Wednesday, December 17, 2014

December 17th, 1914

- The French 10th Army opens its offensive in Artois today.  Its objective is Vimy Ridge, which stretches from the village of Souchez southeastwards to a point northeast of Arras.  To the east of the ridge is a long flat plain stretching twenty kilometres towards Douai, and it is believed that by seizing the ridge French artillery would be able to dominate the plain and force the Germans to withdraw perhaps past Douai.  10th Army has three corps assigned to the operation: XXI, XXXIII, and X Corps, aligned north to south.  The main attack will be undertaken by XXXIII Corps, under the command of General Philippe Pétain, which is to break through south of Souchez and seize the high ground before the village of Vimy itself.  To the north, XXI Corps is to capture Souchez and advance to the northern end of the ridge near Givenchy, while to the south X Corps will attack northeastward from Arras to protect the flank of XXXIII Corps as it advances.

In an attempt to ensure the strongest support for each advance, General Maud'huy has the attack of XXXIII Corps delayed until tomorrow, so French artillery today can provide maximum aid to the attacks of the two flanking corps.  Despite this, the preliminary artillery bombardment proves insufficient, and heavy rain has turned the battlefield into a field of mud, slowing the French infantry.  As a result, today's attacks by XXI Corps to the north and X Corps to the south make only minimal gains - the former only occupies less than a kilometre of the first German trench line, while the latter makes even less progress.

The Western Front around Vimy Ridge in early 1915.  That this map can also be
used to illustrate the front line prior to the 1st Battle of Artois says all that needs
to be said about how successful that operation was.
- Meanwhile to the north in Flanders the attacks undertaken by the French south of Ypres in an effort to distract the Germans from the major operations in Artois and Champagne have continued to be unsuccessful.  Not only have they failed to force the Germans to divert their reserves away from Artois and Champagne, but they have also failed to gain any significant ground whatsoever - along the Menin Road southeast of Ypres French attacks have gained only a hundred yards, while similar minuscule gains have been 'achieved' near the villages of Bixschoote and Klein Zillebeke.  As a result, the French attacks in Flanders are halted.

- Bernhard von Bülow, a former Chancellor, is appointed German Ambassador to Italy today.  He is tasked with keeping Italy neutral in the war, but his work is rendered difficult by the ongoing refusal of Emperor Franz Joseph to making any territorial concessions to Italy, the granting of which would be the vital 'inducement' to Italian neutrality.

- In central Poland the Russian 2nd and 5th Armies have begun their retreat eastward overnight, leading Mackensen to order his forces to quicken their advance in order to overtake and envelop the two Russian armies before they can withdraw to safety.

- General Falkenhayn, General Ludendorff, and Chancellor Bethmann-Hollweg meet today in Berlin to discuss operations on the Eastern Front.  With reports indicating that the Russians are in full retreat along the entire front held by 9th Army, it is decided that the offensive in Poland should continue until Warsaw is occupied and the middle Vistula reached.

- On the Russian side, General Ruszkii has lost confidence in the ability of his armies to hold off the advances of the German 9th Army, and desires to retreat even further, past the line of the lower Bzura and Rawka Rivers and back to Warsaw itself.  Doing so would require South-West Front to retreat further eastward as well, and as such General Ivanov strongly objects to Ruszkii's proposal.  Grand Duke Nicholas decides in favour of Ivanov, ordering Ruszkii to hold the line decided upon on the 15th.

- Two days ago a significant Austro-Hungarian force in the besieged fortress of Przemysl had begun a sortie to the southwest towards the town of Lisko, on the other side of which the eastern wing of the Austro-Hungarian 3rd Army was advancing northwards.  However, by today the Russians have brought in reinforcements, and in fierce fighting manage not only to drive the force from Przemysl back behind the siege lines but also compel 3rd Army to retreat southwards away from Lisko.  This Russian victory upsets the Austro-Hungarian plans for a further advance by the eastern wing of 3rd Army towards the San River.

The weather along the Eastern Front also continues to deteriorate.  Strong winds and heavy rain makes conditions for the infantry miserable, while the deep mud makes relocating artillery almost impossible; thus not only does the mud slow foot soldiers, but greatly reduces artillery support for those attacks that do occur.

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