Monday, December 22, 2014

December 22nd, 1914

- By today the British line between Cuinchy and Neuve Chapelle has been stabilized by the insertion of 1st Division of I Corps into the centre of the position around Givenchy, formerly held by the Indian Corps.  Most of the original lines held before the German attack of the 20th have been regained, though some stretches of the first trench have been so destroyed by artillery fire as to render them useless.  The moment of danger has passed, though the Indian Corps has suffered almost a thousand casualties over the past three days, as compared to only 250 for the Germans opposite.  The need for 1st Division to come to the 'rescue' of the Indian Corps also does little for the confidence of the BEF leadership in the latter's fighting qualities.

- In Galicia the Russians continue to press against the Austro-Hungarian 3rd Army, and in many spots the latter is forced southward.  Further complicating matters, most of the reinforcements destined for the right wing of the army had been sucked into the fighting on the left wing in an attempt to stem the tide, making the execution of the planned advance on Przemysl by the army's right wing impossible.  In an attempt to make the best of a bad situation, Conrad approves a proposal by 3rd Army commander to attack with his left wing towards Tarnow.

The Russian advance in Galicia, December 22nd to 31st, 1914.

- In light of the failed invasions of Serbia, General Potiorek is forced into retirement today.

The Serbian Front at the end of December, 1914.

- What will become the Battle of Sarikamish begins today when Enver Pasha orders the Ottoman XI and X Corps of his 3rd Army to begin their advance into the Russian Caucasus.  Enver's objective is the town of Sarikamish, which sits at the head of the main railway supplying Russian forces in the Caucasus, but his plan bears the strong imprint of German thinking and the influence of 3rd Army's Chief of Staff Baron Bronsart von Schellendorff.  Of 3rd Army's three corps, XI Corps, reinforced by two divisions that had been originally bound for Syria and Iraq, was to frontally attack the two Russian corps southwest of Sarikamish in order to fix them in place.  This was no small task for XI Corps, given the two Russian corps number 54 000 men and the Ottoman unit would have been outnumbered by just one of the enemy corps.  The key maneouvre, however, is to be undertaken by IX and X Corps.  The former, sitting on XI Corps' left, is to advance along a mountain path known as the top yol towards Çatak, from which it can descend on Sarikamish from the northwest, outflanking the two Russian corps pinned by XI Corps.  Though the top yol is known to the Russians, they believe it was impractical to move large bodies of troops along it.  Enver, for his part, believes that not only is the path useable but its high altitude and exposed position would ensure that high winds kept it swept of snow, as compared to the valleys below.  Finally, X Corps, on the left of IX Corps, is to advance and occupy the town of Oltu, from which one portion of the corps can move to support IX Corps' move on Sarikamish, while another portion can continue northeastwards towards the town of Ardahan.  If successful, the plan promises the envelopment and annihilation of the two Russian corps southwest of Sarikamish and the opening of the way to Kars.

With its emphasis on outflanking the enemy position, it has the obvious imprint of the thinking of Schliffen and the German General Staff.  Further, Enver's plan involves precise timetabling of the advance of IX and X Corps (necessary given the lack of communications between the three corps of 3rd Army) which removes all possibility of improvisation and does not allow for any unit to fall behind schedule.  Finally, there is the emphasis on speed - the soldiers of IX Corps, for instance, are told to leave their coats and packs behind to quicken their advance.  This ignores the obvious reality of conducting operations in the Caucasus in December and January - temperatures are consistently below -30 degrees centigrade and the snow on the ground is measured in feet, not inches.  This ignorance of the human element, also a conspicuous reflection of pre-war German planning, is to be of decisive import in the days ahead.

Incidentally, Enver's decision to launch his invasion of the Russian Caucasus today is the first link in a chain of events that will lead to the collapse of the last Liberal government in Britain.  Just another example of how one cannot understand the First World War without understanding how it was a world war.

The planned advance of the Ottoman 3rd Army against Sarikamish.

- In German Kamerun the French column that occupied Nola in October today seize the village of Molundu.

- A force of Boer rebels numbering about a thousand, comprising those who managed to escape to German South-West Africa under Martiz and Kemp, cross the Orange River back into South Africa.  Though they have achieved surprise, the advance is plagued by disagreements between the two Boer leaders, Kemp refusing to serve under Maritz's leadership and wanting to return to the Transvaal.  Martiz for his part desires to avoid giving the impression of being a German puppet, and thus refuses German assistance.  The result is that when a South African force is encountered near Schuit Drift, they are driven off and retreat back over the Orange River.

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