Saturday, February 28, 2015

February 28th, 1915

- In the eastern Carpathians General Brusilov of the Russian 8th Army has marshalled reinforcements to counterattack the Austro-Hungarian forces under General Pflanzer-Baltin.  Attacking today, a Russian column breaks the enemy line northwest of Stanislau and advances.

Meanwhile, along the main axis of advance of the latest Austro-Hungarian offensive in the Carpathians, 27th and 32nd Divisions, plus elements of 43rd Landwehr Division, grouped together under the command of General Albert Schmidt von Georgenegg, launch an attack northwards on either side of the road to Baligrod.  However, similar to the plight of XIX Corps on its left, its advance stalls due to bad weather and stiff Russian resistance.  On the other flank of XIX Corps, X Corps of 3rd Army also attacks today, engaging in prolonged and bloody fighting.

- Grand Duke Nicholas, whose note of December 30th has led to the Dardanelles campaign, informs the British and French today that the Black Sea Fleet will attack Constantinople and an army of 47 000 will be deployed.  However, the Russians will only move once the British and French fleets have passed through the Dardanelles and crossed the Sea of Marmara.  In other words, the Russians will only contribute to the Dardanelles campaign once the difficult work has been done.

Friday, February 27, 2015

February 27th, 1915

- French attacks in Champagne force the Germans today to abandon the key defensive position at Ferme de Beauséjour.  However, the Germans remain in control of the Mesnil Knob position overlooking Ferme de Beauséjour, which allows them to pour continuous fire into the French infantry.

- The arrival of Russian reinforcements north of the Narew River has forced the German units under Gallwitz onto the defensive, and for the past several days a series of increasingly desperate Russian attacks have threatened to overwhelm the Germans.  Due to rifle and ammunition shortages, it was standard practice in the Russian army for reserve forces to not have rifles of their own, instead being expected to be armed either before being sent into battle or to pick up rifles on the battlefield left by the fallen.  In the pitched fighting around Prasnysz, there was no time to arm the Russian reserves before they were thrown into battle, which meant they attacked armed only with bayonets and handheld bombs.  In the face of German infantry fire, the Russians had to close to the range at which they could throw their bombs, and then charge for hand-to-hand combat.  It was fighting more appropriate to medieval Europe than the 20th-century, but the Russian numerical superiority gave these attacks a weight they lacked in firepower.  Gradually the Germans have fallen back in the face of repeated almost-suicidal enemy charges, and to avoid being overrun Gallwitz orders a retreat from Prasnysz today.  Five thousand German soldiers are made prisoner, and the German retreat ends any hope of reaching the Narew and achieving a great strategic success.  Gallwitz's forces retreat to the lines from which they had advanced five days earlier, restoring the status quo in the line between the German 8th and 9th Armies.

- In thick fog and heavy snow, the Austro-Hungarian offensive in the Carpathians begins.  The first phase of the operation is an attack today by XIX Corps, on 2nd Army's left, towards Baligrod.  Subsequently, X Corps of 3rd Army to the west, and XVIII and V Corps of 2nd Army to the east, are to join the advance, in expectation that the initial fighting of XIX Corps will break the Russian line.  However, though XIX corps has been reinforced and has a numerical superiority in infantry over the Russians opposite, its attack suffers from the almost complete absence of artillery support, the result of bad weather hindering both the deployment of artillery pieces and the accurate spotting of shellfire.  When combined with the effect the terrible weather has on the infantry themselves, XIX Corps makes little headway.

- The German government continues to believe that Austria-Hungary should offer territorial concessions to Italy to induce it maintain its neutrality in the war, and the ongoing failure to break the Russian lines in the Carpathians and relieve Przemysl has heightened anxiety in Berlin.  In an effort to persuade the Austro-Hungarian government, the Prussian council of ministers agrees today that border adjustments in Silesia can be made as compensation for territory surrendered to the Italians.

Thursday, February 26, 2015

February 26th, 1915

- In the Argonne, the German IV Reserve Corps seizes a section of the French trench line southwest of Malancourt, and the fighting is notable for marking the first use of flamethrowers in combat during the war.  The Germans had developed flamethrowers in the decade prior to the war, and on January 18th, 1915 a Flamethrower Detachment was formed under Captain Bernhard Reddeman consisting of volunteers, many of whom had been firemen in civilian life.  The Detachment refined flamethrowers, producing a larger model with longer range but which required installation and a smaller model capable of being carried by a soldier as he crossed No Man's Land, and pioneered tactics for their use.  Near Malancourt the attack was directed at a point where the German line was within forty metres of the first French trench, and Reddeman's soldiers were able to install several of the larger models.  When the attack began, the flamethrowers shot jets of fire into the French position, and even though most of the defending infantry had not been burned, the shock of the unexpected terror paralyzed them and allowed the attacking German infantry, including several soldiers carrying the smaller model into battle, to capture the enemy line with light casualties.

- In the Carpathians, the only significant Austro-Hungarian success achieved since late December has been on the far eastern part of the line, where General Pflanzer-Baltin's forces have been able to undertake a moderate offensive.  This accomplishment, however, has not resulted in a decisive Austro-Hungarian advance - the Russians opposite Südarmee have refused to budge, and General Brusilov of the Russian 8th Army is mobilizing reinforcements to block further advances by Pflanzer-Baltin.  Moreover, while the supply situation is tenuous along the entire front, it is particularly problematic in the far east, where only a single rail line supports Plfanzer-Baltin's army group.

The position of Südarmee and Pflanzer-Baltin's army group, February 26th, 1915.

Conrad, however, is obsessed with the besieged fortress of Przemysl, and relieving its garrison before it can be forced to surrender to the Russians in March.  Thus, despite the terrible weather and the exhausted and depleted state of the Austro-Hungarian army, he is determined to launch another offensive.  He has tasked 2nd and 3rd Armies in the centre of the Carpathian line with breaking through the Russian lines, and overrules the misgivings the commanders of both armies have.  For one, the Austro-Hungarian divisions are significantly understrength, and the replacements that have arrived are poorly trained and ill-prepared.  Further, the weather remains terrible, hindering movement and resupply, while the new units that Conrad has sent to the two armies are disorganized and have been committed to fighting piecemeal.  Finally, much of the two armies have been fighting constantly on the defensive, with no time to prepare for offensive operations.

Despite the difficulties, Conrad is insistent - Przemysl must be relieved.  The only concession he makes to reality is a slight delay, to allow roads closed by bad weather to be cleared.  The offensive is now scheduled to be launched tomorrow, regardless of whether 2nd and 3rd Armies are actually capable of achieving success.

The position of the Austro-Hungarian 2nd and 3rd Armies, February 26th, 1915.

- At the mouth of the Dardanelles the British warships send a number landing parties ashore, each consisting of about fifty Royal Marines guarding about thirty sailors, the latter tasked with destroying Ottoman artillery pieces.  They methodically go through each of the abandoned forts, blowing up fifty guns with explosive charges and effectively clearing the way for the Entente squadron to enter the straits.  Incidentally, one of the landing parties reaches the village of Krithia, four miles inland of the southern tip of Gallipoli Peninsula, which constitutes the high tide of the entire Entente amphibious operation to come - at no point between April and December will Entente soldiers again reach Krithia.

With the outer forts neutralized, attention turns to the inner defences.  Inside the mouth of the Dardanelles the passage widens to four and a half miles, guarded by five forts on the north shore and four on the south shore, augmented by a numer of mobile howitzer batteries.  Fourteen miles upstream is the Narrows, where the channel is less than a mile wide, and where the Ottomans had concentrated their largest artillery pieces.  The Narrows is also guarded by several hundred mines, laid out in ten lines from the Narrows to Kephez, the latter located just over halfway from the entrance of the Dardanelles to the Narrows.

Today the pre-dreadnoughts pass the ruined outer forts and begin to engage the western-most forts inside the straits.  It becomes quickly apparent to the British and the French that the mobile howitzer batteries are the most effective Ottoman defence - well-concealed, they are difficult to hit, and when the pre-dreadnoughts find the range the howitzers are simply moved to another location.  The shells from the howitzers cannot penetrate the armour of the pre-dreadnoughts and are little more than a nuisance, but the difficulty in elimination them highlights the limitations of naval gunfire against land targets.

- Intellgence reaches the Entente commanders in central Africa that the Germans forces in their colony of Kamerun have been deployed to defend Ngaundere, in the northern highlands, instead of Jaudre in the west.  The French governor-general of Equatorial Africa, however, dismisses the report, and continues to insist that the French and British concentrate against Jaudre.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

February 25th, 1915

- By this morning the storm at the Dardanelles finally passes, and with the improved weather Admiral Carden orders another bombardment of the Ottoman forts guarding the entrance to the straits.  The new dreadnought Queen Elizabeth fires for the first time, launching eighteen 15-inch shells into the fort at Cape Helles, destroying two guns, while Irresistible fires thirty-five shells and destroys a further two guns.  Later in the afternoon, Carden's second in command, Rear Admiral John de Robeck, leads the battleships into the mouth of the straits and bombard the forts from almost point-blank range.  The Ottoman gunners are able to strike home with several shots, the pre-dreadnought Agamemnon being hit seven times and suffering ten casualties.  By 4pm, however, the Ottoman forts, covered in a haze of dust, had fallen silent, the artillerymen having withdrawn in the face of the intense bombardment.  It appears to Carden and his officers that the first step in the operation has been completed.

The bombardment of the outer forts at the Dardanelles, February 25th, 1915.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

February 24th, 1915

- A meeting of the War Council in London today discusses aerial attacks on Germany, with alternatives such as distributing a 'blight' by air or dropping incendiaries on crops.  The rationale behind such suggestions is that it would be no worse that the recently-declared unrestricted submarine warfare.  The conclusion is to work out the details of such raids, but that they should be used only after extreme provocation.

- The eastern wing of Gallwitz's forces capture the town of Prasnysz today, capturing a number of artillery pieces and approximately half of the isolated Russian brigade that had attempted to hold off the attackers.  To the west of Prasnysz, however, a Russian division sits firmly entrenched on a line of hills, and has resisted a series of attacks both from Gallwitz's western wing and from the units that have just seized Prasnysz.  The desperate stand of the Russians has given time for North-West Front to rush reinforcements to the scene, which begin to arrive on the battlefield this evening.

Russian dead at Prasnysz, February 1915.
- Admiral Carden off the Dardanelles signals London today that though he does not intend to resume the bombardment of the Ottoman defences until the weather improves, he believes that the destruction of the outer Ottoman forts guarding the entrance to the straits can be accomplished in a single day.

- In German Kamerun, the French decision to concentrate their columns against Jaunde has allowed several German forces to threaten the line of communication of the French columns that had occupied Bertua after an advance from the east.  As a result, the French at Bertua have been forced to fall back towards the Lobaye River, and today the Germans reoccupy Bertua.

Monday, February 23, 2015

February 23rd, 1915

- Despite German beliefs that the French are drawing down their Champagne offensive, at 3pm the French commence a sudden heavy artillery bombardment, followed by a number of infantry attacks.  The Germans, however, make excellent use of their own artillery, inflicting significant losses on the advancing enemy soldiers and breaking up the infantry attacks, ensuring that the German line holds.

- Sir John French replies today to Joffre's testy note of February 20th.  He emphasizes that the relief of the French IX and XX Corps had always been dependent on the BEF receiving reinforcements from Britain, and with those reinforcements now delayed, it was not possible for the British to take over the Ypres salient as previously agreed upon.  He also objected to Joffre's complaints regarding the density of British and French forces on their respective portions of the front, arguing that the terrain in the British sector required greater concentration and that the maintenance of the long line of communications back to Britain also consumed a significant number of soldiers.  Finally, the BEF commander assures Joffre that the British will be able to launch their offensive at Neuve Chapelle on or about March 7th.

- After four days of heavy fighting in the winter conditions of  the Vosges, elements of Army Detachment Gaede attacking west of Munster have made marginal progress, reaching the line Barrenkopf-Reichsackerkopf-Hilsenfirst.  With no further reserves available to commit to the fight, General Gaede orders that this line be transformed into the main defensive position along this portion of the front.

Sunday, February 22, 2015

February 22nd, 1915

- The French undertake renewed attacks in Champagne today, but fail to make any headway, and the commanders of the German VIII and VIII Reserve Corps opposite believe that the attacks aim merely to cover the failure of the main French offensive.

- Dutch neutrality is seen by the German army as a potential threat, as opposed to one of the last links between Germany and the global economy.  In particular, the army is concerned that the British might invade the Netherlands to outflank the German position in Belgium - a concern undoubtedly based in the knowledge that such a violation of Dutch neutrality is precisely the sort of thing the German General Staff would advocate if the positions were reversed.  4th Army, responsible for the front in Belgium along the Channel coast, has been tasked with developing a contingency plan should such a British invasion occur.  Today, 4th Army HQ informs OHL that if needed two marine brigades, the Guard Cavalry Division, a mixed infantry brigade, and a number of battalions of rear echelon troops will concentrate on the Dutch frontier to oppose a British landing.

- The revised instructions to U-boat captains regarding which targets to fire upon and how they are to determine a vessel's identity have been sufficient to overcome the remaining concerns of the Kaiser, and as such unrestricted submarine warfare begins today against Britain.

- In Augustow Forest, the remnants of the Russian XX Corps surrender, with twelve thousand soldiers marching into German captivity.  Of the rest of the Russian 10th Army, though III Siberian, III, and XXVI Corps have escaped eastwards, they have suffered heavy casualties and rendered combat-ineffective.  Ludendorff claims the Winter Battle of the Masurian Lakes to be another Tannenburg, but in practice the victory is not on the same scale.  The Russian 10th Army has lost 'only' 56 000 casualties over the past few weeks of fighting, and though battered and weakened at least still exists, in contrast to the fate of 2nd Army at Tannenburg.

A German machine-gun position during the Winter Battle of the Masurian Lakes.

The German victory over the Russian 10th Army, however, has not secured to the Germans any broader strategic consequences.  Ludendorff had hoped that victory here would threaten to outflank the Russian position in central Poland, and in consequence the Russians would pull back over the Vistula.  However, the German advance has simply formed a large salient from East Prussia to the Niemen River.  To the north the Russians remain in control of the fortress at Kovno, a threat to the German 10th Army's left flank.  To the south, much of the strength of the German 8th Army has been drawn into a siege of the fortress at Osowiec, where the rivers and marshes, combined with a skilled Russian defence, have prevented the Germans from bringing their siege artillery fully to bear on the fortress' walls.  Finally, today the Russian 12th Army finally begins its delayed advance to the west of Osowiec, and though the German 8th Army is able to contain the Russians, the Germans find themselves pinned into defensive positions, incapable of threatening anyone's flanks.

- To the west, the gap between the German 8th Army near the East Prussian frontier and the German 9th Army on the line of the Bzura River is covered by a scratch force under the command of General Max von Gallwitz.  With the forces to the east stalemated, Gallwitz launches an offensive today, advancing southeast towards the town of Prasnysz with elements of I Reserve and XVII Reserve Corps and 3rd Infantry Division.  Their ultimate objective is the Narew River, and by securing a crossing they hope to outflank the Russian line west of Warsaw and force the enemy to abandon the city.

The German advance towards Prasnysz, February 22nd, 1915.

- With the Boer Rebellion effectively crushed, Prime Minister Botha of South Africa turns his attention to the invasion of German South-West Africa.  Today he lands at Walvis Bay, assumes command over the South African force that occupied Swakopmund on January 13th, and orders an advance inland towards Windhoek along the railway (destroyed by the Germans) connecting the two towns.  Botha views the march to Windhoek, the German colonial capital, as strategically decisive, severing German communications between the north and south of the colony.  However, to prevent a German withdrawal from the south to concentrate against his column he has also ordered offensives from Lüdertiz and across the Orange River.

- The mutiny of soldiers from the 5th Light Infantry battalion at Singapore ends today, as British forces, with assistance from Russian, French, and Japanese sailors, round up the last of the mutineers who had fled to the jungle.  Next will come courts-martial to pass judgement on the one hundred and twenty-six mutineers who have been captured.

Saturday, February 21, 2015

February 21st, 1915

- Advance elements of the German 8th and 10th Armies meet at the town of Lipsk, south of the Augustow Forest, encircling XX Corps.  Further, heavy Russian attacks westwards from the fortifications at Grodno over the past two days have further failed to dislodge the Germans between them and the forest, dooming XX Corps.

Friday, February 20, 2015

February 20th, 1915

- After authorizing the release of a division from IV Corps to reinforce 4th Army, Joffre is dismayed to learn that it may take several more days before the reinforcements enter the line and allow for renewed advances.  The French Commander-in-Chief sends a reduke to General de Langle of 4th Army, insisting on the importance of attacking as soon as possible to prevent the Germans from constructing new defensive positions faster than the French can fight through them.

On the German side, 1st Guard Division arrives in 3rd Army's sector, an increase in strength that appears to secure the army's left flank against further attacks.

- The Hankey Memorandum of December 28th, 1914, which included a proposal regarding the used of tracked vehicles on the Western Front, had led to an investigation by a War Office committee, which after unpromising tests had concluded that the concept would not be practical.  However, the memorandum has also caught the attention of Churchill, who has also been receiving suggestions from officiers of the Royal Naval Air Service for vehicles more capable than their armoured cars.  Today he authorizes the formation of the Landships Committee, chaired by Director of Naval Construction E. H. T. d'Eyncourt, to investigate the different ideas put forward for the used of tracked and/or armoured vehicles.

- In the eastern Carpathians the Austro-Hungarian 10th Cavalry Division, part of General Pflanzer-Baltin's army group, occupies the town of Stanislau this morning after its evacuation by Russian forces.  However, reinforcements from the Russian 9th Army are arriving in the region, and by the afternoon the Russians counterattack near Stanislau.  Only the timely arrival of a brigade from 36th Division allows the Austro-Hungarians to hold the town.

- At the Dardanelles the weather has taken a sharp turn for the worse, with heavy rain and high seas.  Admiral Carden is unwilling to waste ammunition when poor visibility prevents accurate targeting, and thus given the conditions the British and French warships are unable to continue the bombardment of the Ottoman forts begun yesterday.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

February 19th, 1915

- In Champagne renewed efforts are made by the French 4th Army to break through German lines on both sides of Perthes in a series of attacks beginning at 930am.  Here the French are largely repulsed, though in a few places they manage to enter the first German trench line and hand-to-hand fighting persists overnight.  To the east, the French attack in a series of waves, and secure initial gains against the 16th Reserve Division opposite.  Alarming reports of French breakthroughs reach 3rd Army headquarters, and a brigade in reserve is dispatched to reinforce the line.  By 5pm, however, 16th Reserve Division has covered its equilibrium and broken up the French attacks with heavy artillery fire.  Nevertheless, 3rd Army requests the transfer of additional reserves from neighbouring 5th Army to protect against the potential for future French breakthroughs.

- Joffre replies to Sir John French's note of yesterday with predictable outrage.  He insists that the relief of IX and XX Corps by the BEF is essential for the joint war effort, as these forces provide the margin needed to conduct a major French offensive in Artois.  Further, Joffre harshly criticizes the BEF, arguing that the density by which it held its portion of the line was twice that found elsewhere.  Joffre also takes another approach, asking the minister of war to appeal directly to Lord Kitchener to rescind the order dispatching 29th Division to the eastern Mediterranean.

- In the Vosges the 8th Bavarian Reserve Division, 6th Bavarian Landwehr Division, and additional elements of Army Detachment Gaede launch an attack on French lines west of the town of Munster.  In the mountainous, snow-covered terrain, however, progress is slow.

- In the eastern Carpathians, General Linsingen of Südarmee hopes that the advance of the Austro-Hungarian force under General Pflanzer-Baltin on his right will dislodge the stubborn Russians from their positions before his army.  The Russians, however, do not see things the same way.  Today they launch a sharp attack against the German XXIV Reserve Corps at Wyszkow, enveloping both wings in a pincer movement and forcing both flanks to fall back.

- In the morning hours a squadron of British and French warships leisurely approach the Dardanelles in bright sunshine and calm weather, signalling the commencement of the Entente attempt to force the straits.  Of the twelve British and four French predreadnoughts assigned to the operation, Admiral Carden has with him today, in addition to his flagship Inflexible, five of the former and all of the latter.  At anchor or steaming slowly back-and-forth, Carden's warships form a semi-circle around the mouth of the Dardanelles, targeting the outer Ottoman forts.  On the north bank is the Cape Helles fort, with two 9.4-inch guns, and the massive Sedd el Bahr, originally constructed to defend against Venetian incursions in the 17th-century.  On the opposite bank sits Kum Kale and smaller gun emplacements.  These are the older, more antiquated Ottoman defenses at the Dardanelles, as compared to their more modern counterparts inside the straits, but their destruction is necessary before the British and French warships can progress to the harder targets.

Carden's squadron opens fire at approximately 12 000 yards, beginning a slow and deliberate bombardment while the Ottoman forts, their guns lacking the necessary range, remain silent.  At 2pm the warships close to 6000 yards, where their secondary armament can fire as well.  At 445pm, Carden sends Vengeance, Cornwallis, and Suffren to within 3000 to 4000 yards, at which point the Ottoman forts suddenly begin to return fire.  After an exchange of shells Carden orders a halt to the day's bombardment, and the warships withdraw.  The bombardment illustrated for the first time some of the difficulties inherent in the shelling of shore-based defenses.  It is not sufficient to simply strike the fort itself; instead, it is necessary to actually strike the guns themselves if they are to be destroyed, requiring significantly greater accuracy than anticipated.  Further, the explosion of each shell spawned an enormous dust cloud, obscuring the target and creating great difficulties in spotting the fall of shot.  It is also difficult to hit the artillerymen either; under bombardment they simply retreated to shelter, though this at least had the benefit of stopping enemy artillery fire.  The day's fighting had indicated that the best approach would be to keep the enemy soldiers away from the guns until the warships could close to near point-blank range where they could accurately target each specific artillery piece.

The first day of the bombardment of the outer forts at the Dardanelles, February 19th, 1915.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

February 18th, 1915

- Sir John French replies today to Joffre's letter of the 16th regarding British operations in the near future, and the BEF commander outlines his plan for an attack in early March just north of La Bassée, directed at the village of Neuve Chapelle and the Aubers Ridge just beyond.  French, however, has learned of Kitchener's decision to assign 29th Division to the Dardanelles operation.  Moreover, though Kitchener has pledged to sent another division to France instead, it is composed of Territorial reserves, whom French believes will need significant further training before they can be send into the line.  As such, French informs Joffre that the BEF will be unable to conduct a major attack in early March while simultaneously relieving the French IX and XX Corps at Ypres previously agreed to on January 21st.

- In light of the Kaiser's decision to postpone the commencement of unrestricted submarine warfare, revised instructions are issued to U-boats today, intended to allow the navy to maintain an effective naval blockade of Britain without inflaming neutral opinion.  U-boat captains are to draw a clear distinction between enemy and neutral ships prior to firing, but in making such distinctions more than the flag of the merchant is to be taken into account, including course, structure, and general behaviour of the vessel.  Further, hospital ships are to spared, as well as ships belonging to the American-funded Belgian Relief Commission.  Provided such precautions are taken, captains would not be held responsible if mistakes were made.  The instructions bear the imprint of headquarters staff who have never had to determine the identity of a vessel through binoculars or a periscope while avoiding the threat of enemy fire.  Expecting U-boat captains to make what essentially is a political decision whether to fire is to invite mistakes, which is precisely what will happen.

Even as the revised instructions go out to the submarine force, the German government gives a reply to the American note of the 10th objecting to unrestricted submarine warfare.  On the one hand, the German government insists that they have the right to attack enemy ships as they see fit.  On the other hand, they assure the American government that American ships will not be attacked, as long as they are recognizable as such.

- The southern advance of the German 10th Army today sees it pass between the Russian fortress at Grodno and the Augustow Forest.  Here 10th Army takes up position facing both west and east, covering the escape routes from the Augustow Forest.

Of the Russian 10th Army, while III and XXVI Corps have made their way east and out of the forest, neither was aware that XX Corps remained behind them, and thus provided no aid to its withdrawal.  Thus XX Corps finds itself today still in Augustow Forest, and that the German 10th Army has now cut the last avenues of escape.

- For the past few days, the Austro-Hungarian 3rd Army has been attempting to recover the key town of Mezölaborcz, and today the 21st Landwehr Division gains some ground near the village of Szuko.  Otherwise, however, the strategic point remains in Russian hands.

- The French government decides today that the division assigned on the 4th to the Balkans is instead to be assigned to the Dardanelles operation.

- The merchant ship Rubens, disguised as a neutral Danish vessel to avoid interception by the British, slips out of Wilhelmshaven, beginning an unusual voyage.  Its destination is German East Africa, and its assignment is to bring supplies to the German forces defending the colony, and in particular a load of coal to enable the light cruiser Königsberg to sail for home.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

February 17th, 1915

- As the French 4th Army continues to struggle in Champagne, failing to achieve a breakthrough, its commander General de Langle asks Joffre for reinforcements.  He wants to avoid repeated small-scale assaults and instead mass forces for one powerful attack that can overwhelm the Germans.

- The woods of the Argonne west of Verdun have been the scene of regular skirmishing between the Germans and French over the past several months, but today the French launch a major attack.  Since the German successes of January in carving out a salient towards Four-de-Paris, General Sarrail of 3rd Army has been eager to go onto the offensive in order to restore the morale of his solders.  The targeted sector is the western 'shoulder' of the German salient, between the ravines of Fontaine-aux-Charmes and Fontaine-de-Madame northeast of La Harazee.  Here the attack is highlighted by the explosion of three mines dug underneath the German line.  The detonation of the mines at 8am stuns the Germans, and the French are able to seize the first trench line.  Over the rest of the day there is fierce fighting as both sides struggle for the ruins of the German trench.  Gradually the French run out of ammunition, the intensity of the fire preventing resupply over the ruins of No Man's Land - indeed, for a period some French soldiers fight using captured German arms.  By 430pm the position has been regained by the Germans, the French suffering 40% casualties.

- In the pre-dawn hours the German 8th Army occupies the town of Augustow, on the western edge of the forest which bears its name.

- In the eastern Carpathians Austro-Hungarian cavalry recaptures the city of Czernowitz, while the main body of Pflanzer-Baltin's army group is directed northwest towards Dolina.  It is hoped that the latter drive into the flank of the Russians facing Südarmee, allowing the latter to advance.

- In Singapore the British authorities are gaining the upper hand on the Indian mutineers of the 5th Light Infantry.  Warships from Russia, France, and Japan have docked at the naval base, and added several hundred sailors to the colony's defenders.  Further, the mutiny is riven with internal tensions; only the Rajput half of the battalion  rebelled, while the Pathans remained loyal.

- For the past two weeks the landing party of the Emden has been at the Yemenese city of Sanaa, where they have found the climate not as inviting as they had hoped.  Because of the altitude the region is quite cold, and within several days of arrival 80% of the Germans had taken sick with fever.  Moreover, First Officer Mücke learns today that the difficulties of continuing the journey northwards by land are much greater than he had originally been informed.  Reluctantly, he concludes that they shall have to return to Hodeida and attempt to continue their voyage by sea, though this will need to wait until the sick are sufficiently recovered to travel again.

Monday, February 16, 2015

February 16th, 1915

- For several months the British 29th Division, composed of regular army battalions scattered throughout the Empire on the outbreak of war, has been assembling in the Home Islands.  Though initially intended to go to France for deployment with the British Expeditionary Force, Lord Kitchener decides today to assign the division to the Aegean to support the Dardanelles operation, either in seizing the peninsula of Gallipoli after it has been evacuated by the Ottomans or to occupy Constantinople should the navy push through to the enemy capital.  Kitchener also decides to allocate the volunteers from Australia and New Zealand, currently training in Egypt, to the Dardanelles operation.  This decision calms the fears of those who have argued that the navy alone would not suffice to force the straits and compel the Ottomans to leave the war.  On the other hand, authorizing the use of ground forces before the naval attack has even begun makes it easier for the navy to abandon the attack at the first sign of difficulty, given an alternative will already be at hand.

- After a delay of four days due to a snowstorm, the French 4th Army launches its major offensive in Champagne.  Along the five-kilometre front, XVII and I Corps are able to seize several hundred metres of the German first trench line, but are unable to advance further than five hundred metres, only a third of the advance they were scheduled to achieve today.  IV Corps, 4th Army's reserve, is thus withheld from the battle, with no breakthrough for it to exploit.

The front during the First Battle of Champagne, February to March 1915.

- As the French go over to the attack again in the Champagne, Joffre writes Sir John French today to emphasize the need for continued attacks, given intelligence reports suggesting that the Germans are massing against the Russians: 'it is important to . . . take the offensive in our theater of operations, less to profit from our numerical superiority than to hold the maximum [number] of enemy forces before us.'  The requirements of coalition warfare, then, are an impetus to striking the Germans on the Western Front.  Joffre urges the BEF to attack north and south of the Lys River, with its left advancing south of Ypres and its right moving on La Bassée.

- Advance elements of the German XXI Corps of 10th Army, already penetrating the Augustow Forest, encounter Russian forces retreating eastwards.  In pitched, close-quarters fighting, the Russians, attacking with bayonets on empty rifles, prevail, taking some prisoners while continuing their escape.

- On the far eastern wing of the Carpathian front, to the right of Südarmee, an Austro-Hungarian army group named for and under the command of General Karl von Pflanzer-Baltin has been holding the line and grappling with the Russians opposite.  As preparations continue for a resumption of the main offensive by 3rd and the redeployed 2nd Armies to the west, Pflanzer-Baltin's forces have been able to secure local victories - today, the town of Kolomea is recaptured.

The line in the eastern Carpathians just prior to the recapture of Kolomea.

Sunday, February 15, 2015

February 15th, 1915

- Admiral Pohl receives another telegram from the Kaiser today: 'H.M. the Emperor has commanded that the U-boat campaign to destroy commerce . . . is not to begin on February 18, but only when orders to do so are received from the All Highest.'  Once again Wilhelm II wavers when faced with an important military decision, much to the dismay of his admirals.

- In Britain, meanwhile, Churchill, speaking in the House of Commons, seeks to assure the public regarding the threatened German submarine campaign:
. . . losses will no doubt be incurred - of that I give full warning.  But we believe that no vital injury can be done if our traders put to sea regularly . . . If they take the precautions which are proper and legitimate, we expect the losses will be confided within manageable limits, even at the outset when the enemy must be expected to make his greatest effort to produce an impression.
 - The 1st Canadian Division completes disembarkation at St. Nazaire today, and the soldiers immediately entrain for the journey to Flanders.  Their billeting area is just east of Hazebrouck, and they are to be attached to III Corps, 2nd Army of the BEF.  Prior to taking over a section of the front line in several weeks time, the headquarters staff and regimental personnel will be attached to the British 4th and 6th Divisions to learn first-hand about the nature of trench warfare.

- In Singapore, the 5th Light Infantry battalion of the Indian army is the only remaining regular force defending the colony, as other units have been transferred to more active theaters.  The battalion, however, has long seethed with discontent, and today many of its soldiers rise in mutiny.  The unit is entirely Muslim, and fears of being sent to fight the Ottomans may have played a role in the decision to mutiny.  Conversely, other than a couple of exceptions Indian nationalism does not appear to have been a major motivating force.  Indeed, most important are causes specific to the unit itself - the commanding officer is incompetent and the officers mistrust each other, allowing other issues, such as poor rations and promotion prospects, to fester.

Initially, the mutineers, some three hundred in total, outnumber the 231 European soldiers on the island.  They also attempt to augment their ranks by freeing German prisoners of war, but the latter were more afraid of the Indians than anything and the few that did act preferred to escape rather than fight.  Rampaging in several large groups, thirty-four Britons and Asians are killed in several hours.  In response a landing party from the sloop Cadmus is put ashore and uses a machine gun to check the mutineers' advance on Singapore itself.

Saturday, February 14, 2015

February 14th, 1915

- Preparations for the imminent French attack in Champagne have not gone unnoticed by the Germans, and today a report arrives at the headquarters of the German 3rd Army from OHL warning that a significant French offensive will begin within days.

- In the Vosges elements of the 51st Landwehr Brigade have advanced to secure a line running from the mountain of Le Hilsenfirst in the north to the village of Sengern to the south, paving the way for the offensive west of Munster scheduled to begin in several days time.

- Aboard his flagship Admiral Pohl receives a telegram from the Kaiser: 'For urgent political reasons, send orders by wireless to U-boats already dispatched for the present not to attack ships flying a neutral flag, unless recognized with certainty to be enemies.'  Wilhelm II is having second thoughts as the significance of the order he signed so frivolously on February 4th becomes apparent.  For his part Pohl is upset by the note; central to the whole campaign of unrestricted submarine warfare is scaring neutral merchants away from Britain, which would be nullified if such a pledge as the Kaiser suggests is given.  In response Pohl sends a telegram to the Naval Staff outlining his views and insisting that they be placed before Wilhelm II.

- This morning elements of the German 8th Army enter the town of Lyck, a vital rail junction in East Prussia near the German-Russian frontier, while the infantry columns of the German 10th Army have reached the northern edge of the Augustow Forest at Suwalki.

Only today do the Russian commanders realize that it is 10th Army that is the target of the German offensive, and that three corps - from north to south, III, XX, and XXVI Corps - are in danger of encirclement.  With only two roads open to retreat, III Corps takes the northern one while XXVI takes the southern, leaving XX Corps to stand and fight to cover their withdrawal.

Friday, February 13, 2015

February 13th, 1915

- In British military circles a number of voices are being raised questioning whether the Dardanelles operation can be accomplished without the use of ground forces.  Admiral Henry Jackson, former Chief of the Admiralty War Staff and currently head of the Overseas Attack Committee guiding naval operations against German colonies, submits a memorandum today outlining his concerns.  He argues that a strong military force will be required both to complete the destruction of Ottoman forces and to occupy the Gallipoli Peninsula to secure Entente communications through the Dardanelles once the fleet moves onwards to the Sea of Marama, lest Ottoman forces reoccupy and rearm the destroyed forts.  Colonel Hankey, Secretary of the War Council, also wonders, in conversation with the Prime Minister today, if land units will be needed at the Dardanelles.

Thursday, February 12, 2015

February 12th, 1915

- In Champagne the major offensive by the French 4th Army was scheduled to be launched today, but the region is in the midst of a major snowstorm, and given that the weather conditions prevent accurate targeting of artillery, General de Langle postpones the attack until the 16th.

- The Kaiser issues an Imperial Order today clarifying his instructions regarding the bombardment of England by Zeppelins.  Emphasizing his desire to see the air war prosecuted 'with the greatest energy,' he authorized the targeting of military bases, barracks, oil tanks, and the London docks.  On the other hand, attacks on the residential areas of London and royal palaces remained forbidden.  Both the army and the navy begin planning for their respective Zeppelins to raid on England.

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

February 11th, 1915

- In the Winter Battle of the Masurian Lakes the advance of the German 10th Army continues unabated.  A Russian corps, holding the northern flank of the Russian 10th Army and consisting of three second-line divisions, has disintegrated under the relentless German assaults.  The corps commander, who had been instructed that the defence of the fortress of Kovno is a priority, withdraws the remnants of his force in that direction, which also happens to remove them from the German line of advance to the southeast.  The German 10th Army is now in a position to advance to the Augustow Forest and thereby sweep around the rear of the rest of the Russian 10th Army.

The Russian leadership, meanwhile, still does not understand the nature of the German offensive; General Ruszkii of North-West Front believes the main German attack is being undertaken by the German 8th Army and is aimed towards Osowiec.  As such, he orders the still-assembling 12th Army to prepare a counter-offensive designed to hit the flank of the perceived main axis of the German advance.  For this attack to succeed, Ruszkii orders 10th Army to remain in its positions, to act as the anvil to 12th Army's hammer blow against the German 8th Army.  Such orders, of course, are the worst possible, given that it is 10th Army itself that is the target of the German offensive, and is in growing danger of being enveloped.

- Over the past few weeks several reports have reached the commander of Indian Expeditionary Force D of the potential for Arab unrest along the eastern frontier of Persia, inspired by the Ottoman call to jihad and German intrigues.  Today it is decided to dispatch a force to the city of Ahwaz on the Karun River and adjacent to the pipeline of the Anglo-Persian Oil Company, whose preservation had ostensibly been a key motivation for the initial landing in lower Mesopotamia.  The force sent, however, is too small - thirty cavalry, two Indian battalions, thirty soldiers from the Dorsetshire Regiment, and a handful of guns - to be of any value in intimidating the Arab tribes or demonstrating British strength in the region.

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

February 10th, 1915

- The United States issues a strong condemnation of the recent German proclamation that starting on the 18th a war zone would exist around the British Isles and that enemy merchant ships would be sunk without warning.  The position of the American government is that any harm befalling an American ship or American citizens, even if the latter were aboard a British vessel, would be 'an indefensible violation of neutral rights,' and pledged to hold the German government strictly to account for any such act.  In short, the United States will defend its rights to trade with Britain and expect Germany not to interfere.  The tone of the American note is stronger that Chancellor Bethmann-Hollweg expected, and brings into sharp relief the tension between cutting British maritime trade and the attitude of neutral powers.

- The Russian 10th Army continues to be battered by the German offensive as it crosses the frontier between East Prussia and Russia itself.  General Rudolph Sievers, 10th Army commander, is struggling against against immense difficulties, only one of which are the Germans themselves.  The terrible blizzard bedevils his own infantry as much as the enemy, and makes redeployment and reinforcement almost impossible.  Meanwhile, most of 10th Army's supplies and ammunition are snowbound at railway depots in the rear, and communication links are tenuous at best.  Given the difficulties, Sievers has concentrated his attention on III Siberian Corps on the southern end of the line, which is putting up a stubborn defence that is at least slowing the advance of the German 8th Army opposite.  This concentration on the south, however, leaves the northern end of the line neglected, where the German 10th Army is having more success - today the German XXI Corps cuts the rail line from the front to the Russian fortress at Kovno to the north-east, and XXIX Reserve Corps surrounds and captures ten thousand Russian soldiers near Wirballen.

Monday, February 09, 2015

February 9th, 1915

- A meeting of the War Council in London today includes discussion regarding Entente strategy on the Western Front, and communications from Joffre regarding the role he desires the British to play.  While desiring to cooperate and coordinate with their French ally, they are not inclined to, as Churchill remarks, give the French the 'last word' on the employment of the British Expeditionary Force.

- In Germany OHL submits a recommendation to the Prussian War Ministry today to establish a chief of field aviation (Feldflugchef) who would have authority over all aerial matters, including the coordination of airplane production.

- In East Prussia the full weight of the advancing German 10th Army falls upon two Russian cavalry divisions screening the northern flank of the Russian 10th Army.  The Russian divisions simply disintegrate, and the attack of the Germans continues unimpeded.

Sunday, February 08, 2015

February 8th, 1915

- In East Prussia elements of the German 8th Army occupy the town of Johannisburg, and the advance eastward continues.

- In the Vosges the German 51st Landwehr Brigade attacks west in the valley of the Lauch river, located between Hartmannswillerkopf to the south and the town of Munster to the north.  The attack is designed to secure the southern flank of 8th Bavarian Reserve Division, so that the latter can undertake an offensive against the French positions west of Munster later this month.

Saturday, February 07, 2015

February 7th, 1915

- The Winter Battle of the Masurian Lakes opens today as the German 8th and 10th Armies commence their advance, though the weather is the worst imaginable: a severe blizzard blankets the front, with gale-force winds driving snow into the faces of the German infantry.  Though the Germans suffer terribly, the poor weather has the unintended benefit of masking their true strength from the Russians; the entirety of 8th Army is dismissed as being a mere small detachment.  The Russians, then, have no idea of the size of the enemy force bearing down on 10th Army.  Moreover, the attention of North-West Front is on 12th Army, still assembling to the south of East Prussia and which is to launch a major Russian offensive northwards in mid-February.  With their focus to the southwest, the Russian leadership dismisses any notion of a substantial threat to 10th Army, and the latter is strung out and poorly-entrenched.  Once again, a Russian army has been left vulnerable to a German attack.

An isolated second-line Russian division finds itself in the path of the advance of the German 8th Army, which erroneously believes that the Germans are moving on the fortress of Osowiec to the south.  Under German attack, the division disintegrates, and the advance continues.

The Winter Battle of the Masurian Lakes, February 7th to 18th, 1915.

- For the past two months, Indian Expeditionary Force D has been consolidating its hold on Qurna and the Shatt al-Arab.  Little enemy activity has been seen beyond the occasional armed demonstration by Ottomans, regarded as nothing more than nuisances.  Over the past three days, Lord Hardinge, Viceroy of India, has been in the region, visiting Basra and touring the front line around Qurna.  His presence is meant to reassure nearby wavering Arab tribes that the British are here to stay.  As the Viceroy departs today, he is pleased with the balance of forces in the area, and is confident that IEF D does not need substantial reinforcement.

Friday, February 06, 2015

February 6th, 1915

- The assembly in East Prussia of the German 10th Army, based on the four reserve corps reluctantly assigned to the Eastern Front by Falkenhayn in January, is completed today.  Commanded by General Hermann von Eichhorn, 10th Army is deployed to the north of 8th Army, the latter now commanded by General Otto von Below.  Ludendorff's plan is for the two armies to advance eastwards, marching over the same terrain that 8th Army moved through before and after the Battle of Augustow in September and October.  Their target is the Russian 10th Army, and the two German armies are to envelop it from the north and south, its destruction opening the way for a further advance.  This offensive is designed as the counterpart to Austro-Hungarian operations in Galicia, the success of both, it is envisioned, forcing the Russians to evacuate Poland.  While the plan is typically bold for one devised by Ludendorff, it also fails in the broader strategic sense - not only has the Austro-Hungarian offensive gotten nowhere, but the further eastward 10th and 8th Armies advance, the more exposed their southern flank will be to a Russian counterattack.  Whatever local success Ludendorff manages to achieve here, it will be difficult for him to translate it into strategic success.  Plus, there is the fact the battle will be launched in the middle of the Russian winter, with all that portends.

- In the Carpathians the fighting is bogging down into positional warfare, as the counterattacking Russians run into the same supply and weather problems that have bedevilled the Austro-Hungarian offensive.  Conrad, however, remains desperate to relieve Przemysl, knowing the fortress will not last past March and believing its fall will be crushing to Austro-Hungarian morale and likely to prompt the intervention of Italy and Romania.  He is thus unwilling to abandon the concept of offensive operations in the Carpathians, despite the appalling casualties and conditions experienced over the past two weeks.

Conrad has also concluded that the commander of 3rd Army has been too pessimistic and shown insufficient drive and enthusiasm for the attack. As a remedy, he takes half of 3rd Army's divisions away from it, assigning them instead to a 'new' 2nd Army - the HQ of the existing 2nd Army is brought from the Polish front to command in the Carpathians, along with additional reinforcements.  Once the additional forces arrive, the Austro-Hungarians will go over to the attack once more.

The Carpathian front, February 5th to 15th, 1915.

- A conference is held today in Brazzaville, capital of French Equatorial Africa, regarding operations against German Kamerun in the coming year.  Believing that Jaunde is the key to the German defence, it is decided that one column will advance towards Lomie and Dume to the east of Jaunde, while another will advance to the Ntem River to isolate the town from the southwest.  It is hoped that the simultaneous advances will coordinate with each other and keep the Germans off-balance.

Thursday, February 05, 2015

February 5th, 1915

- This morning the following declaration is published in Germany:
The waters surrounding Great Britain and Ireland including the whole of the English Channel are hereby declared to be a military area.  From 18 February onwards, all enemy merchant ships in these waters will be destroyed, irrespective of the impossibility of avoiding in all cases danger to the passengers and crew.
The public announcement of unrestricted submarine warfare catches many admirals by surprise, so quickly had Pohl moved to capitalize on the consent of the Chancellor and the Kaiser in recent days.  Criticism of Pohl's action focus on the unpreparedness of the German navy to actually implement unrestricted submarine warfare.  Whereas a prewar study had suggested more than two hundred submarines would be required to maintain permanent patrols around the British Isles, only thirty are available as of today.  Nevertheless, the criticisms are sent against a backdrop of general approval for striking a blow against Britain.

- After several hours of combat the battered remnants of the Austro-Hungarian 2nd Division, reduced to a thousand soldiers, pulls out of Mezölaborcz, ceding control of the town to the Russians.  The fall of Mezölaborcz cuts the railway supplying the east wing of 3rd Army, while the army as a whole has lost, over the past fourteen days, almost 89 000 men, over 50% of its strength.  In addition to combat losses, thousands die of exposure each night, while the wounded freeze before they can be evacuated.  Conrad's Carpathian offensive to relieve Przemysl has completely fallen apart, tens of thousands of lives thrown away for nothing.  Conrad for his part places blame on the commander of 3rd Army, believing that he has failed to impose a firm will on his soldiers, when the reality is that expecting the infantry to not only hold on but advance in such conditions shows that Conrad has no idea what is actually happening on the front line.  The only positive note in the fighting is that the Russians, themselves exhausted from advancing through the ice and snow, fail to press their advantage after capturing Mezölaborcz.

Wednesday, February 04, 2015

February 4th, 1915

- The French launch a counterattack against the line north of Massiges seized by the Germans yesterday.  Advancing at 440a, though the French are able to enter the German trenches, they are ultimately repelled in fierce hand-to-hand combat, with heavy losses on both sides.

- After several months of training in the miserable conditions of Salisbury Plain, 1st Canadian Division is preparing to depart for France.  Signalling the imminence of their departure, the soldiers are inspected today by King George V.

- Admiral Pohl, the current Chief of the Naval Staff, is appointed today as Admiral Ingenohl's replacement as commander of the High Seas Fleet, while Vice-Admiral Gustav Bachmann becomes the new Chief of the Naval Staff.  Just as his predecessor, he is bound by the Kaiser's limitations on the deployment of the fleet; indeed, in the aftermath of the Battle of Dogger Bank Wilhelm II has forbidden even Hipper's battlecruisers from putting to sea.  Pohl does, however, make use of the Kaiser's presence at the change of command ceremony to advance another goal.  Standing together in a launch as it moves among the dreadnoughts, Pohl hands the Kaiser an order for unrestricted submarine warfare to be signed.  Caught up in the moment and with his attention on his beloved warships, Wilhelm II signs his name without contemplating the significance of his action.  Pohl for his part has gotten what he desired - authorization for the commencement of unrestricted submarine warfare against Britain.

- In Galicia, after a heavy artillery bombardment the Russians break into the town of Mezölaborcz, which sits on one of the few railways in the Carpathians and thus is vital for Austro-Hungarian supply.  Despite this, Conrad is more concerned with issues of jurisdiction, insisting that Südarmee communicate through the Austro-Hungarian high command instead of going directly to OHL.

- As preparations continue to launch the naval attack on the Dardanelles, Britain and France are optimistic that Greece, emboldened by the Entente offensive, will join the war on their side.  Today the French government authorizes the dispatch of a division to northern Greece, to encourage not only the Greeks but also the Romanians to join the war by demonstrating their willingness to fight in the Balkans.

- East of the Suez Canal the commander of the Ottoman expedition to seize the Suez Canal concludes that, with the failure of yesterday's attack and no longer having the element of surprise, any further efforts would risk the annihilation of his force.  Thus in the early hours of the morning the Ottomans begin to retreat eastwards across the Sinai Peninsula towards Palestine.

The British forces on the west bank of the Canal decide not to pursue the retreating enemy.  First, they are initially concerned that the Ottomans may renew the attack.  Second, the sandstorm that had postponed the Ottoman attack from the 2nd to the 3rd had also grounded British aircraft, leaving them without aerial reconnaissance of the enemy columns.  Finally, the British formations were not prepared to enter the desert - none had the water for such an attempt.  As a result, the British permit the Ottomans to retire unmolested.

Burial parties tending to the Ottoman dead on the east bank of the Suez Canal.

Tuesday, February 03, 2015

February 3rd, 1915

- In Champagne the left wing of the German 15th Reserve Division and the right wing of the German 21st Reserve Division launches an attack north of Massiges, on the eastern end of the Champagne battlefield.  In addition to its immediate objectives, the Germans hope the attack will draw French reserves from elsewhere.  After a morning of artillery fire, a number of mines under the French line are detonated at noon, followed by the advance of the infantry.  By 1230pm the French position on Hill 191 north of Massiges is in German hands.  In response the French bring up a division and prepare a counterattack.

- In the Carpathians elements of Südarmee have managed to seize the village of Tucholka today, but the situation of the Austro-Hungarian 3rd Army to the west continues to deteriorate.  Not only is Szurmay's group falling back from the heights north of the Uszok Pass, but under Russian pressure a gap is opening between between III and VII Corps in the centre of 3rd Army's line.  To reinforce 3rd Army VIII Corps begins to depart from the Balkans today, with its 21st Landwehr Division heading for the Mezolaborcz area and 9th Division bound for the Uszok Pass.

- For the past several months, the Bulgarian government has undertaken negotiations with the Great Powers on both sides of the war regarding the territorial concessions they would be willing to make.  Bulgaria's primary aim is the recovery of the Macedonian territory lost to Serbia in the Second Balkan War, and Germany and Austria-Hungary are better-placed to offer such a bribe than Russia.  Still, the pretence of talks with the Entente have made the Germans and Austro-Hungarians eager to win the friendship of the Bulgarians, and negotiations conclude today for a three million pound loan to the Bulgarian government at a very low interest rate, an agreement that the Bulgarian finance minister refers to as 'extortion.'  In exchange, the Bulgarians only have to agree to remain neutral, which is hardly a concession at all considering that the humiliating failures of the Austro-Hungarian army to conquer Serbia in 1914 has left the Bulgarian government unwilling to countenance entry into the war at present. The successful Bulgarian diplomacy allows the government not only to pay for the deficits run up during the Balkan Wars but also to take its time to decide when and how to enter the war to Bulgaria's greatest advantage.

- The Ottoman attack on the Suez Canal is launched today.  While diversionary attacks are to be made to the north, the main effort to cross the Canal is to occur in the centre, between Tussum and Serapeum.  The operation was originally scheduled to have been undertaken yesterday, but a sandstorm has delayed the attempt until this morning.  The main attack consists of eight separate columns approaching the canal in darkness, each several hundred metres apart and carrying three pontoons.  As surprise is essential, there is to be no preliminary artillery bombardment nor rifle fire as the Ottomans make their crossing.

At 2am the Ottoman engineers on the east bank begin to maneouvre their pontoons into position.  At first surprise is achieved - three pontoon bridges manage to reach the west bank and it is not until 325am that the British post at Tullum realizes that an attack is under way.  From here, however, the operation falls apart.  The diversionary attacks have failed to draw the defenders elsewhere, and with daylight the Indian soldiers on the west bank are able to fire into the pontoon bridges, while the remainder are sunk at 745am by a torpedo boat.  With surprise now lost, the Ottomans begin to use their artillery, and score some hits on shipping in the Canal.  However, with much of the bridging equipment now destroyed, the Ottoman commander calls off the attack.

The Ottoman attack on the Suez Canal, February 3rd, 1915.

- Since the entry of the Ottoman Empire into the war, a significant effort has been made to appeal to Muslims to rise against the British, French, and Russian empires.  Today Enver Pasha casts his eyes south, past Egypt to the sultanate of Darfur, west of Sudan.  Though the sultanate is self-governing, it is also tied to the British colonial administration at Khartoum, as the sultan, Ali Dinar, is required to pay an annual tribute and acknowledge the suzerainty of the British.  Writing to Ali Dinar, Enver calls on the sultan to renounce British hegemony and unite with his fellow Muslims in the war against the Entente: 'Now is the moment to renew and organize the religion and Islamic unity of purpose . . . rise up and fight the infidels.'  Such rhetoric has an appeal to Ali Dinar, who increasingly resents British influence in his sultanate and yearns to assert his independence.  Enver's letter, however, is subject to the near-absolute lack of communication between Darfur and the outside world - it will be a year before the letter arrives, by which time the situation will have already changed.

- After a week's journey Emden's landing party arrives at the city of Sanaa.  The journey was uneventful, though initial progress had been slowed by the unfamiliarity of many of the sailors with riding the mounts provided to them by the Ottomans at Hodeida.  Again and again, the column would have to stop when one of the donkeys or mules bucked off its rider, often to the sound of laughter from the rest of the party.

Monday, February 02, 2015

February 2nd, 1915

- Financial representatives from Britain, France, and Russia meet today in Paris to discuss the financing of the war.  Britain objects to a French proposal to issue a joint allied loan of £800 million, fearing that British credit would be undermined by association with the weaker credit of its allies.  Instead, Britain (with £25 million) and France (625 million francs) agree to support Russia, while in exchange France and Russia agree to ship £6 million in gold to Britain if the reserves of the Bank of England falls by over £10 million in the next six months.

- The defeat at Dogger Bank just over a week ago has capped a frustrating first six months of the war for the German High Seas Fleet.  The British clearly dominate the North Sea, as evidenced by their attack on the Heligoland Bight in August, and the naval raids against the British coast only narrowly avoided catastrophe at the hands of intercepting British squadrons.  Such setbacks demand a scapegoat, and today he is found - Admiral Ingenohl is dismissed as commander of the High Seas Fleet.

- In the Carpathians the Austro-Hungarian effort to seize the heights north of the Uszok Pass have failed.  Given the utter exhaustion of the infantry in the bitter cold, efforts to attack the Russian positions frontally and outflank them have gotten nowhere.  Early his morning General Szurmay pulls his forces back towards the Uszok Pass, in order to give them a brief respite from the fighting.

Sunday, February 01, 2015

February 1st, 1915

- Admiral Hugo von Pohl, Chief of the German Naval Staff, had interpreted the British declaration of November 1914 that the entire North Sea was a war zone as an effort to deter neutrals from sailing to Germany, and in particular to starve Germany via the interruption of food imports.  In response, Pohl had become a convert to the idea that Germany should use its own submarine force to attack merchant shipping bound for Britain.  Today in a meeting with Chancellor Bethmann-Hollweg, he advocates a shift in strategy to embrace what is known as unrestricted submarine warfare.

According to international maritime law, a specific procedure was to be following when a warship intercepts merchant shipping.  First, the attacker would have to halt the merchant ship either by signals or a warning shot.  Second, sailors from the warship would have to board the merchant ship to ascertain its cargo and nationality.  Third, if the merchant ship belonged to the enemy, provision had to be made for the safe evacuation of the crew and any passengers.  Only at this point could the warship actually sink the merchant ship.  These rules were drafted in the age of the sailing ship, when the attacker would be a fast light warship that nevertheless would have space to take the merchant crew aboard.  On the other hand, these rules were manifestly impossible for submarines to follow if they were to achieve any success.  Submarines relied on stealth and surprise, advantages which would have to be surrendered if they had to signal a merchant ship to stop first.  Second, a submarine is at its most vulnerable when on the surface, making it potentially disastrous to stop and wait while sailors board the merchant ship to inspect it.  Finally, the size of the submarine left no room whatsoever to take on the crew of a sunk merchant ship.  To operate in line with contemporary maritime law would greatly reduce the value of a submarine as a weapon against enemy shipping, and hence was referred to as restricted submarine warfare.

At the outset of the war the general expectation on all sides was that submarines would still adhere to maritime law, and indeed German submarines had done so for the first six months of the conflict.  However, given the tightening British naval blockade, Pohl is not the only German admiral to advocate that the U-Boat force stop adhering to international law in order to reach their full potency as a weapon against British trade, which is referred to as unrestricted submarine warfare.  To its advocates, this policy promised a means to strike back at the one main enemy that remained frustratingly beyond the reach of the German army or the High Seas Fleet.  Moreover, given British reliance on imports, especially of food, unrestricted submarine warfare had the potential to cripple the British economy, and perhaps even force its surrender.

Unrestricted submarine warfare was not without its difficulties.  For one, it would be another action that would tarnish the image of Germany elsewhere, and of particular concern was the potential for neutral merchant ships to be sunk by accident, which might lead to additional countries entering the war on the side of the Entente.  The biggest neutral, of course, is the United States, and the fear expressed by some is that adopting unrestricted submarine warfare may push it closer to the British.  Further, there could easily be incidents where passenger liners are mistaken for merchant ships, and the sinking of the former could lead to substantial civilian casualties and international outrage.  These reasons are why not only the German Chancellor but the Kaiser himself have refused to date to endorse the implementation of unrestricted submarine warfare.

Pohl, however, has persisted in his advocacy, and today attempts to assuage the Chancellor's concerns.  He argues that if Germany declares a war zone around Britain, it will scare away neutral shipping, which means that there will be neutral merchants in the area for U-Boats to sink by accident.  In additional, Pohl declares that submarine captains are able to distinguish between enemy and neutral ships, and between passenger liners and merchant ships.  Given these assurances, Bethmann-Hollweg consents to unrestricted submarine warfare.