Wednesday, June 03, 2015

June 3rd, 1915

- The tiny state of San Marino, falling in line with its far larger Italian neighbour, today declares war on Austria-Hungary.

- Overnight the Russian army has abandoned the fortress at Przemysl, and at 3am the first unit from the Central Powers - a battalion of Prussian Guards - enters the city.  Though the Russian had blown the bridges over the San during their retreat, they thoughtfully left behind a considerable cache of bridging equipment, which the Germans use to construct an emergency bridge by 11am.  This afternoon General Mackensen enters Przemsyl, and from here writes a letter to Franz Joseph, announcing the return of the famed city and its defences to Austria-Hungary.  The moment is bittersweet for the leadership of the Dual Monarchy: though one of its greatest losses of the war has been recovered, it has clearly only occured through the intervention of the German army.

The fall of Przemysl also frees up the Austro-Hungarian X Corps, and orders are issued for its redeployment from its present position west of the fortress to 4th Army to north, where it is to help restore the line near Rudnik.

As Przemysl falls, Falkenhayn and Conrad meet at Pless to discuss the next stage of the campaign in Galicia.  With the capture of Przemysl, the original objective of the offensive - to push the Russians east of the San and Dniester Rivers have been largely, though not entirely, achieved: while the German 11th Army is substantially east of the San, on the left the northern wing of the Austro-Hungarian 4th Army is still west of the river, while on the right the Austro-Hungarian 7th Army remains on the Pruth River, where it was pushed to in early May.  Falkenhayn's opinion is that if the current German commitment on the Eastern Front was reduced, Austria-Hungary could easily find itself in dire straits again.  Conversely, Mackensen reports that the Russian corps opposite his 11th Army have suffered heavy losses, and further attacks may achieve additional substantial victories.  For his part, while Conrad is still obsessed with punishing Italy for its betrayal, he understands that it would be desirable to drive the Russians further eastwards, and in particular liberate Lemberg.

Thus the two chiefs of staff agree today to continue the offensive in Galicia.  Falkenhayn orders the redeployment of XXII Reserve Corps, 22nd, 10th, and 8th Bavarian Reserve Divisions (equally drawn from the Western Front and elsewhere on the Eastern Front) to Galicia provide an injection of fresh infantry, and with these reinforcements Mackensen's 11th Army is to once again undertake the main advance.  Squeezed out of the line by the capture of Przemysl, the Austro-Hungarian 3rd Army is broken up, some units assigned to the neighbouring 2nd Army, some to 4th Army along the Vistula, and some to the Italian Front.  Further, Mackensen will have operational control over 2nd Army on his southern flank in addition to 4th Army to his north.  The offensive is to begin on June 13th, allowing for ten days to bring up supplies and munitions and provide rest for the infantry.  The only advance scheduled for this period is to be by the adjacent wings of the German 11th and Austro-Hungarian 2nd Armies, pushing eastward from Przemysl to straighten up the line prior to the 13th.

- With the arrival of German submarines off the Dardanelles, and the sinking of the pre-dreadnoughts Majestic and Triumph, the Entente fleet has been trying to counter the threat from beneath the waves, and countermeasures have included anti-torpedo nets and booms, as well as the more judicious deployment of heavy warships for shore bombardment.  Nevertheless, as Admiral de Robeck writes today, 'these submarines are the devil & cramping one's style very much.'  Indeed.

- Along the Tigris River the main body of 6th Indian Division has advanced to Ezra's Tomb, just less than halfway from Qurna to Amara.  On the river itself, meanwhile, the British naval flotilla, with divisional commander General Townshend aboard, has made more substantial progress.  Though three larger sloops had to turn back lest they run aground on the shallow waters, the rest of the flotilla has pushed on, with the small tugboat Shaitan sent to reconnoitre ahead.  This tiny vessel, crewed by nine and armed with a 12-pounder gun, encounters no enemy fire whatsoever as it makes its way north towards Amara.  More than a thousand Ottoman soldiers are present in the town, but after the defeat at Qurna and a demoralizing and disorganized retreat they are in no condition to resist, even if they had wanted to.  Thus the Ottoman garrison makes no attempt to halt Shaitan, and when the vessels arrives at Amara the Ottoman response is to surrender in the hundreds.  Thus Lieutenant Mark Singleton, captain of Shaitan, and his crew capture Amara entirely on their own, despite being ridiculously outnumbered.

The rest of the flotilla cautiously approaches from the south, assuming at some point they will encounter Shaitan returning from the north with a report on the defences at or near Amara.  Its failure to appear, coupled with the absence of signs of gunfire, indicate to the British that the tiny tugboat has gotten all the way to Amara itself.  The flotilla continues north until it arrives at the town at 2pm, where Townshend receives the surrender of several impressively-decorated Ottoman officers, and a detachment raises the Union Jack over the Customs Office.

The capture of Amara could hardly have been easier, despite the completely ad hoc nature of the operation.  A single unremarkable tugboat received the town's surrender, and the only reinforcements that arrive later today are the other small vessels of the river flotilla.  Not only are there no infantry from 6th Indian Division present, Townshend doesn't even know where they are - the best guess is somewhere south - and the maps of the region are so poor that if it wasn't for the Tigris itself the British wouldn't have the slightest idea where they were.  This stunning success, however, is very much a blessing in disguise - it helps to convince the British that they don't need things like maps, or logistics, or even a plan to succeed against the Ottomans.  All that is needed is one swift kick (as at Qurna on the 31st) and all that remains afterwards is a mere matter of collecting the spoils.  It is a dangerous lesson, the consequences of which will culminate at another nondescript (and similarily-named) town further up the Tigris.

The British advance to and capture of Amara, June 3rd, 1915.

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