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.

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