Thursday, December 25, 2014

December 25th, 1914

- Along certain stretches of the Western Front remarkable scenes play out today.  In what will become famous as the 'Christmas Truce', soldiers on both sides cease firing and for a time congregate in No Man's Land.  These episodes are most common in Flanders, where British soldiers (as of yet less prone than the French to hate the Germans, as it was not their country that had been invaded and occupied) and Germans from Saxony and Bavaria (it being generally accepted that Prussians were more war-like).  On both sides, Christmas Eve had seen the arrival of all kinds of care packages and donations from the home front, and some trenches were decorated with whatever greenery or 'ornaments' one could find.  At night the sounds of singing often echoed across the trenches as one side, then another, would sing Christmas carols.  In the daylights hours signs appear over the trenches, often proclaiming in the language of the other side: 'You no shoot, we no shoot.'  Soldiers then climb out of the trenches, first cautiously, then eagerly, and move out into No Man's Land.  Often the first task undertaken was the burying of the dead, who had lain out of reach for weeks and months.  Once completed, the two sides would mingle, frequently trading cigarettes, tinned-meat, and other recent gifts from the home front, while attempting to converse.  In some places they even play an improvised game of soccer across the mud and ruin of No Man's Land.  Diary entries by soldiers today often speak of sympathy with those on the other side, sharing as they did the terrible conditions of life in the trenches.  These 'truces' often continued for much of the day, neither side being in any great rush to return to their lines.  When they do depart, it is often with an informal agreement not to immediately resume firing.

German and English soldiers in No Man's Land on Christmas Day, 1914.

The Christmas Truce is the most prominent example of the 'live and let live' attitude that is emerging along stretches of the front - outside of major battles, there is a desire among the common infantry to avoid unnecessary shelling and rifle fire whose only effect can be to prompt reprisals.  In other words, for some the attitude is 'if you don't make our lives any more miserable, we won't make yours any more miserable.'

- A half hour before dawn this morning, Commodore Tyrwhitt's force reaches its launch position in the Heligoland.  By 630am the seaplanes are in the water, and at 659 the signal is given to take off.  Two seaplanes suffer engine failure before takeoff, so seven in total lift into the air and head southeast towards Cuxhaven.  At sea the visibility is perfect, but as the aircraft pass over the coast they discover the landscape below covered by thick fog.  In good weather the Zeppelin hanger at Nordholz would have been visible a dozen miles away, but today the fog obscures it completely.  The seaplanes split up searching for the hanger, but none are able to find it - one drops its bombs on fish-drying sheds by mistake.  Only two seaplanes come close to inflicting harm on the Germans.  The first, passing over German warships in the Jade estuary, aims its three bombs at the light cruisers Stralsund and Graudenz; the closest falls 200 yards from the latter.  The second passes over German warships anchored in the Schilling roads, and though it suffers damage from anti-aircraft fire, its observer, Lieutenant Erskine Childers, is able to pinpoint the location of seven dreadnoughs and three battlecruisers below.

The German North Sea coast targeted by the British seaplanes.

Having failed to accomplish anything, the seaplanes head back out to sea.  Running low on fuel, only two reach the seaplane carriers.  A third lands beside a British destroyer which takes aboard its crew, and three more come down near British submarines positioned by Keyes near the coast for precisely this reason.  The crew of the seventh, meanwhile, is picked up by a Dutch trawler, and are able to convince the Dutch authorities that they are 'ship-wrecked mariners', not combatants, and are thus able to return to Britain.

The British seaplane carrier Empress, one of three to attack the German coast today.

As the British force recovered the seaplanes and aircrew, they came under sporadic attack by German Zeppelins and seaplanes.  Though there were some near misses, no British warship is damaged.  The German fleet, meanwhile, remains in port the entire time.  Convinced that only the entire Grand Fleet would dare approach this near the German coast, the High Seas Fleet stays in port fearing that it is a British trap to lure them out to destruction.  By the time they realize that Tyrwhitt's small force is by itself, they have already departed for home.  This is another blow to morale in the German navy - the British have been able to sail close enough to launch airplanes with impunity.

- In the Carpathians Russian attacks continue to batter the Austro-Hungarian 3rd Army.  The latter are short on ammunition and lack sufficient infantry to cover the entire front.  When Russian units push through Jaslo between two of 3rd Army's corps, its commander accepts the inevitable and at 10pm cancels the proposed offensive of his eastern wing and informs his corps commanders that they are permitted to withdraw to the Carpathian watershed if hard-pressed by the enemy.

- Though Albania has existed for less than two years, it has already become a 'failed state'.  A recent rebellion has driven out the old monarch, the German Wilhelm of Wied, who had been appointed by the agreement of the Great Powers before the war.  A central government, for all intents and purposes, does not exist in Albania, and thus though it is formally neutral, it is entirely unable to defend its sovereignty.  Today Italy takes advantage of Albanian disorder to occupy the port of Valore, Albania's second largest city and close to the narrowest point in the Adriatic Sea before it empties into the Mediterranean.  The occupation of Valore gives Italy greater control over the Adriatic, which Italian nationalists view as an Italian lake.  Such an action would normally have provoked the ire of the other Great Powers, especially Austria-Hungary, but given not only the ongoing war but also the desire to secure Italian support, neither side in the Great War objects.  Thus Italy is not only using the war to secure territorial bribes to end its neutrality, but also as a cloak for unprovoked aggression against other states.

- Today the 'Ottoman' battlecruiser Goeben strikes a Russian mine at the entrance to the Bosporus after returning from a sortie in the Black Sea.  Though the warship is never in danger of sinking, it will be out of commission for some time.

- The elimination of the German East Asiatic Squadron removes the major impediment to British amphibious operations in the south Atlantic, and today a South African force lands at Walvis Bay on the coast of German South-West Africa.

- A small British detachment of four Indian companies occupies the coastal town of Jasin, located at the mouth of the Umba River and sitting on the border between British East Africa and German East Africa.  The occupation is not directly intended as a threat to the Germans - being sixty-four kilometres to the north, it is remote from Tanga, and the move is primarily designed to stabilize the frontier tribes in the Umba Valley inland.

No comments:

Post a Comment