Monday, July 27, 2015

July 27th, 1915

- As part of the French fall offensive in Champagne and Artois, Joffre and Foch expect the British to undertaking a supporting attack south of La Bassée in the direction of Lens.  An assault here, they hope, will draw off German reserves from the French assault north of Arras, and that if the British seize the high ground near Lens as the French seize Vimy Ridge, the Germans will be compelled to Douai.  The British, however, are extremely reluctant to follow the French script.  General Haig, whose 1st Army would be responsible for undertaking the operation, has strongly recommended against an assault south of La Bassée, believing the broken terrain of the sector advantageous to an already well-entrenched German defence, and that digging approach trenches in the chalky soil would eliminate the element of surprise.  Sir John French shares Haig's concerns, and if the BEF is to be committed to the attack he prefers an operation norther of La Bassée.  The commander of the BEF meets with Foch today and explains the British concerns, but the latter is unconvinced.  While sympathetic to the difficulties of an assault south of La Bassée, Foch argues that an attack to the north would be too far distant to either draw off German reserves or contribute to the French offensive.

- After the heavy losses of the past few days, the commander of the Italian 3rd Army now expects an Austro-Hungarian counterattack, and Cadorna reassigns several divisions to 3rd Army to shore up the front.  The Italians, however, need not have worried: the Austro-Hungarians have also suffered greatly, having lost 29 000 men since the start of the Italian offensive on the 18th.  Given how thinly they were stretched along the Isonzo to begin with, any major counterattack is little more than wishful thinking.

- After much discussion, the Italian government today decides against authorizing a naval operation to seize the island of Lagosta off the Dalmatian coast.  They fear the impact on public opinion if warships are lost in the effort, given the sinking of Amalfi and Garibaldi already in the war.  The decision, however, leaves the garrison of Pelagosa in the air, as its occupation had only ever been intended to complement the seize of Lagosta.

- With the capture of Nasiriyeh on the 25th, the British have occupied the entirety of the Basra department, and hold defensive positions upriver from the city on both the Tigris and Euphrates.  The British have thus achieved their objectives of securing a strong grip on Basra and its environs, which had been the aim of the operations of the past few months.  However, the very success, and the ease by which it has been accomplished, only encourages further advances.  All of the standard tropes of mission creep come into play: the belief that further operations will be as easy as prior operations, that occupying B to protect A now requires the occupation of C to protect B, that further operations are only a slight expansion of the original mandate, that nebulous benefits of prestige and influence will accrue once the additional operation is successful.  Such thoughts are rampant among officials in the Indian government, who see in Mesopotamia a natural sphere for British (and Indian) imperial expansion, and come to focus on the town of Kut-al-Amara, upriver from Amara on the Tigris River.  The Indian viceroy writes to the Secretary of State for India today that 'the occupation of Kut-al-Amarah is considered by us to be a strategic necessity,' justifying the view by asserting that it is a mere four miles beyond the border of the Basra department, that it commands the lower reaches of both the Tigris and Euphrates, given the proximity of the two rivers at Kut-Al-Amara, and that occupying the town would 'facilitate the reinforcement of our position on either river and also enable us to control the powerful Bani Lam tribe and effectively safeguard the oil fields against aggression from the Tigris.'  In what was doubtless a calculated appeal to the concerns of his civilian master, the Viceroy also suggests that once Kut-al-Amara is occupied, 'we could probably reduce materially our garrisons at Nasiriyeh and Amara and thus economize our troops.'  On the tide of such sentiments does mission creep advance, and the British find themselves adrift towards disaster.

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