Friday, November 20, 2015

November 20th, 1915

- Colonel Hermann von der Lieth-Thomsen, chief of German field aviation, informs OHL today that the air arm will require a thousand aircraft in 1916, and to accomplish this he requests approval for measures to increase production and exclude additional exemptions for skilled workers in aircraft factories.

- West of Görz the Italian 2nd Army has concentrated three divisions along a two and a half kilometre stretch of the line centred on Oslavija.  On the 18th and 19th they crept forward towards the enemy trenches, and today they launch their attack.  Just north of Oslavija a battalion is able to penetrate the Austro-Hungarian line, but artillery fire prevents a further advance.  To the south, repeated assaults are launched against the heights at Podgora throughout the day, but are unable to make any progress.

To the south, repeated Italian attacks are made on both the northern and southern slopes of Mt. San Michele.  To the north, the Italians manage to secure a stretch of the line and ruins of a former strongpoint by nightfall, but the success brings no significant advantage as otherwise the Austro-Hungarians have held their line.

- French Vice-Admiral Louis Dartige, commander of French naval forces in the Mediterranean, submits a memorandum to Admiral de Robeck, senior British naval officer in the Mediterranean, on the number of warships he sees as necessary for effective anti-submarine patrols.  Based on the belief that one destroyer was needed to patrol every 140 miles of transport routes, increased to one every 40 miles at narrow channels, Dartige calculated that a total of 140 British and French destroyers would be necessary to adequately patrol the Mediterranean.  Added to this was 280 trawlers and small craft, whose responsibility would be to work in groups of two to four searching for German submarines and their supply bases in the narrow passages of the Mediterranean, among the Aegean Islands, and along the Ottoman coast.  This would represent a significant augmentation of Anglo-French naval forces in the Mediterranean - currently there are only 32 British and 53 French destroyers, and of the French number thirteen were in port immobilized by breakdowns of various kinds.

- Today the British 6th Indian Division reaches the town of Lajj, approximately twenty-five miles from Baghdad and less than ten miles from the major Ottoman defensive position at Ctesiphon.  Here General Townshend orders his division to concentrate in preparation for an assault on the enemy defences.

Colonel Nur-ur-din has taken advantage of the almost two months it has taken for the British to resume their advance after the First Battle of Kut-al-Amara to construct formidable defences at Ctesiphon.  The main trench line covers the north bank of the Tigris River, stretching from a bend in the river (meaning an assault there would have to cross the river under fire) north through a dozen redoubts, and is anchored in the north by two redoubts that the British refer to as 'Vital Point', or V.P.  This line also incorporates a number of ancient ruins, including the so-called 'High Wall' which protrudes eastwards and potentially provides cover for flanking fire if the British attack the northern half of the line.  Behind the main Ottoman trench line lay other ruins, including the most famous at Ctesiphon, the Great Arch of Taq Kasra.  Approximately six thousand yards behind the first trench line the Ottomans have also constructed a second line of defences, though these are not as extensive, and trenches have also been constructed on the southern bank.

The Great Arch of Taq Kasra.

The delay in the advance of 6th Indian Division has not only allowed the Ottomans to construct substantial defences at Ctesiphon, but also given time for Ottoman reinforcements ordered to Mesopotamia in early October to arrive on the scene.  In addition to 35th and 38th Divisions, which have spent 1915 in Mesopotamia being repeated thrashed by the British, 45th and 51st Division are also now available to Nur-ur-din, both being well-trained and (the latter especially) with valuable combat experience.  He deploys 45th Division around 'Victory Point' at the northern end of the main trench line, the most important (and potentially vulnerable) position for the Ottomans to hold.  While 38th Division holds the rest of the first trench line north of the Tigris and 35th Division is south of the river, 51st Division is held in reserve.

The Ottoman defences at Ctesiphon, November 1915.

Overall, the Ottoman force consists of 18 000 infantry, 400 cavalry, and two regiments of camelry, along with 52 artillery pieces.  To face them, General Townshend has at his disposal 13 700 infantry, eleven squadrons of cavalry, and five batteries of artillery.  A frontal attack is thus out of the question - Townshend must not merely defeat the Ottomans but do so without suffering heavy losses on such a scale as to render impossible the occupation of Baghdad.  Moreover, it is not enough for the Ottomans to be forced back; even a defeated Ottoman detachment could threaten the long supply route of 6th Indian Division as it moves on to Baghdad.  Instead, the Ottomans must be annihilated.  To accomplish this, Townshend intends a repetition of the First Battle of Kut-al-Amara, except this time with the flanking maneouver working as intended.  His plan is to divide his force into four.  Column C is to attack the northern stretch of the main Turkish line, to pin the enemy there.  To its right, Column A will attach and seize VP (Vital Point) while further north Column B will sweep around and attack the rear of the Turkish line.  Finally, a Flying column of cavalry and 76th Punjabi Battalion will drive northwest to destroy the bridge over the Diyala River, which would cut the line of retreat of the Ottoman force.  If successful, the three main columns would envelop the Ottomans while the Flying Column would prevent any survivors from escaping.  It is a bold plan, and one that concentrates the bulk of the British force - 9000 infantry - against just a third of the Ottoman force, achieving local superiority at the decisive point.  To achieve such an advantage, however, requires Townshend to throw everything into the initial attack, and there will be no reserves remaining should the plan misfire.  The attack will be launched in two days time.

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