Wednesday, May 20, 2015

May 20th, 1915

- In Britain the events of the past few months - the use of gas at Ypres, the sinking of Lusitania, and the bombing raids of Zeppelins - have nurtured an anti-German hysteria that needed little encouragement in the first place.  Today the magazine Flight argues that Germans in Britain must be rounded up and interned, as otherwise they may light fires to direct Zeppelin bombing raids at night.

- After a three day delay caused by poor weather, the first of the new methodical attacks, as ordered by General Foch, are launched today in Artois by the French 10th Army.  Preceded by a heavy artillery bombardment, French infantry advance several hundred yards, and the newly-won ground is to serve as a jumping off point for further attacks.

Meanwhile Joffre, for his part, issues instructions to his subordinates instructing them that it is vital to place reserves as close to the front lines as possible.  He hopes in future to avoid a repetition of the fighting on May 9th, when infantry of Pétain's XXXIII Corps managed to reach Vimy Ridge but were pushed back due to reserves being deployed too far behind the front line, allowing the Germans to push the successful infantry back off the high ground.

- The German threat to the inner flanks of the Russian XXIV and III Caucasian Corps diminishes today when 56th Division, acting in accordance with Mackensen's orders to consolidate control of the bridgehead over the San River, pulls back behind the Lubaczowka River.

On the Russian side, General Dimitriev of 3rd Army, who has had to watch his command crumble under two and a half weeks of near-constant German pressure, is dismissed today, replaced by the commander of XII Corps.

- Owing to exhaustion, the fighting between the western wings of the Russian 9th and Austro-Hungarian 7th Armies in the eastern Carpathians dies out today.  Neither side has accomplished its objectives, though in the larger picture this favours the Austro-Hungarians, in that the Russian attacks here have not forced them to pull additional forces away from the San River fighting to hold on to the Bukovina.

- As scheduled, at 2pm this afternoon the Italian Chamber of Deputies is called to order.  Prime Minister Salandra introduces the bill by which parliament will cede full financial powers to the government in the event of war; in practical terms, parliament is being asked to give the government the authority to go to war.  Salandra also gives a brief address, emphasizing the perceived violations of the Triple Alliance by Austria-Hungary, both by going to war without consultation in July 1914 and by failing to provide territorial compensation for aggrandizement in the Balkans.  Foreign Minister Sonnino then presents diplomatic telegrams outlining the course of negotiations with Austria-Hungary up to the denunciation of the alliance on May 4th; to Sonnino's credit, the telegrams are only heavily edited, as opposed to being outright forgeries.  After brief discussion, the bill is passed by a margin of 407 to 74; most of the opposition comes from the Revolutionary Socialists and deputies from the rural south, where neutralist opinion is strongest.  At 7pm Salandra adjourns Chamber, and the deputies depart singing the Garibaldi hymn.  This outburst of enthusiasm for war is the last echo of the 'Radiant Days of May'.

- For the past four weeks, the Ottoman city of Van has been the scene of bitter fighting between Armenian insurgents and the Ottoman garrison.  The Armenian population has been besieged, but have been able to hold off efforts of the Ottomans to crush the rising.  In response, the local governor pushed tens of thousands of Armenian refugees into the city in the hopes of causing starvation, while thousands of Armenian prisoners have been murdered.  This takes place, of course, while wholesale massacres have been taking place in the countryside.

As the desperate clash at Van has been ongoing, however, the Russian army has been approaching from the east.  Three days ago, the Ottoman forces lifted their siege of Van, and today elements of the Russian army arrive at the city.  The Armenian population is jubilant at the arrival of their saviours, and the Armenian elders of Van offer the Russian commanding general the keys to the city, and in return the Russians appoint the leader of the Armenian defence committee, Aram Manoukian, governor of the region.  Freed from the yoke of Ottoman oppression and the threat of massacre, the Armenians take violent revenge.  Now that they have the upper hand, it is the turn of Ottoman prisoners to be murdered.  Armenians also torch many of the important buildings of Van, seen as symbols of Ottoman tyranny.

The fall of Van, moreover, serves to reinforce the paranoia of the leadership of the Ottoman Empire regarding the Armenian population.  It is all the easier now to see the Armenians as a mortal internal threat to the survival of the empire, given their apparent cooperation with the Russians.  It accelerates efforts to deport and exterminate the Armenian population throughout eastern Anatolia.

- At the height of the Battle of Sarikamish in December, Russian forces had evacuated Persian Azerbaijan, but after the crushing victory achieved in the battle had returned, reoccupying Tabriz at the end of January.  According to the terms of the Anglo-Russian Convention, northern Persia was within the Russian sphere of influence, and considering its proximity to the Ottoman Empire it is seen as a southern extension of the Caucasus front and the Russian government is eager to secure effective control of the region.  Two days ago, a Russian banker was murdered in Isfahan, in the centre of Persia, and the Russian government uses the episode to justify the dispatch of additional troops to protect Persian interests in northern Persia, the detachment landing at Enzeli today.  However, the proximity of Enzeli to Teheran - just over a hundred and fifty miles separates the two - raises fears among German diplomats that the Russians may attempt to seize control of the government and the country as a whole.

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