Hotel Brighton, Paris, Summer, 1904:
It had been a warm, sunny day in Paris. Jean-Michel, the clerk at the desk, was almost at the end of his long dull shift, and was looking forward to seeing his fiancée. He doodled a little sketch of her on a piece of the hotel’s stationery with a fond smile. Then a man coughed – oddly muffled. Jean-Michel looked up and almost started in alarm. The man before him had thick bandages covering his face, while his eyes were obscured by thick-rimmed dark glasses. A heavy, unseasonably stifling grey coat, expensive brown leather gloves and an ugly scarf completed the man’s appearance. Jean-Michel controlled himself. “Good evening, sir. Welcome to the Hotel Brighton. How may I help you?”
The figure coughed in a sickly fashion. “Good evening. I am M. Dubois. I am here to meet my old and dear friend, M. Lacoste. He informed me that he would be present here at this time. Could you please verify this for me?” He spoke in a rasping guttural voice, as if his throat had been ruined. Jean-Michel couldn’t tell for certain, but the man’s odd manner of speech made him suspect that he was a foreigner.
“Certainly, sir. I shall have the boy inform him of your arrival.” Jean-Michel was back in control of himself. He gestured to little Pierre, gave him the message, and sent him to M. Lacoste’s room. The clerk now felt sorry for the gentleman before him. He could not comment on the gentleman’s appearance, for that would be most rude, but he felt sympathetic for the poor man. “Would you care to take a seat in the salon while you wait for your friend, sir? Perhaps I could have a drink brought out to you. It has been rather warm today.”
The man grunted angrily, and for a moment Jean-Michel feared he had over-stepped himself, and this M. Dubois would demand to see the manager. Then he barked. Or laughed. It was a healthy laugh. One quite at odds with his appearance - and his voice. Indeed, he too seemed to realise this. Dubois stopped abruptly. Jean-Michel maintained a carefully neutral face. Then coughing. Heavy false-sounding coughing. Jean-Michel helped the man to a seat. He went to fetch a glass of water from the kitchen, but when he returned the man was gone.
However, the boy had returned. “Pierre,” the clerk beckoned him, “what happened to the gentleman in the bandages?”
The boy was excited and smiling, “His friend came with me, sir, when I informed him. He seemed very relieved when I told him. He gave me three Francs! They went straight to M. Lacoste’s room to talk, I think.”
Jean-Michel was puzzled. But he thanked Pierre, and sent him away. He saw no more of either Dubois or Lacoste in the remaining twenty minutes of his shift, and the next day M. Lacoste left early in the morning. Jean-Michel never did know what had happened, and in the company of his darling Aurélie that night he quite forgot about it.
12 September, 1904 From: Agent Lacoste To: M. Dupuy, Director
Sir, I have been contacted by a general officer of the German military, who is in financial difficulty. He goes to great lengths to disguise his appearance, swathing himself in bandages. I have not been able as yet to identify him. However, he terms himself “The Avenger” and has offered to provide us with details of Germany’s plans in the event of war with France. So far he appears genuine. The initial information, which he assures me he will support with further evidence, indicates that it is in the north that we should prepare for a German attack. We should prepare to face the enemy in Belgium. I shall endeavour to pass this information to you with the greatest haste so that you may apprise the Minister of War . . .
From: Agent Lacoste To: M. Crais, Director
Sir, “The Avenger” has provided us with yet more details of Germany’s plans in the event of war. Not only do we have approximate locations for two of the German armies, but the Germans appear to be planning to mobilise their Reserve divisions and use them as front line divisions! I know that this may seem to be impossible, given their lesser equipment and training, but I must remind you that every piece of information we have from this source has proved to be thoroughly accurate ever since he was recruited. I believe that the General de Lacroix* must be informed at once of this turn of events! I enclose details of the deployment of Germany’s northernmost army, and draw your attention to the proposed route . . .
* Vice-President of the Supreme Council of War.
Excerpt from a report on strategic problems associated with war with Germany:
It is an inescapable fact that should Germany take the offensive we must not lose a great deal of territory in the north. This is where the heart of our industry lies. If we lose the Briey Basin, we shall lose 83% of our iron ore, 62% of our cast iron, and 60% of our steel production. It is unthinkable that this should occur. It is imperative, if we are to prevail in any conflict of long duration with the German military, that we ensure the continued availability of resources in this area. Any failure to do so will leave us reliant on uncertain allies. It is recommended that at minimum the following forces be deployed to cover the area…
A secret attachment to the official report (published 1906) on the Russo-Japanese War, by M. Ferdinand Foch, French military attaché to the Russian Army:
I was wrong. I was terribly wrong. It galls me to say it, but I must. In 1903 I argued in The Principles of War that two attacking battalions could unleash ten thousand rounds more than a single defending battalion. I thought that this gave an overwhelming moral superiority to the attacker. But my experience in the late war has demonstrated what was wrong with my assumptions. Even with improvised defences, the longevity of a battalion is increased. Ten thousand more rounds are of no use to a soldier if the enemy is protected by impenetrable earth!
The Russian soldier is hardy but ill-trained compared to our brave men and the disciplined Prussians. Yet even he resisted the men of the Imperial Japanese Army beyond the call of duty, despite the strategic incompetence of his generals. In the event of war with Germany, we cannot rely on the worth of our Russian allies until they are reorganised into a professional force. On the contrary, we can rely on our Prussian foes to oppose us with strength, discipline and cold science. We must match them or fall beneath their feet…
The Times, 6th April, 1906:
Inquiring minds have recently noticed an interesting alteration to the French Army’s command structure. On the 3rd instant the Superior Council of National Defence was formed. Experts had expected that this would increase the influence that the generals and admirals could bring to bear on military judgements, but most had opined that the Republican government would not greatly increase the powers of the Army. The Army’s involvement in the coup which led to the accession, some half a century ago now, of the late Emperor, was believed to weigh too heavily against it.
However, contrary to expectations, General Henri de Lacroix has been re-titled as Chief of the General Staff with greatly increased powers, and several superfluous posts in the War Ministry have been removed completely. Indeed, it is to be noted that the French Army is now sufficiently trusted that the formation of Army Headquarters in peacetime has now been permitted. It has been argued that the formation and smooth running of these will greatly facilitate the capability of the military to respond to war.
The Morning Post, 21st August, 1911:
Today will see the launch of the French battleship Danton in St Nazaire. She is the first of the new Dreadnought-type to be constructed by the French navy, and represents a radical departure from previous classes. Indeed, fierce arguments occurred during her design amid claims that the Dreadnought design was unsuitable and reckless. She is regarded as the French response to Germany’s four Nassau-class dreadnoughts, all completed last year, but mounting superior 12”/50 guns compared to the German 11.1”/45. Details are uncertain at this time, but her protection is reported to be superior, as are her displacement and her top speed. Three further warships of this class will be launched, and the French government has authorised the laying down of two battlecruisers with similar armament. These are to be named Voltaire and Vergniaud.
An officer of the Royal Navy confided to this reporter that it was unlikely that the French warships would prove a great threat to His Majesty’s vessels, as French construction methods are known not to approach ours. Nonetheless, there has been much debate in the House of late. Lord Bath recently pointed out that…
The Daily Telegraph, 13th February, 1910:
A surprising state of affairs has prevailed hitherto in France. The renowned 75mm gun has been almost the only weapon available to French divisional commanders. Excellent though this weapon indubitably is, it is interesting to compare the equipment available to British or German soldiery. Whereas a French division has 36 of these 75mm guns, and nought else, the Germans field both 7.7cm guns and 10.5cm howitzers. Our own forces field 18pdr guns, 4.5” howitzers and 60pdr guns. It has long been intimated that the French army is substantially deficient in this arena.
It is with great relief, therefore, that the French military can now claim that during the next four years batteries of 105mm and 155mm guns will be added to the strength of infantry divisions. There have been howls of protest from the manufacturers of the 75mm gun, who have proposed various “solutions” to the problem, such as shells specifically designed to plunge on the enemy. However, in the end, only guns of greater strength proved capable of meeting the challenge. The 75, despite its diminutive size, is a splendid, weapon, but in utility it can no more hope to fill every role than can HMS Dreadnought hope to patrol every corner of the Empire!
Summary of Concentration Plan XVI by General Victor Michel (for the benefit of Prime Minister Poincaré), 1912:
The current plan allows for the deployment of considerable forces to our border with Belgium. However, these forces are not wholly committed to Belgium, and may be redeployed South if need be.* However, all our intelligence for almost a decade now has indicated that the main German stroke will come through Belgium. There are other areas that require our attention, and they are important, but we must not forget our left flank.
From the south to the north we have an impressive array of fortifications, soldiers, artillery, machine guns and commanders. General Dubail’s 1st Army has been assigned to defend the region between Belfort and Nancy. 2nd Army under Geneneral de Curières de Castelanau will cover the are between Nancy and Verdun. 3rd Army under Serrail is to cover Verdun to Sedan. It may seem as if there is an abundance of troops here, but 2nd and 3rd Armies are to advance as soon as mobilisation is complete, and ensure the safety of the Briey Basin. They will smash aside any advancing German forces, and may penetrate somewhat the territory of the German vassal state of Luxembourg. But they will hold there. If the enemy attack in overwhelming numbers, and we are forced to retreat, then the Meuse River offers an excellent defensive line. But our planners do not anticipate this.
To the north 4th Army under General de Langle de Cary will cover the Sedan-Guise line, and 5th Army under General de Lanrezac will defend the area between Guise and Neuve Chapelle. Immediately behind 4th and 5th Armies will be 6th Army under General Maunoury at St Quentin. He will be available either to be redeployed south using the Abbeville-Toul railway line or to move in support of 4th and 5th Armies into Belgium.
All our intelligence indicates a strong German thrust into Belgium. In fact, perhaps as many as thirty divisions will be sent there. For we know that the Germans intend to deploy Reserve Divisions to boost their frontline strength. So our forces must equal the enemy. We hope to deploy Army W* * in support on our leftmost flank, and to have the support of the Belgian Army in defending Belgium. However, neither of these things can be guaranteed beyond a certain point, so it is imperative that we prepare to fight alone. This is what I have provided for.
My deputy, General Joffre, has been instrumental in reorganising our army to release more units for this front. I wish to commend his initiative and intelligence. When this fight comes – and it will come – we must resist with every ounce of our strength. You may rest assured, Mr President, that the Army will do so.
* This is actually a lie on the part of Michel. There would be little free transport capacity to shift the armies on the Belgian border south toward Nancy if anything went wrong. * * The French code name for the BEF, which is based on the surname of General Henry Wilson, a vital figure in cross-Channel military discussions.
The Times, Editorial, 1st January, 1912:
This year has demonstrated the wonders of modern science beyond doubt. The last horse-drawn omnibus has been removed from service with the London General Omnibus Company, showing a clean pair of heels to the dirt and filth previously associated with the streets of London. On the international scene the justly renowned Captain Scott’s Expedition to the South Pole has brought that gentleman much credit, albeit tinged with sadness at the discovery of the final camp of the unfortunate Mr Roald Amundsen’s party.
However, it is not merely science wherein we see the wonders of the age. Mere days ago in China Dr Sun Yat-Sen was elected President of the United Provinces of China, marking a new age after the often despotic rule of the Chinese Emperors so beloved of some of our more romantic novelists. In the Americas Mr Francisco Ignacio Madero González was elected to the office of President following the tragic death of the modernising but inarguably tyrannical General Porfirio Díaz. President Madero represents a striking contrast with General Díaz’s old regime, for he is among other things a vegetarian and a spiritualist! Nonetheless, his election and his predecessor’s death have calmed what some commentators had feared would be a dangerously tense situation.
Indeed, with the advances in the world this year, it is as if we are in a Golden Age of human development! There can only be hope in our hearts as we look to the future…
STOP PRESS, The Daily Telegraph, 23rd February, 1912:
Italian troops are reported to have been heavily engaged in battle near the port of Tobruk. The Ottoman commander, Captain Mustafa Kemal, has claimed a significant victory.
The Daily Mail, 26th February, 1912:
…as the Italian Prime Minister foolishly claimed. Furthermore, the undoubted superiority of Ottoman forces under the gallant General Kemal* and Omar Mukhtar has been amply demonstrated as a result of the catastrophic Italian defeats at Tobruk and Benghazi. It is a source of countless chagrin to the Italian government that France has now weighed in on the side of the Ottomans, seeking to enforce a peace with honour. However, with only defeats to their credit, it is hard to see how Prime Minister Giolitti’s government can hope to survive these recent setbacks. Popular sentiment, which drove him into war, is now turning against him for failing to prosecute it successfully. There is further cause for concern in…
* In every age there are journalists who get their facts wrong. ;)
STOP PRESS, The Times, 19th July, 1912:
An attack on the Dardanelles by Italian torpedo boats has been beaten back, according to reports from the Ottoman Embassy in London. A number of small boats penetrated the initial defences under cover of darkness, but almost all are believed to have been destroyed.
Editorial, The Daily Mirror, 11th August, 1912:
During the recent conflict in North Africa one thing has become abundantly clear to all those in the know. The Italian military is in a very sorry state, and is in no way prepared to fight a modern war. She has been out-fought, out-manoeuvred and out-generalled by a provincial captain from the sick man of Europe! Few of Italy’s initial 20,000 man force have returned, and an entirely new force of 120,000 men has been sent in an effort to conquer Tripolitania and Cyrenaica. If the new commander, General Brusati, proves incapable of this relatively simple task, equipped with a super-abundance of men, and complete control of the sea, then Italy’s honour will never recover!
The Times, Editorial, 1st January, 1913:
As I look back at the events of this last year I am struck by a sense of foreboding or perhaps even dismay. The sinking of RMS Titanic was a disaster from which the world will not soon recover. The assassination of King Frederick VIII of Denmark in August by a German anarchist has raised tensions on the continent to a dangerous level, with ambassadors hurrying this way and that. The coronation of the new king, Christian X, was marred by a false report of an explosive device located within the cathedral itself. Relations between Denmark and Germany have seldom been worse.
Tensions have grown in the East as a result of the terrible bombing that resulted in the death of the Japanese Emperor Mutsuhito and the wounding of the heir to the throne, Taisho, late last month. The heir’s survival is still not guaranteed. Reprisals against the Korean separatist groups thought to be responsible have been condemned by a number of Western philanthropists who dwell in the region.
Even in the balmy Mediterranean there has been no peace. We all recall too well how war broke out between Italy and the Ottoman Empire in spite of frantic diplomatic efforts by the Austro-Hungarian and French diplomatic corps. It is certain that both nations bitterly regret that state of affairs, following recent problems in the Balkans which appear to have been spurred into existence by it. The recent declarations of war show no sign of abating, and even in England General Wilson has had several battalions conducting manoeuvres en masse near Tidworth.
The Morning Post, 13th June, 1913:
…has been utterly disgraced and forced to resign in the aftermath of a series of military disasters. The new Prime Minister, Baron Sonnino, who was briefly Prime Minister in 1906 and again in 1909-10, has sought peace with the Ottoman government provided certain conditions are met. It is hard to imagine a more unlucky campaign in Italian military history. In fact, only the conquest of the Dodecanese Islands has given the Italians any cause for rejoicing. No analysis of the Libyan campaign compares to Tacitus’ famous words, and given the terrain, none could be more apt. Italy has made a wilderness, and called it peace!
Excerpt from secret Italian military report on operations in North Africa:
Recent events have demonstrated the utility the aeroplane as a weapon of war. On several occasions pilots have improvised weapons to use against troops on the ground with commendably demoralising result on the enemy. I strongly urge the Committee to pursue with vigour the design of a specifically created aircraft equipped with some form of bombing mechanism…
German Intelligence Report, September, 1913:
According to our analysis of recent reorganisations of the French system of enlistment, the adoption of three years’ military service will enable France to field 700,000 men in the active force. We have acquired a copy of a communiqué from the French Deputy Chief of the General Staff, Joffre, to President Poincaré, in which he notes that this increase “reinforced the covering force, facilitated mobilisation, and considerably improved the quality of the troops.” It is logical to conclude, in light of this evidence and recent improvements in the state of the French artillery (see my report of January last), that the French are planning to launch offensive action at the very earliest moment after mobilisation. Recent secret meetings between the Russian and French Ministers of Defence and their ranking generals also suggest that the Russians may well launch an attack simultaneously. However, such a plan is surely doomed to fail, since the Russians cannot mobilise sufficiently swiftly. It appears that we must be wary of France at the outbreak of war…
French Intelligence Assessment, 1912:
In the event that English troops participate in operations with ours, the active forces placed in the line by France and England clearly will be superior to the German forces. We anticipate that they will provide six infantry divisions, one division of mounted infantry, and two brigades of cavalry, totalling some 150,000 men and 67,000 horses. We cannot rely completely on the British, as their deployment rests in part on the state of affairs in Britain at the time, and the goodwill of their government…
…received information on the contents of a series of war-games conducted by the German Staff. These war-games clearly anticipate a slow mobilisation on the part of the Russians, and indicate that Germany’s full strength will be turned against us in an effort to eliminate our two nations’ armies in turn. Clearly, we must make every effort to compel the Russians to speed their plans for mobilisation, and launch an attack as soon as is practical…
…from a well-regarded agent, “The Avenger”, who has passed to us a copy of the 1911 handbook for German General Staff Officers. Comparisons with the 1902 edition are most telling. The new edition strongly suggests that Reserve troops will be integrated with Regular units to increase Germany’s available manpower for initial action. Moreover, details are included on the militaries of Great Britain, Belgium and Holland. It is only reasonable to conclude, therefore…
…taken in concert with the mobilisation plans acquired by agents from other sources provides more evidence of this. It is almost inarguable that Reserve units will be deployed alongside Regular forces. We must surely follow this method, too, or be left behind. I recommend in the strongest possible terms that this…
French Transportation Plan, March, 1913:
…which indicates that the British will be able to deploy a division of cavalry and six divisions of infantry in the North just sixteen days after mobilisation. They are to take position to the left of Fifth Army. Fortunately, they will not too greatly impede our plans, since they will provide themselves with their own supplies…
Remarks of General Sir Henry Wilson, reported in a letter from Sir A. Nicholson to Sir Edward Grey, 24th February, 1913:
…the soldiers are of the opinion that it would be far better for France if a conflict were not too long postponed.
John Keegan, The First World War (ATL edition):
Belgium’s neutrality had been guaranteed by the Great Powers in 1839 and its army was subsequently maintained as a home defence force. Not until 1910 did the country introduce general conscription. It was slow to take effect. In 1914 the Belgian army was one of the most old-fashioned in Europe, certain deficiencies of equipment had been remedied, but it was still poorly-equipped, under-trained and dressed in antiquated uniforms.
The Daily Mail, August, 1912:
French military commanders have wholeheartedly rejected an attempt by M. Réséda to alter the French uniform from its traditional red trousers and dark blue overcoat to a shade of light green known as mignonette. The refusal to adopt the new uniform typifies all that is hidebound about the French Army in this modern age. Our own army was quick to adapt to the differing demands of modern warfare, adapting Indian khaki, and even the Germans have switched to field-grey – while still retaining the utterly frivolous accoutrements of their old uniforms which…
I shall forego the newspaper style for a moment, to bring everyone up to date on what the Greeks have been up to so far. ITTL the German navy was actually briefed on aspects of the Schlieffen Plan (it’s far more convenient to call it that than to be blunt, acknowledging that the Germans had a variety of plans along the same lines that changed repeatedly over a decade or so!) in 1906. However, the German General Staff was otherwise as insular and aloof as Britain’s Royal Navy, and very little more information was transmitted. Indeed, as IOTL even Bethmann Hollweg didn’t learn of the plan until 1912!
So the High Seas Fleet developed separate plans in the event of war ITTL. She reasoned that there were three areas where the enemy could be engaged. First, the Baltic must be held against the Russians. Second, the North Sea and Channel, where the British or French could make themselves a threat. Third, the Mediterranean, through which any British reinforcements must sail.
It is on this last area that we will concentrate. While the German Army sought to make headway with the Ottoman military, the Navy found itself at an impasse. There was no Ottoman Navy to speak of, and plans to construct one relied on the yards of Britain. There seemed no way that the Mediterranean could be obstructed in the event of war without the aid of Italy – and she was an uncertain ally at best. However, chance altered events somewhat in favour of Germany. A goodwill tour of the Mediterranean by SMS Königsberg in the summer of 1907 led to a meeting between her captain and King George of Greece. His Majesty, an ardent admirer of Germany, was much taken with the captain, and a vogue for all things German was soon in full swing at court.
As a result, the French navy’s plans for modernising the Hellenic Navy were rebuffed, and the Germans were instead consulted, and based a naval mission in Greece. A gift by the millionaire Georgios Averof on his death, together with a public fund, and the personal intervention of King George, enabled Greece to increase her navy by purchasing the SMS Blücher, renamed Averof, in 1911. This vastly increased Greek naval power, and threw off the balance of power in the eastern Mediterranean. The German navy was rather relieved to be rid of the Blücher, for although she was a fine ship in every respect, her likely opponents in the Royal Navy outclassed her considerably.
There was some politico-military trouble in Greece during this period, in some measure connected with the question of Crete, and also with the dislocation of society which was an inevitable result of the utter shambles that was Greek politics. Ten governments were formed in only six years under Theotokes, Delyanni, Rhalles and Zaimes. Delyanni was even assassinated in 1905, and only the next year was Theotokes able to secure a majority. The Ottoman government, meanwhile, was most put out that bands of Greeks had begun roaming Macedonia with perhaps interests other than those of the Sublime Porte at heart, and she was supported in this by the Powers. In late 1908 the Cretan assembly exultantly proclaimed union with the mainland. Having so recently upset the Ottomans, the government’s response was somewhat lukewarm, greatly upsetting the public and military both.
Civilian protests ousted Theotokes from power, and the Military League ejected his successor, Rhalles, replacing him with Mavromichales in August 1909.
Venizelos, a man of great promise, was summoned at the request of the Military League from Crete in January, but during the voyage a winter storm came up, and he was sadly lost overboard. Mavromichales then stepped down and was replaced by Dragoumis. The Kaiser, not consulting his ministers, made one of his habitual forays into international diplomacy at this point, raising hackles as usual. He made some very kind allusions to Greece’s past, and some very clumsy allusions to the situation on Crete, rather offending the Ottomans. The Greeks, however, were quite won over, and the political situation stabilised somewhat with the resignation of Dragoumis and the comfortable re-election of Zaimes. Subsequently and inevitably, the government decided to reform the military and navy, and whom better to help in this than the Germans?
The purchase of several destroyers and torpedo boats from German yards, and the eventual news of the ordering of the dreadnought battleship Salamis, which would reach Greece a mere month before the Great War broke out, precipitated a great crisis in Ottoman-German relations. The failure of the Army, the Navy, the government, and the Kaiser to decide a common German policy in the Eastern Mediterranean was most unfortunate, for it would push the Ottomans right into the hands of the Triple Entente…
The French Navy:
ATL Conway’s All the World’s Fighting Ships, 1906-1924:
Between 1898 and 1906 several politicians of the Charles Pellatan type (termed by some “naufrageur de la Marine” or “Wrecker of the Navy”) did their best to destroy France as a great sea power. Their chief aim on arriving in office was to undo the work of their predecessors, rather than accomplish anything. Failing to understand the needs of France, a nation with an extensive coastline and worldwide colonial empire, would have been best served with a few modern oceanic battleships, supported by destroyers and cruisers. Too few French politicians had realised the dangers of the rising German, Italian and Austrian navies. The problems facing the French Navy in the period leading up to the Great War were considerable. Her naval constructors and designers were barely up to the challenges made by rapidly shifting, falling and ruling governments. Even though there was no shortage of funding for the Navy, it faced additional problems in retaining older vessels, which would be of questionable use. Nonetheless, between 1905 and 1914 the amount spent on new Construction increased from 1/3 of the total expenditure to more than half, while the navy’s share of the total military budget ballooned from 26% to almost 35%.
Fortunately, the appointment of Boué de Lapeyrère as Minister of Marine in 1906 led to a fundamental shift in French policy. Through a combination of good luck and canny political nous he was able to retain his position under several governments, letting France retain her diminishing prowess at sea. It was he who insisted that the original plans for the Danton-class should be scrapped at the eleventh hour, and who forced through the construction of France’s first four dreadnoughts. They were not the finest ships, perhaps, having a great appetite for coal, but they provided the impetus that allowed France to move herself from the doldrums. His Naval Programme included 28 battleships, 10 scout cruisers, 52 destroyers, 94 submarines and 10 vessels for distant stations – all to be completed by 1919.
By the outbreak of war, the French Navy was again a proud force. She consisted of 6 modern battleships and 2 battlecruisers, with another 6 battleships and 2 battlecruisers (these more akin to fast battleships than the Anglo-American conception of battlecruisers) in various stages of construction. While her light forces already consisted of 4 light cruisers and around a dozen large 1,200-1,500 ton destroyers of the Bouclier-class, as well as about one third of the planned number of modern submarines, together with some rather older models.
The Ottoman Empire:
[p.567, Lord Kinross, The Ottoman Centuries] “Directly related to Abdul Hamid’s aspiring leadership of the Moslem world was another such hidden project, that of the Hejaz Railway. Starting from Damascus, it was designed to serve all the pilgrims to the holy shrines of Medina and Mecca, and so to make the Sultan’s prestige as caliph a concrete reality, both within his own territories and beyond them – while at the same time strengthening his political hold over the peoples in the Yemen and elsewhere. As a railway sacred in purpose, it was to be financed exclusively by contributions from the world of Islam and constructed by Moslem labour, including that of the Turkish army – but with the supervision and advice of foreign technicians. Started in 1901, the Hejaz Railway was completed within eight years as far as Medina, enhancing the credit of Ottoman enterprise and inspiring reverence for the caliph in the eyes of Moslems far and wide.”
pp.490ff, Dr Laura O'Doyle, The Ottoman Empire, Oxford University Press, 2006:
Bad harvests, tax increases and arrears in pay led to strikes and a small mutiny in the army in Macedonia in 1909. The attempted assassination of General Shemsi Pasha by one of his subordinates, and the spread of civil unrest led to the Sultan calling his Council of Ministers, which discussed the situation for two days. Thereafter, shrewdly discerning the risk of civil war, Sultan Abdul Hamid resurrected the constitution of 1877, and recalled parliament, following a general election. He accepted the necessity of compromising with the volatile Young Turks, and appointed Kamil Pasha as Grand Vezir.
Taking advantage of the Empire’s internal confusion, in October Bulgaria declared Prince Ferdinand Tsar of all Bulgarians, in the style of Bulgaria’s mediaeval empire, and the Austro-Hungarian Empire formally annexed Bosnia and Herzegovina from the Ottoman Empire, following secret negotiations between Austria and Russia. The annexation prompted an international outcry, and led to heated diplomatic exchanges. Serbia mobilised her army, furious that her designs on these lands had been so suddenly thwarted, and was barely persuaded to stand down when it became apparent that she could expect no Russian support. Russia knew herself incapable of waging war without French support, and France attempted to smooth over the entire debacle with a suggested conference in Paris to discuss the affair.
Following the advent of the new parliament in Istanbul, Abdul Hamid learned through his intelligence agents of the existence of a planned counter-revolution, and calculated the great danger he could be in should he be associated with it by the restive soldiery in Macedonia. He therefore issued a proclamation reaffirming his faith in the new government to the public on 3rd April, 1910, and warned Kamil Pasha to recall troops in case First Corps attempted to reinstitute the old manner of government. He secretly invited the President of the Senate, Ahmed Riza, to the Yildiz Palace for his own safety.
The counter-revolutionaries were thus weakened and demoralised by Abdul Hamid’s proclamation supporting the new government. So when a number of units mutinied, marching to the square before the Chamber of Deputies, they were met by a few companies swiftly dispatched from the Macedonian Army, under a promising fiery young officer, Mustafa Kemal. Although Kemal’s men were few in number, they served as a focal point for loyalist forces, and reinforcements soon arrived under General Shemsi Pasha. The Counter-Revolution of 5th April, 1910 was swiftly crushed, and Abdul Hamid’s judicious manoeuvring and wise use of his intelligence service earned him some trust from the previously suspicious Young Turks of the Macedonian Army.
While the populace and Parliament hailed the Sultan as the saviour of the nascent Parliament. Ahmed Riza, filled with gratitude and trust, hailed the actions of the Sultan in averting the overthrow of the new state. In the aftermath, Abdul Hamid again proclaimed his full support for the new system, and even grudgingly accepted Ahmed Riza’s suggestion that he should curtail some of his powers. A parliamentary committee was convened which gradually stripped the Sultan of his powers in the following years, reducing him to a figurehead monarch. As a result of both his actions in defence of the new democracy and the reduction in his powers, his popularity was at greater heights than for many years, and the modernists who wished to remove him from power found their plans short-circuited.
During 1911 a number of significant reforms were enacted, and there began to be a clear demarcation in the new Parliament between several parties, each espousing differing goals, that nonetheless tended toward modernisation. The elections of 1912 marked a new age. Even despite what later generations would regard as an unacceptable amount of interference in the democratic process by traditionalist elements and reformers in the military, they were widely seen as a step in the right direction both by the population of the Empire and by the Great Powers. However, danger loomed in the shape of Italian populism. By late February, Italy was firmly at war with the Empire, seeking to benefit herself by acquiring Libya.
Lacking any form of naval superiority, and rebuffed in her desire to send soldiers across Egypt - which embarrassingly declared her neutrality under Britain – the most the Ottoman military could do was dispatch a cadre of officers to organise local resistance. However, they achieved successes out of all proportion to their numbers against the technologically superior, better-supplied Italians, despite the Italians’ increasing use of airpower. Although this did lead to the unlucky claims of Mahmud Shevket Pasha and Enver Bey to be the first high-ranking officers killed by aerial bombing in time of war.
Nonetheless, the surviving Chief-of-Staff, Captain Kemal Pasha, waged a stunning campaign, all but destroying the initial Italian force, and compelling the sending of several divisions of reinforcements to conquer and hold down Libya. The Empire had ordered from British yards several powerful modern warships, but these were still under construction, and would not be available for the war. Meanwhile, in the Balkans disaster threatened…
The Baghdad Railway:
The Morning Post, 16th December, 1911:
…has led to considerable concern and questions in the house. It has been intimated to this newspaper that British financial and strategic interests may be imperilled by this continuing construction unless certain limitations can be placed on it. The financial losses themselves are not too great a cause of concern, since trade with the German Empire will surely benefit us in turn. Nonetheless, the potential damage to British business is believed to lie behind the visit which Baron Inchcape will make next month to the government in Constantinople. It is not for us to speculate…
The Times, 19th January, 1912:
…German envoy stormed out of the negotiations, leading to a tense political situation for several days. His Imperial Majesty Kaiser Wilhelm II is said to most displeased at this turn of events, and has handsomely proffered his wholehearted apologies to the Sultan, and offered to dispatch his son and heir as the new envoy. However, it is unlikely that this offer will meet with approval in the Turkish Parliament unless the…
The Daily Mail, 24th February, 1912:
… has all contributed to a new era in Anglo-Turkish relations, and the signing of a compact between the British, Turkish and German governments, yielding certain beneficial rights to Anglo-German companies, such as the Anglo Persian Oil Company. Baron Inchcape, a director of that company, has recently been visiting the Sultan as a personal guest, and it is felt that this may have had some bearing on these negotiations. The new compact will permit an increase of customs duties from 11 to 14 percent, but has imposed limitations on German influence on the new construction to the benefit of British railway companies.
The recent attack on Turkish possessions in North Africa has been strongly deprecated by Baron Inchcape, who went so far as to accuse the Italian government of “pandering to populism of the very worst sort,” and claimed that the attack was “utterly unprovoked and an assault upon an innocent.” Baron Inchcape’s words have further improved his standing in the capital. The Ottoman Parliament met today to discuss the response to the current crisis, and Mr Riza moved that…
The Daily Telegraph, 1st March, 1912:
…met with Sir Gilbert Claughton of the L.N.W.R.* to discuss proposals for the development of the Berlin-Basra Railway last Monday. Meanwhile, representatives from the Turkish government have been meeting the directors of Stephenson’s* * to discuss the construction of new locomotives for the proposed route. The successes of Stephenson’s in producing locomotives for export to Argentina and India has been widely touted, and their practical knowledge is beyond repute. Indeed, the superior qualities of British workmanship, and the indubitable hard and honest labour which goes to…
* London and North Western Railway, the largest company in the world at this time * * Robert Stephenson and Company Limited: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Robert_Stephenson_and_Company
Affairs in South America:
Chile: The Daily Telegraph, 21st September, 1909:
This series of strikes has been most deleterious to Chile’s reputation in the international community. The government has been engaged in negotiation with the Labour Federation of Chile, but has yet to reach an agreement acceptable to both sides. Meanwhile, the economic crisis has worsened, and the despicable series of assassinations has led to a collapse in confidence in the Peso. It is open to question just how long it will be before a state of martial law will be declared.
ATL Encyclopaedia Britannica, 1951 edition:
In 1906 the Government passed a law for working class housing, which marks the first intervention by the Government in a strictly social question. Later laws passed in favour of rest on Sunday (1907), the creation of the Office of Labour Statistics (1907), of laws for National Savings Banks (1911), for the care of abandoned infants (1912), for the regulation of conditions of labour including the labour of women and children…all point in the same direction.
The Times, 3rd February, 1910:
…has led to the formation of a new government, much to the relief of international financiers. Indeed, the nitrate tax alone is believed to have made Chile some $10,000,000 of gold in the last thirty years, which is hardly to be wondered at, given that Chile produces almost two thirds of the world’s nitrogen requirements. It is to be hoped that new social compact will prove to be a long-lasting one.
The Times, 17th March, 1910:
The order is certain to continue the naval race between the South American powers. The choice of the Fore River Shipbuilding Corporation of Quincy, Massachusetts, has shocked the European constructors from their complacency. For too long the established naval builders have taken for granted the favourable conditions under which they have operated. Now Argentina has reminded them of the harsh realities of the world. The two ships are expected to be laid down by this August, and with an expected displacement of almost 30,000 tons, and an armament of twelve 12” guns, they should prove fine additions to the Argentine Navy.
However, all is not bleak for British manufacturers. As part of the Chilean Government’s commitment to increasing defence spending in light of Brazilian and Argentine moves, she has ordered two more dreadnoughts, to be named for the national heroes Admiral Latorre and Admiral Cochrane…*
* Note that this construction is slightly ahead of OTL by about a year. By the outbreak of the Great War, Almirante Latorre (OTL HMS Canada) will have been delivered, and Almirante Cochrane (OTL HMS Eagle) will be completed for RN service as HMS Canada.
The Daily Mail, 12th May, 1911:
…surprising announcement by Brazil would have seen her acquire a third dreadnought, Rio de Janeiro. However, the frightful spectacle of the mutiny aboard Minas Gerais on 15th November, 1910, and President Hermes Rodrigues da Fonseca’s remarks last week, in which he referred to the battleships as an unmanageable white elephant, have led to much concern among naval constructors. In particular…
The Morning Post, 4th September, 1912:
…will see the sale of the Brazilian warship to Turkey, whose new government has been embarrassed by the impotence of her naval forces in the war with Italy. At 32,000 tons, and equipped with a dozen 14”/45 cal guns,* Sultan Osman I will head the modern navy, and extend the arm of the Sultan across all Turkish dominions.
* The initial plans for the ship which IOTL became HMS Agincourt were not for one with a turret for every day of the week, but a less crazy six turrets, each with twin main guns.
Balkan Wars, 1912-13, Encyclopaedia Britannica 1951 ATL edition
This article gives an account of the campaigns of Bulgaria, Serbia, Greece and Montenegro, as allies, against the Ottoman Empire, in 1912 and 1913, and also of the brief struggle that followed between the former allies, with the Ottomans and Romania intervening, in the summer of 1913. When war broke out, all Macedonia, Albania and Epirus still formed part of the Ottoman Empire.
The Balkan League.- Military alliances, directed against the Ottomans, had been adjusted between Bulgaria and Serbia, and between Bulgaria and Greece during the early part of 1912; taking advantage of the dislocation cause by the Italian invasion of Libya, the Ottoman rule of Macedonia served as an excuse for them to order mobilization on Sept. 30 and Oct. 1. War was declared once their armies were on a war footing, and active operations soon followed, Montenegro, which had no formal agreement with the others, actually starting the hostilities.
The Turkish regular forces in Europe at this time comprised 12 divisions of somewhat weak establishment in Thrace, and 12 similar divisions stationed at various points in the extensive Ottoman territories to the west; organization of a sort also existed for about doubling the number of divisions on mobilization; but the actual numbers available during the opening and decisive weeks of the struggle did not exceed about 140,000 combatants in Thrace and a similar number in the western theatres. Large military forces, it is true, existed in Turkey in Asia; but, owing to the activities of the Greek fleet, these could not be transferred to any part of European Turkey other than Thrace.
Opposing these forces, Bulgaria possessed nine very strong regular divisions, numbering about 180,000 combatants, with two strong reserve divisions formed after mobilization. Serbia promptly placed five somewhat weaker regular divisions in the field, making up a total of about 80,000 combatants, with five well-organized reserve divisions ready to follow. Greece could muster four regular divisions of similar size to Ottoman divisions, her forces at the start numbering perhaps 50,000, with four reserve divisions to be set up on mobilization. The Montenegrin Army on the other hand was wholly on a militia basis and quite ill-suited for fighting save among its own mountains or immediately outside its own frontiers. Thus the allies, at the outset, enjoyed a slight advantage in numbers; and because their reserve formations were far better organized, they retained this numerical advantage during the weeks of hostilities that followed. However, problems with available equipment were to make the divisions of later in the conflict substantially less useful.
I. THE THREE THEATRES OF WAR
Owing to the geographical situation, there were bound to be three practically distinct main theatres of war when the struggle began, viz: on the Turko-Bulgarian frontier of Thrace, on the frontier between Macedonia and the allied Powers, Bulgaria and Serbia, and on the frontier between Greece and Turkey. Under a military understanding between Bulgaria and Serbia, six of the nine Bulgarian regular divisions were allotted to the eastern theatre of war, while the remaining three co-operated with the Serbian Army in operations directed against Macedonia. However, 4th Army, comprising the divisions allotted to co-operate with the Serbian Army, as it turned out, moved independently toward Salonika. However, the failure of Bulgaria to aid Serbia tended to cause somewhat strained relations between that kingdom and Serbia at the very start.
Campaign in Thrace.– The Bulgarian staff organized its six regular divisions, destined for Thrace, with the two newly formed reserve divisions, as three armies, the 2nd Army on the right of Maritsa, prepared to move on Adrianople, the 1st Army in the centre more to the east, and the 3rd Army on the left about Yambol, prepared to move on Kirk Killisse. On the declaration of war, on Oct. 17, the three armies advanced and they passed the frontier on the 18th and 19th to the north-west and north of Adrianople, and on the 22nd to the north-west and north of Kirk Killisse.
Adrianople was a great entrenched camp, composed of many forts and works, fairly well-armed; Kirk Killisse was also provided with some works, but they were not of an efficient character. The 2nd Army advanced against Adrianople and to the west of it, with a view to investment, while the 1st Army followed a line more to the east and from the 22nd to the 24th was lightly engaged with the enemy about Seliolu, the battle ending in its victory. On that same day the 3rd Army captured Kirk Killisse, after severe fighting against recently mobilized and hopelessly outnumbered Turkish troops. The Turkish field forces had earlier formed up about the Ergene; and sensibly remained in that position, although accusations of cowardice were levelled at the commander, Nazim Pasha, by some of his younger officers.
On discovering the absence of the Ottoman field forces in the vicinity of Adrianople and Kirk Killisse, the Bulgarians invested Adrianople with 1st Army, while 2nd and 3rd advanced to the defences of the Turkish Army of Thrace on the Ergene. Severe fighting took place on the 26th, 27th and 28th between the left flank of the Army of Thrace and 2nd Army in which both sides suffered heavily. 3rd Army struck next, and was repulsed at the Battle of Lule Burgas, which saw it first repulsed and then driven back in confusion. The Bulgarian left near Viza was seriously endangered, and because of miscommunication, eventually cut off and compelled to surrender.
As 2nd Army regrouped around Dimotika, and the scattered remnants of 3rd Army fell back in the direction of the border and toward Adrianople, the Turkish commander finally acceded to the demands of his juniors and advanced toward Adrianople, intent on lifting the siege. Pursuing the Bulgarian troops, the Army of Thrace marched toward the Bulgarian border, resting its right flank on Seliolu. On Nov. 7, the Turks attacked the besiegers of Adrianople, and both sides suffered heavy losses during the battle, which continued until the 11th. However, the strategic victory went to the Turks, with the Bulgarians compelled to quit their works and lift the siege.
Despite this strategic victory, the Bulgarians were swiftly bringing their reserves into play, and were again at the numerical strength at which they had begun the war. However, the failure of their generals to co-ordinate, and the failure of their assaults on the Ergene defences had sapped morale in the army and at home.
The Times, 21st October, 1912:
…which crossed the border yesterday in the Kosovo Polje area. Details are unclear at the moment, but Bulgarian forces in the form of her 4th Army are also understood to be operating in the region…
The Morning Post, 3rd November, 1912:
The Montenegrin and Serbian Governments have today claimed to be in possession of the sanjak of Novi Pazar. The lightning swiftness of the campaign in Macedonia must be cause for concern for the Turkish government. The British French ambassadors to the Serbia, Sofia, Athens and Constantinople again sought to convene a peace conference in London, but were rebuffed by every power except Turkey.
Sharif Pasha, Some reflections on the Turkish-Balkan War, Paris, 1912:
…ten Serbian divisions, half of which were of the mobilized reserve. 1st Army, comprising half this strength, advanced from the area around Vranje. Acting in concert, 3rd Army with four divisions, advanced from north of Pristina. Five divisions of Ottoman troops met them near Kumanovo on Oct. 24, but being poorly led and weak in number, were driven back in some confusion by the Serbian forces, losing the majority of their heavy equipment. There followed some good fortune for the Ottoman forces, as poor terrain and inadequate communications hampered the Serbo-Bulgarian advance, which only on Oct. 29 began to…
The Times, 23rd November, 1912:
…has seen a wholesale retreat down the Vardar by the Turkish commanders. The Serbian 2nd Army is engaged in assisting the Bulgarians around Adrianople, where neither they nor the Turkish troops can gain lasting superiority. Serbia’s main field forces, however, are operating still in Macedonia and Albania.
Excerpt from an internal Bulgarian military communication, late October, 1912:
…by which time we expect to have reached Demir Hisar. I must protest at the contradictory orders I have received. In the past week I have received no fewer than seven contradictory orders to move either against the Turkish forces in strength, to demonstrate and nothing more, and to send all or part of my army to Adrianople. If there is to be no clear direction in this war, then it is impossible to plan effectively!
Greece and Salonika.-In the meantime, the Greek military forces had not been idle. The main army, under command of Crown Prince Constantine, had been concentrated in northern Thessaly when war was declared. A smaller force was assembling near the Gulf of Arta, destined for offensive operations in Epirus. The Ottoman military authorities had only told off four weak divisions, partly regular and partly reserve, to guard against hostile invasion in this southern theatre of war, and the task of the Greek troops in the region immediately north of Thessaly, at the outset, proved a simple one. The Crown Prince crossed the frontier on Oct. 18, occupied Elasson next day, and on the 23rd routed the Turks a little further to the north, his left occupying Kozani on the 25th. His right advanced at the same time, and on the 28th occupied Katerina on the shores of the Gulf of Salonika, where an advanced maritime base was established.
Dr P. Blagojeviç, A History of the Tempestuous Balkans, Cambridge, 1967:
The indecisive to-ing and fro-ing of the Bulgarian 4th Army for reasons never established, undoubtedly led to the successful Greek investiture of Salonika on Nov. 9, with the surrender of 19,000 Turkish soldiers, following the preceding battle at Yenije Vardar. The remaining Ottoman troops in the theatre, now caught between the Greeks to the south, the Bulgars to the east and the Serbs to the north, were compelled either to surrender or to flee north toward Monastir. The eventual arrival of the Bulgarian 4th Army, which claimed Salonika for Bulgaria led to strong words, and the indisposition of Crown Prince Constantine with dysentery led to the near breakdown of discussions and war between the two powers.
The survivors of the Turkish field forces, meanwhile, made their way north, spreading demoralising news among their fellow soldiers. Given the poor performance of the Turkish army in this theatre, and the near impossibility of escape, their subsequent victory at Monastir – or refusal to die – has long been considered proof of the indomitability of the Turkish soldier. The truth, as ever, behind “the Miracle of Monastir,” as the British Press soon termed it, is far more mundane. Prince Alexander had wished to fight a decisive battle, assaulting the Turkish lines frontally, and simultaneously enveloping their flanks. However, the delay imposed by the crossing of the Vardar valley and its hills forced back the date of the attack from the 14th to the 18th. All this time the Turkish soldiers were fortifying their position – except on the left.
The Serbian division assigned to assault and encircle the Turkish left did not receive the order delaying the assault, and attacked at dawn on the 14th into the teeth of a withering fire. Detached from the remainder of the army, the assault continued until the 17th, at which point the divisional commander was obliged to break off the attack because of mounting casualties. The next day found his troops too exhausted to carry the position, while the Ottoman troops were on the highest alert, awaiting an attack along the line. The subsequent Serbian attack was thrown back at all points with heavy loss.
However, Turkish joy was short-lived, as two divisions of the Bulgarian 4th Army now advanced into position south of Monastir, cutting off the Turks’ line of retreat. A siege of sorts now ensued, with attacks and counter-attacks by both sides, neither general prepared to throw his full weight behind a specific attack. The situation dragged out interminably into December, when the Bulgarians withdrew one of their divisions to Adrianople, where desultory fighting continued to occur throughout the month. A significant Turkish assault their on Christmas Day forced the withdrawal of the other Bulgarian division.
By this time, however, Turkish morale at Monastir was poor, and supplies were running low as a result of losses incurred in the early battles. The Serbian New Year’s Offensive of 1913 utterly smashed the tired, cold, hungry Turkish defenders, who fell back to Banitsa, and thence to Yannina in Epirus, where they were besieged by the Greeks under Crown Prince Constantine.
p.511, Dr Laura O'Doyle, The Ottoman Empire, Oxford University Press, 2006:
…forced back to Yannina and there besieged by the Greeks. Operations around Adrianople were inconclusive. Bulgarian forces and their Serbian allies had steadily increased their numbers in the region, but the mobilised Ottoman reserves were steadily increasing the number of troops available, and though their quality was variable, that of the troops that had been steadily marching by land to and through Istanbul was not. Neither side possessed any great advantage. At certain times the Ottomans forced back the Serbo-Bulgarians, and at others they themselves were driven again back to Adrianople. However, both sides were becoming ever war wearier, and by April an armistice had been reached. This was concluded in light of the surrender of the Ottoman troops in Yannina in February, and in Scutari in March, which had long since been incapable of reinforcement. This triumph was almost over-shadowed by the near assassination of George I by an anarchist. Fortunately, a quick-thinking local wrestled the man, Alexandros Schinas, to the ground, saving the king.
However, the desire of the Great Powers to create Albania forced the abandonment of Scutari in late April. The gradual build-up of a new army around Dimotika, with a view to retaking Salonika, was dealt a blow by the 2nd Battle of Seliolu, and the Great Powers were able to persuade all the engaged parties to agree to the armistice of April. A provisional peace brought a halt to the fighting for some months However, the Bulgarians sought to continue the fighting when it seemed that negotiations were not going their way, with another attack on Seliolu. It was very successful, and the Ottoman 3rd Army was driven back in confusion, causing a near panic in local headquarters.
In light of this defeat, the subsequent Romanian entry into the war seems particularly hard to explain, and historians have puzzled over it for years. We are fortunate to have in our possession today the diplomatic documents related to the affair, which clearly show the hand of the Sultan in arranging an ally for the Empire in case anything went wrong at the peace talks. The agreements covered the possibility of a Bulgarian violation of the peace, and the Romanian government’s obligations in the event of this.
This conflict, sometimes referred to as the Second Balkan War, was more of a series of skirmishes, as the Bulgarians in Thrace desperately withdrew toward Sofia, whither which undefended city the Romanians advanced rapidly. The Ottoman Armies advanced now across a wide front as far as Demir Hisar in the west and Jum-a-i-Bala in the north. The Serbians withdrew, and the Greeks fortified defences east of Salonika. In the end, mediation and threats by the Great Powers again defused a difficult situation, with the creation of the Principality of Albania being imposed on the victorious Greek, Serbian and Montenegrin forces as part of the peace.
The Battle of Bozcaada
Lieutenant Kashif al-Mansur looked nervously at the Captain, Huseyin Rauf Orbay, the greatest hero of the Navy in the Balkan War so far. Al-Mansur had only just transferred to the cruiser Hamidiye, recently returned from operations off the Bulgarian coast. Tense, but determined to do his duty, he was more worried that he might fail in action, dishonouring his name than that he would be hurt. He had had only a few days to get used to the ship, and had shamefully got lost on several occasions, his ears burning at the not-quite quiet remarks the crew made to one another. He picked some fluff from his cuff, then caught himself. Stop it, man. Concentrate on what’s out there!
The Hamidiye was at the head of a small squadron which had been ordered out to strike a blow against the Greek Navy. Four outdated destroyers and the Mecidiye made up the rest of the squadron. How many Greek ships were out there nobody knew for sure. But apparently the cruiser Averof wasn’t nearby. Allah be praised! Al-Mansur’s thoughts were interrupted by the look-out. “Three ships bearing Green six-three. They seem to be destroyers! No other ships in sight.” Al-Mansur looked at the Captain, who smiled in a way that shocked the young lieutenant. Truly the captain is as brave as everyone says. I hope I don’t disappoint him. He bit his lip, and was about to clear his throat, when the Captain spoke.
“Al-Mansur, signal the fleet: Enemy in sight. Then alter course to starboard. I want to intercept those destroyers. We shall strike a blow for the Empire this fine morning!” There was such strength behind the captain’s words that Kashif felt quite reassured.
“Aye-aye, Captain.” Kashif almost swallowed his words, then coughed, and cleared his throat properly. He set to work, following the captain’s orders carefully, and soon the squadron had altered course to intercept the Greek ships, which still didn’t seem to have seen them. “Captain, should we not open fire?”
“Patience, Lieutenant. We outrange them, it is true. But they have a far greater turn of speed than we do. If we alert them to our presence too soon, they can turn and run. No, we shall wait another few minutes.” The seconds struck louder than should have been possible in the bridge, vibrating with the noise of the engines. A light rain began to fall, barely perceptible on the ship slick with spray. Kashif made a small course correction as the seconds ticked by. Then he saw smoke to port, emerging from behind the shelter of Bozcaada.* He opened his mouth, but the lookout beat him to it.
“Four Greek destroyers bearing Green four-five, range six-thousand yards! Estimated speed . . . twenty-five, no, twenty-seven knots. Captain! The other Greek destroyers have altered course and are making straight for us!”
Kashif looked at his superior perturbed. Has he been outgeneralled? The Captain scowled, then the scowl split into a broad grin. “It’s a trap! There are enemy ships in Sector Forty-seven! They think they have us, Lieutenant. But they don’t know how well we can fight. Signal Mecidiye: Deploy into line of battle. Signal the destroyers: Engage the enemy at will. To our gunners: Open fire; target the lead destroyer approaching from behind Tenedos. I expect every man to do his utmost.” Kashif acknowledged the orders, and began performing them, his heart swelling within his breast as his training filled in the gaps his nerves had made. They were going into action. And they would show the Greeks a thing or two about attacking a country without provocation!
“Hard a starboard, Lieutenant. I want to bring our full broadside to bear against them.” Kashif obeyed, noticing that the Captain of Mecidiye had given the same order. As the cruisers swung onto their new heading toward the small island of Tavşan Adalari their 6” guns opened up, followed shortly by the more numerous 4.7”. The guns roared, belching flame across the deck like mythical serpents. In the first fifteen minutes, the Greek destroyers Aetos and Ierax were hit repeatedly by the cruisers’ guns, both sinking rapidly, but not before unleashing a hellish and shockingly accurate fire on Hamidiye at long range, shredding the rigging, blasting the deck and causing a lot of minor damage, but somehow avoiding every critical part of the ship. Kashif was occupied trying to avoid the swift salvoes of the Greek warships’ 4” guns; he had not a moment to fear. He was wholly absorbed in navigation. Following the Captain’s orders, they closed at full speed on Tavşan Adalari. At first the Greek destroyers pursued, but as the firing took its toll, first Aetos, then Panthir and finally Ierax were taken out of action, crippled or destroyed.
Meanwhile, Akhisar and Drac fought their almost separate fight with the other column of Greek destroyers. Kashif noticed that their guns just weren’t up to the task. Soon Drac was ablaze, her crew abandoning ship, and jumping into the waters clutching at lifebelts as their ship roasted on the surface. The final Greek destroyer of those that had hidden behind Bozcaada, Leon, turned tail and fled. Her captain has more sense than his admiral! Kashif was thinking cheerily, when the Captain interrupted. “Order the gunners to target the other line of Greek destroyers. Fire on the one closest to us, and signal Mecidiye to target the one furthest. We’ll box them in.” Signal flags were out of the question with the rigging smashed, and the mainmast cut apart, so a seaman communicated by semaphore with the other cruiser.
Kashif gave voice to his fears. “Will there be time, Captain? They’re already turning away.” But the Captain just smiled and pointed at two thin lines of smoke in the dawn haze behind Tavşan Adalari, the small island they had been approaching for the last quarter of an hour. “Our ships, sir?” Again, just a smile.
Aboard the Hellenic Navy’s destroyer Thyella the first officer was terse. “Full speed. Bring us about. Get us out of here. Make sure Naukratousa and Lonchi follow us.” Antipoploiarkos (Lieutenant) Kyriakos was angry. Half the squadron was gone. His own captain had been killed by a splinter – the only casualty Thyella had suffered, and it had to be the captain! “We’ll be back, men.” He promised the bridge crew grimly. We shall liberate these islands from Moslem oppression for the glory of Greece!” A day before such a speech would have had cheers. All it got today was a few half-hearted grunts. A plume of water erupted to port. The enemy cruisers were firing on them. But Kyriakos was still calm. His anger was under control. “Helm hard a starboard for twenty seconds, then hard a port.”
Then there was a problem. As water half Thyella from yet another near miss Lonchi took a direct hit in her bridge, and came to a dead stop. The helmsman asked a stupid question, “Shall we stop to pick up survivors, Lieuten- Captain?” A withering glance answered that. Then Kyriakos stared at the wrecked Lonchi, which was swiftly filling with water. Either that shell had broken her back or some quick-thinker had opened the sea-cocks to deny the Turks the ship. He turned away with fire behind his eyes, and gnawed off a fingernail. A bad habit he had long put behind him.
Still, he thought, we will make it. There’s nothing between us and safety. We can outrun the enemy. Then horror filled his heart. It reminded him of heartburn, he later thought. Two ships, two small insignificant ships were on the horizon. No. Closer than that. They were emerging from a bank of fog off a small island, Kalydna was its name. No. Three ships. He couldn’t make it out clearly. But there was a larger vessel behind the two smaller ones. Two very tall masts, those funnels. It was Turgud Reis, a proper battleship. He looked at the helmsman, who stared back glumly. “All stop. Strike the colours.”
As the Ottoman sailors from Mecidiye and Hamidiye boarded and took control of the two surviving Greek destroyers, Kashif was jubilant, if confused. “Captain, I thought the Turgud Reis was in Istanbul, undergoing minor repairs. What’s she doing here?”
“She isn’t here, Lieutenant. Though it’s a testimony to some artist’s skills that you think she is. She’s Hadevendighiar.”
Kashif’s shock overwhelmed him, and he spoke rudely. “What? That’s not possible! I thought she was scrapped a year ago! Er, sorry, Captain, I didn’t mean to…” He blushed and cursed himself inwardly.
The Captain just raised an amused eyebrow. “She has no guns, it’s true. Nor can she even move under her own power. But you must surely have heard of the deliveries of planks to the shipyards. They weren’t for new construction as was claimed. They were to create a shell for Hadevendighiar. She now resembles – form a great distance, of course! – the Turgud Reis. We have to keep up the charade for the Greeks, though. That’s why she’s flying an admiral’s colours – and keeping her distance! We’ve had a good catch today, al-Mansur. Four destroyers sunk, two captured, and only one escaped. Your coolness under fire impressed me, too. I’ll see to it you receive a commendation for this.” Kashif could only stammer his thanks. “Now, Lieutenant, you have the bridge. I have to welcome our prisoners on behalf of the admiral.” Huseyin Rauf Orbay winked, then assumed a severe mask as he left the bridge.
* The Turkish name for the island we know as Tenedos.
March, 1913, Istanbul:
Vice-Admiral Hugh Pigot Williams allowed himself a smile – and a pleasant sip of tea. In just a few weeks he would be replaced by that youngster, Arthur Limpus, fresh from commanding the South African squadron. He was having a very pleasant afternoon tea with his friend Mustechar (Under Secretary) Halil Pasha of the Admiralty and Salih Pasha, the Minister of Marine. In a matter of months there had been a remarkable alteration in circumstances, he thought. Before this recent war the Minister would scarce have listened to him. Indeed, the silly fool had once agreed with me that we should hire an experienced engineer. Then withdrawn permission when he was in London talking to the man! But the war has changed all of that.
These loudly trumpeted naval successes have worked very well. Not only is the navy’s prestige higher than ever before, but they’re actually listening to me, he thought. I’ve set the scene for a triumph for young Limpus. He recalled a sentence from the report he had spent the afternoon drafting: “The Italian War has caused a great improvement in the feeling towards England, and at the same time German influence has been greatly reduced.” That had been fortunate. Both these wars had been good for England. Perhaps even for the Turks. They were a necessary lesson. Painful, but necessary. Grey really annoyed them with his refusal to let those Engineers return here when Italy attacked. For a politician he can be quite a fool! “Pardon me, Minister? Oh, yes. Admiral Limpus will be accompanied by his secretary, Stack, Commander Ashby and Lieutenants Elliot and Hallifax. He should arrive on Tuesday aboard HMS Cochrane. Have you not heard of Cochrane? A most remarkable man – the Chileans are so fond of his memory that they have named a battleship in his honour. We can but hope that young Limpus has the same impact here, eh?” Williams laughed heartily, and Halil Pasha and Salih Pasha smiled politely. Does nobody in the bloody ministry ever laugh? Williams wondered. “More tea, Minister?”
Communiqué to the Admiralty, January, 1914:
Thanks to the efforts of Armstrong Vickers’ talented representatives, my own representations, and the actions of my secretary, Stack, we have managed to avoid the frightful corruption here and secured the rebuilding of the dockyards in Ismid by Armstrong Vickers for the next three decades! I am, however, quite astonished to find this accomplishment looked upon not as a tremendous gain for the Turks (which indeed it is) but only as a point scored by the scheming British Government against the other Great Powers! Whereas I know that the British Government had no hand in the business at all, except of course that they sent me as naval adviser when the Turks asked for such a man. Britain is bound to help a sorely stricken nation to regain health and reasonable prosperity, but this should not be equated with our own aggrandisement!
Admiral Arthur Limpus
Letter of Lord Roberts to General Plumer, 17th September, 1913:
Dear Plumer, I find it hard to answer the question you put to me in your last letter. I know that the Northern Command, though unexciting, is socially pleasant. If being on the active list for a few years more here is not to your liking, then so be it. However, in the Turkish question we are in need of a good man, and I would prefer to put you forward. The Germans want von Sanders as commander of the Turkish Army Corps commanding Constantinople. The Russians’ reaction is too obvious if we allow this. There is trouble in the air, trouble which seems to be likely to increase rather than lessen, and if war should break out during that time you would bitterly regret having left the Army. I can understand your being disappointed at men younger and junior to you being preferred before you…
…difficult to advise you, but I feel if I were in the same quandary I would accept the Turkish Command and trust to its leading to something better.
I shall be at home all week, if you would like to come and have lunch at 1.30.
With kind regards to Lady Plumer, Believe me, Yours very sincerely, ROBERTS
The Daily Telegraph, 3rd December, 1913:
…appointment has assuaged the fears of the Russian court. There had been rumours that General Liman von Sanders would be appointed to the post. However, the Royal Naval Mission has made such a favourable impact on the Sublime Porte that the appointment of a British general was almost inevitable. Lieutenant-General Plumer, one of our finest and most modern generals, was an inevitable choice given such factors as…
The Times, 15th April, 1914:
…state visit next month to the city. It is understood that there will be a discussion of the recent unrest over the Bosnian Question with the ambassadors of several interested parties, who will…
The Daily Mail, 3rd March, 1912:
…mysterious death of Yuan Shikai and apparent accession of Dr Sun Yat-Sen has stabilised the situation somewhat. General Shikai had been widely expected to become the second president of China. However, his death means that Dr Yat-Sen will remain in his current position for the time being. Negotiations with….
The Times, 15th April, 1913:
…victorious in the recent elections. The National Party – or Kuomintang – was founded by the current President, Dr Sun Yat-Sen. Song Jiaoren, who has been appointed Minister of the Interior, was regarded as praising the stance of the Australian government, when he spoke on the 2nd instant to a crowd at…
The Times, 25th April, 1913:
…which loan will doubtless prove invaluable to reconstruction in China, a country hardly remarkable for its inclusion in modern politics prior to the tumultuous events of recent years. The delivery of Ying Swei, the second of two light cruisers of the Chao Ho-class, to the nascent Navy of the Republic of China has demonstrated that the country is not quite so badly managed as is popularly imagined. Indeed, the recent elections have assuaged many of the fears of those in the City who had…
The Daily Telegraph, 3rd January, 1914:
…appointed naval advisor last week, despite international acrimony. Vice-Admiral Maximilian Graf von Spee is a well-regarded officer of the German Navy, and the recent completion of the light cruiser Fei Hung by the New York Ship Builders has given China a small but adequate fleet. Recent discussions over Tsingtao have led to a decrease in tensions. Following the style adopted by the Royal Navy in providing naval missions to many countries, Admiral von Spee is expected to be replaced as commander of Tsingtao Naval Base by Admiral Souchon, who will arrive aboard SMS Goeben next week. There is a widespread rumour that the Fei Hung will welcome the arrival of the new admiral. Meanwhile, the commander of the United States’ Naval Base in Manila has courted controversy by stating that…
The Times, 12th May, 1914:
…arrived yesterday in Constantinople. Cheering crowds greeted her. A detachment of the local Scouts, lately established here by General Plumer on the model of the British type, greeted her captain. The newest ship in the Ottoman Navy, Mahmud Resad V joins her sister, Resadiye. The Foreign Secretary yesterday distanced the position of HM Government from the statements of Admiral Limpus, who had declared that these two warship made Turkey unassailable by her longstanding enemy, Greece. The Hellenic Government’s latest acquisition, Salamis, has been on a month-long tour of the islands of the Greek Kingdom…
Summary of Russia’s Plan 20 of September, 1913:
Variant A (concentration against Austria rather than Germany): 4th and 5th Armies are to invade Austria from the shoulder of the Polish salient, while 3rd and 8th Armies advance from the east. This will surround the Austrians at Galicia, capture Lemberg/Lvov, isolate or capture Przemysl, occupy the Carpathian passes, and attempt to capture the vital railway hub at Cracow. NW Front, 1st and 2nd Armies, will invade East Prussia and move towards the mouth of the Vistula, west of Koenigsberg. One corps is to monitor Sweden lest she interfere in Finland. 6th Army will defend the Baltic coast and St Petersburg. 7th Army will cover Romania. The Army of the Caucasus will protect against any threat from Turkey.
OTL pp.14-15, Nik Cornish, The Russian Army and the First World War, 2006: Army Reform, 1910-14
…standing army was divided into thirty-seven corps; the Guards, the Grenadiers, I-XXV line, I-III Caucasian, I and II Turkestan and I-V Siberian. These included all the infantry divisions with their attached artillery. The usual structure of a corps was comprised of (sic) two infantry divisions, two field artillery brigades (each of two divizions or half regiments) of six, eight-gun batteries, a sapper battalion, telegraph and telephone sections and one divizion of light howitzers, two, six-gun batteries. The 208 line infantry regiments recruited from specific areas, the Guards, the Grenadiers and all other branches of service from across the empire.
…the infantry retained the four-battalion regiment, including an eight-gun machine gun section and specialist scouting and communications personnel. In total the wartime strength of a regiment was 4000 officers and men.
During this period it was decided to disband the fortress troops and reserve formations. Instead cadres, trained with the standing army, would form the basis of thirty-five reserve divisions which would be numbered from fifty-three to eighty-four and from the 12th to the 14th Siberian. These divisions would have the same structure as those of the standing army but the artillery would not be as modern. An additional seven infantry divisions for the standing army were to be raised and the Opolchenie would provide 640 battalions.
The cavalry establishment in 1913 stood at twenty-four divisions; including the Guards and the Cossacks with a further eight separate brigades. Each division included eight machine guns and specialist scouting, communications and demolition sections as well as two six-gun horse artillery batteries. The military districts of the Caucasus, Siberia, Finland, Turkestan and Kiev all had two batteries of mountain artillery, the latter for use in the Carpathian Mountains. Artillery ammunition was stockpiled at 1000 rounds per gun, a third more than the total expended during the Russo-Japanese War but less than the French who maintained 1390 for their field artillery.
http://www.iht.com/articles/2004/04/20/old20_ed3__1.php 1904: Duke Cyril's Struggle: IN OUR PAGES: 100, 75 AND 50 YEARS AGO International Herald Tribune Tuesday, April 20, 2004 LONDON: The story of the Petropavlosk tragedy and the escape of his Imperial Highness from imminent death is thrilling. At the moment of the explosion on board the Petropavlosk, the Grand Duke Cyril was on the bridge. It seemed as though the world, with the skies and waters, was suddenly rent asunder, and from the gulf arose a devouring cloud of blinding flames, which burst with a deafening roar into acrid and suffocating fumes. He recovered consciousness sufficiently to recognize that the Petropavlosk had settled down by the head. Dead bodies were floating off from the forecastle deck, which was awash. Grand Duke Cyril recalls swarming hand over hand down from the bridge and ascending the incline with the water pursuing him into the barbette.
Grand Duke Cyril (Kirill) Vladimirovitch of Russia Princess Victoria Melita “Ducky” of Edinburgh (Saxe-Coburg and Gotha) (and of Great Britain) 1876 1936 See 1.43 - Cyril was banished from Russia by his cousin Nicholas II following his marriage to the divorced Victoria Melita in 1905. Their marriage and Victoria Melita's status as a Grand Duchess was officially recognised on 17 July 1907 and both were allowed to return to Russia in 1909. Victoria Melita took the name “Victoria Feodovovna ” on her marriage.
The Times, 15th June, 1914:
…both assassinated by an assailant who fled the scene, but was soon apprehended members of the public and policemen. He has been named as Mehmed Mehmedbasic, a 27-year old carpenter. General Potiorek has been inspector general of the Austro-Hungarian army since 1911, and was appointed military governor of Bosnia in 1912. Archduke Franz Ferdinand was also wounded in the cowardly attack and physicians described his condition as precarious last night. A diplomatic storm has arisen as early reports have associated the Ottoman Empire with the attack. This charge was hotly denied by the Turkish government, and is now felt to have been premature. Investigators studying the crime have…
The Daily Telegraph, 16th June, 1914:
…despicable act of barbarism!” General Potiorek and the wife of the Arch-duke are to be buried in several days, it has been announced. The Arch-duke has been described since the murders as a changed man, filled with anger and sorrow for his beloved wife, for whom he cared deeply. Austrian military personnel have been assisting the police of Sarajevo in searching for the other conspirators, and so far have…
The Daily Mail, 24th June, 1914:
…speaking to members of the press at the funeral at Schloss Artstetten. “I come to Sarajevo on a visit, and I get bombs thrown at me. It is outrageous! I have spoken to our diplomats. The hand of Servia in this matter is clear. They murdered General Potiorek. They murdered my wife. I will have justice!” The Servian government has agreed to French suggestions to convene a council to discuss the tragedy in Belgrade later this week. It is as yet unclear whether the Archduke will attend. However, M. Poincaré, the French President, and M. Briand, will be in attendance, and have prevailed upon the Tsar himself to attend, in an extraordinary demonstration of his desire for peace, he is even reported to be bringing his son with him…
Editorial, The Times, 30th June, 1914:
… born on 18th May 1868 in Tsarskoe Selo and acceded to the throne after the death of his father, Alexander III in 1894. Problems of social unrest had dogged the Tsar during his reign. His successor, Grand Duke Cyril, courted controversy some years ago, and was even briefly exiled for his unconventional marriage. Indeed, there was confusion over his position because Tsar Nicholas’ brother had also been excluded from the line of succession. There may yet be constitutional problems as a result of these unusual marriages. Nonetheless, the abundant strikers in Moscow have dissipated, replaced now by angry crowds demanding war. It is hard to see how this can averted.
16th July, 1914
My darling Louisa,
It seems we will soon be under orders and on the move. In case I cannot write to you where I am gone, read these lines in your heart when you think of me. I have no lack of faith in our cause, our Fatherland or our government. I know the debt we owe to those warriors of old who fought to make Germany strong. Today foreign powers are envious of our wealth. If need be I shall die in defence of the Fatherland with not a single tear.
Louisa, my love for you is without end. Nothing could harm it, nor could I ever hurt you or break your heart. But love of our country seems to sweep me away to the field of battle. I was reading the words of another man in another war long ago yesterday, and my words cannot match his. So forgive me for using them.
The memories of the blissful moments I have spent with you come creeping over me, and I feel most gratified to God and to you that I have enjoyed them so long. And it is hard for me to give them up and burn to ashes the hopes of future years, when, God willing, we might still have lived and loved together, and seen our sons grown up to honourable manhood, around us. If I die, then do not mourn me dead; think I am gone and wait for you, for we shall meet once more.
Lt. Johann Kohl
Theophilus Andrews, A History of the Great War, unfinished manuscript recovered from his effects following his mysterious disappearance in 1917 IATL
I set out to compile a history of the war between the Allied Powers and Central Powers, beginning at the moment it broke out, believing it to be a great war, more worthy of record than any predecessor. And with good cause! For both sides had built up their forces in every way to be the very acme of perfection; and almost every nation on Earth took sides in the conflict; even those who initially temporising planned to intervene later. In truth, this was the largest affair in all history, not only for the peoples of Europe, but for all of mankind. For no war, whether of ancient origin or more modern appearance, was on such a scale as this. This was to be the Greatest War.
The Daily Mail, 2nd July, 1914:
…a great deal of cheering. Undetected, the assailant was clad in the garb of a general of the Servian army, and approached the Tsar and Tsarevitch as if to greet them, before suddenly flinging a bomb into their faces. They were killed instantly, as was the assailant, whom police have not yet named. The disgraceful declaration of the Archduke Franz Ferdinand that he had now had justice for his murdered wife inflamed the passions of the Russian and French delegates, and the peace conference has been called off. The French Premier and President are now in St Petersburg in closed communication with the new Tsar and his officials. The Foreign Secretary, Sir Edward Grey, has been attempting to pour oil on troubled waters to calm this dispute, but…
The Daily Telegraph, 3rd July, 1914:
…German embassy to cinders, killing several officials of the German government. It is reported that Russian soldiers standing nearby made no attempt to restrain the outrages of the mob. The German emperor angrily condemned the attacks, and insisted that “the Russian princeling should take in hand his own people or we shall do so for him.” The response of the Tsar, who initially offered his apologies to the German government, is said to be unprintable. According to our correspondent in the Russian capital a number of innocent German residents have been attacked, with the police turning a blind eye to…
The International Herald Tribune, 6th July, 1914:
As I sat at home with my family this weekend we celebrated the independence of the United States of America, one nation indivisible under God, blessed with all the most perfect joys a country could desire. I know many of my readers did just the same this Saturday. My wife had prepared a delicious meal, for we had given the servants the day off to celebrate themselves. The roast was delicious, the gravy rich and thick, and the yams – oh, I could spend this whole column on the yams! However, that is not my aim. As I watched the fireworks outside our window I thought about all the terrible events of our cousins in Europe. Many of us have relatives over there, and our newer immigrants feel even greater ties to the old countries than that. As tiny rockets scattered pretty stars across the night sky, I could not but think of the possibility of more awesome, heavier explosions in the Balkans.
So many of us have heavy hearts this week. On the day we celebrated our independence the Austro-Hungarian government, spurred on by an heir to the throne many feel is consumed by grief-stricken rage, has made impossible demands on her neighbour, the tiny nation of Servia. These demands would see Servia become a vassal in all but name to her powerful neighbour, just as these United States were once a subject of the British Empire. Today the ultimatum runs out for Servia to agree to the demands of the Achduke, and we will see whether there will be war in the Balkans – and perhaps elsewhere. I pray it does not come to that.
The Daily Mail, 7th July, 1914:
Serbia has mobilised her army, after receiving the backing of the Russian government. The French president, M. Poincaré, is continuing to press for peace, but the diplomatic rumblings in Berlin are not auspicious.
The Times, 11th July, 1914:
…which declared war on the small nation of Servia two days ago. The Prime Minister has ordered the Royal Navy to be on its highest level of alert, and it is understood that our warships are moving to their bases even now. Yesterday the High Seas Fleet mobilised, fuelling anticipation of a naval conflict between Britain and Germany, which the Foreign Secretary was obliged to discuss before a special meeting of the House. The situation in the Balkans is extremely uncertain. Yesterday Bulgaria declared her neutrality in any coming conflict, but reports from Belgrade state that Austrian vessels have fired on the Servian capital, but were driven off by the artillery of the defenders, commanded by…
Excerpt from a communication between the German General Staff and the Austrian High Command, Sunday, 12th July, 1914:
We will mobilise as soon as is practicable. You have our full support. We have ordered Russia to cease all mobilisation by tomorrow, and demanded to know the position of the French government.
The Daily Telegraph, 5th June, 1914:
…largest vessel in the Ottoman navy, at 32,000 tons, has caused concern in the Russian Navy, which lacks any ship of that displacement in her Black Sea Fleet, and has no guns of that size.
British Military Intelligence Summary of recent events for the Cabinet, 16th July, 1914: 14th June: Attempted assassination of Franz Ferdinand. Assassination of his wife and the military governor of Bosnia, Oscar Potiorek by a radical funded by Servian military intelligence. 29th June: Assassination of the Tsar and Tsarevitch by a lunatic unconnected to any other organisation. 4th July: Austrian ultimatum to Servia. 6th July: Servia mobilises with Russia’s backing. 10th July: Bulgaria declares neutrality. High Seas Fleet mobilises. Russia begins partial mobilisation. Austria bombards Belgrade. 11th July: The Netherlands and China declare neutrality. 12th July: Assassination of the Austrian Emperor by Julian Schiess, a man the Austrians claimed was a French intelligence agent, but who now appears to have been a Swiss national and to have purported to be working for France. Germany orders Russia to cease mobilisation. France is ordered to explain her position. 13th July: Belgium declares her neutrality. President Poincaré orders the general mobilisation of the French military. Germany mobilises and declares war on Russia. 14th July: German troops occupy Luxembourg. Germany gives Belgium an ultimatum to allow the passage of German troops. Belgium communicates this to Britain and France, who both back Belgium. The Foreign Office concludes a secret treaty with the Ottoman Empire to keep the Straits open. 15th July: Belgium rejects Germany’s demands. Germany declares war on France. Italy declares her neutrality – but we are uncertain of this neutrality given the recent animosity between her and France. Turkey mobilises, declaring that the Straits will be closed to hostile shipping, but open to merchantmen of all nationalities.
Following the Cabinet meeting, Britain orders general mobilisation of her armed forces, and gives Germany until 2300 to demilitarise the Belgian border or Great Britain and her Empire will be in a state of war with Germany.
Excerpt from After Action Report of Admiral Augustin Boué de Lapeyrère, 16th July, 1914:
…sighted at about 1400, and identified as SMS Breslau in company with SMS Moltke steaming toward Bône with a view toward preventing the embarkation of our soldiers. Voltaire and Vergniaud opened fire at long range on both. Engineering problems or gross incompetence led to our light cruisers failing to engage. The most favourable gloss I can place on this is that the officer involved was over-cautious.
Nonetheless, we scored several hits, while ourselves suffering somewhat. A pair of the light cruiser’s guns were disabled by accurate firing at 14:57. At the very moment we were manoeuvring into a position so as to compel the German squadron to fight to the finish (at 15:42), a shell from Moltke’s main battery penetrated Voltaire's engine compartment. Lacking a significant speed advantage over the German warships, and a second shot forced Voltaire to reduce speed to fifteen knots, and we were compelled to abandon the chase at 16:17. I have communicated to the British admiral the location and heading of the German squadron. It is my hope that having been damaged and being low on coal following this action that the Royal Navy will be able to trap them before they regain the safety of the Adriatic.
The Daily Mail, 17th July, 1914:
…as of eleven o’clock last night at war with Germany as a result of Germany’s declaration of war against Belgium, a neutral nation! The United States declared her neutrality in the conflict.
The Times, 17th July, 1914:
…striking declaration that the port of Tsingtao has been transferred to China. The Japanese government issued a statement shortly before we went to press, refusing to recognise the transfer, and threatening to take the port by force. The whereabouts of the German squadron are unknown, but British, Australian and Japanese naval units are combing the likely avenues of escape for…
Saturday, 4th July, Day 1: Austrian ultimatum Monday, 6th July, Day 3: Serbia mobilises, Russia backs Serbia Thursday, 9th July, Day 6: Austria declares war; RN orders warships to stations Friday, 10th July, Day 7: Bulgaria declares neutrality; HSF mobilises; Russia orders partial mobilisation to come into force 6 days later; A-H warships bombard Belgrade. Servian artillery replies. Saturday, 11th July, Day 8: Netherlands declare neutrality Sunday, 12th July, Day 9: Von Moltke informs von Hoetzendorf that Germany will mobilise. Russia is told to cease all mobilisation by the next day; France is requested to explain her position. Monday, 13th July, 1914, Day 9: Belgium proclaim neutrality; Poincaré orders general mobilisation; Germany begins mobilising against Russia at 1700 and declares war at 1910 Tuesday, 14th July, Day 10: German troops occupy Luxembourg. An ultimatum is delivered to Belgium demanding passage for German troops – 12 hours are allowed for a response. The Ottoman Empire signs a secret alliance with Britain, Russia and France. Wednesday, 15th July, Day 11: Belgium rejects Germany’s demand, receiving Anglo-French confirmation of aid in her defence; Britain orders general mobilisation; Germany declares war on France; Italy declares neutrality, but leans toward A-H & Ger. Romania signs a secret treaty with Russia. Turkey mobilises, declaring that the Straits will be closed to hostile shipping, but open to merchantmen of all nationalities. Thursday, 16th July, Day 12: Germany rejects the British ultimatum to leave Belgium, so Britain declares war at 2300; Germany declares war on Belgium; USA declares neutrality; German BC and CL meet 2 French BCs and escape to Austria. Germany cedes control of Tsingtao to China, also “selling” her warships, including flagship SMS Goeben. Friday, 17th July, Day 13: 1200: A-H declares war on Russia; Montenegro declares war on A-H. Liege attacked by Germans Saturday, 18th July, Day 14: Servia declares war on Ger; Ludendorff captures a lodgement in Liege’s defences but is cut off. 2 German CLs meet 2 British CLs in the Red Sea. Together the RN vessels could defeat the German ships, but the German ships, being faster than one of the RN ships, elude them both.
ATL Encyclopaedia Britannica, 1951 edition:
The Attack on Liége As already stated, Liége and Namur were not designed to withstand a regular siege, but consisted of a ring of forts (12 at Liége, 9 at Namur) which controlled the free use of the Meuse bridges, and marked a favourable line of battle. Constructed about 1890, these forts, of triangular or rectangular design, had vaulted casemates of 2m. 50-cm. Concrete and were completely out of date; they were armed with two 15-cm. guns in cupolas, two 12-cm. guns and two-21-cm. howitzers, besides some pom-poms in “éclipse” cupolas, all firing black powder.
Strength of Liége.- With the help of the 3rd Division and a number of hastily organised and diverted local infantry battalions and cavalry regiments the Liége garrison was brought up to about 40,000 men; Gen. Leman was in command. While he hastened to have trenches dug between the forts, his main concern after July 15 was to blow up the railway tunnels and barricade the roads leading from Germany. It was well that he did so, for on the 16th, at 8 A.M. six German columns crossed the frontier on the line Aix-la-Chapelle – St. Vith, and by lunchtime gun and rifle fire were heard at Visé.
The importance of the fortress lay in the fact that it controlled the lines of advance of Germany’s 1st and 2nd Armies. Now the success of the campaign conceived by the general staff in Berlin depended on the rapid crossing of the Belgian plains by these armies. Therefore, Gen. Von Moltke, to avoid being held up in any way by Liége, had planned to carry the position during the concentration period (while troops were still being carried up by rail) with a special army composed of six brigades at peace strength and the three divisions of Gen. Von der Marwitz’s cavalry corps.
Accordingly, Gen. Von Emmich, with his “Army of the Meuse” (consisting of 25,000 riflemen, 10,000 cavalrymen and 124 guns) was ordered to carry the place by a coup de main. The forts were to be masked by a few companies and their artillery neutralised by his batteries while six brigade columns would penetrate the intervals. The assault was to take place at night, and the columns were to make their way independently toward the town and storm this at daybreak. The aim of the whole enterprise was to secure the bridges before they could be demolished. As regards the temerity of this scheme, it is fair to say that von Moltke expected to find only the usual garrison of 6,000 men in Liége.
German Advance.- On the morning of July 16 the 4th Division, followed by bicyclists and chasseurs travelling in motors, proceeded swiftly along the Dutch frontier to Visé. As the roads had been barricaded by trees, the cavalry did not reach the Meuse until noon, whereupon they discovered the bridge submerged and the far bank lined with infantrymen. The following day a coup de main aimed at Ft. Bercon was severely punished by close-range fire from the guns of that fortress. At 10.45 P.M. the various brigades, having completed their reconnaissances and the installation of their batteries, launched their attacks.
Heavy thunder showers poured down on the attackers, and all of the five brigades were repulsed. In the south the 38th and 43rd suffered very severe losses in the vicinity of Broncelles, and retreated more than five miles the following day. The 34th Brigade, attacking alone on the left bank after crossing the Meuse near the Dutch frontier, was delayed for several hours on the outskirts of Liége, and was finally compelled to retreat, leaving almost 800 prisoners in Belgian hands. The 14th Brigade, entrusted with the attack between Forts Fléron and Evegnée, had been halted by rifle and artillery fire in the intervening village, losing a significant portion of its advance guard, as well as the general commanding. At this point, Gen. Ludendorff appeared on the scene. As head of the operations section of the German general staff he had been the author of the plan of attack, and was present as deputy chief of staff of von Emmich’s 2nd Army to ensure all was proceeding satisfactorily.
Attack under Ludendorff.-He took command, ordering a renewed attack, slowly driving back the three weak battalions before him. However, Gen. Leman deployed his reserves to the area, and the attack was again blunted.* By 11 A.M. the brigade had been reduced by more than half and was almost without ammunition, however, the Belgian reserves were equally exhausted, and desultory fighting continued until about 2 P.M. when a renewed Belgian attack with fresh reserves began to drive the Germans back. Ludendorff had meanwhile been in contact with the German general staff, informing them that the Belgian resistance was far stronger than had been anticipated, and urging them to deploy more men. Consequently, a new siege army was formed under Gen. von Eimen. It comprised, in addition to von Emmich’s men, all the troops of the VII, IX and X Corps – taken as they detrained – and some powerful heavy artillery, including several battalions of 21-cm. mortars and four 42-cm howitzers.
* IOTL something quite strange happened. A half company of German Jägers, detached to watch the flank, made their way unnoticed and unopposed into the town, coming upon Leman’s HQ. The HQ escort saw off the Jägers, but Leman was thus convinced that a sizeable body of German troops threatened his troops defending the right bank, and ordered them to retire, allowing Ludendorff’s forces to drive out their opponents by 10 A.M. the next day. Although by this point they were almost out of ammunition and down to half-strength.
Battle of Liége.- While these events were taking place at Liége, the 1st, 2nd and 6th Divisions, and the Cavalry Division were assembling in the region Tirlement-Perwez-Louvain. The plan of marching on the Meuse would surely have been abandoned if the 3rd Division had been compelled to withdraw sooner. However, the failure of the initial German attack to carry the position allowed the Belgians sufficient time to bring up the field army in support. On July 21 elements of Marwitz’s cavalry corps had met the Belgian cavalry division, supported by a brigade of infantry about halfway between St. Trond-Huy and Maastricht, and been driven back with the loss of 500 killed and wounded, and leaving 1,000 horses on the field.
The next day at 8 o’clock, Gen. von Eimen attacked the position at Liége with seven divisions of infantry, preceded by a devastating bombardment of some twenty-hours’ duration, which quite ruined the obsolete forts. At 7 A.M. the fort of Loncin blew up through the explosion of a powder magazine hit by a 42-cm. shell, 350 men being buried under the debris. The body of Gen. Leman was later recovered by the Germans, who were themselves horrified by the spectacle. However, Belgian forces fought on throughout the day, despite the collapse of communications, and by 2 P.M. the first reinforcements from 1st Division had reached the battle, into which the remainder of the division and some battalions of 2nd Division would be gradually fed during the day and night.
The fighting at Liége continued brutally for the next three days, by which time the majority of the town had been destroyed. Hand-to-hand fighting had become a commonplace as neither side was able to bring up sufficient ammunition – although this problem was markedly greater for the Belgians. However, before dawn on the 26th, the Belgians began to withdraw. Three battalions, however, were cut off and forced to surrender by the advancing Germans. As a result of this, the Belgian Army fell back so as to entrench behind the river Gette, forming a link between Antwerp and Namur, covering Brussels and excellent railway lines which could be used by British and French troops coming to the rescue.
Belgian Position Outlined.- On the morning of July 16, when the crossing of the frontier by German troops had become an established fact, King Albert had sent a note to the British, French and Russian governments, announcing the violation of Belgian neutrality, and proposing “a concerted and common action by the guaranteeing powers in order to resist Germany.” In reply Gen. Michel sent one of his staff officers to inform the Belgians that 5th Army (comprising about six corps), would immediately march for the region of Namur, while 6th (Reserve) Army moved up to take 5th Army’s place in the line. Help from England would necessarily take longer to arrive. As a result of this, the King decides that the army should hold its positions, which were (1) the forts of Liége under Leman, supported by the field army; (2) the fortress of Namur, reinforced by the 4th Division; and (3) the entrenched camp of Antwerp, guarded by about 40,000 fortress troops.
The British, however, were not to arrive at Mons before Aug. 3. Therefore, it was up to Belgium and France to deal with the German invasion…
The Siege of Namur The Belgian 4th Division remained at Namur, When it lost contact with the bulk of the Belgian army it became part of the fighting system of the Franco-British forces. German Plan of Attack.- On the morning of July 28 Gen. Michel issued a succession of orders in which it was laid down that the French 5th and 4th Armies were to advance into Belgium so as to defend Namur and points south, and the British Army advance on Mons with all speed. 6th Army was ordered to advance to Valenciennes. Meanwhile, the Germans having discovered – through the reconnaissances of their airmen – the French columns marching east between Maubeuge and and Dinant, and misunderstanding the total enemy strength to be less than a third of its true strength, gave von Bülow – already in command of the 1st and 2nd Armies – authority over the 3rd Army, which was to strike the Meuse between Namur and Givet, and made up their minds to overwhelm the Allied left by a converging attack delivered by 15 corps. It was essential to this scheme that the fortress of Namur should be carried forthwith.
The mission was entrusted to a special army detachment under von Gallwitz, the peacetime Inspector General of artillery. It included the Guards Reserve Corps, XI Corps, three regiments of pioneers, five battalions of 21-cm. howitzers, two battalions of heavy guns, one battery of 42-cm. howitzers and four of 30.5-cm Austrian howitzers. These troops deployed to the north-east of the fortress, while 3rd Army detached 24th Reserve Division north of Dinant, and 2nd Army 14th Reserve Division south of Gembloux. In short, the 30,000 men of the Namur garrison received the attentions of six enemy divisions and 500 guns.
Bombardment of Namur.- The attack on Namur was quite different from that on Liége. There was no longer any question of surprising the garrison, and so von Gallwitz planned an artillery bombardment so terrifying, so devastating, that the defenders could not possibly defend themselves against the subsequent assault. Every one of his batteries concentrated their fire on three forts, Maizeret, Marchovelette and Cognolée, and on the area between the latter pair. For in that gap a breach was to be made. The bombardment began at 8 A.M. on the July 29, continued throughout the night and the following day, finally reaching a crescendo in the early morning of the 31st. The trenches and wire – at that time mere slit trenches and scant strands of wire – were blasted away. Every fort was reduced to a formless rubble; every cupola was rendered useless.
Attack on Namur.- A French regiment of cavalry, and two battalions of infantry equipped with requisitioned bicycles had arrived in Namur, racing ahead of de Lanrezac’s 5th Army. A counter-attack led by the gallant but outdated horsemen, and supported by the French and Belgian infantry, attempted to dislodge and repulse the enemy artillery, but failed, and took heavy casualties. The defenders suffered a slow death unable to respond with even a single shot. At 10 A.M. masses of German infantry made a sudden charge – a force of three full divisions occupying a mere 4 ½ kilo. – against the defences held by the remnants of nine battalions of 700 men. The defenders were swept back or enveloped. At many points isolated pockets of defenders desperately held out. As a result of this, it was not until about 7 P.M. that the attackers at last reached the perimeter of the town.
Gen. Michel, commander of the fortress, had deployed a brigade facing north-west to co-operate in the French offensive which he was impatiently expecting. However, at about 1.30 P.M. he heard first that the French on his left had been driven back to the south, with no prospect of advancing to the north, and second that the Germans had outflanked his position to the south, crossing the Meuse south of Namur and north of Dinant. With their front broken and surrounded on either side, Michel was compelled to abandon the position lest his forces should be surrounded and taken prisoner. He subsequently made orders for the garrison to retire to the south-east.
By dint of 48 hours of forced marches – and this after three days’ battle – the greater part of the garrison was able to rejoin the advancing French armies. The rearguard of some six thousand men was in part cut off and compelled to surrender over the next three days and in part continued to man the remaining six forts which remained in Namur. These defenders were able to hold up von Gallwitz’s men for two more days. Andoy and Suarlée surrendered only on the evening of Aug. 2 after having offered an unforgettable resistance to the enemy’s guns and mortars, which bombarded them from every direction.
The Battle of the Sambre, Stephen Williams, Oxford University Press, 1967
Elements of the 5th Army under de Lanrezac began to reach the area around Thuin on the evening of 1st August. De Lanrezac was publicly criticised by Joffre at the time for his cautious advance. But it is clear to us now that had he not insisted on waiting for 6th and 4th Armies to move up he would have been in danger of being overwhelmed by the Germans to his front. The Belgians under Michel, having been driven out of Namur by German artillery, met the French pickets with cheers of joy, the General himself was taken to meet Charles de Lanrezac in his headquarters outside Maubeuge, where they conferred through the night.
Joffre and Victor Michel were by now convinced of the accuracy of their intelligence that the main German offensive would come through Belgium. The BEF had finally arrived, exhausted by marching continuously since disembarkation, and were now defending Soignies on the River Senne. To the south of the BEF, and east of the town of Mons, lay the 6th Army under Maunoury, then 5th Army around Thuin, and south of de Lanrezac’s command was de Langle de Cary’s 4th Army, which lay across the line of advance of Hausen’s 3rd Army.
At about midday on 3rd August the reconnaissance forces of Bülow’s 2nd and Hausen’s 3rd Armies encountered the perimeter of the Franco-British lines. Sporadic fighting broke out first in the south, but the first major attack of the day was launched by the German Guards Corps against the British at Soignies.
It is worthwhile to consider for a moment the variety of training and military sense that existed even in the German Army at that date. Some popular historians are too quick to attribute perfection to one side or another, whether to excuse the lapses of their sides or for other reasons. So we shall compare two attacks launched by the German infantry on that day. First, the attack by the German Guards at Soignies, and second, that launched by the 22nd Infantry Division south of Florennes.
The Guards were a fine body of men; they selected the noblest officers and the most handsome recruits. A posting to the Guards was greatly sought after . . . but too many commanders gave more time to drill and parade ground perfection than to preparing for war. This was tragically evident that warm day in August. The 1st Guards Division laid down a barrage of artillery fire in support of the infantry, and the infantry, arrayed in perfectly dressed ranks of men, began to advance toward the British defences. As the British artillery began counter-battery firing against the Germans, 37 Battery’s howitzers targeted the 1st Guard Infantry Brigade, blasting lines of men to bloody powder. The battalions accepted their casualties, closed up, and continued to advance.
As they closed, 13th Infantry Brigade, consisting of the 2nd Battalion Kings’ Own Yorkshire Light Infantry, King’s Own Scottish Borderers and the 1st Royal West Kents, opened fire. The small professional British Army practised sharp-shooting and rapid fire almost to the exclusion of all else, and although their failure to adapt in other ways to modern war would work against them later it was perfect for this situation.
The 1. Garde Regiment zu Fuß and 3. Garde Regiment zu Fuß were struck by the combined firepower of three British battalions, and suffered severe casualties while attempting to advance into the inferno before them. All but 4 of the regiments’ officers were either killed or so badly wounded in the attack that they died of their wounds subsequently. One British officer present described the carnage as akin to “lopping the heads of daffodils.” Generalleutnant von Hutier, commander of the Guards Corps, was badly wounded by a stray shell when he went forward to see for himself what was happening to the attack.
When von Hutier’s Chief of Staff obtained the approval of von Bülow to break off the attack, the fighting along the line died down gradually. Over the course of the day the German attacks caused the British around 3,000 casualties, but they themselves suffered losses of around 17,000. As a result of this catastrophe, the German military put into effect a number of changes to ensure this would never be repeated. The British, who had barely been shifted from their positions, were to do little more than note the effectiveness of machine guns, and increase their deployment.
In stark contrast to the fortune of the Guards Corp, the German 22nd Reserve Infantry Division was to have a very good day’s fighting. Furthermore, she serves as a salutary lesson to those who would assume that old soldiers are always fixed in their ways and incapable of original thought. Early in the morning of 3rd August the division’s attached squadron of cavalry came across a battalion of French troops some three miles south-west of Florennes, and still in column of march. Hurrying a messenger back to divisional headquarters, the Lieutenant commanding the patrol also sent a message directly to the colonel of Reserve-Infanterie-Regiment Nr. 94, begging him to advance with all speed in expectation of orders to that effect from divisional HQ. The bright young Lieutenant then disposed his command and its sole machine gun behind the French line of advance, and waited for support.
Unfortunately for the French brigade, the colonel did precisely that, ordering his reserve battalions on at full speed, his men intercepted the French. The French formation, part of 23rd Division, sent back messengers to headquarters, but these were intercepted by the reserve cavalry formation. However, the rest of the French brigade and soon division marched to the sound of the guns, as did the Germans, a series of decisions subsequently legitimised by the division’s general.
The men of France’s 23rd Division were part of the right wing of de Lanrezac’s 5th Army. Like much of the French Army they were a composite formation, composed of a brigade of Regulars, and an oversized brigade of Reserves. The reforming of the French Army by Michel and Joffre had yielded many benefits to the French Army. The number of available divisions had increased; the equipment of divisions had improved; even the size of divisions had increased by three battalions – albeit of Reserves. However, the Army was yet to be tested in the cauldron of battle, and certain problems would appear as serious in their way as the deficiencies of the Prussian Foot Guards.
23rd Division was unprepared to engage the Germans, believing them to be several hours away at least, and so the firing took her troops unawares. A number of officers were cut down by German soldiers firing accurately at long range, and this hampered the deployment of the initial battalion – especially when its colonel and his second-in-command were among those shot. A German officer recounts that he overheard one of his soldiers talking about the fighting afterward, who remarked that he thought it was typical of the stupidity of officers to ride on bright white horses! However, Lieutenant Legros, a distant relative of the famous Legros of Hougoumont fame, was instrumental in rallying several companies, deploying his supporting artillery, and launching a bold charge that threw back the German pickets from their early position.
However, he was unable to capitalise on this early success, because the German cavalry commander, seeing the success of the French assault, realised that the time had come for a grand gesture. Accordingly, he issued orders, readied his command of 150 sabres safely just inside the treeline, and charged the rear of the French lines. The surprise was total, the bloodshed terrible to behold, the effect devastating. The French battalion collapsed completely, men fleeing every which way in terror. A few survivors clustered around Legros fought their way out, and were able to reach the safety of the next battalion in line, but to all intents and purposes, their battalion was no more. Scattered pockets of soldiers surrendered to the victorious cavalrymen, and to the German infantry who raced back to support their mounted compatriots.
This was the first of two cavalry charges that morning. The second is far bleaker to recount. One of the French division’s two cavalry reconnaissance squadrons had made it to the firefight in record time, but their horses were quite blown. They steadied for a moment beside the forest, their steel blades flashing in the bright sunlight, their uniforms as bright as they were brave. Filled with a lust for glory, and a desire to revenge their comrades, they launched themselves at once at the German lines. In another age this could well have been the counter-charge that swept the enemy from the field in disarray. However, the German cavalry squadron had an attached Heavy Machine Gun, which had remained in the wood during the charge. The French squadron was mowed down. Neither man nor beast survived.
By midday both divisions were bringing their full strength to bear on one another. Elsewhere along the line other fighting began as isolated French battalions in column of march blundered into prepared German positions, or German units were cut down in methodical French ambushes. However, we are concerned with the fighting between the French 23rd and the German 22nd Reserve Divisions. Here the advances made by the French were shown to be insufficient. Their heavy artillery was all at the command of the general commanding the corps, whereas the German artillery was under the divisional commander. This meant that the German artillery was both swifter and more deadly than their French counterparts. However, the French 75 lived up to its reputation, pouring constant barrages of deadly fire onto the German positions.
Despite the accuracy and deadliness of the 75, despite the courage of the French infantry, despite all their preparations, the French troops were driven methodically back, as if by an unstoppable tide. In truth, the secret of German victory lay in their own preparations. Squads in the 22nd Reserve Division had been inculcated with greater independence than their counterparts in the Prussian Foot Guards. Even though they were older and physically weaker men, they were more agile of mind. In this kind of battle, this counted more than mere strength.
By the mid-afternoon, after several hours of desperate fighting, the German troops were in sight of Florennes. Many of the officers on both sides had been killed, but the Germans’ combat effectiveness was less impaired. For further details, see the Swedish Army’s Colonel Stracht’s masterly study of relative combat efficiencies in the war. Thus the German troops were able to secure the town by nightfall, and drive back the French forces. By the end of the day, the German forces had accomplished their objective of seizing Florennes, and had inflicted some 6,490 casualties (including 2,167 dead) on the French 23rd Divisions, and suffered only 2,944 (1,872 dead) themselves. Furthermore, they had captured some 3,015 French troops, including several batteries of guns, subsequently to be put to good effect against their former owners.
Secretary of State for War, Col. Jack Seely, has not resigned because of the Curragh business: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/J._E._B._Seely%2C_1st_Baron_Mottistone Retains 2 divisions like Kitchener, but uses the Territorial force as the basis for recruiting more men, unlike Kitchener.
Jack Seely drummed his fingers irritably on his desk. He was perusing the latest reports from the continent, and the news was not to his liking. After early successes the BEF had been driven back by von Bülow’s 2nd Army. The Belgians had been pushed back to Brussels, and their rear was now endangered by the British retreat. He scribbled notes to himself as he read. [I]Dammit! I shouldn’t be here. I should be in the field. I’m a soldier![/I] He picked up the latest plaintive missive from Haig. As ever, he was complaining about Sir John French. Seely felt it was very bad form of Haig to be so forward in his criticism of French. [I]But since the French are just as loud in their condemnation, maybe Douglas has a point.[/I] He sighed, and put down the papers.
Someone knocked insistently on the door, then opened it without waiting. Seely was well-used to the man who entered on crutches. Some would call him supremely confident. Others would more justifiably call him arrogant as the Devil! “Ah, Wilson, what can I do for you?”
“Jack, French needs replacing.” Wilson’s words were measured and terse.
In fairness to the man, Seely thought, [I]He was the only person who bothered to come up with a mobilisation schedule. We’d not even be in Belgium without him.[/I] “Well, now, Henry, I don’t think that we should replace Sir John now. Think about the trouble of putting another man in his place. I know you’ll suggest Haig, but I can’t stand his going behind his commander’s back. It just isn’t done. Look . . . sit down and I’ll get you a drink, and we can have a proper discussion.”
Inwardly, Wilson seethed. He’d prepared deployment plans, embarkation schedules, railway timetables . . . all the things one needed for a war. In truth, nobody else had bothered. Without Wilson there would have been many problems in getting the British Expeditionary Force to the Continent. The Royal Navy had been consumed by Jackie Fisher’s delusional Baltic Plan to the exclusion of all else. It seemed to Henry Wilson that nothing would ever get done in this bloody war if he didn’t do it. But he sealed his face on his irritation, and accepted the whiskey Seely offered him. “Well, Jack, what would you do?”
Seely hated it when Wilson did that. Jack was a respected officer, yet Wilson treated him like a child. Wilson treated everyone like a child! Yet for all his flaws, he had his uses. Still, Jack wished that he hadn’t had that riding accident just before war was declared. Otherwise Wilson would have been in France, annoying French – not up his nose. Jack lifted his glass to his lips. “Well, Henry, as I see it, we only have a few choices. We can retain Sir John-” Wilson snorted rudely, and Jack raised an eyebrow to reprove him. “As I said, we can retain Sir John or we can replace him. We need a man on the scene, of course.” He paused. Look, Henry, I can see you champing at the bit. Let’s save time. You tell me the options, and let’s see if I can pick the right one!”
Seely was evidently peeved. Wilson knew why. The man just wasn’t up to the job. But he was his superior, and he couldn’t risk upsetting the man. So he spent a few minutes smoothing the feathers he’d ruffled. Although arrogant and proud, Wilson was an energetic and very capable organiser. He explained in detail to the Secretary of State for War just why Sir John French needed to be replaced. Not only had French been driven back by the Germans, but the man had also alienated his French counterparts. Moreover, in the army manoeuvres last year he’d not only done poorly, but his own Chief of Staff had attempted to ameliorate his deficiencies – and suffered for it. French, in Henry Wilson’s opinion, was not up to the job. But he had long kept his eyes on his superiors.
Henry Wilson trusted no man in the British Army so much as himself, but he had a choice that Jack Seely could not but approve. He spoke at length, and concluded, “Jack, in short, he bested Haig in ’12; he would have beaten French in ’13. He will beat the Germans in ’15, Jack! There’s no other man. I trust Haig to a degree – but not more than Chief of Staff. No. For the commander of the army in the field we need him.”
Jack Seely was forced to agree. He would never have been happy with appointing a man who criticised his superiors for his own aggrandisement, as did Haig, but Wilson’s choice was just a good soldier. He did his best with what he had. And his best was better than French and better than Haig. “Give me the papers, Henry. I know you’ve brought them.” He smiled wryly as Wilson removed them from his inner jacket pocket. Taking them in his hand, he smoothed them out on the table and signed them. French was removed from command. In his stead Sir James Grierson, hitherto commander of II Corps. “He had better do well, Henry.” Seely warned as Wilson hobbled out.
Wilson paused to grin and nod. “You won’t regret this, Jack. He’s going to do for us what Foch will some day do for the French!”
'The rifle, effective as it is, cannot replace the effect produced by the speed of the horse, the magnetism of the charge and the terror of the cold steel.' - British Army Council, 'Cavalry Tactics' (1907)
Captain B. H. Liddell Hart, The Belgian Army in 1914, Chapter 5: The Battle of Louvain
After the fall of Liége, the whole of Belgium held its breath. Von Kluck’s First Army had begun advancing through Belgium even before, but Marrwitz’s unsupported cavalry had failed to penetrate the Belgian defences. Now, however, only the men of the Belgian 1st, 2nd and 6th Infantry Divisions, and Belgium’s sole Cavalry Division opposed the full might of more than thirteen divisions. True, the Belgian divisions were larger than their German equivalents, having 18 battalions to the German 12, but even so, this left them with 54 battalions to three times that number. Moreover, despite recent reforms, the Belgian army was by no means the pinnacle of military perfection in 1914.
1st August dawned unusually cold and foggy. The Chief of the Belgian General Staff, de Selliers de Moranville, was alarmed by reports indicating that the Germans had advanced more swiftly than expected, and were both to his south and his west in considerable strength – at least a corps of infantry supported by a full division of cavalry on either front. The Germans had not bothered to wait for their artillery, and had launched several pre-dawn assaults in perfectly drilled silence, which had driven in pickets and captured a number of battalions still abed. Most of these attacks had come from the West, however, and it soon became clear that the forces south of the Belgian Army had no role other than to pin it in place while the other forces rolled it up.
Stripping the south of men was out of the question, since then the Germans could attack there. The General was consumed by indecision, and while he dithered the Germans made his choice for him, driving the Belgian troops back from Louvain in some disorder, having suffered relatively few casualties in the process. By midday the troops to the south had also begun to attack, and the Belgian Army was compelled to retreat lest it be encircled and destroyed. Therefore, de Selliers de Moranville ordered a retreat to the north. Belgian plans called for the Army to hold off the Germans as long as possible in the South, and then retire in the direction of Antwerp, reinforcing its defences until such time as foreign relief troops could arrive.
While the Belgian forces made little positive impression on their attackers, this failure should be praised by the British Army, for the spirit of overconfidence thus engendered is surely partly to blame for the reverse suffered by the Guards at Soignies some days later. Casualties sustained in the fighting around Louvain amounted to about 500 dead and 1,500 wounded for the German forces, and approximately 800 dead, 2,200 wounded and 5,000 prisoners for the Belgians. The road was now clear for the German invasion to proceed.
As far as von Kluck knew, there were no other troops to his front. Having detached III and IV Reserve Corps and two brigades of Landwehr to keep the Belgians bottled up in Antwerp, he joked to his Staff over dinner that night, “It is simply a matter of marching!” The same fateful words spoken of Canada in the War of 1812. They were to prove as misplaced in this instance. The pent-up aggression of some of the troops assigned to garrison duty led to the sacking and burning of the university city of Louvain on 6th August. This was an act of such needless cruelty that worldwide opinion was outraged. The German government protested that this was a measured response to attacks against its forces by so-called Francs-tireurs, who had been the bane of Prussia’s regulars in the War of 1871, but this excuse was widely regarded as both a lie and an unacceptable reason.
The German military’s policy of [I]Shrecklichkeit[/I] or terrorising an enemy populace into submission came in for much condemnation at the time, and does to this day. However, it is worth wondering whether the condemnation would have been so loud were the victims inhabitants of far-off Africa or…
Captain B. H. Liddell Hart, The Late War, Chapter 6: The Grand Offensive
… Belgian Army had fallen back toward Antwerp, opening a significant gap between themselves and the BEF. De Selliers de Moranville planned to augment his troops with those already defending the city and make a stand against the Germans there. The BEF, meanwhile, was forced to retire, and disaster could have struck the whole force if it were not for a fortunate confluence of misapprehensions on all sides. The Germans realised that the BEF must be pinning the left flank of the French armies, and assumed that the French advances in the Briey Basin area to the south were the initial stages of an attempt to outflank the German position in Alsace-Lorraine. Therefore, they decided on an overwhelming assault along their entire line north of the Basin. The British for their part believed that the Germans were in force to their right, and French gravely upset the French by insisting on retiring north to prevent his army’s destruction. Michel and Joffre at the French HQ decided that the only way to prevent an encirclement of their forces was to strike hard and fast against the Germans to their front.
In short, the British were pulling back, forcing the Germans to advance further than they otherwise would. The French planned an attack on the German to pin them in place and stiffen the resolve of the British, and the Germans were attempting to effect their cherished enveloping of the French armies. The scene was now set for a mighty clash of great armies. On the Allied left the BEF, under Field Marshal Sir John French, comprised six divisions of infantry in three corps, and a large division of cavalry. In the centre was the French 6th Army under Maunoury comprised twelve divisions of infantry in six corps, and 5th Army under de Lanrezac with the same number of infantry divisions and a division of cavalry. The right wing was held by de Langle de Cary’s 4th Army, which had the same composition as 5th Army. Further south still was 3rd Army under Serrail, with ten Divisions of infantry and one of cavalry.
On the German side, the situation was complicated by the forced dispersal of several divisions to bombardment and occupation duties, and by the deployment of two Reserve Corps and some Landwehr to pin the Belgian Army in Antwerp. However, there was a clear army group commander in the form of the decisive von Bülow of 2nd Army. The German right flank was von Kluck’s 1st Army, which had on paper eight Divisions of infantry and a Brigade of Landwehr, as well as two more brigades of Landwehr and four Reserve Divisions detached to Antwerp. The centre was 2nd Army, directly under von Bülow, with a somewhat battered pair of Guards divisions, three Guards Reserve Divisions, four divisions of infantry, three Reserve Divisions and a pair of Landwehr Brigades. Von Marrwitz had three divisions of cavalry for reconnaissance and flank protection duties for 1st and 2nd Armies. To the south were 3rd Army under von Hausen which had six Regular and two Reserve Divisions, and a single Landwehr Brigade, and 4th Army under Duke Albrecht, which resembled 3rd Army, but with a further two Reserve Divisions. The Guards Cavalry Division and 5th Cavalry Division had been deployed in support of 5th Army, and 3rd and 6th Cavalry Divisions were to support 4th and 5th Armies.
So between Halle in Belgium and Longuyon in France the Allied forces had fifty-two divisions of infantry and four of cavalry, against German forces of thirty-eight infantry divisions and seven divisions of cavalry. Around one and a half million men marched into battle, blood and fear, and into history…
Charles Lapin-Rédacteur, The Grand Offensive of 1914, Marseilles, 2001
…near Bouillon under Duke Albert. Although the army consisted of ten divisions, these were not all engaged at the battle. Neither were Serrail’s ten French divisions all deployed, as IV and V Corps were fighting valiantly against Crown Prince Wilhelm’s 5th Army, which outnumbered them by more than five to two. The troops who did engage were steadily fed by both Serrail and Albert toward Bouillon from 10th August onward.
The first to engage were elements of Serrail’s cavalry division and the German 3rd Cavalry division on the road outside Bouillon. Serrail had pushed his troops as far forward as he dared in the days since the declaration of war, and had managed to have his forces block a number of key routes along the line of the German advance. At about midday on the 10th a squadron of Uhlans advancing toward Bouillon was shot to pieces by a force of French cavalry thrown out before the town and deployed in prepared positions. Brigade HQ had assigned them both Heavy Machine Guns to employ against enemy reconnaissance. So distressed were the survivors of the firing, that the commander of 11th Division assumed that the French had heavily fortified the town. In truth, aside from a brigade of cavalry and a battalion of cyclists, there was little in the town to oppose the German advance.
On learning of the engagement, Serrail threw forward all his troops within marching distance, gambling that the main thrust would come here. Duke Albert on the other hand, planned to pin all of Serrail’s men here, thus allowing Prince Wilhelm’s Army to envelope their weakened right. Orders were given, artillery was called up, and plans were made. By the evening of the day the first infantry battalions of either side were deploying into position. However, hard marching had worn both sides down, and aside from a few disastrous night attacks, little occurred until the next day. The night attacks are noteworthy for demonstrating the insanity of war, and the heightened confusion of night, as this excerpt from the diary of a German lieutenant shows.
“The battalion deployed at 9:30 pm for the attack. The colours were uncased in the centre of the line. Oberleutnant Morlock commanded the left flank of our battalion with 1st Company. We set off in pitch black, pushing forward as silently as possible over the fields. Suddenly we were challenged in German by a patrol from the neighbouring regiment! We had either set off in the wrong direction or lost ourselves in the dark. The battalion was reorganised, re-launched at once and this time, tenser than before, we correctly approached the wood which lay before us.” *
After this inauspicious beginning, their left was later pinned down by rifle fire, and separated from the battalion’s main advance. The author reconnoitred the enemy position with a few men of his platoon, but ended up behind French lines and almost cut off between two French battalions. He and his six men miraculously managed to make it back to his lines despite this! Some 400 men were captured by the French in this one attack, and this pattern was repeated up and down the line. The main result was not that the defenders were unbalanced, but that the divisional commander issued the order that colours were not to be carried in night attacks. For the standard bearers, afraid that they would be taken by the French, had to resort to burying them. Notably, despite later fighting in the area, archaeologists recovered the disintegrating colours in 1994.
After this turbulent night, a major attack was planned for the next morning – by both sides! The French planned to spoil what they correctly assumed would be a German dawn assault, and the Germans, for their part, wanted to place constant pressure on the defenders. The French set out first, Moroccan battalions leading the way in their khaki uniforms. As they closed on the German lines in the half-light, they were spotted by the relative brightness of their clothes against the torn up soil, and German sentries sounded the alarm. Men rushed to their rifles, officers attempted to organise their platoons, and both sides sent runners demanding artillery support. It came. Shells thundered down on either side, obliterating whole sections at a time. This was not the later war with trenches to hide in. Mere scrapes protected those Germans farsighted enough to have dug them, and nothing but the stubble of the fields protected the Moroccans.
As the day wore on, attacks and counter-attacks raged up and down the line. More and more fire poured in from batteries in the background. Fortunately for the French, their policy was modelled on a close study of the Russo-Japanese War, and they had more shells nearer the front, allowing them to rain more death on the enemy. The Germans were able to counter this chance piece of luck by virtue of having more infantrymen to deploy. It seemed to the French that for every pale green figure they shot, two more rose to take the dead man’s place. At one point the French cavalry, denied the joy of a charge against the Uhlans before, attempted to charge home in support of the infantry. They formed up beautifully, walked, trotted, cantered and then charged. Yet they did not charge home. Men and horses lay shattered, writhing and screaming in agony. The charge did not even make it to within one hundred metres of the German lines. The machine gun had ended the day of the sabre.
* OTL note: Adapted from pp.36-8, The German Army on the Somme 1914-16 – an excellent book composed of personal recollections by soldiers and tied together by the all-seeing editor.
…as they hung on the wire, Troops marched in all day. The French threw in all six infantry divisions and their cavalry division. Serrail realised he had too much hanging on Bouillon to abandon it now. The inhabitants of Bouillon – those who had not fled – cowered in cellars as shells flew over their heads, smashing their picturesque township to dust and blood. By nightfall, four of Serrail’s divisions were either wholly or partly engaged against the attacking German corps. As time went by, the policy of spoiling attacks was abandoned, and blooded units fell back by sections, by platoons, by whatever fragments could collect together. The morning’s attacks had blocked the German dawn offensive, but at such a cost! On either side thousands of men lay dead or wounded. The artillery began to fall silent as night fell, and some German units could be heard in the darkness, singing that most poignant of hymns, Stille Nacht. That night saw no ill-conceived attacks, and very little shooting, certainly not when compared with what was to come.
The next day saw no dawn offensives by either side. Instead, the new day was heralded by the explosion of shells. The few remains of Bouillon shattered. The even fewer civilians still cowering in cellars wept. The French guns replied. The quick-firing 75s pulverised the German positions, which had grown into shallow trenches overnight. The German 77s fired back, blasting the French scrapes. Around lunchtime the fire slackened off and the Germans threw their right flank forward, intent on making the French believe the main attack was coming from the North. Rifles, machine guns and heavy artillery blasted apart the attack, but a number of platoons managed to make it to the enemy lines, and one even captured a number of prisoners, before itself being surrounded, cut off and forced to withdraw.
However, Serrail was no fool. While he had moved IV and V Corps into position to march on Bouillon, he was aware of his orders to protect the Briey Basin with 2nd Army. Michel, apprised of the heavy fighting, ordered de Curieres de Castelnau to extend 2nd Army north to assist Serrail’s 3rd Army. It was the men of 2nd Army’s IX and XV Corps who would help IV and V Corps against Germany’s 5th Army. Inevitably, 6th Cavalry Division spearheaded the advance of Crown Prince Wilhelm’s soldiers. Inevitably, it too suffered the disaster of machine gun fire. However, unlike 3rd Cavalry Division, it had its commander to the front. He ordered that a committed attack be made against the French position. Happily for France, the initial defenders were a full brigade of infantry, and they themselves were soon reinforced with two more brigades.
The charge went in, but it did not come out. Disastrously, the only survivors were the horse-holders. They fell back in expectation of infantry and heavy artillery support, and they were not to be disappointed. 33rd Infantry Division of XVI Corps was hot on their heels. A bayonet charge, supported by artillery and with the surviving cavalry demonstrating on the flanks, forced the French to fall back. Glorious in victory, the Germans advanced, firing on the French who seemed to break like rabbits. But the French had taken a leaf from the book of William the Bastard, and had feigned withdrawal. As the Germans occupied their new position, they were struck by pre-sighted artillery fire from all sides. Dismayed, they fell back to their starting positions.
As the day continued, Michel and Joffre began to fear that they had been misled, and that the main German attack would be in the Luxembourg region. However, the pressure to the North prevented any redeployment of troops. The accounts of men at GHQ record that Michel seemed nervous, while Joffre, his chief of staff, was imperturbable. Hence arose the idea of Joffre the Rock, soon to be promulgated in the press.
Back at the front line, the Bouillon-Longuyon line was developing into two distinct battlefields. To the north armies were concentrating around Bouillon for valid though different reasons. To the south disparate French brigades and divisions were fighting what amounted to a desperate withdrawal in the face of a significant German offensive. If they were to fail, a huge hole would open up between 2nd and 3rd Armies, endangering not only their existence, but also the safety of France’s strategic iron and reserves.
Sir Christopher O'Mann, Standing Still: A Biography of Marshal Joffre, Leicester, 2015
Corps to the left of them, corps to the right of them, volleys and thunder before them, on they marched. The Germans advanced steadily. Here a platoon was able to use mortar fire to grab a few score yards of ground, there a squadron of dismounted cavalry pinned the red-trousered enemy to the dirt with carbine fire. Everywhere the line advanced. But it never made contact. Joffre the Rock, the Indefatigable, had been dispatched by Michel to stiffen the resolve of Serrail’s army. Seeing that Serrail was doing all he could at headquarters, Joffre hastened to the front, and found himself cut off. The regiment he reached had been outflanked by the assault of a German division. The legend would be told and retold, growing ever grander in the retelling, for as long as France breathed.
Artillery fire bracketed Joffre’s position, and the regiment’s commander fell to a German rifleman. Machine guns pinned French defenders in place as the enemy advanced in fits and starts. A German lieutenant boldly seized the initiative, leading his platoon into the rear of the outflanked French position. Joffre, realising the peril in which the men under his command lay, led the counter-attack himself. He was not a young man, but he was stoic, and in an era of rapid firing weaponry his age was not the drawback it might have been. His group of staff officers and a few scavenged NCOs and wounded men hit the German platoon hard, wounding the officer and killing most of his men. For Lieutenant Rommel there would be no more fighting this day. The situation stabilised. The Germans were driven back. Joffre led charge after charge. More attacks came in. The roar of the guns deafened men blackened by blood and mud. Finally, the scattered remnants of the regiment reached the safety of the reformed French lines to their rear, a small bag of prisoners among them.
The newspapers were full of the escapade over the following days. Joffre’s daring was lauded, and his foolhardiness in so exposing himself was downplayed. This was no mere private soldier risking his life as he was inevitably to do, but the second highest-ranking man in the French Army. Professional soldiers pooh-poohed Joffre’s recklessness, and privately he acknowledged as much to his friends, but he was the media’s darling. He was named the Rock for his coolness under Michel, and the Indefatigable for his unfailing dedication on the field.
But his major contribution came when he left the field. He refused all suggestion of rest, and at once hurried to Serrail’s headquarters, apprising him in exacting detail of the circumstances. Indeed, such a mess were the communications of the French Army, Joffre, despite being cut off for five hours, nonetheless was the first to bring word of the state of affairs to Serrail! As a result fresh battalions of reserves were committed, artillery batteries were ordered to target the lost positions, and a counter-offensive succeeded in expelling the Germans from their hard won ground. When news of this finally reached Joffre, it is said he allowed his composure to slip so far as to smile, and then, once more imperturbable, he ambled off quietly to catch a few short hours rest in a cot before being driven back to Michel.
ATL Encyclopaedia Britannica, 1951 edition:
…to much renown! In the north, meanwhile, a disaster loomed. Two brigades of Marrwitz’s somewhat battered cavalry force, scouting for 1st and 2nd Armies, ran into half the BEF’s cavalry force, and an epic and rather rare battle of charge and counter-charge finally saw the Germans driven from the field. The professional British cavalrymen were somewhat shocked to find that of the Germans, a good number were mere reservists, some of whom had been chosen to ride horses merely for living on a farm. As this information filtered back to Sir John French and thence to Victor Michel at the French headquarters, the suspicion that Germany was deploying her Reserve units in the front line solidified into fact.
The British were saved from a flanking manoeuvre by French’s nerves. He had ordered a withdrawal north to avoid being cut off by von Kluck’s advancing troops, and so the BEF and the German 1st Army engaged one another on the road between Halle and Ath in northern Belgium. The British, however, were still spread out in line of march from north to south, and units appeared throughout the following two days as French desperately sought to penetrate what he perceived to be an attempt to cut off the BEF. For his part, von Kluck initially suspected he had run across scattered remnants of the Belgian Army, until the report of von Marrwitz’s cavalry brigades was brought to him.
For seven days the BEF and the German 1st Army fought a running battle. The British with superior marksmanship, rifles and professionalism, the Germans with better guns and greater numbers. At the end, however, the British were able to form a defensive line which von Kluck’s men could not penetrate. To the south von Bülow’s 2nd Army had penetrated the Belgian defences at Namur, and run straight into Maunoury’s French 6th Army east of Mons and south of Charleroi, far north of where major French forces had been expected. The German plan had began to come seriously awry.
Worse still for von Bülow was the fact that he also bumped into the edge of de Lanrezac’s 5th Army, which in the confusion of marching had ended up slightly overlapping the right of Maunoury’s 6th. So with a dozen divisions he found himself facing two dozen divisions of French troops, and his initially confident assault went disastrously badly when the French realised the true strength of his forces after two days of what seemed to them sporadic and weak assaults. The next five days saw first a deployment of more French troops to the front, and then a thundering and devastating attack on 2nd Army, which drove it back to the river line from Namur to Dinant.
Again, von Hausen’s 3rd Army ran into problems to the south, striking de Langle de Cary’s French 4th Army to the north of Neufchateau. The German plan had called for von Hausen’s eight infantry and two cavalry divisions to sweep down to Charleville Mezieres to unite with Duke Albrecht’s 4th Army for further offensive operations. At first, all went well. Von Hausen’s strong cavalry support cleared the single French cavalry division assigned to de Langle de Cary, and then expertly scouted the French positions, creating quite a panic in the French General Staff. However, the front lines were stiffened in the mistaken belief that von Kluck and von Bülow to the north were seeking merely to pin the French in place while von Hausen launched a major attack to smash the line. The ignominious result was that every attack launched by Germany’s 3rd Army was beaten back with heavy losses. All in all the northern half of the campaign had belied its initial promise, and gone disastrously for Germany. Let us now turn our attention to the Battle of Bouillon where the legend of Joffre was born amid…
Keegan, The First World War An Illustrated History ATL
“It is the thirty-fifth day,” the Kaiser declared to a delegation of ministers to his Luxembourg headquarters on August 16. The thirty-fifth day had an acute significance to the German general staff of 1914. It lay halfway between the thirty-first day since mobilisation, when a map drawn by Schlieffen himself showed the German armies poised to begin their descent on Paris, and the fortieth, when his calculations determined that there would have been a decisive battle. That battle’s outcome should have been critical. Schlieffen had calculated that the deficiencies of the Russian railways would ensure that not until the fortieth day would the Tsar’s armies be assembled in sufficient strength to launch an offensive. Between the thirty-fifth and fortieth day, therefore, the outcome of the war would be decided.
However, August 11 – the thirty-first day – had seen not a single German army poised above Paris. The resistance of the Belgians at Liège and Namur had delayed the advancing Germans considerably, and the Victor Michel was well aware, thanks to French intelligence, of the disposition of German forces, and had planned accordingly. The German plan had hinged on outflanking the French armies by driving through northern Belgium. But in the event, the Germans were not just met, but stopped dead. 1st Army battered itself against the BEF. 2nd Army crashed headlong into Maunoury’s and de Lanrezac’s armies, which outnumbered it by two to one. 3rd Army was beaten back by de Langle de Cary’s French Fourth Army. Germany’s 4th and 5th Armies had better luck against Serrail’s men, outnumbering him by nearly two to one. But there was as yet no breakthrough there either.
To the south 6th and 7th Armies were waiting for the expected French attack into Elsass-Lothringen. The battles in the north suggested that the French were heavily deployed there, and here is surely one of the greatest what ifs of history. What if von Moltke had released Prince Rupert’s and von Heeringen’s 6th and 7th Armies to attack de Crurieres de Castelanu’s troops? True, France’s Second Army was heavily fortified, but the attacking Germans could have outnumbered her by as much as a quarter. However, von Moltke, alarmed by the direction of the fighting in the north and even more by the speedy mobilisation of the Russians in the east, instead stripped a division from 7th Army and four more from 6th Army, dispatching them to East Prussia.
Sir Charles Williams, Russian Generals in the Great War, Manchester, 1989
…selection would have been unthinkable under Tsar Nicholas. However, Tsar Cyril was a more reasonable man, and as yet uncertain in his position. Therefore, Colonel A. A. Nezmanov found himself suddenly and unexpectedly promoted to Major-General and Chief of Staff for Grand Duke Nicholas, the uncle of the deceased Tsar Nicholas.
Nezmanov had spent the years prior to the war promoting the idea that Russia ought to have a proper unified doctrine for warfare, but the entrenched opinions of the traditionalists had eventually led Tsar Nicholas to quash the debate thus: “Military doctrine consists of doing everything I order.” Many younger officers who shared these radical opinions were promoted sideways to dead-end jobs in the provinces. The traditionalists firmly believed that the deployment of new technology, more men and more money would wash away the problems of the recent Russo-Japanese War.
In late 1913 “the Great Progamme for Strengthening the Army” was approved by the Duma,* which was to provide a further six divisions of cavalry, and more and better equipment for the existing army. However, this was no magic pill. The programme was planned to take some three years, and Tsarist Russia had only nine months. However, the signing of several major contracts had been completed by the start of the war, even if the only major impact on the early battles was a greater amount of ammunition available for the artillery and infantry.
Nezmanov and the Grand Duke could do little to change the initial plans, which had long been in place. In some ways the plans were daring. For example, Rennenkampf’s First Army and Samsonov’s Second relied on swift movement to manoeuvre around the Masurian Lakes region, unite and deal a hammer blow to the Germans. Yet in other ways the plans were over-cautious. Some units of Second Army would have to travel 80 miles (128 km) from their starting points before they even reached the border. Their German opponents, however, came from a long tradition of expertly using railways to bring to bear overwhelming force at a particular point. In light of this it is interesting to note that…
* About 9 months ahead of OTL because of butterflies resulting from concerns over the growing friendship between the Ottomans and the French, which some Russians misinterpreted as an attempt to cut them off. It's easy not to be paranoid when one isn't surrounded on all sides, don't forget!
Eisenhower, Some Thoughts on the Great European War, excerpt from a paper presented by Major Eisenhower at West Point, 1923
… 27 July Rennenkamp’s First Army began to advance on East Prussia, with Second Army beginning its move on 30 July. Neither had finished forming up, and many units missed field kitchens and the like. However, Russia’s promise to France to pressure Germany had to be kept. Reports of the action at Stalluponen on 1 August gave Russia’s civilian populace something to cheer about, but the military command was more concerned. The recently appointed Nezmanov scrutinised the reports, and concluded that disaster had only been averted by a lack of preparation on the part of several German corps commanders. Notably, Mackensen’s and Below’s corps were not able to take part in the initial attack as they were not ready until several hours after it had commenced. I will labour the point that when in battle one cannot expect all will go well. So one must factor in such problems as these to one’s plans. To his credit, General von Prittwitz realised his error afterwards, and…
The Times, 3rd August, 1914:
…report a major action at Stalluponen in East Prussia between Germany’s Eighth Army under General von Prittwitz and Russia’s First Army under General Rennenkampf.* A powerful German attack on the Russian left compelled it to withdraw some five miles, and the issue of the battle hung in some doubt. However, several German units were delayed in their advance, and Russian heavy artillery did such great destruction that the enemy were compelled in turn to retire some fifteen miles. According to reports, as many as 6,000 Germans were taken prisoner in the pursuit. The German armies are understood to be in full flight, and the ever-victorious General Rennenkampf is pursuing with redoubled vigour* * in hope of…
* For the Russians c.200,000 men, and for the Germans c.150,000. * * Don’t you believe it!
The Cat and the Canary
The Psychology of Fear: What happens when a cat is allowed to come close to a canary in a cage? The bird, seeing the terrible eyes of its enemy so close, is often frightened to death.
Dr J. Padfield, The Battle of Allenstein, Sabre Press
…with his chief of staff, Lieutenant-Colonel Max Hoffman, von Prittwitz was able to convince von Moltke that the defeat was not a disaster but an opportunity. He planned to regain the initiative by destroying First Army and then turning south to defeat Second Army. Learning from his previous error, he put in place a precise timetable and system of deployment, planning for an attack on 4th August. The ponderous state of the Russian command system had been as badly exposed as the deficiencies of the Germans’ own system, and Prittwitz and Hoffman drew from their post-battle analysis two major lessons. First, that attacks must be certain of going in on time. Second, that Russian artillery was exceptionally dangerous, but slow to learn its target.
The existing German Staff system was as capable of responding to Prittwitz’s needs as the Russian system was incapable of responding to the challenges of war. The seeds of defeat had been laid before the war. Russia’s tactical doctrine was far less flexible than that of Germany, while the commanders of First and Second Armies were on the worst of terms. At the Battle of Mukden at the end of the Russo-Japanese War Samsonov had felt that von Rennenkampf had failed adequately to support him, and after resorting to fisticuffs, the two had become fast foes. Communication between Rennenkampf’s First and Samsonov’s Second Armies was, therefore, poor. Furthermore, Second Army’s communications were in a terrible state internally. Advancing on a front of 135 miles had defeated the army as efficiently as any German offensive. Samsonov was out of touch with his own command, as well as that of Rennenkampf
The Russian strategic plan of operations in East Prussia was to attack as soon as possible after the declaration of war. Talks with the French Army had tended in this direction for several years, but the two armies of the North West Army Group (or Front in Russian parlance) behaved as if the scenario was a shocking new development. Second Army, led by the energetic but over-confident Samsonov, advanced across a frontage so broad that it rendered it liable to defeat in detail, and First Army moved so cautiously that it seemed almost as though Rennenkampf was ignorant of the necessity of a speedy advance. First Army was advancing north of the Masurian Lakes, and Second Army to the south, and so the longer the advance took, the greater the opportunity Prittwitz’s 8th Army* had to defeat them separately. It was an opportunity he would seize with determination.
Prittwitz’s defeat at Stalluponen had served as a shock to him, but he had rebounded well, and days later he was determined to attack again and this time to defeat and perhaps even destroy Rennenkampf’s First Army.* * Having determined this, he resolved on a bold series of moves. It is testimony to the ineptitude of Rennenkampf that he failed to make good use of his overwhelming cavalry superiority. With five divisions of cavalry and an independent brigade at his disposal, Rennenkampf ought to have been fully informed of Prittwitz’s actions, and fully protected against flanking manoeuvres.
Prittwitz’s initial orders had been strictly defensive, since none had believed the Russians capable of mounting an offensive so soon. When they did, all was confusion. After an initial hiccup, Prittwitz’s response was to become a textbook example of daring brilliance. 4th August was the day of the attack, and he and his Chief of Staff, Hoffman, had planned precisely. A nocturnal bombardment starting the previous night had distracted the Russians, throwing Rennenkampf off balance. During the night Prittwitz’s entire cavalry force managed to pass to the south of the Russian army. Against a halfway competent commander this would be an impossibility. Against Rennenkampf there were few problems, and dawn saw 1st Cavalry Division secure in Allenstein. The bombardment ceased at 3am, and the tense Russian soldiery stood to, ready for a night attack. None came.
Mackensen’s XVII Corps led the assault of 8th Army, striking First Army’s right flank (III Corps) hard and driving it back five miles. An hour after the advance of Mackensen’s men, the aggressive Hermann von Francois was unleashed, and his I Corps stove in the left flank of First Army (IV Corps). Rennenkampf panicked, much like McClellan in the Peninsula Campaign, and ordered a retreat. However, on the line of retreat was Allenstein, and here the Russian line of retreat was severed. Inexcusably, Rennenkampf assumed a second German army was to his south. In truth it was merely a division of cavalry and some battalions of bicycle mounted infantry. In the confusion of the retreat Rennenkampf was killed. There are several accounts, including some suggesting he was in the process of fleeing when he died, but it is generally accepted that a shell took his life, though whether this was German or Russian is still hotly disputed. The end result was that a badly led army was now leaderless. Isolated units of First Army continued fighting until they ran out of ammunition or their officers ran out of courage or stupidity. By the end of the day there was no longer an army. Around General Basil Gourko,* * * commander of 1st Cavalry Division, a number of units gathered, eventually punching their way to freedom and back to Poland. Other scattered units of infantry were still making their way back to Russian lines three months later.
The damage done by Prittwitz to the Russian strategic plan was considerable, and once Grand Duke Nicholas learned of the disaster he immediately ordered the retreat of Second Army. This probably did Russia a great service, as Samsonov was subsequently free to reform and improve the whole army’s communication methods away from the enemy. It is almost certain that Second Army would have been savagely mauled, had 8th Army engaged her at all, and then Samsonov could hardly have gone on to the …
* 8th Army comprised nine divisions of infantry, one of cavalry, and several brigades of Landwehr, some 158 battalions of infantry, 78 squadrons of cavalry and 140 batteries with a total of 774 guns. The Fortress of Thorn held another division, the 35th Reserve, while a further 26 battalions of infantry were divided unequally between Königsberg, Posen and Graudenz * * First Army comprised six divisions of infantry, five of cavalry, an independent brigade of cavalry, and one rifle brigade. Note that a Russian division comprised 16 battalions of 1,000 men, and a German division only 12. This made them somewhat more resilient, but also harder to control. * * * http://www.alexanderpalace.org/letters/august16.html “General Basil Gourko, a very able, and at times a very brilliant commander. He was fifty-three. As a young soldier he had seen active service in the Pamirs. In 1899-1900 he was military attaché to the Boers, and was captured by the English. He served with distinction in the Japanese War, and became military adviser to the Octobrist party. At the beginning of the war he commanded the 1st Cavalry Division, and he succeeded in retiring with small losses after the disaster of Tannenberg. He was then promoted to the command of the 6th Corps, and in 1916 to the 5th Army. His book, in spite of certain prejudices, is remarkably fair and reasonable, and in many respects a valuable document on the war.”
There'll probably be another update today. I want to cover the South Western Front. As a brief primer here's a summary. Russia had agreed to attack Germany in consort with France with a view to overwhelming her. However, her main thrust went against Austria-Hungary. Russia covered Romania (whose loyalty was uncertain) with a small independent army of four infantry divisions, and initially placed 4 armies in the South Western Front (Army Group), some 37 divisions of infantry, 15 divisions of cavalry and additional supporting formations.
The Army of Austria-Hungary was divided into two sections. The Balkan Front comprised three armies. I'll deal with the Serbian campaign in a future section, so we shall pass them by for now. The Northern Front is our subject for the moment. 1st, 2nd, 3rd and 4th Armies, Army Group Kummer von Falkenfehd and some fortress troops comprised in total 41 divisions of infantry (including two German Landwehr divisions), and 11 divisions of cavalry, supported by and 23 brigades and 24 battalions of Landsturm, Landwehr and the Polish Legion (3 battalions).
As the above is a bit confusing, I'll take it down to battalions and squadrons. A-H had in theatre (including fortress troops), 819.5 battalions, 384 squadrons of cavalry, 380 batteries (2,082 guns), and 1,234 machine guns. ITTL they also have eight squadrons of armoured cars (two attached to each main army), as a result of butterflies.
The Russians had at least 592 battalions of infantry and 360 squadrons of cavalry. My WWI Databook is probably letting me down because the Russian Army's records weren't great what with the subsequent civil war. So I've derived these numbers by multiplying the numbers of infantry divisions by 16 and the cavalry divisions by 24. They too had armoured cars. IOTL 1st Automobile Machine Gun Company (see attached pic) was the first of its kind in the world. ITTL the Austrians have acquired that laurel wreath, and the Russians are playing catch-up.
For those staring at the above with something of a headache, I promise to use fewer numbers in the proper write-up I do later! The Russian plan was to attack at once and drive back their enemy. The Austrian plan was completely different: to attack at once and drive back their enemy. So prepare for a headbutting contest!
North by north east, south by south west: Take what you have gathered from coincidence – Bob Dylan
Nik Cornish, The Russian Army and the First World War, pp.27ff: SW Front, Lemberg, OTL edition
Fourth Army (General Baron A. E. Salza) with Fifth Army (General A. E. Pleve) on its right was to advance from Lublin in Poland against the left flank of the Austrian armies, which it was believed would be marching almost directly eastwards on Tarnopol. Pleve and Salza would cut the line of retreat to the fortress of Przemysl or Cracow. Third (General N. V. Ruzski) and Eighth (General A. A. Brusilov) armies would carry out the main Russian offensive with Lemberg as their objective. The Austrian province of Galicia, of which Lemberg was the capital, was cut by a series of rivers and rolling hills. Well aware that they would have to shoulder the main burden on the Eastern Front until the arrival of the bulk of the German army from the west, the Austrians also planned to take the offensive from the outset. They anticipated linking up with a German advance from East Prussia to the east of Warsaw and it was in this direction that their First Army was moving when it encountered Russia’s Fourth Army moving south.
Liddell Hart, The Real War 1914-1918, 1930 ATL edition
The Austrian advance ‘was preceded by a great mass of cavalry’ sent forward on July 27th on a hundred mile excursion to search a front 250 miles wide. Within a few days ‘so many of the horses had sore backs that several entire divisions were out of action’. Only a small proportion came within reach of the enemy, who did not use a cavalry screen; thus these Austrian cavalry bumped into the Russian infantry, who took a heavy toll on them. The Official History candidly remarks that ‘the results of the distant cavalry reconnaissance were not worth the cost of casualties’.
Nonetheless, what Conrad gleaned from this what that the Russians were assembling according to plan – or rather to Conrad’s expectation. Therefore, on 1st August, he gave the fateful order for the northward offensive into the depths of Poland. Groping blindly, Austrian armies pushed on towards Lublin, while Conrad expressed his belief that ‘there is no sign of any Russian movement from the east against the right…’
J. Morgan, An Introduction to the Great War, 1977
…while the Austrian plan was as beautiful and delicate as a butterfly, the Russian plan was as simple and reliable as a club. The Polish salient west of Warsaw and the Vistula was to be evacuated. Plan A (Austria) called for the South Western Army Group to take the offensive against Austria with the help of one of the armies allocated to the North Western Army Group whilst the other two armies of the North Western Army Group invaded East Prussia. It at first appears insupportable and illogical to launch two attacks on two widely separated fronts and in different directions. However, the weakness of German forces in East Prussia was justification in and of itself for that assault, and the promise to help France must be kept. Furthermore, poor communications limited the utility of additional troops in the South West.
The Russians, like the Austrians before them, had formed a completely erroneous picture of the Austrian offensive. Ivanov, commanding the South Western Army Group, saw in his mind’s eye the Austrians advancing east, where they would be met his powerful Third and Eighth Armies going in the opposite direction, acting as an anvil. Then Fourth and Fifth Armies would hammer down on them from the north. However…
Michael Hall, The Wonders of War, 1992
…urged on by Grand Duke Nicholas, and against the wishes of Ivanov, Fourth Army began her advance before she was fully formed, and crashed inadvertently into General Dankl’s Austrian 1st Army on August 4. Dankl was able to turn their flank and drive them back, and so Plehve’s Fifth Army was ordered west to outflank Dankl in turn, and then send him reeling back, Ivanov blithely assuming that Dankl’s army was isolated. So Auffenberg’s 4th Army in turn hit Plehve’s flank on August 7 near Komarov. As they attempted to continue moving west while the exigencies of the Austrian attack compelled them to face south. Indeed, by the morning of August 10, Auffenberg had begun a deadly encirclement, and Conrad had ordered north three divisions from the weak Austrian 3rd Army to Auffenberg’s command. However good the situation was for 4th Army, it was bleak for 3rd Army (von Brudermann).
Ordered to advance east against what Conrad assumed were paltry forces, 3rd Army suffered a series of disastrous reverses. An incautious advance to the Zlota Lipa on August 7 was followed by a flurry of disconnected attacks on the advancing Russians, who outnumbered the presumptuous Austrians by more than two to one. Inevitably, 3rd Army fell back to the Gnila Lipa. The battle, a mere 25 miles from Lemberg, filled the town with panic-stricken fugitives. Alarmed, Conrad ordered 3rd Army to fall back completely to Lemberg, and Auffenberg not only to return his three borrowed divisions, but also to send IX Corps…
Sherratt & Bloor, A History of the Armoured Car, Assegai Books, 1985
…a noteworthy role in the First World War. Austria-Hungary’s cavalry formations had been worn out in reconnaissance duties on the huge frontage, and had achieved little, in part thanks to the intransigence of the head of the Army, Conrad. While of about forty aircraft, only a few were fit for service. This would have left the armies bereft of scouting ability were it not for the Austro-Daimler armoured car. Based on a touring car chassis, this was the world’s first four-wheel drive armoured vehicle. Armed with either a Maxim gun or two Schwarzlose machine guns, with 4mm (0.157in) thick armour, a top speed of 45kph (28mph) and a range of 250km (155 miles), she represented the cutting edge of military technology at the outset of the…
Marriott, The Empire Strikes Back: Russia’s Riposte to Conrad’s Lunge
…advancing slowly westward hit the Austro-Hungarian 3rd Army on the Zlota Lipa. Owing to the ponderous nature of armies and staff systems on either side, this was less a bump and shunt than a painful crunch. However, Russian expectations were that the main Austrian attack would be east, so they advanced only cautiously against the weak 3rd Army. 3rd Army’s commander, von Brudermann, blithely adhered to Conrad’s belief that the main Russian field armies were to the north, and that he had struck nothing more than a minor force. So he pressed home his attacks all the harder. So the weak force attacked aggressively, not realising the massive strength of the Russian army, while the strong Russians advanced timidly, partly out of concern for their still-incomplete supply train, and partly because they assumed 3rd Army to be larger than it was. Needless to say, this state of affairs could not long continue, if only…
Morrow,The Bonfire of the Vanities: Austria-Hungary’s Serbian Folly, 1989
…Conrad von Hötzendorf’s plans considered the possibility of attacking and defeating Serbia alone, War Case B, and facing both Russia and Serbia. In the event of war with Russia, the A-Staffel was to face Russia, the Balkan Group Serbia, and the B-Staffel would participate in whichever campaign the General Staff decided on at the time. Logic would have dictated the deployment of the majority of the army to face Russia, the giant behemoth, but outraged national pride demanded men be sent to crush Serbia. The new Kaiser und König, Franz Ferdinand, was surprisingly sensible in this regard, but not calm. It had been intended that in the event of war he himself should command. But this was before the assassination attempt, and his doctors refused to countenance his demands for control until he was fully recovered.
As Conrad dithered between deploying the B-Staffel north or south, a peremptory visit from the Emperor, still not fully recovered from his wounds, briefly quieted the hubbub of Conrad’s headquarters. Franz Ferdinand arrived, all smiles, and at once drew Conrad alone to another room. Minutes later he departed, bestowing kind words on the hard-working military personnel gathered around, while Conrad, white with anger, stood stiffly at his Imperial Majesty’s side. The memoirs of Conrad’s Chief of Operations, Metzger, reveal that the long-standing dislike Franz Conrad and Franz Ferdinand felt for one another had not abated. Metzger himself is hardly impartial, having been subjected to a temper tantrum of the future Emperor during the 1913 exercises in Germany, during which the mutual antipathy of the heir to the throne and the Chief of the General Staff grew.
Conrad had sought to make the manoeuvres as realistic as possible, only to find that Franz Ferdinand had decided to finish the affair with a glorious cavalry charge led by himself, all flashing sabres and brilliant uniforms, for the benefit of his wife, children, and the Bohemian nobility. Conrad also failed to attend a Mass arranged by Franz Ferdinand, for which absence Conrad recounted Franz Ferdinand peremptorily told him, “I know well your religious views, but if I got to Church, you must too!” On the preceding day a near car crash had led the Arch-duke to blame Metzger, and by the end of the manoeuvres, Conrad fully intended to resign – albeit acceding to do so only in a manner that would not embarrass Franz Ferdinand. However, his fiery blood eventually cooled, and he expressed his honest pity for his former nemesis to his aide, Kundmann, when Franz Ferdinand’s relatives were so cruelly taken from him.
Franz Ferdinand, however, was never to forgive Conrad for the outrages against him. He appears to have told Conrad in less than imperial language – but very imperial tones – to send the B-Staffel north at once, not to waste any more time keeping it in the south, and to crush the Serbs post haste or he would be replaced post haste. Then to rub salt into the wounds, he departed charming every man in the headquarters. Conrad was in a black rage for the rest of the day, damning the faintest error. Nonetheless, the orders that sent Second Army north and into history were dispatched.
The Nightmare before Christmas Psalm 7:10-16 sourced hence: http://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?book_id=23&chapter=7&version=46 You, God, are my shield, the protector of everyone whose heart is right. You see that justice is done, and each day you take revenge. Whenever your enemies refuse to change their ways, you sharpen your sword and string your bow. Your deadly arrows are ready with flaming tips. An evil person is like a woman about to give birth to a hateful, deceitful, and rebellious child. Such people dig a deep hole, then fall in it themselves. The trouble they cause comes back on them, and their heads are crushed by their own evil deeds.
Murat listened to the priest, who sounded full of righteous fury. He himself was afraid. Still he went through the motions, prayed to a God in whom he did not believe, and tried not to let his mind fix on what he thought was to come – fighting and death. He clasped his hands together and tried to think of peaceful things. Unlike the figure dressed in black before him, Murat had no desire to see blades flashing through the air, fire and destruction. He suspected several other sweaty-palmed youngsters around him felt the same. But that is the problem with conscription, isn’t it? It drags you in even if you don’t want to go. Then he noticed shuffling and realised that the service was over. With the rest of his fellow conscripts he left the small church. His friend, Danilo, who came from the same village, punched him on the shoulder and made small talk – mocking the enemy, telling Murat it would all be over before Christmas. Murat wanted to believe him.
Some days later Murat needed to be back in that church, back in the recruiting office, anywhere but where he was, behind half a wall, a street away from an Austrian machine gun post. He was crouched down, clutching tightly his old rifle, clad in blood and mud-spattered clothes that had been so clean the day before. His friend, Danilo, was next to him, but now said nothing witty about the Austrians. Two hours ago he had died at last. Their platoon was cut off in front of the rest of the army, and there were no doctors or nurses to tend him. What good would a man be with no legs and no face? Murat had been unable to cry. It felt as if his eyes were frozen. He had tried to talk to Danilo and to get him to talk back. But all that the blackened wreck of Danilo could do was cough and gurgle wetly.
Another shell exploded nearby, and he closed his eyes and cringed. Dirt landed on him and his friend’s corpse, and he had a sudden flash of terror, remembering the funeral of his father, who had died during the last war. He had not even been fighting, but his heart had given out while working on the farm. Murat leapt up, tears in his eyes, screaming, out of his mind. He ran across the street. There seemed to be no sound at all, just the eyes of the Austrian soldiers manning the machine gun. It had jammed, and the loader and spotter were bringing up their rifles even as Murat reached them.
“…in recognition of unsurpassed valour in the face of the enemy!” The short thin officer pinned the Military Merit medal (1st class) to Murat’s tunic, and the men gathered nearby applauded. One of only three survivors of his platoon, Murat had been promoted to Sergeant. The other two had given the testimony that won him the shining circle with blue and white vertical stripes which now adorned his chest. He saluted the officer, mindlessly going through the motions. He had not stopped to think since that day. In a month it would be Christmas Day, 7th January, 1915. Danilo was wrong. In his quarters Murat bent his head, clasping his hands, to all outward appearances praying as a devout man ought. Inside his rage burned. No God could allow this!
This is the time for action! – Secret Affair Morrow,The Bonfire of the Vanities: Austria-Hungary’s Serbian Folly, 1989
…with the redeployment of 2nd Army, Archduke Eugen commanded 5th and 6th Armies, in total slightly more than a quarter of a million men in 9 infantry divisions and assorted smaller formations. Against this Serbia could initially field around 180,000 men in half a dozen front line divisions, and a number of second-line divisions However, because of Serbia’s sensible fear of her northern neighbour she had an unsurpassed ability to organise and field new divisions. For instance, still forming in the territory acquired by Serbia in the late Balkan conflict were a further five front-line divisions. Another four divisions of Montenegrin infantry existed, which Conrad could expect to intervene at some point. In total, Serbia would eventually be able to bring to bear around four hundred thousand men, even though ammunition and rifles were spottily deployed. A lone factory provided a mere hundred shells a day, enough to provide about one shell a day to each Serbian battery. All soldiers in the Great War complained of the lamentable inability of the artillery to support them, but none had greater justification than the Serbs.
So even a cursory inspection of this information shows that the initial Austrian plan had to rely on both daring and excellence from the theatre commander and his men to smash through the Serbian lines before they could be bolstered by rear echelon troops. Conrad was a daring general, and prior to the Great War he was regarded as Europe’s finest strategist. However, while he might have had the mind of a latter-day Napoleon, he did not have the Corsican’s battle-hardened army. Nonetheless, even if the initial invasion were to fail, it would take a miracle for Serbia to become the David to Austria-Hungary’s Goliath.
J. Crown, Campaigns of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, 1999
…have speculated on how the defence of Serbia would have been conducted under Marshal Radomir Putnik, who had died at an Austrian spa in 1913. However, he was a sickly man, and it can hardly be imagined that he would have brought the necessary vigour to the role. All imaginary replacements aside, another career soldier, decorated for bravery during the 1876-8 wars against the Ottomans, Vojvoda (Field Marshal) Stepa Stepanović, who had performed well during the Balkan War, impressing the government, was the man chosen to take the Serbian armies to war in 1914.
The initial expectation was that the Austrians would attack from the north, and it was for this that Stepanović prepared. He was in part led to this by the massing of the Austro-Hungarian Second Army north of Belgrade, and by the shelling of that same city by Austro-Hungarian gunboats in the opening days of the war. However, the Austrian commander, Conrad, had long planned for a sweeping attack from the west by 5th and 6th Armies into the salient enclosed by the Rivers Drina and Sava, one of the rare areas of flat terrain in the country. This plan was bequeathed to Archduke Eugen, who came to command the Balkan Group after the death of its former commander, Potiorek, who had been assassinated with Franz Ferdinand’s wife. Thus he had little time to familiarise himself with its details, and cannot wholly be blamed for the results.
Conrad was regarded prior to the Great War as the pre-eminent strategist in the world. However, he had a tendency to over-think problems, as well as to ask too much of the Austro-Hungarian army. By contrast, the Serbs were well aware that they faced an army that was more numerous, better supplied and better armed than they. Possessed of a stubborn courage and fierce nationalism, they made up for in determination what they lacked in materiel. Stories abound of the vicious heroism of the Serbian soldier when faced with death.
When the Austro-Hungarian armies finally advanced on July 30, having been delayed by problems in positioning 6th Army, Stepanović had recognised that there was no threat to Belgrade and had begun to redeploy. In the north Serbia’s Second and First Armies faced 5th Army. In the south a motley collection of reservists, old men and teenagers held the line as Third Army, under Pavle Jurišić Šturm, a Sorb who had come south to fight for Serbia years before, marched to block 6th Army. The defenders, aware of their weakness, threw their all into a desperate attempt to persuade Conrad and Eugen that the Serbs were stronger than had been suspected. Von Frank’s 5th Army in the north was initially repulsed in its every attack, despite all its advantages.
In the south the desperate defence was in vain, and 6th Army under Eugen’s personal command drove quickly through hastily improvised defences, meeting the Serbian Third Army north of Uzhitse on August 3. Eugen had at his disposal five whole divisions of infantry and two brigades of mountain infantry, with a further two covering his lines of communication. Against this Third Army had only two divisions, and was driven back in disarray over two days of vicious fighting. As a result, First Army under Petar Bojović was dispatched south to help on August 4, blunting the Austrian offensive. However, this weakening of the northern defences left Second Army with five divisions alone against 5th Army, which now drove sharply into Serbia, apparently pushing Second Army back toward Valjevo.
However, this was a ruse by the commander of Second Army, Živojin Mišić, who boldly separated his army’s supply train from it, leaving a single division to defend it, and taking the other four divisions of his army north. As 5th Army pursued the seemingly broken Serbian forces, they were struck in the rear by those very troops. The resultant battle was a disaster for the Austrians, with a whole division taken prisoner, and a corps’ worth of equipment taken by the Serbs. The shattered remains of VIII Corps fled back to the border, and von Frank was compelled to withdraw XIII Corps or face the encirclement and destruction of his entire army.
Second Army now headed south, turning the Austrians’ own weapons against them, and attacking the Austrians as they retreated. It is more accurate to say that Eugen realised that with 5th Army wrecked, he had to abandon the initial plan to take Serbia swiftly. Casualty estimates place the toll for Austria-Hungary at 20,000 prisoners and a similar number killed or wounded. The Serbian casualties are believed to have been somewhat greater, but as a result of the later Balkan Terrors, records are unreliable at best. Serbian national mythology has lionised the three generals, Mišić, Jurišić and Bojović, and the commonly held belief there is that the Austrians fled as lambs from wolves. Be that as it may, the invasion of Serbia was never more than a sideshow compared to the true fights between Russia and Austria-Hungary in the north…
Marriott, The Empire Strikes Back: Russia’s Riposte to Conrad’s Lunge
…too bold and also too timid, a charge that at first seems borne out by his handling of 3rd and 4th Armies. However, a closer inspection reveals that appalling failings in reconnaissance, inevitable given the technology of the era, were largely to blame. Indeed, Ivanov could as well be accused as Conrad, given his handling of the invasion. As 3rd Army began to withdraw in the face of Russia’s Third Army, 1st and 4th were also ordered to retire, giving the Russians Fourth and Fifth Armies a much needed breathing space. In the east, however, the main battle was yet to come. 2nd Army, sent north after the personal intervention of Franz Ferdinand, was now firmly ensconced in the Tarnopol region, and Russia’s Eighth Army was headed right for her…
J. Morgan, An Introduction to the Great War, 1977 …desultory artillery bombardment on the morning of August 9 apprised the Austrian commander, Eduard Freiherr von Böhm-Ermolli, that Russian forces were in the area. Dismayed at the proximity of the Russian forces, the general was stung into action and at once ordered a vigorous attack by XII Corps, when this failed to push back the forward Russian divisions the gravity of the situation became apparent to von Böhm-Ermolli, if not yet Conrad. The Austrians were not encircling the Russians, but were themselves in danger of being surrounded. Having communicated his fears to Conrad, he drew up his forces to the north-east of Tarnopol, directly in the line of Eight Army’s advance.
To the west the other three Austrian armies were either retreating or in the case of 3rd Army, nearly collapsing. So 2nd Army found herself alone against the Russians while every other Austrian soldier on the front was retreating to the line Tarnow-Gorlice-Przemysl. Too late believing the danger, Conrad finally ordered Second Army to retire across the Dniester on August 14, but by now marauding Cossacks were in the way, and retreat was impossible. The slow advance of Fourth and Fifth Armies allowed the escape of much of the Austrian force. But when Ruszki’s Third Army found Lemberg abandoned, and the populace loudly proclaiming that the Austrians had fled, Ivanov began to believe what had happened – the Austrians had simply melted away in the face of the Russian advance. This false sense of superiority would do Russia much harm later on, but at the moment it led Ivanov to order Ruszki to detach IX and X Corps, together with two divisions of cavalry – fully half of Third Army – to assist Brusilov in attacking 2nd Army at Tarnopol.
With retreat impossible and outnumbered by the Russian divisions massing against him, von Böhm-Ermolli chose the only option available to him, attempting to smash Brusilov’s left flank with sheer brute force. A dawn attack was delivered by III Corps on August 11. However, XXIV Corps was resilient in the face of the Austro-Hungarian offensives, and an accidental counter-attack (begun because solely because of miscommunication) took several thousand prisoners. An attempt at another breakout on August 12 with a massed force of cavalry led to a scene more suited to 1814 than 1914, as Russian cavalry counter-charged, and sabres flashed in the light. This anachronistic attempt at victory also failed to push Brusilov’s army out of joint, and third attempt was made on August 13, with an assault along the entire line, again aimed at breaking the Russian left flank, which von Böhm-Ermolli believed to be on the point of collapse. However, Brusilov had planned for this, and the attacking Austrian IV and VII Corps met not the tired XXIV Corps, but VII Corps, which drove back the attackers, and then, in concert with XII Corps, launched a counter-attack which broke the Austrian right wing, which fled back to Tarnow.
It is a testimony to von Böhm-Ermolli’s control over his army and himself that neither he nor it collapsed at this point. Sending in his reserves, he pushed back the Russians, who had advanced too far, and during the next two days the survivors of the broken attack trailed back to camp – those not captured or killed by the Russian cavalry, that is. However, 2nd Army was no longer in a fit state to launch an attack, and was pounded relentlessly by Russian artillery for three days as the men detached from Third Army moved in to positions for the final attack. On the evening of August 15 Brusilov offered the Austrians the chance to surrender, but von Böhm-Ermolli refused, still vainly hoping for relief from Conrad. No help would come.
On August 16 the Russians finally attacked. Despite all its previous sufferings, the Austrian army did not collapse in the face of the onslaught, some soldiers sharing their general’s faith in Conrad, and others terrified of the Cossack cavalry, which had assumed mythical proportions in the tales of the men who had made it back to Tarnopol. So the fighting dragged on for two days, the army retreating by degrees toward Tarnopol. In the course of the retreat a number of isolated units surrendered after becoming separated from the main army, but the whole remained fairly cohesive until midday on August 18, when the army finally surrendered, von Böhm-Ermolli having abandoned hope in Conrad and desperate to save his men.
The campaign was in some respects a disaster for Austria-Hungary, and led to the “retirement” of Conrad, who was perfunctorily made a count by the Emperor Franz Ferdinand, who himself took over command of the army, which was to lead directly to…