Tuesday, October 06, 2015

October 6th, 1915

- For several days Foch has been pleading with the British, to no avail, to accelerate their preparations for a further attack near Loos, to be coordinated with a further French assault in Artois.  Now, however, his subordinate General d'Urbal of 10th Army has imposed another delay.  For several days, III Corps has been involved in heavy fighting, and believing it to be exhausted d'Urbal ordered its withdrawal from the front overnight. Doing so postpones the next attack, given that it will take time for III Corps' replacements to familiarize themselves with the German defences and position themselves for an assault.  D'Urbal only informs Foch of his order a few hours before it occurs, and Foch is furious, writing a letter of reprimand that the withdrawal of III Corps was 'absolutely contrary' to the directions d'Urbal had received from his superior.  The damage is done, however, and Foch postpones the next push in Artois yet again.

- After two days of preliminary bombardment, the infantry of the French 2nd and 4th Armies begin their assault at 520am.  Their objective is to rupture the German second line which has held up their advance since the afternoon of the 25th, and push forward three kilometres and driving the Germans north of the Py River.  Though the Germans have made great strides in improving the defences of the reserve trench line since late-September, they are still not as strong as those of the first line which the French pierced on September 25th.  On the other hand, the attacking infantry have had less time to study the German defences, meaning the French are advancing over unfamiliar terrain with little knowledge of the enemy positions they seek to storm.  In places the French are able to push forward: in 4th Army, two brigades from the French II Colonial Corps are able to drive forward a kilometres, seize numerous prisoners, and destroy a German artillery battery.  Reserves from the German 20th Division are quickly sent forward, however, and are able to retake the lost trenches.  In the French 2nd Army, a division of XVI Corps is able to advance five hundred meters and seize the height at Tahure.  Here the French are able to hold the captured ground, repulsing counterattacks by elements from 53rd Saxon Reserve and 50th Divisions.  Everywhere else, however, the French attacks get nowhere, and the small gains do nothing to unhinge the German defence.  Afterwards the commander of XIV Corps reports to Pétain that the German wire remains intact, and that it will take five or six days to make another assault, which includes four or five days to dig approach trenches to lessen the time his infantry are exposed before reaching the German line.  Pétain in turn reports to Castlenau that his corps are exhausted and only two are able to continue the attack at present.  While the commander of the Army Group of the Centre wants assaults to continue tomorrow, Castlenau yields to his subordinates' judgement and orders them to secure their positions and only attack where necessary to straighten the line.  Finally he reports to Joffre that 'the operation . . . has not succeeded.  It can be resumed only after a new preparation, more complete than that which was accomplished on October 4th and 5th.'

- Overnight the last reconnaissance trips are made by German and Austro-Hungarian soldiers to test the state of the Serbian defences on the southern banks of the Save and Danube Rivers and see if any new minefields had been laid.  This afternoon artillery from both the Austro-Hungarian 3rd and German 11th Armies open fire on the enemy.  With spotter aircraft aloft to mark the accuracy of the shelling, the heavy artillery fire slowly and deliberately, taking the time after each shot to ensure that it had struck the desired target.  Known Serbian artillery batteries and defensive positions are targeted, while Belgrade also suffers a heavy bombardment - its commander estimating fifteen thousand shells fall today and the naval guns sent by Russia and France are destroyed.  After dark, the Austro-Hungarian and German infantry move to the northern shore and prepare for the crossings.

- After his dismissal of Venizelos yesterday, King Constantine meets today with the British ambassador to Greece today.  The monarch is keen to impress on the Entente that the change of government does not imply a pro-German policy - he does not want to fight Germany, but neither wants to fight alongside Germany.  As such, Greece will not resist the Entente landing at Salonika, but at the same time the mobilization of the Greek army will continue.

- With the occupation of Kut-al-Amara by General Townshend's 6th Indian Division after yet another defeat of Ottoman forces in Mesopotamia, attention has turned to the next, and biggest, prize: Baghdad.  Lord Hardinge, Viceroy of India, writes to Austen Chamberlain, secretary of state for India, today recommending that Baghdad be captured, primarily on the prestige benefits that would ensue:
. . . from a political point of view, the capture of Baghdad would create an immense impression in the Middle East, especially in Persia, Afghanistan, and on our frontier, and would counteract the unfortunate impression created by the want of success in the Dardanelles.  It would also isolate the German parties in Persia, and frustrate the German plans of raising Afghanistan and the tribes, while the impression throughout Arabia would be striking.  The effect in India would undoubtedly be good.  These are considerations to which I attach great importance.
Launching 6th Indian Division further up the Tigris to capture Baghdad primarily for prestige and because other operations (i.e. the Dardanelles) have failed, of course, is not the best grounds on which to base such a crucial decision.  Indeed, Hardinge's letter reflects the mission creep that has been endemic to the Mesopotamian campaign: once a given point is seized, it is very easy to argue that the advance should continue to the next, both because of the apparent momentum and to protect the earlier point captured.  There is an assumption exhibited by the British leaders not on the scene that because past victories have been achieved easily, future conquests will be achieved with similar ease.  In fact, the further 6th Indian Division advances, the more tenuous its supply lines become, and there is a chronic lack of shipping and animal transport.  The result has been increasing cases of scurvy, given the lack of any fresh meat or vegetables, and 6th Indian Division paused after the First Battle of Kut-al-Amara in an attempt to stockpile enough supplies just to meet daily requirements.  Moreover, the further up the Tigris the division goes, the further wounded and (the far more numerous) ill have to travel to get back to Basra and medical care.  Though Townshend is aware of these issues, his superiors have no real comprehension of the situation on the ground, and thus are willing to advocate a continuation of the campaign.

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