Sunday, March 22, 2015

March 22nd, 1915

- In Britain the ongoing shortage of artillery shells leads Prime Minister Asquith to appoint a committee to plan for the formation of a new committee on munitions.  Beyond this reflecting the inanity of bureaucratic processes and the deliberate (to put it charitably) decision-making process of the Prime Minister, it also illustrates the growing marginalization of the War Office with respect to munitions production.  The new committee is to be under Cabinet, not the War Office, and David Lloyd George, but not Kitchener, was invited to attend its first meeting.  The growing belief in government circles is that however lustrous Kitchener's image is among the British public, his contempt for politicians and the normal procedures of administration has left the War Office in bureaucratic chaos.

- Overnight the Austro-Hungarian artillery at Przemysl fire off their remaining ammunition, and this morning are destroyed.  At 6am, the last of the fortifications are reduced to rubble, and at 7am an automobile carrying two staff officers depart Przemysl to negotiate the surrender of the garrison.  As white flags flutter over the remnants of the defences, the first Russian detachments enter Austro-Hungarian lines by 9am.

As a result of the surrender of Przemysl, 9 generals, 93 staff officers, 2500 other officers, and 117 000 men march into Russian captivity.  The rank-and-file of the Austro-Hungarian garrison has suffered terribly over the past months, their rations reduced to almost nothing.  The Russians, however, cannot help but notice that the senior Austro-Hungarian officers have a well-fed look about them.

The fall of Przemysl is undoubtedly a significant disaster for Austria-Hungary, it constituting one more military embarassment in a war that has gone completely off the rails for the Dual Monarchy.  The fortress' surrender also formally ends the efforts undertaken by the army over the past few months to break through the Russian lines to relieve the garrison.  Conrad's tunnel vision regarding the relief of Przemysl blinded him to the realities of attempting to conduct major offensive operations in mountainous terrain in the midst of terrible winter conditions.  The Winter Battles of the Carpathians have been a shattering debacle far beyond the mere failure to reach Przemysl.  Over the past few months, the Austro-Hungarian army has suffered 800 000 casualties, three-quarters as a result of sickness and exposure; the efforts to relieve the fortress squandered far more men than the besieged garrison itself contained.  In the end, Conrad's offensive has resulted in the worst of both worlds: not only has Przemysl been lost, but the catastrophic losses further cripples the fighting capacity of the field army.  It is one of Conrad's greatest failures in a war marked by them.

- Senior Entente commanders in the eastern Mediterranean meet today in the wardroom of Queen Elizabeth to plot the next move after the rebuff of the 18th.  For several days Admiral Robeck has continued to ruminate on the losses suffered in that day's bombardment, and opens the conference by declaring his opinion that the Dardanelles cannot be forced by warships alone.  Instead, the only way the minefields could be swept would be if the mobile batteries were destroyed and the enemy shore occupied by landing forces.  This declaration finds support from General Sir Ian Hamilton, who had been dispatched by Kitchener to command the various British forces assembling in the eastern Mediterranean and had arrived on the 17th.  His reaction to the failure of the 18th was that the army would now have to play a central part in the operation, and after communication with Kitchener had been informed by the latter that if large scale landing operations were necessary, then so be it.  With Hamilton's support, Robeck is able to carry the room, and the conference unanimously resolves that the naval attack should be postponed until the landing operation was ready to commence.  As the forces under Hamilton's command are scattered across the Mediterranean, he advises the admirals that it will be about three weeks before he is ready to move.

Keyes is absent from the meeting, attempting to reorganize the minesweeper fleet, and when he learns of the decision he works to change Robeck's mind.  Keyes is convinced that the Ottomans are tottering, and that one more push will shatter the defenders and open the way to Constantinople.  Robeck, however, still fearing additional warship losses more than anything else, refuses to budge.

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