Wednesday, August 19, 2015

August 19th, 1915

- Recently-promoted Brigadier-General Hugh Trenchard is appointed today to command the Royal Flying Corps on the Western Front.  Having learned to fly in 1912 at the age of thirty-nine and served as second in command of the Central Flying School before the war, Trenchard was a protege of Kitchener, the two being similar in temperament, for better and worse.  With the RFC subordinate to the War Office, Kitchener appreciated Trenchard's opinion that the primary role of the RFC was to support the BEF.  It is an important milestone in the rise of Trenchard, who will become the most important figure in the wartime and postwar RFC.

- Lieutenant Oswald Boelcke gets his first kill today in his new Eindecker fighter.  He and Immelmann, both members of Abteilung 62 based at Douai, regularly fly together, and violate protocol by flying over enemy lines in search of enemy aircraft, instead of waiting for them to cross the front.

- For the past several months, a series of communications have traveled back and forth between Berlin and Washington, attempting to resolve the dispute over unrestricted submarine warfare which had emerged after the sinking of the passenger ship Lusitania in May, and the two sides are approaching agreement on the basis of Bethmann-Hollweg's declaration of June 1st that neutral ships, and passenger ships of all countries, are to be spared.  However, diplomatic discussions and theoretical limitations on the limits to submarine warfare take little account of the practical reality of naval combat in the North Atlantic, and the difficulty U-boat commanders can have reconciling such instructions with the necessity to ensure the safety of their submarine.  Off Kinsale, Ireland today the captain of U-20 encounters precisely this dilemma, and his choice torpedoes the diplomatic efforts since May.  The German U-boat stops the British steamer Durnsley, permitting the crew to enter their lifeboats before detonating bombs in the vessel's hold.  All of this is perfectly 'legitimate' submarine warfare, even in the eyes of the American, but it is what happens next that this problematic.  Durnsley takes a long time to sink, and as it does so the large passenger steamer Arabic of the White Star line appears, bound for New York.  The captain of U-20 recalls that his submarine had been fired upon by a large steamer five days earlier, and decides that Arabic is not just a target but a potential threat.  Rather than remain on the surface, possibly exposing itself to fire from the steamer, the captain orders U-20 to submerge and attack, firing a torpedo that strikes and sinks Arabic.  Forty-four passengers drown, including three Americans.  News of the sinking outrages American public opinion; not only does it make it seem that German submariners are ignoring instructions issued by their own government, but that the German government had been duping the Americans into believing they were making concessions regarding unrestricted submarine warfare that they either never intended to follow through on or could not be enforced.  Either way, the diplomatic progress of the past few months sinks with Arabic.

The British passenger steamer Arabic, torpedoed and sunk today by the German submarine U-20 off Kinsale, Ireland.

- For the past eleven days German artillery, directed by General Beseler, has been systematically reducing the fortifications around Novogeorgievsk.  Their work has been aided by the poor state of the defences - one fort was blown up by a single shell.  The siege ends today with the surrender of the surviving Russian garrison, and while the Russian armies in the field suffer from munition shortages, over a million shells fall unused into German hands, and the fall of Novogeorgievsk provides yet another example of how fortified positions, on their own, are no match for the power and range of modern artillery.

Russian artillery captured by the Germans after the fall of Novogeorgievsk.

German infantry occupying the Russian fortress of Novogeorgievsk after its capture.

- On the Eastern Front, Ludendorff issues orders for the German 10th Army to push its left wing from Kovno towards Vilna, with the Army of the Niemen covering ths northern flank of the advance by pushing towards the Dvina River.  On the southern flank 8th and 12th Armies are instructed to push to the northeast, and the former seizes the town of Bocki today.  Meanwhile, Prince Leopold's army group runs up against a new Russian defensive line running from Tokary to Nurec, and is held up.  Stiff resistance is also encountered west of Brest-Litovsk  by Russian forces on both sides of the Bug River as they attempt to cover the withdrawal of soldiers and wagons still in front of the fortress, and the German 11th Army is able to make only marginal gains today.  Upriver from Brest-Litovsk, however, the German 1st Division on the southern wing of the Army of the Bug is able to break through the Russian defenders along the Bug at Wlodawa and drive eastward to Piszcza by this evening.

The Austro-Hungarian offensive towards Kowel opens today with the advance of the cavalry corps commanded by the German General Ernst von Heydebreck and consisting of the German 5th and the Austro-Hungarian 4th and 11th Honved Cavalry Divisions.  The ground opposite is lightly defended, as the Russian 13th Army has been pulled northwards to maintain contact with 3rd Army and cover the lines of communication with Brest-Litovsk.  The only substantial Russian force in the area is XXXI Corps near Kowel, and it too is in the process of retreating northwards, its rear threatened by the advance of the Army of the Bug.  Otherwise, only cavalry rear guards remain to impede the German and Austro-Hungarian advance, and given the paucity of defenders the cavalry is able to cover significant ground.

- As General Cadorna assesses the failure of the first two offensives along the Isonzo River, his ire is drawn to Italian aviation and the director-general of the air corps, Colonel Maurizio Moris.  A myriad of difficulties has prevented the air corps from adequately supporting Cadorna's attacks: it is short of manpower, poorly organized, and the few Farman aircraft that are available are limited by a low ceiling.  The result has been poor observation of targets, preventing adequate counter-battery fire, and Cadorna writes to the war minister today insisting that the problems had to be fixed, and that Moris ought to go.  While the performance of the air corps has certainly failed to live up to expectations, the same could be said for the entire Italian war effort, and one cannot help but wonder the extent to which Cadorna is attempting to pass on blame that ought to rest on his shoulders.

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