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.

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