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.

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