Britain in 1915 | 3 Jan 1915

At the risk of being Anglo-centric, today is an excellent day to stop and consider what Britain will be doing this year in the war. Of course, that’s not all there is to note.


The Russians attempt to press their advantage, but General Bergmann manages to make another pig’s ear of things. Taking command of a cavalry operation to flank and surround a large group of Ottomans, his poorly-written orders are mostly ignored by the cavalry commander. Said commander then wanders straight into the main body of the enemy instead of going round them, and cops serious casualties. The episode won’t affect the outcome of the battle, but it does eventually lead directly to Bergmann being dismissed, after a rather less than illustrious performance.

Hiccups aside, the encirclement continues.

Alex Letyford

Corporal Letyford returned to his billet at 5am this morning after a full night of work. An hour later…

3.1.15 Parade at 6am. March to trenches. We dig communication trenches, and are fired at the whole time. Work until 6pm.

This time he gets a proper night’s sleep. Well, as proper a night as you can get when you’re wet through and the air is cold enough to freeze your clothes solid.

British strategy: Western Front

Sir John French is circulating a document that advocates an attack to break out of the Ypres salient and force the Germans out of Ostend and Zeebrugge. These Channel ports are being used by a large number of smaller German ships as bases for action into the Channel and the North Sea. This would also allow him to move back to his preferred position on the French extreme left, and afford him a greater degree of autonomy than at present. (It’s worth remembering here that it is still the French Army that holds the entirety of the Ypres salient.)

This concept will remain a cornerstone of British strategy and planning until autumn 1917. To support the eventual attack, the Engineers are already being asked to prepare for large-scale mining operations against known German strong-points. And there’s a reason it took so long to finally happen: France.

Britain is still very much the junior partner on the Western Front, holding a tiny portion of line with a small number of men compared to the millions being fielded by France. Not without justification, the French also see the plans for a Belgian offensive as being of great benefit to Belgium, sizeable benefit to Britain, and minimal benefit to France.

The British presence is not nearly large enough to carry out independent operations, even if they’d been in a position to do so. Their role throughout 1915 will continue to be one of supporting French offensive efforts. However, this is far from being shackled to a losing concern. They’ll have plenty of opportunity to achieve successes.

British strategy: Dardanelles

Perhaps this situation could at least partly explain the enthusiasm back in London for opening new theatres of war. Aside from anything else, British forces in other theatres could operate according to British priorities to benefit British interests. So, back to the Dardanelles; the Russians have desperately appealed for help against the Ottomans, and Britain is in the best position to do so.

You may remember how useless HMS Canopus was at the Battle of Coronel; an obsolete, slow, under-gunned pre-dreadnought battleship that proved useful only when run aground as a gun battery. Well, the Admiralty has quite a few of these old plodders knocking around; precisely 43, and the French Navy has a further 12. (These numbers go some way to illustrating just how far the Royal Navy outnumbered every other navy in the world at this point.)

In light of recent events, they’re now thought so useless that they might as well be scrapped. A combination of Jackie Fisher (the First Sea Lord), Churchill, and Admiral Sackville Carden have thought up a use for them; to force the Dardanelles. (Fisher’s thoughts reputedly were far more extensive and far more hilariously unachievable than just forcing the Dardanelles.) You may remember from yesterday that the Russians had been rather less than enthusiastic about the thought of a foreign army in Constantinople; this is being conceived as a naval expedition. Marines may have to be landed against some of the forts, but there will be no large-scale landing of soldiers.

It won’t be a quick or simple affair; it’ll take plenty of time and plenty of ships. Fortunately, Churchill seems to have plenty of both. The next week will be spent drawing up detailed plans for the operation.

However, you may remember that at the start of November, the Navy sailed some ships up the Dardanelles and dished out a damn good thrashing. The defence of the Dardanelles has been entrusted to a German naval officer, Guido von Usedom. (The German Wikipedia shows a proud man with a prouder moustache.) He’s spent the last two months frantically upgrading the defences at the Dardanelles, with the November raid a perfect example of the need for it.

The damaged forts are repaired and redesigned. New, modern guns have been ordered and are on their way. Improved spotting positions are being put in place. He’s also desperate for more mines. A regiment of mobile field artillery will soon be arriving. The undulating terrain on either side of the Dardanelles offers plenty of dead ground to hide the field guns in.

Britain in 1915

So here we have Britain in 1915. On the Western Front, playing second fiddle to the French. The word of the year everywhere else? “Mission creep”. Or at least it would have been, if the niceties of the day had permitted such a thoroughly ungrammatical neologism. Everywhere we go, we’ll find poorly-defined objectives and loose control by people who are supposed to be providing oversight.

Actions in Progress

Siege of Przemysl
Battle of Artois (First Artois)
Battle of Champagne (First Champagne)
Battle of Sarikamis
Battle of Ardahan

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