Saturday, August 01, 2015

August 1st, 1915

- After the Morane fighter of Frenchman Roland Garros crash-landed behind German lines on April 18th, aircraft designer Anthony Fokker had examined its pioneering firing mechanism, in which the bullets of its forward-firing machine gun were deflected away from the propeller.  Fokker adapted and improved Garros' device through the addition of a mechanical interrupter gear, which stopped a machine gun from firing at the precise moment that the propeller blade was directly in front of the muzzle.  The device was added to his newly-designed monoplane E-plane, or Eindecker, which in itself was a major advancement in aerial technology, being much lighter and more maneouvrable than earlier aircraft.  Initial reaction to the Eindecker was mixed: mechanical difficulties with the interrupter gear still occasionally shot off the propellor, and several German pilots, used to flying more stable aircraft, accidentally crashed, leading to suggestions that the Eindecker should be grounded.  Moreover, production of the aircraft was slow - by mid-July, only eleven were at the front.

Despite the difficulties, skilled pilots capable of flying the Eindecker realize its potential to revolutionize aerial combat by allowing them to fly and aim their machine gun simultaneously.  One of the first is Second Lieutenant Max Immelmann, who today achieves his first kill flying the Eindecker when he downs an unarmed British reconnaissance craft after firing five hundred rounds over ten minutes.  The rise of the Eindecker and talented pilots able to press the aircraft's advantages herald a new era in the skies over the Western Front.  No longer is air-to-air combat limited to pilots or observers firing pistols and either unmounted or side-mounted machine guns; instead, the first recognizable fighter has appeared, dedicated solely to shooting down enemy aircraft.  Moreover, the Entente has nothing remotely comparable to the Eindecker, and its appearance is a very rude shock to British and French pilots who now must confront what they refer to as the 'Fokker scourge'.

Lieutenant Immelmann in the cockpit of his Eindecker fighter.  Note the machine gun mounted directly behind the propeller.

- The Russian fortress at Ivangorod, on the east bank of the Vistula River, also include strong fortifications on the west bank, which have been covered for the past few days by Austro-Hungarian forces under General Kövess.  Having brought up several heavy artillery batteries, the Austro-Hungarian 35th Division launches the first attack on the forward Russian position at Slowiki Nowe after a four-hour preliminary bombardment.  In bitter fighting the Austro-Hungarian infantry manage to break through, forcing the Russians to withdraw to the second ring of fortifications.

To the east, Mackensen's planned attack on the Russian positions opposite 11th Army is foiled when the Russian pull back to the north during the night, retiring to prepared defensive positions south of Wlodawa-Ostrow.  The German 11th Army and the Army of the Bug set off in pursuit, with 4th Division of the latter seizing the city of Cholm at 10am.  By this evening the advancing Germans are encountering increasing resistance by nightfall.  On the left flank the Russians hold their positions in front of the Austro-Hungarian 4th Army, and the latter is unable to make significant progress.

- Over the past few days Italian forces along the Isonzo south of Görz have undertaken local attacks under cover of darkness, but have been unable to secure additional ground.  They have succeeded, however, in inflicting casualties on the defenders - the Austro-Hungarian VII Corps has lost four thousand men during the past few days, mainly from the artillery bombardments that preceded the Italian attacks.

- Captain Herbert Richmond is the British liaison officer to the Italian fleet, and is among those disenchanted with the lack of Italian naval activity in the war to date.  His written reports to his superior Rear-Admiral Cecil Thursby, commander of the British battleship squadron attached to the Italian fleet, are so scathing in their criticism that the latter feels they cannot be sent on to London.  In private Richmond is even more dismissive of the Italians, as he writes in his diary today: 'These folk deserve to lose, for by heaven they do nothing towards trying to win.  What the deuce is the use of a superior Fleet if you don't use it.'  The Italians have certainly earned their reputation for hesitancy, but it is also worth comparing the situation in the Adriatic to that in the North Sea; there the superior navy is the Grand Fleet, whose commander well understands that there can be value in 'doing nothing.'

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