Sunday, December 28, 2014

December 28th, 1914

- In Britain the primary decision-making body regarding the conduct of the war is the War Council, comprised of Prime Minister Asquith, relevant Cabinet ministers, and the service chiefs.  The secretary of the War Council is Colonel Maurice Hankey, whose position gives him more influence over British strategy than most generals.  Today he circulates to some of the members of the War Council a memorandum on the future conduct of the war he had begun to draft two days earlier, and this 'Boxing Day Memorandum' is notable on two accounts.  First, he wonders whether British strength is best concentrated on the Western Front, or whether they should look elsewhere, especially in terms of where British seapower can most usefully be employed.  One of the alternatives Hankey mentions is against the Ottoman Empire, either along the Syrian coast or, significantly, against the Dardanelles.  Second, Hankey has been in communication with Colonel Ernest Swinton, formerly an Assistant Secretary under Hankey and now the official war correspondent on the Western Front.  Swinton had learnt before the war of an American firm that produced farm tractors with caterpillar treads, and while at the front had come to wonder whether a vehicle so-equipped could have military applications.  Swinton passed the suggestion to Hankey, and Hankey has included it in his Boxing Day Memorandum, proposing the following machine:
Numbers of large heavy rollers, themselves bullet proof, propelled from behind by motor-engines, geared very low, the driving wheel fitted with a caterpillar driving gear to grip the ground, the driver's seat armoured and a Maxim gun fitted.  The object of this device would be to rol down the barbed wire by sheer weight, to give some cover to men creeping up behind and to support the advance with machine gun fire. 
This proposal contains the core elements of what will become the tank, and Hankey's circulation of this suggestion is one of the first steps in its development.

- The German occupation of most of Belgium and northeastern France has meant that a significant amount of industrial resources, including everything from coal mines to locomotives to river barges, is now under German control.  The exploitation of these resources, however, has been problematic.  As a KRA report of today notes, nobody knows who actually owns these resources, which makes coordinating their exploitation next to impossible.  Private businesses in Germany proper want to secure a share of the booty for themselves, while alternatively not wanting utilization of these resources by KRA and other state agencies to, for example, drive down the price of coal in Germany.  The exploitation of the occupied territories is far from a straightforward proposition, a theme that will recur in other lands conquered by Germany and ensure that it never receives the full economic benefit from its conquests.

- In German Kamerun the French column that occupied Baturi on December 9th has advanced westward to Bertua, but over the past few days has been halted in a series of engagements with German forces.

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