Monday, August 03, 2015

August 3rd, 1915

- Joffre's staff at GQG submits a memorandum today on the probable future moves of the Germans and Austro-Hungarians, which suggests that the German concentration on the Eastern Front will shortly come to an end, and will be followed by a 'vast effort' on either the Balkan or Western Fronts.  France's response, the memorandum concludes that 'the simplest method is the attack.'  It is an argument reflective of Joffre's own views, who remains convinced that the French army must remain on the attack if the war is to be won.  The memorandum is also suggestive of the tendency of Joffre's staff to reinforce the inclinations of their commander-in-chief, instead of challenging them and offering alternatives.  Given Joffre's almost monomaniacal focus on the attack, this is not a healthy combination.

- Expanding on yesterday's orders to 2nd Army to evacuate the west bank of the Vistula River, General Alexeiev of North-West Front issues instructions for a broader withdrawal from the Polish salient, pulling his armies back to a line running roughly from Lomza south to a point southwest of Siedlec, then bending southeast to the Bug River between Cholm and Wlodawa.  This involves the retreat of the 12th, 1st, 2nd, and 4th Armies in central Poland, effectively 'flattening' the salient.  Again, however, this is not to be a rushed retreat, but rather 'gradual and orderly' - the concept is still to slow the pace of the German advance and make them fight for the terrain they do capture.  Thus east of the Narew River the German force under General Gallwitz find the Russians before them withdrawing to the east, and are able to occupy Ostrolenka today.

To the south, the Russian 3rd and 13th Armies opposite Mackensen's army group once again retreat to new defensive positions to the north this morning, as they implement Alexeiev's orders to slow the German advance but not risk the annihilation that would certainly ensue if they stood and endured the set-piece bombardments and assaults that have been the standard German tactic for the past few months.  The gradual retreat has had its desired effect - when the Germans reach a new Russian defensive position, they pause to gather artillery and prepare an assault, only to find the Russians gone when they are ready to strike.  Once they discover the latest Russian withdrawal the Germans quickly pursue, and by this afternoon come up against the next line of Russian defensives and prepare for a major assault tomorrow.

- As the German advance on the Eastern Front continues, Falkenhayn writes to Conrad today about the future direction of the campaign.  His aim is to drive the Russians behind the Bug River in the south and a line running from Brest-Litovsk to Grodno in the north.  Once this has been accomplished, Falkenhayn intends to withdraw significant forces from the Eastern Front, while leaving only enough strength to hold the territory gained.  Again this reflects Falkenhayn's limited perspective on the Eastern Front: Russia can never be crushed, and if it cannot be convinced to agree to a separate peace the aim should be to contain the Russians to allow redeployments to seek the decisive victories that are possible on other fronts.  Such views, of course, stand in stark contrast to those of Hindenburg and Ludendorff, who continue to believe that the Russian army can be annihilated, and seek the decisive envelopment campaign - Tannenberg on a massive scale - that can deliver victory.

- After the failure of a final set of Italian attacks along the Isonzo River today, Cadorna formally calls off the offensive today.  Over the two weeks of fighting, the 2nd Battle of the Isonzo has cost the Italians 42 000 losses while gaining no significant ground whatsoever.  Moreover, the Italian army has been ravaged by disease; 21 000 soldiers caught cholera or typhus, and 4300 died.  The only redeeming aspect of the battle was that the Austro-Hungarians suffered 47 000 casualties which, given the Italian numerical superiority on the Italian Front, means the Austro-Hungarians lost a significantly greater proportion of their forces than the Italians.

- The advance of the German armies on the Eastern Front over the past several months has had a significant impact on the attitude of neutral states in the Balkans: not only has Romania decided on neutrality for the time being, but the Bulgarian government of Minister President Vasil Radoslavov under King Ferdinand has shifted towards Germany, concluding that its primary foreign policy objective of annexing Macedonia can only be achieved through German aid.  To learn of the German position and discuss the potential terms of a Bulgarian entry into the war, Radoslavov had dispatched to Germany Lieutenant-Colonel Petur Ganchev, a former adjutant to Ferdinand and military attaché to Germany.  He brings with him Radoslavov's terms for Bulgaria's entry into the war: in addition to the territorial acquisitions, Germany is to extend a loan of two hundred million francs and guarantee support for Bulgaria against any potential intervention by Greece and Romania and assistance in defending Bulgaria's Black Sea coast from the Russian navy.

Today Ganchev arrives at Pless, headquarters of the German OHL, where he finds a receptive audience in Falkenhayn.  The German chief of staff has long intended to follow the offensive on the Eastern Front with an operation to conquer Serbia and open a land link with the Ottoman Empire, and a coordinated Bulgarian attack from the east would outflank the main Serbian line facing the Austro-Hungarian frontier to the north.  In response to Ganchev's proposal, Falkenhayn states that Bulgaria would need to deploy five divisions to participate in an offensive against Serbia within six weeks of agreeing to the terms of an alliance, and would need to exert diplomatic pressure on Romania to adopt a more pro-German stance.  Though there are differences between the two proposals, they are not substantive, and negotiations proceed accordingly.

- Having failed to take the British post at Saisi in northern Rhodesia on July 25th, and with ongoing difficulty with water supplies, retired major-general Wahle orders his small force to fall back across the frontier into German East Africa today.

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