Monday, March 23, 2015

March 23rd, 1915

- In the Vosges the French 1st Chasseur Brigade attacks German positions on Hartmannswillerkopf, and are able to capture the first two enemy lines on the Siberloch flank of the mountain.

- In the aftermath of the fall of Przemysl, Falkenhayn had written to Conrad expressing his belief that the best chance for success in the east lay in an offensive against Serbia.  As this would necessitate Austria-Hungary standing on the defensive in the Carpathians, Conrad strongly objects in his reply of today.  He fears that any failure against Serbia would be the final nail in the coffin of the Dual Monarchy's prestige, while he believes that a resumption of the offensive in the Carpathians can still achieve success.  Conrad is not going to allow devastating failure to stop him from trying again.

- Admiral Robeck signals the Admiralty this morning of his intention to abandon a purely naval assault on the Dardanelles.  Instead, he proposes to launch a combined naval and army attack on the straits and Gallipoli peninsula on or after April 14th, when General Hamilton has stated his forces will be prepared to land.

The news from Robeck comes as a surprise to Churchill, who had expected the attack of the 18th to be merely the first stage of an ongoing operation.  The losses incurred in that attack, while unfortunate, are acceptable given the ability to dispatch reinforcements and the significance of the objective.  The First Lord intends to overrule Robeck and order an immediate resumption of a naval-only operation, and summons a meeting of the senior leadership of the Royal Navy, including Admiral Fisher.  The collected admirals, however, insist that Robeck, as the senior commander on the spot, is best-suited to judge the proper course of action, and if he advises that a landing is necessary, then the Admiralty should agree.  For Fisher in particular, who has long loathed the Dardanelles operation and feared the consequences of heavy losses, Robeck's message is a godsend, providing the justification needed to abandon the naval assault and shift to an operation on which the major burden will fall on the army.  All morning Churchill argues with Fisher and the admirals, and as a last resort the First Lord appeals to Asquith.  The Prime Minister responds, however, that while he may personally sympathize with Churchill's position, he does not feel it proper to overrule the professional advice of the admirals.

At a Cabinet meeting this afternoon, Churchill mournfully announces that the naval operation against the Dardanelles is to be abandoned, replaced by a joint operation in which the focus shall be on an amphibious operation by forces under General Hamilton's command.  Kitchener declares that the army will see the operation through to a successful conclusion, and the matter is settled.  Afterwards Churchill informs Robeck that his plan has been approved.  Entente operations at the Dardanelles will henceforth be directed by Hamilton and the army leadership, with the navy relegated to the role of providing fire support.

- Over the past few months the relationship between the Senussi in the Sahara and the Ottoman Empire has improved, given that the former has enthusiastically answered the call to jihad issued by the latter.  Money and equipment has been smuggled in on Greek merchant ships, while today Nuri Efendi, younger brother of Enver Pasha and a veteran of the 1912 fighting in Libya against Italy, lands at Sollum near the Libyan-Egyptian frontier with fifty Ottoman officers to aid the Senussi.

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