Sunday, December 14, 2014

December 14th, 1914

- Planning continues for the two major offensive operations the French army will undertake in the next week - in Artois on the 17th, and in Champagne on the 20th.  Today General Foch meets with General Maud'huy to discuss the Artois offensive, to be undertaken by the latter's 10th Army.  Foch emphasizes to Maud'huy that the battle should be approached as if he were undertaking a siege, which means thorough and meticulous preparation combined with a methodical advance, ensuring that the infantry is supported by overwhelming firepower at every stage of the engagement.  Maud'huy thus slows the planned pace of the operation, spreading the attack over multiple phases to ensure each attack is strongly supported.  Despite the focus on preparation, the French units dedicated to the attack are not sufficiently equipped - 77th Division, which will be leading the main attack, requires over a hundred wire cutters to pierce the German barbed wire defences, but reports today that it has only fifteen.

- In addition to the two major attacks, Joffre is coordinating a number of diversionary attacks designed to distract the Germans from French preparations and force the enemy to commit their reserves elsewhere.  One of these secondary operations is begun this morning by units of the French XVI and XXI Corps and the British II Corps in the line south of Ypres.  The advancing infantry, however, are slowed by deep mud and intact barbed wire defences, and are unable to make any real progress.  Only a small number of British soldiers are able to reach the first German trench line on the western edge of the Petit Bois woods, but this does not pose a risk to the overall German position.

- For the past month and a half the German High Seas Fleet has sat in port, immobilized by the Kaiser's edict that his prized dreadnoughts are not to risk annihilation in a major battle with the British Grand Fleet.  The inaction is concerning to Admiral Ingenohl, commander of the High Seas Fleet, who worries about the morale of his sailors, while Admiral Hipper, commanding the Fleet's battlecruisers, is eager to undertake another attack on the British coast along the lines of that attempted against Yarmouth on November 3rd.  Meanwhile, the destruction of the German East Asiatic Squadron on the 8th spurs a desire to secure a victory to restore the public image of the German navy, while the Battle of the Falklands Islands also gave notice that several British battlecruisers are absent from the Grand Fleet.  Under these circumstances approval is given to another raid on the British coast - Hipper and his battlecruisers are to bombard Scarborough and Hartlepool.  To support the operation, Ingenohl and the High Seas Fleet will sail to the eastern edge of Dogger Bank in the middle of the North Sea, not to seek battle, but to provide support if Hipper fins himself overwhelmed.  There is also at least the chance that the Germans might stumble upon one part of the Grand Fleet divided from the rest, presenting the opportunity to even the odds in the North Sea.  The Germans are to sail tomorrow morning, with the bombardment scheduled to occur on the morning of the 16th.

As the High Seas Fleet prepares for its raid, wireless signals are sent back and forth among the German ships.  Unknown to them, these signals are being intercepted by the British, and though they are coded, the British have managed to break the German codes, thanks to the acquisition of several different German code books over the past few months.  In Room 40 at the Admiralty in London, the signals are deciphered, and at 7pm this evening the First Lord and First Sea Lord are informed that the Germans are coming.  Crucially, however, Room 40 has intercepted only a portion of the German signals - they inform the Admiralty leadership that the German battlecruisers are intending to raid the British coast, but they have no information that the entire High Seas Fleet will also put to sea.  Thus it appears to Churchill and Fisher that only Hipper's five battlecruisers will be undertaking the operation, and so they order Admiral Jellicoe to dispatch an appropriately-sized force to destroy it - the four battlecruisers of Admiral Beatty's Battlecruiser Squadron and the six dreadnoughts of Vice-Admiral Sir George Warrender.  Together these warships would be more than sufficient to defeat the German battlecruisers, but if they stumble onto the High Seas Fleet, the Germans would have overwhelming numerical superiority.  Thus Churchill's and Fisher's response to the intelligence of Room 40 is to give the Germans precisely the opportunity they crave to destroy part of the Grand Fleet in isolation and level the playing field in the North Sea - depending, of course, on the Germans taking advantage of the opportunity.

- Since the Yarmouth raid of November 3rd, Admiral Hipper, commander of the battlecruisers of the German High Seas Fleet, has been eager to undertake another sortie against the British coast.  Admiral Ingenohl, meanwhile, as overall commander of the High Seas Fleet is increasingly concerned about the morale of his sailors, given they have spent almost the entire war in port due to the Kaiser's edict forbidding the fleet from seeking out a major naval battle with the British.

- The Russian armies between the two bends of the Vistula River begin today the eastward retreat ordered by Grand Duke Nicholas yesterday.

The front lines in Poland on December 14th (on the left) and December 31st
(on the right), illustrating the Russian retreat.

- In response to the message of General Frank regarding the state of his army, General Potiorek orders 5th Army to retreat north over the Sava and Danube Rivers and abandon Belgrade to the advancing Serbs.

- For two weeks the schooner Ayesha, with its German crew from the light cruiser Emden, has been at the rendezvous point in the Indian Ocean it had signaled to the German merchant ships in Padang.  During this time it has twice sighted English steamers, one of which the Germans suspected to be an armed auxiliary cruiser.  When the cruiser approached, the crew of Ayesha did all they could to appear to be lost and hapless.  First they asked the cruiser for their current position, and when the cruiser asked Ayesha for its name, the German response was to raise a jumble of signal flags that meant jibberish.  Convinced that Ayesha was crewed by harmless incompetents, the cruiser had departed, leaving the German schooner to continue its wait.

Today their patience is rewarded when the German merchant ship Choising appears out of thick fog.  The intention of First Officer Mücke and his men is to transfer to the merchant, but are prevented by the rough seas.  Instead Ayesha signals Choising to follow it in sailing south, hoping to find calmer weather.

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