Saturday, January 31, 2015

January 31st, 1915

- General Sarrail, commander of the French 3rd Army in the Argonne, reports to Joffre today on the recent fighting.  He notes how the French line has been pushed back, yielding a portion of the heights overlooking the Verdun railway to the Germans.  Six separate counterattacks have failed to dislodge the enemy, while the French have suffered 2400 casualties.  Sarrail complains that the effect of the recent fighting has had a negative impact on the morale of the infantry, which can only be restored by a major offensive.  While Joffre is sympathetic, he remains focused primarily on operations in the Champagne.

- In central Poland the German 9th Army launch a minor attack today near Bolimów, southwest of Warsaw.  The battle is notable for being the first time the Germans attempt to use gas in combat, but it is a thorough failure.  The only way to use gas on the battlefield is to open canisters and have the wind blow it towards the enemy; however, the wind shifts and the gas clouds pass back over the German infantry.  Luckily for the Germans, the extremely cold weather renders the gas ineffective.  Indeed, such is the extent of the failure that the Russians did not even realize that the Germans were attempting to gas them, an oversight that will come to haunt their allies on the Western Front in several months time.

- In Galicia, though the mixed Austro-Hungarian units under General Szurmay have taken Uszok Pass itself, the heights to the north remain in Russian hands, threatening their control over the vital transit point through the Carpathians.  In an effort to restart the general offensive by 3rd and push onwards towards Przemysl, Szurmay today orders his forces to seize the heights.

Austro-Hungarian infantry in the Uszok Pass.

- After evacuating northern Persia a month ago when the crisis in the Caucasus was at its most acute, the crushing triumph at Sarikamish has allowed the Russians to return, pushing out the weak and poorly-organized Ottoman forces and retaking Tabriz today.

- A small German force attacks South African forces at Kakamas near the border today, in an effort to support Boer rebels.  Not only does the attack fail, but it had already been rendered pointless given Kemp's surrender of yesterday.

Friday, January 30, 2015

January 30th, 1915

- Though the war has now passed the six-month mark, there are still some within financial circles who feel that hostilities will have to shortly cease as the combatants run out of the financial ability to pay for the war.  In France today the influential journal L'Économiste Français declares that the war will be over in seven months.

- As the centre of his army buckles under Russian pressure, the commander of the Austro-Hungarian 3rd Army is forced to send the last of his reserves - 29th Division - into the line to prevent a Russian breakthrough.  With no further reserves at his disposal should the Russians continue to push forward, an urgent message goes out to the commander of the neighbouring 4th Army, requesting the immediate transfer of a division.

- With the defeat of Maritz's attack on Upington on the 24th, and concluding that the Boer Rebellion has failed, the rebel commando led by General Kemp surrenders to government forces in South Africa today, leaving the small commando under Martiz as the only rebel unit still in the field.

Thursday, January 29, 2015

January 29th, 1915

- In the Argonne today the German 27th Division, in the western part of the woods, attacks the French line opposite and is able to advance several hundred metres.  Over the past month of fighting in the Argonne, the Germans have been able to incrementally push their line forward, while capturing three thousand French soldiers.

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

January 28th, 1915

- A meeting of the War Council in London is scheduled for 1130am.  Beforehand, Churchill receives a letter of resignation from Fisher over the latter's opposition to the proposed Dardanelles campaign.  Unwilling to lose the First Sea Lord, Churchill drags Fisher to a private meeting with Asquith at 10 Downing Street.  There the two rehash their positions, and Asquith, forced to choose, decides that the operation should go forward, and when Fisher receives the decision in silence, Churchill assumes the First Sea Lord has been won over.  The trio then go to the War Council meeting in the Cabinet Room.  Fisher, however, believes that Asquith resolved that the final decision will not be taken today.  When Asquith instead states that a decision needs to be made today, Fisher silents stands and makes for the door.  Lord Kitchener, well understanding what Fisher meant to do, leaps to his feet, gets to the door before Fisher, and steers him aside.  The Secretary of State for War argued to Fisher that he was the only one opposed to the mission, and as the Prime Minister had made his decision, it was the First Sea Lord's responsibility to the country to implement the choice.  Reluctantly, Fisher returns to the table, sitting in petulant silence as the discussion on the operation continues.

At 2pm the meeting is adjourned, at which point Churchill corners Fisher and proceeds to place, as he would later write, 'great and continuous pressure' on the First Sea Lord.   Churchill, with his overbearing personality and absolute conviction in the rightness of his beliefs, finally wears down Fisher, and the latter finally agrees to consent to the operation.  Elated, Churchill announces when the War Council reconvenes later in the afternoon that the entire Admiralty is behind the Dardanelles plan, and the meeting gives its final authorization for the attack to begin, though it will take several more weeks until the naval force is prepared to commence the operation.  Fisher, however, has only momentarily yielded under the pressure of his associates; in his heart he still believes the Dardanelles operation is foolhardy and risks significant losses.  It will only take for his fears to become reality for his opposition to resurface again.

- General de Langle of the French 4th Army issues details to his corps commanders today regarding his plan for the resumption of the offensive in the Champagne.  For this next phase of the battle, 4th Army is to utilize five corps in the line, of which two - XVII and I - will undertake the initial penetration of the German front at Perthes.  Once they have reached their objective, located about 1500 metres behind the line, they are to turn left and right in order to attack the German defenses from the flank and enlarge the breach.  Following the breach IV Corps, 4th Army's reserve is to advance deep into the enemy position.  Notably, the tactics de Langle outlines are for successive waves of infantry in order to achieve the initial breakthrough.

- In France while the shortage of artillery shells has been a focus of economic concern, there has also been criticism of the government regarding the provision of rifles.  Production has been minimal, while 850 000 have been lost in the first six months of the war, leaving a shortfall of almost 700 000.  Today the director of artillery meets with representatives of private industry regarding their manufacturing rifles for the army.  While the firms represented are willing to take on government contracts, many are unable to fulfill the terms of the agreement - the precision required to produce rifles was far greater than such firms were accustomed to, and mobilization has reduced the available pool of skilled labour.

- As the Russian counterattack in the Carpathians continues, the east wing of the Russian 8th Army is able to advance against the centre of the Austro-Hungarian 3rd Army.  Today, XVIII Corps of the latter is pushed back five miles by the Russians.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

January 27th, 1915

- Churchill responds to Fisher's memorandum of the 25th, arguing that while maintaining superiority in the North Sea is the most important mission of the Royal Navy, there is nothing that pre-dreadnoughts can contribute to, given how hopelessly outdated they would be in combat against dreadnoughts.  As such, rather than simply sitting in port, it is better to utilize the pre-dreadnoughts in operations elsewhere where there is no risk of confronting more modern warships, such as the bombardment of the Ottoman forts at the Dardanelles.

- The capture of Hartmannswillerkopf on the 22nd has prompted an immediate response; fearing its capture to be the opening phase to roll up the French line in Alsace from the south, a counterattack has been organized by 47th and 66th Divisions.  Attacking through heavy snow, the French suffer heavy casualties and are repulsed.

- The Ottoman VIII Corps continues its advance westward across the Sinai Peninsula towards the Suez Canal.  Though they have avoided marching during daylight hours, the British have been able to use aerial reconnaissance, primarily by French sea-planes, to monitor the Ottoman movement.  By today the intelligence department in Cairo has concluded, correctly, that the main enemy force is advancing across the centre of the Sinai.

- At 5pm Emden's landing party departs Hodeida for Sanaa after a ceremony given on their behalf by the Ottoman garrison.  During the two weeks spent in Hodeida a number of German sailors have come down with dysentry and malaria, despite taking quinine daily, and First Office Mücke looks forward to arriving at Sanaa, where, he has been informed, the climate is very similar to Europe's.

Monday, January 26, 2015

January 26th, 1915

- At midnight the crippled battlecruiser Lion, towed by Indomitable, arrives at the mouth of the Firth of Forth off Edinburgh on the Scottish coast.  The tow is transferred to tugboats as several hours of pumping is required to remove enough water from Lion to allow it to reach the naval base at Rosyth.  Through a thick fog, and with Beatty on the bridge, Lion passes under the Firth of Forth Bridge in the morning, and are greeted by cheering crowds lining the span.  Lion will ultimately be sent to Armstrong's shipyard at Newcastle upon Tyne, and will spent several months replacing armour plates.

- Similar to his German counterpart yesterday, Joffre circulates instructions today emphasizing the importance of a second line of defences in case the enemy breaks through the first trench line.

- The Austro-Hungarian offensive in the Carpathians has failed to make satisfactory progress.  Despite limited progress, General Szurmay's group has not reached its objectives, which holds back V Corps on its left, while X Corps remains incapable of resuming the offensive.  Further, Südarmee has made less progress than what had been hoped for.  Meanwhile, on the other side General Ivanov of South-West Front concludes that the time is right for a counterattack, and Russian forces attack the Austro-Hungarian VIII and III Corps.  Ivanov is also able to convince Grand Duke Nicholas to transfer XXII Finnish Corps from 10th Army opposite East Prussia to South-West Front.

The position of Südarmee on January 26th, 1915.

Sunday, January 25, 2015

January 25th, 1915

- This morning the heavy-damaged battlecruiser Seydlitz limps into the harbour at Wilhelmshaven, and after pumping out six hundred tons of water, it enters dry dock to begin what will be an extensive and lengthy repair.  The devastation wrought by the explosion of the two aft turrets on Seydlitz does have one benefit, as the Germans realize just how potentially destructive a fire in a turret can be.  In particular, they are acutely aware of how narrowly they avoided disaster; if the fire in the turrets had ignited the main magazine as the result of a 'flash fire', as the phenomenon is named, the warship would have ceased to exist.  The conclusion drawn is that the turret must always be isolated from the magazine, even while ammunition is being hoisted from the latter to the former.  To do this, automatic doors are to be installed on all German dreadnoughts and battlecruisers designed to close immediately after a load of ammunition has passed them by.  Through this, it is hoped that the destruction wrought by a 'flash fire' will be limited only to the turret initially struck.  It is a vital insight that the Royal Navy, having no warship damaged by a flash fire, is entirely ignorant, an oversight for which several thousand sailors will pay with their lives in seventeen months time.

The damaged German battlecruiser Seydlitz returning to port after the Battle of Dogger Bank.

- In Britain construction of the battlecruisers Renown and Repulse begins today as the keels are laid down.  The design of the two warships was done at the insistence of Admiral Fisher, who views Renown and Repulse as embodying a further evolution of battlecruiser design; namely, even higher speed with even less armour.  The two will have six 15-inch guns and the remarkable maximum speed of 32 knots, though this is accomplished at the expense of armour - they are more thin-skinned than any other dreadnought or battlecruiser afloat.  Fisher does nothing by moderation, and if he is wants to trade armour and armament for speed, then there is no length to which he is not willing to go.

- Admiral Fisher sends a memorandum relating his views on the proposed attack against the Dardanelles to Prime Minister Asquith today, with a copy to Churchill.  The First Sea Lord argues that any subsidiary operations play into Germany's hands, as the margin of superiority in the North Sea is vital to naval supremacy, and any losses, even of second-rank warships, can have an impact.  Though Fisher asks that his memorandum be circulated to the War Council, Asquith, on Churchill's advice, refuses.

- Though held by the French during the Race to the Sea, the town of Albert is within easy shelling distance of German artillery on the other side of the front line.  Today, a German shell strikes the top of the Basilica of Notre Dame de Brebières in Albert, causing the statue of Mary holding the baby Jesus to lodge in a horizontal position that appeared to defy logic and gravity.  The 'Leaning Virgin', as it will be known, becomes a familiar sight to Entente soldiers marching to the nearby front, and both sides believe that whomever will cause the statue to fall will lose the war.

The Basilica of Notre Dame de Brebières in Albert, with the 'Leaning
Virgin' poised as if in mid-air.

- Falkenhayn issues further instructions to his army commanders on the Western Front regarding the defense of German lines.  While he authorizes the construction of reserve lines and fortifications , he emphasizes that every effort must be expended on holding the first trench line, and the additional defences are only to be utilized in the case that the front trench is penetrated.  Further, any lost ground is to be the target of an immediate counterattack.

- In Galicia the offensive by the Austro-Hungarian 3rd Army and Südarmee continues to make little progress.  X Corps of the former has seen its attack on the Russian lines fail and is ordered to cease offensive operations so that the few reserves available to 3rd Army can be sent to the east wing in an effort to find a way forward.

Saturday, January 24, 2015

January 24th, 1915

- At dawn the battlecruisers under Admiral Hipper are at Dogger Bank, steaming northwestward at fifteen knots.  The accompanying light cruisers and destroyers are spread out in order to search for British fishing vessels.  Just after 7am, the light cruiser Koblenz sights the British light cruiser Aurora, part of Commodore Tyrwhitt's force coming north to meet Beatty's battlecruiser.  In an exchange of fire Aurora is hit three times before turning away, while Koblenz reports the encounter to Hipper.  The German admiral is initially pleased at the report - perhaps a small number of light warships are at sea that his battlecruisers can mop up - and he orders his battlecruisers to steer for Koblenz.  In the minutes that follow, however, there are additional reports of sightings - Koblenz later reports seeing additional smoke to the south, and the light cruiser Stralsund, a few miles in front of Hipper's main force, reports seeing thick clouds of smoke to the northwest.  Another message comes in from the armoured cruiser Blücher stating that it can see seven enemy light cruisers and twenty destroyers in the distance ahead.  The latter report in particular is concerning to Hipper - such a large force of light warships is almost certainly a screen for dreadnoughts or battlecruisers just behind them.  Hipper knows he has promised Ingenohl not to take risks, and that the High Seas Fleet is still at anchor, unable to assist him.  Unsure of whether he is sailing into a trap, at 735am Hipper orders his warships to turn for home.

The reality, of course, is that Hipper's concern are fully justified.  The first reports from Aurora, augmented by subsequent sightings, indicate to Beatty's great satisfaction that the intelligence of the German raid was accurate - the Germans are out, and he is ideally positioned to intercept them.  He orders his warships to pursue the now-fleeing Germans, and by 8am a straightforward stern chase is on.  Hipper's battlecruisers have 150 miles to go to reach safety off the German coast, and have a fourteen mile head start on the pursuing British.  The ships in both squadrons now strain for maximum speed, the stokers in the furnaces below shoveling coal as fast as humanly possible.  Here the decisive factor is Blücher - it is the most recent and powerful armoured cruiser ever built in Germany, which is another way of saying that it is completely outclassed by the battlecruisers on both sides.  Crucially its maximum speed is 23 knots, which limits the speed of Hipper's squadron as a whole despite the ability of his battlecruisers to go even faster.  On the British side, Beatty's five warships are all battlecruisers, and the oldest - Indomitable - is still capable of 25 knots.  The brutal reality of the math for the Germans is that minute-by-minute, the British are slowly but surely gaining on them.  It is now simply a matter of when the lead British warship will close within firing range of the last German warship - Beatty takes advantage of the wait to go below for breakfast.

The Battle of Dogger Bank, January 24th, 1915.

As the minutes tick by, the gunnery officer aboard Lion, the lead British battlecruiser and Beatty's flagship, counts out the range to Blücher, the rear German warship.  When the distance reaches 20 000 yards, approval is given to open fire.  The first ranging shot from Lion roars out at 852am, while the second British battlecruiser - Tiger - fires its own ranging shot at 9am.  At 905 Beatty signals to his warships to open fire, and Lion and Tiger launch full salvos at the enemy.  Lion scores its first hit on Blücher at 909, and when Princess Royal is close enough to commence firing, Beatty's flagship shifts fire to the third German warship in line.  As the British continued to gradually close the gap, the salvos of the lead warships shifted to the farthest in range, with the objective of each British battlecruiser bringing its German counterpart in line under fire.  Lion's shells are soon straddling Seydlitz, Hipper's flagship, and at 945, a shell pierces the aftermost turret of the German battlecruiser.  In an instant the powder charges are ignited, and a flash fire roars down from the turret to the magazine, whose crew, to escape incineration, attempt to open the doors to the adjacent turret.  All this accomplishes is to spread the flash fire to the adjacent turret.  Both turrets are destroyed, shooting giant columns of flames into the air.  Seydlitz is saved from annihilation only by the bravery of three crewmen, who fight through the flames to reach and turn the valves to flood the magazine, preventing a catastrophic explosion that would have destroyed the entire ship.  Instead, though the two aft turrets are ruined, it is able to remain in the fight, its three fore turrets firing as if nothing had happened.

At 1018am, two shells strike the side of Lion almost simultaneously, opening several breaches in the armour plates below the water line.  Though the flooding is contained, it reduces the speed of the battlecruiser, and subsequent hits over the next forty minutes slow it further.  At 1054, as the other British battlecruisers passed Lion, Beatty on his bridged believed that he spotted the periscope of a submarine, and ordered a turn to port to avoid a potential torpedo attack.  No one else saw anything, and the few minutes it took to turn to port cost precious minutes and yards.  Beatty, realizing this, orders the turn to be cut short with the signal 'Course North East' at 1102.  As this signal flies from the mast of Lion, Beatty orders another signal: 'Attack the rear of the enemy,' wanting his other battlecruisers to pursue the remaining German battlecruisers.  Beatty's flag lieutenant, however, botches the signals, flying them from adjacent halyards and lowering them simultaneously, which gives the impression not of two separate signals, but one: 'Attack the rear of the enemy course northeast.'  At this moment, less than 8000 yards to the northeast is Blücher, already heavily damaged and falling behind.  To the second in command of the British Battlecruiser Squadron, Rear Admiral Sir Archibald Moore aboard New Zealand, it appears that Beatty is signaling to abandon the chase of the German battlecruisers and instead concentrate all fire on Blücher.  Logically the order makes no sense - Blücher is already effectively out of the fight while the enemy battlecruisers are making their escape.  Moore, however, concludes that Beatty must know something he does not, such as a newly-discovered minefield ahead.  Moore decides that it is his duty to obey a signal from his superior officer, and so at 1109am Tiger, Princess Royal, and New Zealand turn away from the German battlecruisers and concentrate their fire on Blücher.

The British battlecruiser Lion.

Beatty for his part is apoplectic when he sees the rest of his command turn away from the Germans.  He orders that Nelson's signal, 'Engage the enemy more closely', be flown, only to be informed that it had been removed from the signal book.  Soon distance and smoke prevent Beatty from signalling the rest of his squadron.  Thus the four British battlecruisers believe themselves to be obeying Beatty's orders in circling Blücher in an obvious case of overkill, firing dozens of 12-inch and 13.5-inch shells into it.  The armoured cruiser is quickly reduced to a burning wreck, incapable of returning fire.  At 1207pm Blücher rolls over on its side, and a few minutes later plunges beneath the waves.  Of the 1200 German sailors in the water, only 234 are saved.

One of the most famous picture of the war at sea, the German armoured cruiser Blücher capsizes as dozens of German
sailors scramble down the side.

Beatty meanwhile is eager to return to the fight, and at 1150am boards the destroyer Attack which had sailed alongside Lion.  It steams off and catches up to Princess Royal, which Beatty boards at 1233pm.  Here he is informed of the consequences of the misinterpreted signal.  He is enraged and wants to immediately resume the chase, but quickly realizes that forty minutes and possibly 30 000 yards have been lost; it is now impossible to catch the remainder of Hipper's squadron before it reaches safety.  At 1245pm, with extreme reluctance, he orders his warships to turn for home.  The wounded Lion, both engines now shut down, is taken in tow by Indomitable while the others return to port.

On the German side the surviving warships rendezvous with the High Seas Fleet, belatedly sent to sea when Hipper signalled his predicament.  For the German admiral it had been a terrible decision to leave Blücher behind, but he well understood that if he turned his remaining three battlecruisers around he might have lost them all.  Here the loss of his weakest ship is the lesser of two evils, and this evening the battlecruisers anchor in the mouth of the Jade River

The Battle of Dogger Bank is a clear British victory - Blücher sunk, Seydlitz badly damaged, and more than 1200 German sailors dead, wounded, or taken prisoner.  For the British, though Lion had taken a battering, only Tiger had even been hit by heavy shells.  After the uncertain start to the war at sea, Dogger Bank is seen as a reaffirmation of the superiority of the Royal Navy.  Among the naval leadership, however, the view is decidedly different, where disappointment reigns.  What appeared to be a golden opportunity to destroy multiple German battlecruisers has been lost through misinterpretations and bad luck.  Predictably Fisher is outraged, arguing in reference to Moore that 'Any fool can obey orders!', while Beatty believes he never even sent the signal that Moore supposedly followed.  No official recrimination occurs, but Moore will shortly be reassigned to command a cruiser squadron off the Canary Islands, the implicit censure ringing loud and clear.

- In South Africa the Boer rebel commando under Maritz attacks Upington on the frontier with German South-West Africa.  The attack is spread out over a eight kilometre front, and with inadequate artillery support miscarries.

Friday, January 23, 2015

January 23rd, 1915

- In line with the decisions of the 21st, today Falkenhayn issues orders for the deployment of the new German 10th Army, which is to be sent to the Eastern Front and consists of XXXVIII, XXXIX, and XXXX Reserve Corps as well as XXI Corps drawn from the Western Front (the latter replaced by XXXXI Reserve Corps).

- Admiral Hipper, commander of the battlecruisers of the High Seas Fleet, has been badgering Admiral Ingenohl to approve a sortie of his force to Dogger Bank in the North Sea.  The propensity of the Grand Fleet to appear out of the blue precisely where it needed to be to intercept prior German raids has not gone unnoticed, but as the German navy remains supremely confident in the security of its wireless codes, Hipper has concluded that fishing trawlers around Dogger Bank have been signalling the British navy whenever German warships are at sea.  Hipper's plan is to take his battlecruisers to Dogger Bank at night, intercept any British light forces encountered at dawn, rigourously investigage each fishing trawler, and return the following evening.  Ingenohl yields today to Hipper's pressure, signalling at 1025am that the proposed sortie to Dogger Bank is approved.  The commander of the High Seas Fleet is clear, however, that no assistance from the dreadnoughts will be forthcoming - in addition to the Kaiser's edict, the 3rd Battle Squadron, composed of the newest dreadnoughts, is in the Baltic Sea undertaking gunnery practice.  Hipper promises that he will turn for home at the first sight of any significant British force.  At 545pm Hipper departs the Jade with the battlecruisers Seydlitz, Moltke, and Derfflinger (Von der Tann is in drydock for routine maintenance), the armoured cruiser Blücher, four light cruisers, and nineteen destroyers.

Unfortunately for Hipper, Room 40 has once again woven its magic, and the British Admiralty knows of the German sortie hours before the German warships have even left port.  By 1pm telegrams warning of the German raid are sent to Jellicoe, Beatty, and Tyrwhitt, and orders issued for Beatty's battlecruisers and Tyrwhitt's light warships to rendezvous at Dogger Bank at 7am tomorrow morning.  Jellicoe and the Grand Fleet, meanwhile, was instructed to put to sea and patrol 150 miles to the northwest, in case the High Seas Fleet made an appearance.  At 6pm, just fifteen minutes after Hipper's warships leave the Jade, Beatty's battlecruisers depart Rosyth and begin the voyage overnight to Dogger Bank.

Dogger Bank and the North Sea.

- The Austo-Hungarian offensive in Galicia begins today, constituting the first phase of the Winter Battles of the Carpathians.  In 3rd Army's sector small gains are recoded by elements under the command of General Szurmay, which seize the heights around Uszok Pass, and the 44th Landwehr Division reaches the Chrewt area.  To the east Südarmee is also on the move, with Corps Hofmann, commanded by General Peter Hofmann and consisting of a German infantry division and three Austro-Hungarian infantry brigades, advancing on the roads to Tucholka and Tuchla.

The greatest challenges faced by the attackers is not overcoming Russian resistance, however, but dealing with the weather and terrain.  Infantry find themselves attempting to fight through heavy snow on icy slopes, with no prospect of either prolonged periods of rest or shelter from the elements.  Indeed, many of the soldiers were already exhausted before they even reached the Russian defences, while the weather foiled efforts to evacuate the sick and wounded.  Artillery support was also almost nonexistant - while efforts had been made to supply the 3rd Army and Südarmee with additional shells, it proved practically impossible to move artillery pieces through the deep snow to support advancing infantry.  Most of the infantry in the Austro-Hungarian army had no familiarity with the mountains or how to survive in them, and their formations had already been decimated by the fighting of 1914.  In most cases the soldiers of the Austro-Hungarian army were simply no longer capable of executing the operations dreamt up by Conrad and his subordinates.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

January 22nd, 1915

- After the German advance towards Le Four de Paris in the Argonne on the 11th, today elements of 34th Division expand the German salient by seizing ground to the northwest of the town.

- The struggle for the summit of Hartmannswillerkopf in the Vosges comes to a close.  Following two days of heavy artillery bombardment and repeated German attacks, the French infantry holding the mountain have been reduced to almost nothing.  The last surviving French infantry, numbering about forty, strap on their skis today and set off down the slopes in an attempt to break out of the German encirclement.  The effort fails, however, as the French are wiped out to a man by small-arms fire.  The Germans now begin to fortify the summit in the expectation of French counterattacks to regain Hartmannswillerkopf.

- Today Conrad issues final orders to the Austro-Hungarian Army for the offensive to be undertaken in the Carpathian Mountains.  This operation is one of the two planned for the Eastern Front, the other being the German offensive out of East Prussia.  The main burden of the attack, with the recapture of the Uszok Pass as a core objective, is to fall on 3rd Army, the east wing especially, and Südarmee, the latter comprised of both German and Austro-Hungarian units.  As these two armies advance through Zmigrod and Dukla they will be joined progressively by the corps of 4th Army to the west, and ultimately push the Germans out of the Carpathians and relieve the beleagured fortress of Przemysl.

The preparation of 3rd Army for the operation has been limited by the poor weather and scarcity of rail lines running up to the front.  This has reduced the amount of reinforcements sent to 3rd Army, leaving the responsibility for the attack primarily on formations already exhausted after months of fighting in the brutal terrain and climate of the Carpathians.

The Austro-Hungarian plan for the January offensive in the Carpathians.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

January 21st, 1915

- Sir John French visits Ferdinand Foch and Joseph Joffre at the latter's headquarters today to discuss strategy on the Western Front.  The commander of the BEF pushes his plan for a British advance along the Channel coast, which would benefit from naval support and would clear potential German naval bases at Zeebrugge and Ostend.  Joffre, however, continues to insist that he needs the BEF to take over more of the line at Ypres to facilitate further offensives, and French relents, promising to relieve first the French IX Corps and subsequently XX Corps as reinforcements arrive from Britain.

- In Germany the impasse between Falkenhayn and his critics is resolved today in conference with the Kaiser.  Though Bethmann-Hollweg and others are unable to force the Chief of Staff's resignation, Falkenhayn is convinced to give up the position of War Minister, which he has held since before the outbreak of the war.  Further, in the face of Hindenburg's threatened resignation Falkenhayn has no choice but to acquiesce in Ludendorff's return to OberOst as Chief of Staff.  Finally, the arguments of Hindenburg and Ludendorff regarding the deployment of the new reserve corps are accepted, and it is agreed that they will be deployed to the Eastern Front.  Falkenhayn accepts the decisions with 'a heavy heart', as he later writes, believing that the commitment of the reserves to the East will be insufficient to win a decisive victory while major offensive operations on the Western Front would not be possible for the time being.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

January 20th, 1915

- As the Zeppelins L 3 and L 4 return to their airbase of Fuhlsbüttel at 940am and 947am, the news of the first bombs dropped on Britain by airships is published in the German press to widespread acclaim.  The reaction in government circles is somewhat more guarded; Wilhelm II praises the conduct of the raid, but is disturbed by the apparent bombing of the royal palace at Sandringham, raising fears among the military leadership that the temperamental Kaiser may yet rescind permission to bomb Britain.  Chancellor Bethmann-Hollweg, meanwhile, is concerned at the impact on opinion in the neutral states, especially in the United States, over the apparent bombing of undefended cities for no great military gain.  In Britain, meanwhile, satisfaction with the negligible damage is mixed with concern at the inability to prevent such raids - while anti-aircraft guns have been deployed around London and a small number of military targets, the two German Zeppelins had attacked elsewhere and thus flew with relative impunity.

- On the Eastern Front General Ivanov of South-West Front believes the decision by Grand Duke Nicholas to focus on an invasion of East Prussia, as prompted by General Ruszkii, fails to take account of the apparent Russian superiority in Galicia.  Instead, as he informs his subordinates today, Ivanov intends to push into and through the Carpathian Mountains into the Hungary plain, possibly knocking Austria-Hungary out of the war entirely.  Regardless of the merit in Ivanov's plan, it means that once again North-West and South-West Front are working at cross-purposes, pursuing their own plans instead of coordinating their efforts.

- Over the past two days the Mecklenburg 14th Jäger Battalion and the 11th and 15th Ulan Regiments have attacked in the Vosges, working their way around the southern flank of Hartmannswillerkopf, isolating the French defenders on the summit.  In preparation for a final assault on the mountain, it is targeted by a heavy artillery bombardment.

Monday, January 19, 2015

January 19th, 1915

- Joffre today issues an order for 4th Army to commence planning for a resumption of its offensive in the Champagne.  However, the attack is to wait until dry weather, while General de Langle of 4th Army insists on fourteen days of preparation time.

- After a first attempt by Zeppelins to raid the English coast on January 13th was aborted due to heavy rain, a second attempt this evening by L 3 and L 4 is successful (L 6 was forced to turn back due to engine failure).  The former crossed the north Norfolk coast and made its way to the port of Great Yarmouth, where it dropped six 110-pound explosive bombs and seven incendiary bombs which do only minor damage while killing two civilians.  L 4, meanwhile, also crosses the coast in Norfolk, but its commander believes himself to be near the Humber estuary, almost eighty miles away.  This Zeppelin follows a meandering course over the English countryside, searching for a river that he is nowhere near to, periodically dropping bombs in response to being fired upon.  Notably, one of these bombs on the village of Sandringham, home of the royal home of the same name.  Believing his airship to be north of the Humber, the commander of L 4 drops seven explosive and six incendiary bombs on the town of King's Lynn, killing a woman and a boy.

Damaged property in King's Lynn after the bombing raid of L 4, January 19th, 1915.

- Though Admiral Fisher has acquiesced to the Dardanelles operation, he remains deeply concerned about the potential for naval losses in the effort to force the Straits.  Today he unburdens himself to Jellicoe in his typical forthright manner:

The Cabinet have decided on taking the Dardanelles solely with the navy using fifteen battleships and 32 other vessels, and keeping out there three battlecruisers and a flotilla of destroyers all urgently needed at the decisive theater at home.  There is only one way out and that is to resign.  But you say 'No!' which simply means I am a consenting party to what I absolutely disapprove.  I don't agree with one single step taken . . . The way the war is conducted both ashore and afloat is chaotic!  We have a new plan every week.

Fisher feels trapped by his obligations as First Sea Lord - the decision to attack the Dardanelles is ultimately one made by the politicians, and once agreed upon he is obligated to implement it, regardless of whatever personal misgivings he has.  Resignation is the only way out of the quandary and will remain in Fisher's mind in the months ahead.

- In German East Africa Colonel Lettow-Vorbeck has concentrated nine companies of Schütztruppen against the British garrison at Jasin, which had been occupied on December 25th.  After days of fighting, and outnumbered with no prospect of relief, the four Indian companies surrender today.  In the aftermath of the defeat at Tanga in November, it is yet another blow to British morale and prestige in eastern Africa.  However, it is also a Phyrric victory for Lettow-Vorbeck, as in the fighting he lost 15% of his overall strength, including twenty-three of 265 Europeans killed, and had used 200 000 rounds of ammunition.  Given the unlikelihood of reinforcement from Germany, losses of any kind need to be avoided, and considering that the British garrison at Jasin posed no threat to any position of importance in German East Africa, the offensive was misguided, and a reflection of how Lettow-Vorbeck's instincts, at least in this early phase of the war, were still in favour of frontal attacks as opposed to guerrilla warfare.

Sunday, January 18, 2015

January 18th, 1915

- Japan had entered the First World War on the side of the Entente not because it was threatened by Germany, but rather to secure its own limited objectives in East Asia and the Pacific.  Indeed, the amount of time and effort it would take the rest of the Entente to defeat Germany in Europe was of no particular concern to Japan, provided that Germany was defeated eventually.  Thus Japan's focus was always limited to its immediate backyard, and by the end of 1914 had secured its immediate territorial objectives through the seizure of Tsingtao and the German islands of the north Pacific.  With this accomplished, the focus of the Japanese government turned to China, still a neutral state but one in which Japan had long sought to secure economic and political hegemony.  China was seen as an essential source of raw materials and a market for exports, and a dominant Japanese interest was also viewed as crucial to the security of the nascent Japanese Empire.  The European colonial powers, however, had also long been interested in China, and concessions to Britain, France, and Russia threaten to crowd out Japan, while the 'Open Door' policy of the United States is equally unpalatable.  The ongoing war, however, has opened an opportunity to the Japanese government to expand its influence in China without meeting the opposition of Britain, France, and Russia, given their continued desire for Japanese assistance.

Thus today the Japanese ambassador presents to the Chinese government what will become known as the Twenty-One Demands, listing the concessions expected of the Chinese.  The Demands were organized into five groups:

  1. Japan is to be given the right to settle the future of Tsingtao (in practice, this means Japan will be able to take the base for itself).
  2. The Japanese lease of Kwantung is to be extended for ninety-nine years, consolidating Japan's hold on southern Manchuria and eastern Inner Mongolia.
  3. Japan will be granted joint ownership of the Hanyehping iron and coal company, a key source of raw materials whose exploitation by Japan would have the additional benefit of retarding Chinese industrialization.
  4. China will not give or lease any harbour opposite the Japanese colony of Taiwan.
  5. Explicitly labelled as a series of 'wishes', not 'demands', the fifth group cover more general issues, such as China accepting Japanese military and political advisers and that Japanese citizens can own land in China, which would effectively give Japan indirect control over those parts of China over which it does not already have direct control.

Saturday, January 17, 2015

January 17th, 1915

- General Ruszkii of North-West Front meets Grand Duke Nicholas' chief of staff at Siedlec today to discuss the next phase of operations on the northern half of the Eastern Front.  Ruszkii remains convinced that an advance in central Poland is impossible as long as the Germans control East Prussia, so he proposes to form a new 12th Army, comprised of ten divisions, that will attack westwards into East Prussia, supported by 10th Army to the south.  The plan is approved, and orders begin to be issued for the redeployments necessary to create 12th Army.

Friday, January 16, 2015

January 16th, 1915

- Conrad continues to press Falkenhayn for the deployment of the four new reserve corps on the Eastern Front, sending a telegram today arguing that these formations are urgently required to avoid further setbacks.

- In the Caucasus the Ottoman XI Corps, its flank turned by elements of the Russian II Turkestan Corps, begins today to withdraw westward, crossing the frontier back into the Ottoman Empire.  Its retreat marks the effective end of the Battle of Sarikamish.  Though it has suffered heavy casualties over the past three weeks, at least it still has some semblance of fighting capability.  To the north X Corps has been retreating for the past two weeks, and consists of only three thousand survivors.  IX Corps, finally, has ceased to exist.

The Battle of Sarikamish has been a crushing Ottoman defeat, and while the Russians played a role, ultimately the Ottoman offensive was broken by the terrain and the weather.  Trudging through waist-deep snow along mountain ranges, the Ottman 3rd Army had suffered 25 000 casualties before they even began their attack at Sarikamish.  The bitter cold claimed thousands of lives each night, and on occasion entire encampments would freeze to death, nothing remaining but ice-cold corpses in tent after tent.  After the battle the Russians would find 30 000 frozen Ottoman soldiers around Sarikamish alone.  In such conditions, even the slightest wound was fatal - it is estimated that 20 000 lightly-wounded Ottomans froze to death before medical attention could reach them.  Precise casualty figures for the Ottomans simply don't exist - thousands vanished forever in the remote mountains and valleys of the Caucasus.  Estimates for total Ottoman losses range from 75 000 to 90 000.  In comparison, the remaining effective strength of the Ottoman 3rd Army was less than 15 000 after the battle.

Frozen Ottoman soldiers outside Sarikamish, January 1915.

The Russian victory at Sarikamish has been absolute, and has secured the Russian frontier in the Caucasus.  The battle's importance, however, is far more wide-reaching.  At the start of the Ottoman offensive, Enver Pasha had broadcast that it was the beginning of a great pan-Turkic movement that would liberate all Turkic peoples from the Russian yoke.  Raising the stakes meant for Enver raising the consequences of defeat.  Many Turkic people within the Russian Caucasus had adopted a wait-and-see approach, instead of rising in rebellion, when the Ottomans invaded, and in the aftermath of Sarikamish conclude that loyalty to Russia is their only viable option.  The Russian victory thus not only safeguards the frontier with the Ottoman Empire, but also reduces the need to garrison the interior of the Caucasus, freeing up soldiers to be redeployed elsewhere on the Eastern Front.

Even more than the discrediting of Enver's pan-Turkic appeal is the impact of Sarikamish on the Ottoman effort to unify all Muslims behind their leadership in a jihad against the Entente.  The end of the battle comes just two months after the summons to holy war, and the defeat is interpreted as a sign not only of continued Ottoman decline, but of their inability to transform words into action.  Muslims throughout the British, French, and Russian empires conclude that, given the apparently dim prospects of Ottoman victory, answering the summons to jihad would simply be inviting their own destruction at the hands of their colonial masters.  Sarikamish is thus vital in limiting the potential of Muslim insurrection in the colonial world, and frustrating the German aim of using their Ottoman allies to set aflame the empires of their enemies.  As such, the Battle of Sarikamish is one of the most important and decisive of the entire war.

Thursday, January 15, 2015

January 15th, 1915

- Joffre replies today to General de Langle's review of 4th Army's recent offensive, identifying two causes for the failures of the attacks: first, the artillery bombardment was too short and of insufficient strength; and second, the fronts under attack were too narrow and assaulted by too few soldiers.  With respect to the latter, Joffre believes that despite 4th Army's offensive being conducted against twelve kilometres, the decisive assaults were often concentrated against just a few metres of the enemy line, which leaves the attacking infantry vulnerable to enemy artillery fire.  Instead, Joffre believes that as wide a front as possible needs to be attacked by 'incessantly repeated blows' in order to secure success.

- While discussing his views on operations to his subordinates, the French Commander-in-Chief does not do so with his nominal superior, the minister of war.  When the latter requests information on the methods used in attacks today, Joffre in reply refuses to offer any details, stating instead that if the government does not have complete confidence in his judgement he is prepared to resign.  Joffre jealously guards his command authority, denying his civilian masters even the most nominal of oversight.  In Joffre's view, war is best left to the experts (i.e. the generals).

Meanwhile, Joffre also wants the British to take over responsibility for a greater portion of the front line in the north by replacing the French 8th Army in the Ypres salient.  Doing so would allow Joffre to take two French corps from Flanders and redeploy them for operations elsewhere.  This fits Joffre's overall conception of operations on the Western Front - the French are to undertake the primary offensives, while their British allies play a secondary role by allowing Joffre to assemble additional reserves.  This also corresponds with Joffre's opinion of the fighting worth of the British army, especially the new formations arriving from England; as he explains to Foch today, having the British take over more of the front takes advantage of their 'aptitude' for the defense, hardly a compliment from the attack-orientated Joffre.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

January 14th, 1915

- The German attack near Soissons concludes today with the seizure of the hills north of the city.  With the French pushed back to the outskirts of Soissons and to the north bank of the Aisne River, the Germans have accomplished their objectives.  Though the depth of the advance is nowhere more than two kilometres, it is considered a successful offensive, which is credited to meticulous preparations and a concentration of artillery fire, and the battle used as an example to the German army elsewhere on the Western Front on the conduct of medium-scale operations.  Overall, German losses over the past five days of fighting near Soissons have numbered about 5500.

- The Ottoman VIII Corps of 4th Army begins its advance into the Sinai peninsula, with its objective being the seizure of the Suez Canal.  Its line of march is across the centre of the peninsula held the promise of surprising the enemy and avoided either coastline where the Ottomans would be vulnerable to British seapower.  The three divisions of VIII Corps, however, must bring all of their supplies with them, as there is no railway across the Sinai.  Though the commander of 4th Army had wanted to further delay the advance to gather additional supplies, both Falkenhayn and Enver Pasha have pushed for an immediate advance, the former to gain a notable victory that will distract the British from the Western Front, and the latter to secure a triumph that will compensate and mask the failure at Sarikamish.  Thus VIII Corps is moving with inadequate ammunition, food, and water, and will need to seize the Canal quickly, as they will not be able to sustain prolonged operations.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

January 13th, 1915

- An all-day meeting of the War Council is held in London today.  After an exhausting discussion that touched on a wide range of issues, including the ongoing stalemate on the Western Front, just after sunset Churchill presents his plan for a purely naval attack on the Dardanelles.  The mood of the meeting is suddenly transformed - from despair at the futility of operations in France and Belgium to optimism and hope at the prospects in the eastern Mediterranean.  Here Churchill's plan offered the potential for a war-winning operation without the massive casualties that would be necessitated by further efforts to pierce the German lines on the Western Front.  Success at the Dardanelles would allow the British squadron to anchor off Constantinople, and under the threat of bombardment force the surrender of the Ottoman government.  With the Straits in Entente hands, munitions and armaments could flow unimpeded to the Russian, giving them the material necessary to complement their numerical advantage on the Eastern Front.  Such a visible and overwhelming Entente victory would also certainly persuade the Balkan neutrals to enter the war on their side, and would open up a southern front for the invasion and destruction of Austria-Hungary.  Churchill presented the plan with all his oratorical talents, and the Council is caught up in his enthusiasm.  Admiral Fisher is in attendance, but is not asked for, nor does he offer, his opinions - he sees the War Council as a political, not a military, body, and thus the service chiefs are there merely to offer advice if asked, not attempt to persuade.  The Council unanimously agrees that the Admiralty should prepare for an operation to break through the Dardanelles, with Constantinople as its objective.  What will become one of the most controversial campaigns of the First World War has now been set in motion, and the next link in the chain connecting Enver Pasha's decision to invade the Caucasus and the fall of the last Liberal government in Britain is created.

- Along the Aisne French reinforcements are dispatched to the immediate north of Soissons to regain the ground lost yesterday at Crouy.  The French movement, however, is a double failure - not only to they fail to regain the lost trenches around Crouy, buy they are also out of position to respond to the major German attack launched this afternoon just to the west centred on Vregny.  By evening the Germans have pushed through Vregny and reached the northern edge of the wooded slope stretching down to the Aisne River.

- Joffe formally suspends the attacks of 10th Army in Artois and 4th Army in Champagne today, with neither offensive accomplishing more than the most negligible gains.  For his part, General Fernand de Langle de Cary, commander of 4th Army, submits a review of his operation to Joffre which emphasizes the difficulty of breaking through the enemy front through a 'continous' attack.  Instead, he suggests that once initial objectives have been achieved, it is necessary to repeat preparations for subsequent attacks, including digging approach trenches and an intensive preliminary artillery bombardment.  De Langle is arguing in favour of a methodical, step-by-step approach to offensive operations, as opposed to the 'continuous' method which calls for repeated waves of infantry assaults to overwhelm defensive positions.

- In Austria-Hungary today Count Berchtold is replaced as Foreign Minister by Count Stephan Burián, reflecting the triumph of the opponents of territorial concessions to Italy and Romania.  Instead, the Empire will seek to restore its international reputation through battlefield victory.

- In German South-West Africa the South African force that landed at Walvis Bay on December 25th today occupies the town of Swakopmund just to the north, which is also the terminus of the northern rail line running from the coast inland to the colonial capital at Windhoek.  Further south, a thousand Boer rebels, formed into different groups commanded by Maritz and Kemp, cross the frontier into South Africa for a second time after the failure of December.

Monday, January 12, 2015

January 12th, 1915

- Admiral Carden submits his plan for the attack on the Dardanelles this morning.  He suggests a slow and methodical approach, knocking out the Ottoman forts one-by-one while minesweepers clears the Straits, in order to minimize losses.  He estimates the operation will take one month, and should be undertaken by a force of twelve pre-dreadnoughts, three battlecruisers (to deal with Goeben), three light cruisers, sixteen destroyers, six submarines and twelve minesweepers.

Carden's plan is discussed at the Admiralty by Churchill and his senior admirals, including the First Sea Lord.  No one objects to Churchill's strong endorsement of the proposal, and crucially Fisher suggests adding to the force the newly-commissioned dreadnought Queen Elizabeth.  It was scheduled to undertake gunnery training off Gibraltar in February, but if it is going to be lobbing 15-inch shells in practice, they might as well be aimed at Ottoman forts instead of the open sea.

- Falkenhayn travels to the headquarters of OberOst at Posen today, where he discusses the general situation on the Eastern Front with Hindenburg and also receives a briefing from Colonel Max Hoffman regarding ongoing planning for an offensive from East Prussia.  Falkenhayn, however, refuses to commit to deploying the four new reserve corps to the Eastern Front before his departure back to Berlin.

- At 11am this morning, the German counterattack north of Soissons is launched on the heights east of Crouy, home to vital French artillery observation posts.  The attack catches the French completely by surprise and the Germans capture the heights, resulting in a noticeable slackening of French artillery fire.  At noon, two regiments of 9th Infantry Brigade takes the trenches north and northwest of Crouy which, in combination with an attack of 7th Reserve Division to the west, undoes the French success achieved over the past few days.  This convinces General Lochow of III Corps to launch the previously-planned offensive tomorrow.

The Battle of Soissons, January 12th to 14th, 1915.

Sunday, January 11, 2015

January 11th, 1915

- North of Soissons the French attack launched on the 8th has succeeded in pushing back the German lines at Clamecy.  General Ewald von Lochow, commander of the German III Corps and tasked undertaking the imminent German offensive, decides today to postpone his own attack and reorients his 5th Division to execute a counterattack against the French advance tomorrow.

- After holding off the French attack of the 5th, the German 33rd Infantry Division counterattacked in the Argonne on the 8th.  Following three days of ferocious combat, by today the Germans have carved out a salient that reaches southwest almost to Four-de-Paris, and have taken 1600 French prisoners.

The German advance in the Argonne, January 1915.

- In Vienna the Italian ambassador informs the Austro-Hungarian government, in no uncertain terms, that the price for continued Italian neutrality is the cession of territory along their mutual frontier.

Saturday, January 10, 2015

January 10th, 1915

- Admiral Pohl, Chief of the Naval Staff, telegraphs Admiral Ingenohl of the High Seas Fleet to inform the latter of a conference held three days earlier with Wilhelm II.  While the Kaiser had reiterated his restrictions on the movement of the dreadnoughts of the High Seas Fleet, he did make one important concession - at Pohl's urging, Wilhelm approves the use of naval Zeppelins to bombard the docks of London and the English coast.  This action has long been urged by many in the German navy as a means to strike back at the hated English foe.  Even this authorization, however, is limited - Zeppelins are not permitted to bomb the centre of London, as the Kaiser fears the accidental deaths of his English regal cousins.  Planning now begins for the first Zeppelin raids on Britain.

- Germany and Austria-Hungary agree today to the Treaty of Posen, by which they divide up the occupied part of Russian Poland between them.  Reflecting the balance of power within the alliance, it is Germany that is assigned the more productive Polish lands.

- In the Caucasus the Russian II Turkestan Corps goes on the offensive against the Ottoman XI Corps opposite, sending 1500 soldiers through the mountains around the Ottoman left to outflank them.

Friday, January 09, 2015

January 9th, 1915

- A further attack by the French 4th Army near Perthes, launched at 4pm after a heavy artillery bombardment, are broken up by the German defenders.  Further to the east, French infantry are able to reach and enter a narrow strip of the first German trench line, and are able to hold on despite repeated enemy counterattacks.

- News of Ludendorff's appointment as Chief of Staff to Südarmee does not sit well with Hindenburg.  In a letter sent directly to the Kaiser today, the commander of German forces in the East urges the return of the 'irreplaceable' Ludendorff to his old post as his Chief of Staff.  Hindenburg knows full well that his victories in the East have been accomplished in large part through the planning of Ludendorff, and that their partnership is essential to the success of both.  He also insists that the four new reserve corps forming in Germany need to be sent to the Eastern Front, and in particular to East Prussia for an offensive (planned by Ludendorff) in the neighbourhood of the Masurian Lakes.  He concludes his letter with an assurance that he would be more than happy to retire, a none-too-subtle hint to Wilhelm II of the stakes involved in breaking up the partnership that has achieved Germany's most notable victory to date.

- At the start of the war, Count Berchtold, the Austro-Hungarian Foreign Minister, had opposed ceding territory to Italy in exchange for it fulfilling its responsibilities as a member of the Triple Alliance.  The steady tide of Austro-Hungarian defeats since August, however, has led Berchtold to change his mind.  He fears that both Italy and Romania may take advantage of the Empire's apparent weakness by attacking it, a catastrophe that might spell the end of Austria-Hungary itself.  To avoid this, Berchtold is now willing to cede territory to Italy and Romania in exchange for their continued neutrality in the war, and today he advises Franz Joseph to surrender Trentino to Italy.

The alternative course of action - namely, to ensure Italian and Romanian neutrality by demonstrating Austro-Hungarian military strength through victory on the battlefield - is supported not only by Conrad, but others within the government, including Count Tisza, the Hungarian Prime Minister, who wishes to avoid seeing Hungarian lands used to bribe Romania.  Most vitally, Emperor Franz Joseph himself is loath to yield an inch of territory to the Italians, whom he sees as the Empire's natural enemy.

- Overnight, as Choising approached Hodeida, its German crew sighted a row of lights in the distance, and assuming them to be the lights of a dock, they direct the steamer towards them.  To their dismay, however, as they approached they realized that the lights were moving, and they were instead bearing down on a French armoured cruiser.  First Officer von Mücke orders its men to the ship's four boats, and they proceed to land on the Arabian coast by dawn.  Once ashore they can see Hodeida in the distance, but they have no idea if they are in friendly or enemy territory.  As they bring their weaponry and remaining supplies ashore, several Arabs observe them from a distance before disappearing.  In case Hodeida was occupied by the enemy, Mücke intends to march inland and hide in the desert by day, and return to Choising at night.  No sooner do they leave the beach then they find themselves confronted by over a hundred Arabs.  There is a linguistic impasse, neither side being able to understand the other.  Amidst the gesticulating and mangling of phrases, a breakthrough is finally achieved when Mücke points to the portrait of the Kaiser on a gold piece, which the Arabs recognize and begin shouting 'Aleman!'  It is finally deduced that Hodeida remains in Ottoman hands, and the Arab force escorts Emden's landing party into the town.

Mücke considers the next step of the journey home in consultation with the local Ottoman officials.  There is no railway, and he is assured that continuing by sea is impossible, given the prevalence of British and French ships in the south Red Sea, some of which are visible from Hodeida itself.  Instead, Mücke decides that his party will travel inland through the mountains to Sanaa and northwards from there.  It will take a fortnight to gather supplies and prepare for the journey; meanwhile, after dark Mücke uses a signal lamp to instruct Choising to make for Massowa in the neutral Italian colony of Eritrea.

Thursday, January 08, 2015

January 8th, 1915

- In London the War Council meets today to discuss British strategy for the coming year.  When discussion turns to theatres outside France, Lloyd George remarks that he supports an operation in the Balkans to provide direct aid to Serbia.  Lord Kitchener then intervenes, commenting that if an operation were to be undertaken outside the Western Front, the Dardanelles would be the most promising.  However, while he asserts that 150 000 soldiers would ensure that the fleet could force the Dardanelles and occupy Constantinople, he informs the Council that he has no units that he can spare.  The key takeaway from the meeting is that forcing the Dardanelles is possible, not that it requires army support to succeed.

- Falkenhayn agrees today to the formation of Südarmee, which is to be deployed in Galicia and will consist of two German infantry divisions and one German cavalry division, drawn from 9th Army as per Ludendorff's earlier offer, and an Austro-Hungarian corps.  The army is to be commanded by General Alexander von Linsingen, who had previously held command during the 1st Battle of Ypres.  Interestingly, as its Chief of Staff Falkenhayn appoints none other than Ludendorff; his reasoning is that, given the repeated claims by Conrad that the fighting in Galicia is of vital importance, it is logical for Ludendorff to 'work his magic' there.  In reality, Falkenhayn is attempting to divide Hindenburg and Ludendorff, in order to weaken their influence over the direction of the German war effort and tone down demands for the next major German offensive to be in the East.

- The German 1st Army currently holds seventy kilometres of the front line on both sides of the city of Soissons just north of the Aisne River.  Since December 27th III Corps has been planning an operation to attack the French defenders near Soissons in order to prevent the enemy from redeploying its forces to assist its ongoing offensives elsewhere.  At 10am this morning, however, the French launch a preemptive attack of their own on the German line at Clamecy, just north of Soissons, leading to bitter fighting in the sector.

- Units of the French 4th Army are able to secure the village of Perthes today, and though this represents a gain of only a few hundred metres, it is one of the most substantial of the 1st Battle of Champagne.

- Following the Russian evacuation of northern Persia a week ago in response to the crisis at Sarikamish, Ottoman and Kurdish forces have advanced into the resulting vacuum and today occupy Tabriz.

- The German steamer Choising passes through the Straits of Perim overnight, despite lacking any detailed chart of the waters and having its lights extinguished to evade two patrolling British warships.  During the day it hugs the Arabian coast, to avoid the shipping lane in the centre of the Red Sea, and by nightfall is approaching the port of Hodeida.

Wednesday, January 07, 2015

January 7th, 1915

- Joffre meets today with President Poincaré and the French Council of Ministers today, and when operations in the Balkans are discussed, he voices his adamant opposition.  For the Commander-in-Chief, the decisive theatre of the war is and always will be the Western Front - any transfer of units from France to elsewhere risks disaster in the homeland, while victory in the war necessitates the defeat of Germany, France's strongest opponent, whose army is massed in occupied Belgium and France.  Victory can only come by crushing the German army, and since the German army is on the Western Front, that is where the war must be fought.  Joffre also highlights the logistical difficulties of deploying and supplying a large force in the Balkans; as he emphasizes, the Serbs have difficulties keeping their army of only a hundred thousand supplied.  When the Minister of War supports Joffre's objections, the Balkans operation is set aside - the prestige of the victor of the Marne is still sufficient to ensure that he is able to dictate grand strategy to the politicians who are, at least nominally, his masters.

- In a circular to the German armies on the Western Front, Falkenhayn observes that Entente offensives have been directing artillery fire behind the first German trench line to prevent them from bringing up additional infantry to the front during infantry attacks.  To combat this, Falkenhayn emphasizes the importance of constructing protective trenches behind the first line of defence to provide cover for infantry during enemy bombardments.  This reflects the continued learning process on the Western Front, as both attackers and defenders adapt to trench warfare and a new tactic implemented by one side leads to a counter-tactic devised by the other in a constant struggle for supremacy between the offensive and defensive.

- Conrad replies to Falkenhayn's message of yesterday, arguing that there is nothing that Austria-Hungary could provide that would satisfy Italy's appetite, writes that the 'entire political situation particularly in the East and in the Balkans is entirely dependent on the military situation with Russia.  Without a decisive success against Russia, even a major success in Serbia will be ineffective.'

- The German merchant steamer Choising, carrying the landing party from Emden, arrives today at the Straits of Perim between the southern tip of the Arabian Peninsula and the Horn of Africa, where the Red Sea empties into the Indian Ocean.  The steamer has had an uneventful journey across the Indian Ocean, only sighting other merchant ships along the way, and now the German crew seeks to enter the Red Sea, in order reach Ottoman territory.  Choising waits until sunset before entering the Straits, in order to avoid any British patrol ships in the narrows.

The southern Red Sea during the First World War.

Tuesday, January 06, 2015

January 6th, 1915

- Falkenhayn writes to Conrad today regarding grand strategy on the Eastern Front and in the Balkans.  The German Chief of Staff favours an offensive against Serbia that will knock the country out of the war, secure Bulgaria's entry into the war, and open a vital land connection with the Ottoman Empire.  Such a victory, Falkenhayn contends, will have a decisive impact on the attitude of Romania.  He also advises that the only way to maintain Italian neutrality is to cede to it the territory demanded by the Italian government.  Conversely, a decisive victory in Galicia over Russia, even if possible, would do little to impact Italian opinion.

- Churchill sends another message to Admiral Carden in the eastern Mediterranean today, stating that he agrees with his assessment of an operation against the Dardanelles, and requests Carden to provide a detailed analysis of what such an operation would entail and the force required to execute it.

Monday, January 05, 2015

January 5th, 1915

- Joffre today formalizes the place of General Foch in the command structure of the French army when the latter is appointed to lead the Provisional Group of the North, with responsibility for French armies in northern France and Belgium.  Similarly, General Yvon Dubail, who had commanded 1st Army in the Battle of the Frontiers, now heads the Provisional Group of the East, covering the front in Alsace and Lorraine.  Joffre reserves for himself direct control over the armies in the centre of the line, consisting of 2nd, 4th, 5th, and 6th Armies.  The French Commander-in-Chief also specifics that Foch and Dubail are responsible for operations in their regions, but that he retains control over administration, personnel, and strategy, leaving Joffre still firmly in control of the French army.

- Bad weather has continued to plague the offensive of the French 10th Army in Artois, with almost no gains secured while suffering heavy casualties.  Today Joffre informs Foch that he intends to transfer fifteen battalions from 10th Army to the Vosges, which severely curtails the former's offensive capability.

- In the Argonne west of Verdun, the French undertake a heavy assault on the lines held by the German 33rd Division, but are repulsed.

- From the eastern Mediterranean Admiral Carden replies today to Churchill's message of the 3rd regarding an attack on the Dardanelles.  Carden states that while he does not believe that the straits can be rushed, it might be possible to force a large British squadron through after a prolonged operation.  Churchill naturally focuses on the 'possible' and ignores the Admiral's reservations.

The French government, while also open to an operation against the Dardanelles, is also suspicious of British motives.  As the minster of war writes the minister of foreign affairs today, it is essential that the British do not land in Asia Minor by themselves.  Instead, a French presence is necessary to ensure that ongoing French interests in the region are protected.

- In fighting near the Rawa River the German 9th Army wins an unexpected victory over the Russians.  In order to be able to take advantage of any opportunity to exploit the success, Ludendorff informs Conrad that he is now only willing to transfer two and a half infantry and one cavalry division from 9th Army to support Austro-Hungarian operations in Galicia.

- In German Kamerun German forces attack the French Senegalese infantry defending Edea.  Though the determined assault is unsuccessful, it does accomplish its main objective - the British, fearing further German attacks, restrict themselves to the defensive perimeter around Duala, thus posing no risk to the German-held interior.

Sunday, January 04, 2015

January 4th, 1915

- After closing on the outbreak of war in August, the London Stock Exchange reopens today.

- The ability of the French army to increase its stock of artillery shells is hampered by the necessity of supplying ammunition to its allies in order to enhance their fighting ability.  As the French minister of war reports today, at a time when Joffre is demanding the production of 60 000 rounds per day, France is exporting 12 000 per day to Russia, 3000 to Romania, 2000 to Serbia, and between 1000 and 2000 to Belgium.

- At the far southern end of the Western Front, the line runs just inside the German province of Alsace until it reaches the Swiss border.  Here the French have entrenched themselves on the eastern ridges of the Vosges Mountains, giving them observation of the upper Rhine River and allowing bombardment of the German-held plains to the east.  The Vosges are rocky and forested, preventing the construction of continuous trench lines.  Instead, each side entrenches on available high ground and emphasizes strong points.  Nevertheless, the stalemate to the north has replicated itself in the Vosges - indeed, advancing exposed up hillsides, where artillery shells create lethal airborne rock splinters, advances are particularly arduous.

The Western Front in the Vosges.

Winter in the Vosges, 1915.

For the past month, French infantry have been attacking at several points in order to push the line eastward and bring more of the German rear under artillery fire.  In order to bring a halt to the enemy attacks, Army Detachment Gaede, responsible for defending German Alsace, has been reinforced by six battalions and three batteries of artillery and ordered to seize Hartmannswillerkopf (known to the French as Vieil Armand), at 3136 feet one of the highest points in the Vosges and one from which the French have been able to direct artillery fire on the vital railway linking Mulhouse and Colmar.  Today three German regiments of light infantry, grenadiers, and dismounted light cavalry attack Hartmannswillerkopf, but are repulsed by the entrenched French defenders.

- For several months the vital Austro-Hungarian fortress of Przemysl has been besieged by the Russians, who are content to simply starve out the defenders.  Indeed, the food stocks, never high, are continuing to dwindle.  Today, the commander at Przemysl radios Conrad to inquire whether the garrison should attempt to break out around February 1st, or simply hold out until March 7th, the date on which it is expected food supplies (including the slaughter of horses) will run out.  Conrad views the fall of Przemysl not only as a military but also a political catastrophe, as its loss would further undermine the prestige of Austria-Hungary among neutral states, and thus views an early offensive in Galicia to relieve Przemysl to be of vital importance.

- At Sarikamish the shattered remnants of the Ottoman IX Corps, surrounded and attack from Bardiz to the rear, surrender today.  Enver Pasha, who had been with IX Corps, manages to escape through Russian lines to reach XI Corps, which is still attacking in a vain effort to recover the situation.

Saturday, January 03, 2015

January 3rd, 1915

- Churchill discusses a potential naval operation against the Ottoman Dardanelles today with Admiral Fisher.  The latter is enthusiastic, but only if an attack is immediate, includes the landing of 100 000 soldiers (75 000 from the Western Front and 25 000 from India), military support from Greece and Bulgaria, and uses only pre-dreadnoughts.  Of the four points, only the latter is possible - in particular, there is absolutely no chance whatsoever of Sir John French agreeing to withdraw such a substantial force from the Western Front, given the belief of himself and the rest of the BEF leadership that the war can only be won or lost in France and Belgium.

The First Lord, however, is taken with the idea of a purely naval operation, and in particular of using the power of the Royal Navy to force the Ottoman Empire out of the war.  The great hope is that if a powerful British squadron can force its way through the Dardanelles and anchor off Constantinople, the Ottoman government will collapse, opening sea lanes to Russia and invasion routes to the Balkans.  This is more than simply aiding the Russians - to its most ardent supporters the Dardanelles operation carries the potential to win the war without the constant slaughter of the Western Front.

Crucially, when Churchill sends a message to Vice Admiral Sackville Hamilton Carden, commanding the British squadron currently blockading the Dardanelles, he asks simply if he thinks the Dardanelles can be forced by a naval operation - no mention is made of amphibious operations.  This opens what will grow into a great chasm between the First Lord and the First Sea Lord - the former believes that the navy can do the job by itself, while the latter, worried over warship losses, believes army support is essential.  It will be a long-simmering divide, but one that will eventually destroy not only their working relationship but the government itself as well.

Friday, January 02, 2015

January 2nd, 1915

- Early this morning a dispatch from the British attache at Russian army headquarters arrives at the Foreign Office, conveying Grand Duke Nicholas' request that the British undertake a diversionary operation to distract the Ottomans from the Caucasus.  Foreign Secretary Grey conveys the message to Lord Kitchener, who then discusses the possibilities with Churchill.  Kitchener is eager to assist the Russians to avoid their collapse and surrender, but is adamant that no forces can be spared from the Western Front.  Instead, Kitchener inquires whether the navy could make a demonstration against the Dardanelles, and the suggestion piques Churchill's interest.

- In Champagne five French regiments attack the centre of the German VIII Corps at 6pm, but fail to secure any ground.

- Chancellor Bethmann-Hollweg has learned of Falkenhayn's intention to deploy the newly-raised four and a half reserve corps on the Western Front in order to undertake a major offensive.  The Chancellor, however, shares the views of Hindenburg and Ludendorff that these new formations should instead be assigned to the Eastern Front to secure a decisive victory that among other objects will influence neutrals like Italy and Romania.  Having already lost confidence in Falkenhayn as a result of the failure at Ypres, Bethmann-Hollweg recommends, in a meeting with the Kaiser, the removal of Falkenhayn and his replacement as Chief of Staff by Ludendorff.  Wilhelm II may be one of the few who still has confidence in Falkenhayn, but while he has no real influence over the operations of the German army, his is still the decisive voice regarding who will command it.  The Kaiser thus refuses the Chancellor's suggestion, and Falkenhayn remains Chief of Staff.

- The Ottoman offensive against Sarikamish has now completely fallen apart.  IX Corps is down to only a thousand men, and is under attack from the rear by Russian units at Bardiz.  Enver Pasha, who had been with IX Corps, slips away to join XI Corps, still fighting the main Russian force southwest of Sarikamish.  Meanwhile, the remnants of X Corps begin to pull back from north of Sarikamish before dawn this morning.

- In German Kamerun a British force advancing north from Duala occupies Dschang today, and destroy the fort located there.  From the British perspective, they have secured their immediate objectives in German Kamerun - they have seized the key port of Duala and cleared its hinterland of German forces that might have been able to undertake an effort to retake the town.

From the perspective of Colonel Karl Zimmerman, German commander in Kamerun, however, the situation is still manageable.  Though the west around Duala and the southeast have been lost to the British and French respectively, neither development is either a surprise - Duala could hardly have been held in the face of British naval power - nor decisive.  Zimmerman had planned to base the defence of Kamerun on the northern highlands, and as of yet no Entente forces have threatened this region.  Further, German units are still in contact with the Spanish colony at Muni, which means they can still use this neutral territory to import supplies.  Zimmerman now plans two operations to discourage the British from advancing further inland from Duala and the French from moving any further to the northwest.

Thursday, January 01, 2015

January 1st, 1915

- French President Poincarè, Prime Minister Viviani, and Minister of Justice Aristide Briand meet this morning for breakfast to discuss French strategic options for 1915.  Among the operations considered is the deployment of between four and five hundred thousand French soldiers to the Balkans, either to assist Serbia directly or more generally to threaten Austria-Hungary, via a landing either at Salonika in Greece or on the Adriatic coast.  Proposals for such an undertaking have come from such leading army officers as General Franchet d'Espèrey and General Joseph Gallieni, who view operations in the Balkans as a means to break the deadlock on the Western Front.

- Eight pre-dreadnoughts of the British Channel Fleet are at sea in the pre-dawn hours this morning, having departed Sheerness yesterday evening.  The eight are steaming in a straight line at moderate speed in the English Channel without a screen of destroyers.  Not surprisingly, just after 3am two torpedoes strikes the pre-dreadnought Formidable, last in line, and only 201 of the more than 800-man crew are rescued in the rough weather.  It is yet another example of the vulnerability of capital ships to submarine attack if the proper precautions are not taken.

The British pre-dreadnought Formidable, sunk on New Year's Day, 1915.

- Falkenhayn and Conrad meet this morning at the Prussian War Ministry in Berlin to discuss the overall strategic direction of the war.  Conrad argues that all offensive operations on the Western Front should be put on hold in order to concentrate on securing a decisive victory on the Eastern Front.  To this end, reinforcements drawn from the Western Front, in addition to the four and a half German reserve corps now being formed, should be sent to the East.  Falkenhayn rejects Conrad's suggestions out of hand; the German army, he asserts, is already outnumbered two to one in the West, and that when the new formations are ready for deployment in February, he will employ them on the Western Front.  In the face of this fundamental disagreement, the meeting degenerates into mutual recriminations.  Falkenhayn chastises the Austro-Hungarian 3rd Army for continuing to retreat, arguing it has to stop and observes dismissively 'there can't be that many Russians facing you.'  Conrad replies sharply that the German army began the war in the west with its own great retreat from the Marne.  Such an observation, while correct, is hardly calculated to improve Falkenhayn's disposition; he dismisses Conrad's observation with the comment that it was an error ordered by his predecessor.

The meeting breaks for lunch having accomplished nothing, and in the afternoon they are joined by Ludendorff, who had been summoned to Berlin.  While the latter supports the deployment of the new corps to the East, his proposal is to use them to undertake an offensive in East Prussia.  Both Falkenhayn and Conrad oppose the suggestion, the former not wanting the corps on the Eastern Front at all and the latter believing an operation in East Prussia is too distant to affect the situation in Galicia, which is Conrad's preoccupation.  By the end of the discussion, the most Falkenhayn is willing to concede is that a final decision on the deployment of the four and a half new corps does not need to be made for three weeks.  The only concrete decision of note to come from the meeting is an offer by Ludendorff to place three or four German divisions, drawn from 9th Army, at the disposal of Conrad.  Ludendorff believes that the failure of 9th Army in December to break through to Warsaw indicates that a decisive victory cannot be won here, and thus a portion of the German formations concentrated here can be better employed reinforcing the faltering Austro-Hungarians.  Conrad, not surprisingly, enthusiastically accepts.

The Eastern Front, January 1st, 1915.