Saturday, December 27, 2014

December 27th, 1914

- After several days of attacks in Artois General Pétain's XXXIII Corps manages to capture seven hundred yards of German trenches today, but most of the gains are lost to subsequent enemy counterattacks. Meamwhile in Champagne Joffre moves IV Corps into the vicinity of 4th Army, which allows the commander of the latter to commit all of I Corps to the fight.  Thus when 4th Army resumes the attack today, the French are able to feed more troops into the battle to maintain the pressure on the German lines.

Elsewhere the secondary attacks ordered by Joffre to distract the Germans also continue to have negligible effects: today XI Corps of 2nd Army advances against the German line opposite without the benefit of a preliminary artillery bombardment, with the results one would expect.

In addition to the ongoing offensives in Artois and Champagne, Joffre continues to deal with a range of other issues, reflecting his attention to detain and tight control over all aspects of the French army.  Today a message goes out to all army commanders emphasizing the 'necessity' of organizing the 'first line of trenches in a manner to make them absolutely inviolable in order to reduce personnel placed in the trenches' and to 'permit the forming in the rear of important reserves required for future operations.'  The emphasis on finding additional reserves also demonstrates his continued commitment to the offensive, regardless of the outcome of the current operations.

- In Germany four new corps (XXXVIII to XXXXI Reserve Corps) and one new division (8th Bavarian Division) have been formed, and although consisting largely of inexperienced wartime volunteers and under-equipped as compared to pre-war formations, their deployment will allow for the execution of a major offensive.  The crucial issue now is whether these new units will be sent to the Western or the Eastern Front, in an attempt to secure a major victory.  In the draft of a letter to Hindenburg that he ultimately does not send, Falkenhayn reveals that he believes they should be sent West, along with one or two corps transferred from the East, and that an offensive should be launched by the end of January.  Here Falkenhayn once again demonstrates his belief that the primary enemies of Germany are on the Western Front, while a decisive victory cannot be achieved over Russia.  Though he is Chief of Staff of the German army, his opinion is hardly the last word in the matter.

- During the Cuxhaven Raid of Christmas Day, the Grand Fleet had been a hundred miles north of Heligoland Bight, hoping the operation might tempt the High Seas Fleet to sortie, but given the lack of reaction Jellicoe had ordered the fleet home.  In the predawn hours of this morning, the Grand Fleet is struggling through heavy seas as it approaches Scapa Flow when the dreadnought Monarch suddenly spots a patrol trawler dead ahead.  It turns sharply to miss the trawler, but steers directly into the path of Conqueror, another dreadnought, and the latter's bow drives into the stern of Monarch.  Both ships suffer significant damage, and although neither is in danger of sinking, they are both in need of time in drydock for repairs.

The temporary loss of two of the Grand Fleet's most powerful dreadnoughts leaves the British with just eighteen dreadnoughts, as compared to seventeen in the High Seas Fleet.  It is the moment of parity the Germans have dreamt of but, riding at anchor day after day, the Germans have no idea that the opportunity to engage the British on practically level terms even exists.

- General Ivanov of South-West Front decides today to call off the pursuit of the Austro-Hungarian 3rd Army, except for advance guards designed to keep the enemy off-balance.  The Russians have prevented the Austro-Hungarians from exploiting their victory at Limanowa-Lapanow, and will be able to hold a line well west of the San River.  Advancing through the winter weather has taken its toll on the Russians, though, and Ivanov has concluded that the time has come to rest and recuperate.  4th Army will hold the line of the Dunajec River to Gorlice, and 8th Army from Gorlice eastwards roughly on the north face of the Carpathian Mountains.

- With the arrival of 17th Division today, Enver Pasha orders IX Corps to attack Sarikamish, even though X Corps has not yet arrived, and despite IX Corps having lost 15 000 of its starting 25 000 men over the past five days to the weather.  Moreover, since December 25th the Russian garrison of Sarikamish has grown from two battalions of infantry to ten, and though the Ottomans press their attacks with great courage and tenacity, they are unable to break through the Russian lines and occupy the town.

The Battle of Sarikamish, December 27th, 1914.

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