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.

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