Monday, October 05, 2015

October 5th, 1915

- Overnight a reconstituted British XI Corps, with 12th and 46th Divisions (the former a New Army formation and the latter a Territorial unit; both had formerly been in the Ypres salient) replacing the shattered 21st and 24th alongside the Guards Division, has been reinserted into the frontline opposite the Hohenzollern Redoubt.  Haig believes that the ground lost here over the past week must be recaptured prior to any further advance eastward, and thus has ordered the Guards Division to recapture the Redoubt and 12th Division to seize The Quarries.  All of the artillery belonging to the British 1st Army will support this attack, which will also be accompanied by the release of chlorine gas from 480 cylinders.  Such a maximum effort, however, takes time to prepare for, especially with respect to the deployment of the drums of gas, and as such Haig has scheduled this assault to take place on October 9th, with the subsequent attack eastward scheduled for the following.  News of the delay, however, is disappointing to Joffre, who had hoped that the British attack at Loos would coincide with the renewed French assaults in Artois and Champagne, and despite a visit by Foch to Sir John French's headquarters the British refuse to be rushed.  Though terrible weather has postponed the attack in Artois, the preliminary bombardment in Champagne has already begun, and Joffre feels he has no choice but to abandon the concept of simultaneous assaults, ordering the French 2nd and 4th Armies to attack tomorrow as scheduled.

- With the growing French artillery bombardment, it has become clear to the German defenders in Champagne that the enemy is preparing to make another big push to break through their line.  General Einem of 3rd Army reports to Falkenhayn today that sufficient reserves are now available to halt any French assault in the coming days, though if the French attack for more than several days further reinforcements may be necessary.  Further, given that the reserve line German troops now inhabit was not as well-developed as the old first trench line, French artillery fire is having a particularly severe effect on soldiers who lack dugouts to shelter in.  Moreover, while the placement of much of the reserve line on the reverse side of various hills prevent the French from observing the fall of their shells, it also prevents the Germans from observing French preparations to attack.

- Joffre and Kitchener meet at Calais to discuss the expedition to Salonika and operations in the Balkans.  In addition to the infantry division and cavalry regiment already en route, Joffre has agreed to send an infantry brigade shortly and an infantry and two cavalry divisions once the fall offensive in Champagne is concluded.  The current French commitment to the operations thus stands at 64 000 men.  During today's meeting Kitchener promises to augment the British division on the way to Salonika with an infantry and cavalry division, while agreeing to send a further three infantry divisions when the Champagne battle is over.  Notably, these forces will come up about 20 000 short of the 150 000 requested by Venizelos, but when Joffre asks Kitchener to make up the difference, the latter states that this could only be accomplished by withdrawing further divisions from the British Expeditionary Force in France (from which the three infantry divisions mentioned above are to be taken).  Moreover, Kitchener remains unconvinced of the soundness of intervention in the Balkans.  The idea of sending forces into Serbia with winter imminent does not strike him as sound, and believes that even if the Entente force is augmented to 150 000 men it will not be sufficient to alter the balance of forces in the Balkans without Greek intervention.  Kitchener informs Joffre that the British contingent will not advance beyond Salonika unless the Greeks enter the war.  As a result, the two agree that the British will be responsible for defending Salonika itself while the French would undertake an advance northward to aid the Serbs.

- Though yesterday both the British and French governments had signaled their concurrence with the Russian ultimatum of the 1st, the Bulgarian government formally rejects the ultimatum today, unwilling to be dissuaded from entering the war.  The Entente interprets the rejection as the last straw, and instructions go out to the Entente ambassadors in Sofia to leave the country.

Meanwhile the German and Austro-Hungarian offensive against Serbia is about to begin - artillery today fires registration shots, aircraft tracking the fall of shells, so that when the main bombardment opens the Germans can be reasonably sure their shells are falling on the targets they intend to target.  On the other side the Serbian army has been preparing for the imminent attack, and General Radomir Putnik has deployed the Serbian 1st and 3rd Armies to defend the line of the Save and Danube Rivers.  After repulsing three separate Austro-Hungarian attempts to conquer Serbia in 1914, both Putnik and the Serbian soldier have earned well-deserved reputations for toughness and tenacity.  However, the Serbian army of late 1915 is not the same as that of late 1914.  First, a series of epidemics had decimated Serbia earlier this year, striking down thousands and crippling many more.  The army was not immune, and disease has thinned its ranks.  Second, the mobilization of 1914 had drafted almost every able-bodied male into the army, and while this contributed to victory in 1914 it means that there are practically no replacements for the 120 000 casualties the Serbians have suffered in the war to date.  Quite literally, this is the last Serbian army - should it be defeated, it would be impossible to raise another.  Third, the supply situation has worsened.  Prewar ammunition stocks, already low from the two Balkan wars, had been largely depleted by the fighting in 1914, and while the minimal Serbian armaments industry has proved wholely inadequate to the demands of modern war, supplies from France, while vital, can hardly make up the shortfall.  The Serbians thus face a severe shortage of weaponry and munitions at the moment they are needed most.  Fourth, the obvious agreement of Bulgaria to enter the war means that the Serbs cannot deploy their entire army to face the Germans and Austro-Hungarians attacking from the north; instead, 2nd Army and smaller forces have to be deployed along the eastern frontier to prevent a Bulgarian offensive from cutting behind the Serbian forces to the north.  Finally, Putnik himself is ill, suffering from influenza, and his role in directing the Serbian army is necessarily reduced.  Thus the German and Austro-Hungarian offensive will face a Serbian army in significantly more dire straits than it had been in 1914, which should be kept in mind when comparing the results of the 1915 campaign with that of 1914.

- Despite the vote in parliament yesterday, significant domestic opposition in Greece remains to the policy of the government: the idea of foreign troops arriving unimpeded at Salonika is seen as a gross affront of Greek sovereignty by the opposition press, which over the past few days has been giving vent to its frustrations.  Further, the leadership of the Greek army is opposed to intervention in the war.  Most importantly, Venizelos has been entirely unable to assuage the concerns of King Constantine regarding Greek entry into the war.  Unwilling to accede any longer to Venizelo's pro-Entente policy, he dismisses Venizelos as Prime Minister, and appoints as his replacement Alexandros Zaimis, an adherent of Constantine's policy of strict neutrality.  In choosing this course of action, Constantine has set the course of Greek politics on a fateful path to what will become known as the 'Great Schism' - Venizelos has no intention of going quietly into retirement.

Regardless of the dismissal of the Greek government, the Entente landing at Salonika begins today as the first elements of two brigades and an artillery battalion from the French 156th Division start to disembark.

French infantry at Salonika, October 1915.

- After yesterday's order dispatching the Ottoman XVIII Corps to Baghdad, Enver Pasha orders the formation of a new 6th Army to take command of all Ottoman forces in Mesopotamia.  His hope is that a unified command for the region with new leadership will stabilize the front and keep the British away from Baghdad.  To command 6th Army Enver assigned German Field Marshal Colmar von der Goltz, currently in command of 1st Army in Thrace.  Goltz's responsibilities, however, go beyond Mesopotamia: 6th Army includes Persia within its zone of operations.  His appointment meets the request of the Persian government for a senior German officer to be made responsible for Persia, and in addition to meeting the British advance in Mesopotamia Goltz is to win Persia to the side of the Germans, ideally to open the way to a land attack on India.

It will, however, take a number of weeks for the elderly Goltz to reach Baghdad, given the poor transportation system, and in the meantime command of 6th Army will reside in Colonel Nur-ud-din, who has led Ottoman forces in the region since mid-June.  Despite the record of defeat, Nur-ud-din is an experienced officer with lengthy service in the Ottoman army, and his defensive efforts have largely been let down by poor morale.  With reinforcements en route, however, Nur-ud-din hopes to be able to hold the British at Ctesiphon.

1 comment:

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