Friday, November 06, 2015

November 6th, 1915

- Falkenhayn and Conrad meet at Pless today to discuss the campaign in Serbia.  From the perspective of the German chief of Staff, the capture of Kragujevać and Niš, combined with the defeat of the Serbian army, accomplished the overall objective of the offensive of opening a land route to the Ottoman Empire.  As such, Falkenhayn wishes to wind down operations in the Balkans, shifting forces from this theatre to the Western Front.  Conrad, as usual, has a different opinion: he feels the Entente landing at Salonika needs to be eliminated, and also favours continuing operations to finish off the remnants of the Serbian army and deal with Montenegro.

After a full day of discussion, with the usual acrimony between the two chiefs of staff, it is agreed to continue the campaign for the time being, but that German forces would be withdraw as desired by Falkenhayn.  In particular, as the pursuit of the Serbs entered the mountains, the German chief of staff wants to withdraw those German divisions not suited to warfare in such conditions.  In practice this means a drawdown of Mackensen's forces to four or five divisions, including the German Alpine Corps, which reaches Kragujevać en route to the front.  Further, Serbia was to be occupied by Austria-Hungary and Bulgaria, with the Morava River separating the two zones of occupation.  Finally, the fate of Montenegro and Albania is deferred to a later date.

Mackensen, for his part, still hopes to trap the bulk of the Serbian army.  To accomplish this he issues orders today for Gallwitz's 11th Army to advance on Kruševac while the Bulgarian 1st Army pushes west from Niš.  The key role would be played by the Austro-Hungarian VIII and the German XXII Reserve Corps of the Austro-Hungarian 3rd Army, with the former crossing the West Morava River and marching to Brus, and the latter seizing Kraljevo at the confluence of the West Morava and Ibar Rivers.  If this succeeds, they will cut the line of retreat of the Serbian army falling back from the northeast.

The next phase of the offensive gets off to a good start when the German 43rd Reserve Division of XXII Reserve Corps assaults Kraljevo today.  Crucially, 202nd Reserve Regiment manages to capture the bridge over the West Morava River at the northern edge of Kraljevo before the Serbs can completely destroy it.  Using wooden planks, they are able to patch up the bridge, allowing 201st Reserve Regiment to cross and fight into the city itself.  When the railway station is captured, the municipal government surrenders the city.  Again, because of the disruption of the Serbian rail network, the Germans capture trains loaded with artillery pieces and munitions that had nowhere to go.  The seizure of the city also puts the German forces at the northern end of the Ibar River valley, a key retreat route for the Serbian army.

German soldiers marching through the Serbian town of Paracin, November 1915.

- Cadorna and the senior officers of the Italian army have long seen the civilian soldiers under their command as soft and poorly-equipped psychologically for the rigours of modern warfare.  Morale is indeed a problem within the Italian army, though this is primarily due to high casualties, supply shortages, organizational chaos, and obvious command incompetence.  Unrest is now beginning to manifest itself in actions - in Aosta a number of alpine troops riot attack a barracks, open two military prisons, and prevent trains from leaving for the front.

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