Sunday, May 17, 2015

May 17th, 1915

- This morning a letter reaches Andrew Bonar Law, the Canadian-born leader of the British Conservative Party, from Admiral Fisher, in which the latter announces his resignation as First Sea Lord.  In his typical manner, Fisher holds nothing back: 'W.C. MUST god at all costs!  AT ONCE . . . because a very great disaster is very near us in the Dardanelles . . . W.C. is a bigger danger than the Germans by a long way.'

Even without the hyperbole, Bonar Law recognizes the significance of this information.  For the past three days he has been struggling to maintain control of his backbenchers, the latter enraged over the report of the 14th in The Times regarding a shortage of shells during the Battle of Aubers Ridge.  Bonar Law wants to maintain the electoral truce, but he may not be able to control his own party.  With this morning's letter he realizes that the resignation of Fisher will be the final straw for many Conservative MPs, who have long despised Churchill for abandoning the party in 1904 over Tariff Reform.  Further, in their eyes Churchill's a administration of the Admiralty in wartime has been a failure: not only has there not been a decisive victory over the High Seas Fleet, but the Antwerp diversion was a debacle and the Dardanelles operation appears to be going nowhere.

After receiving Fisher's letter Bonar Law calls on Lloyd George and asks for confirmation of Fisher's resignation.  When Lloyd George provides this, Bonar Law replies that 'the situation is impossible.'  Lloyd George agrees, and the pair visit 10 Downing Street where they inform Asquith of the situation.  The Prime Minister recoils at the prospect of heated parliamentary debates and denunciations of the management of the war.  Further, the Liberal government is a minority, and the possibility exists that it might not survive under effective Conservative criticism.  Lloyd George recommends the formation of a coalition government between the parties, in order to head off opposition in the House of Commons.  Asquith does not hesitate in accepting this, his willingness to fight for his government perhaps fatally undermined by the news of the 14th regarding Venetia Stanley.  It is certainly the case that Asquith never seriously appears to have contemplated fighting the Conservatives, and is perfectly willing to jettison Liberal colleagues to find cabinet places for Conservatives.  Most prominent of Bonar Law's conditions for a coalition government is that Churchill must be removed as First Lord of the Admiralty.  Neither Asquith nor Lloyd George flinch at the prospect of dismissing their colleague, perhaps realizing it may be the price of keeping their own positions.

Churchill, for his part, has no idea what has transpired when he arrives at 10 Downing Street later this morning to report that he has a new First Sea Lord and is ready to defend his record in the House of Commons.  Asquith instead replies that there will be no debate in the House; instead, a coalition government will be formed and, turning to Churchill, asks 'what are we to do with you?'  It is at this moment that Churchill realizes that his time at the Admiralty may be at an end.  Later this evening, after digesting the news, Churchill writes to Asquith that he would only accept office in the new government if it is directly related to the war effort; otherwise, he would prefer to take up a command in France.

- Overnight the German zeppelin LZ39 was intercepted by several aircraft of the Royal Naval Air Service.  They attack the airship by dropping bombs on it, and though it remains in the air LZ39 is sufficiently damaged to force a return to base.

- The first of the new attacks by the French 10th Army in Artois was scheduled to be launched today, but is postponed due to poor weather.  Meanwhile the Germans have been attempting to retake the ground lost to the French on Lorette Spur.  These attacks, however, have failed, and have worn out the regiments of 117th Division.

- After an intensive bombardment the British launch another attack near Festubert today, and succeed in pushing back the German lines.  Indeed, there are indications of a crisis of morale in German ranks, as a number of prisoners are taken before the British infantry had even begun their advance.  To reinforce the line 6th Army brings in several battalions of Bavarians and Saxons, as well as 38th Landwehr Brigade.  Crucially, they are drawn not from 6th Army's reserve, but rather from the north; the brigade is taken from 4th Army.  Thus even though the British have achieved some tactical success at Festubert, they have failed in drawing away German forces from the French offensive to the south, which was the primary reason for the operation.

- The German 11th Army secures a third crossing of the San River today at Nielepkowice north of Jaroslau.  Meanwhile Mackensen orders those forces already across the river to consolidate their bridgeheads.

- Just after midnight elements of the Russian 9th Army attempt to storm the town of Delatyn in Bukovina, in the centre of the line held by the Austro-Hungarian 7th Army.  In bitter fighting the latter are forced back from the outer defences, but the Russians are unable to break into the town itself.  Just as with the Austro-Hungarian attacks to the west, initial advances quickly degenerate into static fighting.

- The reappointed cabinet of Prime Minister Salandra meets today to discuss Italian entry into the war, and agrees to submit a bill to parliament when it reconvenes on the 20th to vest full financial powers in the government in case of war.  Also, ex-premier Giovanni Giolitti departs Rome for Piedmont today, knowing full well that attempting to fight for peace when parliament meets in three days would be a lost cause.

No comments:

Post a Comment