Thursday, December 18, 2014

December 18th, 1914

- Though the French have abandoned their attacks in Flanders, the British have not - they hope that the continued German redeployments to the Eastern Front have sufficiently weakened their lines opposite the BEF to allow for successful, if small-scale, attacks.  The reality is that though the German lines are thinner, they are still able to easily repulse hastily-planned and poorly-executed operations.  Today, a British attack against the German line at Ploegsteert Wood is a bloody failure, with some of the advancing infantry being killed by their own misdirected artillery fire.

- After the attacks by XXI and X Corps yesterday, the main attack of the French 10th Army's Artois offensive is launched today by XXXIII Corps.  However, the same conditions that impeded progress yesterday - heavy rain and insufficient artillery fire - also plague today's advance, and XXXIII Corps, attacking along a broad front, secures only negligible gains.  General Pétain decides that instead of continuing to attack all along his corps' front, he will instead concentrate his strength against just the portion of the line at the village of Carency, in an attempt to overwhelm the German defenders.

- The Russian armies in central Poland halt their retreat today, taking up strong and prepared positions on the lower Bzura and Rawka Rivers south to the Nida River.  Attacks by both the German 9th and Austro-Hungarian 2nd Armies fail to break through this new line, indicating that the Russians intend to stand and fight here.  Mackensen decides to continue 9th Army's offensive in an effort to capture Warsaw before the end of the year, and thus begins a series of attacks across the Bzura and Rawka Rivers.

- For his part, the Russian halt in central Poland is yet more evidence to Conrad that the essential battle is in Galicia where the Russian line in Poland can be turned from the south.  The omens south of the Vistula, however, are not promising.  In addition to yesterday's check at Lisko, today 4th Army finds its advance halted by Russian garrisons on the west bank of the Dunajec River, evidence that the Russian 3rd Army intends to stand along the Dunajec.  Gone is the question of whether the Russians will retreat across the San; instead, it is now a matter of whether the Russians can be forced to continue retreating at all.  To accomplish this the left wing of 4th Army is ordered to hold at the Dunajec, while the right wing swings around to the south against Tarnow - if successful, it will sever the main railway and supply route to the Russian 3rd Army and force its further withdrawal.

- Along the border between German South-West Africa and Portuguese Angola, the reaction of the latter to the massacre of the Portuguese garrison at Cuangar on October 31st by a small German force had been to evacuate four nearby border posts for fear of further German attacks.  The German commander in South-West Africa, meanwhile, still does not know if Germany and Portugal are actually at war or not, so he decides to shoot first and ask questions later.  Today a German force of approximately five hundred soldiers, aided by local Africans, attack the Portuguese fort of Naulila, just north of the border.  The Portuguese defenders also number about five hundred, but Naulila was designed to resist native insurrections, not withstand the bombardment of the six artillery pieces the Germans brought with them.  When a German shell detonates the munitions dump, the Portuguese survivors break and flee, having suffered 182 casualties.

The Germans halt their advance after destroying the fort at Naulila - in the long term, the much greater threat comes from the British and South Africans along the coast and the Orange River.  The German success here, along with the Portuguese withdrawal, does effectively create a buffer zone in southern Angola, which allows the Germans to concentrate their forces elsewhere.

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