Saturday, December 20, 2014

December 20th, 1914

- The second of the major French offensives opens today with the attack in Champagne by 4th Army.  Advancing against a twelve-kilometre front approximately forty kilometres east of Rheims, the operation is undertaken by four corps - from west to east, XII, XVII, I Colonial, and II.  Two primary assaults are to be undertaken by XII and XVII Corps, while supporting assaults will be launched by I Colonial Corps.  The hope at 4th Army headquarters is that by having two main attacks, each controlled by a separate corps command, will double the chances of success.  In support the French have over seven hundred artillery pieces of varying calibers, a number that would have been all but unthinkable before the war.  The operation in Champagne also mirrors the operation in Artois in dividing the attacks into phases, to allow for sufficient concentration of artillery fire.  The objective is to secure a breach in the German line, and to do so the plan is to constantly feed fresh soldiers into the battle in order to maintain the momentum of the attack.  This tactic, which comes to be known as 'continuous battle', seeks to break through the enemy line by maintaining constant pressure to wear the opponent down, as opposed to overwhelming the enemy with a massive concentration of infantry and artillery at a single point.

Today, in the first phase of the attacks, both XVII and I Colonial Corps attack precisely at 930am.  Despite the heavy artillery barrage, the advancing infantry find the enemy's barbed wire and trench lines largely intact, and are unable to secure anything more than small, local gains.

- Unlike most of the other small attacks by British and French forces in Flanders this month, the failed assault of the Indian Corps results in a swift and powerful German attack that aims to do more than simply recover lost ground.  At dawn, the front held by the Indian Corps comes under intensive artillery and mortar fire, and at 9am the portion of the line near Givenchy, held by the Sirhind Brigade of the Lahore Division, is targeted by ten explosive mines, each of 50kg of gunpower, planted by the German VII Corps opposite.  The trench lines are shattered; some Indians are buried alive, while the already-waterlogged ground is turned into waist-deep mud.  German infantry from two battalions of 57th Regiment then surge forward, and though the defending Gurkhas and Afridis fight desperately, they are forced backwards.  Givenchy is lost to the Germans, and the position of the Indian Corps is such that Sir John French orders General Haig to dispatch a brigade to reinforce the line at Givenchy.

There are also reports of Indian soldiers, primarily Baluchis, fleeing the battlefield in panic and discarding their rifles.  In practice the number of cases were few, often limited to those situation where all of both the British and Indian officers had been killed, but the reports appear to give sustenance to the belief of some that Indian soldiers are not capable of fighting in the cold winter of Flanders and in the conditions of modern industrialized warfare.

The front near Givency. 

- To revive his faltering offensive, the commander of the Austro-Hungarian 3rd Army argues that his eastern wing should be reinforced, concentrating eight or nine infantry and five cavalry divisions here, with the objective being to outflank the entirety of the enemy's position in Galicia and reach Przemysl.  Conrad agrees, and orders the advance on Tarnow, which has not made any progress anyway, suspended.  Instead, 4th Army and the western wing of 3rd Army are to stand on the defensive until the forces destined for the eastern wing are assembled.

- While the Ottoman 3rd Army is about to launch Enver Pasha's invasion of the Russian Caucasus, the Ottoman 4th Army, based in Syria and Palestine, is planing an invasion of Egypt, and just as 3rd Army's operation is linked to the pan-Turkic vision of Enver, 4th Army's advance is to be associated with the call to jihad, hoping that it will inspire the Egyptian population to rise up in support of the Ottoman invasion.  Thus 4th Army is to be given the full trappings of a religious crusade - today a holy flag brought from Mecca is paraded through Jerusalem, after which it is to accompany 4th Army, along with a number of Islamic clerics.

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