Falkenhayn has determined to make one last push at Ypres.  Today 4th Division, one of the units designated as reinforcements for the offensive, begins detraining today at Lille.

The Battle of Ypres, October 5th to 9th, 1914.

- Today the British government declares the entire North Sea a war zone, and that all vessels entering these waters do so at their own risk.  Ostensibly the move is a response to the laying of German mine fields in the North Sea, but in practice it is a further step in tightening the blockade of Germany - by declaring the North Sea a war zone, the hope is that all neutral traffic would use the Dover Straits where it could be inspected for contraband, a much easier process than patrolling the gap between Scotland and Norway.  Again the British government is undertaking a delicate balancing act - the needs of the Admiralty must constantly be balanced by the Foreign Office's concerns with the impact on neutral opinion.

- This evening the British battlecruisers Invincible and Inflexible depart Cromarty Firth on the west Scottish coast, where they had been a part of Admiral Beatty's Battlecruiser Squadron, en route to Plymouth, where they are to have machinery replaced and take on supplies prior to departure for the South Atlantic.  Their redeployment is the brainchild of Admiral Fisher, just as the ships themselves were a result of his vision of modern naval warfare expounded upon during his earlier tenure as First Sea Lord.  He believed that speed and firepower was paramount, and envisioned the battlecruiser being able to catch everything it could sink and escape from what it couldn't.  In practice this meant having the main armament, but not the armour, of a dreadnought, which gave it several knots advantage over the latter.

In sending them to the South Atlantic they are to form the cornerstone of the British effort to find and sink the German East Asiatic Squadron.  The two battlecruisers are faster than Spee's armoured cruisers, and with heavier main armament is able to fire larger shells over a distance significantly farther than Spee's own main armament can reach.  In other words, they are the perfect weapon to annihilate the German squadron and avenge Coronel - it is the Royal Navy equivalent of stacking the deck in its favour.  Indeed, this is one of the core missions Fisher had envisioned his battlecruisers undertaking - hunting down and sinking enemy commerce raiders.

Of course, the admirals losing Invincible and Inflexible are not pleased about the redeployment.  Beatty is aghast at losing two of his precious battlecruisers, and while Admiral Jellicoe can understand the logic behind the move, he is all-too-aware that it further reduce the British margin of superiority in the North Sea shortly after the loss of the dreadnought Audacious.  The next several months will constitute the closest the German High Seas Fleet will come to parity with the British Grand Fleet.

- All other options exhausted, Britain and France today declare war on the Ottoman Empire.  Simultaneously, the British announce the formal annexation the Ottoman island of Cyprus, which they have occupied since the Congress of Berlin in 1878.  Though this does little more than make de jure what has long been de facto, the action outrages public opinion in Greece, given the substantial Greek population on Cyprus and the belief that the island belongs to them.

The Entente powers are also cognizant of the potential for unrest among the Muslim population of their colonies as they go to war with the preeminent Muslim state in the world.  In an effort to neutralize the issue, the governor-general of French Algeria issues a proclamation that differentiates between the Young Turk rulers of the Ottoman Empire, who are seen as puppets of Germany, and the Turkish people as a whole.

- The Russian declaration of war on the Ottoman Empire yesterday opens a new front in the war, as the two empires share a frontier in the Caucasus.  The terrain here is rough and broken, dominated by the Caucasus and Taurus mountain ranges, and the poverty of the region was such that at the best of times the peasants were barely able to feed themselves.  Two railways on the Russian side approached the border, but their configeration was based on commerce, not defense, while on the Turkish side the nearest railway to Erzurum, the principal Ottoman city in the Caucasus, is 640 miles away.  The weather is also terrible, winter lasting from early November to between late March and May, with snow of two metres in the valleys and temperatures falling below minus twenty degrees centigrade.

All of this combines to convince the Russians that there is little risk of Ottoman invasion.  Indeed, the primary Russian focus is internal, not external - the region has always been a troublesome colonial frontier for the Russians, and groups such as the Georgians continue to agitate and organize to fight for independence.  To this end the Russian I Caucasian Corps, the main Russian force responsible for the region's defense, has been ordered to secure the line Bayazit-Eleskirt-Id, just inside the Ottoman border, this constituting a shorter front than if the corps remained on the Russian side of the frontier.  However, this evening General Georgii Bergmann, who commands I Caucasian Corps and desires glory on the battlefield, orders in his own initiative a further advance to Hasankale on the main road to Erzurum.

The Caucasus Theatre.

- At Tanga the German defenders now number 1500, but Colonel Lettow-Vorbeck is uneasy.  Though the British were repulsed yesterday, he is aware that they had managed to penetrate into Tanga before doing so, and is concerned that a more concerted and determined British advance might yet succeed.  Further, though the enemy advance on Longido failed on the 3rd, he is conscious that he has only three companies there should the British go back over onto the attack.  At 5pm, he concludes that Tanga can no longer be held, and begins preparations to withdraw.

As it turns out, however, the British had beaten him to the punch.  After the debacle of yesterday the soldiers of Indian Expeditionary Force B were hopelessly demoralized, and their commander convinced that victory was impossible.  Thus the British evacuate their forces from the beachhead near Tanga, a process complete by 320pm.  Such was their haste to evacuate that they left all of its heavy supplies behind, among which were eight machine-guns, 455 rifles, and half a million rounds, a vital contribution to Lettow-Vorbeck's force given the difficulties of resupply from Germany itself.  The entire British operation, from first to last, has been a disaster, giving the Germans a notable victory and, for now at least, bringing a halt to offensive operations against German East Africa.

Indian dead on the beaches near Tanga, November 5th, 1914.

No comments:

Post a Comment