Tuesday, July 07, 2015

July 7th, 1915

- The first major conference of the Entente powers is held today at Chantilly, the headquarters of General Joffre, as representatives of Britain, France, Russia, Italy, Serbia, and Belgium meet to discuss strategy.  Given that the Entente powers are arranged almost in a circle around their main antagonists - Germany and Austria-Hungary - the focal point of discussion is the coordination of multiple simultaneous offensives, utilizing their numerical superiority to force their enemies to fight on all fronts.  In such a scenario, the Germans and Austro-Hungarians would not be able to defend everywhere in sufficient depth, and eventually one of the fronts would collapse.  Joffre particularly emphasizes operations on what he calls the 'larger' fronts - Western, Eastern, and Italian/Balkan - and that only attacks here can have a decisive effect.  Missing from Joffre's formulation are operations against the Ottoman Empire, implying the British would be more useful if they abandoned the Gallipoli campaign and refocused all of their strength on the Western Front.  Though details are avoided, the Entente countries (minus Russia, given the deteriorating situation on the Eastern Front) agree to launch major operations this fall.

A corollary of the co-ordination of offensives is that it is not necessary for any particular offensive to actually work; even if an attack fails to gain any ground, it will have contributed to the overall victory of the Entente if, by simply pinning enemy reserves and inflicting casualties, it contributes to the success of an offensive elsewhere.  This is a potent rationalization of failure, and is is particularly well-suited to the Italian Front, given the Italian army has shown no ability to win a battle on its own anyway; at least this will give the appearance of 'purpose' behind the throwing away of thousands of lives along the Isonzo River.

- General Castlenau, commander of the Army Group of the Centre, replies to Joffre's inquiry regarding future offensives by identifying two sectors he believes that such an operation can be undertaken.  The first is a ten-kilometre stretch of the line about twenty kilometres west of Reims, near the Chemin des Dames and the Aisne River, while the second, centred on Perthes in Champagne, lay in 4th Army's sector.  Both regions have already been the setting for major battles in the war: in the former the Battle of the Aisne River in September 1914, and in the latter the 1st Battle of Champagne over the winter.

- Having failed to break through at any point, the Italian offensive along the Isonso River is called off today, bringing the 1st Battle of the Isonzo to an end.  Overall, the Italians have suffered 15 000 casualties, which pale in comparison to future battles on the Isonzo, but already the pattern of attack, failure, and attack again is being set; Cadorna is already preparing for his next offensive in the sector.  Austro-Hungarian losses, meanwhile, number almost 10 000, but confidence has grown that the meagre forces defending the Isonzo may actually be able to hold off the Italians.

- Shortly after the Italian entry into the war, they had deployed a squadron of four Pisa-class armoured cruisers to Venice to support hit-and-run operations against the Adriatic coast, and also to ameliorate concern from the army over a lack of naval support for the advance across the Isonzo River (such that it was).  The British and French liaison officers to the Italian fleet see the move as pointless, as the armoured cruisers would lack the speed to catch their most likely opponent, the Austro-Hungarian Novara-class light cruisers, and otherwise are too far to support the main Italian fleet at Taranto.  Today Amalfi, one of the Pisa-class armoured cruisers, puts to sea to support a sweep by Italian destroyers while escorted by only two torpedo-boats itself, and is torpedoed and sunk by UB14.  Of note, the identity of the submarine is a matter of some uncertainty.  It was a German boat, commanded by a German and with a German crew, and after shipment overland it had been assembled at the main Austro-Hungarian naval base of Pola and was en route to the Aegean to combat.  The potential issue, of course, is that Germany and Italy are not at war, so a German submarine theoretically has no business attacking an Italian armoured cruiser.  This technicality is evaded by the presence of an Austro-Hungarian naval officer on UB14 as a pilot, thereby allowing the Austro-Hungarians to claim that the submarine was under their 'direction' while in the Adriatic.

- For several months the Ottoman authorities have been pursuing a campaign of genocide against the Armenian population, the victims being either murdered outright or expelled from their homes and force-marched to the deserts of Syria.  The Ottoman government has presented this as an operation based on military necessity, in that the Armenian population in eastern Anatolia is fundamentally disloyal and needs to be removed from regions near the front lines in the Caucasus.  This invented justification is notably the excuse conveyed to their German allies, and German officials in the Ottoman Empire initially accepted that the deportations were necessary limited.  Over the past several weeks, however, the true intentions of the Ottoman leadership have become clear to Hans Wangenheim, German ambassador to the Ottoman Empire, who writes to Chancellor Bethmann-Hollweg today that deportations are occurring 'even in those parts of the country . . . not threatened by any enemy invasion' and that 'the government is indeed pursuing its purpose of eradicating the Armenian race from the Turkish[sic] Empire.'

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