Artois | 18 Dec 1914

We’ll rejoin the Western Front and the First Battle of Artois in a moment; but first, off to Koprukoy to check in with the Ottomans’ planned offensive into the Caucasus.


For the past five days, Hasan Izzet Pasha and the staff of the Ottoman Third Army have been digging in their heels as far as possible. Enver will not listen to them; today, he sacks Hasan, purges his subordinates, and takes personal control of the army. The outgoing commander of IX Corps, who will be tasked with the arduous march along the Top Yol, is not interested in going quietly. He makes sure to leave behind his professional opinion. The operation would only have any chance of success if undertaken by specially-trained troops, with the best winter clothing, and supported by pre-arranged supply dumps.

Needless to say, none of these conditions are met. His replacement issues directly contradictory orders. In the interest of speed, the men will march without greatcoats, or blankets, or large packs, and will subsist only on basic iron rations. Meanwhile, on the Top Yol, the winter snows are just beginning to get into their stride as Third Army makes final preparations for the attack on Sarikamis.

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First Artois

French attacks in Flanders in support of First Artois have ground to a muddy halt. Slightly further south, the BEF is still dutifully showing willing. There’s a spectacularly incompetent attack at Plugstreet Wood, which quickly closes after the hard-pressed artillery contrives to shell the attacking infantry.

Meanwhile, the Indian Corps is being ordered back into battle. They’ve been defending the line between Givenchy and Armentieres for the past month with little relief and little proper winter clothing in the waterlogged trenches. Now they’re going to strike out from Givenchy towards La Bassee, and it will be a surprise attack, at 3am the following morning.

Back at the main show in Artois, General Petain (yes, he’s popped up to command the attack on Vimy) quickly recognises the shitty hand of cards he’s been dealt. The attack must continue, so he refocuses offensive efforts solely on the village of Carency. Carency had originally been pegged as a first-hour stepping stone on the way to the top of Vimy Ridge. Now it’s the sole focus of offensive operations in the region.

At Auchy, Louis Barthas’s company is being ordered back onto the offensive again. Conditions are even more difficult than yesterday, with the Germans well aware of where the French are and what they intend to do. But, after yesterday’s fun and games, Barthas and his mates are currently a little way ahead of everyone else. Captain Hudelle refuses to order his company to advance until the battalion’s other companies have advanced to his current position.

Messages to this effect spend several hours ping-ponging backwards and forwards between Hudelle and the battalion commander. The situation only ends when the battalion’s adjutant arrives to inform Captain Hudelle that the officer he’s been corresponding with is dead. In fact, most of the other officers in the battalion are also dead, and Hudelle is now in command of it. This gives him the authority to cancel the attack, and the battalion goes back to digging.

Barthas ends the story by noting a latrine rumour saying that the previous battalion commander had cracked under the strain of attempting to carry out the orders descending on him from on high, and committed suicide under the pressure of being trapped between his can’t-be-argued-with orders and Hudelle’s insistence that they’re impossible. The Western Front in winter 1914, folks.

Actions in Progress

Siege of Przemysl
Battle of Artois (First Artois)

Further Reading

The Daily Telegraph is republishing its archives from the war day-by-day. In today’s paper: The propaganda war intensifies over the recent German naval raid on Scarborough, Hartlepool and Whitby (pages 8, 9 and 10), with all sides and even the New York Times having their tuppence worth.

In other news: a new Sultan of Egypt is declared, strengthening open British control over the country and the Suez Canal in particular (page 9), the German position at Ypres is apparently critical (page 10, and has anyone let them know this?), and although Germany has not run out of men (page 13), apparently they have run out of bullets. Again, I question whether Fritz himself is aware of this shortage.

(If you find the olde-tyme style difficult to get along with, have a look at this reading guide.)

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