Wednesday, April 01, 2015

April 1st, 1915

- The German industrialist Walther Rathenau resigns today as head of Kriegsrohstoffsamt (KRA), the government agency overseeing the allocation of raw materials in the German war economy.  While the resignation is in part a reflection that the KRA is now fully functioning, and he is able to ensure the appointment of his hand-picked successor, Major Joseph Koeth, as his replacement, Rathenau has also been dogged by criticism of the KRA, both that he has utilized his position to benefit his own corporation (AEG) and more generally has prioritized large firms over small ones, while the KRA has been accused of facilitating profiteering.  The range of criticisms reflects ongoing tensions within the German war economy, balanced between profits and patriotism.

- Over the first months of the war, the aerial combat that has occurred has been undertaken by pilots firing pistols or observers firing light guns.  Such methods leave much to be desired, and make the shooting down of an aircraft a relatively rare event.  Mounting machine guns facing forward would allow the pilot to aim and fire while still flying his aircraft, though at the expense of shooting off his own propeller.  Both sides have been striving to develop a mechanism that would allow a machine-gun to fire through a propeller with no success.

One alternative, however, is to protect the propeller itself so that it is not damaged when hit by a bullet, and for several months French pilot Roland Garros, along with his mechanic Jules Hue, have been developing an armoured propeller that would allow a Hotchkiss machine gun to fire forward in his Morane-Saulnier Type L aircraft.  He has been assigned to the squadron MS26 at Dunkirk, and today, flying his specially-modified Moraine, which includes channeled deflectors, Garros shoots down his first German aircraft using his forward-firing machine gun.

The French Morane-Saulnier Type L aircraft.

- In the Carpathians the situation continues to deteriorate for the Austro-Hungarian 2nd Army; this morning the Russians force the right wing of XVIII Corps to fall back into the Wetlinka valley.  At 2pm the commander of 2nd Army concludes that the only way to avoid disaster is to retreat behind the main crest of the mountains, yielding to the Russians the Uszok Pass but taking up new defensive positions to the south.  Not surprisingly, both 3rd Army to the west and Conrad at army headquarters objects, but the reality on the ground is that 2nd Army cannot hold its current position, and further attempts to do so would court disaster.

- Meanwhile the Chiefs of Staff of the German and Austro-Hungarian armies are also concerned regarding the diplomatic situation with Italy.  While Falkenhayn continues to urge his counterpart to pressure the Austro-Hungarian Foreign Ministry to offer concessions, Conrad rejects the suggestion.  In his opinion, giving territory to Italy now will only whet Italy's appetite, and increase, not decrease, the likelihood of an Italian attack in the long run.

- As the small German caravan makes its way across the desert towards Djidda, the reassurances of the Ottoman escorts given the previous evening are shown to be false.  Instead of a few dozen robbers, Emden's landing party is suddenly attacked just after dawn by several hundred Arabs, firing from all sides.  The Germans shelter behind their camels, which become the primary target as several continue to stand, while most of their Ottoman escorts flee the battlefield.  The machine guns they are able to employ, however, goes some way towards evening the odds.  Under cover of machine gun fire, the Germans charge the Arabs, who initially scatter.  Attempting to regroup, First Officer Mücke orders the caravan to reform and move towards the sea, where at least one flank would be covered.  The Arabs, however, will not be so easily dissuaded from the attack, and as soon as the caravan moves again it comes under fire, and the rear guard has to frequently halt and set up their machine gun to disperse the attackers.  When the Arabs briefly cease firing to parley, the Germans entrench, using everything from camel saddles to sacks of rice, and Mücke refuses the Arabs' demand to hand over all guns, ammunition, camels, food, and water in exchange for safe passage.  Firing continues into the evening, and by nightfall Seaman Rademacher and Lieutenant Schmidt have been killed, and another seaman wounded.

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