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.

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