Wednesday, September 30, 2015

September 30th, 1915

- To the north side of Loos, efforts by the British 28th Division to recover the slap heap known as the Dump, lost on the 27th, are called off today.  A German counterattack, meanwhile, manages to regain 250 yards of Gun Trench, located between the Quarries and the Hulloch-Vermelles road.  To the south of Loos, the delayed relief of the British 47th Division south of Loos by the French IX Corps is completed overnight, and in turn 47th Division has shifted north and relieved 3rd Guard Brigade, the latter going back into reserve.  Given the delay, when General Foch and Field Marshall French meet today they agree to postpone the Anglo-French offensive at Vimy Ridge and Loos to October 3rd.

British dead lay before a captured German trench near Loos, Sept. 30th, 1915.

Ruined buildings in the village of Loos, Sept. 30th, 1915.
On the German side, the first train carrying the German XI Corps from the Eastern Front passes through Liège this morning en route to 6th Army.  Further, the situation has sufficiently stabilized from Falkenhayn's perspective to permit further relief of the battered VI Corps, sending in elements of I Bavarian Corps into the line in its place.  Falkenhayn also receives reports that ample ammunition remains for defensive artillery in the event of further Entente assaults.  The German chief of staff concludes today that while fighting on the Western Front continues, the armies have weathered the worst of the enemy attacks, and though the margin of victory was at times narrow, this has been accomplished without having to divert significant forces from the Balkans and delay the impending invasion of Serbia.

- As a result of the debacle in Champagne that ensued after the false report of a breakthrough by the French 14th Division, Castlenau informs Joffre today that several days will be needed to reorganize and recover from the earlier fighting before the offensive can be resumed.  Though a decision about timing has yet to be made, Joffre tells Castlenau to proceed as if another attack will be undertaken.

- As German and Austro-Hungarian forces finalize preparations for their invasion of Serbia, German aircraft have been conducting aerial reconnaissance of Serbian positions and key crossings of the Save and Danube Rivers.  In addition, a series of bombing raids have been carried out, principally against Požarevac, the main Serbian airfield, and Kragujevać, home to munitions factories.  By the end of September, the Germans have dropped approximately 2400 kilograms of bombs.  At this stage of the war, however, aerial bombardment is still primitive, and it is estimated that half of the bombs fail to detonate.  Only minimal resistance is faced by the German aircraft, though today Serbian air defenses score their only success of the campaign when they shoot down a German Albatross today, part of six-plane raid on Kragujevać.

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

September 29th, 1915

- Today reports finally reach the headquarters of the German 6th Army that confirm that the French have not broken through at Givenchy.  Moreover, though elements of the French III Corps on Hill 140 repulse several German counterattacks, they also find themselves exposed to intense German artillery fire, and today they are compelled to abandon the summit, taking up position a hundred yards to the west.  The immediate crisis having past, Rupprecht concentrates on relieving the German infantry who have been battered by the prior four days of fighting.  Overnight, 2nd Guards Division takes over the line between Giesler Hill and Givenchy held by 123rd Saxon Division, while 1st Guards Division is deployed to the heights of Vimy Ridge.  Bit by bit, VI Corps, which has borne the burden of the fighting in Artois and suffered over seven thousand casualties, is pulled out of the line and reassembles at Cambrai.  Falkenhayn also assigns XI Corps, returning from the Eastern Front, to 6th Army, though after its exertions in Russia it needs rest before being committed to battle again.

On the Entente side, General Foch and Field Marshall French meet to discuss another major push in Artois and Flanders, hoping to take advantage of the ground won near Vimy Ridge yesterday.  They agree that the British 1st Army and the French 10th Army will attack together on October 2nd; when Foch appraises Joffre of the plan, the latter agrees to release additional artillery munitions to support the offensive.  To meet the timetable, however, the French 10th Army will need to relieve the southern wing of the British 1st Army as agreed upon yesterday.  This redeployment, intended to be completed today, is delayed by poor weather and deteriorating roads; General d'Urbal reports that it will not be completed until tomorrow.

- In the Champagne, French forces have rushed to exploit the phantom 'breach' in the German second line supposedly won yesterday by 14th Division.  Before dawn VII Corps attacks towards the supposed breakthrough, while VI Corps also advances on its right, but both assaults fail with heavy casualties.  Later today three infantry brigades attempt to pass through the breach, only to encounter German defenders and suffer heavy losses.  Despite the growing debacle, subsequent messages that reached Castlenau reported that the breach had actually been enlarged.  Thinking his armies on the verge of victory, Castlenau informs Joffre that three entire divisions have now passed through the opening.

Only later this afternoon does accurate information actually reach Castlenau's headquarters, which reveal not only that the German second trench line remains unbroken but that the forces that attempted to pass through the 'breach' have suffered horrendous losses and have become thoroughly disorganized.  At midnight Castlenau reluctantly orders de Lange of 4th Army to halt the attack, and devote tomorrow to untangling the divisions that had rushed towards the breach and becoming hopelessly entangled.  Castlenau also instructs Pétain to cancel an attack by 2nd Army scheduled to be launched tomorrow at 930am.

- By today the Austro-Hungarian 4th Army has reached the Putilowka River, across which the Russian 8th Army has halted its retreat, and efforts to cross to the east bank are easily repulsed.  The only success occurs to the north, where the German XXIV Reserve Corps pushes the Russians over the Kormin River and take three thousand prisoners.

Given the utter exhaustion of his armies, combined with the end of OberOst's offensive at Vilna, convince Conrad that further offensive operations would be futile, and orders are issued to 4th and 1st Armies to go over to the defensive.  Conrad's fall offensive against the Russians has been yet another dismal failure; initially referred to as the Black-Yellow Offensive, the operation has been known as the Herbstsau among Conrad's staff, which translates literally as 'autumn swinery' but more loosely, and more accurately, as 'fall fuck-up'.

In the course of the month's fighting, the Austro-Hungarian armies on the Eastern Front have lost over 230 000 men, which comprises almost half of their strength at the start of September.  Included amongst this number were 100 000 soldiers taken prisoner by the Russians, and the poor quality of the Austro-Hungarian units is further evidenced by Austro-Hungarian officers reporting sick at twice the rate of those wounded, an opposite ratio as that found in the German army.  Further, Austria-Hungary simply lacked the means to fully replace casualties - only 120 000 new men had arrived at the front, barely half the number of those lost.  The failure of the 'Herbstsau' offensive has also further damaged the reputation of the Austro-Hungarian army amongst its allies - not only did the offensive on the Eastern Front fail, but the four divisions Conrad had to pull away from the Serbian campaign to reinforce the armies battered by the Russian counteroffensive served to enlighten the new Bulgarian ally of where the real power and influence lay within the Central Powers.

- As of this morning the Ottomans have abandoned their defence positions east of Kut-al-Amara, and aerial reconnaissance informs General Townshend of 6th Indian Division that the Ottomans have abandoned Kut-al-Amara and retreated further upriver.  There is no vigorous pursuit of the defeated Ottomans, however - 6th Indian Division is exhausted, and low water on the Tigris limits the operations of British gunboats.

Monday, September 28, 2015

September 28th, 1915

- Near Loos the British 2nd Guards Brigade makes a second attempt to capture the ruined buildings at Puit 14 at 345pm today.  The brigade commander, Brigadier-General J. Ponsonby, had been extremely reluctant to undertake the attack, given that the first effort with greater artillery support had failed yesterday.  However, a message to Major General the Earl of Cavan, commander of the Guards Division, suggesting a postponement until tonight is not replied to by 345, and Ponsonby has no choice but to go through with the attack.  Predictably, the assault fails in the face of intense German machine-gun fire, and 2nd Guards Brigade suffers 250 casualties for no gain.  Elsewhere on the British front, 28th Division, which had formerly been the reserve of the British 2nd Army to the north, comes into the line today west of Haisnes, having been reassigned to 1st Army.  Its orders are to retake the Dump, a huge slag heap just west of Fosse 8 recaptured by the Germans yesterday.  When the attack goes in at 930am, the six battalions of 28th Division are repulsed, with two battalion commanders killed.

A German trench wrecked by British artillery fire near Loos, Sept. 28th, 1915.

Given the failure of the Guards Division yesterday and 28th Division this morning, Field Marshal French no longer has any reserves immediately available that he can commit to the battle, and he writes to Joffre requesting that the French 10th Army take over part of the British line south of Loos, to allow the British forces there to go into reserve.  If this cannot be done, Sir John French suggests that the British may have to abandon the offensive.  Though Joffre's focus is now on the ongoing battle in Champagne, he still believes that British attacks are important in forcing the Germans to keep some of their reserves in the north, and thus he instructs Foch to accede to the BEF commander's request.  Later today Foch meets with Sir John French and agrees that the French IX Corps of 10th Army will take over the stretch of the line currently held by the British 47th Division, southernmost of 1st Army's forces.

- Even before Foch and French meet, however, the French 10th Army achieves an unexpected success.  Whereas the attacks yesterday east of Souchez accomplished nothing, when the assault is renewed today by the right wing of XXXIII Corps and the left wing of III Corps, they are able to push through the first German trench line and advance towards Giesler Hill (also known as Hill 119) and Vimy Ridge.  In an attempt to follow up this success, General d'Urbal orders the three corps on the northern wing of his army to attack at 140pm.  The German 123rd Saxon Division and VI Corps are forced backwards, and elements of XXXIII Corps capture Giesler Hill while elements of III Corps reach Hill 140, the highest point on Vimy Ridge.  An immediate German counterattack by 123rd Saxon Division fails to recover most of the lost ground, and Rupprecht at 6th Army headquarters orders elements of 11th Division and 1st Guards Division to prepare for a counterattack.  Before this can occur, a report reaches 6th Army headquarters that the French had seized the village of Givenchy east of Giesler Hill and broken through the last German trench line.  When no further information reaches him tonight, Rupprecht has to assume the worst - his position north of Vimy Ridge has been broken.  At OHL Falkenhayn orders 2nd Army to send detachments equivalent to a division to 6th Army, and Rupprecht is also authorized to call on a brigade from 4th Army if necessary.  In reality, no such breakthrough at Givenchy has occurred; reports of the initial French capture of Giesler Hill have become misinterpreted and exaggerated as they passed up the chain of command.

- In Champagne, while the French 4th Army attacks again today, 2nd Army does not after the failed efforts of yesterday led Pétain to conclude that further assaults without adequate preparation would accomplish nothing.  This reticence, however reasonable, hardly endears Pétain to his superiors; later today Joffre himself arrives at Pétain's headquarters where he in no uncertain terms orders 2nd Army to resume the offensive.  Unable to disobey a direct order, Pétain afterwards issues a terse order to his corps' commanders to resume the attack tomorrow.

Meanwhile, drama of a different sort, echoing today's events in Artois, occurs to the west along the front of 4th Army.  During an attack today a brigade of 14th Division, VII Corps captures what is known as the Trench of Tantes, five hundred metres west of Ferme de Navarin.  However, beyond the Trench of Tantes is another German trench line, and when the French brigade attempts to advance further the infantry come under a hail of machine-gun and artillery fire, and are forced back.  However, the report to 14th Division headquarters is misinterpreted as indicating that the brigade has broken through the entire German second defensive line, and news of the 'breakthrough' races up the command structure.  At Castlenau's headquarters the report is received with joy, and the mood is further buoyed when subsequent messages report that the breach is seven hundred metres wide and that several brigades have passed through it.  The false report is another example of the chaos the modern battlefield can have on communications, but among Castlenau's staff there is no desire to critically evaluate news they have been desperately waiting for since the 25th.  Castlenau orders General de Langle of 4th Army to move all available forces forward to enlarge and pass through the breach, and the latter orders his cavalry to the front to exploit the apparent success.  Castlenau instructs Pétain, meanwhile, to do everything possible to support 4th Army's advance.  French forces are now surging towards a break in the German line that does not exist.

- Mackensen issues his formal orders for the Serbian campaign today.  He has two armies under his command: 11th German and 3rd Austro-Hungarian, with the former deployed east of Belgrade along the Danube and the latter opposite Belgrade itself and along the Save River to the west.  The commanders of both - General Max von Gallwitz of the former and General Hermann Kövess of the latter - have, like Mackensen, made their reputations on the Eastern Front; whereas Gallwitz commanded an army group and later 12th Army alongside Mackensen's advance, Kövess is one of the few Austro-Hungarian officers who has demonstrated any semblance of competence in the war, the capture of Ivangorod by forces under his command making him the man of the moment in Vienna.  Crucially, both Mackensen and his chief of staff, General Seeckt, view Kövess as competent, a rare enough German evaluation of any Austro-Hungarian commander.  Each army has three corps under its command, with the German III, IV Reserve, and X Reserve Corps assigned to the German 11th Army.  Because the debacle of the Herbstsau offensive forced Conrad to keep some of the Austro-Hungarian formations assigned to the Serbian campaign instead on the Eastern Front, the Austro-Hungarian 3rd Army has only two Austro-Hungarian corps under its command - VIII and XIX - which number three divisions and several brigades.  To make up this shortfall, 3rd Army has also been assigned the German XXII Reserve Corps of three divisions under the command of General Eugen von Falkenhayn, older brother of the German chief of staff.  The mixed composition of the Austro-Hungarian 3rd Army is yet another reflection of the weakness of the Austro-Hungarian army and the necessity of the Germans to prop their ally up with German formations.

Mackensen's overall plan for the campaign is to take advantage of the specifics of the convention signed with Bulgaria on 6th, whereas the latter is to attack five days after the German and Austro-Hungarian attack.  The two armies under his direct command would execute a series of carefully staged crossings of the Danube and Save Rivers.  The Austro-Hungarian 3rd Army is to begin its artillery bombardment on October 5th and cross the Save just west of Belgrade on the 7th.  To the east, after artillery preparation on the 6th, the German X Reserve Corps is to cross on the 7th as well, with III and IV Reserve Corps crossing on the 8th.  The hope is that these assaults, in addition to securing the high ground south of the rivers, would draw the Serbian army north prior to the attack of the Bulgarian 1st Army from the east.  If the Bulgarians are able to successfully cut across the line of communications of the Serbian armies along the Save and Danube, the allied armies may be able to surround and destroy the Serbian army in the valley of the Morava River.

The deployment of the corps of the German 11th and Austro-Hungarian 3rd Armies for the Serbian Campaign.

- General Maurice Sarrail of the French Army of the Near East is informed today that his command will be deployed in the Balkans, not on the coast of Ottoman Anatolia, and he is requested to provide an assessment of operations in the region.

- At 2am this morning east of Kut-al-Amara, 16th and 17th Indian Brigades begin to cross from the south bank of the Tigris River to the north across a bridge of boats.  Before dawn the brigades reaches Suwada Marsh, where they divide into two columns: the first, commanded by Brigadier-General W. S. Delamain and consisting of one and a half battalions from 16th Indian Brigade, turns west to attack the three Ottoman redoubts north of Suwada Marsh, while the second, commanded by Brigadier-General F. A. Hoghton and comprising 17th Indian Brigade along with the remainder of 16th Indian Brigade, continues further north before it too turns west, its objective being to pass through the 300-yard-gap between the northernmost Ottoman redoubt and Ataba Marsh further north.  To the south, 18th Indian Brigade holds the line from Suwada Marsh to the Tigris opposite the primary Ottoman defences.  By redeploying 16th and 17th Indian Brigades overnight after demonstrating for the past two days on the south bank, General Townshend hopes to deceive the Ottoman defenders as to where the main attack will fall.  In this Townshend's plan has succeeded - as the two Indian brigades are moving north, Colonel Nur-ur-din, commander of the Ottoman defenders, is moving his reserves from the north bank to the south.

By 6am, however, the British plan has gone awry.  As the sun rises, Hoghton's column realizes that their march overnight has been misdirected - in the featureless terrain, inaccurate compass bearings, compiled from aerial reconnaissance, has led them astray.  Instead of passing between the northernmost Ottoman redoubt and the southern edge of Ataba Marsh, they are passing across the northern edge of Ataba Marsh.  Hoghton decides that it would take too much time to retrace the column's steps, and decides to keep going the long way around the Ottoman line.  This takes several hours longer than intended, during which Hoghton's column stumbles across a reserve Ottoman battalion, which is routed by a bayonet charge by 104th Wellington Rifles, which takes 112 prisoners.

It is 820am before Brigadier-General Delamain sees Hoghton's column on the horizon.  To this point Delamain has been postponing his attack, unaware of Hoghton's whereabouts, as the latter's detour has exhausted his column's telephone wire.  Though 6th Indian Division has two wireless sets, they are with Generals Townshend and Nixon, a less-than-ideal use since today both are actually in the same observation tower.  When Hoghton's column makes its belated appearance, it and Delamain's column attacks the three Ottoman redoubts, starting with the northernmost, and despite fierce Ottoman resistance and blowing sand hindering artillery fire, the three redoubts are cleared by 1245pm.

Having occupied the Ottoman positions between the Ataba and Suwada Marshes, the two British columns combine and move south towards the Tigris, aiming to envelope the main Ottoman defensive position between Suwada Marsh and the river.  The British soldiers, however, have been marching since 2am, and their water bottles have long since run dry.  Further, ammunition is running low and blowing dust makes for slow going.  At 330pm the two columns halt, but find themselves under fire from Ottoman guns near the Tigris.  A subsequent advance runs into another Ottoman battalion that had been rushed back across the Tigris, and though it is driven off the field via the bayonet, the exertion required exhausts the remaining strength of the two columns.

By nightfall, 6th Indian Division has been exhausted by the day's fighting, having decisively turned the northern flank of the Ottoman position.  However, the lines of communication of the Ottoman defenders remain open, and Colonel Nur-ur-din is able to order the 35th and 38th Divisions to retreat overnight.  The British have thus won an incomplete victory: though they have forced the Ottomans from the field, the Ottomans have escaped to fight another day.

The First Battle of Kut-al-Amara has cost the British 1233 casualties, including 94 dead, as compared to approximately 4000 Ottoman casualties, which count among their number just over a thousand prisoners.  Though the casualty ratio is very favourable to the British, geography negates much of this advantage: while the Ottomans can fall back towards Baghdad and reinforcements, British casualties have to travel all the way down the Tigris to the base hospital at Basra.

Sunday, September 27, 2015

September 27th, 1915

- Despite the failure of 21st and 24th Divisions yesterday, Haig has decided to continue the offensive and a further attack today is to be undertaken by the Guards Division, which relieved the former two overnight east of Loos.  At 150pm orders go out to the three brigades of the Guards Division, which are to attack the German line from the Chalk Pits and Puit 14 (a factory building) in the north to Hill 70 in the south, with the attack on the former two going first to prevent the German defenders there firing into the flank of 3rd Guards Brigade as it advances up Hill 70.  The Guards Division is almost a complete opposite to the 'New Army' divisions who they have replaced and who were decimated yesterday - the Guards are the elite of the British army, with the highest standards of professionalism and training.  Weighing against them, however, is a wholly inadequate artillery bombardment of the German line beforehand, the result of a lack of ammunition at the front.  Moreover, to the north of the Guards elements of the German 14th Division launch a counterattack which seizes Fosse 8 southwest of Haisnes from the British 9th Division in an action in which the latter's commanding officer is killed.  Given the setback, Haig cancels the Guards' attack, but the usual communication delays prevent the orders from reaching the brigades by 345pm, when the infantry move forward.

In the first phase of the advance, undertaken by 2nd Guards Brigade, 2/Irish Guards successfully captures the Chalk Pit, but much heavier resistance is encountered at Puit 14.  In desperate fighting over open ground swept by machine-gun fire, only a small detachment of 1/Scots Guards and a platoon of 3/Grenadiers are able to reach the factory building, which they find provides insufficient cover.  It soon becomes clear that Puit 14 cannot be held, and the survivors pull back.  As a result, when 3rd Brigade attacks Hill 70 at 530pm, they take murderous fire from the direction of Puit 14 on their northern flank, and are unable to seize the German defences on the crest.  After several hours of fighting 2/Scot Guards and the Welsh Guards entrench about a hundred yards down the western slope of Hill 70.  Though the attack of the Guards has largely failed to achieve its objectives, the presence of the veteran soldiers at the front has at least solidified the British gains around the village of Loos.

Among the British casualties today is Lieutenant John Kipling, only son of the famed British poet Rudyard Kipling.  The younger Kipling had attempted to enlist as a reserve officer in the 'New Armies' in August 1914, but had been rejected due to poor eyesight.  However, the older Kipling, one of the leading imperialists of pre-war Britain, called in a favour from Lord Roberts, one of the foremost Victorian military heroes, who was also Colonel of the Irish Guards.  Though largely a ceremonial role without combat responsibilities, the post does allow its holder the right to intervene on personnel decisions, and through Roberts' intervention John Kipling is gazetted as an ensign (later promoted to Lieutenant) in the Irish Guards.  By September 1915, though just a month past his 18th birthday, Lieutenant Kipling commands 5 Platoon of 2/Irish Guards in its attack on the Chalk Pit and Puit 14, and in the course of the fighting reaches the far side of the ruined factory building.  He is seen to fall wounded, and when the British survivors pull back from Puit 14, Kipling is not amongst them.  He is reported as Missing in Action, and within a month it becomes clear that he was not taken prisoner by the Germans today.  The death of his only son hits Rudyard Kipling hard, given his personal responsibility for John's acceptance into the army - his perspective on the First World War will never be the same.

To the south of the British at Loos, the southern corps of the French 10th Army reorganize to release forces to move northwards, while the northernmost launch attacks at Angres, Giesler Hill, and Neuville-St. Vaast, largely to show the British that they are not attacking alone.  The French attacks, however, get nowhere.

In Champagne, General Castlenau believes that the German defenders have been 'severely shaken' by the prior two days of fighting, and believes another attack will push through the enemy reserve line.  To support the advance, the French have moved forward some of their heavy artillery batteries, and Joffre has placed three reserve divisions at Castlenau's disposal.  The Germans, however, have recovered from their shock on the 25th, and the reinforcements sent forward by Falkenhayn have now reinforced the front.  As a result, when the main French attack goes in at 400pm after an all-day artillery bombardment, the French are only able to secure a few hundred yards of ground south of Ste. Marie à Py, which does not break the stalemate that has reasserted itself on the battlefield.  Afterwards, Pétain reports to Castlenau that the reserve German line is sufficiently strong that it can only be penetrated in strength 'only by a meticulously detailed preparation like that executed on the first [German] position.'  Moreover, the divisions that have been involved in the first three days of the offensive will need to be replaced by fresh forces, as 'their losses have been considerable, their leaders have for the most part disappeared, and their offensive value is greatly reduced.'

- As the pursuit of the Russian 8th Army continues, General Linsingen realizes today that the speed of the Russian withdrawal, coupled with the inability of the Austro-Hungarian 4th Army to fix the Russians in place, will prevent his forces coming southeast from the Army of the Bug from enveloping the northern flank of 8th Army.  Instead, he issues orders for the German XXIV Corps to adjust the line of its advance to the east and northeast, to prevent Russian cavalry from getting around their northern flank.

- This morning the old Italian pre-dreadnought Benedetto Brin explodes and sinks while at anchor in Brindisi harbour, killing most of its crew, including Rear-Admiral Rubin de Cervin.  To prevent harming public morale news of the warship's destruction is kept from the Italian public while the explosion is ascribed to unstable ammunition.

The Italian pre-dreadnought Benedetto Brin, sunk by internal explosion at Brindisi, Sept. 27th, 1915.

- On the Tigris River west of Kut-al-Amara, 16th and 17th Indian Brigades demonstrate against the Ottoman positions opposite for the second day, attempting to convince the enemy that the main British assault will fall here.  After nightfall, however, the two brigades prepare to cross to the north bank of the Tigris and execute General Townshend's planned envelopment of the Ottoman line from the north.

Saturday, September 26, 2015

September 26th, 1915

- At 1am, the German counterattack around Loos is undertaken by the reserve forces of 6th Army, newly-arrived at the front.  Though 8th Infantry Division, attacking from the direction of Lens, is unable to gain any significant ground, 26th Brigade attacking from the northeast has more success; their advance happens to be directed at a weak point in the new British line where reinforcements are in the process of arriving, and they manage to push the British back five hundred yards and recapture the Quarries northwest of Hulluch.  The Germans also score a coup when they capture the commander of the British 27th Brigade.

Meanwhile, the British 21st and 24th Divisions continue to struggle across the broken terrain of the old No Man's Land towards the new front line.  Due to the communication delays endemic to the modern battlefield, Haig's order of 827pm for the two divisions to take up position between Hulluch and Hill 70 does not even arrive at the headquarters of the latter until 2am this morning, and the former receives the directive even later.  By the time they reach the new position and sort out the confusion caused by the march, it is already dawn.  Haig has assumed that the two divisions would reach the line Hulluch-Hill 70 much earlier overnight and would have had time to rest before they attack this morning.  In reality, the men are already exhausted without a shot having been fired in anger.

Haig's plan for the second day of the British offensive is to attack what is perceived to be the weakest point of the German line, that stretching from Hill 70 to just north of Hulluch, where the British had secured the greatest gains yesterday.  On the northern end, I Corps is instructed to capture the village of St Elie, while IV Corps is ordered to seize Hulluch as well as recapture the high ground of Hill 70.  In between these two points, 21st and 24th Divisions of XI Corps are to drive over the second German trench line, advancing three miles to the Haute Deule Canal.  The most important advance is thus of the 'fresh' 21st and 24th Divisions.  Both formations are part of Kitchener's 'New Armies', composed of men who volunteered for military service in the first months of the war.  This is not the first time divisions of the 'New Armies' will enter combat - two of the six divisions that had attacked yesterday were from the 'New Armies'.  However, those formations had been given substantial time to prepare an attack against defences that had been subject to a four-day bombardment.  Today's attack by 21st and 24th Divisions, however, are to be undertaken by already-exhausted formations against German defences that will have been bombarded for only a couple of hours.  Such circumstances are hardly ideal, but Haig believes the Germans remain weak, and regardless the two divisions are the only reserves immediately at hand: if the offensive is to be continued, they need to be committed to the attack.

The orders for the preliminary attack on Hill 70 only reach the involved battalions at 7am, leaving little time for preparations for the attack scheduled for 9am.  More seriously, the artillery bombardment is hindered by a lack of ammunition: batteries that had moved forward to Loos overnight cannot be resupplied over roads that are clogged with the debris of battle and under constant German artillery fire, and thus can contribute only the shells they brought with them.  Confusion over where exactly the front line was, combined with the delay in communication orders, also means that a few of the British shells fall short among their own infantry.  When the infantry attack Hill 70 at 9am, a morning mist that had impeded the artillery bombardment lifts just in time for the German machine gunners to take a terrible toll on the advancing infantry.  Some manage to get into the redoubt on the top of Hill 70, but in bitter close-quarters fighting are unable to push the Germans back, and the survivors soon retreat westwards.  Attempts by the British to attack again are futile - four senior officers, starting with the Lieutenant-Colonel commanding 10/Green Howards, climb out of the trenches to encourage the infantry to advance once more.  Each of the four is killed in turn, and the soldiers prefer to take what cover is possible from the growing tide of German fire.

Despite the failure to take Hill 70, the commander of XI Corps orders the main attack by 21st and 24th Divisions to go ahead as planned.  Here too the preliminary bombardment is ineffective - in the chaoes of the battlefield the artillery of the two divisions had struggled to get forward, and when the morning mist clears at 9am they find that they have positioned themselves in full view of the German lines.  The result is that the Germans pour artillery fire of their own on the British guns, and the latter are understandibly unable to provide much of a preliminary bombardment of their own.  At exactly 11am the infantry of the two divisions leave the trenches hastily-constructed early this morning and begin to cross the thousand yards that separate them from the second German trench line.  This position is not nearly as elaborate as the old first German line - it lacks the usual support or communication trenches - but otherwise the Germans are in a favourable position.  Though the counterattack overnight largely failed, 8th Division is now available to aid 117th Division in repelling the British attack.  Artillery of both divisions, supported by fire from Hill 70, tear great holes in the ranks of the advancing infantry, and German machine guns sweep back and forth, felling hundreds at a time.  Despite the horrendous losses and the horrific baptism of fire, the British infantry continue to advance eastward.  The German trench is protected by great belts of barbed wire, which the preliminary bombardment has done nothing to disperse.  The survivors who reach the barbed wire can find no way through, and while their search for a way forward losses continue to mount.  Officers capable of coordinating attacks fall - five of the eight battalion commanders of 24th Division that went over the top are killed or wounded - and communications to the rear were nonexistant.  No formal order is given for the divisions to retire - there hardly remains anyone alive to even give such an order - but slowly the survivors begin to pull back from the German wire and return to the trenches from which they had departed.  The German defenders are impressed by the determination and bravery of the British infantry in making it as far as they did in the face of murderous fire, and so great has been the slaughter that out of compassion for a thoroughly beaten foe the German machine guns fall silent as the British withdraw.  German medics even move into No Man's Land to minister to those British wounded not yet beyond aid, and allow them to return to their lines unmolested.  The Germans refer to the battle as der Leichenfel von Loos - the Field of Corpses of Loos.  Of the 15 000 men of 21st and 24th Divisions, over 8000 have been killed or wounded in just four hours of fighting - for all intents and purposes, the two divisions have been destroyed.

When the first news of the attack reach Lieutenant General R. C. B. Haking of XI Corps, he simply cannot believe that it has been such an abject and thorough failure.  Neither can Haig, present at Haking's headquarters, and a staff officer is sent forward to ascertain the actual state of affairs.  When he returns shortly after 4pm, the report he provides extinguishes hope that any success has been accomplished by the attack.  The most significant reserve force available to Haig has thus failed to maintain the momentum of yesterday.  The only other reserve that remains is the Guards Division, which remained under Field Marshal French's control when 21st and 24th Divisions had been ordered forward on the 25th.  Now orders go out to the Guards to advance to the new British line from which the two 'New Army' divisions had attacked this morning.  They are to prevent a German counterattack against the shattered divisions from retaking the ground gained yesterday while also placing them in position to resume the offensive.  Again, orders are delayed and movement across the battlefield is painfully slow: it is not until 6pm that the Guards reach the old British front line trench from which the offensive had begun yesterday, and only reach the new front line after dusk, where they being to relieve the shattered remnants of 21st and 24th Divisions.

- To the south of the British 1st Army, the two northernmost corps of the French 10th Army attack at 110pm this afternoon after an artillery bombardment this morning, and though they are able to capture the pulverized ruins of Souchez, they are unable to advance further.  The attacks south of Arras yesterday, however, are not renewed, General d'Urbal having concluded, with Foch's agreement, that the offensive should only be continued where there was reasonable prospects of success, which existed only where 10th Army had gained ground the prior day.  Future operations of 10th Army are further limited as a result of a meeting of Joffre and Foch south of Amiens at 3pm, where the former remarkably instructs the latter to 'stop the attacks of 10th Army but avoid giving the British the impression that we are leaving them to attack alone, or the Germans that our offensive is slackening off.'  Believing that the operation in Champagne has the greatest chance of succeeding, Joffre wants to concentrate all resources there and draw down the commitment to Artois.  The meeting is also a telling reflection of Joffre's opinion of his British ally.

For their part, while Foch and d'Urbal narrow the scope of 10th Army's activities, they do not completely abandon offensive operations, if only to show the British that they are doing something.  There is a momentary surge of optimism late today when a message reaches 10th Army headquarters that XII Corps has broken through near Neuville.  The report, however, is mistaken, and such misinformation is another consequence of the chaos and interruption of communication on the modern battlefield - in such conditions, reports from subordinate formations of minor advances can become exaggerated and reflect instead the hopes of recipients.  Before the report can be corrected, orders are issued to two corps in the centre of 10th Army to attack, and though the orders are cancelled before they can be carried out, the corps are left sufficiently disordered to be unable to participate in other operations tomorrow.

- In Champagne, Falkenhayn believes that the German 5th Army under Crown Prince Wilhelm reacted better to the French offensive than 3rd Army, and that the command staff of the latter largely lost control of the battle and had made no attempt to inform itself of the state of VIII Reserve Corps.  The German chief of staff thus decides to place 3rd Army under the direction of Crown Prince Wilhelm, so that the efforts of the two armies could be better coordinated.  When news of the change in the command structure is telephoned to 3rd Army headquarters, the chief of staff of 3rd Army objects to serving under 5th Army's chief of staff, who by rank is his junior.  Falkenhayn's reply is to fire 3rd Army's chief of staff and replace him with Colonel Fritz von Lossberg, deputy chief of the Operations Section at OHL.  Arriving at 3rd Army headquarters at 330pm, he receives a call from General Fleck of VIII Reserve Corps, asking whether the withdrawal he proposed yesterday is to be carried out.  Keeping in mind his instructions from Falkenhayn to hold the line, Lossberg instead replies that 'VIII Reserve Corps must stand and die in its current position.'  A later tour of VIII Reserve Corps' line convinces Lossberg that it can hold on with reinforcements now arriving at the front, though he also orders the construction of a new reserve line several kilometres to the north.  He also instructs that the primary responsibility for halting French attacks is to fall on the artillery, which is to cut down the attacking infantry before they reached the German line.  This reflects not only the superiority of artillery on the modern battlefield but also acknowledges the heavy losses VIII Reserve Corps has already suffered.

On the French side, after their gains yesterday the inner wings of 2nd and 4th Armies resume their attacks this morning, focusing on the reserve defensive line of the battered VIII Reserve Corps north of Souain and Perthes.  Though this position is not nearly as fortified as the primary line the French overran yesterday morning, the one advantage it does have is that it is on the reverse slope of the Py Valley, which prevents French observation.  As a result, artillery bombardment early this morning is less effective, and most of the belts of barbed wire remain in place.  The French XIV Corps of 2nd Army attacks twice this morning, but is halted both times just north of Tahure.  Another attempt is made this afternoon, and in bitter fighting a brigade manages to work its way through the second line of trenches.  By this time, however, reinforcements ordered to the front yesterday by Falkenhayn are reaching the scene, and elements of the newly-arrived German 56th Division drives the French brigade back.  To the west, the French VI Corps, ordered into the line yesterday, attacks at 230pm, but barbed wire belts up to sixty meters deep prevent the infantry from reaching the German trenches.  Some success is achieved further to the west, where the French VII Corps, which had not gained ground yesterday, pushes through the first German trench line and reaches the second line, bringing it level with II Colonial Corps.  Though its efforts to fight through the reserve line are also frustrated, its advance raises hopes that another push tomorrow will finally break the German lines.

French artillery firing during the 2nd Battle of Champagne, Sept. 26th, 1915.

- Given Falkenhayn's instructions of yesterday and the inability of the German 10th Army to advance further past Vilna, Ludendorff acknowledges the inevitable and calls his September, or Sventsiany, offensive to an end.  Instead the armies of OberOst are instructed to establish a permanent line of trenches on which they will stand for the foreseeable future.

Ludendorff's decision to call off the offensive of the German 10th Army effectively brings an end to German operations on the Eastern Front, which had originated in the attack of Mackensen's 11th Army at Gorlice-Tarnow at the beginning of May.  In the months since, the Russian army has been forced to evacuate Poland while the Russian pressure on Austria-Hungary has been relieved.  Though the Russian army escaped the massive envelopment envisioned by Ludendorff, they have still suffered crushing losses: since the spring, the Russian army has lost over two million men, including a million prisoners of war.  Of almost equal significance, the fighting since May has reinforced the belief among Russian generals that the German soldier is inherently superior to his Russian counterpart, which has left them extremely reluctant to undertake offensive operations against the Germans.  Thus, despite the fact that the Russians still have a marked numerical superiority over the Germans - the former has seventy-five divisions arrayed against the forty-five divisions under Ludendorff - Falkenhayn has accomplished his objective of destroying the offensive capability of the Russian army, a victory as psychological as material.  This is the necessary prerequisite for offensive operations planned by Falkenhayn in other theatres - even if the Russians have not been knocked out of the war, they have been sufficiently damaged to allow for a significant redeployment of German divisions elsewhere.  It is also a vindication of Falkenhayn's operational approach of eschewing grand envelopments in favour of concentrating firepower to crush the enemy line and grinding the enemy down.

The Eastern Front at the end of the German offensives of 1915.

- This morning the Austro-Hungarian 4th Army discovers the Russians on the opposite bank of the Styr River have retreated overnight, but their own pursuit is delayed by a lack of bridges and boats, and it is not until evening that significant elements of the army have crossed to the east bank.  As a result, though Lutsk is recaptured, 4th Army has completely lost touch with the withdrawing Russian 8th Army.  Meanwhile, to the north the German XXIV Reserve Corps, the core of a group under General Friedrich Gerok sent from the Army of the Bug, crosses the Styr River at Kolki.

- With the imminent Anglo-French expedition to Salonika, Italian Prime Minister Sydney Sonnino asks his military advisors whether Italian forces can be commited to the operation.  Given that Italian governments have traditionally seen the southwestern Balkans as properly within their sphere of influence, an Entente deployment to the region without Italian participation may be detrimental to Italy's long-term interests.  Lieutenant-General Vittorio Zupelli, the war minister, argues that nothing can be spared from the Italian Front and that supplies to support such an expedition do not exist and are beyond the capability of Italian industry to produce.  Lieutenant-General Luigi Cadorna, the Italian chief of staff, takes the opposite view, believing that Austro-Hungarian forces tied down fighting in the Balkans means fewer defenders along the Isonzo River.  Though he is planning a major offensive for October, Cadorna states that afterwards he will be able to spare 20 000 men for the Balkans.

- West of Kut-al-Amara the British 6th Indian Division approaches the Ottoman defences, with 16th and 17th Brigades on the south bank and only 18th Brigade on the north bank.  Opposing them are two Ottoman divisions, one on either bank, with further battalions in reserve.  The British force, however, outnumbers the Ottomans almost two to one, at eleven thousand men to six thousand.  The two British brigades on the south bank establish a very conspicuous deception camp, and successfully convince the Ottomans that the main British attack will come south of the Tigris River, Ottoman artillery firing shells into the 'camp'.  The British had also hoped to encourage Ottoman guns north of the Tigris to fire, since it is here that the main British effort will actually be made and it is desirable to know the location of enemy guns so they can be knocked out when the main attack goes in on the 28th.  However, the British deception has been too effective; thinking there are no valuable targets north of the Tigris, the Ottoman artillery here remains silent.  The British here resort to any number of ruses to get the Ottomans to fire, including one captain who walks out into the open and, in full view of the Ottomans, sits on the desert ground and proceeds to read The Times.  Even the captain, though, was not tempting enough for the Ottoman gunners.

Friday, September 25, 2015

September 25th, 1915

- At 3am General Haig and his chief of staff meet once more with Captain Gold, and the latter informs the commander of 1st Army that the wind would be most favourable at dawn.  Haig then issues orders for the chlorine gas cylinders to be opened right at dawn at 550am, with the infantry assault beginning at 630am.

The divisions of the British I and IV Corps prior to the attack at Loos, Sept. 25th, 1915.

The first British use of gas, however, is not without difficulties.  At 440am, a German shell strikes one of the cylinders in the sector of 3rd London Regiment of the Indian Corps, and some of the infantry are impacted by the gas before enough dirt can be shoveled onto the burst cylinder.  Elsewhere shifts in the wind affect the direction of the gas clouds.  In some sectors the gas settles into No Man's Land, and in a few places actually blows back on the British infantry; on the northern flank of I Corps, a gas cloud blows back on two platoons and the battalion machine gun section of 1/9th Highlanders of 2nd Division before they had their gas masks in place, and within a minute only sixteen of eighty men remain capable of action.  Though two reserve platoons are called up to take their place, given that the Germans opposite are now fully awake the British attack here is abandoned.  The employment of gas is of greater help on the front of IV Corps, the southern wing of 1st Army.  In some places the gas clouds at least mix with smoke to obscure the advance of British infantry (equipped with effective gas masks) until they are almost on top of the first German trench line.  In front of 15th Division (opposite the village of Loos) and 47th Division to the south, the gas works as intended, the clouds slowly rolling over the German trenches, with the attacking infantry following immediately behind.

North of La Bassée Canal, the diversionary attacks of 8th Division at III Corps and the Meerut Division of the Indian Corps capture several stretches of the first German trench line.  However, those elements that push forward successfully find themselves under attack on their flanks from those portions of the first German trench lines that remain in enemy hands, and by nightfall the Germans have recaptured their lost positions.  British casualties here are heavy - the Meerut Division alone loses four thousand men - but the attacks at least serve to pin the German forces opposite and prevent them from moving south against the main British attack.

South of La Bassée Canal, 2nd Division, attacking over broken terrain of brick heaps and shell craters, gets nowhere while suffering heavy casualties.  On its right 9th (Scottish) Division has more success: while its 28th Brigade to the north never reaches the first German trench line, 26th Brigade on the right, covered effectively by smoke and gas, breaks into and clears a German strongpoint known as the Hohenzollern Redoubt, passes through the second trench line, and reaches its objectives for the first day, all in the first hour.  26th Brigade, however, has suffered terrible losses for its success; of eight hundred men who attacked at 630am, only one hundred remain in action an hour later.  On 9th (Scottish) Division's right, 7th Division also achieves notable success: by 730am both of its brigades have pushed through both the first and support German trench lines, and by 930 have captured an old chalk mining area known as the Quarries in addition to capturing a German battery of eight artillery guns.  As of 11am they have reached the second German line opposite the villages of St. Elie and Hulluch, but as with the Scots to the north, the two attacking brigades of 7th Division have paid a high price to secure their gains.

Most of General Rawlinson's IV Corps also achieves significant gains in the first hours of the offensive.  On the corps' northern wing, though 1st Brigade of 1st Division is initially held up at the German wire, 2nd Brigade passes through the German lines and by late morning is also approaching the village of Hulluch.  In the corps' centre, 15th (Scottish) Division advances the furthest this morning: by 705am most of the first German line has been captured, and shortly thereafter British infantry pass through the ruined village of Loos itself, where the British artillery has been particularly thorough in wrecking the German communication trenches.  By 800am men of 44th Brigade reach Hill 70, the 'tallest' feature on the Loos battlefield and soon sweep over the crest, capturing the partially-completed redoubt the Germans were still in the process of constructing on the summit.  On the corps' southern wing, 47th Division pushes forward and has captured all of its objectives for the day by 9am.

Infantry of the British 47th Division advance into the clouds of chlorine gas released just prior to their attack, Sept. 25th, 1915.  The
photograph is taken from the forward British trenches looking towards the German lines.

Despite the failure of the use of chlorine gas to have a decisive effect, by late morning the bulk of the British 1st Army has pushed through the first German trench line and has reached the second trench line, in some cases advancing over three thousand yards.  On the German side, 117th Division of IV Corps, responsible for the stretch of the front from south of Haines to south of Hill 70, has suffered the worst, with fifteen companies destroyed and twenty-two guns lost.  It no longer has the strength to garrison the entire length of the second trench line it has been pushed into, and has lost touch with 7th Division on its southern flank.  When reports of the crisis reach the headquarters of the German 6th Army, Rupprecht immediately orders his entire army reserve - 8th Division, 26th Brigade, and three battalions drawn from II Bavarian Corps - to reinforce the battered IV Corps.  It will be late afternoon at the earliest before these forces can reach the battlefield, however; further British attacks in the hours ahead will have to be held by the battered remnants of 117th Division.

On either side of Arras, the assault infantry of the French 10th Army are in their forward trenches by 430am, and the artillery bombardment reaches its crescendo at 9am.  However, Foch's plan does not have them attack until 1225pm, the delay hopefully giving time for the British attack to the north to draw German attention and reserves.  Shortly before noon, however, rain begins to fall, and the resulting mud makes movement difficult.  It is too late to abandon the attack, however, given that the coordination of the overall Entente offensive depends on each main assault occurring on schedule.  Thus the French infantry go over the top at the scheduled hour.  Unlike the British, the French do not mass-release chlorine gas; instead, French artillery fires gas and smoke shells on rear areas and specified targets.

Overall, the assault of the French 10th Army has mixed results.  The attack of the French 43rd Division, located on the northern wing of 10th Army adjacent to the British, is repulsed by the German 7th Division opposite.  To the south, however, the weather works to the advantage of the French 13th and 70th Divisions northwest of Souchez - the trenches of the German 123rd Saxon Division of VI Corps have become waterlogged, and when the French infantry emerge from the smoke they overrun the German defenders and are able to push forward two kilometres to the base of Giesler Hill.  Further south, at Neuville St. Vaast, French infantry push through the German lines at several points, with some reaching the forward slope of Vimy Ridge itself.  On the other hand, the southern wing of 10th Army is unable to make any progress opposite and south of Arras against the German 1st Bavarian Corps.

For the Germans opposite the French 10th Army, the multiple enemy advances between Souchez and Neuville St. Vaast pose the greatest danger, where VI Corps struggles to hold the line.  However, the ability of either General Kurt von Pritzelwitz of VI Corps or Crown Prince Rupprecht of 6th Army to direct the defence of the threatened sectors has been impaired by the destruction of telephone lines by artillery fire and aerial bombardment, leaving the German commanders in the dark about the specific circumstances at the front.  Moreover, Rupprecht has already had to dispatch all of his army's reserves to contain the British assault at Loos, and thus has nothing left to send VI Corps; the forces already in the line will have to fight and contain the French on their own.

The ground seized by the French 10th Army north of Arras, Sept. 25th, 1915.

In the Champagne, at 9am the French artillery shift their fire to concentrate on the first German trench line, and add gas and smoke shells into the mix to reduce the visibility of the enemy defenders.  Fifteen minutes later, infantry from eighteen divisions go over the top, and the heaviest attack is undertaken on the inner wings of the French 4th and 2nd Armies, with II Colonial Corps of the former on the left and XIV Corps of the latter on the right.  Here the French artillery bombardment has been particularly effective - many of the German defensive positions have been completely destroyed, while many of the German survivors are too stunned to offer serious resistance.  So thick is the smoke and gas clouds laid down by the artillery that in some cases the French infantry reach the German trenches before the German soldiers can even emerge from their dugouts, and the latter are captured or killed before they are ready to even fight back.  The French bombardment has also cut most of the German telephone lines, cutting off communications and preventing frontline commanders from calling for reserves or counterartillery fire.  The result is that XIV and II Colonial Corps simply roll over the first trench line of the German VIII Reserve Corps.  By noon, both French corps have advanced three to four kilometres and are assaulting the final German reserve line just south of Somme Py.  The advancing French also turn east and west, and begin to roll up the flanks of the German forces on either side of the breakthrough.  In response, the German divisions on either side of VIII Reserve Corps, though more successful in repelling the French attacks, have to pull back several kilometres to avoid having their inner flanks turned.  Several German artillery batteries are overrun and captured by the French, and each of VIII Reserve Corps' three divisions suffer five thousand casualties.

The gains of the French offensive in Champagne, Sept. 1915.

One of the defining characteristics of the Western Front in the First World War is the length of time it takes information and orders to pass up and down the chain of command.  In an era before portable wireless radio, reports are either relayed by telephone or send by messenger; the former are extremely vulnerable to artillery fire, while the latter, making their way from newly-won or heavily attacked positions, must navigate both enemy fire and the broken terrain of the battlefield.  Delays in communication will be central to the outcome of the fall offensive of the Entente, but one of its first manifestations is seen on the German side.  Continuing his inspection tour of the army headquarters on the Western Front, this morning Falkenhayn arrives at Montmédy, and even though British and French forces have been attacking (and advancing) for several hours, now significantly out-of-date reports from 3rd and 6th Army headquarters are sanguine, indicating nothing more than the continuation of artillery bombardments that have been ongoing now for several days.  Believing that nothing in particular is amiss, Falkenhayn issues no new instructions and departs shortly thereafter for Stenay, headquarters of 5th Army.  While enroute, 3rd Army headquarters finally learns of the plight of VIII Corps, and sends an urgent plea for reinforcements to its neighbour 5th Army, saying that the 'enemy has broken through in the area of Souain-Somme Py.  Having also been attacked this morning, 5th Army is in no position to send aid, and its commander, Crown Prince Wilhelm, refuses.  With Falkenhayn having recently arrived at 5th Army headquarters, the request by 3rd Army is submitted directly to the German chief of staff.  Almost simultaneously, at 1230pm 6th Army headquarters in Artois sends an equally urgent message to Falkenhayn: 'Aided by gas the enemy has broken into the positions of IV Corps at Haisnes and Loos . . . The entire Army Reserve and the 8th Division had to be put at the disposal of IV Corps.  Further reinforcements for the army are urgently required.'  A telephone conversation with 3rd Army commander General Einem and his chief of staff, Lieutenant-General Ritter von Höhn, further brings home to Falkenhayn the perilous state of affairs, and the German chief of staff feels compelled to remind the badly-shaken Einem and Höhn that the Kaiser expects 'every man to do his duty.'

In an instant, Falkenhayn's understanding of the situation was transformed.  Not only were the British and French undertaking significant operations, but they appeared to be on the verge of achieving breakthroughs in both Artois and Champagne - Falkenhayn's strategy of standing on the defensive in the west to permit offensives in the east and the Balkans now appears to hover on the brink of disaster.  It was essential now to rapidly move all available reserves to 3rd and 6th Armies to allow them to hold their present lines.  Falkenhayn immediately orders 192nd Brigade transferred from 7th Army's reserve to 6th Army and 56th Division from Lorraine to 3rd Army.  Shortly after 1pm he departs Stenay for Mézières, OHL's headquarters on the Western Front, to better coordinate the response to the Entente offensive.  Here he instructs the Guard and X Corps, currently in Belgium resting and recovering after lengthy service on the Eastern Front, to move to reinforce 6th Army and 3rd Army respectively.  It would take hours for these reinforcements to arrive, however, and in the meantime 6th and 3rd Armies will have to hang on with what they have in hand.  Falkenhayn's entire strategy for 1915 hangs in the balance.

Meanwhile in Flanders the focus of British commanders this afternoon is pushing up reinforcements to continue the advance.  In each division, two brigades had led the attack this morning, while the third brigade was held in reserve, and the struggle now is to get these brigades forward to exploit the gains already won.  Now the British experience the difficulties in communicating on the modern battlefield.  At 910am, the commander of 1st Division, whose 1st Brigade has advanced almost to the village of Hulluch, issues orders for a two-battalion detachment under Lieutenant-Colonel E. W. B. Green (imaginatively named Green Force).  Several messengers are dispatched from 1st Division headquarters with the instructions, but several are struck by German artillery fire or get lost in a landscape where almost every identifying feature has literally been blown away.  As a result, the order to advance does not reach Lt-Col Green until 1055am, even though the latter's headquarters was only 2500 yards from the former.  It then takes another hour for the order to pass down through battalion and company commanders, so it is not until after midday that Green Force actually begins to move forward.  Similarly, to the north 27th Brigade, the reserve of 9th Division, is ordered forward towards Haisnes.  Prior to the battle, two communication trenches had been assigned to 27th Brigade to facilitate their movement to the front, but as the infantry attempt to pass through them they find the trenches blocked with wounded coming back to medical stations.  When they attempt to move around the blockages they find themselves under German artillery fire, so the brigade has suffered significant casualties before even reaching the front.  By the time they approach Haisnes, the German line has been reinforced, and the exhausted infantry instead concentrate on improving the defences of the ground seized.  The experience of 21st Brigade, the reserve of 7th Division, is similar - ordered forward to push through the German line north of Hulluch, as they approach the front line just west of St Elie German shrapnel shells cut great swathes through their ranks, and to the survivors who reach the front line it is clear no further advance is possible without more extensive artillery support.

With the delays and difficulties encountered by the divisional reserves, it will take the commitment of further reserve forces to maintain the momentum of the British attack.  However, neither I or IV Corps has any reserve, nor does 1st Army.  Instead, XI Corps, consisting of 21st and 24th Divisions, the Guards Division, and the Cavalry Corps were under the direct command of Field Marshal French.  The commander of the British Expeditionary Force has never been enthusiastic about the offensive at Loos, and it is possible that he retained direct control over these forces to prevent their commitment to a losing cause - the BEF still numbers only thirty-seven divisions, six of which are Territorial divisions with little experience and six of which are 'New Army' divisions with none at all, and given that Britain does not yet have conscription, the destruction of the six divisions of the BEF reserve would have been a serious setback.  The practical implication, however, is that after the success of the morning attack, another layer of command is added to the communication delays intrinsic to the First World War battlefield, and will become a major point of contention among the senior leadership of the BEF after the battle.

When the infantry attacked at dawn this morning, the lead columns of 21st and 24th Divisions were about four and a half miles behind the British front line, but the infantry are exhausted after marching all night from their prior concentration areas to the west.  At 7am, Haig sends a staff officer by car to French's headquarters, informing the latter that the attack is progressing satisfactorily and requesting the release of XI Corps.  Though it ought to have taken only forty-five minutes to cover the ground between the two locations by car, at 845am no response has been received and Haig dispatches another officer.  This message reaches French, who in turn at 930am orders the commander of XI Corps to begin moving his two divisions to the front.  It is another hour before the order reaches the divisional headquarters, and another forty-five minutes before the lead elements actually begin to move - by this time, the British advance means that they are now seven miles behind the current front line.  The exhausted infantry do their best to push forward, but the few roads are already clogged with military traffic and their progress is painstakingly slow.  Impatient, at 235pm Haig orders the commander of XI Corps to detach one brigade from each division and prioritize getting those forces to the front as quickly as possible, hoping they can launch an attack today towards the Haute Deule Canal, several kilometres past Hulluch.  It is not until 6pm that the first infantry of 62nd Brigade of 21st Division actually arrive at the front, and Haig realizes that it will be impossible to to attack this evening.  Instead, just after 8pm he orders XI Corps to take up position between Hulluch and Hill 70, in anticipation of an advance by the full corps early tomorrow morning.

On the German side, the hours of the afternoon pass without the expected resumption of the British advance.  Though fierce fighting continues, there is no concerted push against the reserve German trenches.  As the first reinforcements arrive later in the day, IV Corps uses them to reestablish a continuous front.  To the north, elements of 2nd Guard Division, transferred from VII Corps, reestablish contact with the northern flank of 117th Division between Auchy and Haisnes, while to the south, elements of 7th and 123rd Saxon Divisions, sent from VI Corps, advance to Hill 70 and make contact with the southern wing of 117th Division.  Though the Germans have suffered heavily, by evening they have recreated a cohesive front line, without gaps that could be exploited by the British.  Limited counterattacks have also been undertaken, and though little ground is retaken they have the virtue of at least keeping the British forces off guard, and help convince the lead British brigades that, after the morning battles, they need to wait for reserves before the advance can be resumed.  On the southern wing of the British gains, however, the infantry of 44th Brigade that captured the summit of Hill 70 and pushed down the eastern slope come under increasingly heavy German fire from the ruins of workers' cottages to the east.  Moreover, their very success means they are now confronted with German defenses that had not been given the same attention from British artillery as the first German trench line.  Taking losses, the men of 44th Brigade pull back from the eastern slope of Hill 70, and, given that the summit is now being swept by enemy machine gun fire, they retreat to the western slope and entrench.

As the situation stabilizes through the afternoon, the commander of the German IV Corps decides that the primary reserves dispatched from 6th Army headquarters - 8th Division and 26th Brigade - should be used to counterattack the salient around Loos carved out by the British.  Initially hoping to attack this evening, delays are experienced in getting the reserves to the front: 26th Brigade is attempting to deploy into trenches still contested by British infantry, while the soldiers of 8th Division have to move through the maze of ruined houses in the town of Lens.  Postponed several times, the counterattack is finally scheduled to go in at midnight.

The first day of the Battle of Loos has seen several British divisions advance several thousand yards, sweeping over the first German trench positions, seizing the village of Loos itself, and pushing up to the German reserve lines.  Having achieved this notable success, the pace of the advance faltered, as the forces of the initial attack have suffered losses and reserves have been delayed in getting to the front.  Nevertheless, Haig believes that the planned attack of 21st and 24th Divisions at dawn tomorrow will complete the breaking of the German lines.

The gains of the British 1st Army at Loos, Sept. 25th, 1915.

After its progress in the morning, the situation of the French 10th Army deteriorates in the afternoon.  Three regiments of the German 123rd Division, supported by the southern flank of the German 7th Division, attack after dark the French infantry that had pushed to Giesler Hill, and the exhausted French yield some of the ground won earlier today.  Opposite Neuville St. Vaast, further French assaults are unable to break through the reserve German trench lines, and though the Germans are unable to recover the forward trench lost this morning, they are able to reestablish a solid defensive line.

In Champagne, the German VIII Reserve Corps fights desperately throughout the afternoon to hold on to its reserve trench line.  To stem the French tide, the corps commander orders his recruiting depot (consisting of new recruits from the home front and returning wounded veterans) into the line at Somme Py.  In addition, most of 5th Division, located in 3rd Army's rear area and whose orders to transfer to the Balkans had been cancelled just yesterday, is fed into the battle over the afternoon and evening.  On the French side, the experience in the aftermath of initial success is similar to that of the British in Flanders: the lead infantry are exhausted and have taken significant losses.  Further, in the chaos of battle battalions have been hopelessly mixed up and lines of command confused, while the very extent of the French advance has caused its own problems, as isolated groups of German infantry, bypassed by the initial attack, now emerge to fight in ground the French believe they have already captured.  The result is that bitter fighting through the afternoon is not nearly as successful at that of the morning, and the Germans are just barely able to hang on.  Nevertheless, General Friedrich Fleck, commanding VIII Reserve Corps, and General Einem of 3rd Army believe the crisis is far from having past, and as the breakdown of communications prevents accurate news from reaching headquartesr to the rear, in the vacuum of news pessimism reigns.  Indeed Fleck, believing his command is on the verge of disintegration, requests permission this evening to withdraw from the reserve defensive position northwards past Somme Py and out of the trenches.  This retreat, if implemented, would give the French precisely the breakthrough in Champagne they are so desperate to achieve.

On the French side, as reports filter back to the headquarters of the French 2nd and 4th Armies of the successful advance of II Colonial and XIV Corps, General Castlenau of the Army Group of the Centre at 415pm orders the two divisions of VI Corps to enter the line and follow up the attack of and expand the ground seized by II Colonial Corps.  Again, however, it takes time for orders to make their way down the chain of command, and for the infantry to make their way across the shattered landscape, and it is midnight before VI Corps is in the front line.  Optimism remains high, however, that further attacks tomorrow will shatter the weakened Germans and push on to the north.

- South of Vilna, the withdrawal of Russian forces to counter the German offensive at and north of the city has allowed the German 12th Army to reach the Berezina River east of Lida while the army group under Prince Leopold has arrived at the Szczara River.  To the east of Vilna itself, the German 10th Army has ground its way towards Smorgon, but against increasing resistance has been unable to advance further.

To Falkenhayn, Ludendorff's September offensive at Vilna and Sventsiany has achieved exactly what the German chief of staff expected - namely, a minor advance of no great strategic consequence.  Considering both the impending invasion of Serbia and the Entente offensive on the Western Front, Falkenhayn believes it is both necessary and desirable to end operations on the Eastern Front.  Though the great German victories achieved since the attack at Gorlice-Tarnow in May have not convinced the Tsar to agree to a negotiated peace, they have sharply reduced the strength of the Russian army and it will likely be many months until the Russians are again capable of major offensive actions.  As such, Falkenhayn today issues orders for German forces on the Eastern Front to hold their present positions and construct a strong defensive line that can be held with a reduced commitment of forces.  At the northern end of the line, the armies under OberOst are to entrench on a line running from west of Riga through Mitau and west of Dvinsk to Lake Narotch and the mouth of the Bierieza River.  From here, the army group under Prince Leopold and the Army of the Bug will hold on a line running from the Bierieza River through Baranowicze to Pinsk.

- Russian cavalry and aircraft have reported the movement of the German XXIV Reserve Corps and other formations southeastward toward the northern flank of the Russian 8th Army.  Though General Brusilov wishes to stand on the Styr while redeploying the Russian XXX Corps towards Kolki to block the German advance.  His superior, the more cautious General Ivanov, disagrees and, seeking to avoid a potential envelopment, orders Brusilov's 8th Army to retreat eastward towards the Putilowka and Kormin Rivers.

- As plans are finalized for the Serbian campaign, preliminary operations are deemed necessary to seize several large islands in the Danube River east of Belgrade - in German or Austro-Hungarian hands, the islands shorten the distance needed by the main crossings, and can serve as platforms to position light artillery closer to the front.  The most substantial island is Temesziget, over twelve miles long and up to three miles wide, and its capture has been assigned to 11th Bavarian Division of IV Reserve Corps.  Overnight elements of the division crossed to the north shore of the island, and the small Serbian detachments are quickly overwhelmed.

- After several days of debate, the French Council of Ministers decides to go to the aid of the Serbs, and authorizes the dispatch of an expedition to the Balkans.  A telegraph is sent to the Greek government informing it that the Entente will provide the 150 000 troops required by Greek Prime Minister Venizelos to activate the convention with Serbia and bring Greece into the war.  The British government also agrees to commit forces to the Balkans, though with considerably more disagreement: while David Lloyd George is in favour of contributing to the expedition, Lord Kitchener argues that redeploying forces from Gallipoli to the Balkans is 'jumping out of the frying pan into the fire.'  In order to maintain the aura of neutrality, Prime Minister Venizelos requests twenty-four hours notice of the landing of the first Entente forces in Greece, so his government can lodge a diplomatic (though meaningless) protest.  The Entente plan is to land at the port city of Salonika in northern Greece, using it as a base of operations for forces moving north to Serbia's aid.

Thursday, September 24, 2015

September 24th, 1915

- Overnight violent thunderstorms strike Flanders, and heavy rains turn the trench floors into mud, slowly the final movement of supplies up to the front for the British offensive scheduled for tomorrow.  At dawn visibility is reduced by low clouds and ground fog, preventing aerial bombing or reconnaissance, though artillery firing on pre-selected and pre-sighted targets.  The British bombardment of identified German artillery batteries is believed to be particularly successful, given that many of the positions targeted have ceased firing.  In practice, however, the Germans silenced their batteries voluntarily to give the impression that they have been knocked out.  They only await the main British attack before they resume firing.  Meanwhile, on the British side two field batteries per division are attached to their horses this evening, in expectation of immediately following the infantry as they advance tomorrow.

Meanwhile at the headquarters of the British 1st Army, Haig waits with his corps commanders Rawlinson and Gough for the latest weather updates, to see if conditions at dawn tomorrow will allow for the use of chlorine gas.  This afternoon Captain Gold reports that based on the morning's observations, there was a possibility only of a fair wind tomorrow morning.  As the hours passed and more recent observations could be added to his report, Gold become confident that the weather would cooperate for tomorrow - at 9pm he informed Haig that there was a favourable chance of a wind blowing west at ten miles per hour at ground level tomorrow morning.  With this assurance, Haig issues orders for chlorine gas to be used prior to the main infantry assault.

- In Artois the Entente artillery bombardment reaches a crescendo today, with the greatest volume directed against the German VI Corps in the Loos sector.  Further confirmation of the imminent enemy offensive comes via a French deserter, who is captured west of Vimy Ridge and reports that the French will attack at 5am tomorrow.

- In Champagne, French patrols enter No Man's Land to clear French wire, inspect and clear the remaining German wire, and observe the state of the enemy line.  Though they frequently come under fire from German defenders, it allows the French call down artillery fire on these surviving positions.  To this point most of the assault infantry have been kept several kilometres behind the front, to avoid casualties from German artillery fire, but after sundown they move up to their jumping-off points and prepare for the attack, scheduled for 915am tomorrow morning

- At Metz today, Falkenhayn receives reports during the day of continued heavy bombardments of the German 6th Army in Artois and the 3rd and 5th Armies in Champagne.  In response, the German chief of staff transfers several heavy artillery batteries to 3rd Army, and further agrees that 5th Division, scheduled to depart for the Balkans for the Serbian campaign, will instead be kept behind 3rd Army.  Nevertheless, Falkenhayn continues to have doubts that the Entente actually intend to launch an major offensive - in a telephone conversation with General Karl von Einem, commander of 3rd Army, that the French 'did not have the willpower' to attack.  Falkenhayn has allowed what he wants the French to do to cloud his judgement of what the French will actually do - his campaigns in the East and the Balkans are based on the premise that the forces left on the Western Front are sufficient to hold the line, and thus does not want to see an Entente offensive that could upset the delicate balance.

- On the northern flank of the Austro-Hungarian 4th Army, elements of the Austro-Hungarian 1st, 2nd, and 9th Cavalry Divisions clear Russian forces out of the Okonsk-Jablonka area as well as Borowicy and Kopyli on the Styr River, opening the path for the German XXIV Reserve Corps advancing rapidly from the north.

- At the request of Franz Joseph, Mackensen journeys to Vienna today to meet the aged Austro-Hungarian emperor, where he is awarded the Grand Cross of the Order of Saint Stephan and the two have a thirty-minute private audience after dinner.  Both Franz Joseph and his military retinue are won over by Mackensen's natural charm and character, as well as his reputation for success on the Eastern Front.  Mackensen is practically alone among his fellow German officers in being viewed positively by the Austro-Hungarian leadership (neither Falkenhayn nor Ludendorff can hide their oft-justified contempt), ensuring a degree of co-operation, even at times harmony, in the forthcoming Serbian campaign that is unimaginable had any other German general been in command.

- As the French Council of Ministers debates a French expedition to the Balkans to aid Serbia, Minister of War Alexandre Millerand sends a note to the French commander at Gallipoli, informing him that a division may be shortly ordered to cover the railway from the Greek port of Salonika to the de facto Serbian capital at Niš.  Meanwhile, Joffre advises the government that while he recognizes the desirability of propping up their Serbian allies, an expedition should be composed of four divisions - two French and two British - drawn from Gallipoli.  From his perspective, it is simply a case of redeploying the force already in the Near East from one theatre (the Dardanelles) to another (the Balkans).  This also has the advantage, from his perspective, of not requiring the withdrawal of forces from the Western Front to make up the expedition.

- The hesitant performance of the Italian navy to date has come in for criticism in the Italian press, and the unease claims a victim today as Vice-Admiral Leone Viale, the minister of marine, resigns today.  Ostensibly stepping aside for health reasons, having just undergone minor surgery, in practice he had quarrelled with Vice-Admiral Paolo Count Thaon di Revel and was increasingly left out of the loop regarding operational decisions.

- The British 6th Indian Division has completed its assembly at Sannaiyat on the Tigris River, and begins today the advance towards the Ottoman defensive line east of Kut-al-Amara.  Given the overall strength of the Ottoman position, General Townshend has decided on deception: the bulk of the division today moves slowly westward on the southern bank of the Euphrates River, giving the impression that it is here that the British intend to concentrate their attack.  On the north bank only 18th Brigade remains, which is deployed between the Tigris and Suwada Marsh.  North of Suwada Marsh sits another Ottoman defensive position, three redoubts supported by a trench system leading up to another marsh - Ataba - to the north.  This is the northernmost section of the Ottoman line, but reconnaissance has informed Townshend that Ataba Marsh is rapidly drying out, and that a gap of three hundred yards has emerged between the end of the Ottoman trenches and the start of the swamp.  It is this gap that has caught Townshend's attention and is to be the key point of the assault.  After the force on the southern bank makes a suitable demonstration of British intent to convince the Ottomans to keep significant strength here, this force is to cross over to the north bank at night and pass behind both 18th Brigade and Suwada Marsh where it will split into two forces: the first to assault the three Ottoman redoubts, and the second to pass through the gap to the north.  This force is intended to roll up the Ottoman line from the north, resulting in the capture of the Ottoman 35th Division deployed on the north bank.  It is a plan that would be inconceivable on the Western Front, but the conditions of the war in the Middle East - fewer soldiers and greater supply difficulties - means that flanks exist and can be turned.

The First Battle of Kut-al-Amara, September 24th to 29th, 1915.

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

September 23rd, 1915

- In Artois French aircraft bomb railways running between Lille, Valenciennes, Douai, and Cambrai in an effort to disrupt the movement of German supplies and reinforcements once the offensive begins in two days' time.

- The aviation subcommittee of the French Chamber of Deputies issues a scathing report condemning the state of French military aviation.  Describing the situation as 'grave,' the report highlights what its authors perceive to be the lack of close cooperation between the French army at the government's aviation directorate, and the inability of the latter to coordinate the expansion of the aviation industry and the deployment of labour.  Deputy Pierre Etienne Flandin in particular calls for massive production program of bombers and bomber escorts equipped with new, powerful engines to strike German industrial production.

- The collapse of the Austro-Hungarian 24th Division north of Lutsk yesterday evening forces the evacuation of Lutsk itself, which the Russians occupy this morning.  The remnants of the Austro-Hungarian XIV Corps pull back from the west bank of the Styr to the line Zaborol-Polonnaja Gorka, which permits the Russians to establish a bridgehead over the river.

The collapse and retreat of XIV Corps threatens the northern flank of the Austro-Hungarian forces to the south holding along the Ikwa River.  However, General Linsingen, commanding both the reinforcements moving south from the Army of the Bug as well as the Austro-Hungarian 4th Army itself, believes that the situation can be rescued not by a direct counterattack against the Russians at Lutsk, but rather by having the relief force, centred on the German XXIV Reserve Corps, drive southeast against the northern flank of the advancing Russian 8th Army, and the enemy to retreat to avoid envelopment.

The intervention of German forces under General Linsingen to rescue the faltering Austro-Hungarian 4th Army,
Sept. 23rd to 30th, 1915.
- Over the past two weeks German units assigned to the Serbian campaign have been arriving in Hungary; the German 105th Division, for example, completes its transfer to the Balkans today.  To preserve secrecy, the seventy trains needed to transport each division have been forbidden from moving south of Budapest in daylight.  After arrival near the Serbian frontier, the movement to staging areas is also conducted at night, German soldiers moving through unfamiliar terrain and surrounded by a civilian population that did not speak any German whatsoever if they got lost.

- In Paris the Council of Ministers convenes to debate the deployment of a French expedition to Greece to aid the Serbs, and the broader implications such an operation would have on grand strategy and the overall direction of the war effort.  Preserving Serbian independence, it is felt, is essential to the Entente war effort, in order to tie down significant enemy forces in the Balkans and prevent the opening of an overland route for German munitions and supplies to the Ottoman Empire.  However, a significant commitment of force to the Balkans potentially implies a lessening of emphasis on the Western Front, problematic due to the ongoing German occupation of French soil and the opposition of Joffre to any diminuation of forces under his command.

- Despite his pro-German sympathies, Greek King Constantine succumbs to his Prime Minister's arguments regarding the provision of 150 000 soldiers by the French and British instead of the Serbs, and agrees to issue a decree for mobilization.  Nevertheless, Constantine remains deeply uneasy about the course of events.