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.

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