Thursday, April 30, 2015

April 30th, 1915

- Today advancing German cavalry divisions seize the town of Shavli in Courland, which had been set on fire by the retreating Russians.

- For all that the Germans have done to maintain secrecy regarding the upcoming offensive on the Eastern Front, they can do nothing about the 'loyalty' of their ally: today deserters from the Austro-Hungarian army inform the Russians who capture them that a major attack will occur between Gorlice and Tarnow on May 2nd.

- Responding to pleas from General Hamilton for reinforcements, General John Maxwell, commander of British forces in Egypt, suggests the twelve battalions of the ANZAC Light Horse and Mounted Rifle Brigades be sent to Gallipoli to fight as dismounted infantry.

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

April 29th, 1915

- In Britain there has been a movement to reduce alcohol consumption among the working-class in the belief that drunkeness reduces productivety, and Chancellor of the Exchequer David Lloyd George has proposed doubling the duty on spirits and addition twelve shillings per barrel to the duty on beer.  These proposals, however, have an adverse effect on the political position of the minority Liberal government in the House of Commons.  It is no great surprise to see the Conservatives oppose the measure, given as they have always been the primary backer of the drink interest.  However, Irish Nationalist M.P.s also oppose raising the duty on one of the few industries in southern Ireland, while the Labour party resents the insult to the loyalty and productivity of the working-class.  In the face of united political opposition, the Liberals back down and today withdraw the proposed duty increases.

- Today the German 11th Army completes its deployment near Gorlice, with the German Guards, VI, XXXXI Reserve, and X Corps arranged north to south from Ciezkowice to Ropica Ruska.  To the north, the Austro-Hungarian 4th Army west of Tarnow deploys a further six infantry divisions and is to be under the operational command of General Mackensen.  Elaborate measures have been taken to maintain secrecy about the German deployment.  The trains carrying the corps eastward were routed through rail lines in northern Germany, to give the appearance they were destined for East Prussia.  Further, German formations took over their parts of the line only at night, to avoid Russian observation, and German staff officers surveying the front even wore Austro-Hungarian uniforms, lest the Russians notice and become suspicious.

The final attack orders are issued today by Mackensen to his corps commanders, with the attack scheduled to begin May 2nd.  While giving each corps freedom of action regarding particular targets, Mackensen stipulates the number of batteries each corps is to assign to the front, and emphasizes the importance of close infantry-artillery co-operation.  The artillery is to keep up with the pace of the infantry advance, and artillery observers are to be with the infantry to co-ordinate fire on enemy strongpoints.  Mackensen also issues a separate order for the artillery directly under army control, which is to be commanded by one officer only.  The army-level artillery was tasked with the preliminary bombardment the night before the attack, and is to prevent the arrival of Russian reserves and keep those at the front off-balance.  Further, the preliminary bombardment will briefly cease at two points overnight to allow pioneer patrols to make their way into No Man's Land to cut wire and observe the extent of the damage.  Once the initial infantry attack has been launched, continual pressure is to be maintained, the infantry advancing in deep columns protected by friendly artillery fire.  Crucially, if a unit finds itself ahead of their neighbours, instead of halting and waiting they are to keep advancing, keeping the Russians off balance.  These orders incorporate the lessons learned by Chief of Staff Seeckt and others on the Western Front over the past five months.

German soldiers arriving at a Carpathian railway station, April 1915.

- This evening Emden's landing party arrives at El Wegh after an uneventful overland journey from Sherm Munnaiburra.  Here they are able to bathe and wash clothing as they assemble the camels necessary for the next phase of their journey.

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

April 28th, 1915

- In Courland the German 3rd and Bavarian Cavalry Divisions have covered seventy-five kilometres in the past forty-eight hours and reached the town of Kielmy.  With German forces streaming through the porous front, the main body of the Russian army in Courland withdraws past Kielmy.

- On Cape Helles the Entente forces launch their first major push northwards today.  Given the exhaustion of his forces after three days of constant combat, General Hunter-Weston of 29th Division has ordered a limited advance designed to seize Krithia and secure positions from which the high ground at Achi Baba can be seized in a subsequent attack.  After a preliminary bombardment undertaken by two artillery batteries and warships offshore, the British 87th and 88th Brigades, as well as the French 175th Regiment, climb out of their trenches and begin their advance.  They encounter heavy Ottoman resistance, and further the rough and unfamiliar terrain serves to disorientate and split adjacent battalions from each other.  The result is command chaos, with no one on the Entente side having any real idea what was happening.  This included Hunter-Weston himself, who finally landed his headquarters this morning but lacked radio or telephone communications with his forward units.  Units of the 87th Brigade manage to reach within a kilometre of Krithia, but unsupported on either flank (the adjacent units had gotten lost or repulsed), were forced to retire.  At the end of the day, all the attack accomplishes is to straighten out the Entente line - Krithia remains firmly in Ottoman hands - while the British and French suffer 2000 and 1200 casualties respectively.  Thus ends the First Battle of Krithia; it will not be the last.

The Entente advance up Cape Helles from late April to early May 1915.

- Twenty days after departing Djidda by sea aboard a zambuk, Emden's landing party arrives at Sherm Munnaiburra, a sheltered bay approximately ten miles south of El Wegh, their intended destination.  These last ten miles, however are over open seas, and they will be beyond the protection of the reefs which have kept larger enemy warships at bay.  Unwilling to risk capture, the Germans disembark and prepare to journey overland to El Wegh.

Monday, April 27, 2015

April 27th, 1915

- At Ypres the commander of the German XXVI Corps decides that there are too few gas cylinders available for immediate use, and thus calls off further offensive operations for the time being until additional gas cylinders can be installed.  Though occasional British and French counterattacks occur (accomplishing nothing), a pause ensues in the 2nd Battle of Ypres.

- The northern end of the Eastern Front has been comparatively quiet over the past few months, in contrast to the Winter Battle of the Masurian Lakes just to the south and the terrible fighting in the Carpathians beyond.  Falkenhayn, however, has issued orders for OberOst to conduct diversionary operations prior to 11th Army's attack at Gorlice-Tarnow, and Ludendorff has decided that the most substantial of these operations is to occur here.  Three cavalry divisions - 3rd, 6th, and Bavarian - are to spearhead the advance, supported by 6th, 36th, and 78th Reserve Division.  These forces have been formed into Army Group Lauenstein, named for its commander, General Otto von Lauenstein.  Their objective is the conquest of Courland, a sparsely populated region west of Riga and north of the Niemen River.  Here, with an almost complete lack of infrastructure, the front has been sparsely held by both sides, and the Russian defence is anchored around strong-points scattered about ten miles apart.  The lack of defence in depth gives space for cavalry to operate, and when the German advance begins today both 3rd and Bavarian Cavalry Divisions in particular are able to make rapid progress into the gaps in the Russian line.

- General Ivanov of South-West Front submits his plan to Russian army headquarters today for a resumption of offensive operations in the Carpathians.  He intends to insert 11th Army between 8th and 9th Armies, and advance along the line Turka-Nagy-Verecke.  Grand Duke Nicholas insists on several changes to Ivanov's plan, including the deploying of XXXIII Corps closer to the front.  Ivanov complies, and states that the attack will be scheduled to begin May 3rd.  As it turns out, a day too late.

- The negotiations that led to the Treaty of London between Italy, Britain, France, and Russia, as well as the signing ceremony yesterday, were undertaken in secret.  However, the French delegation in particular has leaked like a sieve, news of the agreement spreading from cabinet members to friends and journalists - indeed, the dressmaker to the wife of President Poincaré is even in on the secret.  Thus it is little surprise that the French newspaper Le Temps announces today that 'the London negotiations have virtually terminated in an accord.'  Nothing like giving the enemy four weeks' notice of an impending declaration of war.

Meanwhile, reverberations from the Treaty of London ripple across Europe.  In Serbia the national parliament debates rumours of the agreement amidst concerns that Serbia's allies have sold out its interests in yielding to Italy's territorial demands along the Adriatic coast.  The most Premier Nikola Pašić can say is that he has no information on the matter, which hardly reassures the parliamentary deputies, and criticism mounts that he has failed to defend Serbian interests.

- On the Austro-Hungarian side of the frontier with Italy, construction begins on the defensive line along the Isonzo River, which will be much-utilized in the years to come.

- On the Asiatic shore of the Dardanelles, the French evacuation from Kum Kale is completed before daybreak.  French casualties for the two days of fighting amount to 780, and while Ottoman losses were greater, the landing did not otherwise impact the course of the fighting on Gallipoli.  At Cape Helles, General Hunter-Weston had hoped that the French reinforcements ordered yesterday by General Hamilton to land at X Beach would arrive before noon today, allowing for a general advance towards the village of Krithia and the heights at Achi Baba, which was supposed to have been captured on the first day of the operation.  However, a shortage of steamboats delay the landing, which in turn forces a postponement of the advance until tomorrow.

As the Gallipoli operation is already significantly behind schedule, General Hamilton concludes that reinforcements will be necessary to secure control of the peninsula.  Late this evening he sends a message to Lord Kitchener asking for 42nd (East Lancashire) Division, currently in Egypt defending the Suez Canal, to be reassigned to his command, which the Secretary of War enthusiastically endorses.  On the other side, German General Liman Sanders, commander of the Ottoman 5th Army tasked with defending Gallipoli, has been rushing forces to meet the Entente landings.  By this evening all of the Ottoman forces that had been defending the beaches near Bulair on the northern end of the peninsula have been sent southwards.  Reinforcements are also en route from the Asiatic side of the Dardanelles, and two fresh divisions - 15th and 16th - have departed Constantinople for the front.  Closer to the front than Entente reinforcements, and able to arrive without having to co-ordinate shipping, the Ottomans are able to get new forces to the lines on Gallipoli faster than the British and French.

- After a reconnaissance of Qurna and conferring with officers there, General Townshend reports to General Nixon that the latter's original plan for an attack north of Qurna via a tactical outflanking maneouver was not feasible due to the flooded terrain.  Instead, Townshend suggests advance through Ahwaz, which would force the Ottomans out of their position to avoid encirclement.  Such an operation, however, would require traversing Persian territory, which does not endear it to Nixon.

Sunday, April 26, 2015

April 26th, 1915

- At Ypres the French line near the Yser Canal has been reinforced by elements of 152nd and 153rd Divisions, and a French counterattack against the German bridgeheads over the Yser Canal is able to retake the village of Het Sas, though the Germans remain in control of the locks.  To the east a major British counterattack by the Lahore Division and the Northumberland Brigade is launched at St. Julien, but the infantry quickly run into a hail of German rifle and artillery fire.  The British take heavy losses - the Northumberland Brigade alone suffers almost two thousand casualties - and are able to make no progress.  There is also heavy fighting near Grafenstafel, while German attacks are able to make incremental gains near Broodseinde.

The line at Ypres at midnight, April 26th, 1915.

- For the past several months, squadrons of the British Royal Flying Corps undertaken increasingly frequent bombing attacks on German railways and supply depots, though not without losses.  Today Lieutenant W. B. Rhodes-Moorhouse, the RFC's first Victoria Cross winner, attacks the railway station at Courtrai from 300 feet with a 100-pound bomb.  Flying at such low altitude left him vulnerable to ground fire, and he is severely wounded.  He manages to fly the thirty-five miles back to his aerodrome and insists on reporting the results of his mission to his CO before receiving medical attention.  He will die tomorrow.

- Despite every attempt at secrecy, the German buildup near Gorlice and Tarnow has simply been too substantial to hide completely.  Further, the local population in the region is strongly pro-Russian; indeed, Colonel Seeckt, Chief of Staff of the German 11th Army, has wanted to deport the entire population to prevent news reaching the Russians.  Nevertheless, the chief of staff of the Russian 3rd Army reports to South-West Front today that indications are that German forces intend to break through east of Krakow, or exactly where they intend to attack.

- At 3pm this afternoon, the ambassadors of France, Russia and Italy meet British Foreign Secretary Sir Edward Grey at the Foreign Office in London, where they sign the treaty that pledges Italy to join the war on the side of the Entente.  Territorially, the Italian government has achieved its aims - in exchange for entering the war within one month, Italy is to receive the Trentino and South Tyrol up to the Brenner Pass, the city of Trieste and the surrounding region, including all of Istria, northern Dalmatia, and a number of islands off the coast, as well the Albanian city of Valona.  Further, the rest of the Dalmatian coast, though it is to be awarded to Serbia, is to be militarily neutralized, leaving Italy the dominant power in the Adriatic.

At the ceremony, the Russian ambassador is particularly somber, as he recognizes that the treaty is a defeat for Slavic interests in the Balkans, and thus by extension a blow to Russian prestige.  However, both Britain and France have stated in secret notes to the Russian government that Italy's entrance into the war does not effect their pledge of the Straits to Russia, and this, from the Russian perspective, is the more important war aim.

Having reaching the diplomatic agreement, the Italian government is now faced with ensuring that parliamentary and public opinion will support the decision for war.  This will be no easy task - former Prime Minister Giovanni Giolitti supports neutrality, and reports received today by current Prime Minister Antonio Salandra from fifty prefects indicate that a solid majority of the Italian public, especially in the south, backs continued neutrality.

The territories of Austria-Hungary promised to Italy in the London Treaty.

- At Gallipoli the ANZACs are able to turn back a heavy Ottoman counterattack, with heavy naval gunfire decimating enemy infantry advancing down the face of Battleship Hill.  Otherwise, however, the ANZACs are unable to expand their narrow beachhead, and they take their commander's words to heart and dig trenches into the rough terrain.  To the south, the landing at Y beach has come to grief; advancing inland, they are taken in flank and fall back to the shore.  The decision is taken to evacuate Y beach, which is successful under the covering fire of the pre-dreadnoughts offshore.  However, the failure to advance rapidly at Y beach yesterday had thrown away a golden opportunity to strike behind the Ottoman defences holding the British at the tip of Cape Helles, and the evacuation allows the Ottomans to concentrate against the remaining beaches.  Furthest south at V beach, the news is somewhat better; after a terrible day of fighting, the Dublin and Munster Fusiliers are able to seize the Ottoman trenches at 2pm and capture Sedd el Bahr and Hill 141 to the north.  The British infantry, however, are exhausted, and General Aylmer Hunter-Weston, commander of the British 29th Division, orders them to entrench against a feared Ottoman counterattack.  In practice, the halt gives the Ottomans time to bring up additional reinforcements.

As for the Asiatic shore, at 740am General Hamilton instructs General Albert d'Amade, commander of the French forces assigned to the Gallipoli invasion, to send those of his units not committed to the diversionary landing at Kum Kale to land at X Beach on Cape Helles.  D'Amade, who had hoped that the Kum Kale operation might be expanded, now realizes that it has accomplished all it possibly (i.e. very little), and at 1130 requests that the French force on the Asiatic show be withdrawn, to which Hamilton agrees.

Saturday, April 25, 2015

April 25th, 1915

- Early this morning the newly-arrived British 10th Brigade attempts a counterattack against St. Julien in the Ypres salient.  The British infantry are able to advance right up to the edge of the houses, but are halted by heavy machine-gun fire.  To the east, after five hours of constant fighting, 8th Battalion of the Durham Light Infantry is forced to yield its position at Grafenstafel at 7pm, but the extra day has allowed further reinforcements to arrive, and the fall of Grafenstafel does not imperil the British line.  The right wing of the German XXVII Reserve Corps is able to push forward against 2nd Canadian Brigade, but does not break through.  By this evening, sufficient reinforcements have arrived to pull the battered 2nd and 3rd Canadian Brigades out of the line, replaced by elements of the Lahore Division and numerous British battalions.  The British have also reestablished a continuous front from the Yser Canal east to just south of Grafenstafel.  The Germans for their part recognize that the opportunity for further significant gains is slipping away; 4th Army commander issues orders this afternoon to abandon further attempts to push west of the Yser Canal as now beyond their capabilities, and instead concentration on collapsing the salient east of Ypres.

The line at Ypres at midnight, April 25th, 1915.

- The decline of the Austro-Hungarian army is such that an incident today shows that some of its soldiers cannot even surrender correctly.  The entire 28th Regiment, composed largely of Czechs and on the Carpathian front, attempts to surrender to the Russians opposite.  Instead, when they enter the 'enemy' trench announcing their surrender, they find it full of German soldiers.  One can imagine the reaction of the Germans to the surrender of their allies.  Afterwards, eight officers will be executed for treason and every tenth men in regiment shot to teach the others a lesson.

- In the dark of night the British and ANZAC landing forces approach the Gallipoli shores, and at 1am the boats are lowered from the steamers and the soldiers begin to transfer to their landing craft.  These boats are not landing craft in any sense of the word; in most cases, they are simple rowboats, which are to be towed close to the beaches by steamers or destroyers.  They wait until the full moon sets just before 3am, and begin their run into shore.

The Entente Landings at Gallipoli, April 25th, 1915.

On the southern end of Gallipoli the British conduct their landings at five beaches: Y, X, W, V, and S running counterclockwise around the tip of Cape Helles.  At Y, X, and S beaches, the initial landings have gone well, but the other two are nearly disastrous.  At W beach, the shore is crisscrossed with barbed wire and Ottoman trenches, and the naval bombardment has not succeeded in clearly them away.  When the Lancashire Fusiliers land, they take terrible casualties fighting their way up the beach.  The worst, however, is at V beach.  Here the British attempt an innovative means of landing two thousand infantry from the Hampshire Regiment and the Munster Fusiliers.  The infantry are packed aboard the collier River Clyde, and the plan is for the ship to ground itself near the shore, at which point the soldier will pour out of several specially-cut exits in the side of the ship, make their way down gangplanks, and move ashore.  In addition, eight rowboats towed by small steamers are to carry the Dublin Fusiliers to shore.  When the landing is launched, it is a complete disaster.  There are three complete lines of barbed wire and several Ottoman trenches and machine guns positions.  When River Clyde hits bottom and the infantry begin to move out of the hull, Ottoman fire is concentrated on the exits, and fearful casualties are suffered, most never reaching shore.  A similar fate befalls the men landing by boat, caught in the wire and shot down.  Those who survive are pinned to the beach throughout the day, unable to make any progress.  The debacle at V beach imperils the entire landing, and forces from S beach in particular attempt to push inland and dislodge the Ottoman defenders at V beach from landward, but are unable to reach their beleaguered comrades.

British Landings at Cape Helles, April 25th, 1915.

The merchant ship River Clyde aground off V Beach at Cape Helles.  Note the 'sally ports' cut in the side
of the ship and the gangway leading from them.

To the north the ANZACs are landing as well.  In the run into shore, the first wave had gotten lost in the pitch darkness, and a midshipman commanding one of the rowboats decides, entirely on his own responsibility, to shift northwards and the others, lacking higher direction, simply follow suit.  The landing boats also bunch together, and come ashore north of their target beach near Gaba Tepe.  Instead, they land around the lesser point of Ari Burnu and the small cove to the south, which will shortly be rechristened Anzac Cove.  The first wave hits the beach at 430am, and encounter little defensive fire from the Ottomans, the latter unable to target effectively in the darkness.  The ANZACs quickly move inland, finding themselves facing steep cliffs and rough scrub which slows the advance; if they march along hilltops they are highlighted against the sky and are easy targets, whereas if they descent into the gullies and ravines they are hidden but also entirely lost.  The outnumbered Ottomans, meanwhile, fall back and use the terrain to maintain an effective harassing fire.  Nevertheless, the ANZACs are ashore, and despite casualties and the difficult terrain, elements are pushing inland, and by 930am a half company of 11th Battalion is reaching towards the high ground at Chunuk Bair to the northeast of the landing beach.

The Anzac landing on April 25th, 1915.

Infantry unloading on the beach at Anzac Cove, April 25th, 1915.

It was at this point, with the Australians, in spite of difficulties, advancing towards the centre of the peninsula, that the situation is transformed by the intervention of one man - Lieutenant Colonel Mustafa Kemal.  Indeed, if ever a man was matched to the hour, it is he, and his actions this day will make his reputation and launch him on the path to become the most important figure in the history of 20th-century history.  Today, Kemal is commander of 19th Division, inland east of Gaba Tepe.  At 8am he receives orders to send a battalion against the ANZAC landing, but Kemal perceives that this is no mere diversion, but rather a substantial force whose advance must be checked if Gallipoli is to be held.  He thus orders an entire regiment, along with a battery of artillery, to move against the ANZACs as quickly as possible.  Kemal accompanies the force, and when he encounters other Ottoman soldiers fleeing and without ammunition, he orders them to fix bayonets and return to the fight.  The imperative at the moment was to halt the ANZAC advance, and nothing else matters.  He gives to his commanders the order that will become famous:
I don't order you to attack - I order you to die.  In the time that passes until we die, other troops and commanders can take our places.
After midday Kemal's force drives into the advance elements of the ANZAC force moving towards Chunuk Bair.  The ANZACs had hardly expected an Ottoman counterattack, and the complete disorganization of the landing forces, with fragments of battalions mixed up with each other, prevent any overall direction for their advance.  Kemal's counterattack has been perfectly timed, hitting the ANZACs before they could entrench and sort out the organizational chaos, and the ANZACs are shattered.  They are pushed back from Chunuk Bair and lose their intermediate positions on Battleship Hill and Baby 700, yielding the high ground to the enemy.  The Ottomans are only barely held at the Nek, which nevertheless leaves most of the beach now under Ottoman fire.  The ANZACs have committed all of their reserves, and the numbers of wounded grow.  Indeed, some of the wounded 'evacuated' to the beach are shot a second time as they wait to be taken offshore.  This evening the ANZAC commander warns General Hamilton that their position may not be tenable if the Ottomans push hard again tomorrow.  Hamilton's response is that the ANZACs must hold on - an evacuation would surely be a greater catastrophe - and famously writes 'You have got through the difficult business, now you have only to dig, dig, dig, until you are safe.'  In future the ANZACs will come to call themselves 'diggers'

The disposition of Ottoman forces during the Entente landings, April 25th, 1915.

On the Asiatic shore the French diversionary attack goes ashore at 930am, far too late to actually distract the Ottomans from the main landings which are already underway on Gallipoli.  The French skirmish with Ottoman forces and take five hundred prisoners, but otherwise accomplish nothing of significance.  On Gallipoli itself, the British and ANZACs are ashore, but otherwise their situation is tenuous at best.  At Cape Helles the failure at V beach has completely upset General Hamilton's plan; instead of pushing inward, they are still struggling to get off the beach itself.  To the north, the ANZACs have been pushed back into a narrow beachhead, contained by the perfectly-timed counterattack led by Mustafa Kemal.  It is only the first day and the Entente plan has gone badly off the rails.

- As the British and ANZACs land and die at Gallipoli, the Russian navy decides to make an appearance, bombarding the Ottoman forts at the entrance to the Bosphorus.  The attack makes no real difference, in line with the Russian contribution to the Dardanelles campaign to date.

- Meanwhile, amidst growing concern over the situation in the Aegean, and increasingly frustrated with the hesitancy of the Austro-Hungarian navy, the German navy has decided to dispatch U21, an ocean-going submarine, to the Mediterranean to attack the British and French warships off the Dardanelles.  As U21 does not have the range to reach the Aegean on its own, a supply ship has been been chartered from a port in northern Spain and will rendezvous with the submarine to allow it to refuel.

Friday, April 24, 2015

April 24th, 1915

- After a short artillery bombardment, the Germans at Ypres launch a second gas attack, releasing the deadly clouds to drift over the British and Canadian lines at and north of St. Julien.  From 5am the Germans launch a series of heavy assaults on the battered 3rd Canadian Brigade.  Gassed for the second time, it has reached the limits of its endurance, and under overwhelming pressure fall back.  After midday they withdraw 700 yards south of St. Julien, yielding the village to the enemy.  To the east 2nd Canadian Brigade, commanded by General Arthur Currie, has to pull back its left wing, much as 3rd Canadian Brigade had done two days earlier.

The line at Ypres at midnight, April 24th, 1915, showing the ground yielded by 3rd Canadian Brigade today.

Still, though the Canadian line bends and ground is yielded to the enemy, it does not shatter.  Even though it is only two days since the first gas attack, already countermeasures are being improvised.  Soldiers quickly learn that chlorine gas, heavier than hair, clings to the earth, and that remaining in low ground is fatal.  Similarly, running from the gas, by making one breath more heavily, simply makes one more susceptible to its effects.  Finally, cloths soaked in urine negate much of the effect of the gas.  Though the chlorine gas still causes casualties, it is not the completely unknown terror it was on the 22nd.  Never again will a gas attack have the same psychological impact.  At Gravenstafel in particular, the Canadian 8th Battalion makes a valiant stand and, though heavily outnumbered, fights the Germans to a standstill, preventing a breakthough that could have swept behind the British 28th Division east of Ypres and unhinged the entire defence of the salient.  Again, though the Germans have gained additional ground, they have not won a decisive success, and further Entente reinforcements are en route.

French soldiers using improvised gas masks in the 2nd Battle of Ypres.

- In the St.-Mihiel salient the German counterattack shifts focus slightly to advance southwest of Les Éparges, and achieves a notable success: the capture of four kilometres of the French first trench line, two kilometres of the French second trench line, and even a battery of 75-mm artillery pieces.  General Dubail of the Provisional Group of the East reports to Joffre that the German success was due to the profligate use of artillery and trench mortars.

- At a meeting of the German and Austro-Hungarian leadership at Conrad's headquarters today, Chancellor Bethmann-Hollweg warns Foreign Minister Count Burián that the Austro-Hungarians can not count on any German military aid to fight Italy should the latter enter the war, and that such a circumstance could lead to defeat.  The one hope those assembled cling to is that impending German offensive near Gorlice and Tarnow, if successful, will perhaps convince the Italians to hold back.

The ongoing arrival of elements of the German 11th Army east of Krakow, April 24th, 1915.

- Today the harbour at Mudros on Lemnos in the eastern Mediterranean is barely-controlled chaos as final preparations are completed for the landings on Gallipoli.  One by one the transports leave the anchorage, bound for a rendezvous either at the island of Imbros or Tenedos.  The two destinations are a reflection of the plan adopted by General Sir Ian Hamilton, which calls for two main landings to be undertaken tomorrow.  The first, assigned to the ANZACs assembling at Imbros, is to land on the western side of the peninsula north of Gaba Tepe, where resistance is expected to be light.  After securing the beaches the ANZACs are to advance eastward to control part of the Sari Bair range before seizing the hill at Mal Tepe and taking Kilid Bahr, the high point on Gallipoli, on the second day.  Meanwhile, the British 29th Division and the Plymouth battalion of the Royal Naval Division, assembling at Tenedos, will be landing at a number of beaches around the Helles tip of the peninsula.  Though these positions were known to be well-defended by the Ottomans, it is hoped that naval gunfire will be able to overcome resistance.  By the end of the first day these forces are to have seized the heights at Achi Baba behind the village of Krithia, and on the second will join the ANZACs in capturing Kilid Bahr.  Once the high ground along the centre of the peninsula is seized, the Dardanelles coast can be clearing of enemy artillery and the minesweepers can finally complete their work.  At the same time as the main landings, diversionary attacks will be made by the French at Kum Kale on the Asiatic shore and elsewhere to confuse and distract the Ottomans.  It is a complex operation, and Hamilton hopes that by conducting so many landings simultanously the Ottomans will be unable to concentrate overwhelming force against any of them.  In practice, what Hamilton has done is divided his own force such that none will be able to achieve its objectives.

- Cevdet Bey reports to Constantinople today that the Armenian rebels in the city of Van number four thousand, have barricaded themselves in the Armenian quarter, and are proving impossible to dislodge.  As artillery is brought in to bombard Van, the Ottomans allow fifteen thousand Armenian civilians escaping massacres in the countryside to join the besieged rebels.  This is not done out of any sense of mercy, of course; rather, the hope is that the more mouths there are to feed in Van, the quicker they will all starve to death.

With the rebellion continuing in Van, the Young Turk leadership moves to implement further measures against the Armenian population.  Talat Pasha, the Minister of the Interior, issues orders for the arrest of all prominent Armenians in Constantinople, while Enver Pasha, the Minister of War, sends orders to army commanders in eastern Anatolia to deport the Armenian population in those regions where they are in open revolt.  The key dispatch, however, is a second message written by Talat Pasha, sent to the commander of 4th Army in the Caucasus.  The Minister of Interior states that deporting Armenians to the Konya region, as has been done in the past, is no longer feasible, since concentrating substantial numbers of Armenians in such a location would simply create further problems.  Instead, those Armenians 'whose expulsion from places like Iskenderun, Dörtyol, Adana, Haçin, Zeytûm, and Sis has been deemed necessary, to the southeast of Haleb, Zor, and Urfa'.  The vilyats named by Talat are to be found in the Syrian interior; in other words, Talat is ordering the Armenian population in the region of Van to be relocated into the desert and left to their own devices.

Thursday, April 23, 2015

April 23rd, 1915

- Bouyed by the success achieved at Ypres yesterday, the German 4th Army orders further attacks today towards new objectives in an attempt to exploit their breakthrough.  Meanwhile, this morning the first British reinforcements, drawn from reserve companies and battalions of 28th Division, arrive in the gap in the line northeast of Ypres, where they join the two Canadian battalions fighting since last night.  Further reinforcements, including the Indian and Cavalry Corps, are en route.

Along the Yser Canal, French survivors launch several counterattacks that, while not regaining lost ground, prevent the Germans from exploiting the bridgeheads won yesterday over the canal.  The Canadian 3rd Brigade, with its left bent back ninety degrees, is attacked on three sides.  It has already suffered heavy casualties and is still feeling the effects of yesterday's gas attack.  German forces continue to work their way forward, especially against the exposed flank of the Canadians, and in bitter fighting the latter is slowly driven back to a new line northeast of St. Julien.  In the gap itself, the mixed British and Canadian battalions fight desperate engagements with the Germans, and at 630pm attempt a counterattack.  Again no lost ground is regained, but the forward momentum of the German XXVI Reserve Corps is broken.  Still, the British and Canadians have been unable to restore a continuous front line, and gaps remain.

The line at Ypres at midnight, April 23rd, 1915. 

- German forces in the St.-Mihiel salient launch a surprise counterattack today against Les Éparges, though the French are able to initially hold the line.

- Among the soldiers of the Royal Naval Division assembled to participated in the planned landings at Gallipoli was the 27-year-old poet Lieutenant Rupert Brooke.  Perhaps more than most Brooke had been enamoured with the romance of the British operation in the eastern Mediterranean, seeing in it a grand adventure among the battlefields and ruins of ancient Greece.  He had come down with severe blood poisoning three days ago, however, and today dies.  His friends bury him in an olive grove high on the island of Skyros, where the Royal Naval Division has been undergoing final training.  The romantic and poetic Brooke thus passes almost on the eve of the landings which themselves will be a bitter and disillusioning experience for so many.  The symbolism can hardly be understated.

- Today a new commanding officer arrives at Basra for 6th Indian Division: General Charles Townshend, equally ambitious and self-assured.  General Nixon, commander of Indian forces in lower Mesopotamia, issues orders for Townshend to take his division upriver, clear the Ottomans from their position near Qurna, and advance northwards to seize Amarah.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

April 22nd, 1915

- For the past two days, German artillery has been shelling the town of Ypres, but otherwise there has been little activity in the salient.  It has been a pleasant spring day, clear with only a light breeze blowing from the northeast.  However, the idyllic conditions are also ideal for the long-planned German gas attack, and a new terror is about to be unleashed on the modern battlefield.

At 6pm the gas canisters are opened along the front held by the German XXIII and XXVI Reserve Corps, and in the evening breeze the yellow-green cloud slowly rolls towards the enemy line between the Yser Canal and Poelcappelle.  Here the trenches are held by the French 87th Territorial and 45th Algerian Divisions.  The French and colonial soldiers have no idea what the strange cloud approaching them is, and when it begins to seep into their trenches, pandemonium ensues.  The chlorine gas blinds and chokes, the lungs blistering and filling with fluid until the victim, unable to breath, dies.  The French and Algerians pay the price for the earlier dismissal of warnings regarding the German attack; the only choices they have is die or flee.  Survivors flee southward, choking and half-blinded, presenting a terrifying spectacle to the British and Canadian soldiers they pass by.

German chlorine gas drifts towards Entente lines during the 2nd Battle of Ypres, April 1915.

At 615, the German infantry attacks, following in the wake of the gas clouds.  In front of XXIII Corps, the gas attack was not entirely successful, and 45th and 46th Reserve Divisions have a hard fight before they are able to seize the village of Steenstraate, though later in the evening German forces are able to push across the Yser Canal at Het Sas.  On the other side of the German attack, the gas is largely ineffective in front of 51st Reserve Division of XXVI Reserve Corps, and the right of 45th Algerian Division and the left of 1st Canadian Dvision are able to put up stiff resistance before the Germans are able to seize the village of Langemarck.  In between, however, the attack has been completely successful.  Here the gas completely routed the French and Algerians, and when 52nd Reserve Division advances, they encounter no resistance.  By 640pm, or less than thirty minutes after their advance had begun, 52nd Reserve Division reaches the hills near Pilkem.  They have advanced almost three kilometres, a stunning gain on the Western Front, and reflects the extent of the German accomplishment.  The use of chlorine gas has completely shattered the Entente line, blowing a hole several kilometres wide between the Yser Canal and Poelcappelle.  Before the Germans are little more than the fleeing remnants of the French and Algerian divisions.  It is a breakthrough that dwarfs those accomplished on two occasions during the First Battle of Ypres.

However, again like those two desperate moments during the first battle, when the outcome hung in the balance, the Germans are unable to fully exploit their advantage.  Here the problem is simply a lack of forces: only a couple of brigades are available to send through the breach in the enemy line.  No further reserves are immediately for two reasons.  First, the impact of chlorine gas has exceeded even the most optimistic expectations of the Germans; quite simply, no one thought its use would open such an enormous gap.  Second, the operation was never intended to be a major offensive designed to win a decisive and strategic victory.  Instead, the attack at Ypres was primarily designed to test the combat utility of chlorine gas and distract the British and French from the flow of German forces from west to east to support the upcoming Gorlice-Tarnow offensive.  Indeed, Falkenhayn had refused the request of the commander of 4th Army for an additional division to be held in reserve near the line; the thinking of the Chief of Staff was that given how the gas attack was dependent on the weather, he could not afford to have a valuable division tied up waiting for the attack to happen, and a significant exploitation of any success was not the point anyway.  It is one of the few occasions during the war when either side will underestimate the potential for an offensive to succeed, and as a result the opportunity to drive to Ypres and inflict a crushing defeat slips away.

Regardless, the surviving Entente forces still find themselves in a desperate struggle to hold back the Germans who are advancing.  Along the Yser Canal the remnants of the French 87th Territorial Division, aided by the Belgians to the north, struggle to prevent the Germans from exploiting their bridgehead at Hen Sas.  East of Langemarck, 3rd Canadian Brigade of 1st Canadian Division, on whose flank the Algerians had formally held the line, bends its left wing back until it runs south towards St. Julien in an effort to prevent the Germans from turned their flank and driving further eastward.  Despite suffering from the gas, the Canadians recover from the initial shock of the attack, and in places are able to recover lost ground.  In the gap, the first reinforcements to arrive are two Canadian battalions, the reserve of 1st Brigade and stationed nearby when the attack began.  They plunge into woods near St. Julien and, massively outnumbered, engage in desperate combat and briefly check the Germans before being forced back.  Other reinforcements have already been ordered to the front, but they are still en route at midnight, and the hole in the Entente line remains, a gaping wound that, to the eyes of French and British commanders, threatens disaster.

The position at Ypres at midnight on April 22nd, 1915, showing the extent of the German breakthrough seized this evening.

- As the date for the German offensive in the Gorlice-Tarnow region approaches, Falkenhayn believes that surprise is vital to the operation's success.  Should the Russians anticipate the German attack, he explains to Conrad today, the operation may fail.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

April 21st, 1915

- At a meeting of the Italian cabinet today, Foreign Minister Sidney Sonnino, a leading voice for intervention on the side of the Entente, informs his colleagues for the first time of negotiations over the past month with Austria-Hungary.  He argues that the most recent offer from Austria-Hungary is not even close to sufficient, especially given that the Entente are willing to offer so much more.

- This morning a heavy storm lashes the islands off the mouth of the Dardanelles where the Entente forces are assembling for the planned landings on the Gallipoli peninsula.  Though the date for the operation had been set for April 23rd, the poor weather forces a postponement for forty-eight hours.

Monday, April 20, 2015

April 20th, 1915

- Prime Minister Asquith gives a speech today to armaments workers in Newcastle, attempting to calm public and press concerns over a shortage of artillery shells by suggesting that the supply of munitions is adequate in present circumstances.  Asquith bases his speech on advice from Lord Kitchener, who has assured the Prime Minister that worries over a 'shells crisis' are vastly overblown.  The reality being otherwise, Asquith will come to regret his comments.

- Preceded by heavy artillery bombardments, the Germans have launched repeated attacks against the British position on Hill 60 for three days.  After bitter fighting the Germans have reestablished themselves on the slopes of the hill, with the British defenders left clinging to the large craters the detonation of their mines on the 17th created.

- From the outbreak of the war, when it declined to side with Austria-Hungary and Germany in fulfillment of its obligations under the Triple Alliance, Italy has remained on the sidelines.  This neutrality, however, has never meant indifference; indeed, the Italian government has keenly followed the fortunes of both sides, for it has always intended to leverage its neutrality to secure territorial concessions.  There is a powerful sentiment among many of the ruling class that Italian unification is not yet complete, as long as Italians live outside of Italy.  This has inevitably drawn attention to Austria-Hungary; not only to secure the city of Trieste and the region of Trentino, but also to achieve a dominant position in the Adriatic and influence in the Balkans.  Italy has already taken advantage of the war to occupy the Albanian port of Valona, and negotiations have been ongoing with Austria-Hungary over territorial concessions.  However, even despite the intransigence of Conrad, Franz Joseph, and others in the Austro-Hungarian government, it was always improbable that Austria-Hungary would ever willing cede all the territory desired by the Italian government.

This has inevitably drawn the Italian government towards the Entente, as the British and French are more than happy to promise whatever Italy desires to secure its entry into the war on their side.  Since March 3rd, secret negotiations have been underway to find the size of the bribe necessary for Italy to join the Entente.  The only significant stumbling block has been Russia - whereas Britain and France have no problem handing over whatever portion of the Balkans Italy desires, Russia has been more reticent, as it desires both to maintain its own influence in the Balkans and secure territorial acquisitions for its Serbian ally.  The lands desired by both Serbia and Italy are not mutually compatible, and much of the focus of the negotiations has been on the fate of the Dalmatian coast and the islands just offshore.  Generally, it has been the Russians who have compromised, for they have been promised post-war control over Constantinople and the Dardanelles by the British and French, and are not willing to endanger that pledge for the sake of their Serbian ally.  The last stumbling block has been the date on which Italy will actually enter the war.  The Italian government, on the advice of the army, has requested a delay until mid-May; the Russians, meanwhile, want Italian intervention as quickly as possible, in order to force Austria-Hungary to divert forces from the Carpathians.  After personal messages from President Poincaré and King George V, this evening the tsar agrees to the delay, clearing the path for a final agreement.

- When the Ottoman Empire entered the war in November 1914, its Young Turk leadership had sought to utilize the conflict to achieve their ambition of transforming the state into a revitalized pan-Turkic empire, seizing lands in central Asia from Russia inhabited by Turkic peoples.  The crushing defeat at Sarikamish in January 1915 had destroyed these hopes, and in the aftermath the Young Turks had sought to assign blame to minorities within the Ottoman Empire, seeing non-Turkic peoples as inherently disloyal.  The focus for such accusations had rapidly become the Armenian people, whose Christian religion had also told against them.  Armenians had long been a scapegoat in Ottoman history, with widespread ethnic massacres occurring in the two decades prior to 1914.  Further, though 2 million Armenians lived on the Ottoman side of the frontier in the Caucasus, another 1.5 million lived on the Russian side, which made it easy for the Ottoman government to portray the Armenians as sympathetic to the enemy.

Over the past several months, increasingly harsh measures have been taken against Armenians.  Those who served in the Ottoman army had been removed from combat formations and reassigned to labour battalions, preemptively disarming them lest they cause any trouble.  In the countryside of the western Caucasus, and in particular the region around Lake Van, Ottoman police and soldiers have taken ever-harsher measures against the Armenian population, and by April massacres of civilians are increasingly commonplace.  These atrocities have occurred with the knowledge and complicity of governor Cevdet Bey, brother-in-law to Enver Pasha - indeed, Cevdet's appointment to Van in February aimed to ensure that anti-Armenian measures adopted by the national leadership would be enthusiastically enforced at the local level.

Yesterday Cevdet yesterday had ordered Ottoman police and army detachments into the Armenian-dominated city of Van.  After several attacks on Armenian civilians, the Armenian population rises in rebellion today, and this uprising will provide the Young Turk leadership with the excuse to implement the policy they desired to implement anyway: genocide.

The Ottoman Empire, showing the location of the city of Van in the Caucasus.

Sunday, April 19, 2015

April 19th, 1915

- Today Joffre circulates a memorandum to his army commanders outlining the proper conduct of offensive operations.  The objective of a major attack, writes Joffre, is to achieve a break through, and that once an assault has begin it is to be continued until the the German line has been decisively ruptured.  This is to be done via continuous attacks, whereby pressure on the Germans is to be maintained by constantly sending more units into the attack until the strain becomes so great that the line breaks.  The memorandum also compares the proper conduct of an offensive to a symphony, in which a wide range of parts have to work together harmoniously under the direction of the commanding officer if success is to be achieved.

Saturday, April 18, 2015

April 18th, 1915

- After the loss of Hill 60 yesterday evening, the Germans have moved up 19th Saxon Regiment, and at 630 launch a desperate counterattack.  Under heavy fire, and despite taking heavy casualties, the Germans are able to reach the British line, and hand-to-hand fighting ensued.  By nightfall, however, a British bayonet charge has cleared their trenches of Germans, and, however narrowly, they remain in command of the hill.

- Over the Western Front, French pilot Roland Garros, in his specially-modified Morane-Saulnier aircraft, shoots down his third German aircraft this month, demonstrating the effectiveness of being able to fire forward through the propeller.  Shortly afterwards, however, Garros' aircraft is damaged by German anti-aircraft fire, and he is forced to crash-land behind German lines.  Garros is made prisoner, and of greater importance his Morane-Saulnier aircraft is captured by the Germans.  It will quickly be sent back to Berlin for study, and in particular will draw the attention of aircraft designer Anthony Fokker.

- For several months the leadership of the Italian navy has been developing plans in the event of war breaking out with Austria-Hungary, and today they are officially approved by the Italian government and transmitted to Duke Abruzzi, commander-in-chief of the Italian Navy.  At the outbreak of hostilities, the Italian navy is to be based in the southern or central Adriatic, most likely at Taranto where they can be most easily reinforced by the British and French navies.  If the Austro-Hungarian fleet comes south from its main naval base at Pola, the Italians will give battle.  If the enemy remains at Pola, the Italian navy would remain in the south until called north to support the advance of the Italian army towards Trieste.  It was at this point that the Italians most expected a major naval battle to occur, and the plan emphasizes the importance of maintaining the strength of the Italian navy until this point.  This means that major warships of the Italian navy are not to be risked in minor operations; plans, for example, to seize islands on the Dalmatian coast have been abandoned.  While sensible, the plan assumes that at some point, the main battle fleet of the Austro-Hungarian navy will put to sea and seek battle.  The question, of course, is what if they do not?

Friday, April 17, 2015

April 17th, 1915

- In March Sir John French had refused Joffre's request for the British Expeditionary Force to take over the defence of the Ypres salient, citing a lack of manpower.  By the beginning of April, two new divisions have arrived in France, including 1st Canadian Division, and the BEF commander has decided that he now has the strength to extend the British line northwards.  For the past two weeks, the three divisions of the British V Corps have replaced three French divisions, a process that ends today when 1st Canadian Division comes into the line.  The Ypres salient is now held, north to south, by the French 47th Colonial Division (from the Ypres Canal to east of Langamarck), 1st Canadian Division (from east of Langmarck to north of Broodseinde) 28th British Division (from north of Broodseinde to Polygon Wood) and 27th British Division (from POlygon Wood to south of Zillebeke).

- As the British finish taking over much of the Ypres Salient, they also launched an attack just to the south, from a section of the line the BEF has held since the fall.  In the flat terrain of Flanders, any rise in the land, however slight, becomes of great importance, given whoever holds in the ability to observe into and behind enemy lines and direct artillery fire accordingly.  Thus it is with the optimistically-named Hill 60, which in reality is nothing more than a pile of earth taken from cuttings during the construction of the Ypres-Lille railway in the previous century.  The Germans have held the 'hill' since the end of the 1st Battle of Ypres, and today, in an effort to dislodge them, the British explode seven mines under the hill this evening.  Large craters are formed as a section of the German trench line is destroyed, and an immediate attack by 1st Battalion, Royal West Kent and 2nd Battalion, King's Own Scottish Borderers regiments manages to seize the hill and the craters from the stunned German defenders.

The Ypres Salient after the British take over most of the line, April 1915.  Hill 60 is visible at the bottom of the map.

- The first units of the German 11th Army begin their redeployment by rail to the Eastern Front in preparation for the Gorlice-Tarnow offensive.

- With yesterday's rejection of Italy's demands, the Austro-Hungarian foreign minster glumly informs Conrad today that negotiations will be continued only in the hope of delaying an Italian declaration of war as long as possible.

Thursday, April 16, 2015

April 16th, 1915

- Today the Belgian army passes on to the French intelligence that a German unit in the Ypres salient having received special training in the use of gas.  Despite this report and that of the deserter of the 14th, the French army does not believe the Germans will launch an attack using chemical weapons, believing the deserter to have been a plant and that the Germans would not so brazenly violate the Hague Conventions outlawing the use of asphyxiating gases.

- Shortages of artillery shells are not the only problem plaguing the major combatants; artillery pieces themselves are often in short supply.  As of today, the French army has lost 805 more of the vital 75-mm cannon than have been produced.

- As preparations continue for the major offensive to be launched in the Gorlice-Tarnow region, Falkenhayn orders Hindenburg at OberOst to plan a series of diversionary attacks, to launched on the Eastern Front north of central Poland, designed to confuse the Russians as to German intentions and tie down Russian reserves.

- Today Count Burián, the Austro-Hungarian foreign minister, formally rejects the territorial demands made by Italy on the 10th, and states that the most the Dual Monarchy is willing to cede above its initial offer of South Tyrol is perhaps a portion of Trentino.  This 'concession' does not come close to meeting the terms required by Italy in exchange for continued neutrality.

- Simultaneously, Austro-Hungarian army headquarters instructs General Franz Rohr, commander of garrison units along the Italian border, to concentrate resistance along the Isonzo River should the Italians attempt to invade.  It is not the last time this river shall figure in the war . . .

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

April 15th, 1915

- The German 4th Army had designated today as the earliest possible date at which the planned gas attack on the Ypres salient could be undertaken by XXVI Reserve Corps and 46th Reserve Division.  However, throughout the day the winds are totally calm, and the attack is postponed.

- At the start of the war the enormous pressure to increase artillery shell production led to a willingness to comprise quality in the name of quantity, by allowing automobile factories to bore out shell casings with a turning-lathe instead of an hydraulic press.  While the new method meant significantly more factories could be switched immediately to shell production, the new shells have a range of problems.  The fuses on some shells fail to fire properly; in January a German officer had calculated that 50% of French shells fired in a given day were duds.  In other cases, faulty shells exploded prematurely; whereas before the war one artillery piece burst for every 500 000 rounds, by this spring one gun bursts for every 3000 rounds.  Thus the issue of munitions production is not simply one of quantity - there is little point in increasing output if the resulting shells are defective.  In response to the defects in French artillery shells, the government today reimposes the pre-war standard regarding the use of forged steel.

- When the morning dawns at Shaiba in Mesopotamia, the Ottoman forces have disappeared completely, and such was their haste to retreat that they left behind their camps and everything from rifles to cooked food.  For his part, the Ottoman commander felt sufficiently disgraced by the defeat that he assembled his officers and promptly shot himself in front of them.  Indeed, the British victory at the Battle of Shaiba results in a growing disinclination among many Arabs to answer the Ottoman call to jihad; indeed, the retreating Ottoman forces are harried by Arabs for a hundred miles up the Euphrates River.  The British, however, are unable to immediately follow up their victory by pursuit, the cavalry unprepared to run down the beaten foe.  Indeed, the battle itself, for a time on the 14th, hung in the balance, as the British were held up by the Ottoman trench line.  Even the British admitted the Ottoman soldiers fought bravely and resolutely, and only a last-minute bayonet charge by the Dorsets had been enough to capture the trench and turn the tide.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

April 14th, 1915

- Overnight a German deserter makes his way across No Man's Land near Langemarck on the northeastern face of the Ypres salient.  He informs the French infantry who capture him that the Germans intend to use asphyxiating gases in an imminent attack, and shows the French a crude gas mask.  Sufficiently alarmed, the commander of the French division participates personally in the interrogation of the German deserter, and passes the information to his corps commander and a liaison officer from Joffre's headquarters.

- While Joffre agrees with General Dubail's request to continue the offensive against the St.-Mihiel salient, the French Commander-in-Chief today orders the removal of two infantry corps from the Provisional Group of the East, which has the practical consequence of ending large-scale French attacks.  This effectively brings to a close the main fighting of the Battle of the Woevre.

- For the past month, the German 11th Army has been planning for a major offensive operation on the Western Front.  However, given yesterday's decision to shift the next major offensive from the west to the east, today Falkenhayn orders 11th Army and its eight divisions to the east, where it will spearhead the forthcoming operation at the beginning of May.  As its commander Falkenhayn assigns General August von Mackensen, whose talents have been on display on the Eastern Front since the outbreak of the war.

- This evening, after a summons from Falkenhayn, Conrad arrives in Berlin to discuss the situation on the Eastern Front.  Only now, two weeks after examination began, does Falkenhayn inform Conrad that the Germans will be undertaking a major offensive operation in the Gorlice-Tarnow region of western Galicia.  Naturally Conrad is pleased, but there remains the thorny issue of the command structure.  As the Austro-Hungarian 4th Army will be co-operating with the German 11th Army in the operation, Falkenhayn insists that the former take orders from Mackensen.  In exchange, Mackensen himself will be under the direction of Conrad, though with the caveat that important decisions are to be taken in consultation with Falkenhayn.

- By dawn today the British defenders at Shaiba realize that the larger portion of the Ottoman force has begun to withdraw.  Unwilling to allow the enemy to retreat unmolested, at 930am most of the British force at Shaiba sorties in pursuit.  The Ottoman outposts are easily overrun, but by 1030 the British reach Barjisiyeh woods to find the Ottoman entrenched.  There follows several hours of bitter fighting, as repeated assaults on the enemy positions fail.  Only by late afternoon, as both water and ammunition run low, do the Dorsets carry the first line of the Ottoman trenches.  Exhausted, the British abandon their pursuit, and by sundown have returned to their initial lines at Shaiba.

Monday, April 13, 2015

April 13th, 1915

- Reports have reached Joffre of inadequate preparation prior to the ongoing attacks on the St.-Mihiel salient, and he complains sharply to General Dubail that thoroughness is essential.  Dubail responds tactfully to Joffre's concerns, but argues that the assaults should continue.

- For the past several days Falkenhayn and his staff officers have debated the merits of a major shift of forces from the Western to the Eastern Front, which would involve abandoning for the time being any thought of a major offensive in the west in favour of a similar operation in the east.  Several officers argue that the most important theatre of the war is the Western Front, and that precious German reserves should only be sent east in the direst of emergencies.  Falkenhayn is sympathetic to this line of thinking; indeed, he has long felt that, given the realities of space, a war-winning victory over the Russians is not possible.  On the other hand, the detailed planning to date for an offensive on the Western Front has raised concerns whether even with the new reserve divisions sufficient forces can be assembled to ensure a reasonable chance of success.  On the other hand, the army of Austria-Hungary is clearly in dire straits, and the most recent check of the Russian advance in the Carpathians was almost entirely due to the intervention of the German Beskid Corps.  Should the Russians break through the Carpathians, German's only neighbouring ally could be knocked out of the war entirely, with disastrous consequences.  This is to say nothing, of course, of how Austria-Hungary is to defend itself if it has to deploy forces from the Carpathians to the Alps in case of an Italian attack.

With the greatest of reluctance, Falkenhayn concludes that the situation on the Eastern Front requires further German intervention, and that the strategic reserve being assembled on the Western Front will instead have to be sent east to undertake a major offensive operation to relieve Russian pressure on the Austro-Hungarians.  Today Falkenhayn seeks and receives the Kaiser's approval for the redeployment eastwards.

- This morning the heaviest fighting at Shaiba is to the west of the British position, where a large body of Arab irregulars have established themselves on a small rise in the ground known as the North mound.  First a small cavalry force is sent to capture the heights, which is instead all but wiped out.  With this result in mind, the commander of 30th Brigade orders a more co-ordinated attack, with three battalions advancing with the support of British artillery fire.  By 11am the North mound is in British possession and, given that the Arab survivors are streaming westward, the opportunity presents itself for a cavalry pursuit.  However, the cavalrymen are presently watering their horses, and the Arabs escape.  For the next several hours the British battalions clear out several Ottoman trenches to the west of Shaiba before returning to British lines by 3pm.  Elsewhere, Ottoman forces launch a series of half-hearted attacks from the south, which are easily repulsed.

- The commander of German forces in Kamerun issues orders today to reduce the garrison at Garua to only one-and-a-half companies.  He fears that a British advance could trap a substantial force in Garua; instead, he intends to hold the region via mobile columns that can shift rapidly to counter any axis of British advance.

- As the blockade runner Rubens made its way towards German East Africa, the commander of the German light cruiser Königsberg decided that if Rubens made for the Rufiji delta, it would be inevitably intercepted by the British warships keeping Königsberg contained.  Instead he has ordered the blockade runner to make for Mansa Bay, knowing its cargo would also be invaluable to Lettow-Vorbeck's forces in holding the colony.  As Rubens enters Mansa Bay today, it is hotly pursued by the British cruiser Hyacinth.  Under enemy fire, Rubens runs aground, and after several shells strike its topside is ablaze.  The captain of Hyacinth is convinced the blockade runner is a total wreck, and breaks off.

The German blockade runner Rubens aground in Mansa Bay.

This proves to be a colossal error, as the fire aboard Rubens was deliberately set by the Germans to deceive the British.  Most of the ammunition and weapons remained intact below the waterline, and as soon as the wreck had cooled salvage operations began.  Over the next five weeks, 2000 tons of coal, 7000 rounds of naval shells, 1500 rifles, and 4.5 million rounds of ammunition, along with clothing and other equipment, are brought ashore.  These supplies are vital to the long-term defense of German East Africa, and their arrival a blow to the British.

The salvage operation to recover supplies and ammunition from the wreck of Rubens.

Sunday, April 12, 2015

April 12th, 1915

- After several days of artillery bombardment, a renewed French assault is launched at 10am against a four kilometre stretch of the German line west of Maizeray.  This operation was one of the methodical attacks promised by General Dubail to Joffre on the 10th.  However, the advancing infantry make no progress whatsoever.  General Augustin Gérard, commander of the army detachment that launched the attack at Maizaray, blames the failure on the artillery bombardment, which cut only some of the wire and left the Germand defences and artillery positions largely unmolested.  Moreover, the prior months of 'stagnation' on this front had given the Germans time to establish a formidable defensive position, with wire barriers up to five hundred metres deep in places and concrete casemates to protect their infantry.  Gérard's report to Dubail concludes that 'to continue to seek a penetration of the enemy line in this region with quickly prepared attacks, one risks . . . ruining an excellent infantry and destroying its confidence without [achieving any] results.'

- Joffre sends a lengthy communication to Grand Duke Nicholas at Russian army headquarters today, in which he emphasizes the important of co-ordinating offensive operations between the French and British in the west, the Russians in the east, and the Serbs in the Balkans.  If simultaneous attacks can be launched, the Germans and Austro-Hungarians will be tied down on all fronts and the possibility increases of securing a substantial victory.  The French Commander-in-Chief also seeks to reassure Grand Duke Nicholas, in the face of German redeployments from west to east since November, that the French army has done and is doing everything in its power to attack the Germans.

- Enver Pasha is eager to see a land link opened between the Ottoman Empire and Austria-Hungary, which would allow the free flow of munitions and supplies and relieve many of the desparate shortages now existing in the Ottoman army.  As the conquest of Serbia the means by which this link can be achieved, the Ottoman War Minister writes to Falkenhayn today to offer to place two Ottoman corps at the disposal of the Bulgarian army, should the latter join in an offensive against Serbia undertaken by Austria-Hungary and Germany.

- Over the past week the men of the ANZAC Corps have been arriving on the island of Lemnos, having been assigned to participate in the amphibious operation against the Gallipoli peninsula, and today the ocean liner Minnewaska, carrying the divisional and corps command staff, moors in the immense anchorage at Mudros.

- In Lower Mesopotamia the now-expected Ottoman attack on the British defensive position at Shaiba opens this morning when a dozen Ottoman artillery pieces commence firing at dawn.  From 9am through nightfall, the Ottoman infantry, aided by Arab irregulars, launch a series of attacks on the British line from the south, but are halted by barbed wire and machine-gun fire, and the British and Indians suffer only five dead and sixty-six wounded.  To the east, the Indian 30th Brigade, is slogging through the ruins of Old Basra between Basra and Shaiba.  With news arriving of the Ottoman attack, and an overland advance impossible given the knee-deep flood waters, General Nixon orders the brigade back to Basra.  There they collect eighty boats, sufficient for brigade headquarters and the 24th Punjabis, and after 4pm begin moving up the river towards Shaiba.  Though sailing under fire, they arrive at the British line between 830pm and midnight.

The British position at Shaiba, west of Basra, and the Ottoman advance and retreat, April 1915.

Machine gunners of the 120th Rajputana Rifles, 18th Infantry Brigade, in a trench
at Shaiba, April 12th, 1915.

Saturday, April 11, 2015

April 11th, 1915

- The Germans have completed the installation of chlorine gas cylinders between the villages of Poelcappelle and Steenstraat on the northeastern face of the Ypres salient, and now await a favourable wind make use of them for the first time.

- For the past week the French have launched regular attacks on the German lines at Vauquois in the Argonne, in order to draw German reserves away from the St.-Mihiel salient as the French offensive there continues.  However, the operations against Vauquois have not only failed to distract the Germans, but have not gained any significant ground whatsoever.

- At the end of March, General Ruzskii had finally been dismissed as commander of North-West Front.  His replacement was General Mikhail Alexeyev, formerly Ivanov's chief of staff for South-West Front.  Despite his former working relationship with Ivanov, he proves no more willing to co-operate than Ruzskii had been, jealously guarding the units assigned to North-West Front from perceived efforts to reassign them southwards.  Today Russian army headquarters warns Alexeyev that western Galicia, in the area of Gorlice and Tarnow, might be threatened with attack.  Alexeyev ignores the message, likely believing that it is simply another plot by Ivanov to steal more of his divisions.  Though this area is precisely that being examined by the Germans, the warning is premature, given that Falkenhayn has not even decided whether to send more forces to the Eastern Front.  Nevertheless, the irony of Alexeyev's non-response is telling of the muddle in the Russian command structure.

- General Nixon, the new commander of Indian forces in southern Mesopotamia, decides today to send the just-arrived 30th Brigade from Basra west to reinforce the defensive position at the village of Shaiba.  Unknown to Nixon, the commander of Ottoman forces in the region, Suleiman Askeri Bay, has assembled a force of 4000 regulars and 18 000 Arab-Kurdish irregulars to target Shaiba in the first significant counteroffensive since the British occupied Basra and the surrounding territory.  Their advance is observed by the Indian garrison today, and their British commander sends warning to Nixon that an enemy attack is imminent.

Friday, April 10, 2015

April 10th, 1915

- General Dubail reports to Joffre today that, in line with the Commander-in-Chief's instructions of the 8th, he intends to make four concentrated attacks on the St.-Mihiel salient in the coming days.  Two will be aimed at the western face of the salient: one on a four-kilometre front near Maizeray, and the other on the heights immediately south of Les Éparges.  Two further assaults will be directed towards the southern face of the salient, both near its centre.

- In March, Austria-Hungary agreed to surrender the province of Trentino to Italy after the war, if Italy were to remain neutral.  However, given the ongoing Austro-Hungarian defeats, highlighted by the surrender of Przemysl, such a concession is no longer sufficient for the Italian government.  Believing the Dual Monarchy to be gravely weakened and in no position to negotiate, the Italians raise their demands today, requesting the entirety of South Tirol, the Adriatic coast from the present border to Trieste, with the latter declared a free city, several Dalmatian islands, and a declaration from Austria-Hungary that Italy would henceforth have a free hand in Albania.  Given how long it took the Austro-Hungarian government to come around to the idea of handing over Trentino, it is hardly to be expected that they would submit to such escalated demands.

- Given the growing diplomatic crisis with Italy, coupled with Conrad's continued unwillingness to countenance territorial concessions, Falkenhayn sends a telegram to Chancellor Bethmann-Hollweg, warning him of the attitude of the Austro-Hungarian chief of staff and makes the following request:
Exert utmost pressure in Vienna in order to effect acceptance of Italian demands even if excessive.  At the same time, announce Germany's willingness to give greater military assistance in the East and if necessary to cede Prussian territory.
- In the central Carpathians the German Beskid Corps is now wholly in the front line, having relieved four Austro-Hungarian divisions, giving Conrad a substantial reserve for the first time in several weeks.  The counterattack of the German divisions over the past week have disrupted the Russian offensive in the Carpathians and inflicted forty thousand casualties on the enemy.  As a result, General Ivanov of South-West Front orders a halt to the attacks of 3rd and 8th Armies today, stating that the arrival of German reinforcements have tipped the balance.  Instead, he intends to wait for the arrival of III Caucasian Corps before resuming the attack.

- In northern German Kamerun, a German attack along the Benue River forces the Emir of Yola in northern Nigeria to flee his capital and threatens British influence in the region.  Frederick Lugard, the colonial governor in Nigeria, calls for the capture of the town of Garua in German Kamerun as a means of restoring British prestige.

Thursday, April 09, 2015

April 9th, 1915

- A minor success is achieved by the French today when 12th Division captures Les Éparges on the western face of the St.-Mihiel salient.  However, the achievement has no significant impact to the ongoing Battle of the Woëvre.

- Writing in response to the latest plea from Conrad, Falkenhayn once again refuses to send further direct aid to the Austro-Hungarians in the Carpathians.  He does, however, suggests a willingness 'to take advantage of any favourable opportunity that would appear in the East', which indirectly hints at his consideration of a German operation in the Gorlice-Tarnow area.

- General Nixon, the newly-appointed commander of the Indian army corps in lower Mesopotamia, arrives at Basra today to take up his new command.

Wednesday, April 08, 2015

April 8th, 1915

- In Britain Prime Minister Asquith announces the formation of yet another committee: the Treasury Munitions of War Committee.  This new body is chaired by the Chancellor of the Exchequer David Lloyd George, who sees the committee's work as being an extension of his own and the means by which to wrestle control over the financing of munitions production from Lord Kitchener and the War Office.  The ongoing internecine battle between the two, combined with Asquith's penchant to delay decisions through endless debate, can hardly be expected to increase munitions output.

- With the attacks against the St.-Mihiel salient going nowhere, Joffre orders a shift in tactics today, ordering General Dubail of the Provisional Group of the East to shift to methodical attacks designed to overwhelm the enemy.  Dubail halts the broad-front attacks currently underway and prepares to concentrate his forces for a small number of hopefully-irresistible assaults.

- Emden's landing party successfully reached the town of Djidda several days ago without further incident, where the injured are treated in hospital and supplies restocked.  Given the recent Arab attack, First Officer Mücke has decided to continue the journey northwards by sea, chartering a large zambuk.  In light of the British blockade offshore, Mücke also spread the rumour that his expedition intended to continue by land.  Remarkably, once again the British fall for disinformation from the German officer, and when the zambuk departs Djidda this evening there are no British warships in sight.

Tuesday, April 07, 2015

April 7th, 1915

- Unaware that Falkenhayn is contemplating a major German operation in the Gorlice-Tarnow region, Conrad today writes the German chief of staff with a new proposal for the Eastern Front.  He calls for the deployment of significant additional German forces in both East Prussia and East Galicia, from which they will launch simultaneous pincer offensives into Russian Poland, aiming to force a wholesale Russian withdrawal east of the Vistula-San-Dniester line.  It is a proposal whose audaciousness is matched only by its insanity.  The Winter Battle of the Masurian Lakes, undertaken by two entire German armies, had shown that an advance on the scale envisioned by Conrad was simply not possible; it would always be vulnerable to counterattacks on its eastern flank.  Once again Conrad is seeking to impose his ambition on the battlefield without regard to such mere details as reality.  Needless to say, Falkenhayn gives Conrad's suggestion the attention it deserves.

- Two days earlier, as the German 25th and 35th Reserve Divisions were successfully counterattacking between Lupkow and the Laborcza valley, 4th Division, the last of Beskid Corps' units to arrive, had entered the line west of the Laborcza valley.  Attacking together, the three German divisions have continued to advance northwards, retaking ground lost by the Austro-Hungarian during the fighting of the prior weeks.  The German success places the wider Austro-Hungarian line in the Carpathians on a more secure footing.

On the Russian side, news of the advance of Beskid Corps has yet to filter back to General Ivanov, commander of South-West Front.  Instead his outlook on the fighting in the Carpathians is buoyed by the news from Grand Duke Nicholas that III Caucasian Corps is to be transferred to his command, and is en route to Lemberg.

- Since the failure of the Entente naval assault on the Dardanelles on March 18th, the Ottomans and Germans have worked to repair the fortifications and augment the minefields, while the completion of repairs to the battlecruiser Goeben adds another element to the defense of the straits.  The situation has sufficiently improved for Admiral Souchon to write today that the only way the Entente could conquer the straits was by landing an army of 200 000 men, which he thought clearly out of the question.

As Souchon muses on the size of the force needed to capture the Straits, the British and French are assembling precisely such an army.  The process of doing so, however, has been complicated by transportation problems.  The ships carrying the British 29th Division from England were loaded haphazardly, which would have made it impossible to unload the force in a combat situation (i.e. the combat equipment of one battalion would be on a different ship from the battalion's soldiers, etc.).  Thus the division had to be initially diverted to Alexandria to be unloaded and reloaded, a process that has taken several weeks.  Today, the first transports carrying 29th Division depart the Egyptian port, bound for Mudros on Lemnos where the Entente expedition is gathering.

Monday, April 06, 2015

April 6th, 1915

- French attacks against the western face of the St.-Mihiel salient continue today, but gains have been limited to five hundred metres of enemy trenches.

- In replying to Conrad's message of yesterday, Falkenhayn states that he does not believe the time has yet come for divisions to be redeployed to face Italy, and denies the request for additional reinforcements for the Carpathians.  As we have seen, Falkenhayn is already considering sending additional German forces to the east; he simply does not want any interference from Conrad.

Today the German chief of staff receives a report from General Cramon at Austro-Hungarian army headquarters.  The military attache emphasizes the weakness of the Austro-Hungarian army, arguing that they can only hold a determined Russian attack if under German command or supported by German infantry.  Conversely, he informs Falkenhayn that the transportation system in the Gorlice-Tarnow region would permit the deployment of four corps with attached heavy artillery, which could be in position for a major offensive by late-April.  In light of this information, Falkenhayn orders Colonel Seeckt, chief of staff of 11th Army, to study the military situation on the Eastern Front, in case 11th Army and the new divisions it is comprised of are sent eastwards.