Sunday, March 01, 2015

March 1st, 1915

- Having failed to make any headway with Sir John French regarding the relief of the French corps in the Ypres salient, Joffre writes to the minister of war today, asking him to appeal directly to Kitchener.  As Joffre explains, if IX Corps is not relieved by the British, 10th Army will be unable to launch an offensive in Artois in conjunction with the BEF.

- It is only the third day of the renewed Austro-Hungarian offensive in the Carpathians, but already Conrad is faced with the spectre of almost complete failure.  After heavy fighting the left wing of 2nd Army is stalled along the road to Baligrod, and has failed to reach its initial objectives.  To the east, V Corps of 2nd Army is stalled along along the San River at Chmiel, while to the west X Corps of 3rd Army has been unable to seize the heights fiercely defended by the Russians.  To make matters worse, the Russians have widened the breach gained yesterday in the Austro-Hungarian lines northwest of Stanislau to eight kilometres, and threaten to unhinge the entire front held by General Pflanzer-Baltin's forces.  Finally, Südarmee has failed to make any substantial progress towards Wyszkow Pass in the face of the bitter winter conditions.  In reaction to the setbacks, Conrad considers throwing 4th Army into the attack, disregarding the strong Russian defensive positions it faces.

- At the Dardanelles the British begin to confront the problem of the Ottoman minefields within the straits.  Clearing the mines is essential to the success of the operation, but the British only have makeshift minesweepers available to them in the eastern Mediterranean.  The Admiralty has provided the expedition with twenty-one converted North Sea fishing trawlers, newly-equipped with minesweeping gear but still manned by their regular peacetime crews, now designated as naval reserve sailors.  Crucially, these crews had no experience whatsoever of working under fire, but that was precisely the situation they faced in the Dardanelles due to the difficulties of destroying in particular the mobile howitzer batteries by naval bombardment.

To deal with this problem, Admiral Carden decides to send in the minesweepers at night to hopefully avoid detection.  After dusk this evening seven trawlers, escorted by the light cruiser Amethyst and four destroyers, enter the straits and begin to work.  The Germans and Ottomans, however, had already considered the possibility of night operations, and had five large searchlight batteries along the shore.  When the minesweepers are a mile and a half from the first minefield, they are suddenly illuminated by four searchlights and quickly subjected to fire from ten gun batteries.  Though none are hit, the trawlers rapidly retreat, while their escorts discover that it is nearly impossible to hit enemy artillery while practically blinded by powerful searchlights at night.  After forty-five minutes, the five warships also retreat.

- The success of the British and French to date at the Dardanelles, and in particular the destruction of the forts protecting the entrance to the straits, is having the desired effect on the opinion of the neutral Balkan states:  today the pro-Entente Greek Prime Minister Eleutherios Venizelos offers three Greek divisions for an attack on the Gallipoli peninsula.

- For their part the Germans are concerned about the prospects of a successful defense of the Dardanelles by the Ottomans, and desire to disturb the complacency of the British and French warships anchoring as they undertake bombardments.  To this end, the Austrian naval attaché is asked today to request to his government to send at least one of their submarines to the Dardanelles as early as possible.

- The British formally announce a complete naval blockade of German East Africa.

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